National Preparedness Month: The Simple Way your Community can Swiftly Increase Preparedness

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With the bombings in New Jersey and New York this past weekend, this September, which happens to be National Preparedness Month, has already tested our preparedness. Saturday morning, a garbage can exploded near the starting line of a Marine Corps charity run in Seaside Park, New Jersey. What authorities believe to be a homemade bomb exploded on a crowded sidewalk in Manhattan on Saturday night, injuring at least 29 people. On Sunday night, a backpack with multiple bombs inside was found in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As investigations began, one of those bombs exploded.

Authorities acted quickly to scour the surrounding areas for other explosives, successfully finding and removing another bomb blocks away from the initial Manhattan explosion. But how can communities themselves be a part of preparation for potential disasters or terrorist attacks?

Last year’s theme for National Preparedness Month is returning for another year: “Don’t Wait, Communicate. Make Your Emergency Plan Today.” At Veoci, communication is the foundation that our software is built on. With the founding members of our team coming from GE, all working together to develop and run SupportCentral, the largest enterprise collaboration platform, we know a thing or two about staying in touch. So when our customers use their own creativity to implement new methods of communication and information sharing within their communities, as Susquehanna County did in our previous blog, it makes us think of all the possibilities for other communities to do the same.

Attacks like this weekend’s bombings in close-knit communities are not something to be left to authorities alone. Susquehanna residents now work together to report drug activity to the district attorney’s office using a custom, public form, creating watchful eyes all over the community. Any other city, town or county can apply the same method for reporting suspicious activity or questionable packages or devices witnessed by residents.

National Preparedness Month implores community members to do their part in being prepared for any type of danger. While small actions like preparing a supply kit of food and water for yourself or your family are always encouraged, at Veoci, we believe that bigger acts of prevention can be accomplished if community members communicate and work together. Simple things like Susquehanna’s suspicious activity report form can turn a scattered community into a unified team, fully aware and prepared for anything that can happen.

Susquehanna County Community Working Together to Report Drug Activity

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Susquehanna County, PA knows that nothing great can be accomplished without a little team work. So when the District Attorney’s office wanted a way to stop drug activity, they turned to the community- with a little help from Veoci.

Robert Klein, District Attorney of Susquehanna County, worked with his team to create a public form using Veoci’s drag-and-drop custom form builder that the community could access and use to report any suspected drug activity in the county. Residents can fill out the form, anonymously or not, stating the date and approximate time, location, and type of drug-related incident or sighting. They then can freely describe the incident and even give descriptions of the individuals or vehicles involved.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 2.30.56 PMOnce submitted, all of the form information automatically enters Susquehanna’s “Fight Crime” Room in Veoci, where the DA’s office can review it and assign tasks to sheriffs and detectives for investigation.

Since the Drug Activity Report Form’s implementation in the beginning of March 2016, 93 submissions have been made. The Veoci team is always extremely proud to see our customers promote community action and use our features as building blocks to create modern solutions to better their communities, organizations and businesses. Our software’s ability could be put to no better use than ensuring the safety and peace of families and community members.

Learning from the Past: Could Better Preparation have Lessened Louisiana Flood Damage?

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Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Last week’s catastrophic flooding in Louisiana took 13 lives, damaged more than 60,000 homes and has been declared the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy. In times of devastation, placing blame often seems to help make sense of tragedy. With unpredictable and unstoppable natural disasters, this is difficult. However, with the media content rapidly building on this most recent disaster, many say that poor preparation worsened the impact of the flood.

It is speculated that planning and permitting enabled development in areas that had experienced recurring floods. Agencies had also failed to complete projects designed to mitigate flood damage before the storms hit. After a bit of research on this flood-prone area, it seems like a classic case of failure to learn from the past.

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Photo: Louisiana National Guard

Florida Parishes: A Repeat Flood Target

Livingston Parish was one of the worst-hit areas, where 70% of homes suffered damage from the flood. This part of Louisiana, known as the Florida Parishes, is a repeat target for severe floods. For example, the flood of Livingston and East Baton Rouge parishes in 1983, where pounding rain continued for more than 50 hours while even heavier rain was falling north of them, and rising. About 5,500 homes and businesses were flooded, eventually resulting in $344 million in damages, making this flood on the Amite and Comite rivers to become the worst on record at the time. More major floods hit the region in 1990 and 1993, in 2001 Tropical Storm Allison dumped 19 inches of rain on Baton rouge and just last March, 9-15 inches of rain drenched the same area.

Lack of Action

Members of the Louisiana Floodplain Managers Association observed that the devastating 1983 flood was the fourth flood along the Amite River in an 11-year span and that the grave losses could have been mitigated had any flood-reduction efforts been implemented. They concluded that the issue was not a failure to plan, but a failure to follow through and act. Local officials began taking steps to improve flood protection systems such as raising highway bridges, upgrading levees and even approving a tax to fund a portion of the project by 2000. However, these efforts were not sustained.

Today, suburban sprawl has permeated into floodplains and all residents remain at risk. For example, 75% of the community called “Central” in East Baton Rouge Parish is in the 100-year floodplain. According to news reports, up to 90% of homes in Central sustained damage from last week’s floods. Many of the properties damaged in the flood are in local agency-approved developments within the 500-year floodplain, however, with no safe construction requirements and no effort to deflect development to avoid putting more residents at risk. Currently, home buyers must obtain federal flood insurance to qualify for mortgages in the 100-year flood zones, but properties just outside these zones do not have the same requirement.

Learn from the Past and Improve Before It’s Too Late

The time to improve is not after a disaster has happened, when lives and homes have been lost. Improvement should be constant and swift follow through on plans should be without question. At Veoci, our software platform is built on the idea of getting the job done quickly, efficiently and in a way that will inevitably lead to a safer environment, with features such as the following:

  1. Instant activation of custom plans- finish what you start: Activating your drag-and-drop customizable plan will automatically assign mission-critical tasks and send notifications to the appropriate responders and team members. Track every step of the response from its activation to the moment that it is completed, ensuring that there is no task left unfinished and no promises unfulfilled.
  2. Digital mapping- delimit risky areas: In unpredictable times of natural disaster, emergency managers and town officials need to have a broad, clear overview of their territory with a precise depiction of exactly what is going on and where. Digitally geofence and highlight color-coded areas of high-risk, active flooding or other concerns. No area is a mystery and complete situational awareness is maintained at all times before, during and after a natural disaster.
  3. Building management- monitor and control development: Every aspect of property management is consolidated and easily managed in the same, central platform as all of your emergency plans and procedures. Manage permits, applications, approvals, inspections and all building data in high-risk areas where the process is complex.
  4. After-action reports- learn from past mistakes: Test and evolve your plans to suit changing situations and needs. Analyze archived transcripts of exactly what happened and see what can be improved so that your team is always prepared with the best response and never caught off guard.

Disasters often spark temporary interest in learning lessons from the past. At Veoci, we know that improvement needs to take place before it is too late. Natural disasters are unpredictable and unfortunately we cannot stop them from occurring, but we can ensure that every plan, critical task and response effort is planned and perfected ahead of time, to be assigned and completed quickly and successfully. We see the importance of then taking a step back and assessing these actions and implementing better practices so that the next time an unexpected storm strikes, your team is ready with its best live-saving response.

Veoci Team Member part of CA Blue Cut Fire Evacuation

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Photo by David Groesch, Regional Director at Veoci

Today, firefighters continue their now three-day long battle against the relentless and rapidly spreading Blue Cut fire in San Bernardino County, CA, which has forced more than 83,000 residents out of their homes. The wildfire has now incinerated 31,600 acres, just under 50 square miles, with more than 1,500 firefighters fighting to cut that number short.

Interstate 15 was completely shut down as of Wednesday morning due to smoke and fire near the road. Drivers, including our very own Regional Director, David Groesch, were forced to take a detour through the winding mountain roads after hours of backlog. Dave, his wife, and his dog were driving back to their home in a suburb of Chicago after visiting their son and some potential Veoci customers in California.

This catastrophic fire is impacting a number of current Veoci customers, such as those in Monterey Park and Burbank. Some are deployed in the wildfires at two-week stretches, 12 hours a day, six days at a time. In times of natural disasters as devastating as this, responders need to spend every second wisely. At Veoci, we hope that the product that our team has created does nothing but help these brave responders do their jobs and ensure the safety of the affected communities.

Back to School: How Veoci Helps Universities Stay Organized

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We started using Veoci to help us manage emergency management response. For instance, as a virtual communication tool to collaborate with various members of the University and external agencies. Most recently, with the support of the Veoci team, we are now using Veoci to help us manage some of the facilities operational functions for the 24/7 Facilities Operations Service Center. As a result, the service center team members now have nearly all of the information they need in one place as opposed to searching for documents in binders, sharing handwritten notes, or information verbally passed onto them.” – Carlos Mercado, Associate Director- Yale Facilities Operations

With the foundation of Veoci deeply rooted in emergency management, and many of our airport, government, hospital and higher education customers relying on us to help them activate emergency plans and notify first responders in times of crisis, we certainly do not want to abandon our roots. And with Yale University being our first emergency management customer, why would we?

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 3.04.53 PMHowever, with a platform as flexible as ours, we would hate for our emergency management reputation to limit us to being a software that can only help when everything has gone wrong.

Don’t be in the dark- Yale’s campus light inventory solution
Yale University knew not to limit our ability right away when they needed a solution to take inventory of campus lights and the work associated with them. They knew it was time to nix their paper-based inventory. Soon after their implementation of Veoci, interns were walking along campus with mobile phones and tablets with the Veoci App, taking inventory of all campus lights and documenting them directly into our system. Should a light be broken, a work order can be created directly from the field via our Mobile App. This information is then available to be viewed on a map with color-coded icons to indicate the status of each light, the status of a created work order, or any other custom form information such as the building the light is associated with, the type of light, the type of equipment needed for repair, and a photo of the light.

Yale also implemented our system for their documentation and visualization of building information. They mapped building parameters and power sources, and uploaded each building’s corresponding contact list of grounds crews and supervisors. These two solutions lead Yale to create a complete system for their facility operations management.

As an example, we were able to create custom rooms that provide facility operations members with the ability to enter real-time information, which in turn updates the dashboard in the Facilities Operations Service Center side room.” – Carlos Mercado

Be prepared for the back-to-school bustle
After these unique implementations with Yale, along with help from other customers, we at Veoci recognized more and more that each day brings up a new batch of things to worry about, along with those recurring, tedious daily tasks that require the coordination and collaboration of multiple teams, a timely completion of assignments, and a transparent, big-picture view of exactly what is going on and where.

With summer coming to an end and back to school just around the corner, colleges and universities are gearing up for the annual mass influx of students. All facilities must be functioning to perfection, campus safety officers must be at their posts, and managers and operations teams must be in constant communication, collaborating to ensure that the welcome-back process runs safely and smoothly. Campus operations, facilities management, and emergency management and response departments rely on each other for:

  • Recording and maintaining accurate data: Emergency management, as well as all management and response teams, need access to data such as floor plans, power sources, and hazardous material information in each building on campus.
  • System status: Should an elevator be out of service, or any other resource or piece of equipment be compromised, this information needs to be shared from facilities to EM teams.
  • Preliminary assessments: Anything that can cause damage to campus, like flooding or other weather-related damage, needs to be reported on, evaluated and, should it become of real danger to students and faculty, emergency management must be notified to potentially activate the EOC and track the cost of damage.

How Veoci can help
With this constant need for timely and seamless collaboration, Veoci is proud to help colleges and universities get the job done and ensure safety with our real-time messaging, form, workflow, plan execution and record-keeping tools for:

Document management

  • Work order assignment and tracking
  • Asset management
  • Equipment and resource databases
  • Accountability
  • Inspections and assessments

Situational awareness

  • Visibility of operations, resources, logistics on an interactive, customizable GIS map
  • Support decision making

Planning and safety

  • Executing plans
  • Safety precautions

Everything that we do at Veoci, both for our customers and for each other, is a team effort. We never fail to recognize that nothing great can be accomplished alone, so when it became clear that we could connect our original emergency management processes with the critical daily processes of other teams, we ran with it. With each new school year, our solution and our ability to help universities stay organized, proactive, and safe, continues to grow and improve.

Palo Alto Manages Volunteers & CERT with VEOCI

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Nathan Rainey, Emergency Services Manager, City of Palo Alto, California: Our OES manages a large volunteer program, and one that we hope to grow even more. Having an information system that can grow with us is important in being able to not only effectively manage our membership but to also provide a means to utilize them in a day to day and emergency response role. The tools we can leverage through Veoci will allow us to more fully integrate our requirements into a single system, which is an important feature to us given the number of disparate information systems we are currently utilizing.”

Under the leadership of their Emergency Services Director, Kenneth Dueker (a Harvard-educated Lawyer), the City of Palo Alto wanted a better way to manage its over 500 volunteers and its CERT program. Reporting to Kenneth Dueker, Nathan Rainey, Palo Alto’s Emergency Services Manager, who has a long and distinguished career in the US Army behind him, coordinates public education activities and supports the administration of the Emergency Services Volunteer (ESV) program (more than 500 members). The program includes Amateur Radio (ACS, ARES, RACES), Block Preparedness Coordinator (Neighborhood Watch and other functions), Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Medical Reserve Corps and other affiliated efforts.

As it turns out, organizing and keeping track of several hundred people quickly overwhelms the paper route. With changes every day, lists get out of date and frustration mounts. Beyond that is the problem of communication. With these Volunteer and CERT teams, sometimes it is just a causal notification and at other times it is an urgent message requiring an immediate response. Ken Dueker, an innovator at heart, had seen the very early versions of Veoci and noticed the potential. So when Palo Alto began a modernization and digitization program, Palo Alto selected VEOCI as their platform.

Aside: CERTs

CERTs, Community Emergency Response Teams, are volunteers from the community trained and organized to provide assistance to the professional responders. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) maintains a website dedicated to CERTs with training videos, resources and other information*. With roughly one CERT person for every 100 residents, the management of the team by the town’s emergency services department becomes an overwhelming barrier. Over 1000 individuals in Palo Alto have completed the CERT Basic Training course. During past emergencies, the Palo Alto CERT has completed residential and neighborhood checks and provided extensive help in sandbagging when the San Francisquito Creek overflowed and flooded the neighborhoods. The Palo Alto CERT begun 17 years ago and has a very active volunteer program.


Veoci and Palo Alto CERT

CERTClass5_16_Small_1With Veoci, the Palo Alto Volunteer and CERT operation has transitioned to the cloud – with access over the Internet with a browser or with Android and iPhone apps. Over the past year, Palo Alto has moved to a digital  volunteer operation that overcomes the significant problems of older methods: It keeps the Volunteer and CERT lists and qualifications up to date while also reducing the book keeping, phone call and email effort while improving responsiveness and transparency.

  1. Managing the Volunteers: The application for Volunteers and CERT are fully online with no paper forms. The skills base can be updated by the individual members. The communication can be tested periodically. As members move away, the records are updated.
  2. Updates and communication with Volunteers: With the skills, certifications and location of each member, custom messages can be sent to each category by any of the parameters. The messages can be emails, text messages or even voice phone calls with both text to speech conversion or a voice recording. All of this is done within one integrated platform. Both email and text messaging communication are two way while responses can be recorded from the phone calls.
  3. In an emergency, Palo Alto Emergency Services can engage the Volunteers as needed. The automated phone calls and text messages bring together all or a subset of Volunteers  – by skills, certification, location and availability – to take on the task at hand. Veoci provides a single place where the Volunteers and the Palo Alto Emergency Services can both see the same information. Ken Dueker, as the Emergency Services Director, now has an organized team of Volunteers at his disposal.
  4. “Crowd Sourcing” Damage Assessment with Veoci from PDA on location: The volunteers were able to notify town officials of creek water levels in the winter months to help prepare for possible flooding while allowing townspeople and officials to prepare accordingly. With so many eyes and ears spread across the town, Palo Alto can keep a watch on just about anything it needs to. The controlled “crowd sourcing” with trusted and trained observers ensures authenticity of the information.

Next Step: Using Veoci, Palo Alto plans to add a member certification process complete with digital reminders for expiration dates to ensure that members are always able to participate and update any necessary training when the time comes to renew or further their certification and training techniques.

Volunteers and CERTs do not replace the First Responders; they provide backup services to the professionals as needed from its towns residents with transparency and efficiency. Finally, Palo Alto, with Veoci on the Internet and on mobile devices, increases the effectiveness of volunteers, reduces the effort to engage and maintain volunteer teams along with the overriding value of bringing the community together.

*The site states that “CERT educates individuals about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT volunteers can assist others in their community following a disaster when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT volunteers are also encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking an active role in emergency preparedness projects.” There are over 2,500 CERTs around the USA and FEMA also provides a website to find the CERT closest to you by zipcode.

Veoci: A Hit at First New England Fire Chief Show Appearance

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Although Smokey Bear gave high fire risk warnings this past weekend, Foxwoods Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut was perhaps the most fire-proof place in New England.

With nearly 2,500 attendees from all over New England and a center display of classic, big red hook ‘n ladder trucks and emergency vehicles, the New England Association of Fire Chiefs presented a three-day-long Professional Development Program that included various departments, educators, speakers and vendors. Veoci was proud to have team members in attendance, as the event provided a great opportunity to meet with current clients as well as showcase Veoci’s emergency and operating software to prospective customers.

Being new to the fire department software scene and the expo being our first fire-related event, we were anxious to set up our booth and promote the specific capabilities of our product to attendees. With the world of firefighting becoming more digitized everyday, the need for companies and stations to have an easy-to-use and affordable product is becoming more and more important. Whether it is managing SCBA, PPE or apparatus status and permits, daily schedules or inspections management, Veoci offers the unique ability to adapt and customize a software one hundred percent tailor-made to each firehouse’s unique needs.

Each person we spoke with was impressed not only by how easy-to-use and affordable Veoci software is, but also how simple and safe our high-tech and advanced product can make users’ lives.

Although there on business, we at Veoci pride ourselves on having a great time. Like big kids in a toy store, we were in awe of the fire truck displays, which thankfully did not have posted “Do Not Touch” signs. The exhibition held some of the most advanced fire trucks and EMS equipment the market has to offer today as well as other emergency apparatuses and firefighting gadgets. Unfortunately for us, we were not allowed to demo the “jaws of life.”

Our experience at the New England Fire Chief Expo is a culmination of the efforts put forth by our development, solutions and sales teams resulting in a product that we are proud to present to a group of people who do a job that many could never imagine. At Veoci, it is our pleasure to be able to work with everyday heroes such as firefighters and do everything we can to make their lives just a little bit easier.