If you’re anything like me, you understand the value of mobile applications in today’s ever-changing technological world we live in. Nearly everybody in government service now has an iPhone or some type of smart device, and many of us carry one or more of these with us at all times.
One of the things that I have struggled with and I know I’m not alone, is finding useful mobile applications that I can use for emergency management. There are many basic applications out there for civilians to use such as FEMA and state emergency preparedness guides and plan makers for the family, but there are not many apps that emergency managers can use to better plan and prepare for incidents within their jurisdiction. In my years in public safety and emergency management, I have downloaded and used hundreds of applications for iPhone and Android devices, only to go back and delete most of them within a month or two once I realize they have little value for me. There are however a few apps that I would recommend all emergency managers have on their phones;
First off I always recommend keeping the most up-to-date hazmat response guide or ERG book, secondly the FEMA or NOAA weather application is crucial for any natural disasters and general weather awareness for your area, and finally if your newer to Public Safety and emergency management having the NIMS ICS guide is valuable for quick reference, especially during escalating situations.
ERG Book Application
Additionally, there is one application that I have yet to try personally, but believe it would be beneficial for local, state, and especially private industries to consider would be the emergency Management-HVA application, which allows individuals to conduct and complete Hazard Vulnerability Assessments for their area. If a local emergency manager was able to get the private industries, schools, and critical infrastructure facilities to utilize this app and complete their own hazard vulnerability assessments, it would likely assist in both continuity for the lead government agency and for the private industry to have these updated assessments readily available and in a unified platform that can be shared with others on a need-to-know basis.
Undoubtedly, there are a lot of apps in the App Store under Emergency Management and while some of them are great resources, I have found that newer emergency managers and public safety professionals tend to tunnel vision themselves into their resource and guide references when in fact they actually know the information on hand. We tend to over analyze and re-assess ourselves when we have the information at our fingertips even though we know we are competent in what we’re doing. While mobile application technology undergoes significant advancements nearly every day, I would recommend ensuring that you’re using as a resource and not as a how-to manual for your particular job or incident.
When I first became a paramedic, I realized that having the calculator, drip calculator, and ACLS guides on my phone were very beneficial to a new medic. Unfortunately, I also came to realize that I tended to rely heavily upon my apps and guides rather than my own knowledge even when I knew the information I was attempting to look up all the time. I hate to see this happen to anybody, but especially to those who have other peoples lives at stake.
Unfortunately, in today’s society, emergency services and emergency preparedness applications that are designed for the civilians are likely the first applications to be deleted when they don’t have enough room to run their update and keep the Facebook application. There is only so much we can do to help others be prepared, however, I do not believe that a standalone mobile application is really beneficial to a civilian population by large for this exact reason. Having addressed this issue in my previous positions, we found it more beneficial to have a social-media based application rather than a standalone application for our populations such as; Facebook, Twitter, etc. I have seen many emergency managers get very enthusiastic about creating an application for their county or jurisdiction, yet unfortunately, they failed to realize how many people actually use and download the application that they have spent taxpayer money on. My best advice in handling this issue would be to explore free options that are based on pre-existing social media applications.
I would challenge you today to explore your phone applications, especially those related to public safety and emergency management and really dive in and test how effective they are and how often you use them. I believe as professionals the apps that exist currently are more designed for civilians, rather than for the professional at hand.
If I were able to design and create my own application specific to emergency management it would include the following features:
- The ability to upload, link, and update in real time all of my emergency management plans, critical infrastructure documents, and any pre-existing plans that are vital to my organization success.
- The ability to integrate with my pre-existing mass warning notification platform so that I could issue an alert directly from my agency-specific application.
- The ability to issue an agency code to select individuals (i.e., Local fire/EMS and Police leadership, elected officials, etc.) so that they can also view, edit, request changes to existing plans are documents in real time.
- Quick reference guides on agency-specific NIMS/ICS structures and contact information for pertinent public safety and emergency management leadership.
- The ability to utilize GIS capabilities and for app users to upload photos and descriptions to warn others about local issues and conduct damage assessments from the field.
They may be an application already out there that can do the following items that I had just mentioned, however, I have yet to find one that is durable and reliable enough to be trusted to use, especially off-line if cellphone or data reception is lost during a disaster.
Stay safe and push the limits of what you can do..