It is amazing how much technology has changed the way people stay informed about weather and natural disasters over the past 40 years. From National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radios to satellite imagery, it is a completely different world for emergency and safety professionals.
Staying on top of technology as it continues to evolve is crucial to emergency preparedness and, in Georgia, one form this technology has taken is the Ready Georgia mobile application. Created as part of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security’s (GEMA) Ready Georgia campaign, the app was launched in 2011 as a tool to help residents get prepared.
Technology – Then & Now
In 2011, GEMA recognized the massive growth in the smartphone market, and felt that creating a way to reach this growing channel was essential. Developed in partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Ready Georgia app became an award-winning resource that has served as a template for other state preparedness apps. It included a customizable preparedness plan, an emergency supplies checklist, a map of open Red Cross shelters, information about how to prepare for specific types of disasters, and other features to help users get ready before emergencies occur.
Technology moves quickly and, in the few years since the initial launch of the app, smartphone adoption and usage has continued to expand rapidly. Today, according to a February 2014 Nielson report, “over two-thirds (67%) of mobile subscribers in the U.S. [owned] smartphones in Q4 2013,” and they are becoming increasingly reliant on them. In one recent study conducted in May 2014 by Bank of America, 47 percent of U.S. respondents admitted that they “couldn’t last more than one day without their smartphone.”
The importance of smartphones was apparent during the 28 January 2014 winter storm in Georgia. With thousands of drivers stuck in their cars on icy roads, smartphones and radios were the primary means of receiving information and updates.
This growing reliance on smartphones led Governor Nathan Deal and GEMA to reevaluate and expand the Ready Georgia mobile app’s capabilities to help users during emergencies, in addition to getting prepared beforehand. GEMA – in collaboration with experts from the National Weather Service (NWS), the Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia Tech, and The Weather Channel – launched the redesigned mobile app on 23 June 2014 and already is seeing a lot of usage within the state.
Ready Georgia – New & Improved Features
One of the primary goals of the upgraded app is to give state officials a better way to communicate information to residents through their smartphones. Improved emergency alert notifications are a major part of accomplishing this goal. The new app automatically sends notifications about severe weather alerts from the NWS to users in affected areas. To avoid overloading users with these alerts, GEMA created a system that only sends notifications for the most severe types of storms.
In addition, the Ready Georgia app provides GEMA and other state agencies the ability to send custom notifications to users in specific counties. This enables a direct line of communication with Georgians if urgent information needs to be delivered about a natural or manmade emergency. Creating this direct line of communication between officials and residents moves emergency management into the digital era, meeting consumers’ expectations to receive vital information in a timely fashion via the smartphones in their pockets and purses.
Other new and improved elements include a traffic section to keep residents updated on real-time road conditions and an expanded shelters map. The new shelters map offers GEMA the ability to direct users to approved “good Samaritan” shelters, in addition to Red Cross shelters. GEMA officials are in the process of creating a substantial list of preapproved locations, such as fire stations and major retailers, which can be quickly added to the map in the event of an emergency.
Combined with substantial traditional media and social media outreach, the state of Georgia has never been more equipped to get the word out about emergencies. Staying on top of the technology curve is a challenge, but is necessary for emergency management professionals.
Charley English was sworn in by Governor Nathan Deal as GEMA’s homeland security director in January 2011 and currently serves as the president of the National Emergency Management Association. He oversees all state governmental actions designed to ensure mitigation and preparedness, appropriate response, and timely recovery from natural and manmade hazards that may affect the state of Georgia. He was a member of the G8 Summit security planning team and has coordinated the state’s response to nine presidentially declared disasters and numerous gubernatorial states of emergency.