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Public Safety Series: EOCs Harness Video to Improve Emergency Response

Last month, I had the opportunity to speak with PoliceOne about how Cisco solutions are helping to improve public safety in an area most people aren’t aware of: emergency operations centers. Emergency operations centers, or EOCs, are the center of disaster response efforts, helping to coordinate the first responders and distribute information to decision-makers in a chaotic emergency situation. EOCs facilitate communication across agencies to allow for coordinated efforts. And in an emergency situation, which is hectic and can be confusing, the clear communication and up-to-date information an EOC providers is vital to helping mitigate the disaster.

Since speed, accuracy and collaboration are all crucial to an EOC’s mission, the centers are constantly investing in new technologies to help them improve in these areas. In more recent years, one of the most effective collaboration technologies EOCs have harnesses is video. Why video? Video improves data gathering, which leads to more increased situational awareness, which ultimately allows for a more coordinated response.

The types of video systems vary. Digital signage, for one example, can be used to display information such as television streams, maps or graphs on a large screen visible by all in the EOC. This type of video system also can function as a display for group videoconference that allows agencies on the local, state and federal level to coordinate quickly and clearly.

A video collaboration tool like Cisco WebEx enables users to share the information on their computer screen while engaging in desktop-quality video chat, and Cisco TelePresence allows for high-quality online face-to-face conferencing. Using these technologies helps build relationships and ensure communication is clearer, as body language can be interpreted and expressions shared.

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In a Disaster, The First Responder May Be You

On March 11, when Japan suffered a one-two punch — first from an 9.0 earthquake and then a devastating tsunami — more than 1,200 tweets per minute were sent from Tokyo, according to Mashable.   More recently in May, after a terrible tornado hit Joplin, Missouri with full force, killing 145, several FaceBook pages were rapidly created by citizens and their families and friends to post pictures of the missing, share news of loved ones,  information about conditions on the ground, and messages about supplies, shelter and support.

Social media networks are transforming how people give and receive help and information during disasters.  People aren’t waiting for direction from government and humanitarian agencies; they are turning to each other using mobile devices and social networks. In the dark world of disasters, this emerging trend is challenging old assumptions and can and will, I believe, will help focus, support and strengthen the efforts of trained first responders  (both volunteer and professional)  to get to where they are most needed and put their expertise to maximum use.  Social media and the networks that underpin it simply allow more people to support each other.

Cisco CEO John Chambers discussed the value of secure collaboration in a networked world last week at a National Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and Homeland Security conference in San Francisco. John talked about the role the network will play in being able to securely provide relevant timely information to response agencies. He also conducted a scenario demonstration of what would happen should an emergency arise, using the upcoming America’s Cup Race in San Francisco as an example.

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