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by Eric Holdeman: Emergency management in the blogosphere

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October 2009 Archives
October 03, 2009

You need to be reading about what is happening in the world of Information Technology (IT). Your own IT Manager needs to be a partner in what you are trying to do, and in what they are trying to do. Your paths are now entwined together--whether you like it or not. Welcome to 21st Century Emergency Management!

Today I started with reading Paul Taylor's September "Signal Noise" column in Government Technology (a publication that is FREE to you). He wrote there about what different states are doing with their web sites. He noted that Utah took a giant leap forward, with some risks involved that were pointed out by other IT professionals. The retort by Utah was, "Good design does not preclude accessibility. Similarly poor or unimaginative design does not ensure accessibility or usability." The goal of web site is information sharing, not just funding IT consultants who might do the work.

Another good article in the same issue of Government Technology was an interview with Vivek Kundra, CIO for the federal government. His emphasis is on radically changing how the federal government uses technology. His emphasis on transparency is sure to trickle down to state and local governments--I guarantee it!

Lastly, there was a small article in Governing's August edition that was embedded in another one. I can't seem to find it on-line. The title is "The Risk and Reward of Web 2.0." The subject is how San Francisco is using Web 2.0 tools. To all the naysayers there is this quote, " We are in a horrible crisis. I think the only way we're going to get out of it is by doing creative things and taking risks."

I encourage you all to take a few risks with Web 2.0 and reap the dividends.

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October 05, 2009

If you read my earlier posting about my son and his family wanting to buy a home in the Puyallup Valley, then here is the the update:

They made an offer and it was accepted. Pending the results of the home inspection done today it is a done deal. I'll just be happy for them and hope for the best I guess. It will be great fodder for future speaking engagements and talks on mitigation.

What's a parent suppose to do? I gave up spanking 30 years ago.

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October 05, 2009

Here in the Seattle area the Howard Hanson Dam is big news. For an event that has not happened yet it is getting lots of coverage on TV and in the newspapers.

The Seattle Times had a nice summary of how we got to where we are today with the Howard Hanson Dam. I do take issue with the last quote in the article, "You can engineer anything. As an engineer, that's the way we think. This no problem too big."

My point is that controlling nature is difficult to do. We can do it in some circumstances for limited periods of time, but...nature is much more powerful and creative than man. Engineer that!

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October 06, 2009

"Remember, even in bad situations you are learning what not to do. If you can learn from the mistakes of others--all the better." Eric Holdeman Last week Friday I participated in a FEMA conference call that was "close to being a disaster." Here are some of the issues:

• The moderator didn't do introductions so they did not know who was on the line.
• The slides to be followed along with didn't make it to a number of participants via email. But, they didn't know that since they started with everyone on mute.
• There was an annoying static tick on the line that went on for the duration.
• At one point there was someone with heavy breathing on the phoneâ€"trust me it was not that exciting a call.
• People on the call were at various levels of expertise so the audience composition was not good--experts and novices mixing.

Learn from these types of experiences:

• Do introductions so you know who participated and who is on the callâ€"at least by organization.
• Hey, it is the 21st Century. Use a "Go to Meeting" type of software that lets people see the slides on-line and in real time.
• Use good phone discipline as the moderator to control the callâ€"it is your responsibility to enforce good conference call protocols.
• Maybe segmenting the callers by experience would have been one way to organize the multiple calls that were scheduled that day.

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October 06, 2009

The thought is that any nuclear detonation is an "all she wrote" scenario. Game over, there is nothing emergency managers can do in the way of planning or responding. The help will have to come from outside the region.

Arnold Bogis, Last Word commentary (page 66) in the latest edition of Emergency Management Magazine debunks that myth for you. This is the Fourth Stage of Denial that we talk about, "If is is that bad, then there is nothing you can do about it."

I cut my emergency management teeth in the Army working with FEMA Region V on Military Assistance to Civil Authorities (MACA) Planning. We had several two week long 24/7 exercises that simulated a Soviet style nuclear attack on the USA.

Here's some additional thoughts for you:

  • Yes, a nuke is bad, but it is the same as any explosive device, just BIGGER. It is not the end of life for those people in the region. There will be more survivors than deaths and they will need help.
  • Our role as emergency managers is to coordinate that assistance until outside help can arrive. Doing a little planning is a good thing.
  • The US Army is half the size it was in 1991. We are fighting two wars and there isn't much surge capacity left for disaster response.
The challenge is that we won't probably do the planning until there is federal guidance, emphasis and funding is made available. People are busy with their natural hazards planning and other more probable terrorist events. Even today I'm headed off to an anthrax exercise.

We'll reinvent the 1960's civil defense wheel at some point in the future.

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October 06, 2009

Hey, there is a new feature on the Emergency Management Magazine Website. Look at the top navigation bar and you will see a category for jobs. There is a drop down menu that segments the jobs into:

I'm sure they will come up with a way for organizations that have positions to advertise to submit them for posting on these links. Until then, have fun checking out what is available.

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October 07, 2009

I had the opportunity to meet John FitzGibbon, Emergency Management Specialist, HQ U.S. Army Europe who was here in the United States for a disaster exercise. I was pleased to find out that he is a reader of this blog AND that the Army had created emergency management positions for their various installations across the globe.

These are either staffed primarily with civilians (GS-12) or in the case of one installation in Germany a Major/O-4. This I think is great news on several fronts. It is the recognition by the military that planning for their installations is a critical component of being combat ready and it will in the end protect people and property.

A side benefit is that this opens up another career path for people looking for jobs in emergency management.

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October 07, 2009

The challenge with politicians mixing it up with disaster planning and response is that "generally" they don't know much about the technicalities of how the emergency management system works.

This "Call in the Marines" is one good example of that being played out in the election race for King County Executive. Candidates don't have access to emergency management staff unless they are volunteering on their campaigns and so they will make statements like the one in the linked news story. FYI, there are more bulldozers sitting idle in Washington State than exist in the entire U.S. Army inventory--so, just hire them to do the work if that is what you want done.

Today I had an opportunity to talk with a candidate in another race and gave him a few suggestions about emergency management issues here in the region. It is one of hundreds of conversations that these people have every day. Hopefully a little bit of what I said will stick in the memory bank if this particular candidate gets elected.

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October 08, 2009

Don't put the HVAC system on the Roof: It is pretty typical for architects and engineers to put heating and ventilation (HVAC) systems on the roofs of buildings. If you have the opportunity to build a new building, keep these systems off the roof and on the groundâ€"and this is why:

HVAC systems make noise and they leak. If your operations room is the largest room in the building they will invariably site the HVAC on top of that room. HVAC systems may be quiet initially, but over time they can become noisier adding to the issue of noise in the EOC during disaster operations. And, since water is involved they can leak and then impact your operations room/center again. Keeping them on the ground and adjacent to the building eliminates the potential for both of the above problems that I've seen at otherwise very nice facilities.

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October 08, 2009

American City & County has an article on Fort Wayne's Public Works Director, Bob Kennedy. This Master of Disaster has been a busy bee in both building mitigation projects in his city and responding to disasters.

I noted a number of traits that make for a good emergency manager:

  • Willing to partner with others and incorporate their ideas
  • Looks to build consensus rather than fight turf battles
  • Sees the community as part of the solution, not a problem to be dealt with
  • Has made incremental improvements over time
  • Appreciates the efforts of other people and their contributions--acknowledging them
  • Boundless energy!
All of the above will serve you well, even if you are not the Master of Disaster.

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