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Emergency Lifelines Workshop & Tabletop Recap

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Pictured from left to right, Charles McCobb, Mary Hudak, Helena Mitchell (moderator), and Sue Loeffler.

Emergency Lifelines Workshop & Tabletop Recap

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies (Wireless RERC) hosted an Emergency Lifelines Workshop & Tabletop on April 14, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Emergency Lifelines Workshop & Tabletop was coordinated by Christina Touzet and held at the Georgia Tech Research Institute Conference Center. Forty-four (44) individuals representing local, state, federal and academic leaders who play a role in emergency communications were in attendance. This one day workshop heightened awareness among stakeholders about the need for accessible emergency communications and feasible approaches to ensure timely lifesaving information from the public safety officials is sent to people with disabilities.

The day began with two panels in the morning. The first panel gave an Update on Federal, State, and Local Emergency Communications, moderated by Helena Mitchell, Ph.D. The panelists included: Charles McCobb, Mary Hudak, and Susan Loeffler. Charles McCobb, from IPAWS - FEMA / DHS, gave an overview of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) and the common alerting protocol. Charles also discussed the future of emergency notification systems, and leveraging communications pathways via connected devices. Mary Hudak explained the regional level emergency communications operations and specifically how critical it is to engage the “whole community.” In order to engage with the “whole community” it is important to work with independent living centers in each state and offer assistive technology at the disaster recovery centers. “We aim to give the right information at the right time so people can make the right decisions.” Susan Loeffler provided insight on how DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency utilizes Code Red, social media and coordination with local organizations to reach their population of people with disabilities. DeKalb County issues Code Red, however only 5% of the population has opted in; as a result they are in the process of becoming an IPAWS alerting authority. Director Loeffler discussed how critical it is to create an initiative to get preparedness information out in the school system and to reach the kids who will share the information with their parents.

The second panel discussed State and Local Initiatives, moderated by Rick Wimberly, Galain Solutions. The panelists included: Wayne Smith, Betsy Kagey, Ph.D., Jennifer Hogan, and Kay Chiodo. Wayne Smith, Georgia Emergency Management Agency, provided insight about how the state level coordinates with the local level for emergency communications purposes. Betsy Kagey spoke about the Georgia Department of Public Health Emergency Communications initiatives and use of GIS to make responders aware of the medically at risk non-institutionalized population. Georgia has 159 counties and 18 health districts, it is necessary to connect with the populations that do not use social media and also the populations that are homebound. Jennifer Hogan spoke about the Georgia Emergency Preparedness Coalition for Older Adults and Individuals with Disabilities. She provided tips guides to attendees that provide tips for awareness to identify the unique needs of people with disabilities in an emergency. The quick reference provides specific, practical tips for working with people who have a wide range of disabilities. Kay Chiodo, CEO of DeafLink educated the audience on accessible emergency communications and how important it is to incorporate ASL video features into emergency alerts.

Following the two panels, at lunch time, was a poster and demo session for attendees to experience emergency communications research, technology, and additional resources. Demos included: Hamilton/Georgia Relay, FEMA IPAWS, FEMA Region IV, Georgia Emergency Preparedness Coalition, Accessible Weather App, Deaf Link Inc., Wireless RERC Research, and Accessible Wireless Emergency Alerts with ASL video feature, etc.

In the afternoon the Winter Storm Tabletop Exercise – a Discovery & Exploration was facilitated by Thomas Kempton, an emergency management consultant for the Wireless RERC. The tabletop exercise consisted of modules that reviewed different types of winter weather alerts, warnings and watches. Each table was able to discuss each of the modules as a table and troubleshoot different efforts made by agencies in relation to emergency communications. Each table discussed issues that could arise and how to communicate in an accessible manner throughout the alert and warning stages.

This tabletop exercise featured actual NWS generated weather watches and weather warnings for a winter storm in the Atlanta metro area.  After presentation of each input the moderator posed a series of questions and each table was given time to discuss and then report out on what their discussions had revealed.

Attendees reported countless benefits from the day, including: greater awareness, networking, expanding horizons, gained knowledge in new areas, learned how to communicate with different agencies, excellent opportunity to learn from other experts and share mutual experiences and lessons learned, learned various challenges related to inclusion of people with disabilities or access and functional needs.

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The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies is sponsored by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under grant number 90RE5007-01-00. The opinions contained in this website are those of the Wireless RERC and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or NIDILRR.