In emergency management, digital tools have become as important as physical ones in preparing for and responding to crises.
Micheal Kemp, PhD, Faculty Chair of Capella University’s Criminal Justice and Emergency Management departments, identifies five technological advances in this field.
Those buzzy little gadgets that many people use for fun today have a significant impact for emergency management professionals. “They’ve got a twofold benefit,” says Kemp. “We can use them to map out areas during training, and they’re valuable for recovery efforts after a disaster. We can fly over debris from a hurricane or tornado and see the extent of the damage, assess any existing danger, and look for survivors.”
2. Simulated Training
Preparing people to work in the field can be difficult, since the nature of emergencies is that they’re usually either unexpected or there’s little time to prepare. Upgraded training software provides a digital “hands-on” experience helpful for first-responders, supervisors, and planners. It also trains the trainers. “The best simulated training software incorporates best practices, training considerations, and concrete ways to link training to plans,” explains Kemp.
3. Strengthening the Planning Process
New software programs have been developed that streamline the emergency planning process itself. “Emergency management is all about plans, which are dictated by federal law,” says Kemp. “The new software allows us to connect different plans together and tighten security. We can track every iteration of the plan and who changed what, so it’s transparent to the organization. We can also limit access to certain parts depending on the security clearance of the employee.”
Before it was digital, planning was a cumbersome process. “We used to use binders,” Kemp recalls. “So we’d have hundreds of pages across several binders, and tons of notes on pages that said things like ‘See Tab 1C, then look at Tab 2B.’ Now everything is cross-referenced across the platform, and the technology is smart enough to prompt us to consider factors that we might have missed before. It’s much more efficient.”
Planning programs also facilitate predictive modeling. “We load the models, plug in variables, and then create different plans,” Kemp explains. Modeling allows emergency managers to decide how a disaster might impact a specific area, and best options for mitigation, response, and rescue operations.
4. Communication Beyond Cellular
Cell phones are ubiquitous, but they’re not ideal in times of emergency. “You can have situations where either the cell towers are jammed because so many people are calling, or a large weather event can take out a tower,” says Kemp. “Today, we have computers that run on both satellite and cell, so we can still communicate.”
5. Alternative Warning Methods
Most communities at risk for tornadoes probably have tornado sirens, but they’re far from foolproof and can be hard to hear. New, more sophisticated technology is on track to make notification of a potential disaster more effective. “Today, in addition to sirens, we can text, radio, and use Reverse 911, which is a way to send notifications to a geographically defined area,” explains Kemp. The easier and faster it is to reach people in the community, the safer they are likely to be.
According to Kemp, emerging technology has and will continue to have a major impact on the emergency management field. “We have already begun to see the impact of technology in our planning and recovery operations. Its potential is exponential.”