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 With changes every day, lists get out of date and frustration mounts.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.
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
With 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- “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.