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April 2010 Archives
April 02, 2010

Just yesterday I was asked by Karen Fishler, Program Coordinator for the Master in Strategic Planning for Critical Infrastructures at the University of Washington to comment on where I see the future of jobs for the emergency management and homeland security professions going. This was specifically for people completing graduate degrees from the university.

I thought I'd share an edited portion of what I wrote back to her here in this blog posting:

If you have not seen two articles that I authored and are related to careers in emergency managementâ€"see below:

Emergency Management Jobs

Cultivating Emergency Managers

I guess one of my thoughts is that "once there is an attack" against critical infrastructure in the United States, the graduates will be in high demand. Until then, I think the biggest asset is the planning degree. Planning continues to be an area of emphasis in both emergency management and homeland security. That piece is not going away anytime soon.

Events definitely drive needs. Following Katrina for instance it was all about special needs populations and evacuation planning. A year before that there was nothing on those two topics. I keep waiting for mitigation planning to be the hot topic. It could still happenâ€"depends on what Craig Fugate has an emphasis during his tenure. Growth management planning and building codes are two areas that directly impact critical infrastructure. I think having a course on climate adaptation would be good for positioning graduates for the future.

I do think that it appears to be that graduates from the existing program seem to have been more mid-career people. I think that those types have a better chance of getting on with government programs at the state and local levels because the people come not only with a degree, but also some work/life experienceâ€"less of a risk to the hiring entity.

Younger graduates would probably be better off trying to break into the private sector with a consulting firm. Being willing to relocate to D.C. would be ideal since many of the larger consulting firms are located there and do work for the federal government.

Craig Fugate, FEMA Director noted that many of the FEMA staff are nearing retirement. So if you project out five years then the market could open up even more. If of course they can afford to retire.

The other issue might be some downsizing of government programs, especially at the state level due to budget constraints. There could be "shrinkage" in the size of emergency management staffs, especially in those states that don't have many disasters and are experiencing severe budget issues, of which there are a number that fit that bill.

Lastly, I have been surprised at how long the funding has been sustained from the surge that followed the 9/11 Attacks. Every year I expect to see more drastic reductions and still nothing yet. I suppose that like defense, legislators are worried about being seen as the one who cut funding to homeland security and then there is another attack on the USA. Yet, I see the federal deficit continuing to grow significantly and when will it all end?

I hope some of my ramblings above are helpful.

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April 02, 2010

I've seen plenty of people, especially elected and senior appointed officials, bet that disasters won't strike them or their organization during their time in office.

The Natural Hazards Observer had an article on how Paddy Power, a self-described book maker had added taking bets on which volcano will be the next to erupt. I noted that the odds printed in the Natural Hazards Observer showed Mt. Rainier (which is in my backyard) was getting 11:1 odds.

It made me wonder if those elected officials would be comfortable with 11:1 odds of nothing happening.

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April 02, 2010

There is a building in downtown Seattle that has an odd shape to it. See Seattle Sketcher for a quick look at it.

In my mind it would not seem to be that stable in an earthquake, but since the Magnusson Klemencic firm is located there I guess that gives me some comfort that it should be OK.

They have some of the best seismic engineers working for them here in this region.

Sill, it doesn't seem quite right, eh?

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April 02, 2010

When was the last time you updated your Hazard Identification Vulnerability Assessment (HIVA)? Does it include cyber threats and Near Earth Objects (NEO)?

First to cyber threats. Be it from hackers or foreign governments the threats to our IT systems keep increasing. As emergency managers we must take a broad perspective on hazards to our organizations. I can expect some emergency managers would say that this is not their responsibility. "We have IT professionals who worry about that." I think the same could be said for pandemic flu planning. There are the healthcare professionals "who worry about that too."

We have a broader mission of coordinating and facilitating among many types of organizations and functions. If you leave cyber issues only up to the IT types they will take a narrow view of what they do. Generally, they are not concerned with the interdependencies of systems. They look to take care of just their networks. The best time to get involved with a program or project is at its inception before hard lines are drawn. Those lines are being drawn now on the topic of cyber security. My recommendation would be to start by getting a dialog going with your internal IT professionals and then add cyber security to your HIVA so that you and they have better understanding of what system outages can do as we move more and more to an ecommerce type of government and economy.

Next is the issue of NEO, call them asteroids or just big rocks--their impact on earth can have devastating consequences. Two things I learned from reading the most current edition of the Natural Hazards Observer this morning, see the article "Just Use the Force, Obi-Wan."

  1. The rocks don't have to be all that big. One described as being only 70 meters across devastated more than 2,000 square kilometers of forest in 1908.
  2. The damage is caused by the impact on earth, but it comes in contact with the earth's atmosphere and explodes.
Hmm, seems like that would be a really big explosion. They throw out the figure of $400B in damages. Depending on where it hits earth, it could be a whole lot more than that.

Not that many years ago I would have said that it was too far fetched a possibility to add to our HIVA. Today I'm not so sure. You could add this one in with the impacts of a nuclear explosion. My question is how much warning might we have and how accurate could they be about where the object will come in contact with earth. With some warning we can move people out of harms way. Finding every 70 meter rock out floating on a collision course with earth is another issue.

I tell people that being an emergency manager is not rocket science, but in this case we need some of those folks on our team!

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April 02, 2010

Disasters have always had a political element to them. There is nothing more political than what the cost share might be for a large scale disaster. While the FEMA formula of 75% federal and 25% state/local match may seem like a pretty good deal, for catastrophes states have lobbied for and gotten those cost shares reduced to 10% and even less in some cases.

The CRS report FEMA Disaster Cost-Shares: Evolution and Analysis gives a history of the cost share over time.

Tom Antush shared the link.

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April 02, 2010

Today's Washington Post has an article on national level exercises. National disaster exercises, called too costly and scripted, may be scaled back has an interesting number of quotes and commentary in it.

First is this one, "Once in her current office, Napolitano talked about streamlining the drills and scaling them back to restore surprise. "When you have months to prepare for an exercise . . . a large part of the exercise's value is lost," she wrote." Well I can't say I agree with her on this particular point. In my experience, the preparation that goes into conducting the exercise is precisely the most valuable part of the entire event. The prep work that brings people and organizations together to sort out who does what and when is exactly what is needed. The exercise itself can be anti-climatic. I recommend that she send her quotes over to FEMA before putting stuff like the above out there for people to read.

The point is made that the National Level Exercises (NLE) are too scripted can come from two different points of view. It could come from an untrained observer seeing a Major Scenario Events List (MSEL) and not understanding the exercise design process that looks to exercise those portions of a disaster plan that the participating organizations want to test. Or, it could come from the fact that people and organizations are afraid of failure and so they "cheat" by letting the players know when and where things are going to happen. The NLE (formerly known as the TOP Officials Exercises) are high visibility events and elected officials and senior appointed officials don't want to be seen as being inept in how they respond to an emergency. Thus exercise designers pass along information to players. In the military it use to be called G2'ing (intelligence gathering) the exercise.

The exercises are expensive, no doubt about that. Much of the money goes to contractors who assist with the exercise design process and then to the players who have to bring people in on overtime (which is not cheap when you are talking fire and police) to participate in the exercise. This is particularly true for full scale exercises.

The article mentions no-notice exercises. I've seen this work in the Army, but I don't know how that would work with a full scale exercise in the civilian sector. There are events that go on all the time that need to be attended to. Inserting an "unknown" event into the middle of someone's day can be very messy. Not to mention that if it is full scale, then there is no warning to the public or media about what will be occurring.

Dealing with the feds is another matter. They want to involve the state and local entities in the exercise--but they have had trouble in treating them as equal players when it comes time to sort through who does what and what gets exercised. The word collaboration can be thrown around a lot, when really it is about informing and coordination. Partnership is still a reach when it comes to these exercises.

The positive about the exercises is it is the only time that the full spectrum of response forces and organizations from the federal, state and local levels play together. It is important that we do that before we get into the big game (disaster) and have never practiced together before an actual event.

Bill Cumming shared the link above.

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April 02, 2010

There is a new DHS Inspector General report out, TSA's Preparedness for Mass Transit and Passenger Rail Emergencies

It noted that:

"The Transportation Security Administration is responsible for security in all modes of transportation, including mass transit and passenger rail systems. Passenger rail systems face a dynamic landscape of potential natural disasters, accidents, and terrorist attacks. Since 1995, there have been more than 250 terrorist attacks worldwide against rail targets, resulting in nearly 900 deaths and more than 6,000 injuries."

There were several items that caught my attention in the report:

  • Another changing of emphasis away from only terrorism to an all-hazards approach
  • Pushing for more regional coordination for transportation emergencies
TSA agreed with all the recommendations. Maybe then we'll see more progress on the four recommendations in the report.

This report was shared by Tom Antush.

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April 03, 2010

While this is not new "news" it reflects the continuing march towards the establishment of standards in the area of emergency management and homeland security. This particular item is for colleges and universities.

See Changes to Clery Act impact emergency plans, require drills I also noted that there is a requirement to have the plan publicly available, which I think is a good thing. Doing so adds to the transparency of how we do business.

I expect that progressive institutions of higher learning have already been doing most, if not all of what is now being required. For the others, it allows the staff in the program trenches to say, "It is a compliance issue" which then typically will open doors to getting things done.

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April 03, 2010

The Natural Hazards Observer had an article (see page 5) on the use of Twitter to gather information on earthquakes via Twitter. The last question which I think is pretty revealing from the Q&A is printed below. This coming from a skeptic and all.

NHO: I'm curious, for you personally … you said you came into this as a skeptic about Twitter, and I'm curious about how your thinking about this technology has evolved as a result of getting involved in this?

Earle: One, I'd say that I think the average user of Twitter is over thirty. It's not a bunch of teenagers. There's a lot of fairly mature conversations going on. All the information in these conversations is not contained in 140 characters. Usually it will be 140 characters with a link to a more exhaustive article. So people will tweet about an interesting article that they read. So it's more mature than I naively thought.

The idea of publicly broadcast messages I find intriguing. I think its full potential hasn't been figured out yet. We certainly haven't figured out its full potential for earthquakes. How it will evolve will be interesting. I don't know if Twitter will be around forever, but I think the concept of publicly searchable succinct messages will be. I think it's a useful way of communicating. Not that my opinion on this mattersâ€"I'm a seismologist.

Another important point is, it's very cheap to do this. They supply all the application program interfaceâ€"it's a way the computer can search and download the tweetsâ€"they have all these APIs written. Our whole system was built by one student who was full-time in the summer and part-time during the school year. And that's less money than it costs to install a single seismometer, of which we have thousands around the world. So for less than the price of single seismometer we can build this system that augments the information we have, for very
little input. It's a potential way to reach more people and educate them about earthquakes.

In summary, using social media can be:

  • Effective
  • Efficient
  • A way to involve the public
  • Not the only answer, but an answer to using technology

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April 04, 2010

Reputedly General George C. Marshall said on December 7th, 1941, the following: "Yesterday we had all the time in the world and no money. Now we have no time and all the money we need." Shared by Bill Cumming Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Battleship Arizona Memorial. It was this event that brings meaning to the George C. Marshall quote. It captures much about how we seem to function as a nation. We attack problems vigorously when they are presented to us. Sometimes we anticipate them, we talk about them, and we debate them, but the energy to fix them waits for some momentous event. Then we try to play catch-up by throwing money and people at the issue.

I worry that some of the issues we will face in the future may be so big that we won't be able to recover from the event if we wait too long to react and become prepared in the first place.

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