Lots of experienced emergency managers are retiring – like me. They aren’t disappearing; many of them stay in the loop by teaching, writing or (yep) consulting. In my case, this a great opportunity to spend more time on the elements of emergency management that I couldn’t before: professional associations like IAEM and CESA, causes like INWEM and EMPOWER, and projects like EMAP.
EMAP is an independent organization that evaluates and accredits emergency management programs against a set of national standards. They define a program as a system, not an individual office. They don’t evaluate your Emergency Management Department. They evaluate your jurisdiction’s emergency management program. A very important distinction.
I was an early EMAP supporter. I was in one of the first assessor training courses, and my Master’s Thesis was about an analysis of the EMAP baseline assessments for state programs between 2003 and 2004.
Not long ago, I was on an EMAP assessment, and spent some time with the other assessors discussing one of major findings in every assessment – lack of documentation. For purposes of program assessments (this one or any other kind), documentation of standards is critical. There really is a difference between doing something and writing it down. Why is that? Because one of these days, you aren’t going to be there, and somebody else is going to have to figure out how to activate the EOC, or how many generators you have and where to get more, or where we filed all those NIMS completion certificates?
What it comes down to is documenting institutional memory.
When I wrote my thesis back in 2005, I wrote about three issues that interfered with a jurisdiction’s ability to get accredited: leadership, financial support and this one. What I wrote then:
Very often, the knowledge of policy and procedure and the experience with implementing them are just not written down. They are in somebody’s head and passed along by word of mouth. They are part of institutional memory and not part of any formal documentation.
Referring to the clerk in the movie and television series M*A*S*H, who could find and acquire anything, (Steve) Charvat (University of Washington) said: “I call it the Radar O’Reilly factor. How do you document something like that?”
Because of programs like EMAP, documenting institutional memory is becoming more common – especially with the emphasis on having COOP and COG and similar mission/business continuity plans.
Which brings me back to retired, or retiring, emergency managers. How are you going to document YOUR institutional knowledge? When I knew I was going to leave UC Davis, I spent six months creating an administrative manual and put everything I could in it.
Was it helpful, Nick?
Snow Birds, Students and Black Swans
I’ve been in Florida for the past 6 weeks, staying at a place on the Atlantic Coast, just north of West Palm Beach. Even though I am not working right now, I’m still what my husband calls a ‘disaster junky’ – although Claire Rubin would call me one of her ‘disaster divas’.
Being a California earthquake girl, I’ve been looking at Florida hurricanes and how their mass evacuations work. From what I can tell, Florida has an awesome system in place to support emergency management at a local level, encourage cooperation and coordination among the counties and a flexible infrastructure – like their toll roads built for counter flow traffic during an evacuation.
During the past week or so, I’ve witnessed an interesting phenomenon that I’ve heard about but never experienced: the arrival of the Florida Snow Birds.
This is not a trivial event for emergency management. One study out of the University of Florida estimated there were 700,000 snowbirds in Florida at the peak of the 2004-2005 season, which was something like a 4% increase in the overall population for that year.
I wondered how an emergency management program handles the sudden, dramatic increase of a transient population of special needs (or verging on special needs from what I’ve observed) people, who are not local and stay for an extended period of time.
This is not special event planning. It’s not ‘commuter’ planning.
I talked to Mike Faulkner who is currently with FEMA Region IV, but before that he was the Emergency Manager in Okeechobee County, a small, rural county in the middle of the state, with a permanent population of about 40,000. When the Snow Birds arrive, the population swells by about 15,000. That is a 37% increase.
Mike says the county can’t get additional funding for snowbirds, because they aren’t permanent residents, so they mitigate the effects with some of our standard emergency management tools.
One is to do as much advertising as possible during the Snow Bird season to encourage the use of the special needs registry that each county is required to maintain. Another is to build on the spirit of cooperation among emergency managers in Florida by developing specific mutual aid agreements with areas that might not be as badly effected. “If I had to send special needs patients to Orlando,” Mike says, “I’d send a couple of our public health nurses to help.”
Another is developing community resources to help out during an emergency. Mike talked about one community of French Canadians who had their own CERT team. After they took care of their own, he could dispatch them to other locations in the county.
All emergency managers have their own “unconventional” populations to deal with, don’t they? When I was working on campus, it was the freshman students. They were 18 or 19 years old, away from home for the first time, followed closely by ‘helicopter parents’. We did a lot of advising that first year, worked closely with Student Affairs, and tried to stay clear of their bicycles (most of them hadn’t ridden a bike since middle school).
Mike said the one good thing about the Florida Snow Bird incursion is that it is a known and marked season – and opposite of the hurricane season. The worse case scenario would be a Cat 5 hurricane in January, which is very unlikely.
Black swans, anyone?
Most of us have been involved in – or at least are familiar with – CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams). The 59th Annual IAEM Conference and EMEX 2011 in Las Vegas last week gave us an opportunity to hear Rachel Jacky, Director of the FEMA Citizen Corps CERT Program, talk about how the program has evolved into something much different than many of us remember.
"This ain't the same CERT that got started in the 1980's", she said. "It has expanded and grown while keeping it's original purpose."
What hasn’t changed is the fundamental concept of CERT (the first responders to any incident are the people who are already there) or it’s basic rationale (training helps keep them safe). The core skills that CERT teaches hasn’t changed, although they have been updated and overhauled.
The most important thing that hasn’t changed is the ownership. CERT’s are still primarily owned on a local basis. “FEMA can provide a lot,” Jacky said. “They can’t know what is the smartest and best way to involve volunteer responders in a community’s best interests.”
What has changed is that CERT has been around long enough to have a solid track record. This gives it the freedom to adapt itself, so it is more valuable to an ever-changing emergency management program.
Much of that is because there is now an agency (FEMA’s Citizen Corps) to keep records. Citizen Corps is the umbrella for other groups (like the MRC – Medical Reserve Corps), and is affiliated with others (the VFW, ARRL, CAP, and – my personal favorite – Girl Scouts), but CERT can certainly be considered one of the more resilient.
The CERT web page is impressive. There are links to find CERT’s in your community, stories of CERT’s in actions, training and video materials, and – most impressive – a place to register your local CERT so it doesn’t get lost or forgotten.
Jacky said there are almost 1850 local CERT programs registered, and in 2010, there were almost 430,000 individuals trained who provided 1.3 million volunteer hours.
“More impressive than numbers, and a terrific development in the life of CERT,” she said, “is its growing inclusiveness.” The majority of CERTS target their training for the general public, but there are also CERT groups targeted to faith-based organizations, businesses, teens, college/universities, special needs and military groups.
Recent statistics show that over 10% of the registered CERT teams have been deployed in actual emergencies over 10 times, but 30% have never responded. What are those groups doing? Some of them are new, but some of this is related to the expanding mission of CERT teams and how CERT teams are being every more consciously integrated into Emergency Management as a discipline.
In addition to the activities you might expect CERT’s perform (neighborhood checks, staffing shelters, sandbagging) they are also supporting emergency management by doing outreach for emergency preparedness, fire safety or public health. “Who better to deliver that kind of information?” Jacky said. “The best messenger for preparedness is a neighbor who is already prepared.”
The CERT program has some lofty goals for the next couple years. Continued growth, of course, but also an increased emphasis on training effective CERT trainers. There are two courses taught at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute: E428 Train the Trainer and E427 Program Manager
Jacky said another goal is to train CERT members for their expanded functions by developing training modules to expand their skills in areas like animal response, crowd management, leadership or communications.
There is an interesting relationship between the VTC’s (Volunteer Technical Communities) I wrote about before and CERT’s – they are both self-organized volunteer groups. But that is for a different blog.
One of the best conference speakers I’ve ever listened to is Gordon Graham. Fortunately for me, he was the key note speaker this morning at the 59th Annual IAEM Conference and EMEX 2011. And in his normal, passionate, eccentric and engaging style managed to captivate the audience talking about something that would normally put everyone to sleep – or paying more attention to their smartphones.
He talked about risk management.
He did so with more expressive theatrics and graphic sound effects than I recall. I especially enjoy how he channels Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “Titanic”, undulating his body to Celine Dion’s title song, “My Heart Will Go On.” Hard to explain, you really had to be there.
He was using the story of the Titanic as an example of the difference between 'proximate' cause and 'root' cause. “If you ask 100 people what caused the Titanic to sink, 99 of them will say … the iceberg,” he said.
Certainly, the iceberg was the proximate cause that sunk the Titanic. What was the root cause? “When it was designed, it was fatally flawed!” he thundered. Fingering the iceberg as the reason the Titanic sunk is akin to treating the symptom and not the cause. It doesn’t matter how many iceberg-detecting devices you build, a poor design trumps mother nature – or human stupidity – every time.
There is a reason tragedies (like the Titanic) happen over and over again. Identifying the most obvious cause and developing control measures to mitigate the most obvious cause overlooks what Adam Weiner in his great book Don't Try This At Home calls, “a little pride and a lot of bad engineering”. This is what he says:
The Titanic was designed so the hull’s 16 separate buoyant compartments, divided by watertight doors, would stay afloat even if four of its compartments were breached. The iceberg punctured six compartments. The bulkheads dividing the compartments came up to 10 feet above the waterline, beyond which water would flood adjacent sections even if not breached. "If the compartments had been completely watertight, that is, if water could not spill over the tops of the bulkheads, the 'Titanic' would not have sunk," he said.
You know, I’m sure I’ve read something similar about a different tragedy recently. Oh, yeah. It was how the defences at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Japan were built to withstand the largest expected tsunami waves - 5.7 meters. The largest waves were 14 meters. The IAEA report says that "... although tsunami hazards were considered both in the site evaluation and the design of the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP as described during the meetings and the expected tsunami height was increased to 5.7 m (without changing the licensing documents) after 2002, the tsunami hazard was underestimated."
The point being: There is always an iceberg. The real challenge is looking behind it.
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.
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