Tornado-producing wall clouds don’t have silver linings, but software designer Kevin Foote has created an information technology cloud that can mitigate some of the confusion in a disaster’s aftermath.
He calls it FastCommand.
Oklahoma members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are working to implement FastCommand before another disaster occurs in the state.
“We feel our Mormon Helping Hands had an outstanding response in 2013. But we see some ways we can be better organized,” said Kevin Graves, president of the Oklahoma City area for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Through our involvement with the VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster), we’ve identified more ways that we can serve our communities.”
Foote said the Internet is the most redundant communication tool available for emergency coordination “when primary communication fails since there are so many alternate networks and devices available.”
Mick Batt, a technology specialist for the Mormon church, has been working with Foote to tailor the program to Oklahoma’s specific needs.
“During and after our 2013 tornado relief work, it became apparent that we could better manage our resources and serve our communities more effectively during such times of need,” Batt said.
“We wanted to improve our disaster management response time, become better organized and generate detailed FEMA reports. Kevin Foote stepped in with FastCommand. It can do all that.”
When a disaster has been declared, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse affected cities and counties for each hour of volunteer labor performed. The net rate is between $13 and $14 per hour, so it adds up fast. But volunteer hours must be carefully documented according to FEMA criteria. FastCommand largely automates those records.
“We spent many hours manually inputting the data after the 2013 tornadoes,” said Jan Larsen, director of public affairs for the Mormon church in central and western Oklahoma.
“But we wanted Moore and the other disaster areas where Mormon Helping Hands worked to get that money from FEMA. It was worth it, but we won’t have to do it next time. Using FastCommand, we’ll have the data ready to go by the time we’ve finished the work orders.”
Mormon VOAD representative Fred Morice pointed out that Latter-day Saints have a unique ability to supply language translators. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sends missionaries around the globe. They learn the languages where they serve.
“We have a special resource in the variety of languages spoken by our members,” Morice said.
“We have 26 different languages identified in our database of local translators so far. That could be a huge asset in an emergency. We’re working to refine the data into dialects and ensure a sufficient level of fluency. FastCommand will help us get them to the people that need them in a timely manner.”
Graves pointed out another feature of the program.
“Sometimes, we need to quickly communicate with volunteers to tell them to stand down and wait for instructions. There will be plenty to do once the first responders have finished their work, and we don’t want to be in the way or complicate things,” he said.
“FastCommand will also help people who are anxious to help know when, where and what is needed.”
Making it work
Once all the church leaders from a region’s congregations have loaded their contact information into the FastCommand System, a few keystrokes will be able to send a large group an emergency text or email message.
Those responsible for gathering the volunteer work order at the church’s Multi Agency Response Centers will make arrangements to start that process.
Volunteers can assign themselves to fill work orders and inform others what tools are needed. As volunteers sign up and complete the work, a FEMA-ready record is created. The computer program also will eliminate the need for workers to gather to a command center. They’ll go directly to the work site identified on the FastCommand incident map.
FastCommand can coordinate relief efforts and record keeping for any type of natural disaster. Organizations using FastCommand also can create a non-emergency event such as a service project, to practice before a storm. It already has been used in response to floods, hurricanes and tornadoes in the U.S. and Canada.
In April, church public affairs workers for western Oklahoma sponsored a “Super Saturday” where they initiated FastCommand training for Mormon Helping Hands emergency response leaders.
“The Super Saturday Disaster Preparedness training will be an annual event,” Graves said. “We have an unpaid ministry, so positions are shuffled around from year to year. We’ll use Internet technology for interim training, and retrain the leaders on FastCommand annually.”
Beth Stephenson is the assistant Oklahoma City multi-stake public affairs director for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.