COVID-19 Lessons Learned: Keeping the Public Informed During an Emergency
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of keeping the public up-to-date with the latest information during an emergency. Here, we look at how emergency managers can apply this to future incidents, emergencies, and disasters.
How important is information sharing during an incident response?
Information is critical to a response. It is imperative that emergency managers have the latest updates at hand when making important decisions.
During a disaster, the Incident Command System (ICS) assigns the task of disseminating information to the Public Information Officer (PIO). The ICS system shows the importance of the PIO by including them among the Command Staff on the same level as the Safety Officer and the Liaison Officer, they are second only to the position of the incident leader, the Incident Commander (IC).
What has COVID-19 taught us about the importance of keeping the public informed?
COVID-19 has demonstrated how social media can quickly spread misinformation when official information is not provided promptly. Do you want to spend more time on damage control, or can you make official information publicly available and become the source of information to influence citizens’ decisions?
During COVID-19, emergency managers have had to inform the public every step of the way about how and why decisions were being made. They’ve also had to provide resources, tools, and action steps to help mitigate the situation.
The same can be said for other crisis situations. For example, during a severe storm the public needs to know the locations of road closures and alternative routes. When emergency managers make this information readily available, the situation is safer for all involved as congestion to closed off areas is reduced and emergency and utility services can effectively carry out their duties.
Where should incident information be stored?
Following ICS, we are already collecting information as soon as an incident starts. All incidents require the gathering and analysis of information for decision making, and the COVID-19 situation has shown how critical this factor is in the success of extended operations.
Incident management software can help members of the incident response achieve real-time situational awareness by acting as a central, remotely accessible location for all incident information to be stored. Standard forms like the ICS 209 can de digitized and shared so that the emergency management team can make informed decisions based on field-collected information.
Leveraging cloud-based software
Historically the Scribes, Unit Leaders, and Section Chiefs would be inundated with paperwork. This is great for documentation and historical reference but what emergency managers need is a method to get the right information promptly to the right people.
D4H Incident Management is a cloud-based system for all information to be centrally collected; then, each position only needs to update their information to update the entire team automatically. There is no transcribing, no duplication of effort, and no wasted energy trying to find the current status.
Field personnel lose signal?
Don’t worry, in offline mode, their local information will be updated as soon as they reconnect.
Time-stamped details ensure you know precisely when information was last updated. Old information may indicate overdue teams or act as a reminder to send more field personnel to refresh a front-line perspective.
Getting the right information to the public
During COVID-19, many municipalities painfully found the need to answer questions with more accurate information and looked to leverage their previous solutions such as email newsletters, summary reports, or creating a dedicated webpage. These all created extra costs, quickly became outdated, and created a duplication of effort.
When an incident is being managed with a real-time platform like D4H Incident Management, the work is already being done for the Incident Management Team (IMT). Information regarding resources, shelters, road closures, vaccination centers, etc. is already being recorded in pre-configured, highly customizable Status Boards, so the only problem left to solve is how to get that information to the public.
The public doesn’t need to see all of the details available to our incident team, so we simply create a form that pulls just the pertinent information necessary, create a public link and then share that with the public.
- The public receives immediate updates. With D4H’s ‘Share by Public Link’ functionality, any new information added to a status board within the software will also update for the public on the external link once they refresh the page.
- The public receives only information approved by the Incident Commander.
- The public receive official updates from your team; creating a single source of truth and mitigating misinformation spreading.
As incidents become more complex and roll into multiple operational periods, documentation is critical. With cloud-based software, emergency managers can collect that information and share it as they see fit, without additional work.
Every Incident Commander wants to see a complete operating picture, including their team members, third-party vendors, and assisting agencies. Now, they can collaborate to make the best decisions and be the central location for the public’s source of knowledge.
December 4th, 2021
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 stay 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 are you using to leverage your lessons learned?