Building a Situational Awareness Toolkit for Emergency Management

Ashley Morris
4 min readNov 8, 2020
Photo of Williamson County Emergency Operations Center during a tabletop exercise.

A key aspect of successful emergency management involves a thorough awareness of current and future events in and around your jurisdiction. It also includes important information such as weather observations, weather forecasts, critical infrastructure operations (such as utility outage centers), and digital information. Keeping an organized library of links, websites, and resources in advanced can help for planned and unplanned incident activations.

When I first started emergency management a few years ago, I realized that I perform better during incidents if I pre-prepare my own tools and resources. Thus, I started organizing the tools that I previously used during EOC activations into labeled folders in my Chrome browser. I also created a resource checklist of the resources and links in Evernote, a note platform that syncs to a cloud from a computer or a phone. Over time, I have added and removed resources. After I took my new position across the country, I realized that I needed to update my Texas resources to Maryland, DC, and Virginia ones!

Currently, I have four folders: EM (Emergency Management), WX (Weather), EOC (Emergency Operations Center), and Comms (Communications). This is not an exclusive list — I expect to continue to add more as I experience different incidents and find more cool resources! *Note: No suggestions are endorsements in any way.*

Emergency Management Folder

My EM folder includes tools that I use on blue-sky and grey-sky days for general emergency management needs. This includes jurisdiction resources, such as local government webpages, jurisdiction demographic analysis, GIS map libraries, EM tools (WebEOC, Everbridge, etc), social media pages, and outage centers. Below are a few examples:

  1. MD/VA County Map [Includes cities, roads, and other geographic info]
  2. Fairfax County Districts and Board of Supervisors page
  3. Fairfax County Static Map Gallery [Printable Map PDFs]
  4. Fairfax County GIS Interactive Map Website
  5. County Demographics [US Census and Data USA]
  6. WebEOC Log-in
  7. Mass Notification Log-in
  8. Hootsuite Log-In [For agency page social media management]
  9. CANVA [For graphic and visual design — mostly for social media]
  10. Twitter, Facebook, and Nextdoor Log-in
  11. TweetDeck [Used for social listening and VOSTing — with pre-filled search strings to find storm reports or incident info from tweets]
  12. Report Outage/Outage Map [Call information and Visual Outage display]
  13. Volunteer Management Software

Weather Folder

The weather folder includes tools used to looks at weather observations (current weather conditions) as well as future weather (official weather forecasts and model systems). I originally went to school and studied atmospheric science and geosciences for a future weather forecasting job, so weather data and forecasting is still a skill that I harness for my emergency management roles. For those of you with similar meteorological backgrounds, I will include these tools! However, I never encourage use of meteorological tools without the proper education or background in doing so. It is always better to leave the high-level forecasting up to the professionals at your local National Weather Service office! I’ll clearly mark what tools are for the weather-savvy group with an *.

  1. National Weather Service Home Office page(NWS Baltimore/Washington)
  2. NWS Storm Prediction Center (SPC)homepage
  3. NWS Weather Prediction Center (WPC) homepage
  4. NOAA National Hurricane Center (NHC) homepage
  5. NWSChat Live Link [A chatroom with direct access to NWS Balt/Wash mets. If you don’t have an account yet, request one from their Warning Coordinator Meteorologist. EXTREMELY valuable for weather activations]
  6. Pivotal Weather [Weather Models — Free version]*
  7. WINDY [Weather observations and some basic weather modeling projections]
  8. Plymouth State Weather Center*
  9. Tropical Tidbits*
  10. Mikes Weather Page
  11. USGS Water Gauges: []
  12. USGS Water Watch: []
  13. CoCoRaHS Citizen Report Rain Gauges: []
  14. Hourly Precipitation Estimates: []
  15. NWS Enhanced Data Display: []
  16. GOES16 Satellite*: []
  17. Satellite Locations*: []
  18. Zulu Time Table: []
  19. Heat Stress Index Calculator*: []
  20. US Wind Vector Map: []
  21. VA Air Quality Website: []

Emergency Operations Center Folder

I had A LOT more resources in this folder for my previous position, and I am still working on filling this folder based on my new roles. My new agency has a lot of the important information needed for duty officers or activations stored in guides and on drives, so many of the old information no longer needs to be in my own web browser. Here are a few I have so far:

  1. FEMA ICS Forms Library: []
  2. Virginia 511 Webpage [For VDOT cameras and road incidents/impacts]
  3. Maryland DOT Webpage [For MDOT road conditions and cameras]

Other ideas would include ANY resource that you may need to run your own EOC operations based on your roles. Previously, I had state websites required for local declarations and damage assessment reports. I also had first response CAD and other resources such as partner contacts. Consider all the possible resources you may need for an EOC activation and add to this folder based on your needs.

Communications Folder

This is actually a new folder that I just added based on my role involving public communication and risk communication. I hope to add resources and references that assist in public communication, such as:

  1. Weather jargon and probability resources
  2. Translation tools and resources
  3. Varying religion communication needs
  4. Access and functional needs communication [hard of hearing/deaf resources; ASL]
  5. Screen reader tools [To check website and social media accessibility]
  6. Emergency notification message crafting guides and references
  7. Crisis communication resources and guides

As I come across these and add tools, I will be sure to do a follow-up blog just on communication resources! I cannot wait to add these items!

Aaaaaaaaand there you have it. That is my newly updated situational awareness toolbox saved on my Chrome Favorites bar.

What do you think? What other resources do you use? Have any great weather tools? I am always looking for more, so please share!

Thanks for reading — stay prepared!



Ashley Morris

CEM | MD Emergency Management | Preparedness & Alerts & Plans | IMT | Social Media | VOST | SVI | Weather Forecasting | Geoscientist | GIS | ♥️🚒 #EMGTwitter