September 21st, 2010 · No Comments
On Saturday, the first-ever “Global CrisisCamp Day” will be hosted in London, Toronto, Washington D.C., Calgary, and virtually to encourage people to lead CrisisCamps and volunteer their expertise and skills to create innovative approaches, resources and tools for crisis response and global development. I would be attending the event in Washington but have a medical appointment, and therefore I will be following it remotely.
According to the Washington EventBrite webpage:
Global CrisisCamp Day activities will include training new volunteers on open tools such as Ushahidi (including Crowdmap), OpenStreetMap, Sahana and CrisisWiki as well as inventorying existing resources and the development of training tools to build the first CrisisCamp-In-A-Box toolkit to be released in early January 2011.
The CrisisCamp community aims to provide new CrisisCamp organizers with mentorship, tools and tips on how to organize a CrisisCamp, training materials on open technology tools, lessons learned from past CrisisCamp events and a toolkit for the development of technology prototypes.
Also, on the CrisisCommons website, you can check the post, “What To Expect — CrisisCamp Day.”
CrisisCamp is a global network of hybrid barcamp/hackathon events which bring together people and communities who innovate crisis response and global development through technology tools, expertise and problem solving. Since 2009, CrisisCamp volunteers have created crisis response and learning events in over 10 countries with volunteers of all backgrounds who collaborate in an open environment to aggregate crisis data, develop prototype tools and train people on how to use technology tools and problem solving to aid in crisis response and global development.
I was lucky enough to attend the first CrisisCamp last year in Washington. It has already had enormous impact on disaster preparedness/response policy and practice. CrisisCamp communities have been active in the response to the Haiti and Chilean earthquakes and the Pakistan Floods. CrisisCamp events have provided surge capacity and training for existing organizations such as Ushahidi and OpenStreetMap as well as the development of new tools such as Tradui, a mobile Kreyol translation or problem solving such as a solution to extend of long distance Wi-Fi in Port au Prince to crisis response organizations operating on the ground.
If you are interested in becoming a CrisisCamp organizer or are interested in the development of a CrisisCamp in your area, contact Heather Leson at heatherleson (at) crisiscommons.org.
Tags: Preparedness 2.0 · Preparedness Events
September 21st, 2010 · 3 Comments
A new Congressionally-mandated commission has found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) risk analysis capabilities and methods are not yet adequate for supporting DHS decision making.
The National Academies’ commission’s report — “Review of the Department of Homeland Security’s Approach to Risk Analysis” — does, however, approve of the Department’s current risk approach on natural disasters. The 150-page study can be downloaded here.
There are few more important aspects of homeland security than risk analysis, particularly in how the government allocates its resources, deals with threats and communicates with all its stakeholders including the public. And, the Department is working on improving things in this area.
Federal News Radio did an interview yesterday with commission chair John F. Ahearne about the report. It can be heard here.
Tags: Department of Homeland Security · Preparedness Reports · Risk Communications
September 20th, 2010 · 3 Comments
For government authorities one of — if not the most — important part of homeland security/disaster preparedness and response is its credibility with the public. There will always be skepticism about government communication, but the ability of the authorities to be able to be trusted during and after a crisis is vital. It’s in large part why a recent New York Times article worried me.
One of the great tragedies and surprises for the public in the aftermath of the September 11th World Trade Center attacks was learning that New York City first responders could not communicate on their radios during the rescue effort. The 9/11 Commission report said dealing with that problem should be a top priority.
Well, in an interesting article in the New York Times earlier this month by Edward Hyatt, “9 Years After 9/11, Public Safety Radio Not Ready,” indicates that almost a decade later the issue still exists. Hyatt writes:
The problem, highlighted in the 9/11 Commission Report, was seen again in 2005 after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Public safety officers from different jurisdictions arrived at the scene of those disasters only to find that, unable to communicate with each other by radio, they had to resort to running handwritten notes between command centers.
Despite $7 billion in federal grants and other spending over the last seven years to improve the ability of public safety departments to talk to one another, most experts in such communications say that it will be years, if ever, before a single nationwide public safety radio system becomes a reality.
I would think a lot of readers must have been shocked to read that the connectivity issue remains. I am not enough of a technical expert to determine how reasonable this situation is. But this is type of unsolved problem that can really severely damage the government’s homeland security credibility, particularly if it is not explained to the public why it has not been dealt with (and may never be). I would hope that the officials at all levels would speak more about the lack of communications issue and not wait for the press to bring it up. If there is another situation like 9/11 and there are similar problems, it will be very difficult for the public to accept after all the discussions and hand-wringing about the issue.
But this question of government credibility should be viewed even broader, particularly in the area of communications. There is a lot of confusion among the public and in fact the government about how officials would communicate with its citizens and vice versa in a crisis. In fact, officials should be conducting an ongoing dialogue with the public on communications in general (ie. warning systems, IPAWS, reverse 9/11) which are evolving but are not currently up to speed.
But this ‘more is more’ approach to information is useful across the board when it comes to establishing and maintaining government credibility during and after a major crisis, particularly a terrorist attack. The time to talk about ‘dirty bombs’ and ’shelter in place’ is not after the incident but before. So, my strong hope is that government officials at the national, state and local levels are more forthcoming about the challenging issues they are dealing with so the public is not surprised to hear that problems they thought were being addressed have not been. Americans will be far more understanding if they are let into the ongoing discussion, and importantly their government will have more credibility with them.
Tags: City Preparedness · Preparedness Ideas
September 20th, 2010 · No Comments
A congressionally-mandated commission says the United States has an “urgent” need to implement changes in the way the U.S. Department of Defense plans for and would respond to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive (CBRNE) incident.
The report of the “Advisory Panel on Department of Defense Capabilities for Support of Civil Authorities After Certain Incidents” provides more than 40 recommendations about how the nation can overcome obstacles that complicate the nation’s ability to respond effectively to CBRNE incidents.
The study, “Before Disaster Strikes – Imperatives for Enhancing Defense Support of Civil Authorities,” focuses mostly on the military-civil response issues which are generally beyond the subject matter of the blog. But I did want to mention the report for two reasons: 1) a statement made by the panel chair Adm. Steve Abbot in the RAND Corporation press release about the inevitability of such a major attack (”such an incident will happen”), and 2) while the military-civil emergency response balance is not a subject the average American needs to know in detail there is some value for the government to at least expose them to what is in fact what would be significant issue in the event of a crisis.
The panel’s full report can be found here.
Tags: Preparedness Reports
September 20th, 2010 · No Comments
At college, it’s usually the students who do the pranks. But at the University of Delaware earlier this month, administrators turned the tables for, of all things, an emergency preparedness drill. According to an article (and video report) from WDEL-AM:
University of Delaware students lined up for what they were told was going to be a “GREEK” group picture but soon learned organizers had other plans. As students filed into Delaware Stadium they learned they weren’t just there for a picture but to practice emergency evacuation procedures. Around 2,000 students showed up for the drill before being dismissed to the Bob Carpenter Center for the picture.
That’s a ‘bait and switch’ for a good cause.
Tags: Humor · Hurricane Preparedness · Preparedness Ideas
September 20th, 2010 · No Comments
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to retake action this week on the Zadroga Act, which would support health care programs set for first responders and civilians who became ill as a result of 9/11. The legislation got caught up in some political and procedural infighting earlier in the summer.
I hope and trust that the bill will pass. I am particularly supportive of the legislation as it addresses the health needs of both volunteers and the general public impacted through their work in the 9/11 response. (Further, a number of the victims are suffering with Leukemia likely a result of the aftermath.)
In supporting the bill, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg underscored the reasons I think it is important to help this group of Americans:
“It’s time that the country stood up to do the right thing,” he said. “There are people who rushed into what started as a rescue and wound up to be a recovery mission. They put their lives on the line. They are suffering greatly,” he said.
“Supposing there’s another disaster. You don’t want people sitting back and saying, ‘I’m afraid to go in and save somebody’s life, because when it comes to my life, the public’s not going to be behind me,’” he continued. “That will be my message to both the parties.”
Tags: City Preparedness · Public Health Preparedness · Volunteering
September 18th, 2010 · No Comments
On Thursday night, twin tornadoes and a microburst went through New York City killing one person, ripping out 150 trees and damaging a number of cars and homes.
Tornadoes are clearly not typical here in the Big Apple — though we had a similar if less serious incident with them earlier in the summer. But it does raise the question how much new preparedness attention should this hazard receive from the government, public and media going forward. I think there are four things (below) that can be done, which will improve citizen awareness and readiness without making too much of a big deal out of what will likely continue to be the exception rather than the rule here.
On Thursday afternoon, I happened to be in the hospital when I received this text alert from NotifyNYC:
Alert issued 9/16/10 at 5:35 PM. The National Weather Service has issued a Tornado Warning until 6:00 PM in Staten Island and Brooklyn. Immediately go indoors and/or to the lowest floor of your building for shelter. Stay away from windows.
Similar to the previous incident earlier in the summer, there had not much media warning about the possibility of major weather though the forecast was inclement. As I wrote earlier (below), those emergency instructions in the text message may be familiar to those in the Midwest but not in New York. In fact, my guess is that most New Yorkers who received this notification followed instructions to move to their lowest floor or stay away from windows in large part because we’re not used to doing so.
Also, though the message was being sent out through text/e-mail only a minority of City residents (approximately 50,000) are subscribed to NotifyNYC, and not all traditional news outlets were distributing that same message. It’s a real challenge for the Office of Emergency Management: you don’t want spend too much time warning New Yorkers about a rare threat, and yet when it is dangerous when it does come (and you may not have much time to get the word out.)
So, from this situation and the previous incident, I would have four recommendations:
* put a little more public information/attention on tornado, twisters, strong winds without making too much of a big deal of it (integrate it into other related shelter-in-place/evacuation instructions);
* use this experience to emphasize to New Yorkers that to have the most up to date emergency information for you, your family and your workplace, sign up for e-mail/text warnings from NotifyNYC;
* government officials should work closer with the news media to make sure the communications messages are aligned and robust, particularly when surprise events occur; and
* maybe some limited practice or drilling — integrated into fire safety, shelter-in-place/evacuation — would be useful.
Tornado damage in Brooklyn (Photo: C. Voegel, The Gothamist)
Below is my case study/post from earlier in the summer, which comes to most of the same conclusions:
[Read more →]
Tags: City Preparedness · Preparedness 2.0
September 18th, 2010 · No Comments
A report issued to Congress on Friday says that the U.S.’s ability to detect tsunamis has improved in the last few years, but many coastal communities remain at risk because the government is unprepared to quickly warn people. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times:
The United States is particularly ill-equipped to give warning of close-to-shore tsunamis that arrive less than an hour after a seismic event such as an earthquake, landslide, volcanic eruption or meteorite, according to the 266-page study by the National Research Council.
“If the source were so close to shore that only minutes were available before the tsunami reached the coast, the public would need to recognize natural cues — mainly, ground shaking from the tsunami-triggering earthquake — and know to evacuate even without official warnings,” the report says.
In the tsunami that devastated Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga last fall, killing nearly 200 people, a warning wasn’t issued until 16 minutes after an earthquake was detected, giving eight minutes’ warning to residents of American Samoa and 28 minutes to Samoa, the report notes.
“This is a major concern that can’t simply be dealt with by increasing our technical capabilities,” said John Orcutt, a seismologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and head of the committee that wrote the study.
Congress requested the study to review the nation’s tsunami preparedness after the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people. That disaster inspired a number of laws to strengthen tsunami detection, warning and education efforts in the United States, an expanded network of deep-ocean sensors and improved maps in several states showing vulnerable coastline and evacuation routes.
The full Los Angeles Times article can found here. An Associated Press story is here. A summary of the report can be found here:
(Photo: The Oregonian)
September 17th, 2010 · No Comments
The Mineta Transportation Institute has released a report evaluating the security awareness tips campaigns aimed at the public, along the lines of the “See Something, Say Something” initiative, of five San Francisco-area transportation agencies.
Exploring the Effectiveness of Transit Security Awareness Campaigns in the San Francisco Bay Area finds: ”none of the five agencies analyzed for this study measures the effectiveness of their campaigns. Whereas they all have a similar goal—to increase passenger awareness about security issues—little evidence therefore exists confirming whether they are achieving this goal.”
But also according to the report: “A positive finding of this research is the consistency with which Bay Area transit organizations address the need for passenger awareness as part of their overall security program.”
It is an issue that I have brought up on the blog previously. While the awareness of these “See Something, Say Something” campaigns are up, I have yet to see real data that indicates how well they are actually working — and could be improved. This study reinforces my inclination and the need for study and specific instructions.
The report offers some suggestions on authorities can better establish metrics for determining success for the awareness campaigns, including surveying customers. Thanks to Homeland Security Digital Library where I saw this study originally.
Tags: City Preparedness · Preparedness Reports · See Something/Terrorism Tips · State Preparedness · Transportation Preparedness
September 17th, 2010 · 1 Comment
As readers of this blog know, I am advocate of establishing a single national day dedicated to emergency preparedness. I believe that it would be very useful to have a specific time each year in which the entire nation focuses on this challenging and sensitive subject.
This day would be the time that we developed and practiced our emergency plans, filled our disaster kits and were briefed on potential threats. This would be useful for both first responders and the public. Both Japan and China have specific days — on the anniversary of major earthquakes — in which citizens undertake practice drills. (Some cities and states, such as Kansas, have also picked a particular day within National Preparedness Month to focus attention on the subject.)
The question I have been wrestling with is when that day should be. Personally, I’ve thought that September 11 would be the most appropriate day since it is when Americans are most focused on the issue and as a fitting tribute to those who died. A couple of preparedness officials I have spoken to object to 9/11, because it is too tied to terrorism rather than all hazards.
However, last week during a press conference call, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate mentioned a fact I didn’t realize — the “peak” of the hurricane season is the 2nd week of September, precisely September 1oth. In fact, as Andrew Revkin points out, there are three hurricanes (a rarity) in the Atlantic this week. So, I would now suggest either the 10th or 11th which would combine attention on both types of disaster threats.
Tags: Hurricane Preparedness · Preparedness Ideas