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Streamlining Climate Change Disaster Response Efforts with WebEOC

Natural disasters in Canada are becoming more frequent and more severe. For help managing them, a Provincial emergency management agency turned to Juvare’s WebEOC emergency management software solution.

According to the Government of Canada’s National Risk Profile, updated in January 2024, climate change is one of the primary factors driving the increased incidence and severity of natural disasters nationwide, including wildfires, floods, tropical storms, heatwaves, and other hazards. A maritime provincial emergency management agency tasked with managing these emergencies has found a trusted and capable partner in Juvare’s WebEOC emergency management and enterprise continuity platform.

Facing a Tough New Reality

As climate change amplifies the frequency and intensity of natural disasters across Canada, the east coast of Canada has been particularly hard hit. Hurricanes in 2019 and 2022 caused record levels of destruction, while the wildfires in the spring and early summer of 2023 that blanketed much of Canada and the U.S. in smoke were some of the worst in the region’s history.

The agency in charge of managing disasters in the province has the mission “to plan for emergencies throughout the province, coordinate resources during emergencies, and afterwards identify lessons learned and follow up to close any gaps in our response.”, according to the Provincial Director.

The agency has a staff of approximately 25 and maintains a dedicated Provincial Coordination Center (PCC) to track critical incidents and organizing response activities. In the past, the EMO’s provincial co-ordination centre was activated for emergencies an average of once or twice a year but last year it was activated nine times.

Two Challenges Confronting Emergency Managers

When responding to disasters, the agency has historically found two tasks to be particularly challenging: managing the high volume of information that typically pours in during an emergency and establishing a real-time common operating picture (COP) that can easily be made accessible to key partners. Recently, the agency has found powerful and effective help taming both of these challenges in Juvare’s WebEOC preparedness and response solution.

In the past, the PCC had received large amounts of data about ongoing events through a variety of discrete channels, including phone calls, satellite calls, texts, emails, trunk mobile radio (TMR2) communications, photos, and verbal updates. During Hurricane Fiona in 2022, the PCC received over 1,000 emails and other communications per day from over 100 points of contact. The process of recording, verifying, compiling, and circulating this information often proved overwhelming, requiring the full attention of multiple members of the PCC’s limited staff and preventing them from focusing on other critical response initiatives.

Equally challenging was the task of synthesizing the data the agency had received into a comprehensive COP that could be readily accessed by key stakeholders. Senior government leaders, elected officials, local emergency managers, first responders, critical infrastructure partners, and volunteer organizations all require accurate and timely information in order to monitor an ongoing disaster, direct the response efforts, and communicate with the news media and the public. For all of these stakeholders, the situational awareness provided through WebEOC’s COP is essential to carrying out their responsibilities based on informed decisions.

Traditionally, the agency faced many obstacles in creating and broadcasting an accurate real-time COP. These obstacles ranged from the amount of time and effort required to complete tasks like manually condensing massive amounts of data into a concise situation report (SitRep) to technological barriers and resource limitations such as the lack of printer availability, restrictions on email attachment sizes, the tendency for hard copies to become obsolete immediately after printing, and the challenge of locating a specific fact, figure, or statement in a stack of paper sheets during a briefing.

WebEOC Helps the Provincial Preparedness and Response Team Overcome Its Greatest Challenges

The agency has found a trusted and capable partner to help it overcome its difficulties managing high-volume information inflows and developing real-time COPs during critical events: WebEOC, Juvare’s industry-leading emergency management software platform and the choice of over 600 emergency management agencies worldwide.

“The reason we opted for WebEOC is it’s a tested solution,” says the Provincial Director. “I have colleagues in my position south of the border who use it and like it. It’s proven, it’s trusted, it works. WebEOC allows us to be more efficient and effective during these emergencies.”

WebEOC offers users the unparalleled ability to manage and consolidate information inflows from multiple channels. In addition, the WebEOC app can be accessed on a desktop or mobile device by anyone with access to a client’s WebEOC instance. This access can also be tightly controlled at the client’s discretion. Once the agency’s partners have been brought onboard, they can enter data and updates directly into the app through a secure web connection, rather than having to call or text the PCC and have scribes there manually enter the data.

“The advantage of WebEOC is it lets us benefit from the idea that many hands make light work,” states the Director. “By automating a lot of the data collection, it keeps our staff from being buried under incoming reports and frees them to concentrate on priority tasks.”

WebEOC is also highly adept at creating COPs that can be tailored and easily accessed by key external stakeholders. Also, the dozens of Situation Reports (SitRep’s) that used to be sent to the PCC, which required PCC staff to sift through and re-type into a Provincial SitRep, can be created collaboratively by multiple stakeholders.

“Instead of us running and calling around getting updates from multiple sources to build the Situation Report (SitRep), there’s a SitRep builder in WebEOC that allows individual Sections and Stakeholders to update their portion(s) of the SitRep online,” the Director explains. “Now, multiple contributors create their content in the SitRep“ and we just have to review and approve which speeds up the process and reduces the number of staff needed. A bonus is WebEOC’s ability to automatically distribute the latest SitRep to hundreds of stakeholders as a PDF attachment to an email; again, streamlining the whole process to get the latest information distributed without long delays.” states the Director.

“Everyone can benefit from coming to the dashboards and seeing what’s going on in real time. For elected officials and senior leadership, it puts relevant and up-to-date information at their fingertips as they prepare for a media briefing and allows them to make more informed decisions.”

WebEOC Boards—the data and process workflows that form the foundation of WebEOC—display information in an intuitive and highly visual format, with many incorporating charts and maps that show the locations and statuses of key assets. Boards are also easy to customize. The agency has developed custom Boards to display critical infrastructure data, monitor the status of cell phone towers, and keep track of Comfort Centre hours. The agency has even developed a PCC Executive Summary Board to provide high-level overviews of disaster response efforts.

The platform’s combination of real-time data and intuitive displays benefit users across the agency’s entire WebEOC partner network.

“Elected officials have an expectation that you’re not stuck in 1984,” says the Director. “They’re looking for real-time information, a higher frequency of situation reports, and more visuals. WebEOC lets us give them the information they want in a format that’s easy to grasp and share.”

Moving Forward with WebEOC

In a period of nearly constant disasters, implementing and deploying a new system to its full extent has been a challenge. Nevertheless, the Director says his background in the Coast Guard, his personal experience with the system, and the knowledge of other WebEOC users have assured him that Juvare’s battle-tested preparedness and response platform is the best way forward for the agency.

“We’re well into the implementation and deployment phase,” says the Director. “It’s working well. It really promotes interoperability between us and our partners.”

The agency is moving forward on many fronts to make the most of its investment in WebEOC. The office recently brought in a full-time WebEOC administrator and has developed new custom Boards to address strategic considerations such as stakeholder engagement as well as specific use cases related to the province’s maritime economy. It is also working on ramping up WebEOC training opportunities and exercises and has started to deploy the platform to more of its partners to ensure their ongoing participation and to align the implementation with shared objectives. In addition, the agency anticipates using WebEOC on an everyday basis to support routine operations and enhance service delivery.

“WebEOC is a great system,” says the Director. “We’re looking forward to continuing to enhance it and using it to improve emergency management throughout our Province.”

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