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Communication experts come together from private, public sector

Washington Emergency Management Division Director Robert Ezelle talks during a panel with the Washington National Guard, Microsoft and Verizon.

Communication experts from the private and public sector met at Camp Murray to hash out best practices and learn about upcoming technological innovations during a meeting Feb. 20 of the Washington Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group.

The group was created in 2016 to help improve relations between the private and public communications fields with an average attendance of about 100 experts for each of their 11 meetings so far, which have taken place in many locations, including Ocean Shores, Tacoma and Spokane.

“We’re here to forge and strengthen our public, private and tribal partnerships to enhance communications statewide,” said Mark Glenn, the chief information officer for the Washington Military Department.

The goals are to understand the threats facing the state, to get to know each other, plan and exercise together, establish and maintain a support network for the state Emergency Operations Center and seek out and engage other contributors, Glenn said.

Mark Glenn, the chief information officer for the Washington Military Department, talks with Major General Bret D. Daugherty.

“We can’t do this without our partners; they really make it happen,” Major General Bret D. Daugherty told the group. “Almost four years ago, our vision was to build and support a proactive community of telecommunication experts that would mutually benefit our participants and each participating agency. The goal is to make a non-competitive, collaborative environment and prepare for an emergency. With everyone’s help, we’ve made that vision a reality.”

Daugherty notes that sharing lessons learned helps build resiliency in the state.

“We just need to keep improving what we’ve got until the disaster hits,” Daugherty said. “Our life saving first responders must all be able to communicate with each other as well as emergency managers.”

Each meeting of the Washington Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group features presentations where attendees share best practices.

A panel featuring Microsoft, Verizon, the Washington National Guard and Washington Emergency Management Division gave panelists a chance to offer different perspectives and how they’ve responded to incidents.

Teams from Microsoft, for instance, have been helping Puerto Rico local governments with server issues in the wake of hurricanes and earthquakes and are doing data analysis with national and international health organizations. Verizon recently dispatched satellite services to help California’s response to the coronavirus.

LTC Tami Brathovde of the Washington National Guard talked about the regular training and exercises being done with soldiers preparing for natural disasters such as a big earthquake.

Pointing to the many amateur radio operators in the audience, Brathovde said, “HAM Radio – you guys are going to be rock stars. We’re all going to rely on you in a major incident.”

Brathovde said that everyone also needs to work on their own plans.

“Every emergency is local, so we really need to plan for that,” she said. “If you need communications equipment, how do we get it to you? Will you have fuel for it?”

A packed crowd listens to General Daugherty.

Washington Emergency Management Division Director Robert Ezelle said that the state also needs to look at hardening the existing radio networks. “When the bad earthquake happens, we will be dealing with what we have on site. We need to make sure we have what we need because we’ll be responding to the disaster with what we have,” Ezelle said.

“To be successful, we have to be working with all levels of government,” Ezelle added. “If we don’t, synchronization will fall apart.”

Ezelle said that his agency is also there to help look at “regulatory roadblocks” in the face of emergencies.

“With governor proclamations, emergency powers, we can help clear those paths,” he said.