Posts Tagged ‘Business

27
Jan
11

The tides are changing

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Image via Wikipedia

It appears that social media is all the rage and the emergency management community is finally taking notice.  People are jumping on board at astounding rates and as a platform, social media is becoming the go-to source for information and news.  This seems to be especially true with twitter.  However, it still seems there are large groups of emergency managers and response agencies that refuse to join in on the conversation.  There are also still people who think that social media should only go one way because of liability or a number of other ridiculous reasons.  The #SMEM initiative (*edit – corrected the name, Thanks Jeff)  is working hard to change this.  The power of social media is certainly in the conversation, the conversation that is happening regardless of your involvement..  We learn more about how to use it every day because we ARE using it.  This is the only way we can develop the policies and practices that have some so freaked out.  My suspicion is that we are still just scratching the surface of it’s abilities and the software is going to continue to develop and become more robust.  This is quickly becoming one of the greatest developments in emergency and disaster response ever and if your missing out on this, than shame on you!

Remember, people are using social media.  Your colleagues are using social media.  Your fellow agencies are using social media.  So why aren’t you?  If you have the opportunity, please attend the #SMEM Camp at the Nema conference in March.  If the people there can’t change your mind than no one can.  And if no one can than you should probably find another line of work because this is a critical form of intelligence and you cannot ignore it.  The camp will be a great starting point for all the people who have concerns about using social media or don’t even know where to start.  It will also be good for current practicioners who are hoping to further develop their skills and learn the latest in trends and use.  You can log on and view from the comfort of your computer but it would advisable that you make an effort to be there and meet the individuals who are on the cutting edge of this technology.  I am a little biased, I am on the work group for this project.  Info for the camp can be found below:

http://www.nemaweb.org/index.php?option=com_rsform&view=rsform&Itemid=416

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20
Jan
11

Open Source EM

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

A few years ago, if you were to suggest using civilian technology for emergency response, you would have been laughed at.  It seems everyone was spending money like it was going out of style, thanks largely to the large amount of grant money.  Everyone had their own mobile command posts, high tech radios, etc…but those times are gone.   The grants have dried up, the costs to maintain the equipment bought with grants is very high, and EM‘s and first responders are doing more with less.  What about doing it for free?

There are now a lot of free software packages and online programs that allow you to do a lot for very little money or no cost at all.  Google docs and groups allow you to collaborate in real time.  They work very similarly to Microsoft sharepoint but are completely free.  EAS systems can cost 10’s of thousands of dollars to buy and maintain and now we are finding that free social media services provide better warning and allow for two way communication.  You can even provide free webinar trainings using http://www.dimdim.com (although not for long).  I was a strong advocate of public safety designed gear, and in many cases this is still the case, but I use these free services all the time.  I couldn’t function without them.

26
Dec
10

Ipads and smartphones

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Ok, I know when to say when.  I was wrong.  A few months ago, after using an ipad, I decided that they couldn’t really function in an emergency management role.  I assumed that because responders and emergency managers beat the crap out of equipment that the ipad would not survive use at an emergency scene.  I was wrong.  It’s getting used, a lot.  There is a lot of software that has been developed for it.  I was wrong.  The android platform hasn’t quite made it to a tablet yet.  That’s going to change.

There is a great discussion going on the IAEM group on LinkedIn regarding the use of smartphones and tablets.  I was really surprised at how ingenious some agencies are when it comes to using specially developed software and the use of off the shelf software on these devices.  A great point that was brought up is that no matter what you install on whatever devices you choose to use, be sure you know how to use it.  An emergency situation is not the time to learn software or how to use your device.  With that said, I again concede that Ipads are changing how information gets used and created during an emergency.  It’s all very new though and things are changing rapidly.  Who knows what the next revolution will be.  It seems that every week something new comes out and changes everything.  We as emergency managers need to watch tech trends as closely as we watch trends in emergency management.

20
Dec
10

Social Media Is Here To Stay

Integrated Emergency Operations Center (IEOC)

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It’s no longer a fad or a something you may want to start considering.  There is now quantifiable data to prove that social media is not an option, it’s a requirement.  At the Red Cross “Social data and emergency communications” summit, they discussed some startling statistics from a recent study on civilians use of social media during an emergency.  The data is clear, people consider social media a means to contact emergency responders and even more unsettling is the fact that they consider it an alternative to 911.

Why is this concerning?  To start with, we as a profession and in our volunteer roles are far behind the average citizen when it comes to social media.  As agencies and organizations, we have no resources currently in place to dedicate to deal with the influx of social media.  Here is a prime example of what I am talking about:  Citizens are expecting a response within an hour or less if they post an emergency situation to a agency facebook, twitter, or email account.  How many agencies have the means to monitor this?  It is extremely important to explicitly explain that 911 is the only way to guarantee a connection to an emergency communicator. Dispatch centers are dreading the day they have to start answering text messages!  Now they have to keep an eye on twitter, facebook, email, in addition to the normal lines of communication they have deal with regularly.

Another reason to be concerned is that many agencies, most probably, haven’t developed plans or assigned a person to ingest data.  All the public information officer course I have taken did not address how we should be dealing with the flow of information in.  There are a lot of programs out there to help track and respond to social media “trends” and incoming data but there are very few standards in place to help organize and utilize this information.

The good news is that despite the fact that we are so far behind citizens have been quick to help out during disasters.  It’s very empowering to citizens to be able to have a way to get information out during an emergency and many tech savvy people have offered their help to get that information through to responders.  So the logical next step is to find these people and develop relationships and plans so that we don’t hope that an ad hoc system will develop during a disaster.  With preplanning we can immediately begin to ingest these data streams and create two way communications during disasters.

14
Nov
10

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.




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