COBRA Technology used in VCU’s UCI World Championship

Dynamis’ COBRA software solution was mentioned in the June 2016 issue of the IAEM Bulletin Special Focus Issue: “The Impact of Emerging Technology on Emergency Management.” It featured the article Cycling, Crisis, and CIMS: How Virginia Commonwealth University Communicated During the UCI World Championship (using COBRA software), by Adam Crowe, CEM, Director, Emergency Preparedness, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA.

Please see the article below. If you have any questions about COBRA, please contact Neil Cohen at ncohen@dynamis.com.


Cycling, Crisis, and CIMS

How Virginia Commonwealth University Communicated

During the UCI World Road Championships

By Adam Crowe, CEM, Director, Emergency Preparedness,
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA


In September 2015, the Union Cyclist International (UCI) World Road Championships were held in Richmond, Virginia. This event represents one of the largest professional cycling events in the world, with several hundred thousand spectators and more than 300 million television viewers. With 12 race routes spread over nine days and running through both of Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) downtown campuses, a coordinated process for operational decisions and information flow was critical.

Determining Best Way to Communicate with Everyone

With so many people and activities happening at one time during “normal” school operations, our first priority was to determine the best way to communicate with everyone involved during these nine days. We were able to determine that social media, outdoor digital signage, mass emails, and an online website called the “Rumor Mill” were the most effective means to notify these stakeholders of noncritical information.

For emergencies, we relied on emergency call boxes, calls to the VCU emergency communications center, in-building alerts, text-a-tip and outdoor sirens. Next, we turned our focus on connecting our first responders, which included the VCU police, VCU staff, student volunteers, medical personnel, and other non-VCU response personnel. We determined that handheld radios, responders’ personal phone numbers, and an established hotline phone number for VCU volunteers were the most effective for getting and receiving information. We also worked with many outside jurisdictions for first response support, including the Richmond Police, Richmond Ambulance Authority (EMS provider), and the VCU Medical Center to ensure that enough first response capabilities were available.

Once we identified all possible recipients of communications, we began listing the different topics and content that needed to be communicated, which was a long list. Notices that needed sharing included: pedestrian awareness of race courses; personal safety (ex: robbery prevention); academic schedule delays; parking and transportation issues; potential threats; weather events; and overall general safety.

Based on the audience and the subject matter, we were able to determine which communication tools and outlets we would use for each announcement. For example, potential threats were communicated to the VCU police over radios, whereas late class starts were communicated to students using social media and emails.

Managing Different Information Channels

Finally, for managing these different information channels, the VCU Emergency Operations Center (EOC) chose Dynamis’ COBRA Crisis Information Management System for capturing, sharing, and disseminating information to all response partners inside the VCU EOC, VCU Health System EOC, Unified Command, field operations, and other critical stakeholders. We determined the most effective way to share information about the race was to track each day as an “incident.”

So nine days resulted in nine separate events or incidents. If events of note occurred during the day, they were recorded within that incident, and each recording was time and date stamped. EOC staff occupied different positions each day, and we allowed the staff to select their own position they represented that particular day by logging into the software and selecting their chosen position from a pre-set “position list.” Allowing users to select their own positions provided us the ability to assign tasks to groups of people who represented the same position. This ensured that someone was always there to receive tasks and serve as a conduit of information for selected positions. While unique positions were created for the bike race, they have easily been transitioned to routine preparedness and response functions.

As information was brought into the EOC, each user posted that information into their personal position log. They also replicated the information into a shared log, titled Significant Events, if the information was meant for the entire EOC to view. We also used the COBRA application for building a common operating picture; managing requests for resources, tasks, assistance and information; and provided alerts and notifications to field personnel about potential problems.

In all, we had 50 staff representing 21 positions across nine separate incidents in COBRA over the entirety of the race. We also added more than 500 entries and allowed the Richmond Unified Command Post, the hospital EOC, and other supporting agencies to view our data in Google Earth through the COBRA KML Live feed.

dashboard

Figure 1. COBRA Dashboard

What We Learned

We learned much during this nine-day race. For starters, we learned that using multiple communication tools was not very efficient due to the sheer number of communication channels. However, we did discover that using COBRA as our initial portal for capturing and sharing information in the EOC helped to determine what information needed to be routed to the different communication channels. We also found that creating nine separate incidents was much more manageable than creating a single incident covering the entire nine-day event.

One challenge we did not plan for was the many different communication methods utilized by supporting EOCs. For example, the City of Richmond EOC used the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) and ArcGIS to manage information but found the system too complex and switched to a paper based runcard program during the operational response. This runcard program involved individual operational elements (ex: ESF 4) writing updates or needs on cards which were manually delivered to a central scribe in the room who would rewrite the messages on a large whiteboard. While the information ultimately was shared it was often slow, difficult to see throughout the EOC, and unable to maintain strong accountability to actions, needs and assignments.

While this shift to cards did not impact us directly, it did show us the benefit of using a simple-to-use and understand CIMS such as COBRA. One of our goals in the future is to work with the city and state emergency management offices to connect our COBRA system to their CIMS through an API to ensure continued efficiency of shared information.

Summary

In all, we did very well with no major incidents and only minor incidents that needed medical or law enforcement attention. We also learned that managing 10 different communication channels was a challenge but using COBRA as our primary information portal was effective for capturing and disseminating information from the different parts of the incident. We continue to incorporate the lessons learned from this race into our day-to-day and major event operations at the EOC and throughout our first response program. For example, it has since been used for emergent weather events, local high school graduation ceremonies, and other smaller more routine events.


This article previously appeared in the IAEM Bulletin, the monthly newsletter of the International Association of Emergency Managers, www.iaem.com.