EMSE 6310.10 – Information Technology in Crisis and Emergency Management

Here is my “work in progress” of a syllabus for the upcoming course that I’m teaching at the George Washington University.  There’s still some revisions that I plan on doing.  If you were taking this course, what would you want to hear about?

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My thoughts on Craig Fugate’s IAEM Keynote

It is always a pleasure to hear Craig Fugate, the FEMA Administrator, talk at conferences.  He has a no nonsense approach that is a breath of fresh air.  Fugate is not afraid to speak his mind and talk openly.  This write up is based on his keynote address at the International Association of Emergency Managers conference in November 2010.  You can view the blow by blow reporting by searching for #IAEM on Twitter.

At the IAEM conference, Craig Fugate made a point that has really stuck with me.  I would tag it as a perspective changer.  It isn’t a radical change that requires a huge effort to agree with, it only requires a person to look at something from another point of view.  Granted it can be easier to move mountains then change some people’s perspectives, and then implementation is a whole other step.

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The annual changing of the smoke alarm batteries

A lot of awareness is raised during October when Fire Prevention Week occurs.  People are encouraged to change their home’s smoke alarms.  This is a good idea.  What is better is to time the changing of the batteries during a major annual event in the household.

When more toys used to use 9 volt batteries, put fresh batteries in the smoke alarms and use the ones from the smoke alarms to power all the new toys given at a birthday or holiday party.  Now the toys all seem to prefer AAs.

My son was born on Oct 20.  Now that is my reminder to change my batteries each year.  When he was born, we put in all new smoke alarms.  The batteries get changed around his birthday.

He turns five this year.  That is the reminder to buy new smoke alarms.  Every five years on the 5, 10, 15 and 20.  I really don’t care if the manufacturer says they’ll last 10 years; I’m good with the price of a smoke alarm over the cost of a home fire.

And yes, all my smoke alarms are powered, interconnected and have battery backup.

Oh, and they are smoke alarms because they sense and ring in the same place.  A smoke detector senses in one place and rings in another – usually used in commercial buildings.

Who will be there to care for the patients?

Three Hospital Beds in a rowA research plan to provide an estimate of absenteeism in specific areas of the health-care workforce during an influenza pandemic.  Originally published on March 27, 2008.


OSHA has stated “a pandemic could affect as many as 40 percent of the workforce during periods of peak influenza illness.”[i]  This one fact runs through and is reiterated in the many volumes of information recently created to help various segments of a community prepare and respond to an influenza pandemic[ii].  This figure of is used as a planning assumption and justification to build capacity in all critical infrastructure areas.[iii]  Other research around the SARS epidemic has pushed the number even higher[iv].  This author believes that this figure is used carelessly with the implication that the 40 percent absenteeism rate applies equally to all fields of health care workers at all education and socioeconomic levels.

This paper identifies the need for additional research regarding how the health care workforce will react and respond to an influenza pandemic, and then outlines a plan to conduct the research.  In this context, the health care workforce will be divided into three major groupings:

  • Emergency medical services and first-responder health care providers,
  • Medically trained specialists operating in a hospital environment, and
  • Non-medically trained workers that support the hospital environment, such as maintenance and janitorial crews.

Research in the health care workforce is specifically needed to predict behavioral intent of the workers.  The research objectives are as follows:

  • Identify the current knowledge about an influenza pandemic,
  • Identify the workers’ perception of risk during an influenza pandemic,
  • Estimate the workers’ likelihood of working during an influenza pandemic, and
  • Identify correlations in workers knowledge and risk perception with the likelihood of continuing work during an influenza pandemic.

From this information, the researchers can pull together a more accurate estimate of the health-care workforce’s behavior during an influenza pandemic.  This will allow health-care administrations to more accurately predict and plan for their needs which allows for more specific plans as to what services will be provided and in what form.

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Your microwave oven & my satellite system are cousins

A microwave ovenThe same principle that makes your microwave oven work is the one that give my satellite system nothing but headaches.  It all started in 1945.  Percy Spencer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Spencer) was working on magnetrons which create the radio signals for radar.  He noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket started to melt when he stood in front of it.  Then he intentionally put popcorn in front of the transmitted and popcorn popped all around the room.

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The Future of Amateur Radio

Amateur Radio: When all else fails.The future of amateur radio is going to be good one … so long as diehards don’t pigeon hole amateur radio into particular frequency, mode or way of operating.  As I headed up to Dayon for Hamvention, I wondered just how long amateur radio was going to be around.  I suspected that in ten to twenty years, it will not look much like it does now and could be gone.  Thankfully, there were folks up in Dayton that helped to shift my mindset.  Now I think that amateur communications will still be here and it will not look like it does now.  Looking around Dayton, it is easily taken that amateur radio is technology for white haired men – and it is easily perceived as older white men.  True, there are women, young people, and people of different origins that enjoy it but not to the extent of older white men.  An injection of younger and more diverse people is badly needed.  A failure of recruitment will signal the death of amateur radio.

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After NG911 comes the Social Media Cruncher

Graphic of Call 911Emergency Management magazine (May/June 2010) stated there are so many different standards for call takers that “it’s nearly impossible to identify specific, all-encompassing issue or problem” to create national standard.  The same article showed timeline history of 911.  In 1967, President Johnson recommended single phone number to reach Police.  In 1972, the FCC recommended that 911 be the universal emergency number.  In 1999, President Clinton designating 911 as the national emergency number.  That’s long time considering phones were stationary.  Now people are on the move.  The FCC’s National Broadband Plan includes an element to start accepting multiple methods to call in to the Next Generation system (NG911).  Details of this can be reviewed at http://www.broadband.gov/plan/16-public-safety/.  This is great idea but the key engine in the middle is missing.  There are more than 6,180 public safety access points (PSAPs) in the United States.  PSAP is where your 911 call gets routed to based on the location of the phone (either landline or cell) that you are at.  How will they route photo or text message that isn’t geo-located? Continue reading After NG911 comes the Social Media Cruncher

What’s best… AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or Nextel?,

A cell phone pileHere’s another question of “it depends”, but I think the distinction is getting clearer where there will be a clear call in the near future if things don’t change.  AT&T’s network is being hammered by all the smart phones (read iPhones) on their network.  While Sprint has both Sprint and Nextel, they are still two separate networks.  And Verizon keeps consistently chugging forward.  Like any service, the first factor is if there is even cell tower reachable from where you are.

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Thoughts on Blackberry, Android and Windows Mobile

Three smart phonesMy work issued device is Blackberry and it has been since the original LCD RIM devices.  My personal phone is currently Palm Pro with Windows Mobile.  For the past few weeks and months, I’ve been using the Android O/S on a Google Nexus One.  Which is better? This reminds me of MS Word vs WordPerfect, and Apple vs PC arguments.  The answer is clearly: It depends.

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Language Translating Software

Flags from different countries

The global scope of the Haiti response has brought together people from around the world to Haiti.  Haitian Creole is the primary language in Haiti and is spoken by 12 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of_native_speakers).  French is the other major language in Haiti which is the ninth most spoken language in the world.  Responding agencies that need to interact with Haitians needs to speak either of these languages.  French is already common language handled by translation software.  The Haitian Creole language gap has lead to surge of translation software to convert from other languages to Haitian Creole.  While this can be helpful, it is not complete solution unto itself.  

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