The purpose of National Preparedness Month is to encourage communities across the country to be proactive before an emergency situation occurs. The theme: “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can.” illustrates the importance of anticipating potential crises in your area and taking steps to ensure plans are in place to handle situations as they arise.
When it became apparent that the city of Cleveland, Ohio, would be hosting the Republican National Convention in 2016, government officials knew they had to come up with a comprehensive security and mass notification plan well before the event took place. The task was spearheaded by Cleveland’s Public Safety Department, a communications team comprised of both internal and external stakeholders, to develop a large-scale event plan that included contingencies for potential hazards or scenarios that could occur during the event. The plan also featured a campaign to urge citizens to download the free CodeRED Mobile Alert app to keep themselves informed throughout the event.All of that planning paid off. During the convention, city officials were able to communicate not only with citizens, but also with other agencies, including EMS, fire and police departments through a single tool.
Steps to Prepare for Large Events
Taking the time to plan and prepare before an anticipated event is critical to ensuring smooth operations and communication.
The first step is understanding potential emergency situations that may occur and what would be required to address them. The ultimate goal of this step is to develop a set of best practices and policies. To gather information, reach out to other communities that have managed similar situations. Valuable information is also available from The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications and the National Emergency Communications Plan.
Next, assemble a core team of fire, police and emergency services officials who work together frequently. This team should meet regularly to understand each other’s capabilities and how they can work together. Each member of the team should take time to become familiar with your best practices and policies. Be sure to train involved groups on an emergency notification system like CodeRED, which is then publicized within the community prior to the event.The mass notification system you rely on also plays a role in the effectiveness of emergency operations. The system should provide multichannel, mobile-enabled, two-way communications. It should be able to process and send additional information, like photos, and deliver thousands of messages simultaneously. The ability to integrate with existing applications is also important, depending on the needs of the agency.
Finally, consider doing some test runs. Some organizations have gone so far as to use smaller events, both anticipated and unanticipated, as practice for larger events. The city of Sarasota, Florida, chose to do just that. Because officials know the city is prone to floods, emergency managers throughout the State are accustomed to monitoring the weather and, depending on circumstances, issuing alerts and putting well-honed procedures into place. Those procedures range from ensuring that drains aren’t blocked and putting sandbags in areas prone to flooding to ensuring that lift stations in the area are functioning properly.All of that planning came in handy when Sarasota was hit with Tropical Storm Emily in July 2017, with winds of upwards of 45 mph. In the end, it didn’t turn out to be as devastating as expected, but because of the city’s preparedness, officials were calm and prepared throughout the event, and citizens weren’t overly alarmed.
Conducting a post-mortem on events after they take place to understand what went well and what could be done better the next time around also is important. Cleveland’s Public Safety Department was also successful in internal evaluations after the Republican National Convention. A CodeRED Steering Committee completed an evaluation and came up with a list of objectives for the next event, including increasing awareness of CodeRED among citizens and expanding the use of the emergency notification system to non-public safety departments and divisions to improve internal communications.