Emergency Management Blogs

Emergency Management Blog - Eric Holdeman: Disaster Zone
Disaster Zone

by Eric Holdeman: Emergency management in the blogosphere

Subscribe via RSS | About this Blog | Contact Eric Holdeman | Ericpedia

April 07, 2014

There are many complicating issues to responding to emergencies and disasters in the Arctic region of the world. For the United States, the State of Alaska is our Arctic touch point.

The melting Arctic icecap will drive what happens next. There will be many more ships trafficking the Arctic with commercial endeavors leading the list. First of all the melting ice will provide an ice free passage for shipping. Forget the Panama Canal when shipping to Asia from Northern Europe. No need to pay $1M a ship to go through the canal. Next of course is oil and gas exploration and development of those resources to feed our petroleum product addictions. Lastly, eco-tourism will become really big business as bigger and bigger ships make that sailing.

Check out this Brookings video on Artic Issues that summarize some of the above.


Then of course with all that activity above there will be emergency management issues to contend with. Search and rescue, collisions between ships, and oil spills from either the collisions or accidents that come with drilling for and exploiting the natural resources in the region are all issues that will need to be dealt with.

What complicates any disaster response is our lack of resources that are in proximity to the Artic. Deep water ports will be need to be established along with response resources. When you think about a strategic plan for the US Coast Guard it has to include readiness for having a full time presence in the Artic. The time and distance that the Artic presents is a huge obstacle to having effective responses.

A good first start would be building a modern icebreaker fleet of ships that match the capability of what other Artic Nations already have in place today. When it comes to the Artic—we are way behind the power curve!

Leave a comment
April 07, 2014

I have been struggling since 1991 to promote individual and family disaster preparedness activities.  Throughout that time I have been involved with group PowerPoint presentations and the distribution of disaster preparedness materials, to neighbors, family, and the public.  

Regional preparedness campaigns like "Three Days, Three Ways" that used TV, radio, billboards, bus signs, professional baseball stadiums as partners.  I have partnered with the American Red Cross, preparedness vendors, businesses, and other organizations.  How effective that has all been has always been a question.  

Which leads to the question of, "How effective has all this activity been to date?"

Rocky Lopes is nationally known for his work on disaster public education.  Recently he responded to a question about disaster preparedness public education by sharing his Twelve Cs of Disaster Preparedness Education. I recommend it for your reading.

The only piece that I think I'd disagree with is the information about standing in a doorway during an earthquake.  For all the reasons he mentioned as to why you don't talk about the wrong thing to do during an event--I would not even mention it.  Up here in Washington State we don't teach it -- only Drop, Cover and Hold.

April 07, 2014

Why was Boston Strong? Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing is a Harvard Kennedy School report on the events immediately following the bombing at the scene and then the ensuing investigation and manhunt.

What I like about the report is the more detailed analysis of the command, control and coordination of the event. It really is a bit of a higher look at the incident.

One publication identified the following recommendations from the report:

  • "Senior leaders should participate in a unified command at the strategic level and avoid being pulled back into making tactical decisions and directly overseeing basic operations.
  • Response organizations must develop procedures and practices to better control 'self-deployment' by individual personnel to the scene of emergency action.
  • Maintaining regular and open communication with the public – through traditional and social media – should be a high priority for senior officials, even when confidential investigations are ongoing.
  • Robust development, practice, exercise, and application of incident management processes and skills (codified in the NIMS [National Incident Management] system) greatly enhance the ability of emergency responders to operate in complex, multi-organizational, cross-jurisdictional crises."
  • While much has been said and written about the Incident Command System (ICS) it does not appear that they had a Unified Command Post set up as part of the response planning for the Boston Marathon. The immediate response following the bombing was terrific. Many stories were written about how average citizens leaped into help with the medical response and I’m sure saved many lives. Being so close to the finish line and medical treatment facilities was almost ideal. All patients were moved from the scene in less than 22 minutes.

Here are my own observations from reading the report:

  • Senior leaders, especially uniformed ones, need to stay out of the tactical mix of things. There were so many higher level issues to be considered their involvement needed to be at the policy level.
  • It would appear they set up a second “Unified Command Post.” For a city specific event this in my mind should be at the normal Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Such a location has all the communications gear and other resources to provide for effective coordination with a multitude of agencies that will have a role to play. By using the EOC people know where to go, they might have resources at that location already, security and access is controlled. Instead this second command post was set up at a hotel—which was not necessary to be near the event and they had logistics and control issues.
  • Once again we have an event where senior leadership did not start rotating on a shift basis to sustain the effort over a multi-day operation, multi-operational period. Some people were operating for 36 hours straight with no sleep. Not a good situation for effective decision making or coordination.
  • The event shows how pre-disaster coordination can make a huge difference. Planning for special events paid off in this circumstance and will pay off again in the future. Planning, training, exercises, planning, training, exercises.
  • We need to work harder on self-deployment instructions to our various staffs. You don’t respond unless directed to respond. Multiple agencies with varying command staffs not all under the direction or acknowledging the authority of senior leaders from other organizations. It is pretty basic, but we seem to still not have our staffs and first line supervisors trained on this issue. They were lucky more people were not shot by friendly fire.
  • The chaotic nature of this event with unknown number of assailants and the potential for more attacks is an ideal situation to use social media for situational awareness, rumor control, and to feed information to the public very quickly.

Let’s learn from this event and not have it be just another lessons observed situation.


Claire Rubin shared her blog post on this event.

Leave a comment
April 07, 2014

The following information comes directly from a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) message on which federal programs are available to those impacted by the Oso Mudslide that happened two weeks ago.

Federal Aid Programs for State of Washington Disaster Recovery
April 2, 2014


Following is a summary of key federal disaster aid programs that can be made available as needed and warranted under President Obama’s major disaster declaration issued for Washington.

Assistance for Affected Individuals and Families Can Include as Required:

Rental payments for temporary housing for those whose homes were destroyed or are unlivable. Initial assistance may be provided for up to three months for homeowners and at least one month for renters. Assistance may be extended if requested after the initial period based on a review of individual applicant requirements. (Source: FEMA funded and administered.)
Grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary and functional. (Source: FEMA funded and administered.)
Grants to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation, child care assistance and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, state and charitable aid programs. (Source: FEMA funded at 75 percent of total eligible costs; 25 percent funded by the state.)
Unemployment payments up to 26 weeks for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and who do not qualify for state benefits, such as self-employed individuals. (Source: FEMA funded; state administered.)
Low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance. Loans available up to $200,000 for primary residence; $40,000 for personal property, including renter losses. Loans available up to $2 million for business property losses not fully compensated by insurance. (Source: U.S. Small Business Administration.)
Loans up to $2 million for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, non-profit organizations of all sizes that have suffered disaster-related cash flow problems and need funds for working capital to recover from the disaster's adverse economic impact. This loan in combination with a property loss loan cannot exceed a total of $2 million. (Source: U.S. Small Business Administration.)
Loans up to $500,000 for farmers, ranchers and aquaculture operators to cover production and property losses, excluding primary residence. (Source: Farm Service Agency, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.)
Other relief programs: Crisis counseling for those traumatized by the disaster; income tax assistance for filing casualty losses; advisory assistance for legal, veterans’ benefits and social security matters.

How to Apply for Individual Assistance:

Due to the localized impacts of the disaster, FEMA will work closely with residents, tribal members and business owners who sustained losses in the designated area on a one-on-one basis.

Affected individuals and business owners in designated areas can begin the disaster application process by registering online, at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or by web enabled mobile device at m.fema.gov. Disaster assistance applicants, who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, should call 1-800-462-7585 directly; for those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362. Online registration is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free telephone numbers are operating from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time seven days a week until further notice. Applicants registering for aid should be prepared to provide basic information about themselves (name, permanent address, phone number), insurance coverage and any other information to help substantiate losses.

Assistance for the State, Tribes and Affected Local Governments Can Include as Required:

Payment of not less than 75 percent of the eligible costs for emergency protective measures taken to save lives and protect property and public health. Emergency protective measures assistance is available to state, tribal and eligible local governments on a cost-sharing basis. (Source: FEMA funded, state administered.)Payment of not less than 75 percent of the eligible costs for recovery and cleanup from public areas and for emergency measures taken to save lives and protect property and public health, including direct federal assistance, under the Public Assistance program.(Source: FEMA funded, state administered.)

Payment of not more than 75 percent of the approved costs for hazard mitigation projects undertaken by state, tribal and local governments to prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property from natural or technological disasters. (Source: FEMA funded, state administered.)

How to Apply for Public Assistance:

Application procedures for tribal and local governments will be explained at a series of federal/state and federal/tribal applicant briefings with locations to be announced in the affected area by recovery officials. Approved public repair projects are paid through the state from funding provided by FEMA and other participating federal agencies.

FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.


Leave a comment
April 07, 2014

Homeland Security Committee Releases Report on Boston Marathon Bombings  

See my earlier blog post on the Harvard Study on the Boston bombing.  The one above concentrates on the detection and prevention of the attack and how federal agencies could work more effectively in the future.  

There is a link to the entire report in the summary above.  Portions of it have been redacted. 

Frances Edwards shared this information.


Leave a comment
April 06, 2014

“In the absence of defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.” Heinlein I am frequently struck by the fact that my hours and days are seemingly consumed by doing the ordinary things in life and work. What is routine, can as stated above, “enslave us” to getting by in our living and working.

This is where life’s goals kick in. These are the things that cause us to stretch our living and working to achieve something beyond the ordinary. For us to do so requires an extra level of commitment beyond being average. To achieve anything meaningful requires and investment of more time and energy.

This must be what motivated the great explorers of the past and I expect the future. They were not satisfied with the status quo in the world or in their lives.

Leave a comment
April 06, 2014

"The world's sprawling cities are centres of economic activity and growth. But when a natural disaster hits a densely populated area, the effects can be catastrophic. A Swiss Re study looks at the human and economic risks faced by urban communities around the globe."  This is how Swiss Re sums up the current situation.

Several items struck me about this study.  One is that only Los Angeles is listed as a United States city at risk.  This because of their earthquake threat.  Interestingly, New York was not listed--which I thought odd because of the hurricane risk and some seismic risk.

Swiss Re Study on Cities at Risk

What is driving increasing risk is the movement of people to large urban areas.  The shift in population is significant worldwide and we are even seeing this happen here in the USA as people move towards the coasts.  

Risks go up for a nation and its people because this is where the greatest disasters can occur and you have sea rise to contend with as part of a warming climate.  

The other interesting factoid is that they identify flooding as the primary risk worldwide.

Lastly the bill for disasters is increasing.  An estimated $210-300 billion in total economic loss for 2011 with the Japan disaster being the most costly catastrophe ever.  While it didn't attract the same level of attention here in the USA, the Bangkok Thailand flood had an estimated $47B in economic losses.  What likely gets an insurance company's attention is the estimated $15B in insured losses in that year.



Leave a comment
April 06, 2014

The Oso Mudslide is now two weeks old. With people still listed as missing the work is ongoing to recover their bodies. I expect this will go on for several more weeks, but eventually the effort will taper off, even if all the people missing are not recovered.

What will go on for many months and years will be the legal debate about what the Snohomish County knew, when did they know it and what did they do about? Were people warned concerning the hazard to the extent that they could make a good self-determination about whether to remain in their homes or move.

The article Authorities knew of mudslide danger, but didn't tell residents provides additional details about what was known about the hazard and what some experts are saying should have been done.

While I personally think that people would not have changed their behavior, at this point they can easily claim that they were wronged by the government in not being fully informed of the hazard.


Claire Rubin shared the link above.

Leave a comment
April 06, 2014

PreventionWeb is a project of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).  They have a new website and you can also check out their Newsletter.


The United States doesn't have all the answers to emergency management challenges that the world faces.  In fact if you want to get ahead of the curve on climate adaptation you should look at other nations to see what they have been doing.  



Leave a comment
April 05, 2014

There is a proliferation of hazards that we face as emergency managers. One that has “popped up” in the last 20 years is cybersecurity. When you watch this Cybersecurity Disaster Zone TV Show you will see how the hazard has changed overtime and what we should be doing as organizations and individuals to protect ourselves.

We may wish for a simpler time, but this issue is not going away and we need to learn to adapt and do so quickly.


Leave a comment

Latest Emergency Management News

Moulage Provides Realism for ShakeOut Disaster Drill

The morbid makeup ensures that emergency responders have realistic-looking victims for disaster preparation drills.
Police officer working on a laptop
FirstNet Explained

FirstNet, the proposed nationwide broadband public safety network, is big, expensive and complicated. Here are a few basic things you need to know.
FirstNet Testbeds (Interactive Map)

FirstNet began negotiations with eight testbed jurisdictions, and the projects that did reach agreements should help shape the FirstNet network.

Latest Blog Posts RSS

Emergency Management Blog - Eric Holdeman: Disaster Zone Earthquake Brace and Bolt
Apr 17 The best way to protect your older home.…
Emergency Management Blog - Eric Holdeman: Disaster Zone Emergency Management Training--California Style
Apr 17 Training advice for the novice through seasoned professional.…
Alerting Failure Draws Fire in Portland
Apr 17 The City says a failed alert this week was the fault of the alerting vendor. The vendor says it was the city's fault.…

4 Ways to Get EM

Subscribe to Emergency Management MagazineFollow Emergency Management on TwitterSubscribe to Emergency Management HeadlinesSubscribe to Emergency Management Newsletters

Featured Papers

Blog Archives