So after each one of those, we go through the same thing: lessons learned, corrective action plan, etc.
But in reality, there seems to be very little change, I'm wondering if that's because emergency information (EI) and PIOs are kind of tolerated in a disaster, seen more like a nuisance.
I'm overstating this sentiment of course, but while most people do subscribe to the big role played by comms in relations to preparedness, still very few emergency management plans or programs have broad and comprehensive crisis communications/emergency info components to them. Why is that, particularly in the age of social convergence where people expect to be informed within minutes?
The recent event in Slave Lake where wildfires have basically wipe nearly half the town and chased its residents out, is a good case in point. I don't pretend to know everything that happened there but with lots of media coverage, a certain picture emerges in my mind at least. Here are a couple of excerpts from a recent story in the National Post.
You can easily see in the quote above that it's important to do risk communications before any incidents as part of your EM program and preparedness initiatives. But does that translate to effective EI planning during a crisis? Another quote from the same article:
“Communication is one of the primary things that is required in order for the emergency management plan to be flawless, and it never is.”
Richard Kinchlea, director of operations at the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness
I believe that things have moved so far in the recent years that public alerting, warning systems and emergency information planning need to be integrated fully between the ops people and the PIOs. Things move that fast nowadays: you have minutes to follow up on initial alerts/warnings with info, primarily through social media.
So what happened in Slave Lake? There seems to have been a lot of confusion between municipal and provincial leaders. Confusion that led to delays in evacuations, false rumours flying about and limited public alerting leading to an outraged citizenry. Here's a telling segment of that article:
As the fire sparked over the weekend, Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee waited hours for the province to step in; when that didn't happen she called for the evacuation order herself. By that time, flames had consumed the local radio station and phone lines began to drop, making it harder to notify residents. The province is defending its late response, saying it couldn't utilize the public warning system because Lake FM's broadcast feed was down.
Let's look at what appears to be wrong here:
- local official waiting for province to step in: is that in your plan? Isn't EM from the municipal level up in Canada?
- Evacuation was delayed: what protocols are in place for such an eventuality? Do residents know what to do? Where to go? Shouldn't that be in the plan?
- Province said their late response was due to the town's radio station burning down and not being able to fulfill its role in the alerting process/system: why is it that in 2011, governments and agencies still rely primarily on the media as emergency info channels? Never heard of Twitter? Facebook? at the official level?