Preparedness & Recovery

Project Seeks to Involve the Public in Emergency Broadcasting

The Rockaway Waterfront Alliance aims to create a network of media channels that citizens could access on mobile devices.

by / July 18, 2013
An American flag flied in the midst of more than 100 residences burned in the Breezy Point community of the Rockaways adjacent to New York City in November 2012. Photo courtesy of Walt Jennings/FEMA

FEMA announced in May that the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance (RWA) was one of 30 recipients to receive funding under its Community Resilience Innovation Challenge program. The $34,500 award is for the alliance’s Call to Action Campaign, a project that seeks to involve community members in emergency broadcast operations by using various technology tools, including common devices like smartphones.

The Rockaway Peninsula in New York was devastated by Hurricane Sandy last year. The RWA is a nonprofit organization developed to advocate for the Rockaway community in terms of public space planning, using natural resources wisely to ensure the long-term health of the waterfront.  

According to the FEMA awards summary, campaign organizers aim to create a network of media channels comprising text and video information that citizens could access through social media on mobile devices. Schools, community centers and citizen homes would be bases where taxpayers could disseminate information about disasters.

But the RWA has a long road ahead before reaching that goal. Organization leaders plan to meet with residents and emergency management personnel later this year to gauge their experiences with disasters and technology. They’ll also meet with corporate representatives who can discuss how their products can aid citizens during disasters. Takeaways from these meetings will help the RWA shape its campaign and develop mock events where plans are put into action.

Jeanne DuPont, the RWA’s executive director, plans to have the first listening session in August or September, which she finds relevant in Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath. “What we’re really trying to do is collaborate with both private companies as well as public entities to try and see how we can do an event that showcases the use of these things during disaster, and also have it be accessible for not just hurricanes but for any kind of disaster,” she said. 

DuPont wants the process to include diverse technology, especially renewable power sources, like solar power, that can charge cellphones when electricity fails. Children will be crucial to mock events because of their familiarity with smartphones and tablets.

“People at much younger ages are able to engage using this technology, and I think that’s the reason that they are the key stakeholders in an emergency preparedness project like this because they can actually communicate and educate people that are twice their age,” she said.

The elderly will be important as well if they can demonstrate an ability to use the same technology with ease, DuPont said. “We want to showcase the fact that utilizing some of that can effectively reach people who are not traditional users or traditional participants in emergencies and finding a way to have those people engage with this technology.”

She hopes to get nonprofits and product manufacturers onboard, since their consumer technology is crucial to the campaign. The information gleaned from the listening sessions will help the RWA and its partner organizations understand what items and tools will be useful for mock events and real-life disasters. Groups like the American Red Cross could provide items like free phones and aid packages on a pro-bono basis to strengthen the Call to Action Campaign’s efforts.

“I want to find some of the technology companies and some of the phone companies that participate on a pro-bono basis so that we can effectively reach as many people as possible with their products and see what really works and what doesn’t,” DuPont said.

The RWA hasn’t set a date for its first mock disaster event, but at the earliest, it could take place in November.

Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Emergency Management magazine.