How COVID-19 Has Changed Emergency Management
Over the past two years, COVID-19 has brought change to many industries including the emergency management industry. Though we cannot truly tabulate the impact of a pandemic that we are still involved in, we can reflect on the changes that we have seen and how we can implement them even after this response is complete.
COVID-19 restrictions have forced many organizations to transition to remote working. This provided emergency management agencies with a perfect opportuinty to implement remote operations; especially for administration staff. The most difficult part of change is redirecting our efforts, but once multiple industries start the move to remote we can leverage that training and leverage technology-backed opportunities like the virtual EOC. The benefits of operating a virtual EOC are great enough that this type of operation can continue long after this pandemic is over. Check out our article on ‘6 Benefits to Creating a Virtual EOC in 2022’.
Employees want to work from home. According to a Gallup poll from March 30 – April 2, 2020, “Three in five U.S. workers who have been doing their jobs from home during the coronavirus pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible, once public health restrictions are lifted.”
With COVID-19 limitations on crowds and cancellations of events, video conferences have exploded in popularity. Again, emergency management can leverage these now popularized tools in our responses with little to no additional training required.
While video conference learning does have its limitations and there certainly is a new type of fatigue, there are clear opportunities to use video conferencing to maintain connections across vast distances and as something to consider for easier ongoing emergency management training delivery.
While video conferences may seem like simply another communication medium, the opportunity to introduce instructor-led training and discussions is something emergency management can start to take better advantage of.
Here, Knoxville-Knox County EMA leverages a combination of the D4H virtual EOC and video conferencing.
With the speed and impact of COVID-19 on our society, we have definitely needed to adapt to our changing environment quickly. In emergency management, we often have previous similar incidents with expert recommendations and lessons-learned available before a situation occurs; this certainly was not the case for COVID-19. As we grow that pandemic knowledge, this will certainly impact our future responses.
With the opportunity to work virtually and digitize more of our real-time responses are you prepared to get advice from a computer?
As artificial intelligence (AI) slowly grows its library of knowledge; today it may just be as a pre-populated ICS form or a knowledge base to look at reference material but as our history grows so does the opportunity to train machine learning to better assist our responders in the future.
The 4 phases of emergency management specify mitigation as a critical step in emergency management operations.
Canadian public safety defines mitigation as “measures that eliminate or reduce the impacts and risks of hazards through proactive measures taken before an emergency or disaster occurs.”
So, even if COVID-19 ends tomorrow, our need to mitigate future pandemics will now continue to be a part of our responsibilities. What are our emergency management lessons learned from COVID-19?
- Tracking PPE requests can now be handled digitally.
- Updating the public on vaccination and healthcare facilities can now be shared online in real-time from your Virtual EOC.
- Managing PPE supply quantities can be done from your Virtual EOC with the added bonus of sharing the collected information with your provincial authorities. This gives the opportunity for their planning as real-time supply status is shared.
Continue Building Resilience
COVID-19 has been a source of unexpected stress and adversity for many people. Resilience can help us get through and overcome hardship, but emergency managers know this is built over time. Resilience can be thought of as a seesaw/ balance scale, where negative experiences tip the scale toward bad outcomes, and positive experiences tip it toward good outcomes.
One strategy for building resilience is to unload the negative side by showing support for all involved in disasters; our team, our partners, and the public. By digitizing our response we can clearly measure which programs need additional resources to support our communities.
Supporting more positive outcomes is another method for building resilience. This can include leveraging the habits our team has including ability to do work remotely or including updates via video conference instead of requiring everyone to stop and gather to receive the latest information.
One key surprise for me during this pandemic was the realization that the incident was affecting everyone, everywhere. I couldn’t just leave the scene and go home for rest because my home was now part of the pandemic incident too. In light of this new type of response, what tools are you implementing to ensure your team is maintaining their resilience?
Are you implementing psychology first aid skills to maintain the mental health of your team? There are many low-cost programs available from organizations such as The Red Cross and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Technology is mostly a data tool. It helps us to communicate more quickly and efficiently; access, organize, and transmit data; visualize data; and collect data. More specifically, we use technology platforms such as EOC management systems and GIS. These have allowed us to make significant strides in what we do and how we do it. The key is to ensure we are solving specific problems, leveraging new opportunities, and supporting our team to succeed.
January 16th, 2022
About the author
For over seven years, Clinton Boyda has led a regional municipal agency in Alberta, Canada, as the Director of Emergency Management (DEM). Representing ten municipalities, Clinton has seen how important using a tool like D4H is to help Emergency Managers keep organized during all phases of a disaster. Also, as a Search and Rescue First Responder, he has seen the value D4H provides to manage certifications, call-outs, and incident reports. What tools have you gained within your emergency management role due to COVID?