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Technology Builds Bridges in Waldo County

 

March 11, 2008

 

In emergency management, one of Maine’s smallest counties has become among the most technologically advanced.

Waldo County Emergency Management recently brought online E-Studio, an online collaboration and networking portal to build connections through technology with local emergency managers, fire personnel, police officers and other first responders.

E-Studio, an online project management and collaboration suite, is a secure, password protected space in which users can interact, share materials, an organize activities. It features a calendar, chat and discussion boards, file upload and download space, and a task tracker. For Waldo County Emergency Management, the system has greatly improved their operations. “E-Studio has given us the ability to get more information out,” said Dale Rowley, the county emergency management director, “and the ability to speed things up.”

Rowley said the system, while advanced and customizable, is easy to learn and use. “It is incredibly user friendly,” he said. “They have several manuals for this, but I’ve never used them.”

Purchasing and integrating the system was neither expensive, nor time consuming. “I found out that it was only going to cost me $500 a year,” Rowley said. “It took me two hours to set up. It’s perfect for us.”

Using an online system allows the county to leave behind older technology like fax machines. “It’s so much easier to use email and the internet instead of fax,” Rowley said, using fire personnel as an example. “Most of the fire chiefs do not have faxes at home, or even at the fire station. They have to pick up faxes at the town office, usually several days later,” he said. By the time fire chiefs and local emergency managers receive faxes, Rowley said the information is likely outdated.

Municipal Emergency Directors agree that the system gives them an advantage. “Being able to use a computer on scene, for a local director, is absolutely essential,” said Kyle Wright, emergency management director for the town of Liberty. “Dale has gone out of his way to help the directors with E-Studio, so we can use its tools to greater advantage,” he said.

In addition to his post as County Emergency Management Director, Rowley is also a professional engineer and an Air National Guardsman. He began to consider the potential of an online collaboration system after working with such a system in the Air Force, called Community of Practice (COP). “It’s an online portal very similar to E-Studio,” Rowley said. “Every major function in the Air Force has their own online COP. It has a calendar, a chat room, a document area – I saw that, and knew a system like that was exactly what I wanted,” he said.

Rowley first used E-Studio during an exercise that brought together the United States and Canada to test emergency response capabilities in scenarios ranging from hurricane to a terrorist attack. The exercise, called Ardent Sentry, was partially organized by Harvard University’s School of Public Health. “Harvard set up this E-Studio to manage the drill,” Rowley said. “That way, everyone wouldn’t always have to meet in Augusta to review documents and plans. You’d just use E-Studio to do it.”

In addition to the online system, Waldo County Emergency Management also recently received a federal grant to provide text pagers to each community’s emergency director. “In the urban areas of our state, public safety folks are full time and receive this equipment from the city” Rowley said. “In all of our towns – mostly rural – none of them are full time, and very few of the communities give their police and fire staff equipment like text pagers,” he said.

This new technology has made it easier for officials to respond to emergencies and disasters. “E-Studio and our text pagers have sped things up quite a bit,” Rowley said. “Before I came on board, the only way we could notify everybody is if this office called every individual town. You wouldn’t get an instant message, you’d get a voice message 6 or 7 hours later after you got home,” he said. Rowley said the process of connecting with local emergency responders used to take 25-30 telephone calls and several days to pull local staff together for a meeting. “Now we could put out one page and get everybody onto a conference call,” he said. “We’ve gone from a process that could take two or three days to a process that could take two or three hours.”

At first, the system generated questions. “Frankly I was not sure what to expect,” said Wright. “But I have learned that E-Studio is not just a tool to use in an emergency, but also one to use at anytime for a variety of tasks.” He agrees with Rowley, that E-Studio provides connectivity that before was unavailable. “Being able to use E-Studio, its tools and information to communicate with any and all local, county, and state emergency management officers… it’s great!,” he said.

For more information on E-Studio or Waldo County’s use of the system, contact Dale Rowley at 338-3870.

—Derek Mitchell

 

Contact:

Waldo County EMA
338-3870

 

Last update: 07/20/10