The East Coast is still digging out after Winter Storm Jonas, some places faster than others. An important part of recovery from major weather events is reliable information, and there’s reason to think some areas hit by Jonas could be doing a better job. This isn’t just about knowledge; it’s about emergency management.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency Student Training Manual reads in part:

“During an incident, communication with the community becomes especially critical…Well-conceived and effectively delivered emergency messages can help ensure public safety, protect property, facilitate response efforts, elicit cooperation, instill public confidence, and help families reunite.”

Information must be correct, dependable, and timely, and it is essential for decision makers, be they individuals, businesses, or governments, to consider the usefulness of the data. People and organizations make decisions based on the information available to them. An absence of reliable information therefore has real impact. In short, information is a source of influence and power.

Local, state, and federal governments must strive to do as good a job as possible, and in some instances of damaging storms, sometimes they have fallen short. For example, recent communications with Montgomery County residents suggest residents are not receiving timely information on mundane things like snow plowing. One Montgomery County resident complained:

“Last night the County map did not show our neighborhood as being ‘in progress’ but from 5 or 6 PM onward, it did show the neighborhood across Bradley from our streets as ‘in progress.’ So the map was updated sometime between ~11:00 PM and 7:00 AM in that it now has added us (and many other neighborhoods) to the ‘in progress’ category, but the people who answer the ‘311’ line only can give us the information that they have been given – and that information is quite diffuse.”

This is not a minor matter. Accurate snowfall data informs disaster recovery. A case in point is the January 27 roof collapse of Shiloh Christian Fellowship Church in Montgomery County after about 38 inches of snow landed on top of it. While there were thankfully no injuries, another partial roof collapse on January 23 at a condominium complex (also in Montgomery County) left more than 200 Gaithersburg condos without power or gas. There had been fears that the weight of snow could cause roof collapse; could better data have supported a better response, perhaps avoiding these serious structural failures?

This is also a consideration for emergency response. In 2008, a Pennsylvania ambulance was misdirected due to incorrect computer data, delaying response. As Science Daily reported recently: “Ambulances deployed at temporary locations that can be changed depending on the time of day and accident statistics can reduce response time and may save lives on the way to the hospital.”

The lack of better information can make a real difference when it comes to public health, safety, and security. It is vital to effective decision-making in almost every aspect of our lives.