To facilitate dialogue and community participation in preparedness, having the right questions available to introduce new ideas to a community is essential in framing response and preparedness. Getting information to the "man in the street" is important so that they know the who/what/when/where/and how of emergency and community response. Through a simple framework of questions on how to engage the community in a dialogue similar to a town meeting, citizens can discuss ways to ensuring their community is prepared for a disaster.
The City of Charleston Neighborhood Councils, some 97 strong and growing, provide a system of communication and a substantial base for providing training and preparation for disaster readiness for city residents. City staff regularly meet with neighborhoods and provide basic training for the neighborhoods as they understand that there is a period of time when the city and its citizens must be able to operate and function without outside help. Neighborhoods are encouraged to send representatives for CERT Training from the Charleston County Emergency Preparedness Division. CERT trained volunteers are prepared to be first responders in their neighborhoods. These volunteers and other neighborhood members offer a front line response for the individual neighborhoods in the City.
Many smaller communities have a limited number public sector vehicles and drivers available during crisis for any purposes other than response, containment or law enforcement. Having a pre-trained and qualified volunteer vehicle squad available to assist first responders by delivering assets, messages and other volunteers could significantly reduce the logistical strain on public sector assets during the first hours of crisis. Using the Virtual Surge Depot with its two-way wireless messaging capability to catalog the drivers and their vehicle capabilities, and managing real-time deployment with the Critical Decision System GIS overlay, local responders could expand their own capability without drawing down against their own response assets or personnel.
The federal and state governments have worked aggressively to build communication networks for fire, law enforcement and EMS that link and allow cross-boundary communication. There are challenges remaining, with interoperability being the key issue between regions and responder type. However, there also must be a national effort to being a federal-ready, national database to register community sector responders and volunteers (see CRO) such as pastors, principals, hotel managers, school bus drivers, plant managers, teachers and coaches that qualify to use the Essential Public Network and send/receive two-way wireless alerts (see EPN wireless).
According to the Department of Homeland Security, America’s vulnerability is a cause “for significant national concern. Domestic security is only as strong as the least prepared community, and it is an all-hazards reality that first response will always be local response. However, approximately 40% of all communities are not prepared and will not received enough federal or state money to “pay for preparedness”. This requires local governments to integrate and leverage their community and private sector resources to multiply their first response capability during the first 72 hours of crisis. Through a 5-community pilot program called ReadyCommunities Partnerships, NCORP and the Corporate Crisis Response Officers Association (see CRO) will partner with government and community sector partners to help develop the programs and networks in 5 communities that can integrate public and private sector assets into one, effective local augmentation plan.
In order for a local community to identify its community sector assets and make them available to the EMS managers, a community sector gateway must be developed that identifies and links users at all levels and locations to communicate and receive information, regulated by rules of use, that not only facilitates interoperability between sectors and platforms, but connects them to other portals and concentric levels of access based on the need to know, to see and to share.
Even though the public sector has wireless 2-way alert and reverse 911 push capability, the vast amount of community stakeholders are not yet in a system that the EMS manager can access. Pastors, hotel operators, plant managers, private transportation dispatchers, school bus drivers and other community sector responders and volunteers (see CRO) can be brought into a trusted, scaled, geo-locatable network to register their wireless devices (see NSCAN) for 2-way alerts and threat-specific notification (see EPN). Once in the database and registered by function, level and location (see Virtual Surge Depot), community sector responders and volunteers can be reached individually or as a group with alterts and instructions, which can be responded to with SMS text messaging.
As much as 40% of local first response resources during crisis are used in mitigation efforts with the vulnerable/special needs population. These first response resources could be redirected to response and containment if there was a network developed ahead of time that paired these vulnerable/special needs members with volunteers from the community sector. EMS managers could tap into this network (see EPN) to know who would be assigned to which person, and where these people would be taken in advance of or during a crisis. In this way, a community would know the real-time status of which vulnerable/special needs members had been supported, and those still needing assistance.
The private sector has developed technology that stores digital information and cash value on simple credit-type cards. Pre-paid phone cards contain chips that can be charged with money and information for use in pay or cell phones. The advent of pre-charged gift cards uses slightly different technology, but still follows the same general process: money and information is encoded on a magnetic strip on the back of a credit-type card, which then allows the possessor to use it for purchases or, in some cases, to confirm identification. Either of these technical approaches would accomodate information and cash value sufficient to help provide a vulnerable/special needs individual with identification and money during crisis (see Vulnerable/Special Needs), particularly if in the possession of a paired buddy who has custody of the card and has agreed to deliver the individual to the staging/processing center.
Local governments can form a cooperative that jointly can subscribe to specific capabilities supplied by the private sector to augment their current community-wide capability (see Surge Village). These regionally located, mobile surge facilities can be used to train communities during periods when the subscribed services are not required. A mobile Surge Village can be moved from city to city on a predefined schedule, to locate at a community college or large corporate sponsor, for training and cross-sector coordination exercises.
Local EMS, fire and law enforcement agencies try to acquire all-hazards response capabilities sufficient for the most predictable response needs. However, many specific preparedness and response solutions to terror threats or disasters are beyond the budgets of local governments - solutions such as mobile coordination and communication centers, medical surge facilities, community decontamination units, mobile water purification systems and other expensive or high-tech capabilities. However, if private sector service providers offered these services on a subscription basis to local governments who joined together as a purchasing cooperative, the price per locale would be dramatically reduced while gaining access to a magnitude of capability beyond what ordinarily would be possible.
Recent disasters illustrate the important role of the private and community sector in supporting local public sector response and recovery efforts. National corporations charities after Katrina contributed expertise, services and assets that augmented, or in some cases surpassed, early public sector responder capability. Many public sector agencies at the federal or state level depend on the logistics and resource capabilities of these ommunity/private sector partners to deliver, manage and maintain critical communications, warehouse and materiel/personnel services during crisis. A new position of Crisis Response Officer in every local corporate and community organization facility would create an muliplier network at the community level that could help augment the public sector response during the first hours of crisis.
Making good leadership decisions ahead of and during crisis can profoundly affect community and business recovery. Good instincts are not sufficient when response requires identification, location and deployment of community staging areas, assets and volunteers. Knowing where assets are located, mapping their transit, and pairing specific volunteers with their delivery are key to augmenting the public sector response. Elected leaders, as well as community sector leaders, need access to a catalog of community assets (see Virtual Surge Depot), and to tools that help them locate these assets and anticipate the surge demand for them.
Decision making during crisis largely determines whether an early response will remain a humanitarian mission, or devolve into a law enforcement crisis. Decision making skills of public leaders vary by individual, and there is no national standard by which mayors, sheriffs or county/agency executives are trained to make basic decisions. Developing a national training program for local public sector decision makers would teach how good decisions are made in crisis, and illuminate the historical cost of bad decisions. A key to America's domestic security is realizing how the individual leadership decisions made during local crisis can affect surrounding communities or the nation as a whole.
First responders rarely have enough public sector resources or revenue to anticipate all the surge demands of a community during a crisis, particularly when evacuation is required. Because emergency management professionals typically plan for all hazards, basic public sector capabilities will be stretched without identifying and cataloging additional assets and volunteers from the private sector and community organizaitons that can be drawn upon during the early hours of crisis. Creating an open-source, on-line virtual surge depot that cataloges assets, capabilities and volunteers from community organizations and local companies will provide emergency managers and responders additional resources that are pre-defined, pre-trained and pre-located, to draw-down as needed during the time of crisis.
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