By: Robert Avsec
Natural and man-made disasters occur in the United States and around the world on a daily basis. The question for every community is not “if” a disaster will strike their community, but rather “when”. In recent years, especially in the aftermath of catastrophic events such as the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, more communities have developed Emergency Operations Plans (EOP), Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP), and Continuity of Government (COG) plans.
Characterizing an EOP or COOP/COG Event
In emergency management circles the term, event generator, has come into vogue as a generic term that describes a natural or man-made event that quickly overwhelms a community’s ability to respond and manage its consequences. These types of events typically will require mutual aid resources from neighboring communities, as well as emergency management resources from the state and federal levels of government, e.g., a state’s Emergency Management Agency or FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
Resource Management in Emergency Management
A fundamental component of emergency planning for a locality is the proactive identification of local, state, and federal resources, i.e., cataloguing, that may be available for specific types of event generators that may affect a community.
For example, local emergency planning for Florida communities would look at the resources necessary to manage the wind and rainfall consequences of a hurricane striking a community. The key resource requirements for resource cataloging include, but are not limited to, these items:
- Must be identified (What is the resource?)
- Must be categorized (What functions can it fulfill?)
- Must have contact information to order resource (Who do we call to order resource?)
- Must be able to obtain estimated response time for resource arrival (How will we know when to expect its arrival?)
Current Methodology— Some Drawbacks
|Canvas community for available resources beforehand|
|Catalogue resources using hard copy or static electronic files (On computer)|
|Contact resource “owner” to order resource via telephone or radio at time of need|
|Resource “owner” contacts requesting entity via telephone or radio with ETA at time of need|
Once Resources are identified catalogued, they are not routinely validated. The information is usually not current at the time that it’s needed (The “Make a Plan and Put it on a Shelf and Forget It” phenomenon in which the plan is never updated or validated after its creation).
Often there is limited access to the established Resource Inventory by those who need it, when they need it, especially if it’s in hard copy (on the shelf) or in static e-files on desktop computers in offices.
“True” Resource availability is not known until event occurs and resource “owner” is contacted via telephone or radio. Only then does the requesting party find out that:
- The resource may no longer exist; or
- The resource may exist, but it is not available for the current need.
Compiling such a “real-time” inventory of resource availability—after the event generator has done its work—is a time consuming and people intensive task, e.g., lots of telephone or radio traffic contacting individual resource owners and creating a resource catalogue “on the fly”.
A Better Methodology—A Way Forward
The development and availability of wireless broadband technology (WBT) can provide Emergency Managers and Public Safety agencies with a powerful tool for creating a “just in time” resource inventory, along with a system for managing that inventory as emergency management activities progress.
‘Mudslingers’ to the rescue! Volunteers help Colorado flood victims clean up
|Canvas community for available resources using WBT technology|
|Catalogue resources using databases stored in the “cloud”|
|Use WBT to access information using wireless devices, e.g., smartphones and tablets|
|Create Resource Groups using WBT apps|
|Create Communication Groups using WBT apps|
Using WBT, a comprehensive resource network can be established using WBT applications on wireless devices, e.g., smartphones and tablets. When an event generator occurs, the locality can send one message to the appropriate resource “owners” using WBT application with pertinent information, e.g., location, type of event, needed resources, and where resources are needed.
The resource “owner” communications back to locality using the same WBT application with real-time information: Is the resource is available Yes or No? If Yes:
- The locality sends message back to resource owner indicating where and when resource is needed; and
- Resource owner then communicates pertinent response information to locality, e.g., resource type, staffing (if applicable), and ETA.
Ad hoc Resource Requirements: Harnessing the Power of Previously Unidentified Resources
More localities are turning to the use of social media to rapidly recruit and organize community resources in “real time”. In many cases these are un-catalogued resources; small businesses and organizations and individuals that many of us have never considered before in managing a significant local event. And if we did, we were probably “turned off” by the prospect of, “How are we going to get such resources organized and then get them to where we need them?”
See Related: Donate Boulder—Community Organized Flood Relief
History has shown us that the only good information is that which can be obtained in “real-time”, i.e., the day and time of the event. The large majority of people in our communities use social media, in one or more applications, on a daily basis; they are an informed and educated resource the can be recruited and organized in real time if we use the right tools in the right way.
Create Process for Using Social Media to Recruit and Organize Resources in “Real-time”
Don’t wait until an event generator strikes your community and then try to establish a social-media-based solution to your ad hoc resource needs. Be proactive and ensure that your community has established dedicated Twitter and Facebook and Text-messaging accounts as part of its EOP/COOP/COG Plans.
How Social Media Can Be Used
Twitter has 140 character message capability. Use # symbol to create incident-specific “address” for incoming Tweets, e.g., #CityEmergency. Use as “headline” to direct volunteers to Facebook page for further instructions and information.
Facebook has much more text capability and capability to upload photos, documents, and links to other sites. Makes use of locality’s existing Facebook page or page created specifically for the incident, e.g., Boulder Flood.
Text messaging requires that users pre-register to receive text messages. Needs to be key part of marketing plan along with Twitter and Facebook.
Nobody Plans to Fail, They Fail to Plan
While WBT and social media apps can greatly enhance your community’s ability to recruit and mobilize resources in “real time” following an event generator, don’t wait until the event happens to put a system in place beforehand. Start now to create a marketing plan to inform and educate the public about how your community will use social media when an EOP/COOP/COG event strikes the community.
So how connected is your community?
Related Links for Information on WBT and Communications Apps
See: How to get broadband on a budget