Monthly Archives: September 2011

Preparedness Reminder

I know that today is the last day of National Preparedness Month, but preparedness is not seasonal and these videos are great reminders of what we can do to be prepared for ourselves, our families, and our communities.  I hope you never need to know anything they teach, but ask that you look through them and take action anyway.  You never know when or where some sort of disaster or emergency can strike – Be Prepared!

Being prepared while traveling.

Being prepared at the office.

Preparing your family includes your pets.

FEMA Chief Craig Fugate Issues a Challenge

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Social Media – To Filter or Not to Filter?

I have to admit that I didn’t notice when the DC Fire/EMS Twitter account feed went silent on August 30.  A fact that I continued not to recognize until I read the article “#Silence: Fire and EMS Twitter Feed to be ‘Filtered'” broadcast in a tweet just this morning.  According to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe in a press conference yesterday, the account had not actually been shut down completely, but rather that its use was “being reconsidered” after what was explained as incorrect information sent out that had “imperiled the operation of another [federal] agency.”  You can review the history of past tweets from @DCFireEMS and make your own determination of their sensitivity.  The gag order, however, seems to contradict Mayor Vince Gray’s campaign promise of increased government transparency.  Most shocking, though, were statements coming after the press conference when the new department communication director, Lon Walls, stated, “I’d rather be slow and right than fast and wrong” (a statement which one of the comments pointed out as a “false choice”) while adding, “Social media is for parties.  We ain’t givin’ any parties.”

There were comments to the article pointing out that the “24-hour news cycle” of the 1980’s has been reduced to “milliseconds” these days and that information is currently being disseminated by various means regardless of its official confirmation or not.  The mere fact that the fire department has the ability to easily provide minute-by-minute news of their activities doesn’t mean that it has become a public right to expect that level of service.  However, the suggestion that “there are channels to go through for communicating with community liaisons in the event of a crime or emergency” seems to come from an earlier era.  By continuing the suggestion in saying, “perhaps they should simply put more resources into making those channels more appealing” seems to deny the notion that social networks already exist.  There may be fear that some will try to use these networks to start “flash mobs for senseless riots”, but technology is only single-purposed if the other half of the population decides not to use it at all.

One of the comments gave a very detailed example of how the @DCFireEMS Twitter feed was used by a local resident.  He claims that “earlier this summer I smelled a ton of smoke wafting into the open window of my apartment in the middle of the night.  I was going to call 911, but decided to check the Fire/EMS twitter feed first, and learned that there was a house fire a block away and it was under control, so I was able to just go to sleep and not bother the 911 staff.”  This is exactly the type of interaction that “Government 2.0” proponents recommend by allowing citizens to interact with their government in a meaningful way precisely when it is needed.

The barrage of mostly negative comments flew across the social media this morning and finally a new story reported “The Party’s Still Going: No ‘Filter’ For FEMS Twitter Feed” saying that Pete Piringer, the PIO originally authoring tweets, (and a new assistant) will once again be sending tweets without any official “filter” to control it.  This development was said to be a “big win for local tweeters”.  I am more circumspect about the result however.  Certainly a major winner was the @DCFireEMS account who gained over 100 new “followers” in the time it took me to write this post.  I also think that the public has regained a useful service as they continue to benefit from the good work begun long ago in building communication with FEMS.  It is the process that I think has lost something.  How do we go from “social media is for parties” to “no filter required” in less than a day?  Perhaps this is an example of exactly the type of communication that social media can be used to explain – in dialog form as opposed to a press release.

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Quick Thoughts from TriCON 2011

I apologize that these “quick thoughts” are actually being posted after this conference has ended, but I will blame the fact that the TriTech organizers, namely Jenny Clavero, kept us busy the entire time in Boston.  Attendance was similar to last year with around 230 people but it was made up of a slightly different cross-section of TriTech users with a few more EMS agencies and stronger representation from the eastern half of the US.  Still, there were the stalwart VisiNet users from New Zealand and Australia half way around the globe.

True to its theme of “Fresh Ideas” and “New Perspectives”, there were talks about the future of CAD, PSAPs, and healthcare information exchanges interspersed with VisiNet product updates and current technical best practices.  The opening keynote was presented by Jeff Robertson, Managing Partner at Robertson & Associates, on Wednesday morning to challenge thinking about public safety technology and the future.  Jeff pointed out that the Computer-Aided-Dispatch (CAD) application is to the dispatch center (PSAP) what MS Outlook is in most businesses – the application interface that facilitates communication and organizes your work.  His vision was a consolidation of functionality, similar to an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, combining the dispatch function with records management and mobile access all coordinated geographically through a map with interactive “drag and drop” capabilities.  A favorite line was “passing data serially from 911 to the CAD is sooo 1980’s.”  However, consolidation should not be occurring just at the software level but should continue at the very least to the pooling of resources to permit better information sharing as well as cost savings at the administration level.  He noted that other nations, his example was Germany, have a small handful of coordinated Public Safety Answering Points to service the entire country.  The United States is an outlier in having distinct PSAPs for each county and sometimes even separate systems by agency within that county.

There were hands-on labs, user groups, product updates, and vendor exhibitions filling out the afternoon.  The session by Frank Gresh, CIO of EMSA, on the ecosystems for Healthcare Information Exchanges (HIE) was particularly enlightening and will hopefully lead a future blog posting here.  His demonstration of SMRTNET in Oklahoma provides an example of how a national program could function to provide Field EMS with life-saving background medical data on patients in addition to helping hospital staff.

On Thursday, the day began with a keynote from Colin Lawrence of The Order of St John in Christchurch, New Zealand describing the infamous earthquakes from September 2010 to February 2011.  Using GIS maps and YouTube videos, he told the story of the geology of his country and how it led to the devastating damage upwards of $7.1B (which when compared as a percentage of national GDP far outweighs the effects of either Katrina on the US or Fukushima on Japan.)  While the number of calls for service increased dramatically, the communication center was able to maintain service and triage calls effectively because of ProQA from Priority Dispatch and a decision to return calls for more minor incidents after a brief period.  Another lesson they learned was that by not securely mounting computer displays to desks, many were smashed as a result of a serve quake and while these computers were otherwise operational they could not be used without their screens.  But after all the horrifying details, the presentation ended with a video demonstration of the traditional resilience of the New Zealand people called a “haka” and a plea for the World Rugby Cup.  Normalcy is always a priority after any disaster.

Special sessions were devoted to developing topics such as social media, consolidation, and also best practices for GIS.  Corporal Melinda Gutierrez of the Dallas Police Department and Chris Kummer, EMS Communications Manager for Hennepin County, shared their experiences learning their way through developing social media sites for their services and the policies regarding the use of these networks.  Jim Lake discussed the differences and problems of consolidating multiple agencies into a single dispatch,  Likewise TriTech GIS Analyst Karen Pankey and Adam DeMars of Columbia/Richland County shared practical tips for editing in ArcGIS and integrating it with GEO.  Then VisiFest!

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