Keeping communities safe as public spaces reopen
- By Todd Miller
- May 11, 2021
Recent mass shootings in Atlanta, Boulder, Indianapolis and other cities have shaken communities across the country. At a time when Americans are already concerned about public acts of violence, government agencies must re-examine their emergency response preparedness and make improvements wherever necessary. However, several factors are working against these efforts.
First, everyone is inundated with information right now -- health guidelines, workplace-specific protocols, safety mandates, etc. Cutting through with clear messaging is difficult, especially in emergencies, which are chaotic, stressful and unpredictable. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic has stripped away budgetary power from many government agencies, leaving executives and officials with fewer resources to tackle bigger problems.
For these reasons, leaders must invest in and implement technology-based solutions that have the power to curb violence and keep people safe in public spaces. With the right technology, emergency response teams can coordinate their efforts more easily, and leaders can make better real-time decisions that save lives. Simultaneously, technology can inspire confidence by empowering communities and residents to engage in emergency preparedness successfully.
To that end, here are four strategies IT leaders can use to strengthen emergency preparedness and ensure that residents, students, employees and others feel safe returning to normal activities and venues this year.
1. Provide easy-to-use tools to report suspicious behavior
The public has an important role to play in mitigating the effects of crisis events. Decision-makers and response teams are rarely onsite when random acts of violence or other emergencies begin. Instead, they often depend on the public to raise the alarms when something goes awry.
Consequently, leaders must provide intuitive and simple tools so individuals can report suspicious behaviors or concerns. These tools should adhere to standards at all levels -- local, state and federal -- and come with resources that explain how to use them under emergency circumstances.
In addition, reporting tools should integrate with existing communication technologies and work regardless of where residents, employees or students are located. Individuals should also have the ability to report suspicious behavior anonymously through secure hotlines or mobile safety apps that keep them out of danger.
2. Ensure all communication protocols are up to date
Leaders should also ensure that protocols, infrastructure and databases related to emergency preparedness are always up to date. Communication channels should be two-way, allowing individuals and emergency response teams to share information. In many cases, individuals can provide helpful context to responders before they arrive onsite.
Furthermore, it’s critical that underlying IT infrastructure is performant, reliable and scalable. Government agencies should be able to send mass communications via automated texts, phone calls, emails and other channels that disseminate information quickly to those who might be affected by an emergency.
Public safety officials should also have the capacity to audit after-action reports to identify opportunities for improvement. Emergency preparedness is a capability that agencies and governments must hone over time to gain trust from their local communities.
3. Establish a central command to direct emergency response
Because emergencies tend to elicit major stress and anxiety, leaders must establish clear roles and responsibilities before events occur. Residents must know who to contact first and exactly what information to share so that responders can choose the correct course of action. At a higher level, residents, employees, students and others should be aware of the many response units that can be involved in an emergency.
IT leaders should also leverage technology to streamline collaboration among responder teams and establish a central incident command to direct emergency response activities. Doing so helps alleviate confusion and cuts down on the “noise” that makes emergencies more complex to handle.
4. Invest in technology to safeguard public spaces
In light of recent events, government agencies and public safety officials must take action today to give people confidence that they will be safe when spaces reopen in their communities. The best way to implement robust, scalable protocols with limited resources is through technology.
Agencies should look for a critical communication and collaboration platform that enables targeted emergency notifications, comes with simple reporting tools and streamlines coordination between responder teams. Digitized emergency plans will ensure that people know where they can find information now -- and in the future -- when it’s needed most. They should also be sure that emergency notifications can be sent immediately to notify emergency response teams, authorities and impacted communities.
Ultimately, order and clarity are paramount when emergencies strike. With proper processes, tools and resources in place, government agencies can help communities feel confident and safe returning to public spaces.