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Innovating Smarter, Nimbler Government at FEMA

Posted by Rich Serino, Deputy Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency

This was originally posted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on July 10, 2012.

This week, President Barack Obama laid out the Administration’s New Management Agenda. As part of a new approach to deliver a smarter, more innovative, and more accountable government, President Obama put forth a plan to more effectively use technology and innovation to better serve and meet the needs of the public. During a press conference, President Obama highlighted some of the innovative and survivor centric solutions that FEMA is implementing:

"Today, our Chief Technology Officer, Todd Park, and our Chief Information Officer, Steve VanRoekel, are working with their teams to innovate and apply the best technology to help solve some of our biggest challenges -- from creating jobs to reducing health care costs to keeping our nation secure. (…)

First, we found ways to deliver the services that citizens expect in smarter, faster, and better ways. So, for example, until recently, when a natural disaster struck, teams from FEMA had to rely exclusively on in-person inspections to figure out which families needed help. Now they analyze satellite and aerial imagery and get housing assistance to areas that need it most, more quickly. After Hurricane Sandy, most folks were able to sign up for assistance using FEMA’s mobile and web apps -- updating and checking the status of their applications. And FEMA agents went door-to-door in some areas with iPads, helping residents who had lost power and Internet access sign up for disaster relief without leaving their homes. So making sure that we’re delivering services better, faster, more efficiently."

Here at FEMA, we understand the value of innovation and recognize that through innovation we can develop new and creative solutions and deliver these solutions to those that need them the most—survivors. During the initial response to Hurricane Sandy, the FEMA Innovation Team deployed to identify solutions to some of the challenges faced in New York. As the President highlighted, one innovative solution was providing our FEMA Corps teams with the equipment necessary to go door-to-door to register survivors who may have lost power. This solution was so warmly received that we have made it common practice.

After the tornadoes struck Oklahoma, FEMA deployed the newly formed Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams to go door-to-door to register survivors at their homes.

The role of technology has certainly changed the way we operate and serve survivors during their time of need. Our Geospatial Team used geospatial mapping and imagery to provide information to first responders and emergency managers about damaged areas moments after the deadly tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma. We also launched our FEMALab in response to the tornadoes in the National Response Coordination Center, which allowed some of our innovation team members to work virtually.

We continue to look for ways to improve- to find creative solutions to the many challenges we face in emergency management. You can help us to innovate too! Join us for the next FEMA Think Tank on Thursday, July 18th for our latest edition, “Innovation Every Emergency Manager Should Know About” which will cover innovators from around the country. We hope you join us and tell us what you are doing to innovate!

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