New Brunswick org extends crisis app to outsiders

New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization isn’t waiting around for an industry standard to get everyone on the same page.

The provincial agency has chosen selected ESS Crisis software to support emergency incident management efforts internally and in partnership with local responder agencies such as police and fire departments. New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization (NB EMO) NB EMO co-ordinates provincial response operations during emergencies and administers disaster financial assistance programs.

Tempe, Ariz.-based ESS, which opened a Canadian office in Calgary last year, released the most recent version of its ESS Crisis product almost a year ago. The browser-based system includes automated remote notification with text-to-speech technology to send urgent messages to regulators, responders or stakeholders. It also ties into Microsoft’s Virtual Earth to map out aerial imagery of an incident site. Ernie MacGillivray, NB EMO’s director of emergency management, said the agency has been using some form of ESS Crisis for the last 20 years, and has seen the original vendor acquired several times during that period.

“It was a very long time before we had a feature set as good as the DOS one,” he said. “We evolved as the software evolved.”

Although ESS offers the Crisis software as a hosted solution, MacGillivray said the agency has opted for the on-premise version. That may mean more money for infrastructure, he admitted, but it also ensures administrative control, which he said is critical for an organization that has responsibility for the continuity of government services.

“Traditional emergency management was floods and forest fires,” he said. “Now we’re managing consequences of deliberate acts.” Among the big challenges, MacGillivray said, is ensuring that software such as ESS Crisis is interoperable with all its other systems, and that of external stakeholders in the private as well as the public sector. NB EMO offers access to its ESS Crisis through a secure Web portal, for example.

On an international level, meanwhile, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) last week announced the formation of a group that will address the full life-cycle of emergency communications standards from requirements capture to standard creation and adoption services. In other words, users entering emergency-related data in one system will be able to read data entered in software other than ESS’s.

“People are working on those lines,” MacGillivray said, noting that there may be other, quicker ways to accomplish the same thing in the interim. “RSS as a way of pushing information out to subscribers as well . . . the thing is, almost all of these products are XML-based.”

MacGillivray said the role of emergency management is expanding to include not only natural disasters but IT security issues, which means dealing with increasingly complex kinds of data. NB EMO has stuck with ESS Crisis because of the minimal training involved. MacGillivray said staff can get up to speed on the basics in about 15 minutes.

“We don’t have an emergency every day,” he said. “When people do log in, it has to be simple to use.”

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