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10 Tips for incorporating Crisisworks into your local EOC exercise

Posted 5 November 2012 by Sean Fishlock (Crisisworks)

Successfully incorporating Crisisworks into your emergency management exercises can represent one of the final hurdles to fully implementing the system, so we've compiled some tips that may help get you over the line.  Many of the same steps and learnings can be carried through to a real emergency.  The bigger the exercise and the more stakeholders are involved, the more important it is to ensure that everything goes to plan.

The Crisisworks team has now been involved in numerous exercises with local council EOCs in Victoria and New South Wales and have learned a great deal about what works well and what things could be improved.

There are some existing best practices for setting up facilities for MECCs in Victoria and LEOCs in New South Wales, some of these are a little out of date considering that many councils are migrating from manual to electronic coordination systems.  Anyway, here are some tips we’ve put together and we’re interested in your feedback on these.

1.     Create a checklist

Checklists are useful in all sorts of management to ensure that all bases are covered, and planning and executing emergency exercises are no different.  Every setup is different, so ensure that you’ve covered off on the things that are relevant to your organisation and tick them off as you know that they are done.  Be flexible though, sometimes you’ll need to improvise and have Plan B’s for certain things.

2.     Follow best practices

Industry guidelines have some great tips on how to plan and run exercises, though you might be using different approaches to run it electronically with Crisisworks these are still very relevant.

Some examples of best practice which can still be adhered to include:

  • Ensure that interpersonal communication is still used as much as possible
  • Ensure a floorplan and layout that maximises face-to-face for participants and minimises distraction
  • Follow existing protocols where possible
  • Conduct your briefings, debriefs and hot debriefs as normal

An approach that really works, however, is to talk to an organisation that you know has already run a successful exercise with emergency management software and take some pointers, they will no doubt have some recommendations on best practice.

3.     Have Quick Start guides handy

Use a Quick Start Guide for induction.   Ideally, they should be a one-page format or double sided.  Laminating them helps to improve their longevity and increase their durability to coffee stains etc.  Brand it to your organisation to make it a more official resource.  Ensure that they are distributed to participants early.  Include this in the “EOC kit”, along with your emergency tabards and other items of standard issue.

It helps to have focused Quick Start guides for each of the key roles and they should focus only on the core functions of each role.  For instance:

  • Agency users mainly need to know how to
  1. Read their team counters
  2. Add activites
  3. Resolve requests
  • Coordinators mainly need to know how to
  1. Add the incident
  2. Make announcements
  3. Read the unassigned counter
  4. Assign requests
  • All users should be briefed on how to
  1. Log in
  2. Go on and off duty
  3. Personalise their notification preferences
  4. Add logs

Inclusion of screenshots and other visual aids can make it easier for people to follow.

Crisisworks have some example templates that may inspire you.

4.     Streamline allocation of user accounts

The nature of interagency coordination is that new people will arrive on the day.   

While it’s a good idea to have user accounts ready in advance, that’s not going to work for everyone who will be there on the day.

Creation of user accounts is a much simplified process in Crisisworks, all you need to know is someone’s name, their email address (optional) and the agency they are from and each individual user does the rest.

However as people tend to arrive in a group, efficiently creating user accounts is important.

What works best is to have a dedicated person and device allocated for this task.

Wirelessly connected tablets work really well for this as they allow the person creating user accounts to move around the room and visit people individually at their places while they set up rather than be anchored to a desk and have to process a queue.  This also provides the opportunity to assist in the process of allocating passwords and customising preferences.

5.     Nominate a Champion

It is not only important to nominate a champion, but to have this person available on the day - someone who, ultimately, should be both responsible and accountable for the Crisisworks implementation at council.   Some councils have a local EOC coordinator or facilities coordinator for this purpose, others utilise the registry role.  Someone with this role must be present at the EOC, so if you may wish to brief multiple people and assign deputies to this role as required.

This person should be a coordinator/administrator in Crisisworks and the role may include:

  • Creation of user accounts for participants and ensuring that users receive their user invitations
  • Ensuring that connectivity is addressed
  • Observe performance of the team and use of the software system
  • Quick start induction training for new users and shift changeovers
  • Ensuring that workflows are observed and that tasks are properly resolved and closed

6.     Have Key Staff Trained

This follows from appointing a champion.  It is always going to be more difficult to train users “on the spot” than to train them in advance.  However a champion or a third person can perform this role with sufficient preparation.

As we’ve found it is possible to quick start train people on the day, but you’ll need someone who can train them, and that’s where the champions come in.  Quick Start Guides can provide effective visual aids to help reinforce accelerated learning of the key functions.

A strategy that can work well is to:

  • Train all users in the basics together – no more than 10 minute induction
  • Split Coordinators into a separate group  - no more than 5 minute induction
  • Split Recovery Managers into separate group - if you plan to integrate relief and recovery
  • Setup a test incident, create and assign at least one test request/case to give participants practice before letting them loose on the system

Note these roles will require special permissions to be assigned, make sure at the start that all participants have the correct permissions before they start.

7.     Get IT together

Even though cloud based systems like Crisisworks require only a web browser and access to the web, though this does create important considerations your information technology department in ensuring that infrastructure ready for an exercise.   Never assume that everything simply work on the day, planning and coordination of IT is still required.

Connectivity

Getting an Internet connection can be easy, however ensuring that a team consisting of anywhere up to 200 emergency support staff have access to the Internet can be more of a challenge. 

For connectivity, it is always a good idea to have a hardwired Ethernet available at the minimum. 

If you have Wi-Fi, then this is a bonus as it allows use of more mobile devices and can reduce some of the clutter in the room. 

Using 3G or 4G via wireless modems in your devices can provide a third option in case your internal network connectivity fail, however there can be risks in relying on a third party Internet service.  Of course, you’ll need to check what your IT department will or won’t allow within your organisation.

Involve IT in setup

Ensure that your IT department understands their roles and responsibility in the setup of the facility for connectivity and that they are available and on call during the exercise.  No matter how ready it looks, never assume that everything is ready to go on the day. Remind key people that in an emergency, it is critical that a setup happens as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Ensure that IT support are available early in the setup, so that potential problems can be identified before participants begin to arrive.

Know a bit about the devices and systems being used

It is also important to have an idea of the range of devices that will need to be supported.  Having a standard operating environment has both advantages and disadvantages.  There is a very strong business case for offering the freedom of agencies to bring devices such as tablets and netbooks which can get them up and running quickly and free them up operationally.

Make sure you test the system requirements in your environment and notify anyone bringing a device that may not comply.  For instance, ensure that people don’t intend to use out-dated software such as Internet Explorer 6.

This also applied in general, load up and check not only Crisisworks/MECC Central but and any other incident management systems (such as PEEC) that are intended for use.

Check that you have sufficient desk space for the devices and cables to give people room to work.

Projectors

Use of projectors can provide an enhanced common operating picture and situational awareness.

Have at least one projector displaying Crisisworks projector mode.  Other projectors can be used for things like GIS etc to further enhance the common operating picture.

Ensure to:

  • Use Appropriate permissions are used when projecting to Crisisworks - to avoid sensitive data being displayed (do not use administrator or coordinator permissions) it is a good idea to create an account specifically for this.
  • Disable screensavers and screen lock where possible – especially as the person with the unlock code may not be in the room at all times

Authentication

Crisisworks has its own internal logging system and document repository, so authentication to your network should not be required. 

This is important because user profiles loaded over the Internet from Windows devices can be a problem.  Sometimes user profiles can store a great deal of data and when using a different device, this can cause excessive “startup time” upon first login.  In extreme cases we’ve seen Windows user profiles take up to 40 minutes to load from the EOC.  This is not acceptable in an emergency situation.  So if possible, either organise to pre-load settings on computers or organise to run devices that do not require authentication to then internal network and have devices on standby for Windows authentication if specific documents and files are required.

Use of tablets can have the advantage of not only not requiring your authentication to the internal network, but also of a rapid startup time as well as provide the benefit of added mobility in the EOC.

8.     Build in pauses

As opposed to real emergencies, exercises provide opportunities to review what is working and what isn’t.

Implementing electronic systems like Crisisworks introduces new elements for people to understand and as such, it enabling them to keep pace will give them more confidence when working in a real emergency.

A common symptom is the “heads down” effect.  This is when people stare at their computer screens waiting for things to happen rather than the traditional EOC scenario of reading the play of the room.  This can cause too much focus on the system rather than the incident.  This type of behaviour can be corrected through a well-timed pause and reflection, or a continuous debriefing style.

Ideally there can be multiple pauses which a champion can use to course correct users.

At minimum we recommend a mid-point as an opportunity to review and provide feedback to users.

9.     Keep Crisisworks “In the Loop”

It’s a good idea to involve Crisisworks in your emergency exercise planning.

In this way, the team can advise you on integrating the system into your scenarios and possibly contribute additional ideas that can test the boundaries and capacity of the system and infrastructure including disaster recovery scenarios.

With sufficient notice, the Crisisworks team can assist in all stages of planning.

10.    Enlist Crisisworks Support

The Crisisworks team has a great deal of experience and we are available, with sufficient notice, to participate in any capacity, from fly-on-the-wall observer able to provide reports and recommendations on improving the implementation to proactive and reactive onsite admin support and training.

This can make the difference between an exercise where the web based software is a sideshow and the efficiency objectives it aims to solve remain or one in which your staff are enabled by the software and possess the self confidence they need to operate more effeciently in an emergency situation.

Share your tips ..

We're interested in hearing your own experience and some suggestions for what can be included in this guide, let us know your thoughts by commenting below ...

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