When Richard Serino, the Deputy Administrator of FEMA visited Joplin, MO, after the tornadoes there, he was interviewed by the media and asked: Can FEMA handle this disaster? His response: “If we were doing this alone – no, we couldn’t.”
Serino delivered the keynote address at the 59th Annual IAEM Conference and EMEX 2011 and his message is that responding to a disaster is a team effort and FEMA is only a small part of that team. FEMA can provide a lot of ‘stuff’ to a disaster response, as can other Federal agencies (like DOD), local, state and tribal governments, faith-based communities and the private sector. But the most important part of the team is the citizen and the community, and he went on to elaborate on the “Whole Community” message FEMA has been pushing.
“We managed to get through disasters before FEMA was established in 1993," Serino said because survivors are basically resilient and do help each other during disasters.
During the tornadoes in the Southeast U.S. earlier this year, there were 84 different volunteer groups, that served 134,000 meals, giving 275,000 hours of service with 41,000 volunteers. Who organized them? “Not FEMA,” Serino said. “Other volunteers organized the volunteers.”
He used an example from Joplin where the faith-based community stepped up. Southern Baptists brought tractor-trailers with kitchens that could feed 50,000 people. Those meals were taken by the Red Cross to a shelter set up by the Lutheran Community and another shelter down the street set up by the Muslim Community.
Serino was in Boston before he was appointed to this position by President Obama, and had always worked closely with the private sector. “The private sector is what gets the community back up and running, they put people back to work so they stay in the community,” he said. Then can do big things, of course, but they can also do small things, like bringing in equipment so people can charge their cell phones.
During the first federal disaster after he was appointed – the earthquake in Haiti – he was in the NRC (National Responses Center – the federal version of an EOC) and he asked where the private sector representatives were. They weren't there. Serino set up a system that brought representatives from large private sector companies, like Verizon and Big Lots, into the NRC for 3-month rotations.
Since 9-11, FEMA has given out $32.9 billion in grants. “Are we better prepared than we were 10 years ago?” he asked. “The short answer is ‘yes’, but when you go to Congress, you can’t just say ‘yes’, you have to prove it.”
For example, the primary problem identified after most events or exercises is … communication. During the floods and tornadoes in Missouri and along the Missouri River earlier this year, most of those jurisdictions didn’t have major communication problems. Why? “Because FEMA and the local communities had invested a lot of money into their infrastructure to make sure it wasn’t a problem,” he said.
Another example - FEMA didn’t deploy any USAR’s or MRC’s to those disasters. “We didn’t need to,” Serino said. FEMA and the local communities spent money to build local capacity for search and rescue and medical triage sites.
Serino said FEMA expected there would be twelve $1 billion disasters this year. Right now, there are 21 Joint Field Offices open supporting 36 major declarations right now. There are only three states that haven’t asked for a disaster declaration this year. (W Virginia, Michigan, S Carolina).
Moving forward, FEMA wants to be more survivor centric, not government centric. To help that goal, Serino set up a virtual thinktank at http://www.fema.gov/thinktank where anyone can submit ideas and concepts that would help push the “Whole Community” initiative forward. Serrino will hold conference calls once a month to discuss the top 4-5 issues submitted through that forum.
He encouraged all emergency managers and responders take advantage of this opportunity to submit their ideas directly to FEMA.
One of the persistent comments I’ve heard about our professional conferences over the past few years has been about how boring the presentations are. This comment comes exclusively from a handful of professionals who could reasonable be considered jaded by how long they have been in this business. The attitude is something like: I know all this already, there is nothing else for me to learn.
Let me make an important distinction here between the content and the presentation. Poor presentations are the bane of conferences. I cringe in a breakout session when the speaker reads from their Powerpoint slides, and – like everybody else – get really interested in my Blackberry.
The other comment often heard is how important it is for us to mentor and encourage newcomers to this field. This generally comes from that handful of professionals dedicated to counseling and supporting new arrivals – whether they are students or lateral transitions or retirees from other fields
Let me argue that listening to presentations we’ve already heard a hundred times is part of that support. When the mind is open, an experienced professional can hear different perspectives, new directions, developing trends. A real professional can get a sense of how to influence where this profession is going. A real professional will engage in the discussion and add the wisdom of his/her experience.
On the other hand, the professional who already knows everything, or is getting ready to retire and doesn’t want new ideas, will stand outside the meeting rooms and grumble there is nothing worth sitting in on.
This week, I’m at the IAEM-USA 59th Annual Conference and EMEX 2011, which has grown exponentially over the past five years with the increased visibility of Emergency Management. There were 3000 pre-registrations and the EMEX floor will have 200 vendor displays. There are important keynote speakers and almost 100 breakout sessions covering everything from sheltering pets to community engagement to special needs planning to (duh!) social media. Lots of exciting new people and ideas.
I’m already hearing both sides – “Don’t these guys know we already have that?” and “There is a real need for educated and accomplished people in this field.” – and the Conference doesn’t officially start until tomorrow!
It really is our job, as the seasoned professional, to model the behavior we want to see carried into the future. I’m hoping the grumblers will see this blog and do so.
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I’m in Las Vegas this week. Yeah, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas;, but it also happens to be the venue for the annual IAEM (International Association of Emergency Managers) Conference and EMEX 2011. Last night, when I got here, I managed to learn a sobering and thoughtful lesson in psychological resiliency.
Stay with me here and let me explain.
The first thing that happened to me when I arrived at the Rio Hotel and Casino is that my sister, Debbie, drove off with my Blackberry. The second was that I lost my wallet.
Ten years ago, not having your cell phone wouldn’t be a calamity because there were pay phones one could use to place calls; AND we kept important numbers in our head or a PDA or Day Timer. Ten years ago, one could explain a lost wallet to a desk clerk who could find a way to allow you to check in without a picture ID and major credit card.
Today, we keep our memories (and contact information, playlists, photos, etc.) in our smart phones, and not having a picture ID and credit card makes one somewhat of a social outcast.
As long as I’ve been an Emergency Manager, I must admit I simply froze in amazement when I realized that I couldn’t call my sister to bring my cell back because her phone number was in my cell and I didn’t know what it was.
After spending some time trying to get the hotel personnel at the registration desk to let me use a landline phone (no luck), and running around trying to find someone I knew so I could use their cell phone (no luck), it occurred to me I did have my laptop (duh!!!). Except there was no free wifi and I couldn’t tether to my Blackberry because – it was in the car with Debbie. That’s when I pulled my wallet out, got distracted by events, and lost track of it.
Later that evening (over drinks – of course) David Black, the Emergency Manager at the University of Toronto, was talking about research comparing the relationship between resiliency and various factors, including socio economic status. It occurred to us that those folks who are more socially mobile and financially solvent can be less resilient to emergencies, because their contingency plan is to throw down a credit card and make it go away. On the other hand, people who don’t have that luxury can be more accustomed to finding resources and managing on less. The more complex the systems we live in and depend on, the more vulnerable we can feel when they disappear.
Example: I recall a major, long-term power outage in a community where many of the calls to the emergency responders were from people who couldn’t get their garage doors open so they could park their cars and didn’t know what to do about it. If you’ve been in this business for very long, I’ll bet you have many stories along the same lines.
Here’s the lesson for Emergency Managers: planning for resiliency means planning for psychological resilience and that has many faces that can effect your response in many different ways. Before you dismiss this by handing it off to the medical/mental health section in your EOC, think about it: Is this a gap in your planning that is gonna come back to haunt you?
Back to my story: It took longer than I want to admit for me to realize I really wasn’t in any danger and did have resources I could draw on. I blame the delay on the distracting cacophony of slot machines.
I’d like to thank these people at the Rio: Steve (Conventions and Events), Andrew (Bell Desk), Sam (Front Desk) for making listening to my story and helping me get registered. Also, Bill (Security) for putting up with my multiple visits asking if my wallet had been found and then calling me immediately when it was turned in. It was untouched except for the couple who found it kicked between a couple slot machines. And thank to my sister, who not only brought my smartphone back as soon as she realized she had it, but staying around for moral support.
Now I can concentrate on the rest of the IAEM conference and not worry about paying for my own drinks.
I wrote a blog a few days ago about Crisis Commons and the role of other Volunteer Technical Communities in major disasters. When you put skilled, technical volunteer programmers and software developers together with disaster relief needs – you get some pretty amazing stuff.
Here is the Crisis Commons Wiki page and the Google PersonFinder page. This might not be a disaster on the order of Haiti, but the differences between this earthquake and the one back in 1999 - because of the presence of social networking and Volunteer Technical Communities like Crisis Commons - is pretty astounding. It is contrasted pretty well in a TIME blog today by Pelin Turgut, their Turkey correspondent.
"The last devastating earthquake Turkey experienced was in 1999, back when it was still largely an analogue world, email was in its infancy and Mark Zuckerberg was just another high school dreamer. As a reporter I had to lug a satellite phone around to dictate bleak daily missives from disaster-stricken western Turkey (20,000 people had died, entire avenues were wiped out) because there was no other means of communication. Official relief took days to arrive. And when it did, it was often inadequate and poorly planned.
"Contrast that to yesterday's disaster. Hours after a 7.2 earthquake struck Van, in eastern Turkey, technologies whirred into motion that would have been unimaginable back then. Google has already reconfigured the person-finding tool it used in Haiti and Chile, allowing people to both request and post information about the safety of loved ones missing in the rubble. (Their system is currently tracking some 2,000 records.) Hashtags like #van, #deprem (earthquake in Turkish) trended instantly, and are being tweeted hundreds of times per second as people share information on how to help and what to donate. Groups like the Red Crescent (the Turkish equivalent of the Red Cross) and AKUT, a search-and-rescue organization have enabled one-click SMS donation services. On Facebook, users share updated information on aid requests – winter clothing, insulin, diapers — as filed by people on the ground in Van and have started pages listing bus and freight companies that are delivering aid packages free of charge."
There are also stories about people being rescued because they could tweet where they were in the rubble. Just another example of how fast and widespread the world is changing because social networking is radically altering how we communicate ...
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One of the most interesting developments in Emergency Management is the nexus between convergent volunteers and social media. One of the groups that tries to walk that line is Crisis Commons, a global movement creating virtual communities of volunteers using their technical expertise to help out in disasters.
You’ll hear more from me about these guys. There is a feature article for the magazine in the works, they are doing a breakout session at the upcoming IAEM conference, they testified before Congress in May, they have the support of FEMA. They collaborate with other VTC’s (volunteer technical communities), like CrisisMapping and Humanity Road. Not sure what kinds of things this approach can accomplish? Think the Katrina PeopleFinder Project, or the Christchurch Recovery Map. Be prepared to use Skype or Twitter (@crisiscommons), and think in cutting edge concepts like crowd sourcing and cloud computing.
This morning there was a major earthquake in Turkey. Crisis Commons is monitoring the situation, open to requests for help from response organizations and registering volunteers. The needs of this disaster will dictate what happens from here. Want more information? Here it is.
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Have you heard about the media circus currently underway over in Italy? Some scientists are on trial for manslaughter because of an earthquake. Not because they predicted it – everybody knows you can’t predict an earthquake.
They are on trial because – being scientists– they offered their scientific assessment of a situation and were wrong. A town was destroyed and people died and, well, somebody has to be responsible. Right?
The public prosecutors are suing the these seven scientists for 50 million euros or $68.2 million (on the civil side – on the criminal side, they could get as much as 15 years in prison), because they “gave undue reassurance to the public that a major quake was not on its way." Furthermore, “the seven are guilty of negligence because they did not take the risk of a big quake seriously enough."
The best account of what happened is an article in The New Scientist by Thomas H. Jordan, the director of the Southern California Earthquake Center who also chaired an international panel appointed by the Italian government after the 2009 quake. It is well worth reading,
This group of seven scientists were members of Italy’s National Service of Civil Protection – the equivalent of FEMA in the U.S. – and more specifically, the National Committee for the forecast and prevention of major risks, a kind of ‘think tank’ of scientists who assess if there is a problem by examining the data “provided by the institutions and organizations responsible for the supervision of the events ….”
The 6.3 L’Aquila earthquake occurred on April 9, 2009, BUT, it was preceded for several months by an active seismic swarm that set the citizens of the area on edge. During that time, a “local man who worked as technician in a physics laboratory” claimed to be able to predict earthquakes and did predict several earthquakes during this four-month period of seismic swarms. The only prediction that was actually followed by an earthquake was the one in L’Aquila, which destroyed thousands of buildings and killed 309 people. This amazingly, coincidental prediction immediately made him a media hero.
Prior to the earthquake, during all those increasingly loud predictions, the local authorities in L'Aquila called on the Civil Protection Department to convene a meeting of its Major Hazards Committee. The group of seven scientists met for a few days and offered this assessment: “There is no reason to say that a sequence of small magnitude events can be considered a predictor of a strong event.” So far, so good.
Then – the scientists gave a press conference. One member of the Committee – not a seismologist, and lacking in some basic communication skills – responded to questions by saying: "The scientific community tells us there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favourable. “ Uh … not so good. My friend, Frank Cowan, would be dismayed.
Here is the question – a scientist might be able to judge the possibility of an earthquake, but who is responsible for taking the potential consequences seriously enough to counter that statement with some reason and logic? The Protezione Civile in Italy has progressively moved responsibility for civil protection from the state to local governments. Who was it that "did not take the risk of a big quake seriously enough"?
We, as emergency managers, must wonder why the scientists are the only ones being put on trial.
Dr. Jordan made three points in his New Scientist essay that emergency managers would be well advised to remember:
- The Italian scientists allowed themselves to be trapped into trying to answer a simple yes-or-no question: "Will we be hit by a damaging earthquake?" It hardly mattered what answer they gave – either could have caused a negative outcome.
- Because the scientists were distracted by the outlandish ‘predictions’, they weren’t focusing on using the situation to push the message of individual and community preparedness for disasters. And neither was anyone else in the local government.
- We all need to “separate the role of science advisors, whose job is to provide objective information about natural hazards, with that of civil decision-makers who must weigh the benefits of protective actions against the costs of false alarms.” Which means: an emergency manager can’t get so distracted they lose sight of what their job is really all about.
There is a fair amount of international alarm and outrage about this trial. Maybe this kind of thing couldn’t happen outside Italy. One would hope.
Historically, military disasters in the U.S. have always forced change in our culture. Pearl Harbor broke the complacency of the American military in 1941; the Cold War enhanced our drive toward science and technology (remember Sputnik?). Even Vietnam brought impressive medical advances in trauma care.
The horrific events on 9/11 also changed our culture: It reinforced the need for a unified response and an organized and integrated profession to prepare the public for disasters.
Initially, there was the predictable reaction emphasizing military solutions – the official blinders that could only see a disaster as airplanes falling out of the sky.
The Department of Homeland Security was created to break down information-gathering silos, and when it swallowed up FEMA, it pushed the concept of all-hazard disaster management to the back burner.
Emergency Management – having developed higher education degrees, certifications, standards and associations that championed collaboration among different disciplines – found itself relegated to a step-cousin role, struggling with 'Homeland Security' for recognition.
Until Katrina - when the balance began to shift back to the reality that large-scale disaster planning requires a great deal of collaboration. Private agendas and silos of any flavor just don’t fit.
<NOTE: You want a example of minimizing silos? Here's a good one: Irene Tests Militarys Revamped Disaster Response>
Today, there are a lot more emergency managers since 9/11, more degree programs, more CEM designations, more jobs requiring (or preferring) degrees and certifications. Before 9/11, how many conversations did you hear with the jurisdiction’s Emergency Manager? Today, the media almost always airs that interview.
To be perfectly honest, planning for terrorist events was always part of the Emergency Manager's mindset but our viewpoint was much narrower. We normally didn’t spend as much energy there as we did on more local disasters: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, pandemics.
Now, we have a new field of disaster study - Homeland Security has elements of Emergency Management, but also the more traditional intelligence-oriented areas of information gathering, technology and analysis. Emergency Managers will have to rise to a more professional level, broaden their horizons and get more education and training in areas they might not have considered before.
The bottom line is that 9/11 generated a culture-changing response to planning for natural disasters. The ensuing fallout has elevated the status of the Emergency Management profession and the perception of what it can do.
Our task is to live up to it.
For emergency managers, some people are harder than others to reach. Sometimes, it’s because they aren’t that interested in being reached – tenured professors, for example. Sometimes, it is because we aren’t sure HOW to reach them – like the cultural institutions in your community. How does one open a dialogue with a library or museum about integrating them into a community emergency plan?
Here’s a book that will help: “Implementing the Incident Command System at the Institutional Level: A Handbook for Libraries, Archives, Museums and other Cultural Institutions”, by David L. Carmichael, the Director of the Georgia Division of Archives and History. His mission is to help cultural institutions use ICS to protect, preserve and recover the Picasso’s they find floating in the basement storage room – and all those other archives and treasures that make up our cultural heritage.
I write quite a few book reviews for the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (in exchange for a free copy of the book – great way to increase your library!), but this one is a favorite. It is easy to read, nonthreatening, bereft of jargon and targeted to an audience that can sometimes seem somewhat mysterious.
Carmichael understands all that. He is a past president of the Council of State Archivists and has been very active in supporting this kind of emergency preparedness. In 2007, after Katrina and Rita, he led the effort to publish a well-known report that assessed state-by-state their archive’s ability to protect their records. That report, Safeguarding a Nation’s Identity, was widely distributed. The title page describes it as examining “The readiness of state archive to protect the records that identify who we are, secure our rights, and tell our story as a nation.” It opened a whole new level of discussions and interest on a national level for preserving cultural records and artifacts during a disaster.
Personally, I like that this book is poetic – something one doesn’t generally associate with ICS. Carmichael describes it like this: “The ICS is a circle that has no specific starting or ending point. It is difficult to appreciate its shape until you’ve been around it one time.” How lyrical is that?
I also like that it is a real library book: hardback, glossy, library binding – the kind of book you could have just pulled out of the stacks. And while “the library stacks” might not be a term familiar to some of your community, it is definitely key to communicating with this audience. They will appreciate the formality of a 'real' book. Why? It’s part of the mystery. :-)
Yeah, it is kind of expensive - $47 at this link (don’t look for it on Amazon – they have it listed for over $200!) But it is also timeless. ICS isn’t going to change that much. This book will be as relevant in the next few years as it is now.
So, I’m suggesting you go buy a couple copies and give them to your libraries and museums to start the conversation. I mean – who wouldn’t want to save something like a Picasso?
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Last year I was writing about the difference between training and education and used an example from a professor at Ohio State University. He described it as the difference between knowing how and knowing why.
“ It's the difference between, say, being trained as pilot to fly a plane and being educated as an aeronautical engineer and knowing why the plane flies and then being able to improve its design so that it will fly better."
During FEMA’s Higher Education Conference last week, Tim Manning, the Deputy Administrator for FEMA’s Protection and National Preparedness Division talked about the intersection between training and education as being rooted in the discovery and implementation of new knowledge. One of the founding principles of what we do in emergency management, he said, was to “actively look for how we screwed up” so we can learn from our mistakes to create new policies or procedures.
We also have a responsibility, he stressed, to use that principle and question ourselves every day; to ensure there is a reason or explanation based on experience or research to back up what we do and what we tell the public to do.
As an example: how do we deliver individual preparedness messaging? We say “Have a kit, Have a plan, Stay informed.” Ready.gov says individual preparedness includes having enough food and water for at least 3 days.
Why three days? If you think it is because FEMA can be mobilized and in the field in three days, you really should be in a different field.
Probably because back when we were embroiled in the cold war, someone concluded that 72 hours was an educated guess about the rate of radionuclide decay that would make the fallout dose rate acceptable for brief ventures outside a shelter. But, like everything else, it was only a guess and depended on lots of variables – how large the blast was, how far from the blast and weather patterns. The longer you stayed sheltered, the less the exposure and the residual radiation rate remains the same.
(If this sounds a bit familiar, it is. See this issue of the Natural Hazards Observer, page 9.)
I imagine there was a lot of public policy considerations that went into that guess: how long could people stayed cooped up without information (remember – this was before instant communication), how many supplies they could reasonably be expected to store away, how long before they would lose their (normal human) fear of the unseen.
Guesses were made and we are still using those guesses. Our public policies are still being based on those messages. Our individual preparedness messaging today is based on guesses made 60 years ago.
I am not suggesting the ‘3-day’ mantra isn’t practical (even if I agree with Eric Holdeman that it doesn’t represent the reality of today’s disasters) – only that as emergency managers, we need to understand where it came from and know what to say when somebody asks us, “Why?”
That’s where education comes into play. The FEMA Higher Education Conference was all about exploration and knowledge – the course of study that includes social science research that has been (and still is) being done, developing strategic leadership, and understanding the collaboration matrices. That has all had a very profound effect on this profession.
What has been missing is the training component – something that would change the practice of emergency management just as profoundly as education has.
No doubt today’s emergency managers come from a mixed background. There are young people deliberately choosing this as a field, there are lateral transfers from public safety, there are retired military, transitions from nonrelated private or non for profit sectors and business continuity managers interested in enhancing their programs.
Of course these new emergency managers need to be educated, but more immediately, they need to be trained. They need to understand the principles of emergency management, how to write a plan, develop an exercise, marry recovery and mitigation. They need to understand simple things, like the difference between the Richter Scale and the Mercalli Scale when they talk about earthquakes.
Addressing that gap, FEMA is in the process of introducing an Emergency Management Academy. Two pilot courses are being offered this summer/fall and it should be ready for general registration by the end of this year.
The Academy is a set of four Independent Study courses and five on-campus courses, a total of 161 hours of training. Tom Gilboy (Acting) Deputy Superintendant for EMI says the Academy will utilize new material, materials currently in the EMI curriculum and participation from the Higher Education community.
This is WHAT FEMA is doing:
The Academy will offer a developmental curriculum for newly appointed emergency managers and staff from Local, State, Tribal and Federal emergency management agencies and for prospective professionals transferring from another discipline to emergency management.
This is WHY FEMA is doing it:
FEMA has recognized the need to tie training programs to an established set of emergency management competencies and to a career development program through a progressive training and education system that will include an entry-level Academy.
For years, we’ve had this ongoing argument between practitioners (who aren’t academics) and academics (who aren’t practitioners) about what constitutes a good emergency manager. Now, FEMA’s come through with an option that ought to satisfy both sides.
I had a great experience this morning at Dulles, coming home from the FEMA Higher Ed conference. Of course, the security lines were long because they only had a few lines open - perfectly understandable - it was just before 9 am on a Saturday morning. In fact, the line to go through the scanners was longer than the line to get your boarding pass checked.
I was a little afraid of being late for my flight, so I scoped out the situation and chose the line that was going through the walk-through scanner. There was one of the whole body scanners in the other line, but it was obviously taking a lot longer to get through it.
When I finally got to the scanner, the nice young TSA guy directed me to the whole body scanner instead. I tried to protest and was told (again - totally understandable!) that I had been CHOSEN to go there instead and if I really didn't want to, I had the option of having a pat down. It really was my choice. Can you believe that?
So, I went in and put my hands on my head and my feet apart and all I could think of was <groan> the extra pounds I had gained eating at the NETC-EMI cafeteria. That being over, I stepped out and was stopped because they had to 'verify' my results. It turned out that <gasp!> I'd forgotten to take off my thin leather belt with the 3/4 inch metal buckle. I don't know how I could have forgotten that!!
I dutifully took it off, and it was scanned and then the nice young woman patted down of my waist area to make sure I didn't have ... another belt on, I guess. That was it, I scooped up all my stuff and found an empty place on the floor to sit down and put away my laptop, my shoes and jacket back on - all that stuff you have to do after you've unburdened yourself of all your carry-on's and outerwear.
There was one other king of funny thing that happened. When I was at EMI, I went down to O'Leary's and bought one of those really nice FEMA/DHS soft briefcases and had it with me. Several people asked me if I worked for FEMA - one was very concerned because the security line was so long and he wanted me to help him get to the front of the line so he didn't miss his flight. So sad ... I had to tell him I was sorry and I didn't work for FEMA.
I made it through security (yay!) and found my gate and did what any good American would do under the circumstances. I found the bar and had a Bloody Mary for breakfast.
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