Emergency Management Olympics

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London have been quite a ride – keeping millions of viewers, including myself, from all over the world intrigued for 17 days. You may be wondering, ‘What does emergency management have to do with the Olympics?’

2012 London Olympics

Emergency managers, like Olympians, have pride, passion and dreams. However, without the proper training neither would be in the position they are in. Each require hard work and dedication in their training and to rise above the expectations expected of them.

Every day when I wake up I ask myself, “How can I make a difference?” Like many of the Olympians we have seen the past few weeks we cannot simply ask a question, we must show action and with enthusiasm. We cannot do it all on our own either, the emergency management community must rise together as a nation does at the Olympics. For we are only as strong as our weakest link.

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Social Response

Joplin Social Response

Despite the tornado warning and outdoor siren activation many deaths resulted from the EF-5 (winds reaching speeds over 200 mph) that devastated the city of Joplin, Missouri in May 2011. A National Weather Service study on the Joplin tornado revealed the following:

  • A majority of residents did not immediately seek shelter when the tornado warnings were issued;
  • In order to take action and seek shelter, residents needed two to nine risk signals (ie: If a resident heard the sirens going off they would look at the sky, acquire information from their television, call a friend, and so on); and
  • The duration of time between the issued warning and the search for resident confirmation resulted in a higher risk of life loss.
After the tornado struck Joplin, Missouri in May 2011

What is the Future for Weather Warning Systems

How can the emergency management community limit the number of sources residents seek before taking action? One of the major reasons residents confirm awareness before taking action is current technologies have outdoor warning sirens and NOAA weather radios responding at the county level instead of community level.

The National Weather Service and local media have been able to issue storm polygons for the effected communities, however NOAA weather radios and outdoor warning sirens are not currently part of this package. These discrepancies in the system make residents weary when any of these mediums indicate a potential storm and they seek other sources to confirm they need to take action(s). Until all technologies reach the same levels it is imperative residents establish key resources and utilize them before severe weather moves into the area.

Each polygon corresponds to the area the storm is moving towards and/or through and not by its geographic restraints. The NWS in Wakefield, VA posted a large severe thunderstorm warning (yellow polygon) for the area that was affected by the storm. A much smaller area was impacted by a tornado warning (red polygon).

To fill one of the gaps, in May 2012, cell phone corporations began offering severe weather warnings to their customers. Alerts including certain types of National Weather Service Warnings, will be sent automatically to cell phones within areas where severe weather is occurring. However, to receive the messages you must have a cell phone that is capable of receiving them. Not all phones are currently supported but as new models of phones come on the market many will include the alerting capability. To find out if your phone is compatible with the service, contact your cell phone provider.

In addition to the actions of the cell phone corporations, residents can take advantage of smart phone and tablet applications available to them. Some applications that can provide weather information and/or alerts to them via their devices include (listed in alphabetical order):

  • iMapWeatherRadio ($9.99): iMap Weather Radio will send your device an alert if your device or saved locations fall inside a watch/warning box. Once alerted you can listen in to the same message sent to NOAA weather radios (Not available on Android);
  • My-Cast ($3.99): Delivers comprehensive yet intuitive weather information. There is no alerting capability with this application;
  • NOAA Hi-Def Radar ($1.99): Simple yet powerful for viewing real-time, animated weather radar images on an interactive map. There is no alerting capability with this application (Not available on Android);
  • NOAA Now: The latest news and emergency updates from NOAA. There is no alerting capability with this application;
  • NOAA Radio Free (Free): A weather radio application where you can listen in to the same message sent to NOAA weather radios. There is no alerting capability with this application (Not available on Android);
  • RadarScope ($9.99): A specialized display utility for weather enthusiasts and meteorologists that allows you to view  radar data along with tornado, severe thunderstorm, and flash flood warnings issued by the National Weather Service. There is no alerting capability with this application;
  • The Weather Channel (Free): The Weather Channel provides the most accurate and relevant weather information whenever weather matters to you. There is no alerting capability with this application;
  • WeatherGeek ($4.99): View the same numerical weather models professional meteorologists use to develop their forecasts. There is no alerting capability with this application; and
  • WeatherTAP Zoom (Free): Pushes personalized current weather with detailed storm tracking capability. There is no alerting capability with this application (Not available on Android).

Additional Resources

Relationships

One of the best things any person can accomplish in his or her life comes back to one word: relationships.

This past week I attended the ESRI User Conference and Homeland Security Summit in San Diego, California. This was my fifth time in attendance and by far the best experience I have had. Why? For the first time I was able to connect with fellow EM/GIS professionals and GIS professionals from my home state of Minnesota. I was also very fortunate to connect with someone who inspired me to start a blog – this blog.

Which brings me back to relationships. Relationships – professional and personal, even in today’s technology-driven age, are one the most important components in our lives. If it was not for relationships I would not have a state championship, I would not have the job I hold today, nor would I be an assistant hockey coach. All of the things that define me and that I love would not be part of my life if it were not for relationships.

With technology, we can now form electronic relationships via e-mail or social media. It is the understanding between you and those you communicate with. It does not matter how you communicate but that you do so. We do not need to be in same jurisdiction, county, state, or even country to maintain our relationships. If anything technology should allow us to maintain even healthier relationships.

I-35W Bridge Collapse Anniversary

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the devastating I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minnesota that took 13 lives and injured 145 others. It was 6:05pm on Wednesday August 1, 2007 during the peak of rush hour when the bridge gave way and took nearly 100 vehicles stopped in traffic with it into the Mississippi River.

The incident was one of the worst man-made Minnesota has ever seen and while we reflect on those effected by the collapse we can certainly say we are more prepared than we were in 2007. Bridges are examined much closer than they were prior to the collapse and given more funding to repair and even replace the most critical of structures.

State and county engineers say the I-35W disaster raised awareness of bridge safety, tightened inspection and reporting requirements and made it easier to get state and federal money to repair or replace aging bridges.

I-35W Bridge Collapse in Minneapolis, Minnesota on August 1, 2007

First post

This is my first post – with more to come. I hope to write about GIS, emergency management and social media in particular but nothing is off the table. More to come, and soon. Stay tuned!