Moving Emergency Management Activities to the Cloud with Columbus County Emergency Services

Moving Emergency Management Activities to the Cloud with Columbus County Emergency Services

Robin and Andrew were joined by Dennis Cyphers, Deputy Director at the 911 Communications Center for Columbus County Emergency Services. Columbus County Emergency Services recently utilized D4H Incident Management for special event emergency planning at the North Carolina Strawberry Festival. Dennis shared his experiences with the software platform, as well as more broadly, the benefits the organization has experienced since moving emergency management activities to the cloud.

Hazards in Columbus County

Columbus County is the third largest county in North Carolina, encompassing approximately 954 square miles, of which 37 square miles are water. Columbus County is located right along the border of North Carolina and South Carolina, approximately 49 miles Northwest of the city of Wilmington in North Carolina.

Hurricanes have had a devastating impact on the County of Columbus in the past. One of the reasons for that is that the county is surrounded by several waterways including the Cape Fear River which runs down into the Atlantic Ocean by Wilmington. The Lumber River is also on the Western part of the county, as well as the Waccamaw River which starts at Lake Waccamaw and runs all the way down to South Carolina. There are also swamps and wetlands which make the area highly susceptible to flooding.

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Responsibilities of Columbus County Emergency Services

The Emergency Services of Columbus County provides county-wide communications to all 6 law enforcement agencies, 20 fire departments, and 9 rescue squads in the county. Columbus County provides logistical support to each of these agencies, citizens of the county, and to people passing through the county on major arterial routes such as US 74, US 76, and US 701.

The 911 Communications Center is a full-service public safety answering point which means that not only do they dispatch fire and law, but they also provide emergency medical dispatch. Their communicators are trained in all three areas; emergency medical dispatch, fire dispatch, and law enforcement dispatch.

Special Event Emergency Planning

The Annual North Carolina Strawberry Festival

Columbus County Emergency Services recently utilized D4H Incident Management at the North Carolina Strawberry Festival. The department had to prepare for the crowds that would attend the parade and anticipate any potential medical emergencies that could occur.

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One of the beauties of the D4H system was the ability to track the weather forecast for the time leading up to the festival as well as during it.

Dennis Cyphers, Deputy Director, 911 Communications Center, Columbus County Emergency Services.

It’s common for people to suffer from heat exhaustion in hot weather at festivals with large crowds. The temperature at the start of the festival was about 83 degrees Fahrenheit, and it increased throughout the day. Being able to monitor the weather directly from their emergency management software was a huge benefit throughout the event.

Tracking Important Locations on the D4H Incident Map

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Columbus County was able to map out each of its command posts, fire headquarters, posts manned by law enforcement, and the route of the parade itself on a shared map within D4H Incident Management. All of the responding agencies and bordering jurisdictions were able to log into D4H and view this up-to-date information for a well-coordinated response.

What Makes D4H Stand Out Against Competitors

There were three main things Columbus County was looking for in an emergency management software solution:

  • They needed to be able to get up and running on it as quickly as possible.
  • It had to be extremely easy to use.
  • The software had to be able to provide detailed after-action reports for post-event learnings.

The trial period that we had with D4H was exceptional. We had viewed numerous other incident command softwares, we did a test run and came out with the best of all of the solutions out there.

Dennis Cyphers, Deputy Director, 911 Communications Center, Columbus County Emergency Services.

Adapting D4H to Changing Scenarios

Just after the Strawberry Festival, Columbus County Emergency Services responded to an incident that involved a drowning at Lake Waccamaw. They began a search mission, which sadly turned into a recovery mission within a matter of hours. They spent the next four days searching for the individual that had drowned.

One thing that we were able to do based on the experience we gained at the Strawberry Festival was to build out all of the functionality we needed in D4H for this type of response. We tracked when a diver went into the lake so we could track how long they had been under. We also gridded off areas on the map in D4H and assigned personnel and boats to search those areas.

Dennis Cyphers, Deputy Director, 911 Communications Center, Columbus County Emergency Services.

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Columbus County combined air, water, and land operations over their trial period. Managing so many moving parts was made easy with D4H Incident Management.

Managing so many different entities and activities was made very simple and very easy using D4H. That was something that we had not seen in other solutions that we were looking for.

Dennis Cyphers, Deputy Director, 911 Communications Center, Columbus County Emergency Services.

D4H’s Short Learning Curve

It was imperative that Columbus County could get up and running on its chosen platform as quickly as possible.

The real difference with D4H is that it has a very short learning curve. We were able to get up and running very quickly and other team members caught on rapidly. Other software systems have an extremely long learning curve. When you’re dealing with people where it’s their first involvement with a system such as this, it’s really important to quickly get them to the point that they are benefitting the entire operation.

Dennis Cyphers, Deputy Director, 911 Communications Center, Columbus County Emergency Services.

The Difference Between Paper-Based and Cloud-Based Emergency Management

Here are some of the ways emergency management at Columbus County Emergency Services has changed since implementing D4H:

  • They’ve moved from a manual system where they’re guessing where people are and looking at static maps to a system that updates in real-time for all users.
  • They’re now able to give supervisors and commanders an instant overview of the situation at any given time.
  • They now know what’s going on at all times and have the ability to react very quickly during an incident.
  • In some cases, they’re actually able to predict an incident and act before it even occurs.

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