The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management recently held a hearing in response to newly introduced federal legislation (H.R. 2903and H.R. 2904). This legislation would set the stage for congress to reauthorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and two of its expiring programs, while establishing a clear framework for the modernization of its public alerts and warning systems. I was privileged to offer testimony alongside senior officials from FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and State and local emergency managers on October 13 to help inform federal lawmakers about how taxpayer revenue can be better leveraged to improve our nation’s disaster preparedness.
Federal Signal brought a perspective to the Subcommittee that detailed important matters of public safety and emergency management, including meeting local level needs, conquering new interoperable bridges and integrating emergency communication technologies.
MEETING LOCAL LEVEL NEEDS
Considering the number of natural disasters in 2011 or the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks, we are reminded that that it is imperative to be fully prepared and alert for the unexpected.
Given economic challenges and continued need for disaster relief and emergency readiness, local communities look to FEMA to acquire public warning and notification systems to protect their citizens. The need for these systems is emphasized in Federal Signal’s 2011 Public Safety Surveythat shows almost 4 out of 10 Americans consider their community to be either slightly or completely unprepared in the event of an emergency.
FEMA continues to play an integral part in developing standards and promoting best practices to deal with emergencies throughout the nation and distinguish clear differences between national demands and the demands of individual communities.
NEW INTEROPERABLE BRIDGES
As seen daily, the advancement of technology brings new opportunity to a changing world. Adapting to the technology and an expanded spectrum of communication technologies brings the need for flexibility in emergency warnings. No longer can warnings be issued to the general public with just outdoor sirens, radio and television. Now warnings are issued through a multitude of platforms, including landline and cell phones, pagers, radios, text messaging, and public address systems to a variety of IP-based technologies, including email, instant messaging, smart phones and even social networking technologies such as Twitter and Facebook.
To keep pace with the changing environment, current funding has focused primarily on new technology on a wide scale, sometimes creating unnecessary costs. Given the opportunity, local communities can achieve the desired results with interoperable communications through IP-based software solutions using the existing communication infrastructure. Putting funding on a local level and allowing states to make decisions about how they use interoperable grant funds would foster continued advancement of new technologies designed to bridge analog and digital radio worlds, with IP communications and public communication networks.
INTEGRATED LAYER PROGRESS
When considering how to effectively reach citizens in the case of an emergency, there must be an integrated, localized approach. From a national level, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) has brought value to the emergency management community. However, most emergencies transpire at a more local level needing a more tailored approach to mass notification, a concept FEMA identifies with.
Best practices in mass notification come with recognizing the impact of advanced technology and messaging formats. Each person has come to prefer a different form of communication during an emergency situation. As evidence, Federal Signal recent survey found one in four Americans would prefer to be notified about an emergency by a telephone call or by television. Eighteen percent say they would like to be notified by text message and 15 percent would like to be notified by outdoor loudspeakers.
As evidence shows, FEMA plays an important role in establishing standards and fostering the adoption of best practices within the Emergency Management community. Its leadership in leveraging new technology and establishing a framework for the sharing of technology is a critical job that only an agency such as FEMA can perform. Establishing effective processes, which provide opportunities for both industry leaders and local emergency managers to participate in the development of these systems, can help ensure wide-scale support of its programs. Federal Signal believes this is a critically important step in raising Americans’ confidence that public safety is truly a priority.