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Disaster Zone

by Eric Holdeman: Emergency management in the blogosphere

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April 22, 2014

This topic is a bit out of my wheelhouse when it comes to personal knowledge and experience. I’m not a law enforcement professional, and I’ve never received training on how to control a mob.  The closest I got to this as an emergency management professional was the World Trade Organization (WTO) Riots in Seattle.  At the time our role was that of providing resources to support Seattle's response.  I did get a whiff of tear gas navigating the streets of Seattle to get between the King County EOC and Seattle's EOC.

This is what I do know. Any large gathering can turn into a “mob like” event. All it takes is a spark to get people to a flash point. Even events like those at large sporting venues have experienced significant crowd control issues. Determining what the spark might be is a daunting task. For instance, those assembled for peaceful protest might be goaded to become violent based on others present who attack them. Certainly one control mechanism for such a possibility is to keep the two groups separated from one another.

You can check out the Crowd Control infograph. Our history of mobs and violence goes way back in history. Not listed is the 1968 Democratic Convention riots in Chicago. Afterwards those were described as a “police riot.”

An uncertainty that they point to in the future is the feeling of lack of opportunity by some populations. How will that manifest itself in the future? There are plenty of extremists here in America preparing for social conflict. The infograph cites the number of safes purchased. I’d look at guns sold and the amount of ammunition that has been purchased in the last 10 years. Graph that and see what it looks like!

I am not predicting social riots in the near term, but the infograph touches on a topic that should be of interest to newly minted emergency managers. This could become a big issue during their professional careers.

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April 20, 2014

I want what I want, when I want.  The catch term here is “freedom.” That is freedom to make money no matter what the eventual cost might be to others. And, increasingly this approach is being used to demonize government and “regulations” that exist to protect people from being harmed.

Read How Politics Buries Science in Landslide Mapping for the story of one state, North Carolina, and how this scenario played out in their state legislature. I wonder if you could make legislators responsible for their decisions if that would make any difference in the outcomes of legislative battles that pits economic interests against those that are deemed as infringing on the property rights of others.

In the future, I see this battle becoming more pronounced as there is a greater shift in population to the coasts. This will increase density and the desire to build in areas that are deemed hazardous by today’s standards.

I picked up the link above from the Natural Hazards Mitigation Association.


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April 20, 2014

When you think about a water emergency the idea of getting Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement does not immediately pop-out at you as something that would be eligible.

The Charleston event is one to think about. See Agencies begin applying for water crisis reimbursement. This isn’t big bucks, but in our constrained budget era every bit helps.

While this emergency had to deal with hazardous waste, I can see these same types of costs perhaps also being present for times of drought, which I think will becoming ever more present.

As is always the case, documentation of your costs as they are incurred is critical.  

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April 20, 2014

I have written for years on how social media is transforming emergency management. The latest twist to this movement is the idea that disaster relief can also be crowdfunded. Check out Mudslide donations showcase power of crowdfunding

There are some concerns that come with this:

• Our traditional nonprofit partners may have their donation resources diminished due to this trend if it really takes off in earnest
• I worry about the scams that can pop-up. There are always plenty of people looking to make money off of other people’s tragedy. Crowdfunding provides another means for them to turn a quick buck.

The above concerns will not stop the movement of people toward using social media. It is but one more indicator of how social media is transforming our business of emergency management.

Diane Newman shared the link to the story.

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April 19, 2014

FEMA has an updated Benefit Cost Toolkit Version 5.0 for use with the 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 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 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 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 17, 2014

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

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 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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