2020 will be remembered as the year of converging crises by emergency professionals navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic. While juggling multiple events is nothing new for seasoned emergency managers, the scope and scale of this year’s health crisis added a new layer of difficulty to the mix. From early on, it was clear that emergency managers would need to adjust to the rapidly changing circumstances while ensuring the competing threats were properly addressed. The themes of adaptation and innovation certainly helped those involved keep pace with continuing threats throughout the year.
As we approach a new year, what lessons can emergency managers take from 2020? How will their experiences inform the ways we plan for and address disasters in the future? We recently spoke with Ryan Lanclos, Director, Public Safety Solutions & Disaster Response at Esri and he shares 4 steps on how emergency managers can build resilience to prepare for the inevitable next threat.
“First, we must acknowledge that this year has been different. What you’re doing today is different than you ever probably thought it would be,” Ryan says reflecting on 2020. “For us in emergency management I never thought that we would be in a complete 100% virtual operating environment, working to support crisis response in real time while figuring out ways to mobilize teams around incidents globally and at a scale of a pandemic.”
The need to “do things differently” forced emergency managers to rethink their operations and compelled them to be resilient while in a state of constant change. As we move forward, Ryan notes we should continue to build upon that resiliency in the following ways:
1. Lean on Spatial Data & Science
“We need to be better at anticipating risks and addressing vulnerabilities in an equitable way,” Ryan shares. “The way we do that is through spatial data, understanding where the emerging risk is, pinpoint where to take action and find the trends that help us anticipate more.”
Ryan shares an example of using spatial data to track medical surge needs.
Leaning on spatial data will help emergency managers visualize the location of emerging risks and the impacts in relation to their communities and take decisive action.
“With spatial data we start to understand exactly where the need is greatest and can mobilize aid and resources to identified areas in advance.”
2. Communicate & Provide Context
Once we consult the data, information must be communicated and understood so those at the helm can make critical decisions, and the way to achieve this is through interactive dashboards. Ryan says, “Dashboards simplify the understanding of some very complex science and data. Using the example of a pandemic, a dashboard shows details like how things are progressing, how the map is changing in relation to the progress and what are we doing about it in real time."
Dashboards provide situational awareness through up-to-date data that is easily accessible and digestible for stakeholders. They also provide the visual context to what the data means in relation to factors like population or different geographies.
British Columbia’s COVID-19 Dashboard has allowed for easy communication to stakeholders.
From a planning perspective, dashboards also help validate the efficacy of decisions made during a crisis. “As decision makers immerse themselves into the data, dashboard allow them to quickly discern patterns and ask questions around different scenarios and can appropriately adjust plans in real time.”
3. Respond with Agility
While emergency managers are familiar with managing multiple events at once, the insights gathered through spatial data can help expedite quick and decisive action plans for the simultaneous crises you may face.
“Emergency managers must be able to not only do the things we do for each incident, but then start to plan against all those other factors that are out there, and then adjust our course quickly to gain the advantage.” says Ryan.
The added value for emergency management professionals lies in the ability to get in front of looming threats and operate from an advantageous position. “Making data driven decisions at the right time and under the right circumstances will keep you ahead of the curve.”
GIS helped officials assess damage of the Zagreb earthquake and make data driven decisions without risking exposure during COVID-19.
4. Collaborate across sectors
The final step is to bring the elements together in a combined effort with stakeholders and engage the interconnected communities.
“We know as emergency management professionals that disasters and crises don't recognize boundaries the way humans do,” says Ryan. More often than not disasters can span various geographies and jurisdictions so cross-functional collaboration is key to ensuring a successful response. As a best practice, emergency managers should frequently engage with adjacent regions to ensure a unified plan and response moving forward.
From an internal perspective, it will be important to review your own processes and optimize with your partners in mind. Ryan shares, “This year’s lesson for emergency management professionals is to look inside of our own organizations and understand where we're having success by communicating through maps and dashboards and carry those practices forward into the next event.”
FEMA is using the same hub technology in their response to competing crises like wildfires and COVID-19.
As we move into the new year and prepare for the inevitable next threat, we should keep these four areas of opportunity in mind and apply the lessons learned to future crisis response.
Watch Ryan's full presentation as he explores how organizations and agencies can effectively Manage and respond to threats in the modern world.
This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.