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Surprise, Ariz., Uses App to Build Virtual EOC During COVID

Almost immediately upon learning that the pandemic was taking hold and that group meetings were no longer going to be allowed, Surprise deployed its virtual EOC using Evertel’s first responder app.

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During those first few days of the COVID-19 pandemic — when it was clear that gathering stakeholders or employees together in a room or building was not possible — activating an emergency operations center became an adventure for some cities.

But not in Surprise, Ariz., where Emergency Management Director Tracy Montgomery quickly deployed a virtual EOC using Evertel’s first responder communications platform.

It was the same people who normally gather in the EOC, but they were in their offices or other locations and simply opened the Evertel app to join in.

“We weren’t getting a lot of COVID information, but we knew probably meeting in large groups was not going to be good, so we had one kick-off meeting in person and set up for NIMS [National Incident Management System] and our incident management team in Evertel,” Montgomery said.

From there, it was all virtual and included everyone who would be involved in the COVID response, including an operations section, finance section, planning section, general staff, command staff and so on. As moderator, Montgomery could go in to the various “rooms” and see the communications happening between everyone and fill in the gaps when she saw them.

“I could go in there and see all the conversations, but I gave my planning section access to all those rooms because we were facilitating a lot of new non-public safety folks on incident management,” Montgomery said.

Once the app was open it stayed open and was used every day during the pandemic. It worked out that the teams would meet virtually via the app every morning instead of having to physically be in an EOC every day.

“It has proven to be a great virtual tool and a time saver,” Montgomery said. “Where before you’d have a command and general staff meeting and maybe you just don’t need that every day, now you can just communicate every morning through the Evertel app.”

Montgomery also now uses the app during monsoon season, logging on at the beginning and just leaving it on for the three or more months of the season.

“As long as you use it every day you remain logged on,” she said. “It will log you off after two weeks. Essentially, you go in, build your rooms and I can see as a moderator the messaging going on in the rooms.”

“We were kind of laughing, at just the kind of happenstance,” Montgomery added. “Who would have thought that we would have needed an EOC where you can’t actually go and be together?”

Jeff Halstead is the former police chief who conceived the first responder app.

During his years in law enforcement, Halstead saw the need for interoperability that wasn’t being met. He retired in 2015 and set about creating the platform.

“We built Evertel so that any agencies — it doesn’t matter if you’re a two-person agency or the New York Police Department — can share, instantly and securely, wanted person information, case information, missing persons, any intelligence,” Halstead said.

The app allows for real-time communication including:

  • Focus on Agency Interoperability: Responding to a crisis is a team effort. There are many moving parts, and everyone needs to be able to get on the same page fast. 
  • Intuitive Communication: Facing a crisis without the right tools puts everyone at risk. A crucial part of disaster preparation is getting your agency set up with instinctive communication and a dispatch app.
  • Instant Alerts: Instantly updating employees with the latest intel is critical for the types of disasters and crises that come on fast. Information about severe weather events, fires and flood warnings must be communicated instantly.  

“So now the leading executive can instantly communicate with every employee on critical issues,” Halstead said. “Critical incidents, rumor control, policy, you name it.”