Using Technology as a Force Multiplier during Emergency Events

“If you lose the data, you could lose the emergency.” – Dr. Satyamoorthy Kabilan, Director, National Security and Strategic Foresight, The Conference Board of Canada

Throughout this year’s Resilience Conference in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, this quote was referenced in many presentations, panel discussions, and conversations. And it aptly captures one of the conference’s key takeaways: data is a critical component of emergency management.

During Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure’s panel, “Interoperability, Communications, and Emergency Management: A Collaborative Discussion Panel,” our panelists also discussed the importance of data in the context of emergency events. The panelists talked about how technology can act as a key force multiplier before, during, and after an emergency. They also looked at how important it is to be able to bring emergency event information into a single source of truth for better situational awareness. The panel discussion was supported by a running Twitter feed, using the trending hashtag #cbocResilience.

Here’s a look at some of the more engaging discussion points about using technology as a force multiplier during emergency events.

Technology is key to partnerships, data, and flexibility
The panel started with Hexagon’s Rob Van Gastel talking about the 2013 Calgary floods and 2016 Fort McMurray Fire, which were both recent major disasters in the province of Alberta. Rob talked about technology’s ability to assist in many fields of emergency management, including partnerships and communication,data and analysis, and flexibility and adaptability during an emergency. Another popular discussion point for attendees was combining technologies to become interoperable.  Integrating dispatch, mapping, and multi-feed info reporting for real-time situational awareness were identified as key factors to being able to handle extreme events. This was particularly important to first responders because they use computer-aided dispatch systems daily.

Mobile capabilities can improve first responder safety
During Doug Odney’s portion, he discussed how technology impacts traditional first responders and the emerging non-traditional first responders. As Calgary 9-1-1‘s Deputy Commander of Technical Services, Odney  talked about how mobile technology is now assisting Calgary during events with bylaw officers, animal services, transit authorities, peace officers, and First Nations Police. With mobile technologies in place, these non-traditional officers are much safer when responding to events, providing real-time location data to ensure everyone is accounted for during situations.  Another important point Odney mentioned was that setting up the technology is not enough – agencies need to practice to gain true interoperability.

Practicing for emergency events is essential
Dave Mitchell, principal consultant, Dave Mitchell and Associates, discussed the needs, challenges, and opportunities for implementing new technology for emergencies. Interoperability across first responder organizations can still be a challenge, but it certainly helps when trying to build a single event view. Technology has the ability to help you develop and share the single view of the truth during an emergency rather than having multiple views across all participating groups involved, which can lead to major problems. Practicing situations and scenarios with multiple levels of participants and agencies is essential for success.

Use all emergency response technologies during practice exercises
Shawn Corrigan, from the Calian Group, talked about his experience with technology in exercise development. After finishing an exercise, you can recognize the lessons identified versus the lessons learned, which can help stimulate necessary changes within an organization. Technology can play a critical role in assessing the data and validating what to do moving forward. Shawn recommended having an outcome-centered approach to exercise design and encouraged groups to involve all the key players in the decision making process for designing exercises. He also emphasized practicing with any technology that would be used during an emergency event, so that everyone is comfortable with using it when an emergency arises.

Integrated data and situational awareness are key to good decision making
One final takeaway that was discussed during the panel was that integrated data and situational awareness is key to making good decisions in a disaster situation. This is important not only during an event, but also in the preparation of an event.

If you would like to learn more about using technology in your emergency management strategy, sign up for the webinar we’ll be cohosting with The Conference Board of Canada titled, “Ensuring Safety & Improving Collaboration during Large Events.” The webinar will be held on June 7 at 1:00 p.m. EST.

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