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by Eric Holdeman: Emergency management in the blogosphere

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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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April 11, 2014

I believe that everything rises and falls on leadership. Leadership is important in government, business, nonprofits and in a crisis.

Gisli Olafsson is the author of The Crisis Leader that speaks to the special challenges of leading teams of people before, during and after emergencies and disasters. He speaks from personal experience in multiple disaster settings from around the world. I first met him when he worked for Microsoft and was a volunteer on our Emergency Operations Support Team (EOCST).

Gisli is also writing about leadership in shorter formats. See Too Proud to Ask for Help, which is right on the money. My personal advice on the matter is that when you know you are going to have more than one operational period you should start thinking 24 operations and getting other people involved. Incidents don’t always resolve themselves that quickly and once you are into it “neck deep” it is hard to extricate yourself and pass the baton to someone else who can help you.

April 10, 2014

Next-Generation 911 will come with a new host of improvements—if and when it is ever implemented.

Read Next-Generation 911: What You Need to Know, which is a great summary of the technology behind Next-Gen 911.

The big problems with implementation include:

• Balkanization of the existing 911 system with every small town and county having their own 911.
• Economies of scale and information sharing and links cannot be achieved with everyone keeping local control. Regional 911 systems are needed
• Adopting the technology and adapting to a new way of regionally operating will be hard and expensive.
• Personally, I believe that there are those resisting upgrading the systems so that they can retire and not have to deal with the new technology and the challenges it will bring.

What citizens don’t understand is that all 911 systems are not alike in their capabilities. When they travel out of their home area they may not have any of the technically advanced methods of contacting 911 that they will soon become used to. 911 is a national number, but not a national system. There is little influence or leverage on smaller 911 entities that want to just poke along answering calls like they always have.

Eventually it will take a consumer-taxpayer revolt to get these foot draggers to update their technology. At that point they will cry that they don’t have the funding to do the upgrades because they spent the money on staffing small inefficient offices.

It will take several high profile deaths to make the point about how broke the system will soon be as the difference between modern 911 centers and those antiquated ones becomes known.

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April 10, 2014

Claire Rubin once again pointed me to another news item.  This one is an Op-ed by a New Jersey State Republican Legislator, Senator Robert Singer.  See Hurricane Sandy shows NJ needs a new way to pay for disaster relief

His major points include:

  • The increasing cost of disasters is not sustainable
  • The existing funding system functions at the whims of Congress
  • A new dedicated fund and new taxes may be required to

And, this from a Republican--one who's district was hit hard by Super Storm Sandy.  Although I'd add that many a dedicated fund has been raided by legislatures before.


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April 10, 2014

Just last week Washington State Homeland Security Region 6 hosted a two day Cybersecurity event called Emerald Down, which is part of a multi-year effort by the Center for Regional Disaster Resilience (CRDR).  The consensus from our time spent together was that risks are increasing faster than cyber-preparedness measures.

Just yesterday the news was all about the Heartbleed a security breach in the open SSL protocol that is impacting a wide variety of systems and passwords connected to the Internet.

If you have not read anything on this latest risk see What You Need to Know About Heartbleed, the New Security Bug Scaring the Internet


Updated 4-10-14, 18:30Hrs EDT 

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April 09, 2014

Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) provides a report card on the status of the United States’ infrastructure. This report card is a tad better than the last few reports, but still not what you’d want to bring home to your parents saying, “Look what I got!”

You can focus in on particular types of infrastructure or you can get a flavor for all parts by reading the Executive Summary.

All parts of the critical infrastructure system are important to emergency managers. In our modern society it only takes a small hiccup to throw things out of balance and have significant impacts due to critical infrastructure interdependencies. Electrical power systems for example are key to so many functions that it is the Achilles Heel of most of our other systems and functions.

Infrastructure systems don’t fail as systems. Instead they fail one piece at a time. That then is how we fix or repair them. It is a “fix on failure” process and mentality. The problem with that is that you can’t depend on the fact that these structures won’t fail catastrophically and impact people and the economy. This is particularly true with dams and levees. When they fail, people get hurt physically and economically.

One small bit of better news in the report is on the status of the railroad systems. There is a resurgence of rail traffic and the movement of commodities to market. In fact there are some areas of North America where they can’t move the shipments they need to make money. With that type of demand, railroads have reinvested some of their profits back in to their rail systems, improving roadbeds and other system functionalities.

Watch for more system failures as climate impacts start to take their toll on outdated infrastructure.

And, legislators take note. For every delay in repairing or replacing infrastructure you are digging your jurisdiction deeper into a hole that will be difficult to climb out of. Here in Washington state we have not passed a comprehensive transportation bill for two years. That is 24 months of lost progress—eventually the Piper will need to be paid, but at what cost?


Claire Rubin pointed me towards the report.

April 09, 2014

I’ve written about the cost of lost institutional knowledge as people retire and move out of the profession of emergency management. Additionally, over the years we’ve discussed where best to have the emergency management function placed on the organizational chart. When I was seven I decided that I wanted to be an emergency manager—not! We all seem to fall into it at some later time in our life as we became exposed in one way or another to the profession.

All of the above issues and more are discussed in this article/interview with an experienced private sector Business Continuity Management (BCM) professional. I think you will find the similarities striking if you have spent any time at all in trying to build and maintain an emergency management program.

Counting the cost of lost BCM experience…and passion

Phil Lambert shared this link and immediately saw the transferrable nature of experiences between the public and private sectors.

When you happen to meet a brother or sister BCM professional, give them a hug—we are in the same business and face similar challenges personally and professionally.

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April 08, 2014

When a President comes to visit a disaster zone all work stops. It is a fact of life and one reason that a visit by a head of state is both a curse and a blessing.

President Obama is evidently planning on visiting the Oso mudslide in the coming weeks. At least in this case he is coming after the critical rescue phase is completed. Presidential security concerns and the desire of the White House to position the President for maximum visibility means that wherever he or she may go work has to stop.

What the visit does allow is that State and Local Elected Officials have the opportunity to interface directly with the President, and survivors and victim families can be comforted by him.

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April 08, 2014

Most people don’t think that much about insurance and certainly not disaster insurance. It is something your bank requires if you have a home loan with them. When a disaster does impact you many people reach for their policy to determine exactly what coverage they have.

For hurricane areas people find out if they are protected only due to wind and if it is storm surge that destroyed their home they better have flood insurance from a separate policy.

Antone P. Braga sent me a link to a post he has Peer Support Program that speaks to the insurance company’s responsibilities. In a separate email he shared the following:

There is a public policy issue I would like to bring to your attention, that needs public airing. The U.S. State of Texas has stated that insurance companies owe "fiduciary-like" duties to their policyholders. The reasoning is that since insurance companies have such a superior bargaining position over the general insuring public, and issue policies on a take-it-or-leave-it basis (adhesion contracts), they should be held to act as a fiduciary when dealing with policyholders. However, many courts do not see it that way.

Disaster survivors in particular are in jeopardy, although the general public needs to have access to fundamental insurance consumer protection from the start. No matter how fair insurance companies imagine themselves to be, they have a separate interest, self-interest. The more they pay, the less they keep. Disaster survivors need all the help they can get and consumer protection is the missing link.

I am not enough of an insurance expert to agree or disagree with his point of view. I do know that most insurance companies are overextended in the coverage they provide in high hazard areas. Two places where they have figured that out is Florida and California where the big companies have significantly withdrawn from the market due to previous losses and projected disasters still to come.

My purpose with this blog post is just to call your attention to the topic and perhaps encourage you to start a dialog with the insurance industry in your part of the country.

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