Author Archive for Zack Borst

20
Jul
11

Use your people

Virginia Emergency Operations Center

Image by VaDOT via Flickr

I have noticed that EOC’s and emergency managers are always asking for money and anyone who reads the comments sections of online news articles can see that the public always thinks it’s unnecessary.  I completely understand.  You buy these beautiful, technoligically advanced, and outrageously expensive rooms to be used a few times a year (if your lucky, or unlucky depending on your point of view).  I think it’s time we evaluate the use of emergency managers and emergency management agencies.  Preparation is key but we have shrinking budgets and agencies are losing their best people to retirement out of fear of not having the option.  I think that EOC’s and emergency manager should get more active.  Respond to calls that aren’t normally part of your scope but require multi-agency response.  Firefighters, police, and EMS become better at what they do because they are active.  An agency that activates a couple times a year is not going to have their stuff together when the big one hits.  I am always amazed at the requirements to activate an EOC when looking at emergency operations plans.  Some places require the town to essentially be wiped off the face of the earth before it’s a situation that warrants an EOC/EM activation.  As a volunteer who is always looking for a chance to participate in an activation, I find that there are many situations that would have been helped by an EOC activation but the EOC sits dormant.  All the fancy equipment laid out with nothing to do.  Just my opinion though, perhaps I am just bored and looking for some excitement (I don’t wish anything bad on anyone, I really don’t).

08
Jun
11

It doesn’t happen here…

Springfield Tornado - 06012011 - 026

Image by Robert Blackie via Flickr

It can’t, it won’t, it hasn’t, it doesn’t.  These are fatal assumptions when associated with words like severe weather or earthquakes or flooding.  I would venture to guess that within the large tally of injured and killed people during this springs severe weather, many believed these statements.  It could be they grew up in areas that experience regular severe weather and nothing has ever happened before or because they grew up in areas that generally don’t have severe weather.  This is the mindset of the vast majority of our population.  Many don’t believe it will happen to them.

Here’s the problem though, it can, it will, it has, and it does happen.  Weather, earthquakes, technological hazards, and all the other dangers of the world can happen anywhere at any time.  I read an article yesterday in the local paper that stated how lucky we are because we don’t get any of the bad things in the world where we live.  I proceded to spit my coffee all over the table and then had to re-read it to be sure that this paper just told all of it’s readers that it’s cool cause it ain’t gonna happen here…unbelievable.  Need an example?  Springfield, Massachusetts.  It’s in New England, nestled in western mass in an area that doesn’t typically get a lot of significant severe weather.  Well much to the surprise of many, it was hit with a very large and destructive tornado, possibly in the EF-3 to EF-4 range.  This system then moved across the state leaving millions of dollars in damage and multiple fatalities and injuries.

As a community, emergency managers need to stress the fact that these events can and will happen anywhere they please.  Emergency management as a profession/volunteer position exists in a realm of confusion and lack of definition.  The average citizen doesn’t really know what it does and therefore has no problem cutting money from these agencies that don’t seem to do anything.  Obviously this is not the case but we need to justify the existance of emergency management.  We need to explain that preparedness saves lives, that those expensive warning systems can pay for themselves in an instant when they are needed, that after the dust has settled we can see the true cost of preparing your community for the events that will never happen, aren’t possible, and in an instant, can wipe you off the face of the earth.

14
Apr
11

The unsung 2nd/1st Responders

I am a Red Cross volunteer and can’t express how amazing this organization is.  This is a good example of how busy some chapters are.  I also had the chance to meet with Christophe who is in the video and he is a very inspiring individual.  There are a lot of them in the Red Cross.  Anyways, enjoy:

04
Apr
11

What can one person do?

Feel like your dancing by yourself a lot?  We all feel like sometimes we can’t seem to get people to join in our cause.  Or maybe your one of the people watching the one guy trying like hell to get people to join.  If your just watching, why not be like the second or third guys, they are the ones that turned the crowd.  Just don’t be one of the people who sit there doing nothing. (metaphor rant over)  Thanks to @healthierheath for pointing this video out.

14
Mar
11

We need a new American dream

As I sit and read and watch the horror and atrocities around the world I realize how quickly these events can happen and how our country is always at risk.  I see hope that there are people who are doing what they can to help by either responding directly or by donating what they can.  This is great and makes me proud to be an American.  Yet, there is a disturbing trend that I have noticed since the quakes in Chile and Haiti and it disgusts me on every level.

The United States of America is in conflict.  We are losing our position as the most powerful country on our planet and I am seeing changes that scare me to death.  The trend I am seeing that indicates these changes can be found on any forum or comments section of a website or around your local watering hole.  It’s the large number of people who are saying we shouldn’t respond to these disasters anymore.  They say “we have problems of our own”.  To me, this is more un-American than burning the flag.  The thing that helps me deal with all of the tragedy that takes place around the world and makes me so proud to be an American, is the fact that we respond.  No matter what.  No matter our financial situation or the problems we are having, it has been a proud tradition to send whatever aid we can and rallying our nations citizens into action.  Abandoning those around the world in need will unseat us from the head of the table far faster than any economical crisis ever could.

Our American dream of a big house and nice cars is no longer feasible for everyone and everywhere I hear people who are talking about how bad we have it and what a sorry state the country is in.  I myself have recently lost my job due to a budget crisis but I almost laugh when I think about “how bad I have it”, yeah I lost my job and it sucks but I have good health, a roof over my head, and a good chance that I will find another job and be back to “normal” at some point.  This brings me to my point; We don’t have it bad.  When countries see us whining because of money troubles and see us sitting on our hands because our citizens don’t want to spend money helping anyone, they see weakness.  I mean unemployment of 9%?  If that’s the worst thing that happens to us this year than we are incredibly lucky.

There are countries who are facing famine, genocide, one natural disaster after another and you don’t hear as much whining!  I have a new American dream.  My dream is that our country and citizens stop making excuses and complaining and we pull ourselves up by our boots straps.  I want to see the same vigilance and resiliency I have seen through our history.  We have to respond to other countries because that is what the United States of America does.  We save lives because we know all that we have, have had,  and are thankful and appreciate all of it.  We do not take what we have for granted and we understand how bad it could be.  We can rebuild our credibility, our status, and our pride by continuing to be that guiding light in the world.  I am probably preaching  to the choir, but my dream is that everyone takes responsibility for this.  I know that not everyone can be the hero who kicks in a door and saves a family from a burning house but we can all do something.  Even now that I am trying to figure out what to do next, I am going to continue volunteering as I have for the last 13 years of my life (i’m 27 now).  I do this because I was inspired to do so by people who are hold in extremely high regard because of their service to their communities and this country.  So, when considering whether or not to help or not, I hope you will stop and think about everything you have and how bad things could really be.  Give what you can because you know it’s right and it’s what we do as Americans.  Most of all, please appreciate all that you have and have mercy on those who are truly struggling.

09
Mar
11

long term disasters

Massive ice blocks and flooding inundate the t...

Image via Wikipedia

The disasters that happen fast and violently are the sexiest disaster.  They match the short attention span of the American people.  An explosion or tornado will garner a lot of attention.  However, these are rare events.  The possibility of encountering these is relatively low compared to the common disasters we take for granted.  For instance, right now we are dealing with ice jams that have resulted in some flooding.  The next few days could prove to be extremely disasterous for the area as temps increase and we recieve heavy precip.  It’s a very slow process that started last weekend and we may not really see any problems until later tomorrow or Friday.  People are not preparing and haven’t taken the situation seriously because it’s a slow moving rain system.  People are oblivious to the danger.  Remember when talking to your constituents that disasters are not just events that can happen in an instant.  We need to make sure that we let people know that even something as mundane as a rain storm can quickly lead to a life/property threatening situation.

08
Feb
11

The future of 911 is ancient technology

A multimedia message on a Sony Ericsson mobile...

Image via Wikipedia

Dispatchers are completely under appreciated.  They are the quarterbacks of emergency response.  It’s their responsibility to “call the plays” and ensure that the proper agencies are responding while they give lifesaving instructions over the phone, while talking on the radio, while filling out the run sheets, while trying to sneak in a sip of coffee or bite of something to eat, all at the same time.  It’s not going to get easier either, NextGen 911 is going to add some more things that they will need to juggle during an emergency.

The new system is going to allow for SMS (short message service) and MMS (multimedia messaging service) messaging to find it’s way to the 911 dispatcher.  This is great, except that texting and multimedia messaging is old.  Like really old and a lot of us have moved on from texting and sending pictures via these systems.  Texting is used but now people are using instant messaging programs and communicating via social network sites on their phones because they are faster and allow you to include a lot of multimedia.  Pictures are sent to twitter or facebook rather than using MMS.  And what about the dispatcher?  They can’t be expected to monitor social media in addition to their already hectic jobs when there is no system in place to introduce social media reporting of emergencies in dispatch centers.  We have to adopt technology at the speed society is adopting technology.  NextGen 911 is probably years away from deployment and when it does come out it’s going to be extremely outdated and then NextNextGen will come out and it will probably feature the ability for Myspace reporting and other no-longer relevant social media systems.  It’s critically important that we develop emergency response platforms that are modular.  Dispatch centers cannot be expected to have to overhaul entire systems every time they are going to adapt a new technology.  We need more computer software based dispatch systems that can rapidly expand capabilities and adapt new technology as needed and in turn,  save communities money.  I know how difficult it is to upgrade a dispatch center because I was able to be heavily involved in this process.  It takes years of frustration and bureaucracy and in the end you are stuck with a system that is probably already out of date.




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