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Fort Bend County Emergency Management
Tuesday April 13th, 2010 :: 12:48 p.m. CDT

Community

Fort Bend County OEM recognized for use of innovative web technology

Emergency Management Association of Texas Recognizes Fort Bend County OEM's use of the PIER system during Hurricane Ike and the H1N1 Response.


Richmond, TX - The Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management has been recognized with an "Excellence in Emergency Management" Award for their use of the PIER System during Hurricane Ike and the H1N1 response in the spring and summer of 2009.

This is one of three "Excellence in Emergency Management" awards presented to Fort Bend County on behalf of the Emergency Management Association of Texas.

The Public Information Emergency Response (PIER) system is a crisis communications system that Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) uses to power its website, fbcoem.org.

It is a web-based virtual communications center aiding emergency communications via it's integrated contact and content management systems. Acting as a unified control center, the PIER System speeds internal and external communications by centralizing all Joint Information Center functions, including drafting and distributing public information, and engaging the public in two-way conversations.

There are five PIER centers in Fort Bend county, and over 30 in the region, all networked together to allow collaborative communication during a disaster. These sites are part of an initiative led by County Judge Robert Hebert, and now adopted region-wide, to communicate far better than we have in the past with a unified voice during disasters which effect the county or region on a broad scale.

Because of PIER, the Fort Bend County OEM website is a quick, smart, and efficient tool used to push essential information to the public. Fort Bend County OEM staff members are able to log onto the system from anywhere with internet access, collaborate on document drafting, publish documents to the web and distribute them via email, text-messages, phone calls and web 2.0 services, and measure collect the public response to the information, with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Aside from communicating with the public, the PIER system allows OEM to host a private section of their website, protected by log-on and passwords, for responders to access sensitive information.

Because the system supports open formats like RSS and XML, the Fort Bend County OEM is able to syndicate information published on their PIER center to various other information sharing applications throughout the county and region, including their social media presence.

"The PIER System is used by such agencies as the United States Coast Guard to foster communications during a disaster," says Jeff Braun, the County's Emergency Management Coordinator. "Utilizing the system for similar purposes allowed Fort Bend County OEM to provide a steady flow of information to the public, media, and emergency management partners during Hurricane Ike."

Beyond a simple content management system, PIER is hosted securely off-site, with Service Level Agreements guaranteeing the system stays running even during the most catastrophic of disasters.

The company providing the software offers 24-7 support from staff which deal with crisis information almost monthly. The system's wide adoption from private oil companies to the US Coast Guard speak for the reliability and robustness of the system.

During Hurricane Ike, Fort Bend County deployed three PIER sites at the County Judge's Office, Health & Human Services, and OEM, using the working parts of each site to provide quick hurricane response. Citizen's lack of power for an extended period of time contributed to a number of callers asking for significant amounts of information in a very short period of time after power was restored.

Once again, OEM was able to deliver timely, storm-related information in the midst of Ike to it's half a million residents.

The website received over 600,000 hits and the Emergency Operations Center sent over fifty news releases and advisories to media and citizens of Fort Bend County.

The system was also valuable to Fort Bend County during the H1N1 pandemic beginning in April 2009. The County utilized this technology to improve information provided to responders and citizens, receiving 1,000 hits per day from community members on the H1N1 information portal updated daily with case counts and other timely information.

The H1N1 information portal was regularly monitored by OEM staff and consisted of updated information from the Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and local and state agencies. Relevant sections from the Emergency Operations Plan, full copies of Situation Reports, key contacts and phone numbers were all posted in the password protected section of the site to provide vital information to responders.

Although the PIER System is a relatively new project in its implementation, it has proven to be a successful work in progress. The lessons learned by Fort Bend County have been used to facilitate the deployment of over thirty other PIER Centers in the Houston-Galveston Region. The Office of Emergency Management continues to work diligently to make improvements to the system for the 2010 Hurricane season and H1N1-like occurrences. Braun acknowledges that the EMAT award is significant to the County and the OEM staff; nevertheless, because he serves as the Chair of a Homeland Security Regional Collaboration Committee, he is more excited about the prospects for sharing the County's success with others across the Region.

Address/Location
Fort Bend County Emergency Management
307 Fort St
Richmond, TX 77469

Contact
Emergency: 9-1-1
Non-emergencies: 281-342-6185

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