The 2 million residents of Houston are no stranger to emergencies. From seasonal hazards — such as severe tropical weather, inland flooding, wildfires and the ever-present threat of terrorism and hazardous materials — the nation’s fourth largest city has extensive experience preparing for, responding to and recovering from disasters.
One of the key challenges in responding to a large metropolitan community is getting timely emergency information to residents wherever they may be. As the world becomes increasingly mobile, emergency management agencies must adapt to new technology and changing social norms.
With that in mind, Houston’s Office of Emergency Management developed a version of its website that is optimized for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Residents now have information on emergency preparedness, links to helpful mobile websites, ways to get help, as well as how they can become involved in their community’s disaster response structure in a format that’s easily displayed on, and takes advantage of the technological features of, their smartphones and tablets. Houston residents can visit m.houstonoem.net to access the new site.
During an incident, the mobile site can also serve as a key resource for important protective actions and disaster information. As recent incidents (including the East Coast’s brush with Hurricane Irene) have shown, even when power is out, many residents still have access to the Web capacity of their mobile phones, which are easily charged in vehicles or with extra battery packs. This can serve as a key information dissemination channel during large events such as the hurricanes, heavy rain and winter ice events that Houston has experienced in the past few years.
“The information needs of our community have changed, and as emergency managers, we have an obligation and responsibility to meet those needs,” said Sharon Nalls, the city’s emergency management coordinator. “Developing a way to get preparedness and response information into the palm of their hand was just part of what we can do to better engage Houston residents.”
The mobile site also augments the Office of Emergency Management’s Web and social media presence. The city uses a Web-based content management system, PIER Systems, to produce and publish information from official sources when incidents occur, and can disseminate it to traditional websites, Twitter and Facebook accounts, and various partner websites within the greater Houston region.
As society adapts to new technology, emergency managers must also continue to develop strategies to incorporate these changing mediums and information needs into their planning and responses. Houston continues to be on the leading edge of harnessing the power of new and emerging technology to engage and promote a safer and more resilient community.
Michael Walter is the community outreach coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management for Houston.
Emergency Management’s website is now mobile! Go to m.emergencymgmt.com from your smartphone to keep up-to-date on all-hazards news.