Recently, there have been an important number of crises worldwide that are more complex than those faced in the past. Recent crises differ from the past in the sense that they are unprecedented and that they are unusually large, crossing countries’ borders. This means that crisis management involves the immediate and effective coordination of many actors as well as gathering and evaluating an important amount of information from various sources.
Consequently, emergency services need to adapt their approaches, their plans of action, and their tools in order to effectively face these “new” crises. Technology is evolving and progressing rapidly, playing an important role in modern societies. Thereby, crisis management could benefit from the use of technological innovations which are nowadays available. But is it always easy for the emergency services to evolve and adopt new technologies or do they feel that it can act as a liability? And if they adopt new technologies, where and how they should exploit them?
A crisis management plan, usually, comprises four different phases
- Preparedness before the crisis, which involves among others, risk assessment and warning signs.
- Response to the crisis, which involves the activation of an action plan and the mobilization of different actors to face the crisis and limit the damage.
- Mitigation comes in, to tone down the consequences of the crisis
- Recovery takes place that can last for months or years after a crisis.
When this cycle finishes, emergency services move again to the preparedness phase, where they try to evaluate the efficiency of their action plans, learn from their mistakes, and gather data in order to optimize their crisis management plan. As already mentioned, given the particular characteristics of modern crises, technological innovations could be used in every phase of a crisis and thus facilitate its management. Let’s illustrate this with some examples.
In the first phase of a crisis management plan, communication plays an important role. It is important not only during but also before the crisis occurs. We live currently at the age of social media. Therefore, information from this source is available and easily accessible. It could be information concerning the prevention or detection of an upcoming disastrous event. Either way, it could be valuable for crisis managers. The downside to that is that social media information is not verified and thus not always reliable. This is why evaluation of the information gathered as well as more traditional ways of communication and information gathering should not be abandoned.
During the second and the third phase of a crisis management plan, in the majority of cases, a large number of agencies are involved, such as police forces, firefighters, civil protection, health services, etc. Mobile technology could be useful not only for communication but also for information gathering. Modern mobile devices are equipped with high-definition cameras and are able to perform tasks which in the past were reserved for computers only. However, again, if telecommunication networks are damaged, communication through this source will be disrupted, this is why traditional ways of communication should be maintained.
Furthermore, given the cross-border nature of modern crises, their management necessitates the collaboration of emergency services and the development of common management plans that promote interoperability. This is the scope of the “STRATEGY” project which is focusing on the development of common monitoring systems and situation reports and the facilitation of communication between agents from different countries in order to create common reporting and response protocols. The use of technological advances could contribute to this, resulting in more effective collaboration between governments.
To resume, while technology can be an important asset in crisis management, it is important that different technological advances (communication means, information gathering, and evaluation means, etc.) as well as more traditional operation tools, are included in a crisis management plan. This is due to the fact that during a critical incident/crisis, some equipment may become unavailable (e.g. if electricity is disrupted or telecommunication networks are inoperable) and the existence of a backup solution is crucial to the management of the crisis.
PhD Electrical and Computer Engineer
Applied Technology Division /
Hellenic Police Headquarters
Operational Planning, Cooperation and Exercises Department /
Joint Coordination Center for Operations and Crisis Management Division /
Hellenic Police Headquarters