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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

An Emergency Manager From Washington State Offers Helpful Caution On Potential Geographic-Based Public Email/Text Alerts “Digital Divide”

August 25th, 2008 · No Comments

After my post last Sunday about the text/email alerts from Philadelphia and Miami, I received an email from Cheryl Bledsoe, an emergency manager from Clark County in Vancouver, Washington. She has been studying how to best use social media and personal technology in public emergency preparation and response for her area. As part of that effort, she recently started a blog about the County’s emergency agency’s activities, one of rare blogs I’ve seen done by active emergency managers.

Bledsoe believes that the emergency management field must move quickly into the 21st Century and capitalize on new technological tools in order to proactively communicate with their citizens and the media. However, in her email to me she cautioned that there is the potential of a “digital divide” between bigger cities, like Philadelphia and Miami, which can invest in major alert systems for their citizens and smaller areas like her own that does not have funding to provide that same capability.

As Bledsoe writes: 

I firmly believe that you will see a rich-poor gap developing with regards to governmental access to technology. I have already had the unfortunate situation of responding to a citizen, who lived in a town in Northern Virginia, and was used to receiving their email alerts about community problems. She was unhappy about the level of alert she received from our office following a significant community phone outage. When we checked into the system, we learned that they had invested over $300K in their alert and notification system. My annual budget for my whole EM program (for 424K in population) is about $500K and that is 90% personnel funding & benefits for 7 staff. I comparatively have about $15K allocated for technology which must maintain my Emergency Operations Center in addition to notification (which I have about 10K budgeted annually).

I really appreciate getting Bledsoe’s perspective. I have been enthusiastic about governments taking advantage of new technology to communicate with their citizens. However, her cautionary words about the potential for a digital divide in this area are very helpful and should be considered by national policymakers.

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Tags: County Preparedness · Emergency Alerts · Preparedness 2.0

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