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First impressions of the Emergency Management Reform Whitepaper - what this means for Victorian councils

It's great to see the Victorian Emergency Management White Paper finally released - now the industry can collectively exhale and start breathing, and planning, again.
 
Our initial read has the following take-away points for our Victorian Crisisworks customers.
 
A greater focus on the role of local government
 
The white paper points out the tremendous amount of work local governments do in  terms of planning, mitigation, response and recovery to disasters, and although the resourcing function of the MECC will be absorbed into the ICC, the critical role of local government across all phases of the emergency lifecycle will be recognised and expanded.
 
Local planning, as well as local initiatives to build community resilience will be embraced, and Crisisworks's newest Registers feature will help councils to build and manage registers of risks, hazards and community resilience projects, as well as reach into the community.
 
Also, the business continuity and crisis management capabilities of local government will be strengthened, and we see Crisisworks offering a key platform as a crisis management solution for local governments in times of need.

Community Involvement
 
The white paper puts an emphasis on local community involvement to identify risks, develop plans for emergencies, volunteer in times of need, and have easy access to information during the recovery process. 
 
One of the challenges reported in the white paper is the management and logistical overhead associated with offers of assistance and goods, and to meet this challenge, Crisisworks' current Offers of Assistance capability is undergoing a planned upgrade as part of the MAV Joint Management Panel works.  
 
Crisisworks offers other services in line with white paper recommendations: In August Crisisworks launched its Community Apps service, which delivers a web, mobile and smartphone apps for councils and their residents to communicate after major disasters. And Crisisworks is also developing a SME edition of our cloud crisis management software, allowing businesses to prepare for disasters and implement effective plans from anywhere in times of need. 
 
 
Common Operating Environments
 
During the Moira floods in March 2012, we were amazed to see that the Moira MECC was better-equipped than the Shepparton ICC in terms of inter-agency communications, data sharing and common operating picture.
 
The white paper has a focus on interoperability between agency systems and this may include a common system to be used by all agencies. Of course, this is a mammoth effort. Unfortunately Councils will most likely still lie on the outer of these arrangements as they remain independent organisations, plus they have needs vastly in addition to those operating purely in the response phase.
 
We feel well positioned to offer that single system. Crisisworks has a demonstrated success in running a state-wide system that unifies different organisations together for multi-agency control and coordination, has seen approximately 2,500 operators trained in the past 12 months, and has worked with local governments in the establishment of interoperability protocols for shift changeovers and trained relief work. Crisisworks is also the engine running the just launched Vulnerable Persons Register, which when fully loaded, will securely service thousands of agency, local government, DHS and Victoria Police users across the state.
 
But at the same time, we also feel that a single system approach at such a scale means everyone gets a system that was designed for someone else. For councils, getting a system designed only for response operations will mean recovery takes a back seat. 
 
I suspect the final solution will embrace the concepts of Service Oriented Architectures, which provides a way for a set of distributed, specialised components to share and use data using common protocols and standards. My understanding of the VINE project seems to indicate this is the way it will go.
 
Crisisworks is standards-based and has been interoperable with other systems since the beginning. We've been consuming and sharing data with other agencies (including council to council) since launch, and currently in pilot, Crisisworks is testing additionally interoperability options including CAP-AU, email-based and a standards-based API for full integration.
 
 
Impact Assessments & Field Reporting
 
One of the most exciting outcomes of the whitepaper is the position on impact assessment and field reporting. 
 
Just last week Crisisworks released into beta our new smartphone and tablet app for field-based reporting for Rapid Impact Assessments, Post Impact Assessments, Hazard Reporting (such as Fire Prevention Notices). It combines GPS, multimedia and form-based reporting with verified Vicmap property address lookups to provide a powerful tool for field reporting. This has a flexible form architecture allowing almost unlimited use, and it works online as well as offline.
 
Unlike a public reporting app, this is for use by authorised users only (which can include invited public users in key geographical positions), and as such, reporting is always authentic and trustworthy. The data is collected and displayed within Crisisworks, and can be shared with other agencies using a web-based login, or shared digitally using our interoperability options.
 
Once available in the Apple and Android App Stores in the coming weeks, we will be offering complimentary trial licenses to all our customers for use over the fire season as a Christmas present. Stay tuned on this blog for more information.
 
 
Our early conclusion

With only a few hours to reflect on the changes, we are actually quite excited about the transformation.
 
We have long recognised that MECC operations were only a part of Council's Emergency Management responsibilities, and Crisisworks has been evolving since day one to suit the changing needs of councils for crisis management - hence the name change from MECC Central earlier in the year.
 
With the new arrangements, councils will continue to run EOCs for their own municipal needs during the response phase, and councils also continue to have a significant role to play in recovery - one of our key strengths, and one of the reasons why Crisisworks was selected initially by the MAV. Further, local government seems to now have a larger role in planning and community engagement, and we see this as a good thing. 
 
We are not sure yet what final operational landscape for councils will look like, but in partnership with the MAV, we will continue to evolve Crisisworks for our Victorian council customers to suit those needs.
 
How will this affect you?
 
I'd love to hear your thoughts on how the white paper may affect councils. Drop me a line below, find me on linkedin, or email me directly.

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