Monday, June 30, 2008

Social networking for preparedness

Going places....

...or at least trying to.

Emergency preparedness is adopting new technologies as a means of communicating during a disaster.

There is a group at the University of Colorado that is using the term "crisis informatics" to explain new dimensions of the study of information and communications technology. It seems to be a marriage of IT and sociology to discuss how technology is used during a crisis and how it can be applied to improve emergency response.

To understand it better, I looked into the definition of "informatics" first. Here are two excerpts from the web:

  • Informatics: An emerging term that is used to cover information along with its management, particularly by computer. Usually the field involved is used along with ”informatics”, e.g., “medical informatics.”

  • Informatics: A field of study that focuses on the use of technology for improving access to and utilization of information. Health informatics is the systematic study of information in the healthcare delivery system—how it is captured, retrieved, and used in making decisions—as well as the tools and methods used to manage this information and support decisions.

The Colorado researchers are looking at the social meaning of communications technology in the context of emergency response. Some of the research involved text messaging and Facebook usage during the Virginia Tech killings in 2007.

(Reading about this made me think of Emily Keyes, who texted her parents before she was killed at Platte Canyon High School in September 2006. Her parents must treasure that text message.)

So what do you think? Do you think you would appreciate getting updates via text messaging during a crisis? What if it was a "group" text message, such as those disseminated through Twitter?

Here's your chance to weigh in.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Emergency preparedness and response is a Colorado PRIORITY

Governor Bill Ritter visited the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Friday, specifically to express his thanks to all the staff who helped Alamosa recover from its water emergency.

Governor Ritter was involved from the start, making a quick trip to Alamosa to help distributed bottled water as soon as the boil-water order came down. He is a very involved governor who really seems to enjoy meeting Coloradans of all ilks. He wanted the people in the Alamosa water district to know that the state was behind them, and we were all in it for the long haul.

OK, you say, status quo for a politician, right?

Wrong. Not around here.

The next day was Easter. Not knowing what support would be needed, the CDPHE Operations Center was staffed very early and ready to go when in strolls Governor Ritter, legendary cowboy boots and all, with coffee cup in hand. He sat down with us and asked questions, genuinely interested in how we were providing support to the local nursing service in Alamosa County.

When we told him we were sorry he had to interrupt his Easter family time, he said "no problem," that he had been to church in the evening. But with young children still at home, we knew he was making his own sacrifices for no other reason than to show his support for us.

There were no television cameras, no reporters, nobody but us. He didn't have to do it, but we really felt like he was behind us and it made it more rewarding to be there that Easter Sunday. (Full disclosure: this writer doesn't celebrate the holiday and was glad to help out when Christian colleagues wanted to be with their families.)

So fast-forward to last Friday, when all staff who helped with Alamosa were invited to a little reception during which our executive staff, led by director Jim Martin, wanted to take a moment to express their appreciation for the eager response from CDPHE employees. There were a lot of people, even many who never set foot in the Department Operations Center during that response effort. It just goes to show you what is involved in making everything click in a response. For every "subject-matter expert" who voices his or her expert opinion during a highly publicized conference call, there may be three other people at their desks doing research, outreach, and even photocopying to keep things going.

We were mingling and enjoying some lemonade when Governor Ritter strolled in. He had not gotten two steps into the room before staff starting noticing and approaching him - I don't know how many hands he shook that morning, but it was darn near everyone.

When he finally was able to make his way to the front of the room, he spoke briefly. And he had just the right words to make every person in that room feel understood and appreciated.

Now it is our turn to appreciate him. Thank you, Governor Ritter, for going out of your way to make us feel like what we did made a difference for the people of Alamosa.

Monday, June 2, 2008

It's the economy.....

Whew, it's been a while...

Public health agencies in Colorado have been busy. The water problem in Alamosa was a real activation for what we all have been practicing. The water agencies that helped to respond to the problems were incredibly helpful. The worst of the crisis was over within the week. Economic recovery is the next challenge for the Alamosa area, a small community of people with deep roots in the San Luis Valley.

If something like this would happen in your community, whether you live in Denver or in Wray, how would the financial stability of the area fare?

The Trust for America's Health estimates that Colorado's economy could take a hit of $11.7 billion during a flu pandemic, what many public health leaders consider the ultimate disaster. Planning for pandemic flu amounts to anticipating a worst-case scenario -- if we can manage a pandemic, we can handle anything.

And that places Colorado 38th in the state rankings (by percentage of projected gross domestic product GDP decline), so we aren't even one of the worst economic impacts. (The worst state is Nevada, followed by Hawaii.) Sources indicate that the US gross domestic product index could fall by 4 to 6 percent, throwing the economy into a recession.

What is your business, or the businesses you rely on, doing to minimize the economic impact of a disaster? Continuity of operations (COOP) plans are important for the small business that sells gifts or pet food, to the large multi-national corporations that manage data systems.

And what is your personal financial forecast during a pandemic? Could you weather out the storm of a pandemic with no pay check? With no gasoline? How about groceries? (Food for thought...)