By Mary Kate McGrath - July 8, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the workers across the United States, with government employees are among the many individuals transitioning to doing their role online. IT agencies have worked overtime to ensure state and local workers can do their jobs remotely, acquiring laptops, ensuring access to wireless broadband, setting up accounts on virtual communication tools, and equipping individuals with remote productivity tools. Emergency preparedness training, which is a routine aspect of government, public safety, and public health work, can also be moved into a virtual setting.
Unfortunately, in addition to ongoing management of the COVID-19 public health emergency, state and local officials must prepare for other disasters, including weather hazards, active shooter incidents, and the opioid crisis. State and IT officials continue to adapt to COVID-19, and that includes moving training into a remote sphere. Amid the pandemic, virtual emergency training can facilitate training sessions and prepare workers for any future scenario.
While workers benefit from hands-on tutorials, many emergency preparedness trainings are easily adapted to a remote setting. Digital classrooms are created with video chat platforms, such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, or any other web-based meeting room. It's important for meeting leaders to familiarize themselves with the video service platform before the training session, to make sure the presenter is comfortable with the platform tools, such as muting attendees, slide sharing capability, chat sidebars, and other necessary capabilities for training sessions.
Administrators can better reach state and local workers with an interest in bolstering their emergency preparedness skills with a fully-functional mass notification system. The communication tool can be leveraged to inform and remind workers of upcoming sessions via text, email, voice message, or digital signage. Proactive communication will ensure that all employees are familiar with the training platform, and have the technology downloaded and ready to go before the session begins.
COVID-19 has resulted in unprecedented challenges for state and local leadership, and safety managers should continue to develop and implement proactive response strategies throughout the pandemic. Emergency managers can prepare workers for future surges in COVID-19 by investing in operations continuity training, contact tracing training, and either sessions focused on adapting disaster plans for the coronavirus era.
Continuity of Operations Planning. FEMA defines continuity of operations planning (COOP) as an effort on behalf of government agencies to ensure essential functions and services continue to be performed during a wide range of emergency scenarios, including natural disasters, accidents, or attack-related emergencies. The ultimate goal of COOP training sessions is to empower department officials to identify Essential Functions (EFs) and ensure that those functions can be delivered throughout, or resumed rapidly after, a disruption of normal activities. COVID-19 has rendered continuity of operations planning more critical than ever before, and as the situation continues to develop, conducting routing trainings or check-in sessions may be a best practice.
Contact Tracing. State and local public health jurisdictions will be responsible for training COVID-19 contact tracers, case investigators, and team leads as part of an ongoing strategy to reduce virus spread. Make a training catalog for individuals interested in becoming a contact tracer, and distribute the information with the goal of preparing individuals to serve in local and state health departments. The courses can cover remote contact tracing basics, including field services, as well as several important ethical considerations around contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.
Officials should also consider developing promotional materials to incorporate in communications to your community, encouraging people to collaborate with health departments to stop the spread of COVID-19, as per the CDC. Proactive communication and prevent the spread of false information, and a mass notification system can be used to distribute messages such as, “Now that we’ve worked together to flatten the curve, it’s time to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
ALICE. ALICE training for buildings and campuses is an exercise meant to prepare individuals for an active shooter incident. ALICE teaches individuals to respond to an active assailant in five steps - Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. ALICE, and similar active shooter response training, can be taught via an online learning platform, preparing government officials for an eventual return to public buildings.
Stop the Bleed training prepares the public to save lives if someone is severely bleeding, teaching individuals three key actions to prevent serious bleeding. Instructors teach students a 90-minute training course. Unfortunately, the training is better conducted with hands-on guidance from EMTs and other professionals. Officials can continue to raise awareness about the training and begin the classroom portion, while planning to hold in-person tutorials at a later date.
Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs. Many states have deemed opioid overdose prevention an essential service, training individuals in overdose recognition and response and protocol for administering naloxone on someone who is experiencing an opioid overdose. Remote one-one-on training is being conducted in cities like New York City, where residents of workers interested in becoming certified can meet with a trainer to learn more.
Severe Weather Protocol. During a normal hurricane or wildfire season, public safety agencies would likely run through evacuation drills or tabletop exercises to practice for a severe weather event. Practicing these protocols might not be possible in person, but running through scenarios and fielding feedback can be a powerful form of training, even in a remote context.
Lockdown measures and social distancing protocol do not have to stop your agencies from being nimble and prepared. From management of ongoing public health risks caused by COVID-19, to mitigating the effects of a hurricane, tornado, wildfire, or other natural disaster, virtual preparedness trainings will continue to provide value and returns on the state or local level.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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