In light of the landfall of Hurricane Alex and the ongoing hurricane season, the short article below gives tips on using your emergency notification system post-storm.
Properly used, a mass notification system can be one of the Emergency Manager’s best assets during the response and recovery phases of a disaster. The need to reach out to the public and gather information as well as provide safety instructions is equally as important as pre-storm warning messages. Unfortunately, many Emergency Managers view this tool as only a warning device and are missing out on the full benefit that it can provide. Believe it or not, the use of an outbound 911 system immediately post-storm can save lives. It’s a fact that more lives are lost post-storm than during a storm, therefore it is a critical time for the EOC to provide information to citizens, a step too frequently overlooked or underachieved by many jurisdictions. The use of such systems should be incorporated into your planning and exercised to ensure that staff members are familiar with system operations as well as the many uses it provides for the EOC.
Listed below are five critical areas of outreach that a mass notification system can achieve for the Emergency Manager.
Life Safety Information: Many injuries and deaths occur post-storm due to carelessness and lack of public education and awareness. Safety massages should be disseminated to the public periodically warning of the dangers that they will be facing and how to safely go about their clean up missions. Carbon monoxide poisoning, chainsaw accidents, electrocutions and careless use of matches and candles are the major contributors to the severe rise in injuries and deaths following a hurricane or tornado event. The use of an outbound 911 system during this time is paramount.
Damage Assessment Gathering: Utilizing mass notification to ask the public to report areas throughout the jurisdiction that received destruction will assist in determining where Damage Assessment Teams need to survey. It should capture other human needs segments that require immediate attention such as sheltering, mass feeding, points of distribution and Red Cross response.
Recovery and Re-Entry Information: Recovery and re-entry plans will be different for each disaster and will depend on the amount of devastation that the area received. Informing the public what the plan is for the community will be a work in progress daily. An outbound 911 system can assist in delivering these messages directly to citizens.
Update Victim Services Information: Keep citizens updated with pertinent disaster assistance information such as shelter facilities, mass feeding locations, family assistance locations, POD locations, etc.
Public Assistance Information: Should the jurisdiction receive a Federal Disaster Declaration which provides FEMA and SBA assistance to citizens, the Emergency Manager will need to employ every means of public notification available to disseminate this information. Citizens will require information from the EOC advising them of Disaster Assistance locations, hours of service, what services are available to them and how they can receive more detailed information.
These are only a few examples in which your mass notification system can assist you in protecting the public and keeping them informed. There are countless other uses, be creative, the sky is the limit! The more you use it, the more you will find just how helpful a tool it is.
Donald F. Hall, CEM, FPEM
Mr. Hall has been involved in Emergency Management for over 25 years, holding positions including Emergency Management Director for Calvert County and Deputy Director of Operations and Planning for Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department.