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As an emergency manager, I often feel like a target for technology vendors. It seems that if you dabble in the world of emergency communications, seem to know your way around social media, and have a willing ear, you will hear a sales pitch or two about the next greatest technology that will save the lives of millions.

But I often feel misunderstood…

All too often, technology enthusiasts become very enthusiastic about their products and fail to engage me as a consumer.  In their effort to pitch the technology, they seem to forget some very basics about emergency management or worse, seem not to understand the pressures that any emergency manager faces in times of crisis.

Here are some key facts:

  • Most emergency managers don’t have access to significant funding streams.  While grants exist, projects conception usually occurs 1-2 years before actual implementation.
  • Most government emergency management programs are tied to county-based legacy infrastructure which means that as excited as I might be about a certain piece of technology, my opinion means little if my information technology (IT) department is not supportive.
  • Compliance with technology mandates like P-25 compliance and narrowbanding eat up most of the focus and funding of most emergency communications folks.  Following that, transition to iPAWS and common alerting protocol will be next up to bat.

Mix these issues up with work on community notification systems and it should be of no surprise that emergency managers get overwhelmed easily by technology endeavors.

Few emergency managers came into this career field with a significant technology background.  We are planners, trainers, military folks, event coordinators and networkers.  Sure, some of us are experimenters, intrigued by gadgets and like to be on the forefront of technology initiatives, but in general, technology must be easy, flexible, cheap, cost-effective and sustainable to find it in use in most Emergency Operations Center.

And quite frankly, “nice to have” is not good enough for most emergency managers.  Your technology product must be a “need to have” before it will find itself readily adopted.

And beyond the awesome capabilities of your product, it can be dangerous to presume a uniform level of knowledge about technology among emergency managers.  It is important to be able to talk about the benefits and value of your technology without relying heavily on tech-specific terms.  For some of us, measurements of speed, memory and outputs all start sounding similar after a while.

I don’t mean to paint emergency managers into a technology-agnostic box, but I feel like I dabble a fair amount in some of these spheres and still feel like my world is often misunderstood by vendors.  It is important to recognize the challenges that we face as next generation communication technologies and social media become more a part of the everyday landscape of emergency managers.

It is going to take patience and simplicity on the part of technology vendors and a distinct willingness to learn and adapt on the part of the emergency management community.  There are still gaps to bridge, but it is an exciting time to watch the evolution of communications.

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