How Emergency Response Teams Are Using Magnatag Products To Communicate Critical Information

Tue Jul 25 2017
By: Mike P

In the wake of the horrific aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, residents of Brandon, Mississippi, were left with a permanent mark on their consciousness, reminding the community of the devastation that resulted in over 1500 fatalities and 108 billion dollars in damages. Even for those that have been able to put Katrina’s devastation behind them, the fears still remain buried deep underneath, reemerging with each announcement of an inbound weather warning. It’s a reaction that has sparked somewhat of a movement for the city, with Mayor, Butch Lee, assembling a Community Emergency Response Team (or CERT) to help educate and prepare citizens in the event of an emergency response scenario.

The program itself is part of a statewide initiative designed to “assist communities in taking care of themselves in the aftermath of a major disaster when first responders are overwhelmed or unable to respond because of communication or transportation difficulties.” CERT Programs are made up of emergency responders from within the community, with each covering a specific emergency operation. Benny Holden, a now retired EMT, is responsible for Brandon’s pre and post-storm operations, holding the title of Weather Coordination Officer. Before serving as an EMT, Holden spent years working for the Mississippi’s Emergency Management Agency, analyzing weather patterns and dispatching first-responders for hurricane relief. His days are now spent as a consultant to Brandon’s Mayor, developing the future command center for the city’s CERT program with an increased focus on weather spotting communication.

“When you’re talking about a tropical storm, there’s nothing that can truly prepare you for that. Weather is inherently fickle, so to try and set up a preventative plan based entirely around predictions is useless. What we’re focusing on with the CERT Program is how to best respond to an emergency situation. I want people that sign up for our classes to be able to understand the best course of action when a disaster strikes. Finding ways to manage injuries and other disastrous repercussions in the event of an emergency is the goal here”, said Holden.

Challenges and Needs
Brandon’s CERT program needed a communication center that could serve a dual purpose of educating community members while serving as an emergency headquarters in the case of a citywide catastrophe. In order to meet theses requirements, the buildings had to be able to facilitate offices for leadership, offer space for weather tracking and other emergency equipment, and have classrooms for community teaching services. With limited space available within the city limits, Holden and the rest of the CERT team were forced to improvise.

The Program chose an abandoned grocery store to serves as the command center for the program, with renovations transforming the building into a workspace suitable for the program’s needs.

However, the newly renovated facility presented Holden and other members of the CERT team with the difficult challenge of finding a reliable method of communicating critical information to the entirety of the building’s occupants. The newly created radar station—which houses the entirety of the program’s spotting and communication equipment—was the designated area for the task.

“It all comes down to the fact that my boss doesn’t like to have a ton of things the wall. He’s a retired firefighter and I think he has modeled a large part of our facility after his experience working with the fire department. He likes things orderly and easily modifiable—as we all do— so if something’s going to be going on the wall it has to serve a distinct purpose”, explained Holden.

The Solution
As Holden began to piece together the inner-workings of his weather command center, he contacted Magnatag Visible Systems for his visual communication needs.

“I needed something that could stand out in a crowded room”, said Holden. “Having the ability to locate where spotters and vehicles are located throughout our city is a critical part of the communications process, and Magnatag helped solve that.”

Using Magnatag’s Magnetic Red ExactLetters, Holden was able to update CERT’s hurricane and tornado charts to help identify critical dispatch information to the entirety of the CERT team.

The magnets work in hand with the program’s code system, with letters symbolizing injuries, dispatches, and offsite equipment.

“Anyone can walk into our workstation, look up at the wall, and quickly identify areas of interest during an emergency situation. The red color really sticks out in a crowded room and helps emphasize points of interest,” Holden explained.

In the short-term future, Holden hopes to equip the CERT facility with Magnatag’s dry erase maps to help highlight the entirety of the city for training exercises.

With the help of Magnatag’s magnets and dry erase maps, Brandon’s CERT program is readying members of the community with emergency management practices that can help save thousands of lives in the future.


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