A new employee locator could aid Miami-Dade County, Fla., officials in coordinating responses to future disasters. The application plots where county employees live and work on a map that’s searchable by an employee’s identification number, name, address or ZIP code. In addition to plotting locations on a map, the application provides information on employees’ job titles, what languages they speak and any special skills they may have.

This information is provided by employees through updates to the county’s BlueBook system, which houses employees’ profiles and contact information. The BlueBook information can be used by the Department of Emergency Management to assign roles in responding to a disaster. All employees not designated as essential to department operations or the Emergency Operations Center are required to assist in the county’s disaster response.

The employee locator was deployed in December 2010, and is being piloted by the Enterprise Technology Services Department (ETSD), the Department of Solid Waste and the General Services Administration. Mary Fuentes, GIS director at the ETSD, expects testing to be complete and the system fully deployed by the start of this year’s hurricane season. Current development is focused on giving the system a level of security similar to that of the county’s online payroll attendance record system, which about half the county uses. In the meantime, the application is being released to department directors only.

The application shows the location of county facilities and includes the division in which an employee works, indicating whether he or she is essential to the operations of that department, according to Fuentes. “If you’re not department essential, for example, you can be assigned to go out in the field in a POD [point of distribution],” she said.

The system can be accessed from Miami-Dade’s intranet using Active Directory, which authenticates someone attempting to log on as a county employee. When it’s fully deployed, non-management employees will only be able to see their personal information. A second logon screen authenticates managers to see their employees’ information. The employee locator has yet to be used during a disaster. To date, agencies involved in the pilot have been working through implementation scenarios and tuning the information presented. Tests of the tool will continue with upcoming tabletop exercises prior to hurricane season.

Tool Offers Foresight

Department officials who are piloting the application envision it allowing them to predict what areas of the county a disaster, such as a hurricane, might impact and then shifting resources to provide the best response.

After a hurricane, employees from the Facilities and Utilities Management Division and Solid Waste Management Department assess buildings and clear debris as soon as the storm’s winds have lessened enough for them to get on the road.

“We know if a hurricane took certain tracks, we would be in trouble,” said Chris Rose, deputy director of the Solid Waste Management Department. “So it has helped us with just generally knowing what we would be dealing with if a hurricane were coming.”

The department also plans to incorporate information from the employee locator into an upcoming update to its emergency operations plan. “We are going to use it to see if our sites are appropriately placed,” Rose said. “We might want to put it closer to where folks live; we might not. We may decide just to stick with what we’ve got.”

During a storm or emergency, Facilities and Utilities Management Division employees may not be able to report to where they are normally assigned and may be directed instead to a facility that they can get to more easily. “That’s where the locator sort of comes in handy,” said Jerry Hall, the division’s director. “We may set up our staffing by geographic proximity of homes to facilities, so that we’re not putting them so much at risk.” 

If one of Hall’s employees can’t make it to work because of storm damage to his or her house, the person must call the office to get reassigned. In that situation, the locator would allow him to see which employees live near each other and could check on a co-worker who hadn’t reported in.

In some cases, staff may be dispatched to the home of a co-worker who is dealing with damage to his or her house. “Certain positions we have are extremely critical. Let’s say, for example, emergency generator technicians,” he said. “We have a very small staff of those. If they’re trapped at home and can’t leave because of a safety issue at their home, we will dispatch other people. They will actually secure their home for them, while the critical skill set is brought into the office.”

Hall said the idea of having a tool that helps people coordinate their activities, such as carpooling to work, is a good one. He added that it’s much easier to do with a map rather than the traditional paper or electronic documents containing contact information organized alphabetically by street name or ZIP code that may not provide a clear idea of who lives near each other. “So it really takes a lot of effort to do that kind of work,” Hall said, “but when you can glance at a map instead of winging it you’re actually making pretty precise decisions.”