Pinterest preparedness

I, like millions of other women, am slightly obsessed with Pinterest. It completely appeals to my hoarder/rodent-like tendency to collect shiny objects and categorize them into perfectly curated groups.

I didn’t get really (p)interested until I noticed that other emergency management professionals were using it to collect and share news, infographics, and videos about the industry. Patrice Cloutier is especially notable for this—I honestly think I get 96% of my EM news from the things he pins.

But my favourite thing about Pinterest is actually Mommy bloggers, who post things like this: An incredibly comprehensive guide to creating a survival kit for your family. Or this: A Life Management Binder including family documents and emergency information.

https://i2.wp.com/www.thebettermom.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/householdnotebook-planner-organizer-collage-1024x585.jpg

This would be perfect for keeping in an Emergency Go Bag

Say what you will about Pinterest making people craft or design-crazy–I think this is a fantastic way to share resources and inspire more people to take emergency preparedness seriously. Even if your kit is in shades of pink and green, your family is more prepared because of it.

Some emergency printables

More Printables

Emergency Preparedness Board

P.S. You can also follow me on Pinterest

Job search resources

I’ve been back in Ottawa for almost 3 months now, which means I’m deep into job searching mode! I honestly believe that job searching should be used as an interrogation/torture technique.  Every one of my friends who is also looking for a job agrees that the process is endlessly frustrating.

One of my reasons for creating this blog was that it would hopefully serve as a resource for other EM / Reslife students. There have been a few resources I’ve relied on which have helped me in my search. I haven’t yet found a job, but they have definitely made me more confident in my applications, and helped make the search a little less monotonous.

The Prepary is a site run by San Francisco-based Jaime Petkanics, a recruitment expert who now works full-time helping people find jobs. After looking at about a million career advice sites, I can safety safe that The Prepary is my favourite: it’s clean, it’s simple and it’s written in a way that is both conversational and informative. My favourite article: 3 Effective ways to calm your nerves before an interview.

The Levo League is a career resource for Gen-Y (ish) women that offers career advice, job postings and mentorship opportunities. One of the best features of their website is an interactive Office Hours feature, which are webcast sessions with career experts or leading industry professionals. Members can email or tweet questions which are answered in real-time. An archive of past Office Hours are also offered on the site. My favourite thing about the site is that relevant career advice is offered next to (still relevant, but more entertaining) fashion and lifestyle advice. The founders emphasize the importance of women helping, rather than competing with, each other.

Google Alerts

I’ll be honest. I work my butt off when it comes to sending applications, but I’m lazy when it comes to spending hours trolling through websites trying to find that one job I can reasonably apply for. That’s why Google Alerts is so handy. I can set up search terms like “Emergency Management Jobs” or “Disaster Response Canada” and I get an alert when something new pops up on the web. It’s not the only way I find postings, but it ensures that I find some opportunities as soon as they are posted, eliminating that last-minute scramble to submit an application

Indeed.com

I actually just learned about this (from The Prepary!). Indeed.com consolidates information from other job search boards as well as company websites, in order to present a more complete picture of current job opportunities. It also saves your recent searches, which saves me from using the same search terms over and over.

LinkedIn

This is an obvious one, but I’ve discovered that LinkedIn stalking is far more fun (and productive) than Facebook stalking, for the reasons that it can lead to some valuable contacts as well as expose you to research and opportunities you weren’t aware of. I also like to look at people working in positions I’d eventually like to have, and figure out what kind of experience or training I might need to get there. It definitely provides a structure to my career plans.

Embrace change

Today, a friend of mine asked me to join her at her Interfaith Spiritualist church. While I found the service to be a little on the hokey side, the speaker said a few things which really resonated with me. In particular, he stated that while our world was changing quickly, we needed to embrace that change, rather than shy away from it. I couldn’t help but think that his message was incredibly relevant to emergency management.

With the rise of social media, new technologies, and increased fears about the earth’s sustainability, there are hundreds of reasons to feel nostalgic for the “olden days”, or a time when we weren’t quite so reliant on technology. Being a lover of vintage fashion, the outdoors, and classic movies, I have a longing for tradition as well. As I’ve spent the last year learning more about the field of EM and business continuity, however, I’ve realized that while we need to have a respect for tradition and tried-and-true methods, we can’t ignore the importance of new technology to promote resiliency and awareness.

Social media is a perfect example of this. It has been an incredibly useful tool for emergency management agencies and businesses outside the field. It’s also created a new set of problems which have prompted some organizations to believe that social media may be more trouble than its worth. The reality is that social media is not going away. Ignoring its applications will make you more, not less, vulnerable to its potential downsides. Rather than avoid social media in an attempt to minimize it’s damage, emergency management organizations need to embrace it as a tool to promote personal responsibility for the public, increase situational awareness for first responders, and a forum for the public to interact with emergency managers and each other to address their own needs.

There is a huge benefit to maintaining a capability to communicate using traditional means, such a public broadcasting and amateur radio operators, but in order to have a well-rounded communications strategy, organizations also need to be able to use social media and effectively address the new obstacles it creates. I suspect that, as with everything in life, a careful balance is needed to maximize the benefits of new technologies and traditional methods of emergency management.

New job! New province!

Ohh boy, I haven’t updated in quite a while. I have a good reason—I got a job! And I moved! Two very big things, and getting settled in has taken up all of my time.

I am working for the Red Cross in British Columbia. The position is related to Disaster Management, and I was so unbelievably excited when I got the job that I literally skipped around my house in glee. Quite the professional, I am!

I found out about the job on a Friday, and by Monday I was driving across the country with my best friend and a mutual friend of ours. Just the drive itself was an amazing experience, and I will probably post pictures in the next couple of weeks.

I’ve been working for about 3 weeks now, and I love it. The job is a contract, just for the summer, but I don’t mind. The experience I’m getting—not to mention the opportunity to live in this beautiful place!—is totally worth it.

 Another reason for the lack of updates is that I’ve been debating the future of this blog. I still believe emergency management is my passion, but I also firmly believe you should write the kind of things you would want to read. Looking back, I’m not sure I would read this blog if I came across it. I would really like to keep updating while I figure it out—but the posts might be more varied or inconsistent in the meantime.

Thanks for reading!

Alex

TedTalk: Cheap, effective shelter for disaster relief

A good friend posted this TedTalk on my Facebook wall, and I just had to share it on here. It’s Michael McDaniel discussing how Hurricane Katrina inspired him to come up with a better solution than an overcrowded arena for temporary housing.

I LOVE stories like this. About people who identify a problem and, convinced that there has to be a better way, work away until they come up with a solution. Affordable, comfortable, temporary housing is definitely one of the major problems facing emergency managers, and I love how adaptable the little units are.

Also, I suspect that this could also conveniently solve the problem of what to do with pets when people are evacuated, so….win-win-win.

Are We Ready for the Next Pandemic?

Last week, I drove down to Peterborough to volunteer with the Peterborough County-City Health Unit. As a part of Emergency Preparedness week, they held the above event, which included presentations from the Health Unit and Emergency Management Ontario on what the County and Province have done to prepare for a pandemic.

My main motivation for going down was visiting some friends and family and taking a break from the mind numbing grind of applying for jobs, but it was a very educational day. If there’s one catchphrase I heard a lot this year, it was “It’s not if, but when,” and that sentiment was echoed many times last Thursday. The Medical Officer of Health explained how the flu mutates and pandemics evolve. Something really interesting I learned was that the flu spreads much faster to communities along the 401 because of travellers and commuters. Remind me to move to the middle of nowhere!

In all seriousness, one of the topics discussed was how immunizations are one of the most effective weapons against a pandemic. I’m terrible about getting my flu shot. I’m not overly afraid of needles but I never think it’s worth my time. The one time I got the shot was during H1N1 when the community centre I worked at was turned into an assessment centre. I remember so many people lining up for a shot, and I had to get it in order to keep working. Of course, two days later I got sick with the worst cold I’d ever had and was convinced I was dying of “swine flu” anyway. But I was able to return to work the next day, which was fortunate because helping set up the assessment centre was what made me realize that emergency management was a career and that it might just be perfect for me.

Pandemic planning has never been my favourite aspect of emergency management, but I’m convinced it’s probably one of the most important. While the province is relatively prepared for most of the strains, there are some that we have no idea about. H5N1 in particular has a high fatality rate and while it hasn’t mutated yet, it may only be a matter of time. I love how enthusiastic Peterborough is about EM and preparedness, and if you look at how the city responded to H1N1, I think it’s really paid off! Hopefully the rest of the province agrees.

Lessons Learned from a Multi-Centre Exercise

About a month ago, I acted as controller for an emergency exercise that I had designed as a part of my EMBC program. The exercise I controlled for was part of a larger Multi-Centre exercise that involved three townships and the county. This exercise had been a year-long project, essentially like a thesis project for my program (which is only a year long).

The exercise narrative involved an ice storm, with my township experiencing complications like a truck crash on the highway, power outages, and house fires. (No skittles this time…)

The design process was complicated due to the nature of the exercise. Because we had 4 EOC’s running over a 4 hour period (with one half-hour period where all four were activated simultaneously), we had to figure out a way to deliver inputs smoothly. Eventually, we decided we would have one Master Sim Cell which would be separate from the EOC’s, and then three smaller Sim Cells in each township. In retrospect, this was one aspect of the exercise that I would have changed if I could do it again.

The night before the exercise, I could barely sleep, I was so anxious. I had been working on this project since before Christmas, and I was going to be completely in charge–all of our teachers and my project manager would be at the Master Sim or other EOCs. Fortunately, my classmate and best friend would be with me, taking charge of our mini-Sim Cell.

The day of the exercise, I drove myself and two classmates to the Town Hall, which was about a 35 minute drive away. There was a moment when I was convinced I had put the wrong address into my GPS and we were going to be super-late, but we arrived right on time.

As for the exercise, it went well. Being the perfectionist that I am, within 20 minutes of activation, I was convinced the entire thing was a disaster. Everything felt too slow, and my Sim Cell had identified a few problems with my inputs. By the time the exercise ended, however, I felt differently. The debrief and evaluation went well, with most participants agreeing that it had been a good experience. Though it was incredibly unnerving to stand in front of the ECG (including the Mayor, CAO, police chiefs and fire chiefs) and tell them what to do, it was also really cool.

I mentioned I would do a few things differently if I could do it all over, and here they are:

1) I would have one master Sim Cell. One of the biggest problems we had was communicating changes to the script. We would change an input that fire was giving, but have trouble updating our OPP rep in the Master Sim, so conflicting information was going into the EOC. Most exercises aren’t perfect, and sometimes things need to be changed on the fly, which is much easier when you have fire and police sitting next to each other in the Sim Cell. That being said, I had a lot of “on-the-fly” changes, which brings me to my next lesson:

2) Research, research, research. I spent hours upon hours looking at maps of my township, researching streets and hazards and response protocol. What I didn’t do was ask any first responders from the township whether my scenario was realistic or not, and I should have. The participants in my Sim Cell were great at improvising and coming up with changes (by changing where a power outage might be, for example, or fixing street names) but you don’t always have the luxury of first responders in the Sim Cell. The more realistic the scenario, the more prepared the municipality is for a real disaster.

3) Relax. I heard advice once that was something along the lines of “Prepare as much as you can and then relax.” Though there were things I could have done differently before the exercise, I genuinely feel as though I had no way of learning that until I’d gone through it. I’d worked hard on the exercise, and there was no need for me to get as stressed out as I was on the day off. Fortunately, I did learn that I work well under pressure. Any situation that came up, I managed to resolve, and even though my insides were a jumbled mess of nerves, I’m pretty sure I appeared calm and professional.

The best thing about this exercise is that it only confirmed further just how badly I want to work in this industry. The excitement and enthusiasm are so apparently in an EOC, even in an exercise. Even the design process was incredibly satisfying and fun. I just hope that despite all of the cuts I’m hearing about, I’ll be able to find some kind of position that will let me put this experience to good use!

Storm chasing from an EM perspective

This article, about how amateur storm chasers are getting in the way of emergency response, makes me a little sad. With the increase in mobile technology, it’s easier than ever for an average citizen to hope on the road and follow a developing storm, but emergency management agencies are saying these chasers are blocking roads and possibly putting themselves in danger.

Confession: I’ve wanted to chase storms since I was young. I love storms, and especially tornadoes, but I’ve been reluctant to take off after a storm for several reasons

1) lack of experience/knowledge
2) lack of equipment
3) My location, which has never been prone to much tornadic activity*, and my student budget, which wouldn’t allow for driving/flying to Tornado Alley.

While 1) is still true, numbers 2) and 3) are starting to change. Technology has evolved so that it’s now possible to follow developing storms from my iPhone, even just using Twitter. In the last few years, there has also been an increase in severe storms (including some that spawn tornadoes) in Ontario, as well as the rest of Canada. It would be easier than ever for me to hop in my car and chase down a promising storm (assuming I had an income to pay for gas, which I currently don’t).

So why haven’t I? It’s interesting how my emergency management experience has changed my perspective. I’ve become more interested in helping people prepare for tornadoes, in figuring how to effectively respond to severe weather, and discovering how social media can help (and hinder) both planning and recovery. I’m also more aware of the enormous hurdles that can challenge emergency response.

While I would still jump at the opportunity to see a tornado, I would only ever go with experienced storm chasers. I’m unsure of the reputation of tornado tours within the storm chasing community, but I’ve considered signing up for one before, and I feel like they would be a safer, not to mention more responsible option, than chasing on my own.

There are also several unofficial storm chasing “rules” lists around the internet, that could help make sure that I wasn’t exacerbating the problem. They also highlight how storm chasers can help with emergency response, by keeping officials updated and knowing basic first aid and CPR.

Even with those precautions, however, I’m definitely more reluctant to join the hundreds of other chasers on the road than I was before. Maybe as technology improves, it will be easier to predict what storms will do, and possible to safely watch these storms from a distance. Until then, I’ll settle for watching tornado videos on YouTube.

Note: After writing this post, I came across this blog, which really brings home what I was trying say, that storm chasing can help emergency management, if practiced responsibly.

*It’s also a lot more difficult to storm chase in Canada, mostly due to fewer roads and less technology, and therefore, storm data. That being said, this guy seems to do okay.

Almost there!

I’ve been really terrible at updating this week. I’ve been trying to focus on my exams/final projects. I have one more day (two exams!) of school left, and then I will be free! Well, almost. I have my last rounds shift on Friday, and move out on Saturday (which is sure to be insane) and then I have about 4 hours to pack up my own car for the drive home.

I have mixed feelings about the end of the year. For the last three weeks, I’ve honestly been feeling so burnt out and just ready to leave. Now that everything is winding down, I’m starting to get rather melancholy. I’ve made many good friends here, and tons of acquaintances I’m sad I won’t get to know better.

One of the best experiences in the last couple of weeks has been getting to know the new RAs a little better. Most of them are so nervous, and it’s funny to look back and remember how similar my own feelings were about becoming an RA. We’ve been trying to give them all the advice we can, but the truth is, you really learn as you go.

I’m looking forward to having a break when I get home, but I’m also full of motivation for some projects I want to work on. I don’t have a job lined up, which, while discouraging, also means that I can pursue some things I haven’t had a chance to in my six (6!) solid years of post-secondary education. I want to brush up on my French, volunteer with the Red Cross, and spend a little time helping, my little brother make his resume. Not to mention working on this blog! I really want to keep it going, and hopefully create some meaningful content. I have found so many good EM resources and articles in the last few weeks, and have had so little time to sit down and read them all! I’d like to share those, as well as some of my own lessons from this past year, in the next few weeks.

I have a feeling the ResLife portion of this blog will become smaller, since I will no longer be living at school, but I still have stories and experiences I want to share, so for the time being, I’m going to keep the name Disasters and Door Decs. I have been spending some time trying to think of a new name, however (mostly when I can’t sleep the night before an exercise/final–like now!).

I’m so, so excited for what this summer will bring!

The light at the end of the tunnel…

This is what the office desk looks like when I'm on duty

I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The end of the school year is only two weeks away, but it still feels so far. The next week is completely insane. There is a significant portion of my brain that this telling me to just bury my head under the covers and only come out when it’s all over. Another part is telling me to drop out.

Fortunately, the rational part is telling me to put a smile on and get through it, because I will be so proud of myself when it’s all over.

I’m currently studying for my DRI certification exam, which is tomorrow. This exam will certify me as an Associate Business Continuity Professional. Even though I’m not sure business continuity is the direction I want to go it, I know having this certification will be valuable if I do. Unfortunately, it feels as though there is too much to study and not enough time. I love my index cards, so I’ve been spending the last couple of days furiously writing out definitions and notes on the 10 professional Practices. Needless to say, I’ll be glad when it’s all over!

Tomorrow night I’m running another Therapy Dogs program. Everyone is stressed, and it seems even worse now that we only have two weeks left. It’s also getting to the point where some people realize that after this year, they probably won’t see each on a daily basis. This makes people either really sad, or really disrespectful, depending who you’re talking about. Hopefully the puppies will make everyone feel a bit better.

On Tuesday, we’re finalizing the business continuity plan we’ve been working on all year, and next week we will present it to our client. It’s been such a long time in coming, it’s hard to believe it’s almost done!

Wednesday is the most hectic day. Along with my group, I’ll be facilitating a tabletop exercise at an Ontario Ministry in order to test one of their emergency response plans. Our exercise is fine, but we need to practice the presentation aspect of it–definitely not my favourite thing to do. As soon as we are done at the Ministry, we’re heading back to school to deliver a public education program to our class. I’m doing mine on how businesses can help prevent terrorism. Again, my presentation is done, but I’ve been waiting until after DRI to practice it.

For those of us that are in the EM program as well as working in Res, we will then hurry back in order to get ready for the Student Leadership Banquet. I’m actually really excited about this, as we get to dress up and watch our colleagues receive awards for leadership. It should be a nice way to end a crazy day!

On Thursday I’m handing in the After-Action Report for the exercise I designed and controlled last week (more on that in another post), as well as starting work on the AAR for the Ministry exercise. Friday will be used for finishing everything up, and then Saturday is the school open house. Some of my classmates will be on the main campus, telling prospective students about the EM program, but I’ll be giving tours around the residence.

Let me tell you, I can’t wait to go home and have a break! I’m a little disappointed that I don’t have a job lined up, but I plan on spending the whole summer applying and volunteering, so I’m sure I won’t get too bored. It will definitely be nice to read books for fun again!