4 min read
Common Operating Pictures: Increasing Data Sharing During Emergencies
Imagine you and several friends are working on a puzzle but each of you have different pieces and are holding them tight to your chest — and none of you have the box cover to look off. It would be pretty hard to complete the puzzle, right?
Now imagine if that puzzle were an emergency situation and you and your friends are all the different organizations who are responsible for dealing with the ongoing crisis. Without access to all of the “puzzle pieces” wouldn’t it be difficult to successfully mitigate and resolve the incident in a safe and efficient manner?
This is where common operating pictures come in. A common operating picture, or a common view, allows all stakeholders in an emergency scenario to share information with each other and view all the data that is being collected during the ongoing event in one, central location. This increases the overall situational awareness of each organizations during the emergency, allowing for officials and emergency managers to make fast, educated decisions as soon as the information becomes available.
An emergency management system that is hosted online and completely free of any hardware constraints allows for greater flexibility when it comes to managing situations from multiple locations. By not being limited by having software installed on a specific number of devices in certain locations, it doesn’t matter where emergency officials are located when disaster strikes. They are able to log in to the system from anywhere, as long as they have an internet connection, and begin managing the emergency immediately.
A web-based platform also offers emergency managers the benefit of being on the ground during an incident rather than being forced to remain in an Emergency Operations Center (EOC), away from the action. This way officials in the EOC as well as those who are directly assisting with the recovery or mitigation efforts can communicate with each other and pass vital information back and forth as soon as it comes in.
Comprehensive data collection
Whether emergency managers are positioned in the EOC or on the ground, information is key to the successful coordination and completion of operational tasks geared towards the resolution of the emergency. Without accurate and up-to-date information pertinent to the ongoing situation, officials would not be able to make educated and well-informed decisions that lead to the successful resolution of the incident. A common operating picture can assist everyone involved in the incident management by providing an overarching, central view of the situation and showing all of the information gathered since the onset of the event in an easy-to-read display.
Data collection and sharing can be simplified with the help of communication tools that are often included with a web-based common operating picture solution. Once a notification or message has been sent out to the necessary contacts, the common operating picture will automatically be updated to reflect the number of interactions these contacts have had with the message — from whether or not the message was sent to contacts successfully to whether they have read, confirmed receipt, or replied to the message. This information can then be shared with other organizations and added to their common views so that their records and data remain up-to-date, ensuring they can make the proper decisions in a timely and efficient fashion.
Protection of secure information
Data and information protection is always important, perhaps even more so during an active emergency event. You must be sure that only those who need to see the information have access to it to prevent either mismanagement of the incident or an excess of panic and hysteria. It may be thought by some that in order to have a “true” common operating picture, all information must be available to all users at any time. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. While of course your organization may choose to operate in this way, likely you will want some organizations, some branches, or even some users to only be able to access certain parts of the common view.
For example, during a forest fire incident, maybe you wish to have officials at the nearby hospital be able to view the number of citizens who are injured or dead, while only allowing the Department of Natural Resources to view information regarding the breadth of the fire and the number of homes affected.
An online system providing a common operating picture should allow emergency managers to assign roles or permissions to each organization or user involved with managing the incident so that there is a multi-level access structure in order to protect potentially sensitive information and data from being shared with inappropriate personnel until such a time that it is required. Information can be primarily restricted to one user group (e.g. emergency managers) and provided to other users or user groups when needed. There may always be some limitations to the common operating picture in that it is only truly common to the core group of officials and it is this group who has the authority to decide which other groups can have access, however this method goes a long way in ensuring that sensitive data and information is protected and secure.
All the pieces
The most important thing to remember about using a common operating picture in your emergency management efforts is that it is necessary to implement a strict process for sharing and updating information. By doing so, you ensure all stakeholders have access to the most up-to-date information at all times and nothing falls by the wayside. Utilizing a common operating picture has the potential to greatly increase the efficiency of emergency management as well as increase the overall situational awareness for all parties involved.
A common view during an emergency is essentially like having all the pieces you need to complete a puzzle. Sometimes you may not need access to all the pieces, but when working together with the other organizations you are able to figure out where everything goes — with the emergency managers holding the cover of the puzzle box.