Archive for the 'Planning and Preparedness' Category


The future of 911 is ancient technology

A multimedia message on a Sony Ericsson mobile...

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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  NextGen 911 is probably years away from deployment and when it does come out it’s going to be extremely outdated and then NextNextGen will come out and it will probably feature the ability for Myspace reporting and other no-longer relevant social media systems.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  It takes years of frustration and bureaucracy and in the end you are stuck with a system that is probably already out of date.


Snowmageddon ’10

A powder snow avalanche

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It’s happened again, it snowed (picture screaming people running away from a giant snowman)!  This has got to be one of the most under-appreciated disasters possible.  Snow is light and fluffy and fun so how could it ever do anything bad?  Well, I would bet there are thousands of people, perhaps millions who, right now, are cursing that pretty white blanket that has enveloped most of the northeastern US.  This is another example of a massive failure to prepare and plan on how to respond to a snow crisis.  The forecasting was there, people knew what was going to happen, yet cities everywhere are still struggling to return to normal.

Part of it is a failure of local government to be able to respond but civilians need to take responsibility as well.  You need to be able to function without the assistance of government for an extended period of time.  This is especially true when you have conditions that cause failure of infrastructure or make it impossible to travel.  However, this event has also proven that people are going to deal with the disaster on their own and likely in a more efficient way than the government could facilitate because of the fact that many government officials are probably stranded as well.  Social media is abuzz with reports of snow, cars stuck, road closures, etc… and people are mobilizing on this information.  The governement agencies that are paying attention are doing amazingly well considering the circumstances.  A prime example is Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ.

Mayor Booker is fully utilizing Twitter and is doing a beyond impressive job at responding to his peoples requests for help.  He is coordinating the response in a very untraditional way and it speaks volumes to his commitment to the city.  The mayor is basically cruising the streets watching his twitter and digging out cars, helping shovel driveways, helping birth babies.  He understands the power of social media, he is using it as a two way communication method, and he is out there making a difference when many other officials are cozy in their offices.


Community Preparedness

Elbert, CO, September 2, 2009 -- Elbert County...

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Why is it that so many people are caught off guard in an emergency?  We as emergency managers and responders harp on people to take responsibility for themselves yet it seems to yield any positive results.  We have managed to do well in some areas such as fire detection and alarm systems but when it comes to something like planning for a major disaster people seem to be completely apathetic.  My suspicion is that we have become incredibly gun-shy about telling it like it is.  Can you imagine telling your local population something like “if you don’t prepare for disasters, you will die”.  We sugar coat things so that we don’t want to cause alarm but people need to be alarmed about how unprepared they are.  I come from an area that has long-lasting severe winter weather.  We had a wood stove for heat and my parents grew vegetables and raised chickens and even pigs occasionally for food.  We could feasibly live self-sustaining for as long as we needed too.  This is not the case with most of the country.  How long could you survive with no access to running water, food, electricity, and with no help coming to save you?

Smoke detectors were easy though.  People see houses burn down far more frequently then they see the devastation of a major disaster.   In a recent post Recalibrating Emergency Management : Lower The Bar from the Emergency Management Magazine blog section, you can see a different approach to getting people on board.  Here is my concern about lowering the bar on preparedness.  We as a county have a horrible history of dropping standards to achieve success.  You see this in hiring methods, education, etc… and what you end up with is a higher rate of success that fails to accomplish your goal.  I don’t think that we should lower our expectations when it concerns life or death situations.  What we need to do is convey the importance and be painfully explicit with the dangers of ignoring the danger of being unprepared.  We can also make it easier for people to prepare.  The Red Cross has a disaster kit that you can purchase that includes some basics that you may need in a disaster.  CERT programs generally provide a base level of tools you may need.  I think that agencies should create kits that can be easily purchased with instructions that relate to your target area regarding your target hazards.  We forget that people are extremely comfortable in their lives and it may not be that they don’t want to be prepared but that they simply have no idea how to be prepared.

Do you think that a person living in downtown Manhattan could be expected to know how to survive without any of the comforts they have known their whole lives?  These are the people who will be most vulnerable in a disaster.  A rural farmer from Vermont could probably care less if the power goes out.  I mean most people who live out in the wilderness know full well what they need in order to survive, in fact they probably chose to live there for that reason.  People living in urban or suburban areas likely want to be prepared but can’t comprehend a situation where everything they count on is no longer there because they have never had that happen to them.  Someone who live in the woods will probably deal with extended power outages several times a year.  I can remember several occasions where I lived without power for as much as a week and responded to hundreds of calls where trees had taken out the power to large parts of my home town.  And of all the calls that were resulting of mass power outages that I responded to, I can think of only one or two times we had to open a shelter to help people who weren’t able to deal with the situation.

The solution is pretty simple.  We need to make emergency preparedness an accessible service.  We need to find ways to help those who don’t find regularly find themselves dealing with physical hardships conceptualize how they would deal with a major disaster.  This is being done in a much more targeted fashion right now.  Californians know they need to prepare for earthquakes.  This is a low-frequency, high risk situation and people get it.  Midwesterners know they are at a much higher risk for severe thunderstorms and again the chances of actually getting hit by a tornado are quite small but they are prepared.  They do this by being clear about the dangers and having easily accessible information regarding them, including a lot of publicity and public appearances.  We can all do this.