Thursday, September 15, 2016

Social convergence in emergency management, what next?

Trying to determine where technological advances will take the world of emergency management and EOCs next is a bit like trying to predict what new kind of social network will be hip with teenagers next year ... In other words, it's hard to say ...

Social convergence (the union of mobile tech, social networks and associated trends) and its impact on EM is always evolving ... but I believe a few trends will stay relevant.

First, the use of digital volunteers will become more common in EOC and EM planning ... I've touched on that subject recently. The role of Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOSTs) in particular will be a critical consideration. 

Few organizations have the capability to put together a full team to monitor social media during an incidentLarge agencies such as the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene can put together a team to perform social listening in an emergency. They have done so successfully. But it's a big task, with lots of resources and staff needed which are not available to everyone. Hence the need for volunteers from outside the organization.

VOST teams are not the only game in town (although they can be used as a one-window approach by digital volunteers into the official realm of EM). Crisis mappers will also play a larger role in helping situational awareness. There are organizations of crisis mappers globally that can rely on outstanding reputation for stepping up with quality products during large-scale disasters. Chances are. a number of their volunteers know your area and could help if an incident occurs near you. Here, crowdsourcing is the name of the game.

The second trend I see reaching quasi-orbital velocity ... is the use of robotics and drones.  This is already happening at ever quickening pace in places such as Nepal where extremely detailed maps were produced by using high-tech to help in the aftermath of severe flooding.

Drones, robots and other new developments can bring connectivity after a disaster, deliver aid and provide command with aerial imagery that would be otherwise difficult to obtain. They can help EOC mangers and incident commanders decide the best route to deliver supplies and aid such as in the hours following flooding in Houston earlier this year:

Drones are good!  Repeat after me: drones are good! Despite some morons using drone to harass residents, put aircraft in danger and generally being obnoxious, there's no denying the good they can do in a disaster.

Drones and robots can help responders get places where they normally couldn't go such as in the Fukushima's damaged nuclear power station:

These two trends I've identified so far (the use of digivols + robotics/drones) can be combined to give us the third trend: 3-D, real time imagery and mapping. Nothing tells a story or can provide ICs and EOCs with an instant understanding of how in incident is evolving, as well as a map and a picture ... and why not?  both at the same time.

This is the new frontier in crowdsourcing, robotics and GIS-tech ... instant depiction of what's going on.  Imagine a map created as responders walk into any building or structure ... that reflects whatever changes caused by the incident.

The lesson here for first responders and emergency managers is that .... it's hard to keep up! But fortunately, there are serious enthusiasts out there who can help ... many are professional EM folks. engineers and tech-savvy individuals eager to help their community. Tapping into that expertise will make your job easier!

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