Are Emergency Managers Making the Most of Mobile? (Industry Perspective)

Mobile technology can help officials securely distribute customized emergency plans to improve awareness, readiness and response times.

by Brian Bell / April 23, 2015

Emergency situations occur on a regular basis, whether that’s a natural disaster, violence or a workplace medical emergency. Effectively handling these crises is a crucial communication task for state and local governments.

Yet managing emergency plans is complex. Paper-based systems, varying technologies, miscommunication between departments, narrow distribution channels and the inaccessibility of the plans themselves all present challenges to government administrators responsible for overseeing emergencies.

Some forward-looking local and state governments are beginning to circumvent these issues by utilizing mobile technologies to improve their communications; however, most entities are still underutilizing mobile today. Mobile technology offers an affordable and efficient way to empower government employees, and provides a way for state and local offices to streamline and improve their emergency preparedness and response efforts in the field.

Challenges in Emergency Management

State and local governments spend a great deal of time and money preparing extensive plans for all types of emergency situations. However, most depend on binders to house their emergency plans, which are hard to share and often out-of-date. Very few departments update their emergency plans on a regular basis, some only annually.

In general, communication is less streamlined in government offices than in the private sector, particularly for emergency management, as that responsibility often falls within several job functions, including risk managers and city managers alike.

Professionals responsible for crisis management need a better process to communicate both urgent crisis situations and day-to-day issues, like inclement weather, workplace conflicts, and drug, alcohol and mental health issues. They require clear department communication and coordination to effectively manage emergencies.

Moving Toward a Mobile System

The average smartphone user is always within three feet of their phone, checks it 150 times a day and views a push notification within 10 seconds of receiving it. Smartphones serve as a proven platform in not only voice communication, but also often information sharing and emergency notification. Yet less than one percent of government agencies use an app to communicate and share emergency plans and procedures.

An effective emergency response plan requires administrators to communicate and collaborate with all departments to devise a plan that maximizes safety and minimizes financial loss. Government administrators can save $4 to $6 for every dollar spent on a safety problem by switching to a mobile platform for emergency management. And mobile plans can be updated in real time and as emergencies arise, even during the crisis if necessary.

Consider a workplace issue involving employee harassment. The situation escalates during the workday. If the plan lives on a mobile platform, the manager can quickly access the appropriate steps to take and document any compliance or legal issues that require distribution to a broader team for further action.

Accessibility Is Key

While paper-based models are compliant, they’re neither cost efficient nor easily accessible. They are rendered inefficient by narrow distribution channels, the inability to update information in real time, and gaps in communication. Inefficiency negates even the most thorough planning process.

What does a city worker do when he’s approached by a reporter regarding a current event impacting the municipality? When the appropriate response is accessible on his mobile device, he’s aware of the correct media communications protocols for a range of issues.

Accessibility is the key to a successful resolution of an emergency situation and empowers staff members with the necessary tools and information to respond appropriately and according to protocol. Mobile platforms make emergency plans accessible to all staff, not just senior management.

When a change in administration or personnel occurs, the responsibility of maintaining and updating emergency plans can shift. With a mobile platform, this responsibility can be quickly and easily transferred to an administrator who can manage and customize the plan in the interim.

Emergency Response Made Easy Through Customization

Emergency plans need to be flexible and adaptable before, during and after a crisis. Plans also need to unify teams, address the needs of a variety of offices and improve the effectiveness of response and recovery efforts. Customization is key.

Take for example the 2014 ice storm in Atlanta that stranded students at schools and motorists on gridlocked highways for 24 hours. There was a major disconnect between government agencies in response to that storm.

Afterward, the governor appointed a task force that implemented a mobile notification system for severe weather events, one that would have prevented much of the miscommunication surrounding the day’s events had it been in place before the roads froze.

Utilizing a mobile platform would help government administrators coordinate with repair crews and update them in real time as the situation unfolds. Even if cell towers were out too, rendering Wi-Fi unavailable, administrators would still be able to access their emergency plans because mobile platforms store data on the device itself.

Mobile platforms allow for hundreds, even thousands, of pages of data to be stored in one place, providing personnel and occupants with a one-stop mobile safety solution that can be updated easily and as often as needed by those responsible for maintaining the content.

With a mobile platform, administrators can communicate information in real time through push notifications, and users can upload maps, diagrams and pertinent contact information, as well as file incident reports. Administrators can also customize communications to personnel based on job assignments.

Emergencies can happen at any time. Preparation is the key, but accurate execution is essential, as is accessibility to emergency plans for all staff. Mobile technology is an easy and efficient medium by which customized emergency plans can be communicated securely to improve awareness, readiness and response times. Ultimately, effective emergency management should empower employees and foster a safer workplace.

Brian Bell is vice president of strategy for Dude Solutions, the solutions provider of Crisis Plan, a mobile safety solution that helps administrators publish, update and share emergency response plans.