Friday, 14 February 2014

Cooperation begins by teaching techniques early

2012 AKNZ - BBK Summer Academy - Arhweiler Germany

We face larger and potentially fatal disasters demanding more and more resources from a variety of organizations and government agencies. Disaster recovery has become a long term effort, driving new discussions surrounding resiliency and advance preparedness steps that should be taken. Many agencies do not regularly integrate or have not worked together before. Some have very little experience how to carry out mutual aid assistance programs. It can be a daunting task to carry out at the management and operational level. Training experienced operations staff can be difficult and often overwhelming given the lack of budget and investments required.

As was cleverly said in the movie SKYFALL, "old dog, new tricks", applies to those willing to learn and adapt. It is not easily absorbed at some organizations, while at others, it is built into their DNA from the start. Even then, mistakes and mutual understanding of how operational cooperation actually works in the field is sometimes misunderstood. Simulations solve can solve these problems. They are proven and effective tools if routinely implemented.

Improvements are being made at the military, government, non-government agency and volunteer levels. Establishing training and simulation (exercise) programs help build confidence. The variety of disaster scenarios is an important component. There are not enough instructors and programs in place to deal with variety of disasters that organizations we now face. Many are learning on the job at the worst possible time - during a disaster. Trial by fire is never a good and can have long term negative effects. 

Students and junior field operations managers entering into the field of civil protection and emergency management are future senior advisers, requiring advanced knowledge and training understanding multiple challenges. Teaching cooperation and mutual aid challenges early on in the classroom builds confidence and capabilities. Governments are beginning to recognize this important stage of training and simulation and requires investment and capital resources, saving money over the long term, avoiding potential mistakes and just as important, becoming efficient in responding to events with what assets are available. 

Recent stories published in our Crisis and Disaster Magazine illustrates the level of cooperation that is now becoming common place. Assets that were once off limits are now being used and integrated into civilian agency use such as the Royal Air Force, using highly classified imagery and radar equipment to support UK Ordnance Survey teams to plot flood waters. This would have been unheard of just a scant 5 years ago. During Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake, the level of restrictions to distribute information collected by military assets was incredible. Much has changed. 

The Governors offices in Georgia and North Carolina did not hesitate to declare State's of Emergency before a second round of heavy winter storms blanketed the south, enabling National Guard units and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prepare in advance and coordinate activities and State and Local Emergency Management Office (EMO's) facilities. This quickly built relationships and trust at every level of response. Gaps still remain, but many lessons learned were achieved.

Improvements still need to be made integrating different organizations that are available to help. Outside of the Red Cross, there are often volunteer groups that are well coordinated and experienced that are not included or incorporated into government response units or field offices. At times, local and regional agencies use of social media messages are not integrated, potentially sending mixed signals or in some cases, confusing the public. There is also the danger of information overload being published for public consumption, creating a noise effect. Websites are still a bit of a mess, requiring a user to navigate several levels before getting to the information relevant to their needs. A user should be able to go to a website using a computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone and at most, click or touch ONCE, to get to a landing point of all pertinent information relative to the event occurring at their location. 

Technology and software are beginning to be a positive influence on outcomes. Yes, there are still some glitches and often the information is fragmented, but improvements are evidence worldwide. GIS powered maps still need work, including the use of standardized symbols and syllabus, the use of PINS in KML files needs to be eliminated and improved use of Legends are areas still requiring updates. There are indications that this is changing at some agencies. Compliments should be given to a ministry that is currently under severe criticism (for late response and delivery of help), the Ministry of Environment of the United Kingdom, for its use of layering metadata onto maps and ensuring wide distribution to media outlets. Emergency response services are improving. But it is clear, in some regions and aspects, we still have a ways to go.


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