Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Crisis and Disaster management moves forward

We learn by doing. BBK Summer Academy Sand Table Exercise 2012

Crisis and Disaster management professionals want reliable and capable solutions that work today and in the future. The impact to performance and outcomes have consequences in and outside of their environment. The lack or abundance of information, technology, tools, education, cooperation, and human resources is the foundation moving forward. How we solve bureaucratic inefficiencies in the organization and how do we integrate volunteer and civic experts that have been long considered outsiders is at a crossroads. Many front line decision makers and leaders will tell you, more is always better, but only to a point. That line is moving and very fluid or in some cases, nonexistent. In many regions of the world, it is not the lack of any one thing, but the inability to make decisions based on the region development built thousands of years ago. Social and industrial revolutions have bypassed some cities for decades now attempting to leap frog ahead of traditional infrastructure. In the past, the lack of access to departments or agencies who plan and know the infrastructure may or may not be available for support response activities. There are gaps in management processes and how community leaders can be prepared and recognize risks from within. There is a clear lack of resources to train and maintain response capabilities because it is often the first item on the government's chopping block in times of fiscal restraint. It is often suggested that technology will replace what are deemed inefficient response services saving governments even more taxpayer money. How do we move forward with an agenda this complex and expensive?

These issues and others are why we curate a wide range of stories and issues into our Flipboard Crisis and Disaster Management Magazine. How we respond to a disaster today has dramatically changed over the past 50 years. You will read that many skill appear to have not changed on the surface. But they have. We tend to think that rescuing people and ensuring their care is carried out using the same essential tools and methods taught in fire brigade academy's all over the world without any significant changes in curriculum or ability. The capabilities and tools has improved dramatically, enabling faster results in increasingly difficult environments. But it goes far deeper than most realize or recognize. As technology improves it seems so does the complexity of how rescue extraction occurs. Essentially, the methodology now used by front line emergency response teams carry out search and rescue is remarkable. Well equipped agencies in many regions and countries are using resource and logistics management tools that were not available a decade ago and changed first responder tactics. Incident Command System procedures are routinely updated. But not all towns or cities are so fortunate and adapt, improvise and overcome with whatever is at their disposal. And yet, for every assumption of weakness we believe exists, there are methods and techniques being developed that are truly inspiring, whereby in parts of the world they have surpassed their western world counterparts. We have linked to several stories throughout the magazine illustrating numerous advancements being used in Africa and South Asia that are only wishful thinking in North America or Europe.

In other sections, you will find a plethora of stories surrounding big data, open data, x, y, and z metadata. We have touched on how organizations have more data than they know what to do with it. The rules are becoming incredibly complex along with access constraints and what is truly valuable or not. Crisis and Disaster management teams are catching up - fast. It is also controversial in some parts of the world. At the macro level, access during an event is influencing outcomes with the use of real time data. We have written and highlighted issues in at least 25 global stories illustrating how scientists and researchers are exploring the power of data. The tools are no longer limited to fire axes and fire truck water pumpers, but powerful computers, imagery applications and integrated data sets managed by city planners and utility operators, capable of being fused into a single user group. The team inside government disaster management is growing, now supplemented with expertise and knowledge from resources that historically have never been part of the core disaster management agency or team. Yet we continue to witness in some regions the lack of even contemplating the integration that these valuable resources offer.

We are also observing how disaster lessons learned shape how we build our cities and critical infrastructure. Change is easily stereotyped as slow, but very steady. It is a key consideration prior to expansion or rezoning a city's living space. Here too, we have curated stories that reflect what future disaster response experts will be facing over the next 20 to 50 years. It opens our eyes to how we can participate in the process and build community resiliency. This is a critical and defining issue as cities become larger and expand beyond what city planners ever considered possible mere decades ago. The question of urban sprawl and building a living downtown ecosystem was once considered foolhardy. Who wants to live beside a commercial skyscraper. Several cities have never had this problem including New York City and Vancouver. But as Hurricane Sandy ripped into the eastern seaboard, what was once thought unthinkable has opened a debate that will change how it prepares in the future. It is an immense challenge when applied to crisis and disaster management scenarios. We need to understand and convey limitations when organizations propose mega projects and its potential impacts. Vancouver continues to worry about a future disaster caused by either an earthquake or tsunami or worse, both simultaneously.

It is no longer a question of NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard), but what level of exposure of risk is a community willing to absorb, understand and recognize. This is particularly true in many parts of the developing world where industrialization and community resiliency are often in severe political conflict. These regions could learn much from western disasters and accidents. Crisis and disaster management experts need to be engaged in the planning and development process while simultaneously take into account and understand how a community wants to build its identity. We can no longer state obvious risks and vulnerabilities and stop there. We need to educate each domain to the potential impacts and limitations through comprehensive dialogue and open engagement. We have curated numerous stories how city planners envision development of their communities. But do they understand the impacts of these master design plans? Some planning departments are beginning to recognize its importance in the civic process. Does it slow down the development cycle, absolutely. Resiliency is more than just preparing for the worst or defending against mother nature by avoiding specific or obvious development concerns. It does take time, but it is worth it. Community engagement will drive how successful we are in surviving future crisis events.

Social media importance during a disaster is a hot button many would prefer to just go away. Many question, is it valuable, does it work or is it an impairment to response operations. These questions and more will never have one answer as we have witnessed and illustrated in our magazine. Social media and data analysis tools are still in  the development cycle. They matured as consumer products years ago. But how they are being applied in scenarios never envisioned by their founders is still in its infancy in many parts of the world. There are those that do not yet endorse the use of social media applications because they see them as not reliable or trustworthy sources. Progress is being made as we analyze limitations and report the value add each application when used or attempted during a response. There are hundreds of applications being developed around the world. There will be successes and failures along the way. We have uncovered stories and research white articles published by universities and commercial providers of social media. Social media analytics is beginning to shape proposed changes in response and recovery doctrine.

There is a continuing debate surrounding the amount of hours and financial investments being made in this space. The right balance will occur over time. Governments are often restrained, limited by laws and regulations. The 7/24/365 media world lets us know in micro seconds what the gaps are, regardless of ethics or limitations that few understand. In some cases, media have more advanced analysis and reporting tools than governments do because they are not constrained by regulations. Evidence suggests it is an important capability and in some regions, the only viable option. Progress is often an abused term to define disaster response technology. We learn by doing, it is our nature to try new ideas and concepts. Lives are at stake. To suggest we must be careful is an understatement.

Privacy and archiving disaster information has always been controversial. We are not yet fully aware of the full consequences. Elected leaders in many regions have just begun to open up government archives. Now they face a new dilemma that has potential long term ramifications, that in some cases will be almost be impossible to reverse. The internet is a powerful tool with 2.5 billion users and another 3 billion still not able to access it. It's use and neutrality have become a flash point of concern in many parts of the world. We need to recognize where and how this could (and will) impact crisis and disaster response. Currently there is no clear outcome of what lays ahead of us, but it is clear, change is coming. For every story that appears to convey access will be restricted or limited or bandwidth priority managed, another pops up that suggests we will have an aerial air force of balloons and solar powered aircraft that will enable a true and global ubiquitous internet.

Technology is both marvelous and useful. Over the next decade will see the public want more and demand it be implemented yesterday. We need to approach technology with an open mind. And when failures do occur, we mentor and convey that we do not drop it into a sink hole and bury it, but observe and learn and try again. We need to improve simulation and training services to see how best we can inject the use of technology. We need to see improvement in this area because it is an area we often leave far too late in the process to correct and fix. Experimentation during a real disaster has many concerned. Robots, drones and UAV's operated by creative but unfettered amateurs with no crisis or disaster management experience is a real concern. We need to reset expectations and requirements to developers on how they can best participate and solve problems to make a difference without causing fear or misunderstanding as we have seen in several of our curated stories. Pleading ignorance is no excuse or attitude that can be respected. The debate is not over and in the mindset of some developers, it can just do it. This needs to change. We can solve this through engagement and dialogue with professionals and developers coming together in a safe and cooperative environment to display new ideas and concepts. Governments are listening and enabling research in safe and controlled environments that enable unrestricted testing and evaluation without criticism. STAR-TIDES is one example of open engagement. It supports and observes experiments by sponsoring events at Camp Roberts and Fort Lesley McNair, engaging scientists, universities, nonprofits and private sector organizations in the development of new disaster response tools and technology ranging from housing, UAV's, cooking utensils to energy technology. The Civil-Military Cooperation Centre of Excellence in The Netherlands carry out similar experiments.

Learning the fundamentals are important. Many civic and national governments have invested heavily in education institutions all over the world, teaching and training a new generation in career opportunities in public safety. We are concerned in some regions as consolidation takes place due to government fiscal policy. Many nations do not even have a crisis and disaster management institution or academy. We are fortunate that some institutions are beginning to see the value in enhancing their curriculum and course programs to include Crisis and Disaster management. Specialized education for existing professionals that desire updated training is critical. The pace of change and potential disasters scenarios that we are facing is growing both in terms of scale and intensity. It is not a question of when a disaster will occur, but how big. Are agencies prepared to integrate multiple domains and stakeholders covering an immense area of responsibility. An AOR during a disaster is becoming multinational in terms of scale and cooperation requirements and needs. Mutual aid agreements are the foundation new ideas and collective resource management. It requires enhancement, to be taught and understood at the operational level on a regular and semi-annual basis. We have published a number of stories that illustrate current gaps.  One of the few countries that understands this requirement is Germany managing an academy in Ahrweiler, the AKNZ.

Without logistics, a response to a disaster is severely limited. The capabilities military organizations have and carry out during a disaster are without equal. They too are learning new concepts and cooperation skills. Taking an entire naval battle group and turning it into a massive emergency logistics and support organization overnight from its regularly assigned duties is an complex task. No longer is it an ad-hoc operation, but a full scale deployment requiring experienced officers and personnel that traditionally are not equipped to handle such tasks. Historically military units have done remarkably well given their primary daily role. But they want to do more while operating efficiently without wasting valuable resources assigned to operations they are often high risk not only to themselves but those they are trying to assist. We have linked to numerous stories how every branch of a military organization is revamping policies, technology and the best use of assets including training programs. Pacific Command carried out Exercise Cope North at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, which focused solely on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in February of this year and engaged not only PACOM assets but also those of the Japan Air Self Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force.

The ability to implement advanced education through the use of mentors that implements train the trainer is crippled if access is limited or non-existent to a center of excellence. The Australian Civil-Military Centre has expanded its capabilities in recent years and continues to be a driving influence in disaster management throughout the western Pacific basin and South Asia. We need to integrate volunteers and professionals into the education and training mix. We do a poor job of this today. Clearly we need to do more, not less.

We would sincerely like to hear from you. Please leave your comments below and tell us what topics you want to see more of. We welcome your feedback. We are not perfect and make mistakes. We will try to keep them to a minimum. You can tell us your opinion by clicking on the like and share buttons and link to our curated stories and editorials directly in the Flipboard magazine. If you prefer, you can click over to our Google Plus community and start a conversation there, allowing you to ask questions and engage in a two way conversation. We have members from all over the world that live and breath crisis and disaster management daily. From local and regional emergency management agencies, public safety departments to national organizations like FEMA, the Red Cross, and U.S. Department of Defense. Our cross section includes civic and federal government along with other military units from every corner of the globe. We have members in over 100 countries that is reaching every corner of the globe. We hope you find this publication and its editorials of value, enabling you to open your mind to imagine and analyze how each of these topics impacts your community and ability to carry out your job. All of us know that it is not the will to make change that stops us, but having the right resources and knowledge to energize one's thoughts to make an effective case. The need to be open and transparent is essential, ensuring debate, research and education is carried out.

Without technology organizations, universities, governments and communities connected as we are today, we would certainly digress and take steps backwards.We need to thank researchers, writers, publishers and the Press worldwide that publish their work so that we can ensure opportunities to understand future challenges is available. We now have 1,000 subscribers and over 22,000 page views. Crisis and disaster management can and will move forward. You can follow us on Twitter @DDRSNGO

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