Cal OES, SFDEM and Silicon Valley Disaster Working Group Host Disaster Response Forum; Align Leaders in Tech with Government Response Agencies and Nonprofit Organizations

Individuals from across Northern California representing local government, first responders, nonprofit organizations and technology companies including Facebook, Airbnb, and Google joined California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) last week to discuss how technology can better support emergency response and those impacted by disasters across California.

The forum challenged participants to share insight and collaborate on a more unified plan to prepare and respond to major natural disasters. As SFDEM Executive Director, Mary Ellen Carrol put it, “the worst time for us to meet is on the battlefield” of disasters.  Attendees discussed a number of urgent issues including interoperable communications between first responders, new solutions to support people who are under resourced, disaster response education and how to encourage people to opt-into notifications designed to keep their communities safe.

Community leaders highlighted that access to data from social media and geographic information systems is crucial to help first responders make better, faster decisions.

“Social media is driving engagement from the community, leading to quicker response during times of crisis,” CalOES Director Mark Ghilarducci told the group.

The technology companies in attendance doubled down on the importance of working closely with emergency response organizations to streamline communications in times of crisis. “We have the megaphone to reach people with critical information they need, but we need to work with state and local government to understand what and when we communicate out during times of crisis,” said Ruha Devanesan, Crisis Response Strategic Partnerships Manager, Google.

One underlying and aspirational theme expressed throughout the forum was, by working as a collective, participating organizations can better serve our California communities whether urban or rural and that this forum was a step forward toward the development of scalable solutions.

“We’re taking information from Disaster Maps and working with partners to find better ways to utilize this information and plug it into emergency response initiatives,” said Kylie Holmes, Manager, Disaster and Crisis Programs, Facebook.

“Disasters are local. Solutions are going to have to be regional and through partnerships,” said Sean McGlynn, City Manager of Santa Rosa.