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September 2010 Archives
September 10, 2010

Generally I find that people working in the public sector do so to contribute to society and make a difference. How we do that is manifested in our actions, day-in and day-out. It is the little things that count.

With that preamble, would you help me and the University of Washington make a difference? I'm on the Advisory Board for the Masters degree in Strategic Planning for Critical Infrastructures. They have a survey for professionals and students alike to take. It will help shape the curriculum for this degree program. While it is not mentioned below, there is a concentration in how climate change will be impacting our critical infrastructures and the need for us to do planning for these changes.

As a working professional, your feedback about the types and quality of educational offerings in your field is very important.

Please take 8-10 minutes (it took me 10) to complete an online survey by September 24th, 2010.

Thanks in advance for doing your part to improved educational opportunities in our discipline of emergency management.

Take Survey


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September 11, 2010

If you are looking for an advance read of my Eric's Corner column for the September-October edition of Emergency Management Magazine, you can get it by clicking on the link above.

Meta leaders are "leaders without borders." This is different from interfering in other people's business, it is a matter of extending influence beyond that of your agency's authority and jurisdictional footprint.

I guess the other thing about becoming a meta leader is that no one in your chain of command expects it of you. The boss is typically focused on what you are doing for your organization.

Becoming a meta leader will require an investment of your time and personal effort.


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September 11, 2010

Last March I attended a Social Media Workshop that was part of the Inter-agency Biological Restoration Demonstration (IBRD) that is being worked on in Seattle, Washington. It was an excellent workshop that highlighted how organizations are using social media today for emergency management, first responder and government purposes. Now there is a report on the workshop.

The introduction to its purpose reads:

On March 10, 2010 the workshop titled Social Networking for Emergency Management and Public Safety was held in Seattle, WA. The objective of this workshop was to showcase ways social media networking technologies can be used to support emergency management and public safety operations. The workshop highlighted the current state of social networking and where this dynamic engagement is heading, demonstrated some of the more commonly used technologies, highlighted case studies on how these tools have been used in a variety of jurisdictions and engaged the private sector on how these tools might serve as a conduit for two way communication between with the public sector to address regional recovery issues and decision making.

For me one of the highlights was the presentation by Glen Woodbury. In it he looks at the issue of trust (gotta love that) and where organizations are in the adoption of social media. Glen also closed the workshop.

See the report summarizing the workshop at Social Networking for Emergency Management and Public Safety Thanks to the folks at Pacific Northwest Labs for putting this together.

One last note. They used the term "Social Networking" in the title of the report. Unfortunately the term is read in some people's eyes as meaning frivolous activity. I would recommend that if you want to refer to the topic in presentations and when pitching the idea to others that you use "social media" because it goes way beyond the networking aspect of a social networking site like LinkedIn.


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September 11, 2010

Governments are usually almost the last to recover from a recession. It takes awhile for the tax revenues to catch-up with the increases. What that means is that even though the recovery is underway, and I just heard it is a faster recovery than any other recession in history, we have a long way to go.

Therefore, 2011 figures to be another year of cuts to government budgets at the state and local levels. The National Association of Counties (NACo) polled its members and the survey showed a significant portion of them are laying off public safety personnel in order to reduce their budget gap.

Here's the percentages of governments looking to make cuts by program area:

  • Administration--44%
  • Public safety--37%
  • Pubic Works--35%
  • Jails and Corrections--25%
September through November is the budget formulation season for most local governments. Budgets have been developed through the spring and summer and are being transmitted to governing bodies in the fall. The cities and counties I am familiar with require the next year budget to be passed by the end of November.

I'm looking forward to perhaps participating in a round table discussion on how city emergency managers are dealing with reductions in their programs. I'll share what I can from what I learn in future blog postings. Until then--good luck with your budgets!


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September 12, 2010

The gas fired inferno that was created in San Bruno, CA is another reminder of what failed infrastructure can do. While the cause is not yet known, the two things that come to my mind are "backhoe" and "older infrastructure." In this case it could be both.

As I've watched events like this one happen in the past it has been primarily due to someone digging in the proximity to a pipeline. While work wasn't be done at the time of the explosion--since it was later in the evening, the basic cause could be from earlier work done near that site, which appears to be in the middle of a road. Any number of utility crews could have damaged the pipe, only slightly, and then that caused this later failure.

The other option is that the pipe is 30-50 years old and it deteriorated over time. A big concern I have is about how pipelines, both natural gas and petrolium products, that used to run in remote places and now housing developments and other infrastructure have been build around them.

In my own case there his a 60" natural gas (Williams Pipeline) that is less than a quarter mile away from my home. Boy was I surprised when I was walking through an adjacent neighborhood and saw this wide "right of way" between two houses and then a little yellow disk on the curb saying pipeline.

As I've said before, we as a nation and communities are continuing to pursue a "fix on failure" approach to our critical infrastructure. Safety is not free--someone has to pay for it. Or, are we comfortable with putting our families at risk? It appears we are!


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September 13, 2010

With the San Bruno explosion and fire in our minds it is an appropriate time to just look at the extensive network of transmission pipelines that serve our nation. It is likely that every state has some pipelines, with some petroleum producing states having scores of them.

There is a Report: Nation's Pipeline Security Uncertain article that was in Homeland Security Today. It details the federal efforts to try and get their hands around what the risks are and how to quantify them.

It is a good example of the challenges we have of living in a free society that has been built over two hundred years of trust and a lack of security on our critical infrastructure. I don't think we'll ever be able to secure "everything" that can be an issue if it is taken out by terrorists. We can make it more difficult, but our priority should be working on resiliency. Prevention is not going to stop a determined individual or group.

I think of prevention as leading to a dead end. It needs to be considered and implemented where possible, but focusing on resiliency is the long term solution. Eliminate the single points of failure and build some redundancy into the systems we depend on each and every day to power our modern economy.


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September 14, 2010

Microsoft Vine was born in 2007 with an idea of providing a warning capability using a social media tool. As the concept grew it morphed into other areas. The idea being to provide an every-day platform for connecting people within a neighborhood with one another and also with government. Unfortunately for Vine and its design team the concept did not catch-on during the Beta phase of its development and launch.

The official announcement said, "The decision to discontinue future development of Microsoft Vine was not easily made. Multiple options were thoroughly explored and evaluated with rigor and in the end it was determined that Microsoft Vine is not sustainable as a standalone offering."

The end is coming on October 11th, however the decision to pull the plug was made this past spring. While the official cause of death is somewhat obscure, this author believes that it is the same disease that killed Encarta. Large corporations are having trouble keeping up with nimble social media companies that are small and throwing many different solutions into the marketplace. Most of these solutions fail, but some catch-on. It was Wikipedia that killed Encarta.

Vine is survived by its aging parents Windows and Office. Now still in the prime of their life they too are starting to age and be overtaken by new concepts in cloud computing. The business model that sustained them for so long looks to be changing. Instead of having software loaded on your computer you will use programs located on the Internet to do your work.

No memorial services are planned at this time. The program developers are quietly grieving their loss.


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September 14, 2010

Bill Cumming sent me the link to Pentagon Spending which has a bit of a rant about how much money we are investing in the military. In sum, we are spending more on the military now than all the state and local governments combined spend on running their jurisdictions and providing services.

Now remember that I'm a 20 year Army veteran, Infantry Officer, Airborne-Ranger, yada yada. So, don't go off on me if you are a pro-military person who thinks that it is the number one priority. History tells me that we are in the same boat as many other "empires" that have come and gone. What did Spain do with all that gold and silver they brought back from the new world? They paid for new naval armadas and large standing armies. Then they went into debt to maintain them. You name the country that once dominated in military might and influence and you will see that eventually they could not afford the cost of maintaining a dominating military force. It is not economically feasible over time.

Given our penchant to be wanting our cake and eating it too (lots of services and no taxes) we are about to reap the lack of benefits that such a policy leaves us with. The balance sheets are out of whack and there is a reckoning coming for governments of all types. I expect the pendulum will have to swing way to one side with everything failing before we react and are willing to open our pocketbooks and be part of the solution. In my estimation we have a much longer fall ahead of us before we as a nation collectively come to that conclusion.

Where does that leave emergency management? Along with other government services we'll do the best with what we have. If you can maintain a semblance of a program you will be doing just fine. In sum, the good old days are behind us!


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September 15, 2010

DHS was required by Congress to establish a Local, State, Tribal and Federal Preparedness Task Force Their charge is, "To take stock of the numerous efforts that have shaped preparedness policy, guidance, and investments since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and find ways to ensure that the performance of similar efforts in the future is efficient, streamlined and measurable."

I noticed the membership list on the task force doesn't list any of the federal players. I noted several people I know who would be good contributors to the process. Word is that the Task Force is supposed to issue its final report and recommendations by the end of the month. It's report is to address 3 areas--policy and doctrine, grants, and capabilities and assessments.

Perhaps not much earth shaking is giong to come out of it, but it will provide a more structured presentation of the views of state and local emergency management and homeland security officials. There certainly is more tribal representation than you normally would see on other national emergency management groups, and that is a good thing. It is another example of one of the positive aspects of homeland security grants. The funding has brought state, local and tribal emergency management efforts closer together.


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September 16, 2010

One of the things I wrote about when the new administration was coming into office was that I fully expected the National Response Framework (NRF) to be rewritten during the first term of the administration. Now I see that the rewrite is to be accomplished by about this time next year.

Recently I also saw a PowerPoint slide--with no more further explanation that there will be four new National Response Frameworks (I think that includes the current rewrite mentioned above).

It will be interesting to watch what happens this go around. One thing I do know, in the Craig Fugate era at FEMA the state and local jurisdictions will be listened to and not ignored.


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