What Hurricane Sandy Can Teach Us About Emergency Management

Post Highlights

  • GovDelivery report: Breaking Down Barriers to Effective Emergency Notifications
  • Hurricane Sandy is a reminder of the complexity of disasters
  • Report provides best practices and strategies for emergency management notifications

When Hurricane Sandy landed on the east coast, much of the disaster response activities had already been put into play. FEMA had coordinated with local officials, needs were expressed, and emergency management officials collectively held their breath. Prepare, respond, recover is a mantra that emergency management professionals should be chanting. On GovLoop, many people in our community wrote and shared information about Hurricane Sandy. Elizabeth Hoffman, comments in her post, Responding to Hurricane Sandy:

Hurricane Sandy, the Super Storm that slammed into the Eastern Seaboard early last week, left behind a wave of destruction in its path. Cities like New York, Atlantic City, Hoboken, Philadelphia and hundreds more are dealing with flooding, power outages, and destructive fires as a result. The cost of the damage left behind is estimated to be anywhere between $30 and $50 billion dollars. So the pressure to rebuild is dire and will take the cooperation of everyone working together, including residents, businesses and city staff.

Over and over again, we learn that emergency management requires close attention to detail to prepare, execute, respond and recover to a disaster. While emergency officials prepare, execute, respond and recover to a disaster, one of the major challenges is how to best connect people. People need to be connected to resources, information, and collaborate instantly as a crisis unfolds.

GovDelivery recently published an emergency management white paper explaining the importance of an emergency notification system (ENS). ENS is essential in any kind of emergency, the ability to quickly connect people to resources, inform people where to get help, evacuation information, and countless other reasons to connect people that can save lives and mitigate recovery efforts.

The white paper outlines barriers to emergency management that officials face in developing an emergency notification system, further, the paper identifies steps emergency management professionals can take to work around barriers and develop a strong defense for when a disaster strikes. The report also identifies what is needed for an ENS system to work efficiently. The report states that an ENS system must:

  • Be easy to use
  • Consider special needs citizens
  • Wired and wireless options
  • Have multiple channels of communication
  • Follow cap guidelines
  • Role based communications
  • Gain subscribers to system easily to boost participation
  • Handle large volumes
  • Work collaboratively with other emergency response organizations and phone companies.

I’d encourage you to view the report to view each of the conditions, but the one area that I found to be really important was role-based communications. GovDelivery states, “During any type of emergency situation, it becomes crucial for people within specific
 roles, such as fire fighters or police officers, or with specific responsibilities to receive communications from your organization and to be able to communicate with each other.” GovDelivery does a great job explaining how communications channels sometimes work during a crisis, and the need for certain people to have authority to release notices for government employees.

For example, it can take a long time if you have public works call the police to tell them about boil water advisory in case water is contaminated. Then the police need to tell someone in your office so that person can prepare and send an alert off the system. Instead, you could consider allowing the public works department to issue the notice just for boil water advisory. The more granular your ENS system, the less time it takes for a message to go from point of first knowledge to clicking the send button.

Hopefully people across the east will have their power back and return to normal from Hurricane Sandy. One of the final points from emergency management, like all things we do in the public sector – reviewing incidents to improve emergency management for future disasters. It never hurts to look at how collaboration could be improved, explore possible technology solutions and identify ways people can work efficiently to prepare, respond and recover from a crisis.

GovDelivery is the #1 sender of government-to-citizen communications, serving over 400 government entities worldwide and more than half of major U.S. federal agencies. Organizations use GovDelivery to send over 200 million messages every month on a broad range of topics including national emergencies, health alerts, tax policy changes and more. Check out their User Group on GovLoop as well as the Technology Sub-Community of which they are a council member.

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