Peer-to-Peer Perspective: Prepare for the Future by Learning from the Past

Don Hall, Director of Government Relations 

I have Don Hall, Director of Government Relationsalways learned valuable insight from tragic events based upon what my organization did right versus what we did wrong, or perhaps even what we should have done differently. Most everyone within the emergency management field, including myself, can honestly say we’ve never managed a single emergency or disaster event where we didn’t walk away with a list of lessons learned. Regardless of the size of the incident, there will always be areas for which adjustments and improvements are warranted. In order to continually refine our public safety efforts, we must not only understand how we can improve, but actually implement those lessons learned within preparedness, response and recovery plans moving forward. I know that no one in our business wants to make the same mistake twice, especially as it relates to the possible loss of life and property.

It’s true that no two disasters are completely alike nor do they present the same set of situations and challenges. Our plans and procedures are developed for that very reason and in turn, used to help guide us through these events as successfully as possible. As such, I never expect to experience a disaster which follows emergency plans as I have them laid out. Therefore, it is critical to consider including contingencies and recognizable triggers within all plans that allow for flexibility to address “what if” scenarios. In the past many organizations have all followed the standard templated format for plan development and thought we had a good plan, meeting all of the criteria suggested in the template. The new age of planning has to include contingencies, trigger factors and the “what if’s” in order for it to be more than just a book on the shelf.

Even seasoned emergency managers will acknowledge, nearly every after action review has identified communications as a weak factor and it remains widely recognized that problems reside within every aspect of communications, from radio frequency incompatibility, face to face communications, the use of other multiple devices, the type of information that needs to be shared, and all the way to when and with whom to communicate. Communications is a multi-faceted function which is very difficult to perfect and it remains one that the public safety community seemingly continues to struggle with due to its broad nature and scope.

It is important to also note that agencies utilizing a mass notification system should also evaluate its effectiveness as part of the overall review process and After Action Report (AAR). Evaluate it based upon the following criteria:

  • How well did you use it to your advantage?
  • Where could you have used it, but didn’t?
  • Was the timing right?
  • Should you build out more contact group lists and templated scenarios to save time in the future?

These are all very good questions to address as part of your AAR. The limitations for CodeRED or a similar mass notification system are only restricted by your level of usage, creativity and ingenuity. It is one of your most powerful tools and yet, I see that it is often overlooked for use during emergency and disaster events.

For this reason alone, collectively we must remember to use every mode of communication dissemination possible when sending out important emergency messages to the public. Each delivery mode you use will undoubtedly contact people that would not have received the message from any of the other deployed methods. Your goal is to reach as many people as you can, when you need to. As your partner in this life saving endeavor, ECN strongly encourages all of its clients to use every tool available in your “toolbox” and to consider adding additional items that you may not already have, such as IPAWS and the CodeRED Mobile App, to extend your reach.

In closing, while discussing lessons learned, we would love to hear from clients across the country regarding valuable lessons and use cases you’ve discovered utilizing a mass notification system throughout recent tropical storms, Hurricane Matthew, regional floods and widespread wildfires.  Did you discover anything which had led you to make alterations to your critical communication plans?  I’d like to compile anonymous information to share peer to peer in order to collectively help our public safety community become increasingly more successful, together.

If you are interested in sharing a CodeRED success story or best practice information regarding communicating critical information to employees and residents, please email me – Don Hall, Director of Government Relations at dhall@onsolve.com.  All information will remain anonymous unless authorized differently. I would just like to help bring our professional community closer together and be sure to share valuable information with one another.