DATE: February 16, 2016 11:47:26 AM CST
Houston OEM Hosts Annual Emergency Information Exercise
HOUSTON - Communicating when disaster strikes is just as much part of how the City of Houston responds as the first responders on the ground. By providing timely, actionable, accessible and accurate information, the City can help it's over 2 million residents make the smartest, safest choices for themselves and their families.
On Thursday, February 11, 2016, 20 participants from various City agencies came together to practice how the agencies involved in an emergency response would gather information, create news products and disseminate that information. Working from national best practices, the City's emergency information plan includes the establishment of a "Joint Information Center" for an incident, which routes all emergency information through a centralized place to ensure that the message is consistent.
"It was invaluable to have a table top exercise like this, with not only the lead players in event scenarios, but all city and related communicators whose departments and services will be impacted by an event," said John Cannon, Public Information Officer for the Houston Police Department, who has over 20 years of experience, "Those who communicate with the public and the media cannot afford to be unprepared to handle a real-life scenario in which facts and rumors in social media change by the minute."
"The exercise was very beneficial as it helped us gain experience preparing for, and responding successfully to an emergency," said Irma Reyes, a Public Information Officer with the City's Solid Waste Management Department, " We got to know other team members and realized how much it will help us work together to respond to a future emergency."
Houston residents can receive updates from the City during emergencies through a variety of ways:
- AlertHouston: The City's emergency notification system is used for both city-wide and localized emergencies. Registration is free and available online at houstontx.gov/emergency
- Local Media: Television and Radio stations throughout the Houston area will carry official information either through their newscasts or via the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Make sure you have a battery-powered radio to get local information as soon as it is available.
- News Releases: Members of Houston's media can sign up to receive emergency notifications from OEM or the City's Emergency Operations Center at houstongovnewsroom.org.
- Social Media: Following official City of Houston social media channels is a great way to get the latest information. During periods of emergency, the City will use the AlertHouston Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as post information on Nextdoor.com.
Your Family's Emergency Communications Plan
The City isn't the only one who should plan for communicating in an emergency. When disasters strike, sometimes our normal communication channels don't work as well. Houston OEM recommends that families take steps to make sure they receive emerency notifications as well as have a way to communicate with their friends and family:
- Sign up for emergency Alerts from AlertHouston (Don't live in the City of Houston? Visit readyhoustontx.gov/partners.html to sign up for your local agency's system.)
- Designate one out-of-town relative or friend to be your family's disaster contact. If an emergency develops quickly, each family member should contact this person to let them know they are okay. Oftentimes it is easier to contact someone outside of an impacted area than a person inside the area.
- Everyone in your family should know how to "text". Many times, phone systems will be able to send SMS text messages when phone lines are either busy or down.
- Be friends on social media. Social media channels are a good way to post your status in the event of an emergency. If you are able to access your social media accounts, you may be able to tell your friends and family that you are okay.
For other tips on being prepared for disasters in Houston, download a copy of the City's Disaster Preparedness Guide, or call 3-1-1 to order a printed copy. (available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic and Urdu).