Monday, July 28, 2014

Activating your Program

During the Spring Tabletop, it became clear that while many programs have plans for activating, many do not, and those that do have some significant shortcomings.  Although they were not targeted for the tabletop, I suspect that the nets are even less prepared to activate in the event of need than the individual counties.

In most counties, the EC sits on the county EOC, and as such, gets a page whenever the EOC is activated.  But most incidents don't rise to the level of requiring an EOC activation.  Many are handled by a single agency such as Red Cross, County Health or Salvation Army.  If those agencies need our assistance, in many places they don't know who to call.

The Red Cross in particular is somewhat problematic.  In recent years they have reduced the number of chapters dramatically, so chances are the chapter serving your county isn't in your county.  In fact, you might not even know who the players are.

Each EC should be reviewing those agencies that might service their jurisdiction and be reaching out to those agencies to help them understand what you can offer, what you cannot, and who to call if a need arises.

The other issue that shows up has to do with bench depth.  Your served agencies should not have just one phone number.  There should be multiple paths, phone, email, page, twitter, whatever, and multiple levels.  I would suggest at least three deep.  In some northern counties where many of the members head south for the winter, three might not be enough.

And it isn't sufficient to simply have the list of names.  They have to know what to do when they get the call.  Each EC should personally review what needs to be done with each assistant, and the plan should be written and available to all the members.  At least the EC, the AECs and the EOC station should have a paper copy of the plan.  Most of the time an online copy is adequate, but there should be a hard copy in the hands of critical players.  Each county has a slot on the ARES web site where they can place these plans, and if there is sensitive information in the plan it can be password protected.

It is important to keep it up to date, too.  Yes, chances are you will need to re-print the paper copies every few months.  But that is a small price to pay for being prepared.

This Internet/paper thing does get interesting.  Recently, Joi Ito posted a TED talk on "becoming a now-ist" (  The interesting thing abut his talk was that many of his ideas revolved around the Internet.  The Internet opens up entirely new ways of innovating.  My work with Fedora has given me some insight into just how powerful these tools can be for those that are willing to learn them.

But we have these competing needs.  While we need to be very quick to respond to new and challenging situations, we also need to be able to operate in conditions where we do not have access to the Internet.  Unfortunately, that has caused many members to totally distrust the Internet and be unwilling to use it, even in places where it is appropriate.

These days everyone is very busy, and getting folks together to work on new things is difficult.  Internet tools, especially those that allow for asynchronous input, can be very helpful.  We all use email, which is one such tool.  For many things, the wiki can be a much more powerful tool.

Back in 2012 I created a wiki on github to collect thoughts on ARES and NTS, and there is currently a page collecting input on the 2014 SET.  There has been a lot of good input on SET, but unfortunately only from a few folks.  A wiki is a web page that people can edit.  You can, for example, throw up an outline of some proposed policy and get your members to provide their input.  You now can benefit from the input from all your members to develop the policy more fully before you commit it to paper.

I particularly like the wiki on and for two primary reasons; first, since they are backed by git you can see the history of changes and undo any change, and second, they are crude.

Why do I like crude?
  • Crude means easy to learn
  • Crude means you won't waste time making it pretty, and that means
  • You will focus more on content than cosmetics

I have a slight preference for gitorious because it is open source, which means that if gitorious goes away, we can load the wiki somewhere else.  Internet sites have an annoying habit of disappearing at inconvenient times.  In fact, gitorious even provides a link where you can download your entire wiki to your PC.

I would encourage each EC and Net Manager to
  1. Set up an account on gitorious
  2. Create a project
  3. Create a wiki for the project
  4. Add a page for something that needs to be worked on
  5. Encourage your members to contribute

In fact, your activation plan might well be a good place to start.  (see this wiki  for an example of a starter wiki).