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Emergency Sevices – start collaborating online

In meeting with emergency services teams from across North America, we’ve noticed that many struggle to effectively manage large scale projects. Why? Reduced budgets have resulted in less staff to tackle mounting workloads and in many instances the need to regionalize certain services demands that large groups from diverse departments and organizations must work together. In short, emergency services professionals are dealing with more work on a broader scale with less support than ever before. With this in mind, we wanted to highlight a few online collaboration tools that could help.

A note about online collaboration tools

Over the last several years, there has been a lot of interest in online collaboration. Corporations have embraced and use these tools on a regular basis, while government and volunteer groups lag somewhat - a trend we’d like to see reversed. Security, for the most part is excellent and the tools themselves have become increasingly easy to use with substantial improvements around data portability (the ease with which you can take your data and leave should you choose). While marketing is targeted at the business world, it doesn’t take much effort to see how these tools could be of benefit in emergency services.

What do they do?

At their core, all of these products are designed to make it easier for people to work together - to get your organization on the same page about what really matters. People can work from virtually any location and from almost any device. All of the tools that we’ll look at aim to move people out of their e-mail inboxes and into a centralized location where projects can be managed more effectively. Generally speaking, all of these applications will allow you to create projects, set deadlines, assign tasks to people, group documents, track conversations, monitor progress and achieve objectives sooner.

How can collaboration tools be used?

We see almost unlimited potential for the use of collaboration tools by emergency services. These tools could be used to coordinate a tender for new equipment purchases or to manage complex capital projects. Better manage the creation of your new website. Streamline ordering and eliminate duplication. Draft policy and guidelines faster. Make sure your next fundraiser goes off without a hitch. Better prepare for budget processes. Devise more engaging training…the list goes on. We also see huge potential to manage certain aspects of operations using these tools - a great topic for a future post.

So if you’re up for giving online collaboration a try, here are a few tools that have impressed us.


Asana offers a free account for organizations with up to 30 members. The application is good at keeping people focussed on the right information - prioritizing key tasks and tracking who is responsible for what. We’ve found Asana to be hugely powerful but the Asana interface does have lots of moving parts and may be a little overwhelming to some users. With this in mind, we’d recommend this tool to a relatively tech savvy group.


Basecamp is the undisputed king of collaboration. While there is no ’free’ plan, $20/month would serve to get most groups up and running - a steal in our opinion. Basecamp is very easy to use and strips away visual clutter to make even the least technical user feel comfortable jumping right in. We’ve found this tool is best for groups that have varying degrees of comfort with computers. The team behind Basecamp also offers exceptional support for those that might need a little assistance getting started.


One of our favourite collaboration tools. Made available at no charge courtesy of Fog Creek software. Trello is extremely flexible and intuitive - think of Trello as a gigantic whiteboard with index cards that can be moved about as work progresses. As an example, you might move your cards (or projects) through various states such as Pending, Doing or Waiting. Click on a card and enough details are revealed for even the most obsessive personalities.