Harris County’s Regional Joint Information Center Very Active in 2012
In 2005, Harris County and the greater Houston area responded to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The massive shelter at the Astrodome for Katrina evacuees resulted in perhaps the largest Joint Information Center (JIC) operation ever in Texas, open 24 hours a day for almost one month and hosting media from six continents. Hurricane Rita followed shortly after, prompting a record breaking evacuation that further challenged the region’s public information efforts. While highly successful, JIC participants saw a need to build regional public information response efforts well in advance of the next disaster.
The Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (HCOHSEM) established the Regional Joint Information Center Group in 2007 as the organizing point. With almost 200 members, the group collaborates to provide a voluntary system for area-wide coordination of emergency public information. Housed at Houston TranStar, the strategy allows a robust regional JIC to be established quickly for large-scale events like Hurricane Ike at the county’s Emergency Operations Center.
HCOHSEM is responsible for the year-round maintenance of the facilities and systems needed to host a large-scale regional JIC, which serves as a one stop site for residents to find critical information from partner agencies during emergencies. The office communications team also maintains a “constant state of JIC” to help facilitate information between elected officials, stakeholders and the public for more commonplace incidents and activations throughout the year.
In 2012, the HCOHSEM and the Regional JIC Group leveraged technology to expand its ability to provide the public with easily accessible emergency public information. The explosion of media options demands that emergency managers explore all available means of public communications. With the use of smartphones on the rise, HCOHSEM developed a companion regional JIC site optimized for smartphones and other mobile communications devices. This site is accessible via the URL m.readyharris.org.
HCOHSEM social media practices and a selection of its tweets are also featured in the newly released FEMA IS-42 Social Media in Emergency Management course. The course is available at FEMA Emergency Management Institute.
Regional JIC Group Meeting
Last year also marked a milestone for collaboration with the private sector. Harris, Galveston, Ft. Bend and Brazoria counties partnered with Clear Channel Outdoor to form the Gulf Coast Emergency Communications Network (GCECN). The purpose of the GCECN is to work with emergency managers to keep the public informed during a disaster. Clear Channel Outdoor will disseminate vital emergency information to commuters on area highways through its network of digital billboards. During a crisis, emergency coordinators will provide the message content to be displayed for the targeted areas. These digital units can deliver instant messages in real time to residents in the areas which they are deployed.
Want to learn more about HCOHSEM’s public information efforts and the Regional Joint Information Center Group? A 45-minute video webinar is available at O'Brien's Strategy Forum.
-- Article by Rosio Torres – Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management