What Tools Government Needs in an Earthquake

Some thoughts on gov’t resources during the east coast earthquake.

1) Website – how key is it to have your website up in a situation like this – like usgs.gov? You need Akamai (or type product) so you can scale your hosting when your servers get crushed. Some problems w/ usgs.gov being slow but seems generally working

2) Twitter – just exploded – key to have resources trained to respond to information. So many questions and answers occuring on Twitter versus official channels.

3) Mobile – everyone outside evacuating on mobile devices. That’s where people getting content. For most of us, we couldn’t get text or phone calls but Internet was working

What other tools are needed?

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Allison Merkley

A better contigency plan. I was shocked at how disorganized agency leaders were for dealing with the (relatively) small issue. The evacuations were conducted, but little information was given as to the situation: how long it might last, what employees should do, etc.

A better plan would involve a faster chain of communication: is the government open, should people return to buildings to collect their personal items or bring them with during evacuation, is it a terrorist situation, are they inspecting buildings, etc.

The other thing that is needed is better training for anyone in a leadership situation. (That is, high stress, quick thinking, emergency rules, etc.) At one division, the acting supervisor panicked and ran out of the room without aiding the employees. What’s worse, the door was locked and the employees couldn’t get out until the supervisor calmed down, went back, and opened the door. In a minor situation such as this, its humorous. However in a bigger event this type of behavior can cost lives.

Jana Opperman

After taking a “Risk Communication” workshop this July- People look to the gov’t to see how to procede, it seems the electronic info worked well in getting information to the citizens. It is real important to make sure the info is good and reliable the first time so sometimes it can’t be instantaneous. In my excited aftershock-realizing I just experienced an earth quake and happy realizing it wasn’t that it wasn’t bad, I looked to the USGS web site (I have visited that site a lot since I like geology) and saw the red square on the map in Va and not in NJ I then realized we just got the ripple effect, but it was before they even evacuated the building I was able to get that info. I laughed last night when I heard twitters from Philly going to NY beak the earthquake “ripples” heading north!

Joe Flood

Twitter was invaluable. My neighbors didn’t know what happened until I showed them the tweets from around DC about the earthquake. The news from USGS was rapidly disseminated thanks to Twitter.

DC also needs a better evacuation plan. When all the feds let out, the streets became totally gridlocked, which wouldn’t be very good in a serious emergency.

Dave Uejio

Don’t know if you saw this, but amidst all the blackouts, Blackberry Messenger reigned supreme.

BBM, which can run on either a phone’s data connection or local Wi-fi, and uses unique wireless protocols, has gained a reputation for reliability and security. In the Chilean earthquake of 2010, and in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 in New York, it was the only service left standing.

In London earlier this month, BBM was deemed a little too reliable and secure: it was the primary method for rioters to communicate and coordinate. RIM’s unwitting role in the riots has come under scrutiny from the UK government.

Knowing this, I think it’s important agencies work BBM into their official communications plan. It’s not everyday that we get to do a giant emergency preparedness simulation without any loss of life. And it’s a neat silver lining to the government’s singular obsession with Blackberry.

Anna Abbey

I agree we need a better contingency plan. I don’t think our agency has a plan for earthquakes specifically. We do have an overhead PA system, emergency walky-talky and email blasts, but no information went out on them. We only recieved one notice over an hour later via email that we were being sent home effective emediately. Not a big deal this time round, but something to improve on before the next big thing.

Steve Radick

Government (and all large orgs in this area) seem to need a better way to communicate when stuff like this happens. Redundancy is key in these situations as cell networks get jammed and people leave their computers. COOP managers need to ask themselves – how would we communicate with people if/when cell networks get jammed? Sending an email to their work account doesn’t work if they’re not in front of their computer. Texting/calling cell phones doesn’t work when the cell networks are down. Calling someone on their home number doesn’t work if they’re evacuated at work. Seriously, for most of the people I know (including my wife), the only way we were able to find out what was going on with each other was via Facebook.

Should COOP plans incorporate social media into their contingency operations? Should every Government Facebook page go into some sort of “emergency” mode when a disaster strikes? Imagine a closed government Foursquare-ish thing where employees/contractors were required to “check-in” when they arrived at the evacuation point either via their GPS-enabled phone. Just a lot of thoughts I had yesterday as I realized how useless calling/texting became.

Dennis Snyder

I was appalled at the singular lack of situational awareness. People were milling in the streets with resulting 4-way gridlock. Some buildings blocked off entire city blocks (GW University at 20th & H) even though the streets are public property. There was no coordinated announcement from DC Police, Fire Department or Mayor’s Office that I could find. Whitehouse.gov advises in a story halfway down the page, last line, to follow the direction of local officials.

Sadly, we are unprepared as we enter the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and remain as vulnerable now as then. There are no coordinated communications from any authorities, and individual businesses and agencies are left to make up their own plans. The risk of contradiction is high without coordination, and we as a nation really need to take this seriously as a learning opportunity before something more serious happens. Oh, wait, it already happened 3 times: World Trade Center garage, World Trade Center 9/11, DC quake.

Allison Primack

As obnoxious as Twitter can be, it was the best form of communication I was receiving after the earthquake yesterday. Because the phone lines were “congested”, even if mobile alerts were sent out the signals weren’t strong enough to contact anyone in the city yesterday. I agree that a more stable line of communication should be put into place! Good tip about BBM though, I didn’t even think about that! Too bad it is exclusive to Blackberrys.

Linda E. Kane

Unsettling that almost 10 years after 9/11 we can’t seem to get a reliable solution to telecommunication issues. I tried to use GETS to make a call ( Government Emergency Telecommunication System) but to no avail. It is supposed to provide emergency access and priority processing in the local and long distance segments of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). I finally did get a call through on one of the numbers but by that time my personal cell service was going through as well. Another disturbing thing was that our building started evacuating before the shaking stopped and we all were told to gather right outside a number of buildings. FEMA advises that “The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls…” and that the first tremors could just be a “foreshock.” I would love to be compliant in these emergency situations but it seems that we are on our own to inform ourselves as to the most prudent course of action. The whole thing was not only frightening but very disappointing in how it was handled.

Lizette Molina

Immediately after the earthquake, and for several hours, the only reliable medium for information sharing to check on the health and welfare of other people and to disseminate important information – were Facebook and Twitter. Don’t know if govloop was available, sorry. But here’s the sad part . . . the government’s adamant overall refusal to embrace social media. Not all government agencies are stagnating in the still waters of the last century. Some have moved forward. Those that have are able to use Facebook and Twitter to get information out to their employees quickly – to tell them what to do, where to go, and to keep them in touch with each other. But the agencies that are still lagging in embracing social media . . . they’re stuck in yesterday. Is there any good reason why the White House can’t come out with a mandate that requires all agencies to adopt social media, if only for the purpose of coordinating efforts during regional and national emergencies? How many disasters do we need to go through for some sense to get knocked into the powers-that-be??? At least no one was hurt in this last quake. But there’s a hurricane coming. It’s already caused some damage to U.S. territories. And we still don’t have a cohesive medium for coordinating efforts and disseminating information; and we’re still lagging in adopting social media for this. Come on federal agencies, get with it.

David Reinbold

Right after I felt the tremors of the earthquake, I posted to Facebook to ask if anybody else experienced something similar. Within a few minutes, I had friends responding from Raleigh, Richmond, NYC and all the way up to Toronto. Like a lot of other people, my mobile voice service was down for quite some time. I was able to utilize my data plan, though, and check things on Twitter and Facebook, which I found to be an invaluable resource.