Over the past year VPC has been working on a rebranding project to update our logo and website to better promote our services and core capabilities, and to reflect our goals and strategies for the growth and future of VPC.

VPC has grown beyond a Hazard Mitigation Planning firm to providing a full suite of emergency management related services including Preparedness, Response and Recovery Planning as well as services such as Strategic Plans and Organizational Studies, Comprehensive Stakeholder Engagement Strategies, on-site program management support, and staff augmentation.

In our new logo, we strived toward a look that was both bold and crisp, yet simple and familiar. We have incorporated the familiar “whirl” of our old, hurricane-style logo, and reimagined it as a lens or telescope looking into the future as well as representing our focus on the general planning horizon. We see our future being tied closely with the future of our clients and partners.

A big thank you to our strategic IT partner, Fantail Technologies, of Fulton Maryland, for the website design and development , and for incorporating our new branding materials to offer a clean, cohesive, responsive, and visually appealing website (planvpc.com). We believe the new site aligns well with two of our core values – clarity and user-friendliness.

Our website serves as the repository for detailed information about our services, past performance, current contracts, partners, and other firm-related information. Our Newsroom provides a glimpse into our new projects, volunteer efforts, speaking engagements, and helpful tips and tricks.

For more information on our firm or services, please contact us at info@vision-pc.net.

The Maryland Planning Commissioners Association (MPCA) Conference offers Planning Commissioners, Board of Appeals members, and Citizen Planners an opportunity to learn, share experiences, and exchange ideas. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic, this year’s conference is being held digitally and hosted in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Planning.

The 37th annual MPCA Conference offers topics of interest to the more than 1,400 citizen planners serving Maryland's counties and municipalities. The theme this year is Contingency Planning and Resilient Boards, and will discuss topics that Maryland's citizen planning boards currently and will continue to face in the future. The MPCA is also partnering with the Maryland Department of Planning to develop four sessions that will be eligible to earn AICP CM Credits.

VPC is pleased to announce their session, titled Continuity Planning for County and Local Boards, is eligible for CM Credits. Many governments plan for emergencies through their Hazard Mitigation (HMP), Emergency Operations (EOP), or Continuity of Operations (COOP) Plans. While these plans provide excellent information, assumptions, procedures, checklists, and other tools for the jurisdiction at-large, they may not provide “frontline” actions or considerations specifically for planning boards. VPC’s presentation will discuss the various steps, procedures, and technologies that planning departments, boards, and commissions can take to ensure that they can continue working both during, and in a post-disaster environment.

For more information regarding the Conference, go to: https://bit.ly/2IjGqz0

For more information regarding VPC’s services and projects click here: www.planvpc.com

Ashley Samonisky, VPC’s Project Manager and Lead Planner, has been invited to participate in a focus group sponsored by the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS (NAPSG) and Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA), to discuss various social vulnerability, resilience, and risk indices and datasets currently available to the emergency management community. The indices under review include the: Community Resilience Indicator Analysis (CRIA); Social Vulnerability Index for the United States (SoVI); and Baseline Resilience Indicators for Communities (BRIC). NAPSG hopes to better understand these different risk, resilience, and vulnerability indices, and to develop guidance tools to help the emergency management community match their planning and operations needs with specific indices. The goal is to assist this community and their geospatial staff in quickly understanding what indices are available, the data and methodologies behind them, and their suitability for use in risk assessment, planning, and other preparedness projects.

Ms. Samonisky regularly works with small, rural communities with limited GIS, data analytics, and capacity building capabilities. “The incorporation of these indices into their planning processes would help alleviate some of those issues. The question becomes, which index to use, and when.” “It is my hope that by participating in the focus group, I am able to get a better understanding of these resources myself, so that I can recommend their use to clients in the future” Ms. Samonisky said.

By carefully reviewing each of the indices available, asking critical questions of the index stewards, and participating in index demonstrations, the focus group will allow NAPSG to develop in-depth guidance to make risk, resilience, and vulnerability indices and data more consumable to the average planner and emergency manager.

For more information on NAPSG click here.

For more information on Ms. Samonisky, or her work in emergency management and hazard mitigation, click here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of billions of people around the world. Not just those who have been diagnosed with, or are caring for family members with the virus, but those who own businesses, or work in the hospitality, travel, and other service industries, students whose lives have been upheaved as they approach the end of the school year, and the thousands of people who have been laid off or furloughed in light of the pandemic.

While the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and thousands of medical experts and local health authorities are emphasizing the importance of Physical Distancing (6 feet apart), this does not mean that we need to be socially distant! So what does it mean to be socially connected while remaining physically distant? To be technologically savvy! The technology currently available to keep people connected is as varied as is it accessible. Everything from basic chat, to social media platforms, to real-time video calling and media sharing, is easily available to, and accessible by, anyone with a smart device and a reliable internet connection.

Most of us are familiar with the “original” video call platform, Skype, but there are many alternatives available for users at any level, from beginner to advanced, and for various devices. In fact, Apple users have been enjoying the connectivity provided by Facetime for years. Below is a discussion of additional services and applications (apps) available for a variety of users and uses.

Many of the younger generations will tell you they have been using media sharing and video calling for the better part of a decade now. These features come standard in many popular social media platforms such as Facebook, SnapChat, and more recently, Instagram. These platforms are free to use, and only require an account and profile be set up for use. The apps are available on both Android and Apple devices, and provide chat, photo, and video capabilities. Additionally, Facebook offers Messenger and Messenger Kids, which does not require a full Facebook profile for use. Messenger Kids provides parents the additional security of controlling who their children can communicate with.

But what if you are not interested in being a social media user? What if you need to stay in touch for business or professional reasons? Well, there is an App for that! Businesses using either the Microsoft Office Suite or Google Productivity Suite already have access to a variety of connectivity platforms. While there may be a fee associated with the business level features, these apps are already included in most bundles. Businesses using Microsoft Office or Office 365 have access to Microsoft Teams (Teams) for all chat, media sharing, and video calling capabilities. Teams allows for up to 250 people in a meeting setting, and invitations can be sent to participants who are both inside and outside your organization. Microsoft also holds the ubiquitous Skype, which also allows for 250 participants and is available on both desktop and mobile devices.

Google business users have several options to stay in touch. Hangouts, Meet, and Duo are the three major apps available on desktop and/or devices for video calling. Google Duo is the Android answer to Apple’s Facetime. Duo can be downloaded to your device and only requires a free Gmail account; however, it is only good for one-on-one communication. Google Hangouts provides a platform for up to 10 participants on a video call, but may be more suited for personal use, whereas Google Meet is geared more towards business users and provides access for up to 100 participants, including the ability for outside participants to join, and encryption for all video conferences.

If security is your chief concern, there are two apps available with end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp and Signal. While WhatsApp has been widely used by the international community for years, especially for family members who are in different parts of the globe, Signal is not only a serious competitor, it may be the optimal choice according to various side by side comparisons. While WhatsApp will share all of your meta data with Facebook unless you opt out, Signal does not collect metadata and its code is open source, so anyone interested can confirm that the app does what it purports to do, and the company is non-profit, so there is no sharing of your data for advertising revenue. Additionally, Signal is accessible from your laptop/desktop computer, so this provides another avenue for staying in touch.

A new entry to the “video calling” game is dating apps. Services such as Bumble and Plenty of Fish offer a “Video Date” option to their members. Not being able to meet someone in person has not slowed down the dating scene during the Pandemic, and it appears likely that this feature will be in such demand going forward, that other platforms may follow suit in the near future.

Finally, there are the apps designed solely to be videoconferencing platforms. These include Webex and Zoom. A long-time staple in business conferencing circles, Webex now offers a free Personal Subscription tier. Webex is also compatible with your Facebook or Google accounts for additional interconnectivity. A relative newcomer to video calling is the app Houseparty. The app allows up to eight users per session, and provides unlimited sessions. An added bonus to Houseparty is it has built in games for users to play such as trivia, Quick Draw (Pictionary), and even Heads Up, a guessing game made famous by The Ellen Show.

Zoom, while a longtime participant in the free video conferencing arena, has faced serious security breaches and public backlash recently since physical distancing orders have been issued around the world. Hundreds of thousands of users have flocked to Zoom to keep in touch with family and loved ones, and with them, those looking to abuse Zoom’s ease of access and seemingly universal reach. Malicious actors have entered unsecured Zoom meetings and posted everything from profanities, to hate speech, to pornography. The problem is so serious and widespread that the FBI has issued an advisory on Zoom.
While the warning does not suggest users should avoid Zoom entirely, it does provide several useful tips for securing your meeting to prevent unwanted attendees. The FBI recommends the following tips:

Additionally, Zoom released its own advisory, which includes many of the same recommendations from the FBI, but also provides instructions on how to activate each of the security features discussed.

These readily available technologies make staying home together not only bearable, but also, more interesting, and for many, more fun. So, no matter which platform you use to keep connected throughout the pandemic, make sure to enable whatever security features the platform provides. Refrain from posting links to meetings where they are publicly accessible, do not accept invitations from strangers, and above all, be safe, have fun, and enjoy being together at home.

Note* All apps discussed are free and easily available on the Google Play Store, the Microsoft Store, and the Apple App Store, however some business users may require a paid subscription for enterprise level accessibility.

There have been various stories on the news and throughout social media showing pictures of empty store shelves, airports and train stations with ‘masked’ travelers, and even fights between customers in stores over likely unnecessary supplies! While the panic over COVID-19 has been just as damaging to businesses, governments, and the public as the actual virus, the truth is, there are many ways to protect yourself and your family that goes above stockpiling disinfectants and face masks.

To better understand what a “pandemic” is, and how it is likely to affect you, here are some useful definitions. According to the CDC:

Virus - A tiny organism that multiplies within cells and causes disease such as chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis and hepatitis. Viruses are not affected by antibiotics, the drugs used to kill bacteria.

Outbreak - Sudden appearance of a disease in a specific geographic area (e.g. neighborhood or community) or population (e.g., adolescents).

Epidemic - The occurrence of disease within a specific geographical area or population that is in excess of what is normally expected.

Pandemic - An epidemic occurring over a very large geographic area.

Exposure - Swallowing, breathing, or touching a substance through the skin or eyes. Exposure duration may be immediate, short term (14 days or less), intermediate, or long term (more than 1 year).

Incubation period - The time from contact with infectious agents (bacteria or viruses) to onset of disease.

Quarantine - The isolation of a person or animal who has a disease (or is suspected of having a disease) in order to prevent further spread of the disease.

As of March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. What this means for the average person is that we should all be taking basic precautions and limiting international travel, wherever possible. As the virus is transmitted through “small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales,” we have the ability to prevent further spread of the virus through simple preventative measures.

Here at VPC, we are taking the responsibility for our role in preventing potential exposure or transmission of COVID-19, very seriously. Our staff travels regularly throughout the mid-Atlantic for business, and as such we have an obligation to ensure our clients, partners, and the public are not put at unnecessary risk. VPC has instituted a “work from home” policy for the next two weeks, and has been, and will continue to, conduct all our meetings via online video conferencing (WebEx, Teams, Skype, etc.). While staff is working from home, the VPC offices have undergone a thorough cleaning and disinfecting process. Our staff members have been allowed to work flex hours to make up for lost time in caring for sick family members, doctors’ visits, altered schedules for their children, etc. Some staff have voluntarily cancelled travel plans to places outside Maryland, and certainly outside the US, as well as to attend any unnecessary local or social events, and large gatherings.

For your BusinessBelow are some additional precautions we recommend you take to protect your organization or business:

For your Home

In addition to the risk reduction measures mentioned above, such as limiting travel and disinfecting community items/property, additional home and personal measures could include:

The ability to travel anywhere in the world in only a few hours is great for businesses, vacationers, and even families that are spread across continents. However, it is incumbent upon us to assume responsibility for limiting the potential spread of this unprecedented virus, by restricting attendance at large gatherings, and domestic and international travel where feasible. While a virus or pandemic may be a natural occurrence, the spread of the virus is certainly in our hands (pun intended).

VPC has been developing preparedness and risk mitigation plans for natural, man-made, and technological hazards for over 14 years. We are poised to develop pandemic plans for universities, local governments, and businesses across the country. We are in the process of developing a Pandemic Plan for a city in the Mid-Atlantic in the coming weeks. VPC's plans include international best practices, and are tailored to focus on preparedness for, mitigation against, response to, and recovery from an outbreak or pandemic event in your area.

For more information on developing a pandemic plan for your business, organization, or jurisdiction, contact us at info@vision-pc.net, or call us direct at 888-872-9626.

For more information on COVID-19, or other pandemic updates, follow the links below:

Ashley Samonisky, VPC’s Project Manager and Lead Planner, has been selected by the Maryland Historical Trust to serve on the Maryland Heritage Areas Program Grant Review Panel for FY 2021. She has been appointed to a one-year term, and will be eligible to serve an additional three-year term thereafter. Ms. Samonisky is one of 20 panelists who will play a critical role in the review of grant applications submitted to the Program. The Panel helps the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority “ensure that the grants awarded by the Authority are distributed fairly and equitably across the State of Maryland.”

The Maryland Heritage Areas Program provides grants for projects in the 13 certified heritage areas across Maryland. The Program supports economic development through the development of heritage tourism projects and the preservation of natural, cultural and historic resources and awards up to $5.1 million in grants each year, through a competitive process.

Ms. Samonisky is honored and delighted to have been selected for such an appointment. Her background in hazard mitigation for historic properties and vulnerability assessments provide a unique and welcome perspective on the grants review process.

“I am excited to bring together my personal interests in history and heritage, and my professional skills in mitigation and planning to serve such an incredible cause.”

Ms. Samonisky conducted a research and mapping project of the cemeteries in Dorchester County as the capstone project for her geography degree from Salisbury University, and has always held a special regard for the unique history and culture throughout Maryland. Ms. Samonisky’s own family have been Maryland residents for over 200 years, so the program has personal sentiment as well.

“It is my hope, that, by serving on the Panel, I not only get to learn about all the amazing preservation and heritage projects going on throughout the State, but also to have an opportunity to help protect these buildings and resources from future damage or loss by incorporating hazard mitigation principles into the planning and implementation processes.”

For more information on the Maryland Heritage Areas Program or Maryland Historical Trust click here.

For more information on Ms. Samonisky, or her work in emergency management and hazard mitigation, click here.

VPC recently presented at the Global Symposium on Disaster-Resilient Smart Cities at the Institute of Industrial Development in New Delhi, India. VPC was among over 100 other speakers, from five continents, who were invited to discuss needs, gaps, and success stories on smart city initiatives from all over the world. VPC posed a challenge question: “Are Smart Cities really disaster resilient?”, and conversely, are cities with disaster resilience initiatives considered smart? VPC’s presentation comprised case studies of smart elements/initiatives/technologies from around the globe in the areas of disaster preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery.

This Symposium was organized in collaboration with: the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India, which is the nodal ministry for implementing Smart Cities Mission in India; Netexplo Smart Cities Accelerator group of Paris; Indian National Institute of Disaster Management; Indian Oil Corporation Ltd; Delhi Transco Ltd; Indian Council of Social Science Research; Institute for Studies in Industrial Development; and the United Nations Environment Programme.

The Symposium generated wide deliberation and discourse on building disaster-resilient smart cities by bringing together stakeholders from the Prime Minister's Smart Cities Mission, academia, the public-sector, and experts from the Smart City Accelerator group of Paris.

The Symposium brought together great minds from all over the world – and provided a distinguished platform to identify gaps and discuss common solutions to reduce global risk. “Sometimes we have to take baby steps that may go unnoticed, but we are still making progress”, says VPC President, Deepa Srinivasan.

Talks ranged from city branding and resilience to emergency preparedness, social vulnerability, citizen empowerment, air pollution reduction, and improved community governance. The Symposium was well covered on social and print media, as well as on TV and radio.

“With VPC setting up its main office in Pune, and branches in Delhi, Chennai, and Bangalore, we hope we do our part to improve disaster resiliency in Indian states, cities, and villages. Our goal is to build on local capacity and educate and empower at the grass roots level” reported Ms. Srinivasan.

All papers from the Symposium will be compiled and published by Springer Publications as Smart City Global Best Practices. For more information contact Deepa Srinivasan at dsrinivasan@vision-pc.net.

The Vision Planning and Consulting, LLC. (VPC) team just returned from Fairbanks, Alaska, after facilitating a week-long workshop for the Alaska Fire Service (AFS) to re-evaluate the Agency’s organizational structure. The workshop included: delineating roles and responsibilities, crafting new mission and vision statements, discussing pros and cons of proposed duty reassignments, and hands-on activities such as drafting new Tables of Organization.

AFS Leadership participating in a hands-on reorganization exercise

AFS Leadership participating in a hands-on reorganization exercise Over the four-day period, VPC helped the AFS leadership identify the roles and responsibilities of AFS, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) State Office; worked with AFS to reassign certain operational functions and duties to other offices or units, for a more efficient and better aligned organization; and developed a long-term reorganizational structure.

AFS Leadership with VPC Team Representatives

VPC will develop a transition plan for AFS which will include current and future: positions; branch/unit; supervisors; GS pay scales; interdependencies to implementation; and a priority and timeline. This will allow AFS to implement their planning actions and track them consistently.

For more information contact: Deepa Srinivasan at dsrinivasan@vision-pc.net.

Vision Planning and Consulting, LLC, a leading US based company specializing in emergency management, disaster management, recovery planning, and capacity building, is happy to announce our expansion into India, with our Headquarters in Pune.

Answering the demand and need for disaster management services in various parts of Asia, VPC’s expansion will better serve pre- and post-disaster planning efforts in India and South Asia. The move comes on the heels of months of planning and team-building. VPC President, Deepa Srinivasan, presented disaster planning concepts at two International Disaster Management in India earlier this year, and attended a number of presentations, which validated our decision to have a local presence in India.

“With flooding in various parts of India affecting millions of people these past few months, it falls on the shoulders of experts like us to pave the way and strive to create disaster-resilient communities. Our focus is on emergency preparedness and hazard mitigation: we want to ensure communities are poised and ready to face the next disaster. I have a sense of cautious optimism and excitement as we embark into this new territory and aim to fill this gap” said Deepa Srinivasan, President. “Our expansion into Asia is our commitment to reduce risk among local communities using tried and tested disaster management techniques from the west.” She added.

VPC staff will assist clients on hazard mitigation planning, floodplain management, disaster recovery planning, strategic and communications planning, and Continuity of Operations (COOP) and Emergency Operations (EOP) planning. Additionally, VPC will provide disaster management courses through an online portal to planners, responders, local officials, and residents on such topics as governance, inter-departmental coordination, disaster risk management framework, smart cities, and hazard mitigation.

VPC is registered as Vision Planning and Consulting, Private Limited (doing business as - VPC India). Learn More here at www.planvpc.co.in

Come join us at the India Water Week (IWW) Conference in New Delhi on 27 September for a session on Flood Risk Management of Urban Areas (Chennai Metropolitan Area).

The VPC Team is thrilled to head to Alaska this fall! We are supporting the Department of the Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Alaska Fire Service (AFS) with strategic planning, workshop, technical, administrative, and facilitation activities. We look forward to working with key Stakeholders including: State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and major Native Corporations in Alaska, among others.

alaska-67164

The Alaska Fire Service is tasked with providing wildland fire management for all DOI managed lands and Native Lands in Alaska. BLM maintains and operates the primary DOI wildland fire suppression organization in Alaska with the goal to provide cost-effective wildland fire response and suppression services and minimize unnecessary duplication of suppression systems for DOI bureaus/offices.

VPC will work closely with AFS to reestablish expectations from the land management agencies it serves and is looking to reestablish its mission/vision statements and develop the most efficient organizational structure to achieve current and future expectations. Through a collaborative process, VPC will facilitate the development of a Strategic Plan with the goal of transitioning AFS to an organization that meets its current and anticipated future needs.

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