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Summary of National Dialogue Session with EPA COOP Planners

Kansas City, Kansas
March 26, 2008

A National Dialogue session was held in EPA’s Kansas City regional office during a meeting of EPA’s COOP (Continuity of Operations Planning) planners.  Approximately 16 people attended and participated in the discussion on information access needs during a COOP scenario (both alternative work location scenarios were discussed – traditional COOP alternative location and social distancing/distributed work at home alternatives in a pandemic flu situation).  The session started with a PowerPoint briefing and Molly O’Neill’s introduction video from the National Dialogue website.  Two EPA employees facilitated the discussion.

Summary notes of the dialogue:

How Is Information Used:

Types of Information:

Office of Emergency Response representative – Under COOP, we have to relocate or have virtual access to enable critical functions and support day-to-day activities; have to support Program offices.  Information requirements change when shifting from emergency mode to recovery mode.

We want states to know – they need status information, location information.  Need reference materials, maps, websites.  Need regulations and policy data and legal authorities in response situations.

We need email, but also access to national systems.  The access path depends on the facility that is down.  Need alternate paths; alternate addresses/names for access.  Pay attention to know WHERE.  Have instructions on alternate paths.  In a COOP location, this is transparent, but working from home would be different.

Attorneys have a QuickPlace site they use in national response.

GIS data is needed.  Some try to duplicate everything – there are advantages and disadvantages – IT issues. 

How to Get to the Information

EPA has essential functions:  Emergency response, Water and Administrative (employee and IT infrastructure).  There are internal and external components.  There is the data itself and infrastructure.

Internal – perform program management for emergency response – GIS is an output – need data to go into that from program systems.  The Administrator prefers the use of maps. 

PeoplePlus, Invoice payments are access requirements on the administrative information side.  Day to day duties, but prioritized tasks.

COOP Planner:  GIS data – there are bandwidth issues – information prepared and sent to others.  Site and analytical data.  GET data from “elsewhere” – states, locals, subscription data.  Tapping into pipeline to it.

External information needs QA/QC.  Take regional data and post for public access – People to review, plus be paid and fed.

Channels used?  Both Internet and intranet.  Use of QuickPlace (multiple) and Portal.  The COOP page needs to move to the portal so that non-html folks can update it.

Get information from email, especially during the transition period.  Use of email groups – Use Group Box by Roles (role-based addresses).

Future use of Wiki and chat for info sharing – webinars “beyond voice”.  Use of Sametime for desktop sharing.  ORD Science Connector does better than others.  Potential use of IPTV and live video.

Office of Emergency Response representative– video is critical but also basic pen and pencil.  Human brain works that way – face time – is that generational?  If born before 1976 – have to read the newspaper, not online.  How is your brain wired?

Access to local News is a big requirement.

All this technology is great, but in a COOP situation, senior managers can’t/don’t know how to use technology.  Will call on the phone, use audio conference and PIN to PIN.

The key is to make sure the right people have edit rights for updates.  It’s the Achilles Heel – depends how its set up.

Look at every available communication output.  There’s an expectation that all methods will be available.


Stakeholder Communication

Customers “don’t fully utilize the asset”.  Training is needed, and money.  If the electronics are up and working – if lose the NCC or other – we rely too much on electronics.  Electric window versus crank example.  Concern about over-reliance on electronic access– stone tablets.  People don’t know what’s available /don’t use – like portal or QuickPlace.  Circumstance may not allow – what if phone or other infrastructure is not available?

Part of the workforce is not comfortable using some methods – text message for example.  Need training.  Management won’t participate - Just tell me what I need to do, but I won’t read the instructions.

Need to practice working at home in order to make it work in an emergency.

Silo information is not searchable – like email.  “Need better models for cross-discovery of information”.  Competing resources within household – conflicting access demands.

The Office of Emergency Response is looking at a portal for the Office of Emergency Management – push out/collect.  Interconnect in emergency response community.  Email silos in Lotus Notes – polling information – attachment to central location/system.

3N example – pipeline/bandwidth being overwhelmed – be careful about advertising access.

Internal access sometimes restricted – may limit access in some circumstance, like limit GIS access. 

The COOP phone numbers are different – classified – not readily available.  The issue in an emergency is they (anyone outside EPA COOP community, including local/state responders) can’t call you – they can’t find you – EPA is physically in a different place.  They don’t know where you are because the alternate location can’t be advertised.

Need a way to interact so they’ll need to find you.

Need access for non-impacted folks – they want business as usual.  Local needs in Alaska continue normally while there is an emergency in Seattle.

Public Health event – environmental and health and safety.  Opposite – Need to PRIORITIZE information – Is it safe to go outside?, etc.  Use News, other outlets.

Public Affairs interface with a communications plan for information access during emergencies.

3N 60 line example – pipeline/bandwidth being overwhelmed – be careful about advertising access.

Office of Technology and Operations representative – make sure the notes reflect the different theories – let the states know the expectations – business as normal?  Not planning for - clear expectations to be set.

Hurricane Katrina put information on the web, but people that needed the information didn’t have web access.  Put stuff out in a format that people can get to.

If we don’t get information fast enough, people will get information, even if it is wrong.

Public Affairs again – major policy change.  Regions can’t push environmental information any more – both messaging and data.

Know need - to get information to those affected – info to those that need to consume it.

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