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Washington State Incorporates Effective Crisis Communication Platform

ATHOC / 06.14.16 / Bob Pessemier

The state of Washington incorporated an effective crisis communication platform that utilizes the power of data, information and communication for improved emergency response.

Data and information sharing is necessary to improve decision-making capabilities in any crisis. Communication is necessary to coordinate among agencies and personnel. Every day businesses and organizations endure disruptions, disasters or crisis of some sort. The right methods can determine the impact of the response. Take a look at how Washington created a platform designed for a more efficient response.

Improving the Crisis Communication Platform in Washington

The Washington Common Operating Platform (WA-COP) was developed to:

●       Create a heightened level of readiness.

●       Broaden communications between agencies.

●       Share intelligence among agencies more easily.

●       Improve response effectiveness.

In the Puget Sound region of Washington alone, there are more than 20 local, regional and federal agencies, and hundreds of groups routinely called to respond to a crisis. Responses can be extremely complex because of the variety of agencies involved. Whether it is a traffic accident in the streets of downtown Seattle, or a warehouse fire near the docks, this region faces a unique set of circumstances that WA-COP helps to address.

WA-COP is a suite of applications funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Port Security Grant and managed by the Seattle Police Department. WA-COP was designed to solve some of the most challenging communication and information scenarios in the state.

The Components of the WA-COP System

The WA-COP system was built to assist the transfer of key data and information, between the necessary agencies and groups for more effective crisis communication. Some of the key applications include:

●       CommandBridge – Maritime response to incidents within the Puget Sound.

●       Adashi – For events or incidents that involve local fire or police departments.

●       Sahana – Information sharing outside the realm of public safety.

●       Wrike – Management of tasks and incidents in the private sector.

Communications

●       Blackberry AtHocMass notification alerts and crisis communications.

●       Mutualink – Communication between radios, smartphones, landlines and other devices.

Local agencies found that they needed something adaptable in a short amount of time, and with some financial limitations. These demands eliminated the ability to build something from scratch. Very often when a project like this one is built from scratch, the application is quickly outdated.

WA-COP was built with the idea that you could interchange applications quickly and easily. It was also designed to adapt to a constantly changing industry. New technology can be easily utilized for more effective crisis communication.

Each application used in the WA-COP system needed thorough vetting, and key criteria needed to be met. In order for an application to be used, it had to be able to share information with all other applications.

Leading by Example

The first response, when someone new sees WA-COP,  is that they wish it was in place when other disasters happened. It has become a highly effective tool for dealing with increasing complications of disaster response.

Information sharing, interoperability and communication, are all key components to the WA-COP system.

We are often asked how to go about building a crisis communication platform with your neighboring agencies. Below are a few questions you should ask during the creation of a local system:

●       What is needed to more easily share data and information across agencies?

●       What is the cost if we don’t use the best available technology?

●       How can we stay current on the best technological solutions to solve our problem?

●       What is necessary on the policy side, to implement this technology?

Strong Leadership Required

Any crisis communication platform needs strong buy-in from agency leadership. The project has a greater chance of success when leaders see the need, and have the vision for completion.

Once you have proper solutions for data, information and communications, you increase the likelihood of more effective crisis communication. More details on the WA-COP system can be found in the AtHoc case study for this project.

Bob Pessemier

About Bob Pessemier

Senior Technology Consultant, WA-COP, Seattle