Realism provided by Nusura’s Simulation Deck Technology

Animated Don't Panic

All organizations these days are subject to crisis and emergency management disasters. Those that take the time to plan for their worst-case scenarios and be prepared in advance will survive and even thrive. Those that believe it “can’t happen to us” will not.

Perhaps equally important, whether they are nonprofit organizations, local, state or federal agencies, large or medium size businesses, or universities and colleges, those folks that don’t understand the impact that social media can have on crisis and emergency management are destined to suffer even more serious consequences than they may realize.

It has been said that imagination is the true sign of intelligence. When it comes to technology and crisis and emergency management, which is evolving daily at speeds often beyond our comprehension, there can be no argument that imagination often makes the difference between the mundane and the next level of creativity.

Recently we teamed with a relatively new company based in Denver, Colo., Nusura, Inc. – “nusura” is a Swahili term meaning “one who survives” – this company is one of the newest innovative companies on deck offering a way for organizations to test their social media and public outreach skills through the use of a training tool they call SimulationDeck.

SimulationDeck is a secure Web portal that replicates online communications tools, including such social media as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as organizational websites and blogs.

As many of my readers know, for years my firm has offered strategic crisis planning and issues management alongside emergency operations planning, training and webinars. When we were asked by a client to consider how best to bring them into the real world of social media we sought out and found Nusura, Inc. The teaming partnership has resulted in a significant contract with a federal agency. We believe our combined resources, talents and experience and a similar set of values on how to handle clients and business in general brought us to the front of the bidder pack.

Nusura’s president is Jim Chestnutt, an experienced public information officer formerly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Chestnutt and his team of former FEMA employees set out to train people on how to get information out to their stakeholders in a timely, accurate and coordinated fashion during emergencies.

We saw benefit and value to application of their technology for not just life-threatening situations, we also saw the benefit to planning for the always prevalent developing crisis around such internal issues as reorganizations, downsizing, sexual harassment charges, ethics charges and legal entanglements that any organization can face.

Chestnutt and I both found that in after-action reports from actual and exercise events – be it an internal crisis or an external emergency – that the public information function in major exercises was not being tested in a realistic way, which is what set me out to find a way to correct the issue for my clients.

Chestnutt says that the pressure created by mock media and those tasked with testing the public information element in mock exercises didn’t compare to the reality of handling even a small emergency.

Nusura, Inc. has former public information officers and field agents from all levels of government who have experienced all sorts of internal and external crises and emergencies. SimulationDeck is the creative offspring of this group of talented professionals to mimic what happens online and in the media during an actual crisis or emergency.

The simulation Web portal has nine websites which emulate social media sites: SimulationBook includes Facebook’s core features; Bleater simulates Twitter; the blogging platform is called Frogger; their YouTube look-alike is Ewe Tube; there is a site for agency or organizational news; incident information; the Exercise Times Daily, a Web-based newspaper that features live reader comments; SimDeck News, a Web-based TV station; and KEXN Radio.

SimulationDeck doesn’t require special software, so it can work on any platform or Internet-connected device. Chestnutt notes that one person working the SimulationDeck could act as 10 people. This person can file a newspaper article, then post on the agency’s website and then act as the Governor’s press secretary and announce a surprise press conference.

Chestnutt told emergencymgmt.com that “Things happen instantly, and any simulation player can generate an enormous amount of injects, as fast as they can type and enter it.”

The tool was recently used during the Vibrant Response 13, a U.S. Army North national-level field training exercise that had 9,000 service members and civilians from the military, as well as state and federal agencies.

Dan Manuszewski, Chief of Public Affairs for the U.S. Army North, told the editor at www.emergencymgmt.com that it’s increasingly important to practice all forms of communications and that includes social media as it becomes increasingly popular.

We note that many of our college and university clients, who have been reluctant to engage in social media as a communications tool, are becoming aware of its importance when they see that their students and staff are more quickly informed through Twitter and Facebook Smartphone communications than the organization’s systems. We see great opportunity to bring these folks and many other organizations and agencies into the real social media and mass media world through such applications as SimulationDeck.

Like it or not, social media is becoming a major communications platform, especially for the current generations. Those organizations that fail to train their employees in the proper use of social media are doing a disservice to the employees and their stakeholders.

Manuszewski says that we need to make sure we understand the entire information environment – from the traditional media to the media that people are using now, like social media.

Chestnutt says that the company is listening carefully to feedback from its users and continually making improvements.

Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong, Armstrong and Associates, is a consultant and counselor. He can be reached at drdarryl@aol.com or 1-888-340-2006 or www.ldarrylarmstrong.com

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Plan for the “Extreme Case” – Prior to a Hurricane

Emergency checklist
As Hurricane Irma approaches, we thought we would share some smart hurricane
preparation tips. The key is to be prepared, have a plan, know where to go and try
not to freak out. Stay calm and plan for the worse case scenario.

1. For a big storm like Irma, you need enough water to drink for 7 days.
The water does NOT have to be bottled. You can simply buy water containers
and fill them with tap water.

2. Buy plastic sheeting and duct tape. Use the plastic sheeting to line the
tub. Then you can fill your tub with water without it leaking out. You’ll
use this to flush the toilet and for basic cleaning if the water goes out.

3. Have enough food on hand to eat for 7 days – food bars and other
packaged food is good.

4. Buy a large number of Ziploc-like plastic bags – large and small. You’ll
use them to protect papers and other valuables AND you’ll fill them 3/4
full of water and stuff the freezer full. Do that by midweek to be sure
they are frozen when/if the power goes out over the weekend. It will keep
the refrigerator colder. Do NOT set your fridge on the lowest setting.

5. Get a portable radio that receives AM and FM. NOAA radio is good, but
doesn’t get you information on evacuations and other instructions. Get
batteries.

6. Get LED flashlights and/or lanterns. They run forever on fewer
batteries. But you still need plenty of extra batteries.

7. Get large plastic boxes. If you put your valuables, photos, and papers
in plastic bags inside the boxes, they will likely be okay. Put the bins in
a high place, second floor, or safe room if you don’t plan on taking them
with you.

8. Do your laundry this week! Lol

9. Start running your ice makers now and bagging the ice in freezer bags.
Fill as much space in between your freezer items with these bags as you can.

10. Freeze regular tap water for pets, cleaning or drinking in
Tupperware plastic-type containers. REMEMBER to leave a small bit of space between
the top of the water & the lids so the ice expands but doesn’t crack the
container.

11. Start using up your perishables to make more room for ice in the
freezer.

12. Fill up all vehicles with gasoline, check tires & oil.

13. Get your cash from ATM, at least enough for 7-days to get you through tolls and gas out of  town. Call your bank if you plan on leaving the state so they don’t freeze
your card for out-of-area “suspicious” transactions.

14. Screenshot all of your important docs & send to your email. Take
originals in sealed bags or plastic bins.

15. Prepare pet / livestock food & supplies. Vet records in case you need
to shelter then at a storm-safe facility.

16. Make evacuation plans and share with family members so they know where
you’re headed.

17. SECURE ALL FIREARMS & AMMUNITION PROPERLY.

18. Gather old rags & beach towels for use on your windowsills. Even with the best windows & shutters, water seeping from the wind pressure happens. A few damp towels
is better than soaked drywall or floors!

19. Shutter windows and doors and bring everything outside into your garage 
or house NOW. Do not wait until the day before. Better to get done early
and relax than wait until it’s too late, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE MANDATORY
PERSONNEL (hospital employee or first responder).

20. If you don’t already have your hurricane supplies get them now. Shelves are already empty in most places.

Although these are great tips, please rely on official
preparation, evacuation and emergency information available at the National
Hurricane Center and Ready.gov
<https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2FReady.gov%2F&h=ATMT9P9j1MvB9pcIiqMI5TZFuowiDiazB7MNymZrpFM8ZnfhD9daQNLPlLL9WM0hdIESr07SwIBroDVHDglqdvZfWjGgWYfnHsB5PwOx-j4X9mwrfEXQBHWP8vvI3upjHkfqdjF9g1AfjQTUCovBjIhVvXf9KhQ6vflGW2GtKMoKGXX-Y7dW0UvFCSeKgSEoMU3Rsi2Ab5G5didxdgNmPqgvGy-0V4NBw_HxgM75l2QYmSbUiEBJMKK6y7aNcH41ZgkfBjo-8h12h8mesR9U-PsiQvq4TArNQ5JznLA2EymydIwY0GM>

Hurricanes and Flooding – Planning for Your Evacuation

Animated Don't Panic

At this writing none of us know what the landfall will be of the latest Hurricane churning the Atlantic known as Irma. For those of you contemplating evacuation in advance of a mandatory “go” let’s consider the key things we advise our clients when doing their personal planning.

Using D.E.P.A.R.T as your memorable acronym consider:

DESTINATION: Where will you go and how long under normal driving conditions will it take for you to get there? Are they accommodations pet friendly? Determine well in advance where you will go (hotel, friends or relative’s house, or RV Park, if you are driving or have a camper or RV) and when you will leave to get there. Make your reservations as soon as the hurricane track shows possible tracking through your home area and make them at least one hour (60-miles or so) inland from the possible landfall. Too often hotels in the landfall cone will close their doors and may leave you stranded. Don’t run this risk.  Don’t wait until the last minute to leave and get caught up in the mass evacuation. Simply, pack and leave well in advance and carefully drive to your accommodations.

EQUIPMENT: Our friend Ann Knipe always kept a box of her valuables packed and ready to go into the trunk of her car.  These included her valuable photos and documents (copies of the home owner’s and automobile insurance, leases, deeds, titles to the vehicles, birth certificates, passports, copies of your credit cards, utility bills and the telephone numbers of those companies, a key contact list to include your insurance agent, your doctor, lawyer, etc. etc. and most important copies of your driver’s license). The originals of many of these documents should be in the safety deposit box at your bank. Put all these valuables in a plastic water proof zip lock bag. Also, in another box pack those items you will need to use when cleaning up and making repairs to your home on your return. This can include paper and cloth towels, hand sanitizers, handy wipes, cleaning supplies, etc. Take the time to think through what you must have to return to your home and get back to a resemblance of normality.

PEOPLE AND PETS:  Who will be going with you? Do they need extra assistance or time to prepare to go with you? Are there people you need to check on before departing? Do you have carriers and leashes for your pets? Do you have plenty of extra water and pet food, protein snacks, medicines, bowls and cups?

ATLAS:  A good old fashioned Atlas of maps is essential. We have come to depend on our telephone GPS however during an evacuation cell lines may be down or overwhelmed and there are simply areas where you will not have service. Consider all the alternatives on how to get to your destination in advance and using your Atlas write out the routes in order. You may even choose to highlight the route in your Atlas. Plan your route according to your medical and dietary needs. Remember you are planning to leave in ample time to use any of these routes however when the evacuation is sudden the main route will be congested. Use your alternative.

RETURN READINESS: To get back into the area you will need your ID to prove you are a resident. This can be done with a driver’s license with your permanent address or a utility or credit card bill in your name with the permanent address on it. Before returning load up with groceries and cleaning supplies that will complement what you have already packed such as mops and brooms, etc. When returning gas up often returning with a tank of gas. Local supplies and services will be limited.

TRANSPORTATION: Have all systems on your car, truck or RV checked immediately. Get any repairs or maintenance done on your primary vehicle. Keep your gas tank full. When you decide to leave, with these preparations you will be ready.

Prepare now and evacuate orderly or preferably in advance of the mandatory “go” and stay safe and aware out there.

Emerging technology: Is it a boon for businesses or another intrusion into personal privacy?

Image result for remotely controlled street lights

Businesses and communities of all sizes might benefit from emerging technology in the areas of emergency management; however, the system has as many detractors as advocates.

A recent technology being developed by Intellistreets would allow the common lamppost, found in every community, to detect rising floodwaters, display evacuation routes and help citizens safely leave areas.

The Intellistreets system consists of a wireless digital infrastructure that allows streetlights to be controlled remotely by means of a ubiquitous wi-fi link and a miniature computer housed inside each lamppost. This would allow “security, energy management, data harvesting and digital media,” according to the Illuminating Concepts website.

Wireless technology inside lampposts will provide emergency alerts, “homeland security” surveillance, and public safety functions, according to Ron Harwood at Intellistreets.

“The system was invented as a response to the chaos created at street level during 9/11,” Harwood, the president of Intellistreets, told reporter Elaine Pittman at http://www.emergencymgmt.com.

The company has the capability of retrofitting existing street lamps or installing new high-tech lamps. The technology consists of a dual radio mesh wireless system with microprocessors that allow for information and data collection such as an analysis of what a streetlight is “hearing,” “seeing” and “smelling.”

The features vary and can include:

n Emergency alerts, digital signage

n Hazardous environment alerts

n Two-way audio

n A pedestrian counter

Harwood says this is known as “edge processing.” This process provides first responders the opportunity to get real-time information provided in English or graphics that originate from the site, instead of analytics available through backdoor processors.

The information is accessed via the web. 0perators and first responders can get the alert when various environmental factors trigger the system. Once the system is triggered, action can be taken remotely.

Harwood told Pittman that by outfitting streetlight poles with water sensors in an area that has flooding or water main issues, the streetlight with the built-in intelligence would activate a warning light when water reaches a certain depth (for example, detected above the curb). Other streetlights in the area that have the technology would begin to flash and warn traffic to slow down, according to Harwood.

Intellistreets’ audio features also increase public safety in a two-way fashion, Harwood says. Emergency blue light buttons allow people to signal for help, and speakers provide a way for government officials to make announcements or issue emergency alerts.

Then digital signs can display standard information, such as civic announcements, and be updated with important information like an evacuation route, if necessary. The system features built-in signage and announcements for standard situations. This will allow a public safety representative to click a button on the Web-based system to start audio alerts or change what’s being featured on the digital signs.

Harwood says their goal is to have an iPad in each patrol vehicle so officers can easily update the messaging when needed.

Although not yet widespread, the technology is being used at Sony Pictures in Culver, Calif., where the digital signs provide departure routes during the movie lot’s weekly evacuation exercise.

Price reports that a demonstration of Intellistreets was installed in Farmington Hills, Mich., last year. Although the local government isn’t using the system’s high-tech tools, city officials think the features would be beneficial.

Farmington Hills City Manager Steve Brock told Price that he thought the potential for their use is huge and said, “We haven’t used much of the technology that I think is available with regard to messaging, signage and things like that. But when we went through the demonstration of them, when they sort of christened them if you will, I was very impressed with their capabilities and what it could mean in all sorts of environments.”

According to the company’s previous You Tube video of the concept, which has been removed after controversy about the technology arose, the primary capabilities of the devices include “energy conservation, homeland security, public safety, traffic control, advertising, video surveillance.”

In terms of Homeland Security (DHS) applications, each of the light poles contains a speaker system that can be used to broadcast emergency alerts. In addition, there is a display that transmits “security levels” (presumably a similar system to the DHS’ much maligned color-coded terror alert designation) and shows instructions by way of its LED video screen, according to reporter Paul Joseph Watson at http://www.infowars.com.

The lights also include proximity sensors that can record both pedestrian and road traffic. The video display and speaker system could also be used to transmit advertising, as well as “Amber Alerts” and other “civic announcements.”

Watson reports that street lights as surveillance tools have already been advanced by several European countries. In 2007, leaked documents out of the United Kingdom Home Office revealed that British authorities were working on proposals to fit lamp posts with CCTV cameras that would X-ray scan passers-by and “undress them” in order to “trap terror suspects.”

So-called “talking surveillance cameras” that use a speaker system similar to the Intellistreets model are already being used in UK cities like Middlesborough to give orders and reprimand people for dropping litter and other minor offenses, Watson says.

Although some communities and businesses see the value of such systems in protecting property, Watson says that the transformation of street lights into surveillance tools for Homeland Security purposes will only serve to heighten concerns that the United States is fast on the way to becoming a high-tech police state.

Transportation Security Agency (TSA) agents are being empowered to oversee such control grid, most recently with the announcement that TSA screeners would be manning highway checkpoints. This is a further indication that security measures we currently see in airports are rapidly moving onto the streets and highways in the United States, according to Watson’s article.

The ability of the government to use streetlights to transmit “emergency alerts” also dovetails with the ongoing efforts to use radio and television broadcasts for the same purpose, via the Federal Emergency Management’s Emergency Alert System.

Watson says that the federal government is keen to implement a centralized system of control over all communications, with the recent announcement that all new cell phones will be required to comply with the PLAN program (Personal Localized Alerting Network). The PLAN program will broadcast emergency alert messages directly to Americans’ cell phones using a special chip embedded in the receiver. The system will be operational by the end of the year in New York and Washington, with the rest of the country set to follow.

Some communities and businesses see such technology as advancement toward protecting their properties and citizens. Others see such a system as even more of an intrusion into personal privacy.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security funds the Intellistreets technology, not surprisingly, through grants. Greater security for businesses and communities versus more invasion of privacy – what do you  think?

Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong, Armstrong and Associates, is a consultant and counselor. He can be reached at drdarryl@aol.com or 1-888-340-2006 or www.ldarrylarmstrong.com

Six steps to prepare your small business for a disaster

Let’s hope and pray that you never have a disaster however the chances increase daily.

Many of you reading this have most likely followed the looting and rioting that occurred following the Grand Jury’s decisions in Ferguson, Mo and New York City.  The actions of the rioters and looters on small businesses was deplorable and I sincerely hope, yet doubt, that those responsible for breaking into stores and looting will be arrested and prosecuted. Sadly, many of those businesses had not appropriately prepared for such an incident.

As a small business owner there are several things you should do in advance to protect yourself, your employees and your business during a disaster.

First, you must develop a disaster preparedness plan.

This planning is as essential as developing a business plan. Having a disaster plan in place will make the difference between being shut down for a few days, and losing your livelihood forever. The plan should be thoughtfully designed to cover all possible contingencies. You may never face a riot however the chances of an earthquake, fire, flood, tornado or even a robbery in western Kentucky is significant.

Second, get your insurances in order.

We recommend that you have a personal and ongoing relationship with your insurance agent. Choose one who understands the needs of your business and meet with him/her annually to assess and reassess your needs.

If you are in a store-front business such as a convenience store you will need business-interruption insurance. This is the type of insurance that replaces income lost when a business suffers downtime due to a covered peril, which means that you must understand fully what perils are covered.

Many insurance companies no longer cover such things as terrorist, rioting and looting events. Know and understand fully what you are paying for and be a good business person by shopping around for the right agent and a company that will meet your needs.

Here is what I mean by this – your agent is the person you will depend upon to facilitate and handle claims and settlements for you. This person’s behavioral, management and personality styles should at least be complementary to your own. However, if you tend to be a tentative person who will not fight for your rights, you may wish to ensure that you have an insurance agent who will and is truly on your side.

A few years ago, we actually changed our insurance agent even though the company we had insurance with at the time charged a lesser premium. Why? Frankly, this insurance agent would not promptly return our telephone calls, answer our questions with clarity or handle our issues and reimbursements quickly and fairly.

If this is your agent – he/she needs training in customer service and you are not paying him/her to be less than customer focused. Find an agent that meets your expectations and that you are comfortable with while understanding that you as a customer is of paramount importance to him/her.

Third, remember that normal hazard insurance doesn’t cover floods.

It is vitally important that you make sure you have designated flood insurance. Also, ensure that you fully understand what your insurance covers and what is not covered.

Fourth, as the business owner, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I prepared to relocate temporarily? Where might we do this?
  • What would happen if my suppliers were shut down due to an emergency or disaster?
  • Do you employees know what to do in case of an emergency or a disaster?

For example, employees should know where all the emergency exits are located in your building.  A safety coordinator should be appointed and trained. This is the person who will take responsibility for making sure that all the fire extinguishers, security systems and close-circuit television cameras work and that all emergency exits are operational.

This person will plan and conduct safety and fire drills and develop evacuation and business recovery plans. Obviously in many small businesses this will be you as the owner!

Fifth, backup and store vital business records offsite.

Information stored on paper and computer, should be copied and saved on a backup hard drive at an offsite location at least 50 miles away from the main business site, advises the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

This is where we would disagree with FEMA. We recommend using “cloud” computer services to back up your information so they can be accessible from anywhere at any time. Setup and use a password system and ensure that you and at least two other trusted employees have access to that password.

Sixth, develop a simple, easy to follow “business recovery communications” plan.

Assign key employees as facilitators who during a disaster will contact suppliers, creditors, other employees, customers, and utility companies to get the word out that the business is still viable and is in need of assistance in the recovery.

Get yourself trained and train at least one preferably two other persons to be a media spokesperson to keep the public informed of your rebuilding efforts, if necessary.

Finally, recognize and understand that the more strategic planning you do on the front-end the better. The last thing you need to be doing is planning for a disaster when it is underway or impending.

Our mantra about preparing and strategically planning for a disaster has remained the same the past 40-years: “Always plan for the worst, while praying for the best.”