Each year, emergencies including natural disasters, mass shootings, and pandemics cause thousands of deaths and billions of dollars’ worth of damage in the United States alone. The World Economic Forum and Harvard Global Institute suggest that global populations are experiencing a “period of increased outbreak activity.” In addition, rising global temperatures have resulted in increased severe weather events in the U.S. such as high temperatures, severe flooding and droughts.
An effective emergency management plan is more important than ever for government agencies of all sizes to manage this variety of unplanned events. Prior planning and preparation has the power to save both lives and money. If you’re looking to optimize or revamp your emergency management plan, consider these three best practices.
1. Involve the Community
Depending on the scale of the emergency, it may take some time for local, state and federal government agencies to gather the proper resources to respond. In the meantime, it’s up to the community to mitigate the damage done to the best of their ability.
For that reason, it’s a good idea to appoint a team of local volunteers who are trained in basic disaster response and have knowledge in fire safety, search and rescue, team organization, and fundamental first aid. If your community doesn’t already have one, consider instituting a Citizen Corps program so your community can be better prepared for any disaster.
If possible, get your community involved from the start as you continue to improve your emergency management plan. By gathering input from all stakeholders in the community, you can help ensure that you aren’t overlooking any major areas of vulnerability. Stakeholders should include residents of low-income communities, which are often hardest hit by disasters.
The ability to quickly communicate emergency information before, during and after an emergency can save lives. Your team should make an effort to reach out to the community with information about emergency tools and alerts that are available. And don’t forget about social media; although it shouldn’t be your only method of communication, you can post information and calls for help to widely accessed social media platforms when a disaster hits.
2. Ensure Coordination Among Relevant Parties
Coordination across all relevant first responder agencies requires streamlined communication and prior planning. Without it, their response can be less than effective.
Take for example the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre, during which 49 people were killed and many others were injured. After the event, an Orlando police department report noted the need for better communication and coordination between local fire and police departments. At the scene of the shooting, the two departments set up separate command centers and were using radio channels that were not always connected across the agencies. The disconnect caused unnecessary miscommunications and made coordination difficult.
Incidents like these can be teachable moments and help emergency responders prepare better for future crises. Following the Pulse shooting, Orlando health officials conducted six presentations in Las Vegas about how to respond to a mass shooting, which seemed to have helped shortly thereafter when a gunman opened fire on concertgoers.
Communication systems and liaisons between local emergency responders and state and federal agencies are crucial. When a natural disaster occurs, fire departments, for instance, need to be in touch with the National Weather Service to predict and monitor crisis situations. Fire departments will also work with local utility companies to track restoration of essential services such as water, gas, and electricity. These communication systems should be established before a crisis happens to avoid wasting time.
Your emergency management team should have established protocols for designating the people who will assess the situation and the timing of their response during a variety of disasters. It’s valuable to ensure everyone in your agency is familiar with the details of all emergency management plans and what role they will play before, during and after an emergency.
3. Leverage Up-to-Date and Tested Technology
Recent technological advancements, including newer emergency notification systems, drones, the Internet of Things (IoT), satellite imagery, and disaster prediction models, can provide additional help for any emergency crew. It’s important to be aware of emerging technologies and update your systems if they’re out of date.
For example, the fax machine created a bottleneck for the U.S. coronavirus response. The outdated technology made it incredibly difficult for health officials to track cases, and Washington State called in the National Guard to help with manual data entry. A streamlined digital reporting process could substantially improve contact tracing, and arguably save lives as a result.
In addition to harnessing updated technology, it is important to regularly test your emergency plan and mass communication software. Make sure your systems can handle a surge in calls or use. During Hurricane Harvey, the Harris County 911 system received approximately 80,000 calls within a 24-hour period, exceeding the limits of what the outdated telephone network technology could handle. Modern mass communication systems can work over internet-based networks and enable local emergency centers to outsource 911 calls if they become overwhelmed.
OnSolve specifically uses its patented Universal ANI® technology, which is a toll-free number used to reduce inbound calls. It allows call recipients to re-dial the number appearing on their Caller ID to hear the alert message in its entirety, as many times as needed. This helps dispatchers who are often burdened by non-emergency calls by freeing them up to do their actual jobs while providing the caller with immediate access to the information they need.
Your emergency management software will only be effective if your alerts are able to reach the right stakeholders. By regularly testing your critical communications system, you can help make sure everyone who needs your actionable information and updates is receiving them. Evaluate the health of your system’s contacts, and allow users to update their contact information. Finally, geo-targeted messaging is a must; local governments require messaging to specific locations so you can reach people in the specific area that is impacted by an emergency.
During any type of emergency, it is essential that your residents are equipped with the right information. If you’re looking to make improvements to your emergency management plan, consider streamlining your communication strategy with a critical communications product.