At the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Annual Conference last week, I had several interesting conversations about what the future of emergency management looks like. With technology constantly changing, new risks being identified, increasing political tensions, and changing social and demographic standards, the future of emergency management is simultaneously bright and murky. Here are some thoughts:
SUPER DIGITAL AGE
Technology is quickly approaching the point of full integration into all aspects of life. There are an increasing number of technologies designed for communication, community, and collaboration. Moreover, there are a growing number of technologies that are aimed toward predicting behaviors. Technologies like augmented reality (ex: Google Glass) and the growing expectation of the public will continue to force professional emergency managers to radically shift when, where, and how technology is deployed before, during, and after disasters.
POLITICIZATION OF RECOVERY
The partisan issues of American politics does not stop during disaster response and recovery. Political sensitivity continues to be a major issue as was evident during the BP Oil Spill and Superstorm Sandy recovery. This is going to continue to be a challenge to emergency managers as we attempt to work within best practices, governmental interpretations, and shifting political influences. This may lead to opportunistic disaster recovery rather than incident-driven priorities.
DISTORTED PERCEPTIONS OF RISK
Citizens have long had difficult truly grasping the relative risk to themselves in a given community. Moreover, major events like Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, Boston Marathon Bombing, and the Alabama tornado outbreak have lead to a distorted view of the so-called "Black Swan" events. Are these events occurring more often or is this a cascading issue of social engagement. These Black Swan events often shift public attention away from critical issues and disasters in more remote areas (or less media-interesting areas).
While the national economy continues to be sluggish, there are other emerging economies that are going to impact emergency management. For example, digital currency programs (ex: bitcoin) and barter systems (via emergent disaster response) are influencing how support resources will be distributed and shared.
All I know for sure is that what is past is prologue. Let's eagerly look to the future at what can and will be.
Emergency Management Magazine has recently published a very interesting article about how Google Glass is being utilized by private firms to develop an additional tool for emergency responders. More than a year ago, I first suggested some of the potential benefits of Google Glass so it is exciting to see some of those options coming to fruition.
In reality, in 20 years Google Glass may look like an old Mobile "bag" phone or a clunky brick (ala Zach Morris from Saved by the Bell). But Google Glass is the first and most notable device to facilitate real-time, accurate, augmented reality. The idea of having layers of data is not new (think GIS), but has previously been limited to high processing systems with limited data streams. With Google Glass (or whatever the future brings), augmented reality is a real possibility where information can be handled in real-time and hands-free format which will ultimately improve the readiness of emergency managers and first responders.
Are we ready for Google Glass? Probably not yet. But with forward thinking companies, creative emergency managers, and a little bit of time (less than a decade), augmented reality will become a fundamental tool to improve the preparedness of our communities for emergencies and disasters.
I ran across the term "Smartsourcing" this morning and was very intrigued. While it isn't a new term and technically is a process approach for outsourcing, I think the term should be borrowed by emergency managers for a slightly different purpose.
Emergency management has always known there was a need for strategic and community partners ranging from volunteers, private donations, and other response organizations to properly respond. But for a variety of reasons, many organizations engage in turf wars, trust issues, or other challenges that often limit and reassign some of this possibility of strategic partnership. This doesn't seem "smart".
For example, CERT programs are availabe throughout the country, but are inconsistently applied (for the reasons above). I, myself, have struggled with this issue of trying to utilize these highly trained volunteers in ways that match their skills and training. However, I've begun to dabble with utilizing these types of volunteers in ways to support new frontiers like social media monitoring and public preparedness education.
As emergency managers face the future, we have to be smarter at how we prepare our communities. Long standing practices are tried and true, but may not be as effective we would like in the modern landscape of our communities. Let's get smarter and find ways to use potential sources of community support to ready our communities for future challenges.
It occurred to me recently (after a brief conversation with Dr. Tom Phelan related to a previous blog posting) that I should probably explain to readers why they should read this blog -- A reader's guide, if you will.
It's not necessarily for education (although I do hope to occasionally share some interesting nuggets of information). There are already many great emergency management & preparedness blogs (ex: iDisaster) that provide cutting edge information on new trends or best practices in modern emergency management.
It's not necessarily for technical analysis or interpretation like the Alerts & Notifications blog. Likewise, it's not for high level academic and political analysis like Gerald Baron's Crisis Comm blog. It's not even an ear-to-the-ground process blog like that provided by Eric Holdeman. Those are all great, but they aren't the main focus of this blog.
This blog -- Disasters 2.0 -- is intended to look toward the future and consider when, where, why, and how the emergency management will move forward as a profession, industry, and protector of local communities given the dynamic and changing expectations of the public at large. I want to create thought provoking questions that put us on the brink of change. I fully expect people to disagree with what I write. It is going to take discord now to move us closer to unity of action in the future. I don't want to argue right and wrong, just to answer the question: "Is this better?".
So read this blog. And read other blogs from the smart and talented people mentioned above and the many others who slave away to provide great content.
Leave a comment
Last week I attended an Emergency Management course at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg, MD. Over the course of the week, I was struck by a strange dilemma that ultimately impacts many professional emergency management areas.
Specifically, I was quickly disappointed to find that the training rooms did not have access to a WiFi internet signal. This issue was later provided to not be an oversight when the course instructors and related materials encouraged the audience to keep electronics (including laptops) put away due to their potential distraction to the other students.
This presents quite the paradox. I work at an Institute of Higher Education where access to internet and full integration with digital devices is not only made available, but highly encouraged before, during, and after meetings. While I fully acknowledge that schools tend to be on the front edge of this type of behavior, I was surprised how discouraged it was at the primary training facility for professional emergency managers.
This division is, of course, not unique to emergency management training, but rather is growing in all our communities. The number of citizens "cutting the cord" for traditional media and devices is growing exponentially where some citizens either do all or most of their information access via mobile devices only!
Emergency Managers -- if they haven't already -- must now decide how to balance their time. Unfortunately, it is beginning to look more and more like emergency managers will have to chose whether to move forward with the trends and embrace and integrate the use of digital technologies or continue to try and cater to the needs of those who are not. This is a delicate balance and in the end may ultimately do a disservice to both rather than to help better prepare our communities for emergencies and disasters.
During Google's annual I/O Development Conference, CEO Larry Page mentioned that the cost of raw material of a mobile phone is approximately $1. That was profound to me! Cell phone devices routinely sell for hundreds of dollars with individuals lining up to be an early or first adopter of the product. That is an extraordinary return on investment for the various manufacturers of mobile devices. Clearly this added value is based on a variety reasons, but most often because it allows people to exchange in community, conversation, tools, and social networking.
What is the lesson for emergency managers? What can we learn about adding value to our community considering that most of our communities have minimal staffing and limited resources for "raw materials"? The following is a few opportunities:
Emergency management professionals often expect our constituents and customers to come to us for information. We anchor relevant information to our offices, brochures, websites, and minimally used social media systems. Instead, we must actively and intentionally engage in taking our information whenever and wherever they want it, which may change dynamically as new systems and methods of information are identified and developed.
COMMUNITY & CONVERSATION
Emergency managers often struggle to engage in conversation with our community. Because we are responsible for directing the process to respond and recover from dynamic and often uncontrollable events, we forget to stay engaged in community and conversation before and after these types of events occur. We expect our constituents to listen and comply -- without question or concern - instead of working with them to understand the issues and establish common and shared priorities.
One of the coolest features about mobile devices is the dynamic and ever-changing possibilities that are created. System and program developers are given key access to certain systems and ultimately build engagement tools, devices, and systems that add value to the basic and "raw" materials in the original unit. This same approach should be applied by emergency managers by better utilizing volunteers, community partnerships, and private engagement in ways above and beyond the standard approach, which typically limits the location and input into strategic areas.
While these characteristics are a unique consideration for each organization involved, they are an excellent place to begin to change our focus and outreach. How much are you worth? How can we all add value to our organizations and community. Let's all strive to be something our community actively wants and is willing to engage in routinely and repeatedly. Only then will we really begin to create preparedness momentum.
Leave a comment
Last week a colleague pointed out an interesting phenomenon related to social media systems. One of the first systems available to the public was a blog. Blogs were great communication tools and allowed people to publish their own content without limits to the amount of text used or on the topic presented. Eventually social networks like Facebook rose in popularity. These systems limited the amount of information that could be posted to just over 400 characters or a couple of sentences at the most. The next phase was microblogging systems like Twitter that capped the amount of information to no more than 140 characters. The most recent development was systems like Pinterest that initially present only photos in a categorical fashion.
This development cycle is particularly interesting in its application for emergency managers. It speaks to the need to be brief with the information that is sent and received before, during, and after disasters. It is no longer effective to simply provide long expository messages about the dynamics of a given situation. Rather, emergency managers and crisis communicators must be capable of stating their message in long form (blogs), medium form (Facebook), short form (Twitter), and in one solitary image (Pinterest).
Much progress has been made on how emergency managers should utilize blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, but Pinterest is very challenging. Very few professional uses exist, but clearly we need to begin to expand how we approach this tool and the consideration of stating our message without words, but still full of purpose.
Of course we do, but we don't often show it.
That's why I was so happy to see the Emergency Management Magazine article last week that was profiling various public safety and emergency management agencies in Edmond (OK), Albany (NY), and Tampa (FL) who had made videos of their version of the "Harlem Shake" internet fad. While I don't know exactly what happened, I imagine some ambitious public safety personnel went to their boss (who then went to their boss) to a ask permission to this make this video. The conversation probably went something like this:
"Can we make a Harlem Shake style video where we all dress up in strange outfits and dance around for 30 seconds?"
"Because everybody is doing it and it's HOT on the internet."
"It will be great. They'll love it."
But somewhere in there, somebody realized that it's okay to have some fun and show a little personality. It's important to maintain professionalism and purpose, but it's also okay (especially in an ever changing social media world) to relax and enjoy the ride. While some members of your community (possibly including your boss or elected official) may object to fun imitation videos (see Gangham Style and Call Me Maybe as well) the community will greatly enjoy it because you show that you are human just like them. You are more likable, more approachable, and far more apart of the community which is critically important before, during, and after emergency events.
I don't emergency managers will ever start an internet fad, but we can always ride the wave with our community and have a little fun while we do it!
The information aggregation system called Reddit has established a discussion board for information related to the identification of those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this week. Several information strings include a detailed evaluation of some public and professional photos of activities related to the Boston Marathon. For example, one set of photos attempts to identify one or more individuals (aka Blue Robe Guy) who were carrying backpacks similar to the photos shared by the FBI. Another discussion string provides a layman's breakdown of the bomb components also released by the FBI.
The question is whether or not these kinds of postings help or hinder the process of investigating a major act of terrorism. One the one hand, basic crowdsourcing concepts will tell you that the more people who look at something the more likely a real and viable solution will rise to the top. This is especially true after government investigators openly shared photos and pleaded for help from the public in identifying the perpetrators. On the other hand, the growth of conspiracy theories and the lack of professional experience could lead these types of social communities to jump to conclusions or inadvertently accuse someone who may have had no involvement whatsoever (see Blue Robe Guy above or Richard Jewell ala 1996).
So the question remains -- will crowdsourced terrorism investigations help or hurt the process?
I know one thing -- these types of emergent investigations will continue in the future now that people have seen it done and want to help. So what do we do about it?
The last several years have been very exciting as emergency managers of all kinds and shapes have begun to really embrace some of the operational possibilities for social media during response and recovery. Even research is beginning to catch up on evaluating how people engage in information shared via social media channels.
But what emergency managers (including myself) often forget is the fact that social media, wireless devices, and other emerging technologies are also tremendously beneficial on a day-to-day basis. As a matter of fact, how many of us feel like we waste our days in meetings, organizational planning, or other necessary but mundane tasks that may or may not be really helping us prepare our organizations better? The good news is there are tools that we can all use that may help this process by saving time and reducing the amount of time we have to spent in meetings!
SCHEDULING -- Doodle
Doodle is an amazingly powerful tool to schedule meetings. I dread the amount of time it takes to exchange emails and/or phone calls with the multiple parties I need to invite to a meeting. Instead, Doodle allows you to send an email with available date and times to the impacted parties and they "vote" on the best times. You can then quickly find the time that works best for everybody and get on with your work!
People spend a tremendous amount of time just moving back and forth from their office to physical meetings. The use of online meetings (most of which cost money) is increasing, but is still not prevalent. Alternatives such as Skype or Google chat rooms are a quick and easy way to have a meeting with multiple parties without the delays of travel. While the classic face-to-face meetings will never completely go away, we all could be more realistic about when and where they need to happen so everybody can get back to work!
Business cards are important as they allow two parties to exchange information. But in reality, cards are an inefficient process. They are exchanged and then often left at the meeting, forgotten in a folder or added to a large "just in case" stack on someone's desk. There are multiple options that can improve this process. For instance, Evernote Hello allows you to take a photo of the card which is then scanned and added to your contacts. Likewise, other apps like Bump allow the quick exchange of information by simply touching two devices. This is much quicker and ultimately much more efficient.
Online systems like Pirate Pad, Google Docs, or Evernote allow for real-time (or nearly so) collaboration between multiple parties. Think about the amount of time spent emailing documents back and forth for review. Moreover, it is often clear what the current revision is and/or who made the changes. These issues dealt with and make your time much more efficient.
These are just a few of the options that exist that can help with productivity and organizational management. While it is great (as I often advocate) to have these tools during events, utilizing them before is not only more efficient it helps you become more comfortable when you need them during high pressure events.
Latest Emergency Management News
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association analyzed the police response and issued a nine-page report.
Using GPS, on-board radios, computers and track-side equipment, the system is designed to automatically stop or slow a train when a collision or derailment is imminent.
The current implementation of FEMA IPAWS is a first step on a long road to create a coherent, orchestrated, unified national public warning strategy.