How to Handle COVID-19 Emergency Management Online

5 min read

Evertel CEO Jeff Halstead recently interviewed Tracy Montgomery, the Emergency Manager in Surprise, Arizona. Tracy and Jeff worked together for years in law enforcement where Tracy rose to the ranks of Assistant Police Chief and Division Commander of the airport bureau. She has over 35 years of law enforcement experience, and Tracy’s department was one of the first agencies to start using Evertel.

The majority of her city is now using Evertel, from water resource management to police to the fire department. They adapted very quickly when COVID-19 restrictions went into place, and Evertel helped them move to a virtual EOC within 10 days of the U.S. shutdown. They have since been very active on Evertel during the pandemic, and she shared her insights and tips with us.

Read the interview below and catch the highlights in bold.

Interview with Emergency Manager Tracy Montgomery

Jeff Halstead: The world has changed with this pandemic. What do you see as your greatest challenge in the next 1-2 years for your employees and the emergency management profession?

Tracy Montgomery: I think the biggest challenge has been staying focused on the pandemic and safety practices. I think people are tired of wearing masks, people are tired of self-segregating, or wondering, “I might be sick but might not be sick.” But what we’re seeing is as soon as we let our guard down people are getting sick. So because we’re the emergency management group, we really need to lead by example, stay focused on what we know are those best and smart practices, and avoid complacency. 

I can see us in the next year if people haven’t planned ahead, emergency managers are going to be planning on doing vaccine distribution. I can see the way things have been going here in Arizona that our public health folks are going to need help to conduct immunizations much like we’re doing with testing right now to help our community get orderly immunizations.

We have our hands full. I don’t see a vacation for any of us coming soon. 

Jeff: Is there a message you would provide your peers regarding this difficult time and how best to address the challenges that face our profession today and in the future?

Tracy: Stay focused on your core goals.

I’m having to get creative simply because the biggest challenge of all this is you can’t be face-to-face. We cannot be face-to-face influencers here, so I’ve relied on my communication folks more. We send out a lot on Evertel and different modalities just to keep some of these messages present in people’s minds. 

This whole mask thing—we are finally getting some traction with masks but we’ve tried all sorts of things to try to influence people. We have to think about how we influence without being face-to-face. We have to keep focused on what the core mission is right now. So much of what has popped up that looks like an emergency is just a distraction.

We really need to stay focused on getting to the point where at least we get vaccines out to manage the illness. 

Jeff: You were one of the first cities on Evertel.  Can you explain to other Emergency Managers how your city is using Evertel today?

Tracy: It started initially as a police department tool. It worked out fabulously. It could be incident driven—say a crime occurred. A great example is a missing juvenile or a missing senior. We could get pictures or information out locally and be effective about sharing information through law enforcement.

We provide every officer with a phone so there’s no way they can opt out of the platform, and you don’t have to talk officers into using it because as soon as they see how effective it is for communication, they use the heck out of it. 

In a short two-year period of time we went from just our cops to I’d say half of our city on the system now. And quickly in the next year, we’ll get the other half of the city on. We have just used the heck out of it.

Jeff: Can you share a success story about Evertel helping your city or the Emergency Management mission? I know you went to a virtual EOC within about 10 days of the pandemic beginning, which is incredible. 

Tracy: We just built a room for every section of our incident management team. There was a planning section, there was an operations section, logistics section, finance section. We got people signed into those and then the section chiefs were able to quarterback all those discussions. So then our daily planning meetings were nice and efficient and to the point. 

Evertel Success Story

This year our police department got a bomb detection K9 officer. We spent all last year training the MLB spring training staff on what to do when you get the K9 alert on an explosive device. I was really aware of the fact that it was not if we were going to get a hit, it was when.

We got a hit the second season. It just so happens that I was just monitoring my Evertel room, at home miles away from the city. I see they got a K9 hit on a brand-new vehicle that a dealership was displaying and it was parked on our main concourse about 30-feet away from our main entrance where about 80% of our ticketed traffic walks through.

We were about ten minutes away from the game starting and his dog hits on that car. So he walked away, brought the dog back, and he hit on that car three times. Now the bulk of our foot traffic is coming in, and we have a decision to make as far as if we are going to evacuate the stadium.

I popped onto my radio to listen and I could see that they were communicating on Evertel how far to isolate the vehicle. How far should we evacuate so if we do have a blast, how far do we get people away from this so they aren’t injured? I got on Evertel and saw that they were going 100 yards away from the vehicle. So quickly I got on my phone and pulled out a sheet with standoff distances, took a screenshot, and popped it on Evertel. I immediately hear on the radio, “Guys check your Evertel. We’re too close to the scene.” Immediately they almost tripled their distance based on that.

I cannot imagine that communication happening efficiently and to everyone without being able to pop that screenshot on there. We immediately reacted and everyone knew exactly what distance we were trying to achieve. 

Jeff: You have more than 35 years in public safety. Your knowledge & experience are instrumental in leading cities during all disasters and crisis response.  What message would you like to share not only to professionals in emergency management but law enforcement as well?

Tracy: We always deal with this balance between planning and the real world. So you can make an emergency operations plan for your entire city, but if it just sits on the shelf, then it’s really not helping anybody. 

Every day that we stood up for spring training, we would put the entire incident action plan on Evertel. So you’d have phone numbers, you’d have maps, you’d have weather conditions. You might not carry your actual incident action plan around in your back pocket. They could pull it up on their phone and look at it. A plan is great, but if you don’t have access to it then it’s not helpful to anybody. Evertel really enables you to get that in the hands of the operators who are working that day, on that incident.

If you can conceptualize it, you can do it on Evertel.

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