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Featured Article

Digital software trends set to transform public sector emergency management

Written By James Boddam-Whetham for

Article originally published in Government News, original article available here


Time is the greatest enemy of emergency management. No longer can users wait for the next disaster before accessing the latest best practices, writes James Boddam-Whetham.

Australia is facing a battery of major crises – the COVID BA.2 subvariant, deteriorating relations with major trade partners, cyber-attacks on key assets, supply chain disruptions, and staffing shortages, alongside regular flooding and bushfire events.

The economic toll has been immense. The Federal Government is projecting $6 billion over the next four years for NSW and Queensland to recover from the latest floods.

A paradigm shift to proactive critical event management

Indeed, calls to label the latest floods 1-in-100 or (even) 1-in-500-year events ring increasingly hollow to the public. For not only are emergency events becoming more frequent, intense, and complex, they are also coming consecutively and concurrently.

A shift in paradigm is needed to manage this new normal, pre-empt critical events sooner, and achieve national resilience.

Such a shift to proactive critical event management has already been envisaged by some in the public sector.

The updated Australian Government Crisis Management Framework (AGCMF) is an attempt to manage risks holistically using an “all-hazards” approach that includes mitigating, planning, and assisting states and territories (where appropriate) in managing emergencies resulting from a combination of natural and human-induced events.

The primary focus of this Framework is near-term crisis preparedness, immediate crisis response, and early crisis recovery arrangements. But as the framers themselves admit, the AGCMF will require investment in certain tools and mechanisms to become actionable across crisis prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.

Digital software trends in emergency management

It can be expected that some of those tools and mechanisms will come from the digital technology space. What software trends, specifically? The likeliest to transform public-sector emergency management for the better include the following:

Mobile-first EOCs

Not just in Australia, but across the globe, emergency management was deeply impacted by the pandemic. Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs), the physical nerve centre of emergency response, had to close due to COVID outbreaks, e.g., the state EOC in Maine.

Too often, officials were caught off guard, without a viable workaround. Other public-sector agencies, however, had already invested in mobile-first EOCs – a trend which is likely to accelerate.

Not just any virtual EOC, mobile-first EOCs are specifically optimised for mobile users. Their operating platforms enable dashboards and other items to resize for mobile devices.

Because many of the same tools are available to users on the go, these EOCs also facilitate mobile command, obviating the need for incident commanders to be clustered together in physical facilities to clarify appropriate duties, education, training, license currency, and equipment for relevant roles.

As a result, mobile-first command will continue to give emergency managers in the public sector a sizeable head start in activating their response plans in times of crisis, with role responsibilities for Incident Command System positions, action plans, and the like.

Automated workflows for key tasks

Mobile-first functionality isn’t the end-all, though. The management systems that these mobile-first EOCs run on must also better support key emergency response tasks, as well.

To this end, the trend towards comprehensive, self-updating (or self-improving) management systems and away from single-use solutions, whether for communication, collaboration, or information capture, is primed to keep public-sector staff focused throughout the lifecycle of an incident.

That’s because tasks which would have formerly been performed by hand can now be fully automated, reducing the potential for human error.

How so? These self-improving management systems come equipped with automated workflows that escalate warnings to incidents, then track and manage those incidents through their entire lifecycle, by automatically alerting stakeholders, creating incident action plans, and helping in the requesting and tracking of resources and assigning of tasks.

Automated workflows also enable relevant information to be captured and neatly collated via forms tailored to specific response roles

Subscribing to updated best practice

Automated workflows themselves are based on the current best-practice guidance, coming either from national standards, such as ICS, AIIMS, or CIMS, or international standards, e.g., ISO 22320 and ISO 22316.

As conditions on the ground change, however, that best practice gets updated. Accounting for the increasing pace of best-practice revisions is the trend towards subscribing to updated best practice – rather than one-and-done implementations of the latest best practice.

Revisions are operationalised on the backend and pushed through seamlessly to public-sector agency users. Subscribing to best practice also gives those agencies a variety of EOC structures to stand up quickly, whether based on national/international standards, business-as-usual structures, or improvised structures.

No-code development

As mentioned at the start of this article, time is the great enemy of emergency management.

Unfortunately, deploying emergency management systems has historically taken time – and lots of it.

To this end, public sector agencies should plug into the trend towards no-code development, whereby entities can build their own interfaces for users or get best-practice out of the box, often making software development up to 10 times faster.

The drag-and-drop capabilities characteristic of these no-code platforms then help agencies customise management systems to their unique requirements and risk patterns. More specifically, the capabilities enable entities to do the following:

  • Make mid-incident configurations
  • Quickly create new data models for any kind of information desired
  • Present that data in a user-friendly way
  • Plan out new business processes for what should happen when different triggers occur

Agencies don’t need to get all their functionality from one management system, either. The beauty of no-code platforms, here, are the APIs and connectors that integrate with pre-existing third-party tools.

This also helps agencies ramp up quickly. Experienced practitioners enjoy a frictionless experience through multiple touchpoints; and new users benefit from a lower training curve.

As we’ve seen, emergency managers are often early adopters of the latest in digital software technology.

However, the deteriorating crisis environment compels even the most digitally advanced entities to adopt digital technology trends even faster.

Everyone else must pick up the pace, too. As the floods recedes, public-sector entities must take advantage of the latest software trends to get their teams collaborating better, responding quicker, and recovering faster from the myriad resilience challenges the country now faces.

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