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The Importance of a Coordinated Emergency Response Among Utilities and State and Local Governments

Linemen working on power lines

In every disaster, there are hard, time-sensitive decisions to make, and a coordinated response increases the chances that people make the right calls. It is critical that utilities and local and state emergency management departments communicate their strategy and priorities to one another.  

By coordinating the response, emergency responders can increase the speed and efficiency with which they get the area back up and running. For instance, suppose there are two different utilities, Company A and Company B, that serve an area hit by a hurricane. Each provides power to a different nursing home in the area. The local emergency management department has been collecting information from different organizations since before the hurricane hit, and they’ve learned that one of the nursing homes, the one served by Company A, has an up-to-date, dependable backup power source that’s been running well since the moment the hurricane hit. The other nursing home, which is powered by Company B, also has a backup generator, but it’s been damaged by the hurricane, rendering it useless. 

The emergency management department can connect with both Company A and Company B and share this information. This way, Company A can send its crews to get other critical resources back online and take care of that nursing home later because their backup power has them covered for the time being, while Company B knows to dispatch crews to the nursing home in their area immediately.  

With this simple coordination effort, all parties are in a position to more efficiently manage its resources and, potentially, save lives.  

In a real-life situation, this has to be done on a large scale. Emergency management departments are coordinating with anywhere from 10 to 30 or more different agencies to bring life back to normal and power is one of the key needs to do that. 

One reason why this kind of coordination often doesn’t happen as smoothly as it should is there is not an established system to facilitate efficient communication between utilities and emergency management agencies. But with the right communications and data management infrastructure in place, these kinds of life-saving collaborations can be straightforward. 

How to Enable a Coordinated Response 

Forming a coordinated response strategy involves two important factors: data and communication. By using a system like WebEOC, you can both collect and communicate data to all stakeholders. For instance, using the example above, if the area’s emergency management team has WebEOC, and so do each of the utilities, sending them data as to which nursing home has a more critical need for power only takes a matter of moments. This makes it easier for both utilities to make the best use of their crews, for the EMD to get the area the power it needs, and for residents of the nursing homes to get the care they deserve. 

Consider another scenario. Suppose there’s a similar situation—where two nursing homes, along with the rest of the area, have been hit by a hurricane. In this situation, however, both are without power and neither has a working generator. But one of the nursing homes has already evacuated its residents. While it would be great to get the facility back up and running, its residents are already safe and sound, so getting them power wouldn’t be a priority. 

With a solution like WebEOC, the emergency management department can convey this critical data to the respective utilities. They can then deploy their crews to an area that needs power more urgently.  

WebEOC enables emergency disaster management departments to leverage technology to make communications to relevant stakeholders as easy as possible. For example, state and local emergency operations center (EOC) representatives will often call the utilities or go to the utility’s website to view outage numbers to determine that utility’s current situation. Some of them reach out to liaisons by phone and may or may not be able to get through to someone right away and sometimes the website does not reflect the real time situation. This can result in serious consequences, such as if a hospital doesn’t get restored to an adequate operational status quickly. But WebEOC can facilitate comprehensive communication quickly and across all applicable agencies in one centralized platform. 

The Power of Communication During an Emergency Response 

An emergency and operations management solution like WebEOC can make an enormous difference during an emergency response, regardless of the kind of disaster that’s occurred. Looking back to Hurricane Katrina, it’s been well-documented that communications failures were central to the inefficacy of the response. An official White House document notes that while communication was possible before, during, and after Katrina, the various means to communicate weren’t “adequately integrated to respond effectively to the disaster.” 

Integration is at the heart of an effective emergency response. The same report notes that the “inability to connect multiple communications plans and architectures clearly impeded coordination and communication at the Federal, State, and local levels.” Juvare’s WebEOC, which empowers multiple agencies, utilities, and other resource providers to interact seamlessly, solves the weaknesses that have, at times, been highlighted during disasters. 

Coordinate Across all Stakeholders with Juvare 

WebEOC, which enables more effective communications, can help remedy core deficiencies—in a variety of disaster scenarios. As a flexible solution that can be custom-designed to meet the needs of its users, WebEOC enables decision-makers to act quickly using a central point of truth. Learn more about the potential of WebEOC by reaching out to Juvare today. 

 

Ron Juarez is a Client Success Manager at Juvare. He works specifically with the emergency planning and operational needs of utilities, combining technical tools and customer success strategies to help organizations enable coordinated responses that save lives.

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