State of Disaster (Part III): Technology

Inspired by Gisli Olafsson' post, The Disaster Manifesto: I Have a Dream...", I too am inspired to write about our transforming field as a way to focus efforts on meaningful dialogue, research, and advancement.

The state of disaster management in the U.S. is a cross between the capabilities of today and tomorrow and the conventions of yester-year.  Disaster management is at the crossroads of a transformation that is enabling organizations across the country and around the world better serve their communities.  But our ability to adapt is showing signs of strain and opposition.  This post is part of a three-part series examiningg the challenges associated with the following issues in Disaster Management:

In each post, I offer industry-wide recommendations to help advance the baseline and adapbility of disaster management. 



Technology is poised to change the way we think.  The advancement in technology over the past few years is enabling our organizations to do more with less.  Innovation is occurring at a rapid pace and it is certainly hard to keep up, most notably in Social Media.  But there is more to technology; technology that supports information, personnel, and resource management.  Technology also needs to be built with scalability, usability, integration in mind.  OASIS is leading efforts to standardize technology development in emergency management and other fields.  However, technology is Not THE Answer, it is only part of the equation that will help propel disaster management to new levels of ability and advancement.  

History of Technology

In the past 40 years, as technology has transformed corporations and business processes, disaster management organizations have adopted software to help meet the growing demand for disaster services.  Traditionally, organizations have purchased stand-a-lone software or had custom solutions developed.  The burden of maintenance has often rested on the IT departments of each organization at great expense and solutions have often lacked focus on usability.  Additionally, while more organizations are increasingly working with other jurisdictions and partners, the expense of technology has often been duplicated instead shared between organizations.  Today's solutions do not meet the complex and inter-organizational and -jurisdictional needs of disaster management organizations and partners. 

Trends in Technology

Social media is the big behemoth driving technological change in disaster management.  However, it is not the only transformation.  As we look forward, solutions are being developed with scalability and usability in mind.  Over the internet delivery models (a.k.a. software as a service) are becoming more common and are being accepted as valid disaster recovery (IT) strategies.  However, pricing structures remain similar and the cost of acquisition and implementation is still very high.  Additionally, standards don't exist for the integration of multiple platforms that are often used to round out an organization's or region's capabilities.  Integrations are largely custom services provided by technology vendors and add to the costs of acquisition. 

Future of Technology

The future of technology is truly an evolution.  Moving forward, customers will not only be looking for solutions that are scalable and easily used, but solutions that solve specific problems and improve specific processes.  They will also be demanding that solutions are flexible and have the ability to easily integrate with other solutions to help streamline operations.  It is unrealistic to believe that one vendor can do this all; and as a result, vendors much look to partner with complimentary businesses as wells as their competitors. 

With solutions that meet foundational needs and truly address problems, the cost of sales (and subsequently acquisition) will decrease dramatically as solutions divide into two major categories that work well together:  Platform and Speciality Solutions.  For example, WebEOC may meet the core functional needs of its customers with a basic, easily duplicated platform.  While they may offer additional speciality solutions, other vendors will build solutions that tightly integrate with the WebEOC platform for things like Alert and Notification and Resource Management.  Organizations can then select from an array of solutions that will better meet their needs while keeping costs down.


Technology is not the answer to all our problems, but it is a viable path to overcoming problems, improving processes, and reducing costs.   In order to do so, though, here are some recommendations:

I call on technology vendors and developers to:

  • Continue to promote and sell the Software as a Service (SAAS) delivery model, reinforce its efficacy as a Disaster Recovery (IT) strategy, and show its return on investment
  • Develop scalable and integrated solutions through the use of APIs, Platform Partners, and OASIS and other accepted standards.  Highly proprietary and closed software is no longer advantageous to disaster management organizations. 
  • Focus their development efforts not just on features and capabilities, but usability.  Make sure your solution is easy to use, navigate, and intuitive.  Work with your customers to conduct usability tests and incorporate new customer support platforms and strategies into your services to expand on the collective knowledge and ideas of your users. 
  • Ensure systems follow generally accepted standards for documentation, reporting, and information ownership.
  • Develop solutions with Federal and state security requirements having already been met AND streamlined.  For example, give more thought to developing and integrating meaningful validation processes for users.
  • Develop solutions that enable customers to have more control over the product without requiring costly customizations or support each time.   

I call on disaster management organizations to:

  • Critically think about ways technology can better support your operations and reduce costs.  While all solutions may not yet be available, they will be if you demand them. 
  • Engage your employees and staff in defining technology requirements and identifying ways to improve operations.