One of the most under-discussed benefits of planned communities is their responsiveness to residents’ needs. Prime examples of this can be seen in both California and Florida, two locations where municipalities built to civic plans that included clear population density goals and leveraged the design of neighborhoods and the social networks in those communities when dealing with a natural disaster. In California, this is seen in the response to recent wildfires, with entire communities managing a mobilized evacuation smoothly and without significant loss of life. In Florida, the same kind of responsiveness is frequently seen during hurricanes and other extreme weather events.
Local community planning specialists like PRAC Group’s Roger O’steen understand this and leverage new consumer technologies to help their planned communities mobilize. Today’s emergency planning goes beyond organizing at the neighborhood association meeting and having clear protocols for reuniting friends and family. Instead, local Florida communities are managing to notify and mobilize entire populations with the power of mobile technology, even when those communities have 20,000 or 30,000 people.
How Mobile Apps Transformed Mobilization
The last great revolution in emergency mobilization happened at the dawn of the broadcast era when widespread radio ownership virtually guaranteed that everyone could tune in for information if they became aware of an ongoing emergency. This reduced the need for home-to-home notification of evacuations and calls for help during extreme weather. It didn’t work as a perfect system, but it drastically improved both people’s response times and the number of people who could be notified. When it came down to things, though, there were always going to be a few weak points.
- People who dislike broadcast communications like television and radio are less likely to use them as emergency news channels
- Those who are economically incapable of participating in the system
- People who are asleep or otherwise incapable of tuning in
With the advent of SMS mobile messages and then later smartphones, many of the people in those three categories gained a method of notification. While many people resist integrating mobile technology too far into their personal lives, almost everyone is reliant on it for professional purposes and personal organization. Not only does this help notify people who don’t regularly use broadcast communication, but it can also go further than phone notifications did. If your community sponsors an app, detailed information about specific events and organization points can be disseminated in real-time. With the right features, people can even check in safe, message friends and family, and volunteer for roles organizing the response effort.
Communities like those planned by Roger Osteen Jacksonville are prime candidates for this kind of investment, but will they bite? App development can be expensive. Once these locales reach their carrying weight population-wise, though, their contributions to the local economy and their collective economic power through their community organizations should make it possible. With a little planning from the right community-building organization, they could even be baked into the original town plan to attract tech-savvy millennial families.
Planned communities are ideal resources for both families and local governments, especially in an age of extreme weather events. The added ease of organizing communities like this makes it easier for them to respond quickly to emergencies, and it also allows residents to more directly participate if they have the will and the skills. The results have already been powerful, but what is needed now is a powerful technology company to step up and design the infrastructure tools that make rolling these ideas out easy in every community with the right social organization to operate them. A similar process democratized web design, so when will it work for emergency management applications that scale to town-wide standards?