Road Flooded, Power Out, No Cell Coverage? Your County Will Reach You.

Attendees at MACo’s Summer Conference engage in a tabletop exercise on emergency communications and hear from a county whose been through the real thing.

What if, when disaster hits, it hits in a rural area of your county with spotty cell phone coverage and no internet? That was the scenario that attendees of MACo’s Summer Conference session, Reaching Your Residents When Every Moment Counts tackled.

In an interactive session at MACo’s Summer Conference, attendees brainstorm the best ways to respond to an emergency when modern forms of communication are not available.

Emergency managers, communications professionals, and others worked together in teams of six to brainstorm solutions to confronting natural disasters when today’s many primary communication methods are not available.

Discussion included use of new and old technology to connect with residents from all demographics and circumstances.

Some old communication methods you might tap into in such an emergency include:

  • AM radio announcements
  • Emergency vehicles and bullhorns
  • Crank radios for residents
  • An event-specific hotline for residents who still have landlines
  • Runners (literally folks driving back and forth between the damaged sites and the incident command)

Some new communication methods you might tap into in such an emergency include:

  • Drones
  • ATV vehicles
  • “COWs” cellular-on-wheels set-ups from AT&T’s FirstNet

The discussion between attendees and the facilitators also touched on the importance of organizing response through the incident command structure and the value of working with authority figures in the community, such as elected officials, to disseminate emergency messages.

David Hays, Washington County Emergency Services Director, and Brittany Higgins, Public Relations Coordinator for Washington County facilitated the session which was loosely based on a natural disaster Washington County encountered in May 2018.

Delegate Ghrist, who represents Caroline and Talbot counties in the General Assembly, moderated MACo’s Conference session on emergency communications. Following the session, he related how, even though this event happened in Washington County, the scenario held relevancy for any county in Maryland.