First responder holding a smartphone. Symbol of emergency management cycle.

FirstNet innovates disaster recovery for emergency management

FirstNet helps with the four phases of emergency management – preparednessresponse, recovery, and mitigation. I’d like to dive deeper into how FirstNet helps with the recovery phase.

Communicating during the recovery phase

Every year, disasters put millions of Americans in danger and cost billions of dollars in property damage. After the threat of harm from a disaster has passed, the recovery phase starts. Recovery can take months or years to get a community back on its feet. It’s critical to quickly start damage assessments and applications for financial assistance following a disaster.

FirstNet plays an important role in the recovery phase. While a community is assessing damage, repairing and rebuilding infrastructure, and restoring critical functions, FirstNet keeps responders connected and communicating, speeding up some steps of the recovery process.

Switching to FirstNet helps recovery

I recently spoke with Shawn Rogers, Director of the Cherokee County Emergency Management Agency in Alabama. Cherokee County is a geographically diverse area with a 33,000-acre lake. The county is often affected by extreme weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes, and tropical storms.

In the past, responders in Cherokee County would start post-disaster recovery efforts by going into the community with pen and paper to assess damage. Recovery crews would walk between houses surveying damage, injuries, and hazards, hand-writing notes about their findings. Then they’d return to the office to manually enter data into a computer.

Rogers said, “In 2018, we swapped over to FirstNet and immediately saw how beneficial it was going to be to not only our planning and preparation, but also our response, mitigation, and recovery.”

Streamlining damage assessments

Today, the Cherokee County recovery teams use apps on tablets powered by FirstNet to do damage assessments in real-time.

“Now, with FirstNet, we have damage assessment software,” said Rogers. “So instead of pen and paper, we go out with our connected devices, whether it's an iPad or a Surface Pro or whatever it may be, and we're able to document from those devices, take photos, upload those into the program. As soon as the program syncs, the state emergency operations center has full visibility of what we've got going on in the counties.”

FirstNet as a force multiplier

Using FirstNet-enabled technology allows the emergency management team to partner with other responders for damage assessments. Rogers assigns a username and password, and then responders download apps to their devices.

When police officers or fire officials are out in the community and see damage, they only need to snap a photo, enter some information, and hit submit. Then the damage is shown live in the emergency operations center. This approach is a significant force multiplier in getting the overall disaster declaration process underway as quickly as possible – no need to wait for emergency management teams to be organized before beginning to assess damages.

Working with FEMA

Using FirstNet-enabled damage assessment software during recovery speeds up the process of working with FEMA. FEMA looks at damage assessments to determine if the area should be declared a major disaster. A major disaster declaration provides a wide range of federal assistance programs for individuals and public infrastructure.

“When you've got 10 counties that are affected from a single event, if you can get all of those counties using the program to upload their damages, the state emergency management agency is able to [complete the federal disaster request] a lot quicker than us having to write it down on paper,” explained Rogers. “They're able to look at the dollar value of the loss and compile their reports to FEMA a lot quicker.”

FirstNet and the emergency management cycle

To learn more about how FirstNet plays an important role in each phase of the emergency management cycle, check out my quarterly emergency management newsletters about preparedness and response. And sign up for the newsletter to get the next edition in your inbox with insights about using FirstNet for mitigation.

Learn more about how FirstNet is transforming public safety communications — contact your local FirstNet Authority Public Safety Advisor and sign up for our discipline newsletters. Follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn for the latest FirstNet Authority updates.

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