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Four Ways Technology Can Improve Crisis Management (Contributed)

As natural and man-made disasters strike with greater intensity, the need has increased for effective technology during these crises.

When disasters strike, they can create confusion as well as chaos in a community. Whether it’s natural disasters or human-imposed crises, these incidents pose a real risk to local and state governments, the systems they run and the people they serve. 

While there are many crisis management preventative measures to employ, including disaster rehearsals and crisis planning, technology helps accelerate and expand access to critical systems and resources. That is the reason why technology is crucial for crisis management. Consider using these effective methods for enhancing your crisis management plan:

1. Enhance Crisis Management Training with Mobile Apps

Training is a vital part of preparing for a natural disaster effectively. However, it’s important to provide access to this training in a dynamic way, and you can do it by creating a mobile app. 
You can upload updated copies of your crisis management content so that staff members can easily access the content from mobile devices. A mobile app also simplifies training on-the-go in new locations. This makes it easy to perform mock scenarios of a disaster and role-playing to test how well staff have learned since they can access the content from their phones or other mobile devices.

2. Have a Backup Plan for Communicating

The California wildfires offer a clear example of how important communication is during a disaster and how it’s crucial to have a backup plan. The Santa Clara County Fire Department experienced data throttling once their unit reached 25GB of use during the Mendocino Complex Fire this year. The data throttling significantly lowered the speed of their phone service and adversely impacted communications for responders, including impeding their ability to track firefighting resources and route them effectively.
While the provider admitted to failing the fire department, this incident showcases the need for a backup communications system in the event your primary system is unavailable or does not work as planned. 
For example, having a backup communications system that uses a Wireless Mesh Network (WMN), should communications become blocked, is an option to keep communications flowing among teams during critical times. It’s also important to include a mix of traditional communications, as mobile networks and cell towers can be unavailable during a disaster.

3. Use Platforms to Support Resource Management and Information Management 

Providing relief in the event of a natural disaster that impacts the well-being of your community is essential to preserving lives. But without proper resource management, it’s easy to lose track of supplies. However, you can leverage technology to support resource management and have a flexible emergency logistics plan. 
For example, you can use a tracking system to monitor the location of crucial supplies. You can also use a platform that leverages machine learning effectively to predict demands. This helps crisis management team leaders decide when to dispatch supplies to areas that need them the most. To effectively manage your resources, you have to manage information correctly and ensure it is accurate. 
You can leverage technology by using platforms and systems that deliver information in real time. For example, you can use an app or software program that provides analytics for tremors in an earthquake as they occur and is connected with your infrastructure and other critical local government centers. 
This information can be relayed to the appropriate crisis management team members so that they can make decisions effectively for managing the crisis at hand. It’s important to establish the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder so that the information goes to the right person as well. Consider also using a data management team with expertise in setting and managing these crisis systems so you can have the professional support you need. By using real-time information, you can make better, data-backed decisions for responding to a crisis.

4. Use Social Media for Quick Alerts

Sounding the alarm requires using technology that supports a speedy response. You also want to ensure that community residents have access to this form of communication, too. Social media has continuously proven its effectiveness during a crisis. It’s important to take advantage of social media platforms and incorporate them into your crisis management plan.
Social media played an important role in helping people account for missing persons during mass shootings, such as the Orlando nightclub mass shooting in 2016 and the Las Vegas shooting in 2017. Following the Las Vegas shooting, Facebook activated its Safety Check feature, allowing users to mark themselves as safe during the massacre so that family members, friends and first responder volunteers could confirm their safety.
People have also relied on social media to communicate with others during major hurricanes in the last decade, including Hurricanes Sandy, Harvey, Irma and Michael. From journalists to school officials, people have used hashtags and posted geo-tagged images and videos to show the damage of these storms. This social-driven information has helped rescue agencies decide where to deploy help.
According to the Pew Research Center, about 69 percent of Americans access social media, with Facebook being the most popular tool. Crisis management teams for state and local governments can leverage these social media platforms to provide alerts, news and other important information to their communities. 
However, it’s important to consider the types of social media platforms your community members are more likely to use. By evaluating which social media tools are most widely used in your area, you can know which platforms to focus on and use first.
With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.