Posts Tagged ‘emergency management


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).


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.


Citizen 2.0

FEMA - 40808 - PDA team in Arkansas

Image via Wikipedia

We put a lot of focus on the use of #SMEM in emergency management, specifically with emergency management’s use of social media technology.  We are developing training and policies for emergency managers so they know how to develop programs and utilize the technology.  We are presenting at conferences and seminars to help get more emergency managers on board.  We are even trying to develop ways to get emergency managers to use standard hashtags.  We have made a lot of headway and are getting a lot of eyes on social media during disasters.  But what about the citizens?  How are we ensuring they are posting reports and using the hashtags?

We need to tackle the discrepancy in the same manner that we tackled the lack of use by emergency managers.  We need to engage citizens and citizen volunteer groups and get them to start using the technology.  I was talking to @metalerik today on twitter.  He direct messaged me about how he was excited to follow me and the SMEM initiative.  I told him, “Great”, and that we would be more than happy to help him along.  Citizen involvement in the overall initiative and local efforts needs to involve citizens.  They are the ones who will either adopt and allow your program to be successful and receiving reports or they won’t be involved.  If they don’t know how or where to report what they see, then they won’t report or you won’t be able to find what they do report.  Your citizens are also who pay your bills so by engaging them and including them in the process you get to show them where their hard earned cash is going and you get to deliver your preparedness message and training right to the source.


Oh definitely, maybe…

A graphic representation of the four phases in...

Image via Wikipedia

When does rhetoric become reality?  Even today after doing so much work to get emergency management and response agencies to pay attention, we are still so far behind in being able to monitor disasters using social media.  This wouldn’t be so frustrating if it was because the technology didn’t exist, was too expensive, was logistically impossible, or any legitimate reason.  It is extremely frustrating because it’s held up for no good reason.  Stop ignoring the writing on the wall (literally and figuratively) and develop a program now.


The tides are changing

Logo for the Addicted to Social Media Blog

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:


The two way street

One-way street in New York City.

Image via Wikipedia

An easy to understand metaphor for social media is the two way street. The two way street allows for traffic to flow in both directions fluidly. If you only have traffic flowing in one direction, there is opportunity to flow in the other direction as well. This however is not how many people are using social media. I recently consulted with a large restaurant chain on how they could implement social media into their public relations. I advised them that if they are going to use social media they must being willing to accept traffic both ways. Their concern is something many people have when dealing with communication that everyone will see. They were afraid people may say something bad about them or there would be posts that were offensive or they would get spammed. If you aren’t using social media as a two way conversation, than don’t bother. It’s a waste of your time and people will ignore the information you are issuing. Just build a website where you can control any information going out or into your company or agency and be done with it.

This attitude is very common amongst people who are stuck on the old approach of public relations; that you have to have absolute control over the information going in or out. You can’t have two way traffic on a one way street. You can’t have a conversation if one person isn’t allowed to talk. You can’t successfully implement social media if you aren’t willing to communicate both ways. If people are complaining about something then that means they are paying attention to the info you are putting out! Your getting instant feedback about an experience they are having. This is extremely valuable and ensures customer satisfaction and in emergency management you customers are tax paying citizens who you are assigned to protect! Swallow your pride and aknowledge that you will make mistakes and that people are simply going to spread their bad experience whether you are listening to them or not. If you get that information from them in a post or tweet than you have the opportunity to respond to it and provide your side of the situation and ultimately you have more control over the situation than you would in a one way system. It also looks great when you are responding to complaints because people see your concerned and willing to rectify the problem publicly. This is PR gold!


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.