In recent years, interagency preparedness across the United States has become more and more important, while at the same time, more complex. The Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency (AFCEMA) faced this challenge head-on to guarantee the safety of everyone in the Atlanta area during the College Football Playoff National Championship game between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide on January 8, 2018.
AFCEMA was tasked with developing and coordinating an effective public safety plan for game day. To ensure everyone’s safety, AFCEMA coordinated preparedness efforts across numerous city, state and federal government agencies. Participating agencies ranged from local police and fire departments to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Weather Service and Department of Homeland Security, to name just a few.
Agencies at these various levels have distinct leadership, jurisdiction, laws and even culture. Interagency cooperation has been described as technically and politically challenging because it is often marred by miscommunication and conflict over the common, as well as individual goals and responsibilities of the various stakeholders. Long a source of frustration, government agencies continue to address these issues when working together.
Over the last 20 years, numerous technological solutions have been developed to foster interagency cooperation. However, divisive practices continue. Issues surrounding the ownership of and expertise in various technologies have created almost as many challenges as they solved. Meanwhile, the need for and significance of interagency cooperation has skyrocketed with increasingly frequent human-made events and devastating natural disasters.
AFCEMA successfully coordinated emergency preparedness efforts for the National Championship game by building relationships across agencies using WebEOC, a coordinated incident management solution used by agencies at every level of government.
Administrators at AFCEMA knew they needed a collaborative approach to ensure buy-in from the agencies involved. To do this, preparedness efforts would have to meet the needs of every agency in terms of planning, as well as possible response and recovery scenarios.
AFCEMA formed interagency work groups to build consensus and guide the development of preparedness processes. Agencies and agents worked together to build, refine and test processes that were realized through the creation and adaptation of WebEOC boards and the incorporation of geographic information systems (GIS) capabilities.
One of the work groups formed by AFCEMA consisted of 30 GIS professionals from city and county departments. Custom map services were created and WebEOC was interfaced with ArcGIS Online using the WebEOC ArcGIS Extension. Data from multiple WebEOC status boards was pushed into ArcGIS Online, and in some cases a bidirectional interface was implemented. On game day, fellow agents and other stakeholders were truly pleased with the valuable visual representation of data that the group provided through maps in WebEOC.
AFCEMA distinguished themselves with the sheer number of processes that were successfully utilized during the game. Successful deployment of these processes was based on all agencies possessing a solid understanding of the WebEOC boards, including why they were necessary, when to use them and who owned and responded to the information provided through each board. As a result, the emergency operations center (EOC) on game day was full of confident WebEOC users who showed that incorporating technology in interagency preparedness efforts is a recipe for success.
Regardless of which team you wanted to win, the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship game was a success from a public safety perspective. Using WebEOC, AFCEMA laid the foundation for interagency cooperation and built the framework for a highly-effective EOC. Agencies came together around a common goal and everyone had the chance to enjoy a thrilling game that was eventually resolved in overtime.