Sunday, September 18, 2016

The future of emergency management collaboration is virtual

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For old geezers like me (I'll be 55 soon !) learning new tricks as someone involved in emergency management and VOST work takes more and more of the little flexibility left in my brain. I can still manage the jump from Skype to Slack or WhatsApp or learning how to do new search strings on Hootsuite or Tweedeck ... but just.

A key component of the effectiveness of the Virtual Operations Support Team concept is virtual collaboration .... the assignment of tasks remotely ... working together with a team whose members I've never met. For some new VOSTies, that takes a bit of getting used to.

But I have no fear that the next generation of emergency managers won't be able to manage. Fact is, young people already collaborate in a virtual fashion every day to accomplish various tasks. How? They play online multiplayer games.

For example, I watch my son play a game online and collaborate with many other players to get things done on a map ... mostly they don't know each other ... yet they are able to work together ... organically some order appears and results are achieved.

That points to the fantastic pool of resources available to EM agencies across the world. Something that's already been tapped into and exploited for good during large-scale disasters. The Internet Response League is one such organizations using the enthusiasm and digital expertise of gamers.
This supports two key trends for EM officials and first responders. First, there's the growing reliance on digital volunteers who bring expertise not always on hand in EOCs  ... And second, IMHO, the EM world is slowly moving to its own version of the C5I command and control concept ...Some thoughts: 

Command: incidents are getting more and more complex ... unified and even a more diffused command structure is becoming more adapted to deal with all the various facets of an emergency ...
Control: technology and virtual tools have made some aspect of the span of control precept a bit outdated ... with crowdsourcing, span of control is irrelevant ... especially if dozens, hundreds of people are working on a solution collaboratively ...
Communications: closed-in agency-limited comms nets/methods hinder collaboration ... interoperability now involves the public and digital volunteers ... EOCs need access to all available nets.
Computers: while OpSec and cyberthreat issues remain vital concerns ... EM agencies must have in place a process to share and access data from a multitude of platforms ... some using open source software ... not many agencies are there yet ... again digital volunteers lead the way in that regard.
Collaboration: there must be procedures in place in EOCs to facilitate inter-agency cooperation and now, most importantly, working with digital volunteers ... Official acceptance of the value brought by digivols is growing as the realization of the effectiveness and surge capability they can bring to an official response dawns on senior officials.
Intelligence: when all five Cs work as they should ... when EOC plug into the world of social data available to them ... with the aggregation and analysis performed by crisis mappers and VOST teams .. EOC managers get the most important thing they need to make better decisions in the allocation of strategic resources: actionable intel ... that's priceless ...

Coming back to my son ... when he and his online team tackle hordes of zombies ... they do so in teams that coalesce ... self-direct ...self-correct and yet, organically move to a kind of diffused command system that works ...

That's why asymetric warfare can be so effective (think Crimea or Eastern Ukraine) ... In a way. all of that. makes command and efforts to vanquish the enemy ... a lot more resilient ...

Food for thoughts for my EM friends !

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