What is Emergency Management Software?
Emergency management software is a very powerful tool to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency response. It can help to speed up response times, ensure accuracy and coordination of efforts, and reduce the amount of wasted time during emergencies.
However, emergency management software also has the power to hinder your responses if it is not being used properly or effectively. Therefore, it is important to evaluate your organization’s needs and ensure that you are implementing an emergency management software solution that is both easy to use and a fit for your needs.
Emergency management software can provide real, meaningful value if implemented in a way that is useful to your emergency management team, rather than having them simply adopt it for the sake of having it.
Now, let’s dive into some of the features and benefits of a simple, easy to use emergency management software solution like D4H.
Visual Situational Awareness
One of the most commonly used types of emergency management tools is visual situational awareness, which is made possible by the use of online GIS maps.
A veteran fire chief’s experience and knowledge of an area is certainly valuable, but you need to be able to share that knowledge with your entire team. Incident Commanders need real-time data and a common operating picture to be able to make well-informed strategic decisions. Ultimately, this means that you can be more efficient and effective in responding to the needs of your citizens.
GIS stands for “geographic information system” and is essentially a way to keep your maps organized. Any good emergency management software solution will have this functionality built-in Looking at the image above we have the basemap, a satellite photo. Then we have another layer of ‘markers’, some red urgent ones, a yellow warning, and a blue information marker. These markers can be any graphical icon we choose but the key benefit here is that we are using visual icons to represent and group key information. A quick look above immediately shows 2 points of “red” level urgency. The final layer is ‘labels’, to help explain what each marker is referring to and make the markers more human-readable.
What you may not realize is that every smartphone can provide GPS coordinates for one of these markers, even if they have no cell phone signal. This means that response teams can quickly figure out where they are in relation to the image/map/other markers and they can mark anything of interest with location-specific details. Interested in more examples? Take a look at adding location-specific markers to various styles of maps.
With the accuracy of GIS mapping, we can greatly improve our area awareness, and proximity concerns, and help build robust evacuation strategies. Most importantly, GIS mapping can be utilized long before a disaster strikes to help prepare our first responders. Do your maps have underground lines easily identified? Is critical infrastructure listed so defensive positions can be prioritized?
Situational awareness is so critical to a response that the Incident Command System (ICS) has designated roles assigned for this specific purpose. For example, the weather is often a critical factor during our response, so why not automatically include weather data for your entire team?
Even though these maps may look like the old-style push pins on the wall, with cloud-based technology we now have the ability to update and share that map, weather information, and location-based updates in real-time with your entire team, as well as partner agencies. Getting the right information at the right time is a now key opportunity for decision-makers, even when they are in the field.
Why does a team outperform an individual? It’s because they work together with a shared purpose and greater combined resources. An emergency management strategy needs to ensure that we leverage that advantage during a disaster response.
What technology do you use to empower your teams to self-organize? D4H Personnel & Training can group members into teams. This makes it easy to quickly find a groups core skills and readiness levels, and communicate to the group in a much more timely manner.
Interestingly, being this organized may also help with other critical challenges during a disaster; the management of new “walk-on help”. One of the reasons walk-on volunteers are so difficult to manage is that they are individuals. By having well-documented goals for your teams, with skills analysis, role description, and performance standards you invite the opportunity to incorporate new members with similar skills to the correct team. Personnel and training software can help immensely in the effort to provide this organizational structure and enable the opportunity to add new resources to the right teams.
We see time and time again that sharing updated information between emergency responders, stakeholders, and the emergency management team is critical to an effective and timely response and resolution. Having real-time access to updates is necessary to take action in the event of an emergency. If we lack access to this information it can delay our response and/or cause confusion amongst our personnel as we try to figure things out on our own.
Incident Commanders can’t wait for the team’s situation report after they return from the field, they need real-time communication with real-time updates. The purpose of data is to help make better-informed decisions, and for that to happen it needs to be provided in a timely fashion.
Emergency management needs to gather information from field teams quickly and get that updated for the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) as soon as possible. With mobile apps for emergency management, a team can gather the information, even when offline, then simply get that device to a location with a signal to submit to the home base.
By ensuring information is continually being shared, ALL members of the incident improve their situational awareness and command becomes capable of uniting effort to resolve the priorities, together.
Creating a Multi-Learning Environment
The idea behind learning is to achieve growth. In ICS, we have a formal process at the end of the incident specifically to ensure learning through debriefing. Unfortunately too often that debrief happens at the end and becomes a list of “lessons learned” that were not resolved during the incident. This is too late.
Emergency management software enables teams to grow and learn in real time because feedback can be gathered and implemented immediately. Multi-learning is more than just personal growth, it’s about your team, your section, and your agency’s growth. What are you doing to ensure critical information is being acted upon during a response?
For example, ICS already has Safety Officer roles with the power to stop any response if responder safety is a concern. Emergency management software produces reliable data to ensure they can make that decision in a timely fashion.
We don’t want each EOC role to require field personnel to make individual reports. We simply don’t have those resources. Emergency management mobile apps enable us to empower our field teams with cloud-based information sharing, then we can leverage that information for our EOC staff. If a team flags a safety concern, command staff can react immediately.
By enabling my teams to do their job with easy mobile updates, that information is continuously feeding in, preventing duplication of effort, and ensuring all levels of the organization can be kept informed. Priorities can be flagged, evidence can be collected, and even mundane check-in times can easily be managed without extra effort.
Subtle Control Through Clarity and Direction
Incidents require intelligence gathering and reporting in addition to emergency response, and every incident also has a clear incident commander who is responsible to be the one in control during the operation. Without this level of control, we lose the ability to make dynamic changes as the situation evolves and potentially put responders at increased risk for injury or worse.
One of the keys to high-performing self-empowered teams is trusting in their ability to make decisions to meet the priorities and objectives given to them. For this to happen they need clear communication with clear goals. This means no micro-managing. With the correct software tools, multiple team members can take on the role of scribe.
Subtle control means knowing when and how to intervene with our field teams. Emergency management technology can provide us with a simple structure for situation report reminders, team fatigue levels (time in the field), and any red flags (such as high-urgency requests). Learn how to make better data-based decisions.
Even utilizing templates can help guide teams down the path to success, once deployed we can trust they will meet our objectives without the commanders needing to continually interrupt their efforts. Utilizing emergency management software means teams can quickly move from information gathering and begin actionable responses quicker. During an incident, it is vital to have accurate data readily available to ensure the right calls are made at the right time. Sure with all this reliance on technology we have new risks to mitigate. That’s why internet backups, and onsite power generation need to be incorporated into our response strategy.
Every second counts, so let’s ensure our tools are put to work for our best response!
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 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, callouts, and incident reports. What technology helps you the most in your emergency management role?