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April 2012 Archives
April 08, 2012

“No matter how much evidence exists that seer do not exist, suckers will pay for the existence of seers.”  Armstrong  Everyone wants to know the future and there are those who will pay handsomely to have someone tell them what will happen.  This is especially true of financial consultants who trade in individual stocks.  There are winners and losers, and what I’ve read about predicting future stock prices there is no one with a crystal ball.


As they say, past performance is no indicator of future performance—yet people tend to ignore that warning and bet on someone who has been winning in the past. 


With the above in mind, what are we predicting for the field of emergency management?  I think several trends are pretty clear.


  • Increasing importance of social media for all phases of emergency management.
  • Technological hazards increasing as we rely more societally on technology and the interdependence that links us also increases our risks.
  • Climate change will increase the number and severity of weather related hazards.  Heat will become more of a hazard across the world.
  • Failing infrastructure will continue to reveal the failures one at a time.  Not all with catastrophic results.
  • As we learn more about outer space the risks from space will become clearer
  • Nuclear hazards are increasing and some of the old “cold war” planning should be dusted off to use what we can from the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Funding for emergency management will remain a challenge due to increasing pressures on budgets at all levels of government. 
  • The next “big event” will shove us as a discipline in a new direction based on the funding that becomes available. 


Those are my predictions—and you didn’t have to pay anything to get them!

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April 09, 2012

You don't have to be a large jurisdiction to be using social media or working on innovative things.  St. Clair County Michigan only has a population of 167,000 or so people, yet they continue to amaze me with what they are doing with critical infrastructure and now social media.


Like most things in emergency management, it is not rocket science, but my Google Search for all things "Emergency Management" turned up a newspaper piece on their hosting what they call a Community Conversation on the topic of social media and how people are using it in their jurisdiction.  I don't expect thousands of people are going to show up and I bet they would be happy to have a dozen or two people to talk with.  No matter, what is important is that they are asking the question and trying to interact with their constituents to find out in advance of an emergency what they are thinking and using when it comes to social media.

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April 09, 2012

Valerie lucus-McEwen  has a blog post running titled TotallyUnprepared.com which highlights what can be done in a collaborative manner when you combine the talents of many people.  It is a video heavy site with lots of different types of information.  


You can also go directly to totallyunprepared.com but, I recommend reading Valerie's blog post first.  What I like about the title of the website is that it is the opposite of what we want, yet the reality of the day.  By having the reverse of what is needed it draws attention to the current state of affairs.  

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April 10, 2012

The City of Seattle's Office of Emergency Management has a new position posted, Community Preparedness Planner


I think this is pretty unique for an emergency management agency to have this type of position.  Of course, Seattle is a neighborhood based city and there are lots of opportunities there to work with people at the grass roots level.  It is also an activist community with lots of talented people working in community based committees and volunteer groups.


If ever there was an example of an OEM taking a "whole community" approach this is it.  I strongly believe that citizens and volunteers are not be feared, but embraced in working them into all phases of emergency management.  They are a real force multiplier!  We need to empower them and point them in the right direction.  Communicating using social media is one way to stay in touch, providing information and getting feedback from them.



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April 12, 2012

The title of this blog post is a question I get once and sometimes twice a week.  The questions come from younger folks just entering the workforce, those transitioning from other public sector careers and the military along with a few stay-at-home moms who are going back into the workforce.


I mentioned this to one of my long term emergency manager friends and she sent me the following as to what her suggestions would be to someone trying to break into emergency management: 

1.  Volunteer to work with your local OEM office.  If they don't have a volunteer program, then help them create one much like Gil Tumey did with us.  If you'll recall, ____, ____, and ______ [people we know now working full time in emergency management] got a foot in the door by volunteering with our office. 

 2.  Seek out people in the profession and ask for informational interviews when there are no available jobs. Ask managers what they'd like to see in employees.  Ask employees how they got into the business.  Do your research before going into the interview and think carefully about the questions you'll ask.

3.  Find work in related areas, even if it's part time or if you can afford it, a volunteer position. Find work in customer service, training, planning, project management, or public affairs. All of those areas require skill sets that are relatable to the field of emergency management.

4.  Give your best effort to whatever job you have.  Treat everyone with respect, be a good listener and always try to improve on your skill set.

Don't be afraid to learn new things and accept challenges when offered.

5.  Be willing to start small by accepting part time or contract work. If you need to work a second job somewhere else to live, do it.  Be patient. It could take years to finally land that full time emergency management job.

A reminder that I think it took ______ 5-7 years of volunteering before he landed that temp job which led to a career with FEMA.  He was persistent and continually worked on improving an expanding his skills.  If you recall, he worked hard to pass those pesky IS courses and I believe he succeeded in getting an AA degree while working for us in a temporary capacity. 

April 15, 2012

A commercial leasing firm took out a two full pages of advertisement in the Puget Sound Business Journal to showcase their property that is available for lease.  The 635 Elliott Building has 200,000 square feet of space available for leasing.  


The photo shows the location of the property in relation to downtown Seattle (it is on the north end) and the proximity to Puget Sound.  I'm sure it is a wonderful property that will be easy to get to with a couple of major projects underway that will revolutionize traffic along the waterfront and then the fix what is called the "Mercer Mess."  It will be an ideal location for a company that needs a large amount of space in a modern building situated in a nice location.  But then...


What caught my eye was the proximity of the grain terminal at Pier 86.  To service the grain terminal there are railroad tracks, and in fact the North-South mainlines for the Berlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad run right adjacent to the building being offered for lease.  


Before you move to a new location you should make sure that you understand the risks from natural and technological hazards that "might" impact your business operations.  Can a train derail and there be a hazardous chemical spill, or the grain terminal blow up?  Yes, that could happen.  Has it happened lately?  No, everything has been very safe for a long time.  As the song said, "Don't worry, be happy."  These are the technological hazards that are obvious from looking at a picture.  Given the location adjacent to Puget Sound another risk to consider is a tsunami following following a Seattle Fault Earthquake.   Again, it has been a "very long time" since the last one and if I remember right the building in question is somewhat elevated.


The reason I'm writing this is not to cast dispersion on the property being offered for lease.  Instead I just want to remind people that in most cases "you are where you are."  The risks associate with your current location were probably not taken into account when the organization located there.  But, when you move, you do have the opportunity to decide what risks you are willing to bear and to make an informed decision about the choice in properties.  For the building in question it might be a perfect location and facility for a business looking for a new property.  If the risks are acceptable, then move and make the most of being in that location.  Just--know the risks!

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April 15, 2012

Recently I shared an airplane ride with a Human Resource Director for a multi-national tech firm.  She was on her way to Spain (no, I was not headed to Spain).  Given that I'm one to "chat up" my seatmates I asked about how Generation Y was doing in the marketplace.  I figured that a tech company would have to be employing that generation at this point.


She had two pointed comments.  One is that company polices need to change to meet what their expectations are for the freedom to work when they want and to be able to use all the modern forms of social media and technology available.  The next item made a real impression on me.


"They don't know how to type and they can't punctuate a sentence," was what she said that got my attention.  I guess keyboarding classes have gone the way of the dodo bird and it makes sense that if they are only "texting" it is a place where grammar and punctuation don't exist.  I guess that they maybe texted their term papers in college.


If you know me I'm in love with social media and all the things it can do for emergency management.  Having a technologically savvy young person on my staff would be a dream come true.  But...they better know how to write.  


As part of our interview processes at King County we always had a writing component where the candidate would be required to prepare a document during part of the interview day.  We were looking for their ability to put forward a logical argument and do so in a manner that reflected that they could write well enough to be a fully capable part of our team.  Even with this--I've been fooled and I'd do things a bit differently in the future.  We used to provide some content elements.  Today I'd leave the writing assignment much more "open ended."


I've also known people who were very capable yet their weakness was their writing ability and we did not retain them on our staff.  Writing is fundamental to being an emergency manager.  If that is your weakness, work to fix it!

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April 16, 2012

On Friday the National Weather Service took the unusual step of providing a tornado warning 24 hours in advance of a storm.  This is a great example of technology paying off in being able to predict that conditions would be ripe for a significant outbreak of tornado activity across multiple states.


Tornado Damage


100 Tornadoes in 24 Hours, but Plenty of Notice is a NY Times story on the storms and the warnings associated with them.  The low number of deaths, only five, with such a large outbreak of tornadoes presents a quandary for why that is so.


There are a number of variables in play.  Most of the tornadoes struck in rural areas, there was the warning from the National Weather Service that got plenty of play before the storms and in several states the new descriptive terms about the hazardous conditions and that the storms would be severe was being used as part of a six month trial period.


I suppose this is a sociologist’s dream study to figure out what factors played into the limited loss of life.  Perhaps the storms were not big enough to draw an immediate impact study by organizations that look at the social impacts of disasters, but this one looks promising.  My fear is that people make conclusions based on limited information.  Perhaps the new warning language was a boon to protecting people, or perhaps it was other factors that influenced the limited number of deaths.


The annual Natural Hazards Workshop is being held again in Colorado.  I expect this topic will be on the agenda, if not this year--then next as people debate what works best to warn people and then to get them to take action to protect themselves and their families.

April 16, 2012

The Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) went live on April 7th.  Now any emergency management agency can apply and become authorized to access cell phones to distribute warnings.  See National Emergency Alert System Goes Live


There are 36 agencies that either have permission or are in the process of getting permission to access and use the system.  That only leaves about 21,000 more communities to go!  I know that there are something like 3,000 counties in the United States and about 18,000 cities and towns.  While there are not a bunch of phones capable of getting the warnings that number is only going to grow and grow quickly.  It is always better to be ahead of the curve, so this is your chance.


Rick Wimberly is quoted in the article and he has blogged extensively on CMAS at Emergency Management Magazine.  See his latest posting on CMAS with links to everything you need to get started.



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April 16, 2012

How do you get people to pay attention to disaster preparedness information?  Emergency Managers have struggled with that issue since the beginning of our profession.  Now there is a new twist on providing that information as "informative art" in the form of posters suitable for framing.  Will it catch on?  Is it effective?  We won't know until folks have tried it.  I could see some posters like the one described in hallways and break rooms of businesses.  See below for more information and a web link on the concept.


For Earthquake Preparedness month, the Portland Bureau of Emergency
Management ( http://portlandoregon.gov/pbem ) is featuring an unique approach
to earthquake preparedness information - Informational Art created by a
small Portland publishing house called A Serious Press
 Take a look, and if you like what you see.

The project is based on the insight that it is hard to integrate earthquake
preparedness thinking into our daily lives. Most people just don't have the
space of mind and time to think about a threat that seems so hypothetical.
So the idea is to create earthquake preparedness information that is
written, designed and produced with an aesthetic and accessibility that
motivates people to display it in their homes as art. If people live with
this potentially life-saving information visible every day, it is our hope
that it will become part of their subconscious knowledge, making it
accessible when it is needed most, even in moments of intense confusion and


In the future, we are planning to create similar suites for other emergencies, such as floods or tornadoes. We also have ideas of creating Informational Art suites with emergency instructions such as how to shut off gas and water, etc.

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