Hold the flip phone! Outdated data solutions in disaster recovery, planning


Several years ago my mom, bless her heart, bought a cell phone.  Now, my mom is not what one would call “tech-savvy”.  She has had the same car forever, same furniture for 25 years (well, she did get it reupholstered), even the same pots and pans that came as wedding gifts over fifty years ago.  My father even has a coffee mug that he got about 40 years ago for purchasing so many gallons of gas at a single gas station.  These are not people who pick up on new things very quickly.  Anyway, back to the phone.  When my mom got it she felt it was a real bargain!!  Her current plan costs her about $20 a month and she gets about an hour worth of minutes.  She is quite proud of that deal.  Now, the woman has four children, grandchildren and even a great grandchild.  All of us use technology, heck, I work at SAS!  We have iPhones, BlackBerrys, Macs, iPads, etc.  We’re on Facebook, we tweet and, needless to say, we are a bit more up to date.  Ok, my brother is clearly his mother’s child, as he just got himself a new flip phone for the first time.  His wife made him get it so she could call when she needed him.  I don’t have the number yet. He won’t give it to anyone.  I think he is concerned I might actually call him.

Now, it is one thing that my mother only has 60 minutes of time, it is a whole different issue that she never turns it on for anyone to call, so, she is in no danger of going over her time!  We have told her that when she is traveling we would like her to have it on so we can call her and check in, but that would use up her minutes, and we can’t have that.  Now, I bring up my mother’s “Lethal Weapon-era bag phone to let you know that it is not just her who has not updated her technology in a very long time.

Hurricane Sandy is one of the costliest disasters in our country’s history.  It struck in our most densely populated area, and had major impact on infrastructure, displacing hundreds of people from their homes.  The famous boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ was destroyed.  With two storms in the last two years impacting the same area, officials there are acknowledging they must change their thinking toward storm preparation.  As sea levels rise, coastal cities will be impacted more frequently, in areas that have not traditionally been areas of high hurricane activity.  This means that decisions regarding mitigation strategies, infrastructure upgrades and better city planning are that much more important.

The storm’s likely costs will be in excess of $50 billion.  Decisions about how to prevent crippling effects to the Northeast will require updated data, technology, and solutions to predict the impacts of changes and growth.  It is time to use technological tools that will allow for accurate models to be built, future damages to be predicted and changes implemented that will mitigate against such crippling damages.

Big data exists on all of these topics, and analytics can be applied to look at potential future outcomes, and prevent future losses.  Analytics can be applied to rebuilding, growth and economic development activities as communities recover and expand.  We currently use tools that tell us what happened or what is going on during an event.  Technology can help us determine what is going to happen prior to the event, and predict impacts, costs, and potential outcomes of rebuilding.  We can use social media to identify trends in an event and anticipate needs before they reach the crisis point, instead of just using it to push information to citizens.

The recent trend indicates disasters are occurring more often, and are more devastating.  An industry expert recently told me that he wasn’t sure if emergency management was prepared for this type of technology.  It’s the only thing I’ve ever disagreed with him on.  My mom’s cell phone won’t help us to keep pace with these changes. We have to update our technology solutions to address these devastating events.


About Author

Chuck Ellstrom

Sr Manager, Industry Consulting

Chuck Ellstrom manages a team of subject matter experts focusing on multiple policy areas in state and local government, particularly health and human services, justice and public safety and finance. Over the past 16 years, Chuck has worked on comprehensive grants intelligence solutions, disaster planning, disaster recovery operations, and interpretation and execution of client requirements. He has extensive expertise with the challenges of managing large infusions of Federal grant dollars and projects into states. In his seven years at SAS, Chuck has helped develop several SAS technologies, including a major disaster management intelligence solution. Before joining SAS, Chuck was Deputy Chief of Operations for North Carolina’s Division of Emergency Management where he was responsible for the management of 13 Presidential Disaster Declarations and statewide disaster response operations. A former field artillery captain in the U.S. Army, Chuck holds a bachelor’s degrees in history and political science, as well as a master’s in public administration (policy analysis), from East Carolina University. Chuck takes advantage of living in a hotbed for college basketball but officiating in multiple conferences throughout the southeast U.S. He is also a proud father of a rising 9th grade “soccer star."

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