Incident Management Software
Current and Future Use in Emergency Management
Kristen Lovejoy, PhD Buffalo Computer Graphics, Inc. 4185 Bayview Road Blasdell, NY 14219 716-822-8668 firstname.lastname@example.org
ContentsIntroduction ... 3 Participants ... 4 Results ... 5 Social Media ... 5 Mobile Devices ... 6 Hosted vs. On-Premise ... 7 Training ... 7 Exercises ... 9 Daily Operations... 10 Interoperability ... 11
Purchasing and Utilizing Emergency Management Software ... 13
Conclusion ... 16
Incident/Emergency Management Software can improve how emergency managers plan for, respond to, recover from, and try to mitigate incidents in their communities. Most emergency managers use one or more software products to perform both routine and incident-specific tasks. Some use a hodge-podge set of software products not specifically designed for incident response, such as using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to keep track of resources. Others have developed dedicated in-house solutions
specifically tailored to their workflow requirements. Whereas still others have chosen one of the many Complete-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) incident management software solutions available on the market. Most of this paper will focus on the latter type of software solution, although the other types of solutions will also be discussed. This paper will explore the needs and preferences of current and potential users of Incident Management Software in order to help understand and improve on its use in the emergency management community. It will particularly focus on the increasing importance of integration with social media, the use of mobile devices in the field, opinions on cloud based solutions, training and exercise options, integration of the software into daily operations, interoperability issues, and important factors and deterrents for purchasing and utilizing emergency management software. In order to delve into these topics a survey was distributed to the emergency management community through the Disaster Resource Guide. In total 466 participants filled out all or part of the survey. Since a response to each question was not mandatory, some questions had fewer respondents than others. For clarity, the number of participants who responded to each question is included in parentheses either after the title of each table/ figure or directly after the particular question in the table.
466 participants took all or part of the survey. The number of answerers per question ranged from 466 to 76, with an average response rate of 328. Participants were mostly American (75%), including
participants from 40 states and Washington DC. The second largest group of participants were Canadian (13%).
The group was split almost evenly among those who currently use incident management software and those who do not, with slightly more participants not currently using a system (55%). Participants with incident management software listed many different software products and brands. In order to illustrate the data, any brand listed less than 10 times is reported as other and users who reported using a
proprietary or in-house solution are listed as “In-House.” Figure 1 shows the results. As one can see there is a large variety in whether software is used and what type of software is used throughout the emergency management field.
Figure 1: Software Utilized (388)
WebEOC 18% Other 20% DisasterLAN 4% In-House 3% NONE 55% Page 4 of 16
The ability for emergency management software to integrate with social media is becoming increasingly important. More and more citizens are posting important incident information on social media sites and looking to them for the most up-to-date news. Emergency mangers need to access and analyze this information, as well as post accurate up-to-date information to them.
Participants were asked to rank a number of social media sites from most important to least important for emergency management software to utilize. Participants were then asked to list any additional social media sites they believe incident management software should utilize.
As Figure 2 and Table 1 show, Twitter and Facebook are clearly viewed as the top two social media sites emergency management software should utilize, with Twitter seen as the slightly more important of the two with 43% of respondents listing it as the most important versus 34% listing Facebook.
Figure 2: Frequency of Social Media Site Being Rated Most Important (445)
Table 1: Importance of Integration with Social Media Site with 1= Highest (445)
1 2 3 4 5 Twitter 43% 31% 12% 9% 5% Facebook 34% 33% 17% 9% 8% Skype 12% 16% 22% 26% 24% Google Plus 7% 11% 23% 27% 31% Instagram 4% 9% 25% 30% 31%
Of the other social media sites listed by participants, LinkedIn is by far the most popular, with 41% of open-ended responses mentioning it. Some responders also expressed a hesitancy to integrate with any social media with responses such as “I think that integration with such (a) site is not something that
Facebook 34% Google Plus+ 7% Instagram 4% Skype 12% Twitter 43%
should be generally done given the possible wide access - needs great care.” and “None, including the ones above. Social media is a mass communication method, not an emergency management tool.” Others indicated that software companies should be able to integrate with all social media sites and be prepared to connect with any new ones as they become popular. Although it seems clear which social media sites emergency managers find most important, there are still some who question the overall importance of integrating social media into their emergency management operations.
Many emergency managers now access their emergency management software from tablets and mobile devices in addition to traditional desktop computers and laptops. In order to gauge which type of devices are most prevalent in the field, participants were asked which devices are used by their organization. As Table 2 shows, iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) are the most popular types of devices followed by Android phones.
Table 2: Mobile Devices Used by Organization (463) Phone Percentage iPhone 75% iPad 60% Android Phone 58% Blackberry 40% Android Tablet 29% Windows Tablet 22% Windows Phone 16% Page 6 of 16
Hosted vs. On-Premise
All of the major vendors for emergency management software offer both cloud based and self-hosted solutions. The security of cloud based hosting in general has been a hot-topic in the news lately and a legitimate concern for emergency managers who often deal with sensitive information. Participants were asked which factors are most important when considering the pros and cons of a cloud-based solution; Table 3 shows the most frequently listed factors. Nearly 70% of respondents listed security as an important factor. Interestingly cost or price were only mentioned by 4% of respondents, though cloud solutions tend to be less expensive than self-hosted options. Table 4 shows some sample responses from participants.
Table 3: Important Factors to Consider (354) Open-ended Response Count
Security 69% Reliability 41% Availability 41% Accessibility 14% Ease of Use 8%
Table 4: Sample Responses to Open-Ended Cloud-Based Solution Question
Security, reliability / redundancy and cost. Ideally a cloud solution should offer financial offsets to capital investment for an internally hosted solution
Security is the most important factor while second could be the reliability- reliability of the cloud service provider operating team. The competence of the cloud operations team and the quality of infrastructure put in place are hardly ever published or made available to the customers. A big cloud vendor name with an ill-equipped team and poor infrastructure could be more risky affair.
Data security and reliability. We are Canadian and our data must be hosted in Canada by a company that is out of reach of the US Homeland Security etc.
Security is the biggest issue, followed by availability from the stand point that you may have very limited access to any type of wireless options during a large disaster, especially in the first 72 to 96 hours.
For a fast and effective response, emergency management staff must be comfortable with the tools at their disposal long before an emergency occurs. Trainings, exercises, and frequent use help staff become familiar with emergency management software. To this end participants were asked about a variety of training and exercise options.
Software vendors often provide a variety of training options from a simple help manual to extensive training courses. As Table 5 shows, the availability of online training courses is rated as either extremely or very important by 69% of participants. The next most important type of training is considered step by step printed/online instructions with 66% of respondents rating it as either extremely or very important. Both of these options are training types that can be pursued on a user’s own time as opposed to more traditional in person training, which must be scheduled. This may point to a need to move from a “train everyone at once” mentality to one that allows users to learn at their own pace.
Table 5: Importance of Software Vendor Providing Each Type of Training Option
Training Type Extremely important important Very Moderately important Neutral important Slightly important Not at all Online training courses
(418) 31% 38% 22% 6% 1% 0% Step by step printed/online instructions (418) 28% 38% 25% 5% 3% 0% Tabletop exercises utilizing the software
(418) 21% 36% 24% 11% 6% 0% In person training courses (417) 18% 29% 26% 10% 8% 1%
Context sensitive online help (418) 18% 34% 28% 10% 7% 1% Video tutorials (419) 16% 39% 31% 10% 3% 0% Webinars on specific topics (413) 13% 38% 30% 13% 4% 1%
Of the open-ended responses given, many related to having a phone support line available. In addition to options that allow users to train on their own time, users also want access to “live” help when they need it. This again points to a need to alter how and when training is given.
Exercises are a crucial way to improve efficiency during an emergency situation and further train staff on how to utilize the available technologies. As Figure 3 shows, the majority of the participants’
organizations engage in emergency management exercises 2 or more times per year. Figure 3: Frequency of Emergency Management Exercises (420)
Participants who currently have emergency management software were asked to what extent their vendor currently participates in exercises and to what extent they would like their vendor to participate. Responses show that there is a large disconnect between how much participation users would like to see from vendors and how much they actually receive. Nearly half (47%) of respondents reported that their vendor does not participate at all in exercises and only 12% are happy that their vendor does not participate. More than half of respondents would like technical support during exercises, while only about a third (34%) receive this support. As Figure 4 shows, twice as many respondents would like to see vendors help plan, execute, and review exercises than are receiving those types of support. Overall users would like more engagement from vendors during their exercises. This again points to a need for a change in the way vendors view and deliver training and support.
Figure 4: Vendor Participation in Exercises (179)
3% Less than every other year 4%
Every other year 2%
Once per year 32% 2-4 times per year
37% More than 4 times a year 22% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60%
Helps plan the
exercises Helps execute theexercises Participates inreview Provides technicalsupport Receives reportafter exercise Vendor Currently Would Like Vendor to
Integrating Incident Management Software into daily operations is the gold standard for getting staff familiar with the software and prepared to utilize it during an emergency. More than half (65%) of participants found it extremely or very important for emergency management software to integrate with day-to-day business operations, whereas only 27% used the software every day, see Table 6 and Figure 5. Figure 5 also shows there is a wide variety of usage, with a third of organizations only using their software during emergencies.
Table 6: Importance of Integrating Software with Day-to-Day Business Operations (177)
Level Percent Extremely important 27% Very important 38% Moderately important 21% Neutral 7% Slightly important 4% Not at all important 1%
Figure 5: Frequency of Software Use (177)
Users who reported daily usage were asked how they use the software for day-to-day activities. There was a wide variety of responses to this question including “tracking and monitoring emergencies or situations that could become emergencies,” “sending alerts and messages,” and “since DLAN features a system similar to an IT trouble-ticket system, we manage all our emergency operations center and general operations projects through DisasterLAN.” These responses show some ways other organizations can utilize their software in daily operations.
Every day 27% Weekly 21% Monthly 19% Only during major
Lack of interoperability is often seen as one of the major problems with having different emergency management systems used by interdependent organizations, such as different systems being used by county and state level emergency management offices. To increase interoperability among key stakeholders, the US and Canada have both established data exchange protocols and standards. Participants were asked about their familiarity with these protocols as well as their relative importance in terms of compliance. Table 7 shows the results. Having software that complies with IPAWS is seen as the most important, with 60% of participants marking it as extremely or very important.
A third of participants reported being unfamiliar with MASAS, which may be the result of using a predominantly US sample. Participants are also relatively unfamiliar with UICDS (29%) and EDXL (27%). This may point to a need for further education about these standards within the emergency
Table 7: Importance of Compliance with Interoperability Standards/Methods Extremely
important Very important Neutral Slightly important Low Importance Unfamiliar with protocol CAP -Common Alerting Protocol (405) 26% 28% 18% 3% 4% 20% EDXL - Emergency Data Exchange Language (400) 17% 24% 26% 4% 4% 27% IPAWS- Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (404) 30% 30% 17% 4% 4% 15% MASAS- Canada's Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System (398) 11% 15% 23% 4% 14% 33% UICDS - Unified Incident Command and Decision Support /XchangeCore (398)
22% 20% 21% 4% 6% 29%
Because of interoperability concerns, some states mandate that their counties use a particular system or assist counties in the purchase of the state preferred system. Figure 6 shows the extent to which
selection by participants’ organizations is independent; even with concerns about interoperability most organizations reported having no constraints on their ability to choose a system.
Figure 6: Extent to Which Selection is Independent of Other Agencies (391)
Funding is subject to using a particular vendor. 11% Interoperability with another agency requires a particular vendor. 19% Our selection is independent of other organizations' selections. 70% Page 12 of 16
Purchasing and Utilizing Emergency Management Software
In addition to interoperability concerns there are several other important factors to consider when evaluating different emergency management software options. Users were asked to rank the
importance of a number of factors (See Table 8). Compliance with ICS provisions and standards is seen as the most important factor by 30% of respondents, followed by the inclusion of specific features desired by the organization (27%), and the availability of technical support (20%).
Table 8: Ranking for Importance of Each Option with 1= Highest
1 2 3 4 5 6
Availability of technical support (393)
20% 19% 25% 25% 9% 2%
Neighboring communities and other organizations you work with have the same system (393)
9% 15% 18% 13% 25% 21%
System complies with Incident Command System (ICS) provisions and standards (392)
30% 18% 15% 17% 12% 8%
System includes specific features desired by your organization (391)
27% 24% 16% 17% 12% 4%
System integrates with day-to-day business operations (393)
13% 19% 17% 18% 26% 9%
System is the lowest priced system available (393)
2% 6% 9% 11% 16% 56%
An open ended follow-up question asked participants if there were any other important factors not listed. As Table 9 shows, user-friendly/ease of use is the most cited other important factor (39%). Table 10 shows some sample responses from participants.
Table 9: Other Important Factors to Consider (103) Open-ended Response Percentage User-friendly/Ease of Use 39% Customizable 14% Integration 10% Security 6% Cost 5% Interoperability 5%
Table 10: Sample Responses to Open-Ended Important Factors to Consider Question Clean, meaningful interface. Customizable content including ability to build in a lot of detail. Timestamps for ICS forms and other entries. Ability to customize/add positions (i.e., scribe) and/or add drill roles (facilitator, evaluator, observer). Easy to understand dashboard and meaningful back-end data capabilities that export to popular software as useable, functional, clean reports.
Ease of use is critical - if your EM system is not easy to use it will be of little value to you in an activation if you only look at it a few times a year.
It's best if our emergency management software requires little if any special knowledge and training. During crisis situations, our EOC staff reverts to their level of training. If software mirrors that of the software they use every day, then it's easier to have positive results. Most managers use Microsoft Office software and have success when specialized software uses similar, intuitive
Other Higher Education facilities have used and had SUCCESSS with the solution. They have reported positive feedback regarding the interoperability with systems our agency uses, reliability and customer service by the provider.
Although participants listed several other factors as being more important than cost when asked about important factors to consider, when participants who did not have systems were asked what the biggest factor preventing purchase was 43% listed monetary concerns. Budgetary concerns always play a part in acquiring and maintaining software. Some of the other factors listed that prevented purchase included lack of education on different products, lack of buy-in from senior management, and plans to create an in-house solution.
Table 11: Biggest Factor Preventing Purchase (206)
Lack of Necessity 20% Lack of Technical Support/Resources 20% Monetary Concerns 43% Other 17% Page 14 of 16
Both users who currently have software and those who do not were asked how much they did or would expect to pay initially and annually for emergency management software. As Figure 7 and Figure 8 indicate, there are some discrepancies between how much participants who bought systems pay and how much participants who don’t have systems would expect to pay. For the most part participants who do not currently have a system expected to pay less for their systems if they were to buy one. This may simply be a reflection of the fact that smaller organizations are more likely to not currently have systems and would be anticipating buying smaller systems than larger organizations in the sample.
Figure 7: Initial Cost
Figure 8: Annual Cost
0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40% 45% 50% Less than $20,000 $20,000 to $40,000 $41,000 to $60,000 $61,000 to $80,000 $81,000 to $100,000 Paid for Current Software Expects Software to Cost
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% Less than $20,000 $20,000 to $40,000 $41,000 to $60,000 $61,000 to $80,000 $81,000 to $100,000 Pays for Current Software Expects Software to Cost
The results of this survey point to the diversity of the emergency management community when it comes to their thoughts on emergency management software. This may be a reflection of the different types of software utilized by the group, ranging from no specific product to unique in-house solutions. Although some emergency managers do not believe integration with any social media is necessary, most agree that the two most important social media sites for emergency management are Facebook and Twitter. Emergency Managers use a wide variety of tablets and mobile devices, with a slight preference for iOS devices. The hot-topic issue of cloud based solutions is of particular importance in the field of emergency management. Participants agree that the biggest concern when it comes to cloud based solutions is security.
When it comes to training on emergency management software, users prefer methods that allow them to train on their own time, such as online training courses and step by step instructions. They also want access to “live” help when they need it, such as a technical support helpline. Overall users would like to see more engagement from emergency management software vendors during their exercises,
particularly to assist them with technical support.
In terms of integrating the software into daily operations, although most agree it is important in theory, not many are doing it in practice. This is a problem since the more familiar staff are with the software, the more efficiently it can be used during an activation. It falls on both the vendor and the user to do a better job of integrating the software into daily operations.
Interoperability amongst different stakeholders is crucial during an incident, because of this the US and Canada have implemented several different standards and protocols for interoperability. The ability for emergency management software to comply with IPAWS and CAP standards is seen as crucial.
Compliance with ICS provisions and standards is also seen as essential for emergency management software. An additional factor listed as important in evaluating emergency management software is its ease of use. As might be expected, the biggest factor preventing emergency managers from purchasing a system is monetary concerns.
This paper shows there are many factors to consider when purchasing and utilizing emergency management software. There are several different COTS solutions available on the market, many of which can be customized to meet the specific needs of an organization. In-house solutions or fully customized products are also feasible options to consider. In the end there is no one-size fits all solution that is best for all organizations. It is important to investigate all options and see which software will best fit into an organization. Once a system is chosen, finding ways to integrate the software into daily operations, instead of setting it aside for just emergency use, is essential for fully preparing staff to utilize the software when it is most needed.