Georgia Counties Use Web-Based Solution to Develop Emergency Plans

Web-based collaborative workspace provides version control and helps avoid misunderstandings.

by Corey McKenna / October 6, 2010
Flooding in Austell, Ga., in September 2009. George Armstrong/FEMA

The Gwinnett County, Ga., Office of Emergency Management is using a Web-based collaboration platform to improve its emergency planning and reduce the number of in-person meetings and workshops the county must hold.

In the past, stakeholders would come together to draft a plan that would then be e-mailed around for input and compiled into a final document. “This particular planning tool provides all that in an online environment where we can collaborate and suggest changes to one another, and then there are approval processes built in,” said Greg Swanson, emergency management director of Gwinnett County.

The tool, Previstar’s CEMPlanner, facilitates the development of standards-based plans using the FEMA Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101, National Response Framework, National Incident Management System, Emergency Management Accreditation Program standards, and National Fire Protection Association 1600 standards.

The system uses the standards to generate a table of contents that guide officials through the planning process and reference appropriate federal guidelines along the way.

It also reduces the chance of misunderstandings that can occur during the process, Swanson said. “They sign in, they look at it,” he said. “They post their comments right there in more like a chat session, and then the lead planner for that group can go in and make the edits. And once everybody accepts it, then it becomes the plan.”

Members of a planning team can also get e-mail alerts when portions of the plan change. Gwinnett County began using the tool in spring 2010.

The Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency also is using the system. Swanson said the two agencies had not discussed how being on the same system might impact coordination. “We may explore some of that in the future,” he said.

The Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency started using Previstar CEMPlanner to update some plans about a year ago, according to Operations Officer Donnie Reece. He said since the program guides planners through the process saves a lot of time. “As you write that piece, you review each piece with the whole team and then when you’re at the end you have a full-length document that has been approved by everybody that’s taken a part.”

The result is that everyone involved in the planning process is familiar with each part of the plan, not just the part covering their function, by the time it’s finished, Reece said. “The difference is when you do a plan on your own — if I do an emergency operations plan and I hand out [emergency support function] ESF-8 to health and medical and hand out ESF to public works and engineering — well, they may not know about the others’ plan,” he said. “So when I compile these parts together, I have to go back out and teach everybody this plan, or give it to them in hopes that they read it.” 

The system also helps in bringing new staff just out of college up to speed, Reece said. “If you’re bringing somebody in who’s straight out of college with limited experience, it really provides you the path to get to the destination that you’re trying to get to.”
[Photo courtesy of George Armstrong/FEMA.]

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