By Bruce Grady, Chief Customer Officer
Voltaire was reportedly quoted saying “perfect is the enemy of good”.
My interpretation of what Voltaire was saying is that waiting for the creation of a perfect outcome will delay access to the benefits of perfectly good solutions.
I have to say I am in full agreement. As a disaster manager, I have never seen “perfect” intelligence or unflawed data provided in a timely manner. What I have seen is an awful lot of frustration, a myriad of confusion, and lag in data that delays critical decision making and action.
In today’s world, perfection is becoming a liability. Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization, says: “If you need to be right before you move, you will lose”. Many times, speed trumps perfection. Perfection is the enemy of good when it comes to emergency management.
As former FEMA administrator, Craig Fugate, put it: “Out of all things in a disaster, the most perishable thing is time. A diabetic who needs insulin, a baby who needs formula, someone trapped in debris. These are people that don’t have time.” Emergencies and disasters by their very definition are usually accompanied by one of a pair of extremes – either no data or so much data that you can’t possibly deal with it all. This means that decisions can be delayed until we have perfect visibility of an unfolding event. Oftentimes, no decisions are made until all the unknowns are answered, all the variables are identified, and all the potential circumstances are considered.
Personnel in an emergency operations center (EOC) (above) spend much of their time collecting and collating data to provide situational awareness about the event as it unfolds and produce a common operating picture.
This data may be coming from weather models, media reports, satellite imagery, or boots on the ground damage assessments. But the challenge is that collating data costs more time and valuable resources during an emergency. If those boots on the ground are busy and deployed collecting data about where the flood damage is, they risk being unavailable to support with lifesaving activities such as swift water rescues or distributing critical supplies to vulnerable people.
Each of us in emergency management know that the earlier we can commence serving the impacted public the likelihood that a better outcome is improved. The sooner we have situational awareness about the impact of the disaster (i.e., what roads are damaged, how many properties are impacted, and how many vulnerable people need support), the sooner we can focus and deploy resources on an effective response and recovery.
Juan Enriquez, Managing Director of Excel Venture Management, recently offered advice to leaders in times of crisis: "[You] have to start thinking like surgeons. A surgeon doesn’t go in thinking, ‘This is going to hurt, and the recovery over the next two months is going to hurt.’ A surgeon goes in saying ‘To save the patient’s life this is the operation we have to carry out.’” That’s exactly the mentality you must have as a leader.
The surgeon knows that over time the surgical techniques, diagnostics, and drugs will all improve. But they must decide a course of action now. Right now, they need to apply the best procedures that the team has information on, has practiced, and is competent for.
Disaster managers would do well to take a similar approach. They also owe it to the people they are here to protect to ensure they are doing the best job that they can, with the tools that they have, at the earliest time possible. A delayed response equates to suffering.
Far too often we hear disaster managers apply last century approaches, such as: "the technology is not yet perfect, so we will wait”.
In that context, let’s look at current emergency management practices. These may not be uniform, but these are all genuine examples. Many emergency managers:
Wait (for maybe 2-3 days) to get reports off the ground, to collate a situation report, and analyze the data – and then mount a response.
Delay the establishment of evacuation centers.
Don’t respond to the event, but dispatch first responders as needed to citizens in trouble.
Send responders’ vehicles to flooded roads, who get cut off from returning to the EOC.
Don’t progressively establish and position response and recovery teams to be ready to go.
Using FloodMapp products, emergency managers are now successfully:
Accessing ForeCast flood extent and/or depth 24 hours ahead of time to proactively position first responders throughout the area of impact and respond as the event unfolds.
Overlaying ForeCast extent and/or depth with informative geospatial data to create dynamic situation reports of properties at risk of impact in the next 24 hours and plan life saving measures such as targeted evacuations or proactive road closures in anticipation of flooding.
Reviewing the NowCast flood extent and/or depth with the road network and property data to establish evacuation centers and evacuation routes, safely re-route traffic around flooded roads, or coordinate safe and efficient swift water rescue deployments by knowing where boats can be safely put in the water.
Evaluating PostCast flood extent and/or depth against building or damage datasets to identify the number of impacted structures and projected damages to support in disaster declarations or public assistance.
All of FloodMapp’s data supports the ability to make earlier decisions based on live flooding data. If decisions are not able to be made, then the data can help to focus attention on specific locations and risks.
We can move from slow and bureaucratic approaches to disaster management to fast and dynamic responses. Models that update in real time, consuming live data, is the new way forward. Live mapping that can be quickly analyzed to show flood extent and/or depth, associated consequences, and resulting impact creates context and drives informed decisions.
“I look forward to exploring with FloodMapp how their predictive and real-time flood analysis can improve our understanding of major flood events as they unfold... Timely decision making is critical to support our policyholders as they face devastation from flooding and begin their recovery.”
- Jeffrey Jackson, FEMA's Acting Assistant Administrator
for Federal Insurance
FloodMapp does not claim perfection. No flood model can ever be 100% accurate. Models will always have limitations and may at times under- or over-predict a flood extent.
What FloodMapp does strive for is continuous improvement. We listen to our customers and our markets. We work closely with emergency managers to understand their locality and provide reporting on the model accuracy in their area, and we work with them to improve model accuracy with their post-event damage or impact datasets. We try to understand needs of a community to progress the technology that is delivered to them. We work in partnership with innovators to try and continue to add more value through new or better features.
“FloodMapp’s technology provides affordable, citywide situational awareness that current solutions, such as sensor networks alone, don’t offer.”
- Kyle Spencer, City of Norfolk
The best emergency management comes with good tools used by clever people. Good emergency managers are always searching for the best tools to make tomorrow’s decisions better than today’s. Don’t be caught in the trap of waiting for perfection when good is already within reach.
As Craig Fugate puts it: “Think big, go big, go fast, be smart about it”.
To learn more about how FloodMapp is helping emergency managers make better decisions before, during, and after a flood event, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.