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3 Steps to Creating Innovative Disaster Response Solutions


Desi Matel-Anderson

Chief Wrangler of Field Innovation Team

The frequency and intensity of disasters are increasing, from mighty hurricanes to earthquakes and floods. Through it all, critical operations need to be up and running.

When preparing for disasters, we at FIT (Field Innovation Team) jump into our Disaster Simulation Lab. We use a process called “design thinking” to help emergency preparedness teams better understand the problems they need to solve, identify for whom they are solving them and why, and prototype how they will go about solving them.

Through this process, we encourage teams to think outside the box to find innovative, real-time solutions to a variety of disaster response scenarios. To unearth innovation technology and other creative ideas, team leaders need to understand the expertise and skillsets of their staff — staff that is empowered to help solve problems in creative, yet practical ways. An effective way to do this is by following a three-step planning process.

Step 1: What

Many staff in your organization may find themselves in emergency situations. Defining and outlining potential disaster scenarios and the challenges they will likely face should provide insight and preparedness strategies that otherwise may have been overlooked.  

Step 2: Who and Why

Once an emergency preparedness team identifies a problem it needs to solve, it can start thinking about “who” they are solving it for. Put yourself in their shoes. For example, the “who” might be line workers. The “why” could be administering power to minimize dialysis disruption for a health clinic due to an electric outage.

Whatever the case, once the “why” is defined, team leaders should empower staff to help prototype the next step: “how” they will go about solving the “what.”

Step 3: How

It’s important that we incorporate the four essential elements of a resilient emergency preparedness system:

  • Robustness — ability to absorb shocks and continue operating
  • Resourcefulness — ability to skillfully manage a crisis as it unfolds
  • Rapid Recovery — ability to get services back as quickly as possible
  • Adaptability — incorporate lessons from past events to improve resilience

There are four key phases in disaster planning: Preparedness, Response,  Recovery, and Mitigation. Leveraging technology and innovation is becoming increasingly necessary to effectively manage each of those phases. In working with emergency preparedness teams, we’ve seen many examples of real-time innovation once people are empowered to think creatively.

Sometimes innovation isn’t all about technology

Anyone responding to an emergency situation must also recognize that technology can sometimes let you down. You may need to go turn to manual tactics to resolve problems. It’s about collaborative exploration that pulls on diverse knowledge sharing.

Globally, responders have common knowledge of emergency situations. However, each community and its responders are dealing with their own unique set of challenges.

Want to learn more? Give your team the real-life tools to effectively respond to crisis situations. Attend the Disaster Simulation Lab at ICUEE — North America’s Largest Utility & Construction Trade Show, October 1-3, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky.  

Desi Matel-Anderson, Chief Wrangler of Field Innovation Team, [email protected]

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