More AI – from the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) Annual Forum, October 2023

Emergency Management Once Removed

November 6, 2023

By Jim Mullen

A follow- up to my recent post (“A Thought about Taking the AI Plunge”) on the risk/reward associated embracing artificial intelligence comes from the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) October 2023 forum panel discussion on this subject. My take described in my previous post was written over the summer, but this discussion at a national meeting of state emergency management directors suggests that  I am not alone in my cautionary message.

The panel discussion was entitled “AI Unleashed: Revolutionizing Emergency Management Amidst Risks and Challenges…”

Key Conclusions:

  • AI can be a great boon with the potential to be a major threat.
  • A benefit is the ability to quickly synthesize data and documents for rapid reporting and decision making – simplifying the complexities of sifting through reports and voluminous data.
  • Danger comes from the ease with which malign actors can pull data and facts and distort reality to the detriment of persons affected by disaster, or merely to erode trust in government’s competence, compassion and capability.
  • While probably a major asset in a recovery application process as people try to report accurately on their losses and government tries to assess damage on a global scale for a disaster area, there remains danger and it is urgent to PROCEED WITH CAUTION! In the haste to overcome and alter a cumbersome process there is peril as noted above.

FEMA  Administrator Criswell’s remarks in her address to NEMA referenced the concern that a foreign adversary might take advantage of a natural disaster to spread misinformation and foment distrust of government among those affected by the disaster- this aligns with the domestic threats as well where even our  fellow countrymen are engaged in instilling doubt, confusion and distrust in a difficult situation.

A plenary session entitled  “Our New Global Environment: Are We Prepared to Manage Consequences while Facing  Coordinated Attack on our Infrastructure? “ included a sobering remark from a US Army NorthCom representative: foreign interests are pre-positioned to take quick advantage of opportunities natural disasters present (Note: on more than one occasion this threat was described as WAR by speakers, suggesting this is viewed as a national defense priority by the Administration). A current and future challenge for government authorities is developing a public information and education strategy to alert the public to this emerging threat, urging discernment before believing sources that are not regulated or lack a validating filter.

Next from NEMA 2023: Beware of MDM (Misinformation, Disinformation, Mal-information)

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Jim has spent 3 decades in emergency management, including 12 years at the local level as director of the City of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management and 8 and a half years as Washington State’s Emergency Management Division Director. Jim retired from state service in March 2013. Jim also served as President of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) from January 2011 to October 2012. He is currently sole proprietor of “EM Northwest Consulting” based in Seattle.

Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.