The Double-Edged Sword of Email and Mobile Phones
Technology, in the form of email and smartphones, can help you manage an incident or exercise, but they can create dangerous lapses in communications.
- Personal mobile numbers and email addresses are used in lieu of dedicated channels, especially early in an incident, and then, when the owner of that device or address goes off duty or into rehab, all the data collected disappears from the incident.
- While the device’s owner is trying to get some much-needed rest, her phone rings from people who have it on their incident notes or ICS forms, disturbing that rest and delaying message transmission.
- Photos and other data files transferred from the field or elsewhere to that email address or mobile device is not available to the Planning Section and others who need it for situational awareness and a common operating picture.
- If you use multiple communications channels in an incident (WebEOC, email, voice, radio, etc.) either concentrate them in one area or determine which is the primary channel for each asset or contact, so that urgent communications can be quickly routed. Imagine that you send an SMS (text) message to a friend, and they reply by calling your office phone. Technically, they’ve replied, but how are you supposed to know?
- When using an alternate communications channel, explain why (e.g. no radio contact or cell service at your location) and make sure your primary contact is notified of your status.
- Consider using functional email addresses, like Operations@yourdomain.gov instead of personal email addresses. This provides continuity across shifts and allows better record keeping during and after the incident.
- Consider using a phone number from Google Voice (or similar service) that can be easily transferred from device to device during an incident, while still providing the continuity of data and voice communications.
- Develop procedures and modify forms for Radio Operators (who today manage many devices other than a two-way radio) so they can manage multiple channels and devices efficiently.
- Develop procedures for Command and General Staff functions so they can quickly assign communications channels and designate phone numbers and email addresses as easily as they can assign a radio to “Team Alpha.”
- Test these procedures in exercises!
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