A big part of being an emergency manager is figuring out how to communicate the hazards and the risks to the public so that they (us) can make better decisions when a disaster comes. Then we write our disaster plans and sit around a table guessing how many of the "public" will 1) listen to our message, and 2) take the appropriate action. How many will leave like they're supposed to? We have to plan for them. How many will stay with they shouldn't? We have to plan for them, too. We have to anticipate what they will do and have the resources there when they do it. If we wait until they act, then it's too late.
For that reason we set up our web site and then get out amongst the public and do our best to drive them to it. In Florida, our web site is Floridadisaster.org. It's not just for the public - I use it all the time. The site is where I go to get phone numbers, addresses or to log into the message system for the emergency operations center. I've been in my job almost twelve years and the web site is like a comfortable, old sofa in the living room. The one with the broken leg and the torn cushion.
Time to get a new sofa.
I hadn't thought much about how the web site could be improved until I was asked several months back to serve on a working group for that very purpose. Most of the members of the group are from the Division of Emergency Management(DEM). I represent the rest of the State Emergency Response Team (SERT), the great, unwashed body of people from the rest of the state agencies. I was selected for this important responsibility by Richard Butgereit, the lead sled dog at DEM for this project. His criteria for my selection, or so I surmised, was that I was leaving one meeting when he was entering the same room for a web site meeting, and he asked me to stay. In other cards, my selection was by Chance, that great decider of Fates.
I was glad he chose me because this project is important and, as Richard will tell you, I have lots of opinions on many subjects, even those that I don't know anything about. I'm also glad he chose me because I have been introduced to the interesting and arcane world of web site design, of which I knew almost nothing. As I learned, our web site wasn't like an old sofa, but was more of a log cabin, with five bedrooms, a modern kitchen, a two car garage and a second story added in a haphazard fashion. And to get to any of the additions, you had to enter through the log cabin.
I'm not being critical of any of the previous custodians of the site. As many of us in state government understand, you do the best you can with the resources that you have. Now we have the resources to start building a better web site, one that will better serve the many customers who come there seeking information about current, past and future disasters.
A web site is not the only way to communicate with the public but its an important one. For that reason, we are getting a lot of interest and participation from the group members. The changes that I've seen so far are exciting. I may not get a new cabin out of this deal, but I just might get a new sofa.