Bridging Low Tech and High Tech for Improved Disaster Preparedness

September is National Preparedness Month. This public service campaign is run out of the Department of Homeland Security and is focused on educating citizens about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies that could happen at any time. The 2022 campaign has a theme of "A Lasting Legacy," urging people to "Prepare for disasters to create a lasting legacy for you and your family."

This theme of legacy also applies to how the government responds to disasters to aid communities in prevention and recovery. Increasingly, emergency managers are relying on Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and more to model and plan for disaster response. However, when disaster hits and electricity is unavailable, high tech solutions no longer function and first responders must rely on analog methods to communicate and execute response plans. Incorporating legacy low tech solutions into a high tech world is a critical challenge for emergency preparedness organizations.

Securing Emergency Alert Systems

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently issued a security advisory warning that the Emergency Alert Service (EAS) equipment can be vulnerable to unauthorized actors who could issue fake EAS alerts. The key vulnerability is EAS encoder/decoder devices that have not been updated to the most recent software. FEMA urged upgrades to equipment software and firmware to the latest versions and to secure their equipment behind a firewall as soon as possible. The fear is that a hacker could get control of EAS and issue false warnings. Accidental breaches have happened, most notably with an employee in Hawaii issuing an emergency alert that a ballistic missile was headed for the state. Looking at the panic caused by that non-malicious incident shows how devastating an alert sent by a malicious threat actor could be.

Balancing security and collaboration

Disaster response agencies face an interesting challenge - while they clearly need to protect data and systems, sharing access is also a critical part of their mission. They need to find a way to walk the line between security and collaboration. A key to striking this balance is updating outdated systems with modern communication solutions that have security built.

DuPage County in Illinois got sixty-two agencies to collaborate on a fully integrated, countywide public safety solution. This included computer-aided dispatch, records management, analytics and mobile applications. The system is capable of processing an incident from initiation through disposition and has enabled faster response times. Multiple agencies can now be dispatched in about one minute.

Ensuring connectivity in disconnected environments

Emergency response solutions are designed to work knowing that electricity and connectivity will likely be limited when they are most needed. For example, Project 25 (P25) radio networks and two-way radios are built to remain operational, even when cellular networks are down. If a device becomes disconnected from the network, it will continue to operate so first responders can still communicate with each other while unconnected from the network. When no infrastructure is available, first responders can still communicate radio to radio, using high-power transmitters.

Video cameras are also proving to be critical tools, providing before and after footage to help inform response. Even when disconnected, old footage can provide historical context to people on the ground. Drones can be used to provide video coverage when land-based systems are offline.

GovEvents and GovWhitepapers have a host of resources you can access during disaster preparedness month (and all year long) to get up to speed on the latest technologies and tactics for emergency response.

  • Future Cities 2022 (webcast; September 27-29, 2022) - Cities are on the brink of implementing big, transformational change. Powered by a historic influx of federal investments, cities have never been better positioned to usher in a new era of city living. Yet, threats like climate change, misinformation and the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic are looming and could derail progress. This webinar will explore how cities are bringing the future to today.
  • Don't Get Hacked! How to Build a Security Awareness Program for Your Agency (webcast; October 25, 2022) - This session walks through some of the reasons that security awareness programs are needed, including several case studies of recent cyber-attacks in which having increased security awareness through an established program could have made all the difference. It will also include actionable tips for implementing education in your organization.
  • Town and Gown: Partnering with Academic Organizations to Leverage Additional Resources (webinar; December 7, 2022) - The ability of law enforcement agencies to respond to emerging threats and future goals depends on the implementation of new operational initiatives, policies, and programs based on leveraging community resources and evidence-informed practices. This webinar will discuss strategies for establishing collaborative partnerships between law enforcement, academic institutions, and researchers.
  • Improve Risk Preparedness With Critical Event Management: A Spotlight On Government (whitepaper) - A recent Forrester Consulting study shows most agencies are underprepared to adequately respond to threats, despite overestimating their confidence in handling future risks. This report details the major gaps governments face when preparing for risks, how to evaluate your readiness using core critical event management (CEM) capabilities, and ways to improve your CEM and effectively respond to threats.
  • 2022 Public Safety Trends Report (whitepaper) - Discover six trends that will impact U.S. public safety in 2022, and key takeaways for community and first responder leaders.
  • Public Safety Land Mobile Radio Communications Security (whitepaper) - Reliable land mobile radio (LMR) communications are the backbone of public safety operations and key to mission success. This document focuses on the security of LMR systems, assets, and communications, with an emphasis on securing radio traffic with encryption.

You can find more information on disaster response and preparedness trends on GovEvents and GovWhitePapers.

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