This article was originally published in the November 2022 IAEM Bulletin.
The Right Software for the Job Improves Outcomes and Security
There are many emergency management agencies who currently use an array of different apps designed for normal office operations for their emergency operations. They believe the tools they already use (email, chat, document sharing etc..) will be “good enough” for emergency operations.
Most of these agencies likely know that this isn’t the best way to handle complex, life safety tasks, but their staff members don’t want to learn new software and executives don’t want to pay for it. However, a dedicated solution is an important investment that will improve an emergency response and simplify your day-to-day operations.
Emergency management software will make staff members jobs easier by implementing standardized workflows, minimizing duplicate data entry, and giving staff access to just the tools and information they need to perform their jobs. From an executive standpoint, dedicated software improves oversight, protects from legal liabilities, and improves decision making and outcomes.
An emergency management solution will improve operations by: formalizing processes and workflows; collecting information in a single, interconnected solution; enhancing security & minimizing liability; and accessing dedicated support from emergency management experts.
Processes and Workflows
Using a hodgepodge of email, chat, and document sharing, team members choose who they think they should share information with, what method they think they should use, and how this information should be retained. Various types of information come into multiple apps without any clear indication of priority or urgency. Information ends up all over the place and gets dealt with in various ways with no overarching process. This may work for normal tasks, but when things get more complex or during an emergency information will get missed, lost, or miscommunicated. This will lead to poor decision-making and outcomes.
A dedicated role-based product will have the benefit of only showing users the information they need to perform their jobs. With emergency management software, tasks can be easily divided up and assigned to those who need to do the work. Executives can look at dashboards, allowing them to see the big picture without being inundated with information. They can also drill down into the summary data when necessary to get the information they need.
Another benefit of emergency management software is that it follows industry standards, such as the Incident Command System (ICS). It also benefits from being used by other emergency management agencies, who have already vetted the processes, and successful utilized them.
Although some training will likely be necessary, this tends to be minimal. Most commercially available products follow the same data entry methods used in email, instant messaging, and other mass market applications. Also, since the software guides users through proper information flows, there is less training needed to teach staff processes and procedures and a decreased risk of mistakes. The software will always make sure the right information is collected and get it to the right people. After the initial learning curve, most users find dedicated software is easier to use, reduces data entry overall, and reduces information overload.
Single Interconnected Solution
Another drawback of using multiple apps and programs, is that critical information is in multiple locations and there is no single place to check on the most up-to-date information. This leads to information not getting to the right people quickly during an emergency. It also makes it very difficult to audit information afterwards.
A major benefit of emergency management software is that it collects all information in a singular solution. All of the tasks a user needs to perform, every communication thread, every critical update are all in one place. The information is interconnected and accessible for different tasks, reducing duplicate data entry and simplifying tasks. The information is also always current for improved oversight and decision-making.
While using the software already in use for day-to-day operations may seem easier at the moment, when it comes time for after-action reporting it can become difficult, if not impossible, to collect all the information. This can lead to legal liabilities, especially if your team can’t properly respond to a FOIL request or fails to comply with a government audit.
Many staff members are unaware of the data retention policies of the applications they use every day. This means that even if you knew where the data was, it might not still be there when you need it. A dedicated solution will have more robust data storage policies, ensuring the information is kept beyond any legally mandatory timeframes.
Having all of the information in one single, interconnected system simplifies tasks, improves information sharing, provides overarching situational awareness, and prepares your team for after-action reporting.
Your standard office software is just not meant to collect the mission critical and often sensitive information that is shared during an emergency event. This means sensitive data can be shared with unauthorized staff within an organization and can easily be sent outside of the organization. This could mean unvetted data being shared to the public and personal data being leaked.
A dedicated emergency management solution is specifically designed to share this type of information and includes much more robust security features than other types of products. Most emergency management products follow a principle of least privilege. Users are only provided the minimum level of access necessary to perform their job functions. By preventing users from accessing data in the system that they have not been granted rights to see, data is protected.
Cloud hosting for emergency management software also tends to meet a higher standard than hosting for products designed for daily operations. In addition to providing secure hosting facilities, most emergency management software providers also take the extra steps to ensure that their organization meet the highest security standards. Many are ISO certified or have other types of security certificates.
A dedicated emergency management solution is designed to be more secure than other mass market products. It will minimize the likelihood of sensitive or unvetted information being leaked. It will also provide more secure and robust data storage and hosting.
Another major benefits of purchasing a dedicated emergency management solution is that it comes with dedicated emergency management support.
The support available from your vendor will exceed support from a company whose focus is not emergency management. This is especially true if you are working with third-party templates that you have customized to try to fit your emergency management process. Even if they can help you get the tool itself working, they will not be able to give you the subject matter advice you need to fix or improve your process.
Your vendor will also be subject matter experts in emergency management with years of experience working with other clients. They will leverage this knowledge and experience to improve your templates and workflows based on best practices.
An additional benefit is outsourcing tasks currently being performed by your IT department to a third-party vendor. This frees up more of their time for other tasks while also ensuring that you are a top priority during an emergency.
A dedicated emergency management solution is one tool that can replace many others, creating a unified platform for task management and situational awareness.
Using a dedicated solution can enforce processes through step-by-step guided information entry, automated task assignment, and other workflow tools. The learning curve will be minimal, and staff will find the solution makes their jobs easier and more efficient.
A dedicated solution will also store all of your information in one secure location. This means users always have access to all the information they need and allows executives to view dashboards, reports, and other summary data to get an overall picture of the situation. Having all the data in one place also prepares you for after-action reports, audits, and FOIL requests.
Security is a top priority for any emergency management solution. A dedicated system ensures that all data is securely and persistently stored, that sensitive information is locked down to only users that need it, and provides more robust data storage and hosting.
An emergency management software vendor will be able to provide support for the software and provide subject matter expertise. They will have the experience and knowledge necessary to help improve your current processes and give you access to the insights provided through their network of emergency managers.
It may seem easier to just keep doing what you have always done but when an emergency strikes, you’ll be glad you took the time and energy to get the right tool for the job. A good emergency management solution will go far beyond just improving response efforts, it will improve day-to-day processes and overall operations.
Cynthia Weeden, President, FutureShield Inc.
Cynthia has over 15 years of experience in implementing various emergency operations center systems. Her clients include government and critical infrastructure. Her tenure spans from early 1st generation installed applications, to current hosted systems used for mission-critical unplanned, planned, and daily events.Return To The Blog