Emergency Management Summit recap

Every once in awhile we have the opportunity to explore an area that’s related to, but outside the traditional scope of, records management.  As our agency’s Continuity of Operations (COOP) Coordinator,  I attended the Emergency Management All Hazards/Stakeholders Summit in Houston 6 December to learn some tidbits to implement or at least consider in our planning efforts.  The audience was primarily comprised of first responders (police, fire, EMS) and emergency preparedness managers and planners.  Judge Ed Emmett from Harris County talked of the importance of emergency management and how he and other elected officials rely on emergency management personnel to make critical decisions  and later noted that social media is an important tool for both management and first responders.

Chief Nim Kidd of TDEM (Texas Division of Emergency Management) stated we are a “just in time” society, where we don’t plan for incidents until the last possible moment at best.  He mentioned he feels e-mails will be a thing of the past in 5-10 years(!)  and spoke of the importance of having a family communication plan.  He asked who has an emergency supply of food and water and for how long (I had thought a three-day supply was recommended but he suggested much longer).  Chief Kidd mentioned the use of a virtual EOC (emergency operations center). Unlike the usual EOC, a virtual one is set up via a computer network or the Internet where command center participants can share information, make decisions, and deploy resources without being physically at the command center.  Emergency plans and reports, and all information for that matter, are available from any location and can be maintained in a central database.

Chief Kidd challenged everyone to “stay fresh” on what you need to know to do your job and asked, for example, when was the last time police or fire chiefs sat in class with their cadets.  Two representatives from the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office spoke about mitigation, prevention, response, and recovery from active shooter incidents, citing the tragedies in Columbine (CO), Oslo (Norway), and Aurora (CO).  This subject caught my attention because of the shooter incident that occurred at the State Capitol in 2010.  The speakers said that while often the shooters are “off law enforcement’s radar” they often give clues to family and/or friends of their plans.  For example, the shooter may post Facebook updates or send e-mails suggesting the friend or family member not go to work or school, or to take the day off and meet the shooter at the park (and never shows up).

A senior manager from AT&T talked about current and emerging technologies in communications.  They do three to four exercises annually in which they bring their own food, supplies, and required resources, being self-sustaining.  They contact local governmental agencies to find where they can set up and operate, employing their COWs (Cell on Wheels) and COLTs (Cell on Light Truck) as they practice at attempting to keep cell phone service up and running in emergency or disaster situations.  He referred to things such as GETS (Government Emergency Telecommunications Service), TSP (Telecommunications Service Priority), and WPS (Wireless Priority Service) as options to interoperable and redundant communication.

The next speaker spoke of the need for communications and information technology staff to work together and plan ahead to ensure emergency management staff has constant and current situational awareness to help with decision making and resource management.  He mentioned PTT (Push-to-Talk) phones, where cell phones operate as “walkie-talkies”, and how a “cloud” may be a SATCOM (satellite communications) link or a cable running across the ground.

More discussion on new communications technology followed.  Currently, Project 25 or P25 (standards for digital interoperable communications), and P25 ISSI (a way to allow users on different networks to talk together), are available for two-way radio.  What does the future hold in store?  Expanded use of broadband, social media, and commercial technologies.  This includes integrated broadband across public and private organizations, VoIP-based PTT, and LTE (Long Term Evolution) wireless communication.

And would you believe someone from Google spoke?  He suggested using things such as Google Maps Apps, Google Maps Engine, and Google Crisis Response to assist emergency managers and first responders.  He mentioned a fire chief, for example, could track where fire fighters are located in a burning building basically three dimensionally.  When asked how often their maps are updated, he said the street view is updated annually while the satellite view is updated about every 4-6 months.

When dealing with emergency management (planning, preparedness, etc.), stay informed.  Look at possible uses of alternate forms of communication such as e-mail, special two-way radios, social media, and newer technology.  Think of the impact on your records, especially your essential/vital records.  Are you going to be creating and using hard copy or are those records going to be on a database or out in “the cloud”?  Ensure that you not only have a communication (and evacuation) plan at work but also one at home for you and your family.  Think of the adage “Hope for the best, expect the worst,” and don’t think or say, “It can’t (or won’t) happen to us” or “It’ll never happen.”   That’s most likely when Mr. Murphy will pay you an unexpected (and unwelcome) visit.