By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
One of the most critical public safety functions that local government must provide to its community is giving the
timely order for residents to evacuate their homes and communities in the face of impending danger.
Whether it’s a catastrophic wildfire like that that forced the evacuation of the 80,000+ residents of Fort McMurray in Canada, or last week’s devastating flooding that struck West Virginia, getting people out of harm’s way is paramount to preventing the needless loss of life.
Getting Better at Communicating with Our Communities
Twenty-four people died across West Virginia as a result of the torrential rains on June 23, 2016 and massive flooding that followed (Weather Channel meteorologists described the flooding as a 1000-year flood for a state that is no stranger to flashfloods when heavy rains pour down on the Mountain State). How is this loss of life from something we see coming still possible in 2016?
I believe that public safety agencies have an implicit obligation to keep our citizens informed and educated about impending harm, e.g., hurricanes, tornados, severe flooding and the like. But more than that, when necessary, we also have an obligation to give them unambiguous instructions on what actions they need to take to protect their lives.
As public safety agencies, we have more communication tools at our disposal than ever before for doing both of those things. Social media applications have surpassed traditional media, e.g., TV and radio, as the source people turn to for their daily information. Your citizens are using social media when disaster strikes, are you ready?
Mobile Apps for Emergency Preparedness
Just as important as the public’s increased reliance on social media for news and information has been the rapid development of mobile apps for communicating emergency information to the public. We have an obligation to use our “bully pulpit” as emergency managers to inform and educate our communities about the existence of these applications and “get behind them” with our support. Here are several relevant examples:
Many of these mobile apps contain a wealth of pre-planning and preparedness information for the user, such as, automatic notifications for severe weather watches and warnings and what to include in a personal “go bag” prior to an evacuation notice. For example, here are the features that are included in FEMA’s mobile app:
- Alerts from the National Weather Service: Receive severe weather alerts for up to five locations across the U.S. and see information about how to stay safe.
- Disaster Reporter: Upload and share photos of damage and recovery efforts.
- Maps of disaster resources: Locate and receive driving directions to open shelters and disaster recovery centers.
- Apply for assistance: Easily access DisasterAssistance.gov to apply for federal disaster assistance.
- Custom emergency safety information: Save a custom list of the items in your family’s emergency kit, as well as the places you will meet in case of an emergency.
- Safety tips: Receive safety and preparedness reminders and learn how to stay safe before, during, and after over 20 types of hazards, including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.
- Information in Spanish: Easily toggle between English and Spanish for all features of the app.
Our communities look to us in public safety to be the subject matter experts when it comes to emergency planning and preparedness. How are you doing in your community?