Digital EOC Journey - Life Happens But the Journey Continues, Weeks 6 Thru 10
If ever you are looking for a textbook example of no plan ever surviving first contact with the enemy, I am it.
When I started on this Digital EOC blog series to share with you my journey towards building an awesome mixed reality enabled online training tool, I assumed that I would be fully committed each week and there would be a huge treasure chest of knowledge nuggets to share. But recall on my week 5 blog that I was starting to be distracted by large fires in close proximity to where I live, and where some of my clients are. Well emergency management technology fans…that hasn’t changed. We didn't have to evacuate our place, but some of my client communities were definitely impacted by the wildfire. It's been busy and I've been distracted away from this project a bit.
Since we started way back on blog post # 1, British Columbia has continued to experience a historically unprecedented wildfire season. In the early days of blogs 1, 2, 3 and 4, where I was focusing in on the technologies that I was using for my digital EOC tools (digital emergency plan & virtual reality training site) we have had several large fires, each in the thousands of hectares in size. We’ve lost hundreds of houses, and I’ve been deployed in support of some of all that.
So I was supporting clients remotely and getting my own personal house in order for evacuation in the event it happened, and that took a bunch of time away. But then in the last 3 weeks the clients came a’knockin’. So naturally I helped them out. And it was awesome. I got a call on a Friday morning from a municipal regional emergency program to come in to help them with some initial recovery planning. I was so happy to get that call because I always preach the virtues of starting your recovery planning as early in the event as you can, and that’s exactly what they did. In a pinch, I had to move some existing client workload and deadlines around (thanks to everyone who accommodated me). I was there mid-afternoon that Friday and I started a process of inquiry for the planning using a tool that I like to use called PPOST, which stands for Priorities, Problems, Objectives, Strategies and Tactics. If it looks familiar, consider it to be sort of Management by Objectives on steroids...the same MBO that is promoted in Incident Command System (ICS) training, but with a non-site level application. Using that approach it became very apparent that there were some things in the Advance Planning Unit that needed to have some attention. Namely, we had to set up the Advance Planning Unit. So I got that underway and by end of business Monday I had delivered their initial recovery plan and the APU was well into things like re-entry planning and debris removal planning. The next day I was on a flight to the Yukon where I engaged on some more client work for a couple of weeks. And when I got home in the first week of September I had to help pick and can a bunch of fruit, and then emcee a celebration of life for a good friend.
And in all that, I did manage to make some progress forward on the digital EOC front...
Recall in blog 5 where I was looking at some 3D stuff using Sketchfab and building out digital environments in Spatial.io. I explored Spatial a couple of years ago and even back then I could do some interesting stuff with little or no tech background. It’s changed and improved considerably. Enough, however, that what I had easily learned to do with it was old technology. So I have had to relearn it somewhat. Still working on that as you will see below. I really like that Spatial.io and Unity gaming platform have married up because I think it will lend perfectly to creating digital EOCs. And Unity looks to be one of the main players in the development of the Metaverse so this combination presents a pretty powerful tool for that potentially as well.
I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know, and building digital twins for a virtual environment is one of them. For sure, it’s a learnable skill but I just don’t have the time right now. My main focus is getting a digital EOC product to demonstrate at the Natural Disasters Expo in Anaheim, California on September 27 & 28, 2023. We will be at booth 694 under the banner DigitalEOC and we will be looking for input into what we think is a good opportunity here. Plus, I also have a speaking engagement there where I am going to share some thoughts on the convergence of a number of trends and technologies and ask people to think how they all apply to emergency management. Lots to do between now and then for sure. So what I’ve done is engage an expert in both Spatial.io and Unity gaming.
It took me a bit to transition from a total DIY consulting business model to outsourcing to experts but ever since I’ve bought in to that approach and it has worked for me. I engaged this expert to build me a digital replica of an emergency operations centre (EOC). If you recall from Blog # 3 in this series, I had done some initial scanning of a local EOC with a mobile app called Polycam. It uses the Lidar sensor on my iPhone to provide a 3 dimensional digital point cloud of the room. I combined that with some physical measurements and a video of all the stuff on the walls and reached out to Fiverr to have an expert build a digital environment in which I can build out some of the virtual training functionality that I know will be of interest to some. If you want more details, check out Blog # 3.
Here's version 1 of what he returned back to me in less than a week.
And the cost for the initial build was under $1000.
A few initial observations about this Spatial/Unity platform combo.
First, it is a fairly good representation of the room. We sanitized a bunch of the “clutter” but kept the basic EOC layout in place as it exists in real-life today. We added some extra tables at one end of the EOC to accommodate spots for their agency reps and expanded activities. All the primary ICS based work stations are in place and are marked with an appropriate sign on the wall. A couple of things will happen with the workstations.
The main workstation functionality will be the desktop computers. You will be able to click on those and a user interface will open up that gives you some choices. I anticipate those choices to be things like links to specific function and activity checklists and flow charts, and links to reference materials like plans and guides. This is already doable, and I will be building that out prior to the Anaheim conference so that those of you attending will be able to drop by booth # 694 to see more about it.
Also, one of the happy surprises that I learned from my Metaverse Josh readings was that at each workstation, we have been able to attach a hotspot to each chair which basically means that your avatar will actually be able to sit at the workstation. It was kind of fun working with this initially because I couldn’t figure out how to get the avatar sitting and once in a while he would end up standing on the workstation. But we’ve resolved that and the sitting thing now works.
Second, as you sign into the room you will be given an opportunity to pick an avatar to represent you. In the early stages we are going with the standard avatar choices that come with the platform, but all the indicators that I’m seeing in the Spatial and Unity posts suggest that we’re not too far away from being able to build an avatar that fairly represents you and what you look like. More on that as it evolves. As a side bonus I suppose, the avatar as it is currently configured in Spatial does some pretty funky dance moves if you want it to. Clearly, one of the by-products of its initial design for gaming.
But what we have been working on as part of the avatar customization functionality is the ability for the avatar to put on a colored ICS vest. There’s been a couple of ways to do this and it is still very much a work in progress but it is doable and we will have that in place shortly.
And here’s where it starts to get interesting. The third observation I will share with you is that it looks like we will have the ability to do real-time online EOC scenario-based training. We have been working on some great emergency management automations in another tool. I'd love to be able to share that one with you right now but they are about to launch their new product and I don't want to ruin that for you. More on that in the very near future.
Without going into great detail, the basic flow here will be something like:
Players sign in to a training session that is managed by a facilitator; currently that would be someone from the DigitalEOC shop, but there’s no reason why that can’t be someone internal to an organization, or a good training consultant
the Players pick an EOC position and for the duration of the exercise, they will play that role
Scenario begins with the entry of some information into an Incident Report form; the forms and their processes can be configured to meet any organization’s business practices and new injects can come into the exercise by updating the Incident Report form
Some key events will be triggered by the information on the initial Incident Report form and subsequent updates, and tasks will be automatically assigned to personnel by their role
We've test-driven this a couple of times and it will work quite well. The facilitator will be able to time compress the exercise simply by adding the incident updates at whatever rate is appropriate. Still early stages, but this approach could also be one of those thinking outside the "elipsoid'' kind of things.
So now that I’m back home and in my office, and a bunch of the “life happens” stuff is over and done, I can focus on this almost exclusively. We will have some cool stuff to show folks at our booth at the Anaheim Disaster Expo in a few weeks. If any of you are going to be at the Expo, please drop by Booth # 694. We’d love to get your insights on this technology and where you think it can go.
“Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.”