`THE WHOLE COMMUNITY RESPONDS' Harsh and sometimes horrific experiences with local disasters – not just terror, but more commonplace weather and other emergencies – have taught America's cities and counties a lesson of tremendous import. Our local First Responders – police, fire, and emergency management personnel – can no longer shoulder the primary burden of homeland security and disaster preparedness. From preparation and prevention to response, recovery, and analysis, it takes the whole community to cope with the threat of large-scale emergencies.
“The Whole Community” means just that – all of local government as well as the citizenry, businesses, private-sector agencies, and local operatives of state and federal government. Just look inside one of the new emergency operations centers (EOCs) popping up in major municipalities across the nation. When Houston fully activated its year-old EOC for the 2004 Super Bowl, for instance, senior representatives of some three-dozen public and private agencies joined the mayor in the multi- million-dollar, high-security, state-of-the-art facility. Outside the EOC, Houston's Customer Service Request Management (CSRM) system coordinated activities of thousands of city personnel, while its 3-1-1 center for city services handled thousands more non-emergency calls for help and information from citizens and visitors. All together, this enormous technology-enabled collaborative effort ensured security during four days of exuberant festivities in America's fourth largest city.
Houston's new Emergency Communications Center houses the city's high-security, state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center.
Director Gloria Bingham, with an operator in Houston's 3-1-1 call center, insists on outstanding customer service. “You have to practice being nice every day,” she says. “Daily service builds the credibility needed in a disaster. There's nothing worse in a disaster than losing credibility.”
The same 3-1-1 call center and CSRM technology that helped Houston prevent disaster during the NFL championship also helped the whole city collaborate and cope with inundation during 2001's Tropical Storm Allison. The 3-1-1 call center staff used CSRM to intake and track through completion the thousands citizens' service requests during the storm's floods and for the months of recovery efforts after the storm. CSRM handled a record numbers of requests – especially for bulk pick-up of items such as rotting carpet, damaged furniture and appliances, spoiled food, and storm debris – by routing requests electronically to the responsible city departments and tracking each individual request through to completion. CSRM even provided detailed accounting of clean-up efforts as required for disaster relief funding from the State of Texas and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).