In recent years, communities in California have become all too familiar with the realities of large-scale disaster response. The 2017, Sonoma County fire was for one year the most destructive wildfire in the states history. The next fall, the Camp Fire shattered that record, leveling 19,000 structures in the Butte County and Paradise communities. Nearly 130 deaths were attributed to those fires.
We had the opportunity to serve in digital-response capacities during both the Sonoma and Butte County fires. In those disasters, our niche was supporting the building of SonomaCountyRecovers. org and ButteCountyRecovers.org. We learned lessons that would apply no matter what kind of potential disaster a jurisdiction faces, whether fires, hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, or non-weather-related emergencies.
Here's what our experience taught us: While most public safety operations in an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) are guided by time-tested principles, digital response before, during and after a disaster is surprisingly uncharted territory.
What will your city's website look like when 5,000 homes have been destroyed? What maps will you have, and do you have the in-house expertise to produce them? Which Twitter account will be lead? Will you launch a recovery website, and what will it be called? How will you maintain consistency in information disseminated across jurisdictions?
While we're not emergency management experts, here are some best practices that recommend agencies consider to optimize their digital response.
Establish a Single Destination.
Fires and other natural disasters are not limited to jurisdictional boundaries, nor should information be. "Incorporated" and "unincorporated" are not in the common vernacular of most residents.
Best practice is to create a single cross-jurisdictional destination for information. Residents should not have to comb through the city's website, the county's website, the sheriffs website, and the police department's Twitter account to find out when they can re-enter their neighborhoods. Another tip: a social media "wall" feature on your recovery website that displays all relavant social media accounts allows non-social-media savvy residents to see many posts in one place.
Build and Brand Bow. You should not wait for the urgency (and added anxiety) of a disaster to build a recovery website or communications plan. Consider these now and have them ready to deploy in the event of a disaster: