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Disaster Zone

by Eric Holdeman: Emergency management in the blogosphere

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April 19, 2014

Interoperable communications has been the Holy Grail of Homeland Security Grants. More funding has been spent on this one single issue than any other aspect of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant programs that has purchased oodles of other equipment.

What makes this different from the plethora of radio systems is the fact that this will be voice and data. The big focus being digital communications. The number of digital devices used by emergency responders continues to mushroom. Today the majority of organizations are using commercial networks to operate those handheld and other devices. In large disasters and events those devices won’t work because they are competing with other civilian users.

To learn more from Government Technology about this new national program read FirstNet Explained

There are plenty of challenges to be overcome. Here are a few from my perspective:

• Any national level program is incredibly hard to roll out effectively and efficiently
• There probably isn’t enough funding available to do the installation that was originally envisioned.
• The original promise was to cover every square meter of land in the USA. Well, that’s not going to happen!
• The FirstNet program office has had fits and starts with changing contractor support around the first of this year. The article calls attention to staffing concerns at the national office.
• The States will provide data on existing systems and the Feds are to provide the system design for the new comprehensive FirstNet platform for each state. That has to be fraught with many challenges.
• You can take any time schedule that you see and use a “multiplication sign” to figure out what is a more realistic estimate for implementation of such a large and complex system

I was able to sit in on one state briefing by Federal Contractors. They made the classic mistake of showing the map of a state without showing the adjacent states. They may administer the money state-by-state, yet I guarantee you that there are many states with multiple jurisdictions on both sides of the border that share communications systems that are mutually supporting. Like disasters, communications systems don’t respect our artificial borders and funding concepts.

Still, the goal is admirable. Like with most regional programs, success will only come in the execution of the work by a wide variety of people and organizations.

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April 19, 2014

FEMA has an updated Benefit Cost Toolkit Version 5.0 for use with their Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grant Program.

The Benefit Cost Tool Version 5.0 is used to perform benefit cost analysis for applications submitted under FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grant Program.

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April 17, 2014

I recently had the opportunity to interview Curry Mayer who is the state training chief for California’s Office of Emergency Services (OES). This article is now published online at Emergency Management Magazine, see What’s the Best Way to Deliver Emergency Management Training?f

She provides some good insights into 21st century emergency management training. The interview touches on the full gamut of people who need training from novices to experienced emergency management professionals.

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April 17, 2014

Most people have no idea about the risks that older homes present by not being fastened to their foundations or having their home's cripple walls reinforced. By “older” I mean homes before 1980 here in Washington State.

Like old style bridges, most older homes where just set on top of their foundations with no fastening of the superstructure to the concrete base. Just the dead weight of the home keeps it in place.

When an earthquake happens it then jeopardizes the integrity of the home when it “shifts off” its foundation.

California’s Earthquake Brace & Bolt is a program that subsidizes part of the costs of doing a home seismic retrofit.

Ah, mitigation at its best!

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April 14, 2014

“[I] am still learning. That is an important mark of a good leader—to know you don’t know it all and never will.’ Anne M. Mulchy When one gives up on learning—you are intellectually dead. No matter how smart you are or how much of an expert you have become in one particular field of endeavor, you must keep learning.

When it comes to leadership, there are those who have done well and exhibit all the characteristics of a good leader, but I would still say they need to be learning. Every circumstance and person is different so while there may be trends, you cannot fall back on, “This is what has worked before.”

Just look at the use of technology. What if someone had said back in 1984, “I don’t want a computer, and in 2001, I’ll never use the Internet.” How effective would they be today?

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April 14, 2014

It is articles like the one in the Wall Street Journal U.N. Climate Change Report Says Worst Scenarios Can Still Be Avoided that rings alarms and then also has a note of caution on the correctness of the science and the complexities of figuring out what the weather will be like 100 years from now.

It is a classic “slow onset” type of disaster. People don’t feel any immediate danger so they are willing to “wait and see” without taking any immediate action. For those focused on quarterly profits this is many times a great course of action since it doesn’t require any immediate investment that detracts from garnering more economic wellbeing for the investors.

It is also classic in that when you have conflicting information it causes people to choose to do nothing. In the case of climate change or global warming there will always be another viewpoint put forward. Having these conflicting messages “freezes people” into inaction.

It is hard enough trying to get people motivated to do anything when all the sources are saying the same thing. I expect that in 100 years, if all the ice has melted, there will still be arguments about what caused that to happen.

For today, this is where leadership enters in. People have to put a stake in the ground and take a position on the subject and, while still listening to all the data coming in, support what needs to be done as they see it.

I would not make my decision based just on costs.

Claire Rubin shared the link to the article.

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April 12, 2014

When I first heard of Al Jazeera I never believed it would be a credible news source. It sounded much more like a propaganda tool. Now over time I’ve read a number of stories about their Al Jazeera America reporting and those are uniformly positive.

See this article in the Nation, Can Al Jazeera America Save Cable News?

As noted in the article they have hired a ton of news people from around the United States and set up a number of news bureaus. I have now met with and know several Pacific Northwest Al Jazeera America news staff and these are very reliable people doing upfront news work. Most other stories about news departments is how they are cutting staff.

In thinking about this more, when you see other news networks like Fox and MSNBC, which is more of a propaganda tool for the left or the right?

Tune in to your local cable network and decide for yourself about the credibility of the various news networks. And please, don’t decide based on your personal “world view” try being unbiased and how they present the news.

Al Jazeera America is looking more authentic to me every day!

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April 11, 2014

U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has issued a revised product guide that assesses and summarizes commercially available hand-portable biodetection technologies for use by first responders in the field. The first edition of the guide, funded by Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology, was made available at no cost and was downloaded more than 5,500 times by professional safety personnel.

This year they have revised the Biodetection Technologies for First Responders product guide and are again providing it at no charge. First responders responsible for purchasing equipment and supplies needed to rapidly assess biological threats will find it very useful.

Like last year, it doesn’t promote any particular product, but rather provides a non-bias assessment of biodetection technologies on the market to help first responders choose what is right for their circumstances.

This year’s version has been updated and enhanced. It provides web links, equipment specifications and pricing on 31 detection technologies and 25 sampling products from nearly two dozen companies.

The report is available at no cost at this PNNL webpage.  Look on the right side of the page for the Download First Responder Biodetection Technology Report link which is in PDF form.

The above information was shared by Geoff Harvey.

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April 11, 2014

Drones are moving way beyond the simple quad-copter that started the movement and that hobbyists enjoy. Read this article on Recent Drone Developments to get a flavor for where their usage and capabilities are headed.

I am particularly impressed with the idea that a plane could detect and land on a power line like a bird and recharge its batteries.

As the plane approaches the wire, it raises its nose to allow it to 'perch' on the wire with clamps where wheels would usually be.


Recharging Drone Batteries from a Power Line

Think also of the urban search and rescue capabilities that would come from very small spider like drones described in the article that could crawl into very small openings and search for people who are trapped. Knowing where to search and rescue is one of the biggest challenges, so this technology would be terrific.

It is an example of a military application being adapted to civilian use.

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April 11, 2014

The Republic of Korea (ROK) has a National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) not to be confused with our NEMA, which is an association of state emergency management directors.

They have developed a nifty 119 App (their version of 911) in English. Besides being able to call 119 to request assistance they also have a shelter location function on the App. This is probably more associated with civil defense and the fact that North Korea is unpredictable and they are technically still at war.

In addition, I see they have CPR instructions also as part of the App. While ROK is not a huge country it is a great example of a national system.

Do you think we could pull something like this off in our own United States of America?

Pascal Schuback shared the link to the US Embassy feature on the App.

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