The only difference between adventure and disaster is preparedness.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What if it happened today? Part III

So what would have changed if Mt. St. Helens blew today rather than 30 years ago? The most profound difference between 1980 and today (besides a decrease in hair spray and shoulder pad sales) is the easy access of information, the instant and broad ways that information can be disseminated and the pervasive nature of today's media. Today, at least in the realm of Cowlitz County Emergency Management, when emergency information needs to go out, we can do so in a variety of methods to inform as many people as possible.

If we had information that a volcanic eruption was imminent, we could send out an Emergency Community Notification System message, in essence a Reverse-911, which would ring every landline in the county in minutes, each person receiving a recorded emergency message. Every cell phone that had been registered with the service would ring as well. We could put the information across on our Flash News Network which takes a press release and disseminates it to every person subscribed to the service, as well as every local news agency. We could email a press release to all media outlets, including radio. We could send the information across Twitter to our subscribers, as well as our blog and website. We also have access to local public access television and the Emergency Alert System on all local radio stations.
All of these avenues are wonderful tools in our communications tool box. But...people have to be in tune to what is going on around them. Public apathy and a head-in-the-sand attitude are difficult traits to change, even after huge natural disasters such as the eruption or Hurricane Katrina.

Another advancement that would have streamlined communications pre and post-eruption is the implementation of interoperable communications between first responder agencies. Interoperable communications is the ability to share common frequencies so various agencies can communicate with each other. In 1980, the Sheriff's Office couldn't talk via radio to Castle Rock Police, or the Forest Service, or anyone else outside their agency for that matter. No one could. There were no cell phones, so any communications had to be over the phone, face-to-face or through message runners. If you've ever played the party game "Telephone" you know how messages can get a bit garbled when they go through more than two channels.

I have more on the topic, but I'll save it for tomorrow.

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