February 19, 2007 By Jessica Jones
Communication is key in disasters, DeMello said. "The procedures we use convey that you can be successful in the EOC, but if things aren't communicated well to the public -- whether it be during the event or pre-event -- you're sort of spinning your wheels. So I think you should have a plan in place to open up a joint information center as fast as you do an EOC, and then coordinate that message very early and really show the emphasis that public safety is a concern. Their safety is why we're here."
Colorado is experimenting with computer software known as WebEOC, which allows users to log events, requests and reports electronically so everyone gets the information, Epp said. "We have it here at the state, and we've provided it and training to most of the larger counties' and cities' emergency managers and their staff."
It is the Division of Emergency Management's first experience using the system. Epp said the tool produced fairly good results. "We were able to keep our event logs well up to date, and the info was accessible to everybody, so it really helped in the overall communications picture."
"We also learned some lessons and have some more work to do on training and refining that system," he said.
In Denver, the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management is not yet a part of the WebEOC system, DeMello said, but the office is looking at it. "We just had a demonstration about 10 days ago," he said. "I know the state is looking for everyone to get on it, and we're in the process of making the decision to utilize that."
Though personnel in the Colorado Division of Emergency Management received training, Epp said the first lesson he learned is that they need to do more training. "Not everybody was up to speed, or people had been trained and they'd forgotten."
Despite a few hiccups, WebEOC is something Epp said he wants to use in the future. "It's a huge leap forward from the systems we've used before."
Next Time ...
Overall, DeMello said, everyone is pleased with the response to the December blizzards. "Not to say that it has been easy," he added. "Obviously the citizens are having to deal with digging out of their homes and their cars, but as far as disasters or blizzards go, I think we've fared pretty well."
Still, there are lessons to be learned post-disaster. "Internal procedures -- there are always ways to streamline certain things, and the advantage to doing what we do is we look for the most flexible people to be engaged," DeMello said. "So as we saw something that may not be as quick or flexible as we like, we adjusted the procedure right then and there, and made it happen. And I think that's what you have to have -- you have a plan in place, and procedures in place, but you also don't live or die by those. Be flexible enough because the outcome is not predicated on the procedures. The outcome is based on the outcome, and that's all that's acceptable."
At the state level, the Division of Emergency Management identified some things that need fine-tuning but didn't find major gaps, Epp said. The biggest issue was that the state didn't do as well as it could in tracking volunteer resources that could be used for transportation through heavy snow -- such as four-wheel-drive clubs, privately owned snowmobiles and snow cats, he said.
"The result of that is we were getting calls from hospitals saying, 'Could you help us transport our nurses back and forth to work?' Or the dialysis center calling to say, 'We've got 50 patients
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