By Carl Mavromichalis
Managing Director, Converso and Associate,
CS&A Crisis Management International
What if I told you that there is technology available that can handle a live, 2-way conversation with hundreds or thousands of participants at once without hearing everyone talking at the same time? And what if I told you that you could call them all, rather than them having to call in? This does exist and it has been an incredible tool when used in a major crisis.

The city of Fort McMurray was evacuated May 4, 2016, just before a massive forest fire hit the city. The damage caused by the fire became Canada’s costliest natural disaster ever, with approximately 2,200 structures within the city destroyed. The total is estimated to have cost C$3.5-billion.

The forced evacuation of 90,000 people with no casualties directly related to the fire was truly miraculous. But the government then faced an enormous communications challenge – how exactly does one communicate with that many people who have dispersed across the province and the country to provide critical information? Add in the fact that many people needed support accessing basic human necessities, and the situation again had the potential to be catastrophic.

Government leaders were communicating through traditional channels, like the media, to inform the evacuees of the latest developments, the status of the fire and plans for re-entry. The government was also very active on social media. But all of these channels did not enable a means by which the government could speak directly, and only, to evacuees. So the government turned to Converso’s Virtual Town Halls, a mass-scale conferencing technology that essentially turns the phone system into a live talk-show.

The system proved so useful that the government ran 17 events in 30 days during the evacuation period, leading up to re-entry. Each session was 90-minutes long (rather than the normal 60 minutes) and had extremely high participation and engagement rates compared to non-crisis events. The government’s priority was to allow evacuees to ask questions of the nearly 15 government officials and partner organizations (e.g. Canadian Red Cross) who gathered for each call. And ask questions they did – over 8,000 through 17 events.

This is an extraordinary example, and it clearly illustrates the point that a direct channel to tens of thousands of people impacted by a disaster is a remarkably powerful tool. And the participation rates prove it was invaluable to evacuees as well.

The top five reasons you should consider mass-scale conferencing technology as part of your crisis management plan are:

  1. There is no replacement for a direct information channel to your most important stakeholders during a crisis. 
  • Evacuees heard directly from government officials with the most up-to-date knowledge of the situation, including status of the fire, location of evacuation centres, how to access emergency funding, etc.
  1. Helping people understand what is happening and resolving their issues is critical.
  • Through the question asked by evacuees, the government and Red Cross were able to start resolving individual cases that participants raised. For example, accessing emergency funding from Alberta while not in the province.
  1. Ensuring you get the right information out quickly.
  • Having all of the government leaders responsible for the crisis response on the town hall meant that the most accurate and timely information available was received by evacuees in an unfiltered way. These were the same leaders speaking with the media to provide updates, and evacuees had a direct channel to them.
  1. Dispelling misinformation.
  • On nearly every event, evacuees brought up matters that they had heard on social media or through friends and family. If the information was inaccurate, the government was able to clarify and correct it for everyone on the town hall. For example, people had been hearing rumours that looting was happening in the city, but the police, who were on the call, corrected the information and confirmed there were no break-ins.
  1. Understanding clearly what issues or challenges stakeholders are struggling with during the crisis.
  • There is a massive need for information in any crisis, particularly the kind that threatens the well-being of stakeholders. With 1,000 question requests in the first event (about 35 were answered), evacuees were in acute need of information. By capturing the questions and forwarding a file the next day to the government, highly-targeted FAQs were created and guided messaging for media activity and call-centre briefings.

As with most matters, preparation is everything in a crisis. The Government of Alberta had experience using this technology during non-crisis times, which made its application during the crisis so successful. Such tools are designed to facilitate communication during crises. Therefore, organisations considering this technology must ensure they are familiar with it before the crisis strikes – because during is the wrong time to learn.

While this example demonstrates how a government very effectively handled a disaster response situation, this technology would be equally valuable to companies experiencing a crisis.

  • Employee Communications – engaging with hundreds or thousands of employees across vast geographies in a controlled, live, two-way conversation during a crisis would enable the response team and company leadership to ensure accurate information is disseminated in very quickly.
  • External Stakeholder Communications – should a crisis impact a community (think a train derailment or chemical leak) or key segment of your business (think VW and its dealers during the diesel emissions scandal), the technology would enable an immediate and live connection with those impacted. This would reduce rumours, demonstrate the company is taking the issue seriously and, long-term, protect brand and reputation.
  • Post-Crisis Business Continuity – once the crisis is contained and the company stabilized, how do you get everyone back on track? How do you rebuild trust and reputation? Connecting with employees and external stakeholders to explain what exactly happened, how things have changed and what the company’s plans are in the future to manage crisis situations, which would have been a great tool for BP following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Adding this tool into your crisis response toolbox will ensure that you have the best chance at getting your most critical messages out quickly and consistently, directly to the people impacted by a crisis. This will ultimately help improve information distribution, reduce confusion and, hopefully, reduce suffering or save lives.

If you have any questions or thoughts on this article feel free to contact Carl at carl@converso.co and 416-420-2352

By Suzanne Bernier, CEM, CBCP, MBCI – President of SB Crisis Consulting & Author of Disaster Heroes

After being in the field of emergency management for over twenty years, I’m constantly inspired by and proud of the many achievements and advancements made in the field, thanks to all the dedicated and talented EM and BCP professionals across Ontario and Canada. One area that has seen significant improvements over the years, but is still in need of improvements, is the issue of accessibility during emergencies.

There are now many resources available to help communities and organizations ensure emergency information is more accessible, like those that can be found within this Ontario government website: https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-provide-accessible-emergency-information-staff. While we still have a long way to go before crisis information and communications are equally accessible to all during an emergency, the Canadian Hearing Society is helping to achieve that goal.

Thanks to OAEM and the Canadian Hearing Society, I had the recent opportunity to participate in a new pilot project to enhance accessibility during emergency broadcasts across Canada. Specifically, the initiative is designed to demonstrate best pr

actices to interpreters when communicating to Deaf and hard of hearing people during a disaster or emergency situation.

The pilot project consists of two ‘training videos’ or broadcast segments, featuring an on-camera emergency manager making an on-camera statement, while being interpreted by both a deaf and hearing interpreter. For the video segments, I played the role of PIO/Emergency Manager during a major flood emergency.

After reviewing a realistic script based on a major flood scenario and providing a few suggested edits before the taping, we agreed upon a final script that was then sent to the interpreters and producers in advance of the video session.

On March 27, I spent a very productive morning at Bell Media Studios with the leadership team of the Canadian Hearing Society, where our filming session ran extremely smoothly and required only two takes to complete, thanks to our wonderful deaf and hearing interpreters.

The first segment consisted of the PIO (me) and a hearing certified interpreter informing residents of a flooding emergency, including response and recovery operations, actions to be taken, and where to obtain more information.

The second segment was a bit different, with myself and a Deaf-hearing interpreter team repeating the same message. For the Deaf-hearing inter

preter team, the Deaf interpreter is on-camera, while the hearing interpreter is off-camera and signing

American Sign Language (ASL) to the Deaf interpreter. The Deaf interpreter then adapts the ASL to be best suited for a Deaf audience. Before this session, I was not aware of the difference in sign language from a Deaf vs hearing interpreter, which I was told is what the pilot project is intended to demonstrate.

The completed products, two ten-minute broadcast segments, will be evaluated by a panel of experts and will be housed online in a section of the Canadian Hearing Society’s website as part of an ‘action kit’ that will be shared as a national best practice with all broadcasters across the country, and will be accessible online for the next 10 years.

I am honoured to be part of this much-needed initiative to enhance accessibility to the deaf and hard of hearing during emergency broadcasts and notifications. Once the final segments are available online, OAEM will be sure to share the link with all of its members so that it can then be forwarded within your own communities and networks.

Together, we can continue to increase accessibility and safety for ALL during an emergency situation.

www.suzannebernier.com

@sbcrisis

 

By Alain Normand

I attended a discussion the other day about bringing diversity into the fire department. The issue is that firefighters are usually white males and not necessarily representative of the fabric of our community. However, in trying to recruit people with more diversity, Fire Departments encounter huge difficulties. Females need to go through the same testing requirements as male in terms of physical endurance and strength. Although there are women with those abilities – some of those women have ten times my endurance – there are still a lot fewer than men and not all of them want to be firefighters. When it comes to ethnic groups, in speaking with young people, especially from new immigrant families, many of the parents came to Canada because they wanted their children to become doctors and lawyers, not firefighters. So when fire is trying to recruit from these groups, the rate of success is extremely low.

In the Emergency Management field, looking back at the 1990s, the only people that had an inkling about emergency management were police, fire, paramedics and military personnel. They were also male, Caucasian, usually retired and over 50 years old. Move forward to today and diversity comes into play. I didn’t do a study and I don’t have statistics but I look at the mix when I attend workshops and seminars and I see it. There are probably as many females as males. Although there is still a certain preponderance of Caucasian people, there are people of every colours and shades. As well, the average age of the professionals in emergency management has dropped tremendously with the arrival of young people choosing emergency management as their career paths right out of high school.

Not only are we seeing this mix, but we are seeing a lot of people who might have been dismissed in the past, rise up and take the lead. The number of women CEMCs who lead the way in their communities is amazing. I see so many rising stars in emergency management that young people can look up to as models. I won’t name anyone here because I didn’t ask their permission, but look at the female CEMCs in the middle to large communities in the GTA and Golden Horseshoe. Look at the ones in the provincial ministries, including EMO/OFMEM. Those women are showing the way for the coming generations. I regularly speak about them to my students to spur them on. My admiration goes to them, especially the first ones that joined a then male dominated field and forged their career through the hurdles.

The age is also an important factor. My own team in Brampton is young, but they form a dynamic, eager, and driven group of professionals. My good friend James Kilgour – no I didn’t ask his permission, sorry James – is now Director for the Office of Emergency Management for Toronto, the largest city in Canada. He’s not a young adult anymore but he is relatively young for such a prestigious position. I was ecstatic when hearing of his promotion. I see other young people at the head of the emergency management and/or business continuity programs for provincial ministries, utilities consortium, and private organizations.

Particularly in this age of such rapid changes, we need people that will adapt quickly, people technologically savvy, and open to new ideas, concepts, tools and methods. You know the saying: you can’t teach an old dog new trick. So people of my generation have a bit more difficulty in coping with those changes. I rely on the young people on my team to keep me electronically tuned.

I also see variety when it comes to ethnic groups. Maybe we still have a bit of work to do on that side, but we are on the right track. In my opinion, the ethnic diversity will become even more important as

we continue to receive immigrants from all parts of the world bringing with them not only a variety of languages, but also cultural, religious, and values-based diversity. As emergency managers, we need to be ready to cater to their needs.

As an example, the Red Cross has standards when it comes to setting up an evacuation centre. The standard is based on establishing rows of cots, with each cot having an exact number of square feet allocation, all of them lined up with a numbering system by row and columns. This has worked well generally but we are seeing changes. As the Canadian mosaic changes, we are moving from an average family of 4 members to large family clusters. When they arrive at a shelter, they want to stick together. So they move cots around to provide an area where 8 to 10 people can have cots, in a more circular or rectangular arrangements so they can sit on the cots and face each other. We need to be flexible and ready to adapt the standard to allow this to happen. Those people also have different diets and food preparation practices. They may have a need for special religious accommodations, and so on.

These are just a few examples, but I am sure many of you will have similar experiences when dealing with other cultures. That insight into changing our policies and protocols will be easier if the people making those changes are members of those communities in the first place. If at least, we can communicate with the constituents under our care in order to understand their needs, we will be better off. But who better than the people who are already part of that culture to hold those discussion and help adapt our methods.

It is comforting to know that our industry is a very inclusive one. We need to continue promoting this. We need to welcome the minority groups into emergency management and make them a part of our own professional community.

There may be less of us than doctors and lawyers, but our profession is just as important. Let’s enhance it with more diversity. We’ve come a long way but we’re not done.

By Linda Antoniadis

Volunteers are the foundation of most charitable organizations. For the Canadian Red Cross, they are the front line for communities when disaster strikes. They are the “face” of the Red Cross that the community sees in time of disaster. Without the dedication of volunteer responders at any and all times of the day, the Red Cross could not effectively perform its humanitarian mission.

An important part of working with volunteers in disaster management is ensuring they are properly trained and that there are enough of them to support the need when called upon.

Disaster Management (DM) volunteers are committed people who train to become essential community resources in times of emergency, offering a variety of services from setting up emergency shelters to completing needs assessments for clients. Sometimes, simply listening and comforting those who have been affected can be one of the most important parts of the job. They are called on to respond immediately to situations in their communities and sometimes provide support for longer periods of time. People who have a desire to “give back” to society are typical volunteers.

Recently, the Canadian Red Cross conducted volunteer training sessions for 75 new surge capacity volunteers in Toronto and 50 in Montreal over a one-day period. These volunteers are part of the “Ready When The Time Comes” (RWTC) program, which works with corporate partners like Aviva and Bombardier and not-for-profit organizations like FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, to train volunteers who can assist in a surge capacity function when major disasters occur. This program ensures the Canadian Red Cross has qualified, trained volunteers who they can call upon when they require a larger group of volunteers for a short period of time.

A new, “mass” training format was tested during the recent training and has proved to be an efficient way to train volunteers. The overall result was a very inspired group of new surge capacity volunteers.

Whether you are a part of the RWTC program through your employer or community group or join the Red Cross as an individual DM volunteer, the experience is sure to be rewarding. Learn more about these volunteer opportunities at redcross.ca/volunteer.

Linda Antoniadis is a member of the Volunteer Communications Team at the Canadian Red Cross

 

By Scott Davis 

On January 25, the OAEM hosted a new professional development theme with two engaging speakers, hosted at the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto.

The keynote speaker, Heath Applebaum, an international-award-winning crisis and reputation consultant, revealed his 10 Commandments of Reputation Management and shared insights on how we can all effectively help to protect our organizations.

“In this digital age, a contentious issue or crisis can go viral with the click of a mouse.  So, it is essential that we take a proactive approach and prepare companies during the calm before the storm. Too often companies call me once crisis has already surfaced, to douse the proverbial flames, and do damage control.  There is so much more we can do to proactively identify the root causes, develop actionable plans, and train teams to prevent or mitigate the damage.  Ultimately it is about protecting your organization’s most valuable and vulnerable asset, its reputation,” says Applebaum. 

“Media, customers, regulators, tenants, employees, and emergency responders are quick to pass judgement, and rumours spread quickly, so if your organization is not ready to take decisive action and confidently articulate your message, it can have a massive impact,” adds Applebaum.  

 Applebaum recommends that every organization be thoroughly prepared with a tested, deployable crisis communications plan and trained leadership team that can respond at the speed of Twitter.  With the proliferation of online threats to reputation and business   operations, new strategies and tools are required to ensure lightning fast responses to digitally-empowered consumers, sensationalist media, and disengaged employees.  

Applebaum is the President of Echo Communications Inc., a reputation management consulting firm, and has led hundreds of successful programs for organizations of all shapes and sizes including PepsiCo, Cadillac Fairview, Deloitte, RBC Financial Group and MasterCard.  Heath, speaking along side Suzanne Bernier, the author of Disaster Heroes, reviewed specific crisis communications case studies and lessons learned from events in 2017, like  the Las Vegas active shooter tragedy, Equifax hacking, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and other crises, focusing on the different communications challenges faced throughout each event.  

On behalf of everyone at OAEM, we thank everyone for their efforts during this exciting professional development event.

By Alain Normand

When I worked for the Public Safety Services in Gatineau, I remember an event where Fire Services was called to a home for an active fire. When they arrived on scene, they found out this was the home of one of the firefighters. The family was safe, but the home was compromised. In the debriefing after the response was over, it became evident that this had been a very different incident response than any usual fire call. The firefighters had taken risks they would not normally take because this home belonged to one of their own. They went beyond the call of duty to try and save that home. They worked faster to contain the fire and took shortcuts putting their own safety at risk. They tried to minimize the water damage by installing pumps while the fire was still active. They reached for a few items in the home that they felt could have special meaning to the family and moved them outside to protect them. While the team was reprimanded to a certain extent for not following protocols, it became evident that their actions were different when dealing with the home of one of their colleagues.

Emergency management has been concentrating in responding to emergencies that affect our citizens with little to no regards to situations affecting our own operations. What if an emergency now affects one of our key facility? Do we respond in the same way? Should we respond with the same protocols?

The quick answer may be that this is the responsibility of the business continuity unit. Experience has shown us however that the continuity of operations units in governments – if there is one at all – focus on developing contingency plans or recovery plans. The response aspect is rarely included in the mix. The idea is to relocate people, to transfer operations somewhere else, to maintain IT functions, to continue serving our customers. Rarely are the plans inclusive of the response function. Who works with the first responders in the initial phases to ensure that staff are all accounted for? Who communicates to staff on the situation and lets them know the details of the incident? Even more important, how do we ensure that we have enough resources to take care of the emergency that affects both our citizens and our own operations?

A major power outage, a tornado strike, a pandemic, or a flood, may have impacts both internally and externally. As these emergencies grow in magnitude and impact, it becomes evident that these situations of dual impact will become more common.

I am a believer in the IMS system. At the same time, I find that the IMS system doesn’t go far enough. There is too much of ICS in the system which concentrates on doing tasks to protect the life and health of people affected, then the property and the environment. It does this with no differentiation whether the impact is on residents or on government property. Business continuity people will likely tell you that the faster you start on contingency implementation or recovery operations, the better your chances of minimizing downtime and reducing financial impacts. Yet, first responders will roll out the yellow tape by the kilometre if they feel it is the right thing to do.

This is why we have modified our IMS org chart. Beyond the traditional command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance/administration teams, we grafted an incident management team. This team is the same that responds to internal incidents that do not involve emergency responders. When we have a cyber attack, a pipe burst, or a labour disruption, the team comes together to start implementing contingency and recovery plans. That same team is now called into the EOC during other emergencies to assess and take action in coordination with the rest of the EOC teams.

This team, composed of specialists from IT, HR, Facilities, Security, Communications, and Business Continuity, plays a number of roles in the EOC. First, they raise awareness to the first responders of their own need. They can coordinate access to sensitive equipment, they can obtain access to facilities to shut off building systems or equipment, and they can direct first responders for increased efficiency and speed in their containment of the situation. They have first hand information on the situation, the actions being taken, and they can evaluate the impact on operations right there from the EOC. They can communicate with staff and provide authoritative instructions on what employees should be doing about the situation. They can coordinate the timing of their recovery with that of the EOC-led response. They can make sure that resources are allocated to their plans and not all go to the external response.

While most private organization that have a business continuity plan will coordinate their response all from the internal point of view, municipal governments are different. We have to coordinate both the internal and the external at the same time. The IMS system is lacking in that it has an external focus only. We have modified it so it now has both. I believe other municipal governments should consider combining resources from the emergency management side and the business continuity side to this revised IMS organizational chart.

Like they tell you on the planes, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. In our training, we tell staff that they should have a personal preparedness plan. If they are called to take action during an emergency, we don’t want them to be worried about their families. Take care of your own first, then come and help us take care of the situation, is what we teach.

As a municipal government, if our operations are compromised, we want to make sure we have the ability to maintain our critical services first, then work towards resolving the situation. Having an Incident Management Team in the EOC allows us to do this.

As a consultant, I’ve been fortunate to see an increasing number of organizations accept that they need to improve their ability to respond to a range of emergencies and disruptions. While this shift has been slow, it’s becoming commonplace to see diverse organizations adopting the practices and methodologies that emergency managers have used for years, ranging from the creation of dedicated business continuity positions, to the widespread adoption of the incident command system. While I’m not ready to unfurl a mission accomplished banner, I can at least say that the majority of my clients are beginning to realize that having some level of internal emergency management capacity is no longer optional.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for my colleagues in the area of cyber-security, who have viewed this change in attitudes with envious eyes, and have begun to display the signs of frustration that were so common among emergency managers a few years ago. While the work of preventing cyber-attacks and breaches from occurring is a never-ending battle, I have noticed that few organizations have integrated their cyber-security and emergency management functions effectively…or at all. In most cases, cyber-security experts know how to respond to breaches at a tactical level, and problems arise when an inexperienced leadership team tries to respond to these events like they are “business as usual”.

In general, this is a result of how organizations tend to structure emergency management and cyber-security during routine operations. In most cases emergency management professionals are located within a health and safety portfolio, while cyber-security tends to fall under IT, and never the twain shall meet. However, there is a solution to this, one that I’m starting to see gain traction in several high-reliability organizations. Simply put, aligning these organizations within a well-developed incident management system can ensure that an organization is as effective at responding to network breaches as it is when dealing with fires and floods.

While the type of incident management practiced by municipal firefighters using the Incident Command System may not be the best fit for dealing with hackers, the foundational principles of these methodologies (management by objectives, chain of command, integrated communications, etc.) can still increase the effectiveness of organizations dealing with cyber-attacks. After all, it’s difficult for cyber-security experts to isolate a breach when they’re being bombarded with frantic emails from all levels of the organization. The trick is to ensure senior leaders understand that a disruption, regardless of the cause, is not business as usual. This can often be difficult, but if leaders can ensure their teams adhere to the discipline of an established system, they can ensure a better response overall.

By John Rainford, Director, The Warning Project

Last year I facilitated a workshop of emergency management experts and front-line responders. I asked this group – drawn from across the country and representing a broad range of emergency organizations – two questions.

1. In your experience, to effectively manage an emergency, how important is public and partner communication on a scale of 1 to 10?

The vast majority indicated 9 or 10 on the scale.

2. In terms of your emergency preparedness resources – such as exercises, training, planning –what percentage is dedicated to public and partner communication?

Sensing where this was going, the crowd was decidedly sheepish, but honest, all the same. Most indicated less than 5%, many suggested less than 1%, if at all.

Such informal polling methods don’t produce hard data, but I’ve asked these questions a number of times to a number of emergency management groups and the results are always similar. Despite clear acknowledgement of communication as a key emergency management tool, few are investing time, training, or planning for this function.

Assessment of emergency responses clearly demonstrates the results of this disparity. Indeed, I struggle to think of a single after-action report or review of a complex emergency that doesn’t highlight the importance, and challenge, of the communication role.

It’s a basic contradiction: communication is a core element – and a potentially serious weakness — of emergency management, but rarely do we do anything about it.

Why?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself in some form or another for years. I work to help organizations build emergency communication capacity. Frankly, the search for answers continues, but here are a few thoughts so far.

1. Organizations like to buy stuff

I once was part of an external assessment in a country in the Middle East that had been involved in a controversial emergency. They were showing us their shiny new EOC as a sign they were well prepared. Fiber optic cables, banks of monitors and tv screens, tiered seating equipped with the latest technology, they bought everything.

“We have real time emerging threat data from every corner of the country,” our guide explained.

“So, just what do you do with all that information?” I asked, prompting an awkward pause.

“Have you seen the plasma tvs?”.

Organizations love hard assets. The cost of 1 million doses of vaccine is a lot easier to explain and justify than a behavioural change communication strategy on vaccine hesitancy, even

though the latter might be more important. Just ask France, which bought 60 million doses of H1N1 vaccine – enough for everyone — only to find less than 5% of its population would actually take it.

Effective emergency communication strategies and practice are the result of processes and analysis, not individual pieces of equipment, channels, or software programs. Designed to influence perception and action, communication success is achieved person-by-person, interview-by-interview, webcast-by-webcast, town-meeting by town-meeting. No single product, act, or channel can be showcased as the reason for success.

Rooted in social science where context and intersecting variables are part of the mix, communication can feel “mushy” and imprecise to many emergency managers. It’s a lot easier to quantify improved scores of participants in training on a new document management system than to explain the process and impact of a community engagement strategy or message testing for at-risk populations.

2. Communication = Politics….I hate politics

For a politician, communication is their stock in trade, the function through which they typically succeed or fail. Many emergency managers are cut from a different cloth, for example, priding themselves on action not talk.

Around emergency centre tables and hallways I’ve often sensed an unease working in the political arena. How many times have we heard after a serious emergency: “everything was going well until the politicians got involved”.

Thing is, they always get involved.

Emergencies are political events. Choices have to be made.

Public perception and comment about the wisdom, success, failure, and accountability of actions taken and recommended by emergency managers are inherent elements of the emergency landscape. News and social media cover them, governments react to them, and department funding increases or declines because of them. The ability to communicate in ways that influence public and partner perceptions of emergency management and recommendations has to be built and to address this reality.

3. Emergency Communication versus PR: Round Holes, Square Pegs

But it’s not just emergency managers who may be reluctant to embrace the emergency communication function. It clearly goes the other way too, with many communication staff either disengaged or ill-equipped to be a key member of the emergency management team. A big part of this may be explained by the day to day work of those communication staff, often employed to provide traditional public relations support to the organization and its leadership, for example, highlighting good news stories.

But success as defined in the PR domain is often fundamentally different than that of emergency communication. For example, the PR professional might track social media conversation to assess how positively or negatively the organization is being viewed. The

emergency communication professional, however, is more likely to be tracking social media for evidence of confusion or misunderstanding of the advice offered.

For legitimate reasons, the PR professional is particularly sensitive to organizational criticism and often holds it up as the indicator of success or failure. For the emergency communication pro, however, their focus is on supporting emergency management outcomes. The measure of success is whether communication helps those at risk and in distress to know about and take productive action to mitigate suffering and lower risk, even while the organization is being attacked.

Going forward, getting better

Core to effective emergency management is an ongoing effort to improve performance. But if we recognize the central role communication plays in your work, its high time we embraced the function. Its time for an increased focus, on targeted investments in exercises, training, and professionalization of this function.

As the Director of an organization dedicated to those objectives, it must sound self-serving. It is. But I’m also a citizen, a father, a community member, and a passionate believer in the importance of emergency preparedness and response.

I know we have the capacity to do this better, which is in all of our interests. John Rainford is the Director of The Warning Project.

He is the former Director, Emergency and Risk Communications for Health Canada and Global Project Lead, Risk Communication Capacity Building for the World Health Organization. Additionally, he worked at the Privy Council Office in Ottawa as the lead analyst responsible for national security communications.

He has specialized in the field of high risk communication for the past 20 years after several years covering and working in politics as a journalist and aide on Canada’s Parliament Hill.

He has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Queen’s University, teaches emergency risk communication at Carleton University, and has led emergency risk communication workshops around the world involving participants from over 150 different countries.

For information about the support and services of The Warning Project, please contact info@warningproject.org

By Mark D. Evans

If I told you I was good enough at cutting hair, would you let me give you a haircut?

If your answer was yes, I would be glad to meet you with a bowl, maybe some hedge trimmers and a pair of safety scissors to prove my point further. It is almost guaranteed that you would say something to me far less polite than “this looks really terrible” (in truth, it would look very bad).

But I said it would be “good enough”.

By admitting my hair styling skills are “good enough”, I am actually admitting and accepting it falls short of great – that it could stand to be much better. The term “good enough” doesn’t really live up to itself. Accepting “good enough” as an approach to a task, has never yielded excellence in any area. Haircuts included.

When it comes to matters of Emergency Social Services, there are many different ways for municipalities and NGO’s to approach this responsibility. But at the heart of the matter, ESS is about caring for your community – it’s about customer service.

I agree that sensible lines must be drawn as to what can be done during an emergency. However, this line should not be confused with having plans and procedures that are “good enough”.

If your approach to customer service is good enough, it probably leaves room for improvement.

Drawing a sensible line does not preclude ESS practitioners, responders or volunteers from offering an extra bit of customer service before, during, and/or after a conceivably traumatic event – some empathetic conversation, offering a cup of coffee, a small toy for affected children, spending a little extra time during registration, etc.

Ensuring that we try our absolute best to weave excellent customer service throughout the planning and service delivery of Emergency Social Services is not just a best practice – It’s the difference between an ESS program being good enough or being great.

The Emergency Management Exemplary Service Award is a prestigious recognition for exceptional service and achievement. This award, a partnership between provincial, territorial and federal governments, recognizes recipients who have achieved excellence in their respective fields.

Awards will be granted in five categories:

o   Resilient Communities;

o   Search and Rescue Volunteers;

o   Search and Rescue Employees;

o   Youth; and,

o   Outstanding Contribution to Emergency Management

The Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management is now accepting nominations for the Resilient Communities, Youth and Outstanding Contribution to Emergency Management categories. All nominations must be submitted to OFMEMAwards@ontario.ca by January 31st, 2018.

Search and Rescue nominations can be made to Public Safety Canada.

Nominations should be for initiatives and achievements undertaken in the past two calendar years (this requirement is waived for recognition of outstanding careers). In addition to new nominations, nominators are permitted to resubmit unsuccessful nominations for initiatives and achievements undertaken in the past two calendar years.

You can find the nomination forms and more information about the EM Awards by visiting https://www.emergencymanagementontario.ca/english/insideemo/EmergencyManagementExemplaryServiceAward.html