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For Anderson County, the biggest value in the switch to Everbridge is message speed and convenience. Previously, they were using a system that required a launch code, personal code, and username to send notifications. This was time-consuming and cumbersome when in a hurry. Everbridge speeds up the notification process drastically, especially on the reverse 911 side.
By recognizing that hazards, including severe weather events, are unpredictable and cannot be completely prevented, emergency managers can instead focus their efforts on promoting a resilient organization. A community is resilient when it can recover from a disaster or other stressor and get back on its feet as quickly as possible.
There are many best practices for emergency managers to prepare for severe weather events such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, and other risks. Preparing for hazards can involve planning and training with departments, jurisdictions, agencies, and community members.
To help you better understand how to promote resilience in your organization, Everbridge hosted a 4-part webinar series focused on the phases of emergency management: Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. For an overview, read on to learn the top seven best practices that emergency managers can implement to ensure severe weather preparedness.
1. Conduct a THIRA (thorough hazard identification and risk assessment) as part of your Hazard Mitigation Planning
A thorough hazard identification and risk assessment (THIRA) is a critical component of any disaster planning process. It provides a foundation for additional planning efforts and is an essential first step in the process of creating an emergency management plan.
Jenny Demaris of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office explains that “integrating THIRAs and mitigation planning into recovery is important to create greater resilience. Many of us emergency management professionals know the cycle is continuous. Being able to recognize and document what is needed to better mitigate disasters helps greatly so when something does happen, you have a plan.”
By conducting a THIRA, you’ll be able to identify the types of hazards that might impact your community, including extreme weather events, natural disasters, and man-made hazards, and then plan accordingly.
To learn more, make sure to check out the Preparedness webinar episode.
2. Identify and Work with Partners
When preparing for severe weather and other hazards, it is important to identify and work with partners.
A partner can be anyone in your community who is likely to be involved in or impacted by a disaster, as well as government agencies. Partners can include faith-based organizations, businesses, community organizations, schools, doctor’s offices, state and local agencies, and other jurisdictions.
Paul Lupe from Fairfax County Emergency Management shares how he and his team develop relationships with partners: We look for “those opportunities to develop relationships with our external partners that aren’t necessarily emergency management specialists but work in coordination with our agency as a part of the county to help with a significant event. For example, the Red Cross is a big partner of ours, a lot of our utility companies, our gas companies, etc. and we’re in contact with them semi-regularly in the event that something happens.”
Partners can play an important role in your emergency management efforts, including providing assistance during an actual emergency and helping distribute critical information to the public. For example, local governments, community organizations, schools, and workplaces can make sure that people are properly prepared and trained to deal with a severe weather event.
3. Plan for Those with Accessibility or Functional Needs
When planning for hazards, it is important to recognize and plan for people with accessibility or functional needs who may be at greater risk during or after an emergency or disaster.
According to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), people with access or functional needs are defined as “individuals who need assistance due to any condition (temporary or permanent) that limits their ability to act. To have access and functional needs does not require that the individual have any kind of diagnosis or specific evaluation” (FEMA, 2021). For example, this may include individuals who are seniors, have disabilities, have limited English proficiency, lack access to transportation, or lack financial resources.
In order to prepare effectively, these community members must be identified. Then, when a disaster does happen, it is crucial that these people are notified in a way that is accessible to them. For example, providing alerts in multiple languages can help with accessibility.
In the case of Lincoln County, Jenny discusses how they run their “special needs registry through Everbridge. The health department helps verify the need people are registering for. When there is an incident, calls and messages can go out to poll people and understand how to prepare them. You’re able to also use the information from that to actually map out transportation routes, if they need transportation assistance.”
With the right Critical Event Management (CEM) platform, it is possible to reach all those who need to be contacted in a disaster, including people with accessibility or functional needs.
4. Create a Communication Plan that Fits Your Community
Communication is an important part of emergency management. It involves effectively relaying critical information to the public and helping people be prepared, respond to hazards, and recover after an event.
To prepare for a severe weather event, you can begin by creating a communication plan that fits your community. This includes determining where you will get your information, who will disseminate it, and through what channels. It can also involve partnering with other organizations that can help you get critical information to the public.
Make sure you have the necessary tools and are using channels that are accessible for everyone in your community, such as a mass notification or emergency alert system.
5. Use Communication Channels to Your Benefit
Communicating effectively with your community is essential to preparedness efforts, but it is also important to recognize ways in which other entities are communicating with your community. Other entities, including the media, non-governmental organizations, and businesses, may play a crucial role in informing the public during a severe weather event or other disaster.
James Podlucky, Industry solutions expert for SLED (State and Local Government Education) at Everbridge and former Emergency Manager of Sarasota County, discusses the importance of “having a streamlined way of communicating and using multimodal communications, because many people communicate or receive information through a variety of ways such as email, social media, a mobile phone, or a landline,” but not everyone may use all of these forms. To reach the most people, all forms of communication must be utilized.
You can use these communication channels to your benefit to convey critical information. For example, during COVID, with so much being done virtually, organizations have been able to hold webinars and virtual meetings through which they provided updates on the pandemic. The agencies distributed information through media channels, which allowed them to reach many people who would otherwise not have seen the information.
6. Amplify Communications
After your initial communication efforts, it can also be helpful to amplify communications with the public. Amplifying communications involves distributing information from other entities, such as the media, through your communication channels.
For example, using social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter has been essential in reaching more people and alerting them when disaster strikes. It is also possible to use social media to encourage employees or citizens to sign up for alerts and messages through Critical Event Management (CEM) platforms. Spreading the word about opting in to these kinds of communications enables emergency managers to reach people with critical updates more immediately.
It is important to make sure critical information about preparing for a disaster is available for as many people as possible. Paul Lupe from Fairfax County Emergency Management made sure they have hard copies as well: “We have created a community emergency response guide, where we share a written plan to the community at large, with the steps they can take, and resources that they could leverage to prepare for any hazard. We print copies of it to leave in our libraries, but mostly we leverage it through our website.” By making it accessible in print and on the web, more people will know what to do in case disaster strikes.
7. Understand What Funding is Available and Who Pays for Damages
In your preparations for and during a severe weather event, it is important that you understand what funding is available to you, as well as who will pay for damages. Understanding what funding is available to you can help expedite response to and recovery from hazards and diminish impact.
A crucial part of mitigation efforts includes obtaining funding for projects like infrastructure that will prevent future disasters from happening. For example, this could include making sure a building can withstand a hurricane or additional reinforcements in a landslide area. Ultimately, this will save lives and money.
When an incident happens, the question of who pays for what when is important. This is where local jurisdictions can help communicate with the public about how to navigate the process of obtaining funding to pay for damages. Mark Slauter of Floodmapp emphasizes that “a key word with funding is navigate. Navigating through the process and helping others with funding and the recovery process. It’s critical for those of us who are on the recovery side of this, particularly in the public sector, to be able to walk people through that process.”
How a Critical Event Management Platform Can Help
Severe weather events, as well as other hazards, can impact any community at any time. By implementing the above seven practices, emergency managers can proactively build resilience across their departments, organizations, and communities.
To put the importance of severe weather preparedness in perspective, “in 2021, the U.S. experienced 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, putting 2021 in second place for the most disasters in a calendar year. Damages from the 2021 disasters totaled approximately $145 billion. (All cost estimates are adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index, 2021)” (Climate.gov, 2022).
While it is impossible to completely avoid all impacts from threats, emergency managers can instead focus their efforts on promoting resilience to best protect their people and assets. A Critical Event Management (CEM) platform can help emergency managers better implement the above practices, which protects people and operations while reducing financial impact of disasters. Furthermore, CEM platforms can help organizations manage and respond to all kinds of critical events, not just severe weather, and build a culture of preparedness throughout your organization.
Severe weather puts millions in harm’s way each year. By 2050, severe weather and climate-related events could displace 1.2 billion people across the globe, putting communities and the businesses they support at risk. As severe weather continues to threaten more people and cause greater harm, building resilience against natural hazards and climate threats is paramount: the time for governments and enterprises to act is now.
Severe Weather Trends
Severe weather and climate-related risk events have increased five times over the last decade, causing approximately $137 billion in economic loss each year. Many locations are expected to see a substantial increase in the number of severe weather events such as extreme heat, extreme cold, wildfire, and flooding.
Extreme Heat Events
Heat waves are occurring more often in major cities across the United States and are becoming more intense. Washington and Oregon were heavily impacted: In Salem, Oregon, temperatures crested at 117°F (47.2°C). The sudden jump from an average temperature of 69.5 to 73.3°F (20.8 to 22.9°C) resulted in excess deaths across Washington State and Oregon. Both states reported that 95 people or more died from heat-related causes.
In the United Kingdom, the increase in heat waves and their duration has resulted in a change in how heat waves are classified across a band of English counties. The change is said to reflect “an undeniable warming trend” in the UK, making original thresholds obsolete.
Extreme Cold Events
Extreme cold can be just as deadly as extreme heat, especially in areas unfamiliar with cold or freezing temperatures. In addition to risk of life, freezing temperatures can also pose challenges to general infrastructure, electrical grids, and water systems. In the United States, Winter Storm Uri hit a very unprepared Texas resulting in loss of life and major infrastructure damage totaling between $80 and $130 billion. Approximately 4.5 million homes and businesses were left without power as Uri peaked, devastating the electrical power grid.
In Spain, record-breaking snowfall brought Madrid to a standstill. The failure of transportation services amid the extreme cold event pushed authorities to call on military and rescue services. The extreme cold event caused approximately €1.4 billion in damages, with some victims of the storm stuck in their vehicles for 12 hours amid freezing temperatures.
The escalating climate crisis is driving a global increase in wildfires and bushfires, with a 30% increase predicted by 2050, according to a UN report. “The heating of the planet is turning landscapes into tinderboxes,” said the report: and it couldn’t be more true. From North America to South America, Europe to Africa, and across Asia and Australia, wildfires are wreaking havoc.
Consider the United States: The Bootleg Fire was one of many fires burning across a dozen states. Originating in Oregon where forests make up nearly half of all land, the Bootleg Fire transformed into a massive inferno half the size of Rhode Island. The fire burned more than 400,000 acres over nearly 40 days. “It was the largest fire in the nation [at the time],” said Technical Account Manager Sarah Batmale at Everbridge. In the United States, wildfires run rampant, with the “damage and accumulative economic loss in the billions.”
In 2021, huge wildfires ravaged large regions of Europe: claiming human lives and impacting livelihoods across Greece, Italy, and Turkey The catastrophic fires burned across an area of 130,000 hectares: approximately double the size of New York City. The burned area of the year’s fires approaches the sum of burned areas across Greece over eight years.
Like most severe weather occurrences, extreme flooding is also likely to increase as temperatures rise. From Germany to China, the United Kingdom to India, New South Wales to South Africa, and the United States to Nepal, extreme flooding is having devastating consequences.
In Germany, extreme flooding impacted around a third of the inhabitants of Ahr Valley. More than 500 buildings were swept away in the flood, and at least 165 people were reported dead across western Germany. Supply chains across the region were impacted and the total financial damage totaled approximately €1.8 billion. While Ahr Valley is in the process of being rebuilt, with the German cabinet approving €400 million in flood aid, the psychological scars of the event are likely to last forever.
Across South Africa, days of severe storms and flooding have resulted in nearly 400 deaths. More than 40,000 people were affected by the floods, which destroyed or damaged homes and roads across the region. The regional government cities the extreme flooding event as “one of the darkest moments in the history” of the KwaZulu-Natal province.
An Urgency for Action: Why Enterprises and Government Organizations Should Act Now
Climate change and severe weather events are top global emergencies for governments and enterprises. “Over the past years, we’ve collectively seen an increase in severe weather events not only in their frequency, their size, but also how they are interconnected,” says Sunita Voleppe, Product Marketing Manager for Public Safety at Everbridge. “This has a direct impact on businesses and their operations as well as government officials responsible for public safety, where the question isn’t if something will happen, but when will it happen… and are we prepared for it?”
We can’t reverse climate change overnight, but governments and enterprises can act with urgency to better protect their people and assets from harm. Since severe weather events show no sign of slowing or stopping and are currently mounting in severity and overlapping with one another, it’s important to act with urgency. By assessing severe weather risk, organizations and governments can better mitigate the impact a severe weather event has, creating a more robust approach to layered severe weather emergencies.
How to Best Prepare for Severe Weather and Climate-Related Events
It’s important governments and enterprises are prepared for a severe weather event before it happens. Both governments and enterprises experience similar concerns when it comes to severe weather events, such as employee safety, transportation concerns, office closures, and disruption to essential business processes. However, government organizations and private enterprises should prepare for severe weather and climate-related events in slightly different ways.
What steps can governments take to mitigate climate risk and severe weather events?
Governments and public safety organizations are responsible for the safety of their employees and communities. To mitigate the impact of climate risk and severe weather events, governments must ensure their severe weather preparedness plans are broad enough to keep employees, infrastructure, and community members out of harm’s way. Part of that means making sure “[governments] have the right technology,” says Industry Solutions Manager James Podlucky at Everbridge.
Governments should consider the following when attempting to mitigate severe weather events impacting their business or communities:
- Risk assessment: Governments should perform Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessments (THIRA) to understand what natural threats or hazards may impact their community, the potential severity of these risks, and the current capabilities the community has.
- Reliable communication: Governments need to be able to communicate with employees and residents before, during, and after a severe weather event. Ensuring communication systems are built for public safety is key. This means systems should be consistently available, capable of messaging large and targeted audiences, secure and compliant, capable of combating false alarms, and flexible.
- Interoperability: Weather doesn’t respect borders. The ability to receive and share information with other organizations is essential for coordination and collaboration. This means collaborating with other jurisdictions, hospitals, non-profits, and private businesses in the area.
- Awareness programs: To build resilience to severe weather, the entire community needs to be considered. Governments should educate community members on what types of risk are in the area, how to use emergency alerts systems, how to prepare for different kinds of emergencies, and where to access resources before, during, and after a critical event.
What steps can enterprises take to mitigate climate risk and severe weather events?
Enterprises facing climate-related risk events must consider their assets, employees, infrastructure, and business processes in their severe weather risk management strategy. To help mitigate the impact of climate risk and severe weather events, enterprises should consider:
- Risk assessment: Enterprises should perform severe weather risk assessments for current buildings; and before opening any new facilities.
- Reliable communication: Enterprises need to be able to communicate with employees before, during, and after a severe weather event. Ensuring communication systems are easy to use, effective, and accurate is key to keeping employees safe.
- Accurate data: Having the wrong kind of data or not enough data can make it difficult for enterprises and CROs to gauge risk and response. To prevent data from impacting severe weather mitigation efforts data must be current, and contacts much be reachable through a variety of verified modalities.
- Proper system access: With several employees and locations at risk of severe weather events, system users must have the access necessary to perform the duties assigned.
- Employee education: Employees should be trained and educated on how to receive and respond to severe weather alerts to keep themselves safe and operations protected.
Severe Weather Planning Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
Severe weather planning should be taken seriously and approached with urgency regardless of if you are new or seasoned in severe weather risk management. Here are some common pitfalls organizations face in severe weather planning and how to best avoid them.
- Lack of planning: Many organizations have a plan for common severe weather threats in their area. However, far fewer organizations have a plan for severe weather events that are less common. Taking an all-hazards approach to severe weather preparedness is key to ensuring individuals and assets are safe before, during, and after a severe weather event. Failing to plan for an event, no matter how rare, can exacerbate the impact of a threat and put everyone at an increased risk of harm.
- Over-notification: Severe weather events happen all the time. People become desensitized if they are over-alerted about events that do not directly impact them. To combat over-notification, it’s important to have SOPs that help message senders decide which events warrant an alert and how to send messages. Preplanning communication cadences and leveraging templates are great ways to reduce communications while maximizing their impact.
- Unintentional communication gaps: Being able to coordinate and collaborate with those necessary in a severe weather event is key to maintaining preparedness. According to James Podlucky at Everbridge, “[During] my time in emergency management, we’ve definitely seen some gaps and some difficulties [in] being able to coordinate and collaborate.” Communication gaps can be avoided by having a better understanding of your community. For example, being able to send messages in different languages across different channels in targeted areas helps ensure that everyone receives the correct information in a way that is accessible to them.
Severe Weather Preparedness: Everbridge Severe Weather Solutions
Having a plan to mitigate the impact of severe weather is a key component of climate-related risk management. However, planning for a severe weather event is no longer enough to guarantee the safety of employees, assets, operations, or community members. To be truly prepared, governments and enterprises must have the right technology to execute severe weather preparedness plans or risk injury to people, assets, and reputation.
Everbridge provides public, private, and non-profit sectors with solutions designed to keep people and operations safe before, during, and after a severe weather event. Everbridge helps create better outcomes for customers facing severe weather and climate-related risk events while improving overall preparedness. Some features of our severe weather solutions include:
- Automation: An automated trigger and pre-configured templates helps streamline responses to severe weather events while removing the guesswork and relying on manual intervention.
- Push notifications: Connect with employees and community members with speed and reliability. In many cases, people can choose what types of communications they want to receive and how they receive them. For population alerting, messages can be pushed to targeted areas via mobile devices in the incident zone.
- Quiet periods: When over-notification risks desensitizing employees and community members to severe weather alerts, quiet periods can be activated. Activating a quiet period allows users to stop receiving alerts, but that doesn’t mean employees and community members will remain unaware of a major weather event. With Everbridge, ‘major weather events will trigger an override to quiet periods,’ keeping people safe.
- Richer intelligence: With amplified ad hoc data feeds, organizations receive richer intelligence to correlate threats by quickly accessing the data needed to assess locations of assets and people, ensuring rapid and comprehensive incident assessment and remediation. Location-specific weather information allows organizations to track and alert those in harm’s way
- Wellness checks: Extreme weather events can impact employees and community members in a variety of ways. With Everbridge, organizations and governments can better gauge employee and community member status to accurately execute the next steps of their severe weather preparedness plans.