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by Eric Holdeman: Emergency management in the blogosphere

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January 2010 Archives
January 01, 2010

I'm a reader, or at least a "Scanner" of ArcNews, and ESRI publication. There is an article Portland, Oregon, Trailblazes a Successful Regional GIS in the current edition.

What first caught my eye was the word "Regional" in the the title of the article. While the federal government thinks of regional as multi-state, I see regional at the state and local level. It is also where I think the most progress can be made in the next decade. I just finished reading another article this morning about how small hospitals are either merging or affiliating with other larger hospital systems. One of the major reasons given was the cost of automation and electronic records. If we don't have more regional efforts in the next ten years there will be a significant separation of emergency management programs. The "Haves" and the "Have Nots" with larger more robust programs growing stronger and more technically advanced while the smaller jurisdictions fall further behind.

Back to the GIS article. I see some similarities and lessons to be learned from their work that rings a bell with me on what we tried to do in King County and the region when I was there as an emergency manager. These lessons include:

  • You need champions, but it will take more than one person to make a regional approach work.
  • You need a political agency/jurisdiction sponsor for the work and it will ideally be a regional government of sorts.
  • Private sector involvement helps. When they see the benefit it breaks down some of the political walls that might exist between governments.
  • Regional work takes time to bear fruit. The story told in the article starts in 1989.
  • Sharing of information comes after trust is developed. Trust only comes after relationships are built between individuals and then organizations.
Good luck with your regional efforts in 2010. It is your future to make.

This is the first blog posting of 2010, only another 699 to go!

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January 01, 2010

I think that there are those in emergency management who would like to maintain a monopoly on the term "Emergency Management." The thought that there can only be one emergency management office in a jurisdiction and that having multiple "emergency management" organizations confuses people and takes away from what it is that you do.

For instance, there is the EPA Emergency Management web site that highlights what that federal agency is doing to protect people and the environment. In my opinion it would be great if every agency had an emergency management function as part of its organization.

Seattle-King County Public Health once had one person doing disaster planning as an additional duty. Now with grant funding I think their organization might be larger in staff than the King County Office of Emergency Management. And, what's wrong with that? Nothing!

They have accomplished a great deal in the last 4-5 years since they established a full time professional staff.

Let's promote the establishment of more emergency management programs in agencies and departments. We can only become collectively more stronger and serve our constituents in a better manner. Just remember to coordinate where you can with your partners--which I know isn't always easy.

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January 01, 2010

Decaying Levees is a national issue, as is crumbling roads and bridges. Our infrastructure is as broke as our medical system.

While people can drive a potholed road and know things are not what they are supposed to be, it is rare for a citizen to call their elected officials to complain about an old levee. The average Joe and Jane just can't see the hazard. Hundreds or even thousands of people may use a levee as a bike path, yet the danger and the weaknesses are not detected.

Elected officials were driven to action in the case of the linked story above. However, this action may have come to late. This reminds me of the house my Son and Wife almost bought. It was a really cute home that had been fixed up inside. Nice deck, fenced yard, attractive in almost every way. BUT, the foundation was settling. It can all look pretty on top, but if the foundation is rotten, then you will have real trouble with bad things happen.

It was interesting to note the final section in the story included this:

"For now, the county and the corps seem to be doing what they can, said Derek Booth, a University of Washington geology professor who has studied Green River flooding scenarios. But Booth is convinced the true odds of serious flooding probably are higher than 1 in 33."

Which is what I've been saying all along. In the story the reporter alluded to the message about Global Warming. In the Northwest that means more frequent, longer duration rain events. Which is the worst thing that can happen to a levee system. Rivers running high for long periods of time erode them at a rapid clip--especially when they are weak to begin with.

The only good news is that for this flood season the worst danger time is past. November and December are typically the months that generate the worst flooding. Yet, in 2009 we had a record storm in January--so keep your fingers crossed for a couple more months.

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January 02, 2010

"Budget driven security will always fail." Wayne Glass I now have my wife trained to listen for quotes. She picked this one up watching the evening news this past week following the failed Christmas attack on a Delta flight destined for Detroit.

At the state and local levels we are budget driven in our security measures for sure. It is because there isn't enough money to go around and we don't believe that the threat to our jurisdictions is real. Or, if it is real, then the likelihood that something will happen is remote. Certainly not of such a nature that requires us to expend an extraordinary effort to make our organizations and communities safer.

In many respects I see our efforts as placebo activity, meant to placate those who expect us to be doing something. The goal is sometimes to do the absolute minimum that we can get by with.

Bill Cumming shared this story What Israel Can Teach us About Security on how they approach security at airports. It does seem to be effective, does it not?

Eventually I expect here in the United States we will be living in armed camps. It will not be tomorrow, but sometime in the future our fears will drive us to a new level of security. It is not something I'm wishing for.

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January 02, 2010

Amanda Ripley has a blog posting on the differences in the Presidential responses to the 2001 Shoe Bomber and the recent 2009 Christmas Eve attack on Northwest Airlines.

There are times I'd like this type of dialog to just all go away. Elected officials playing to their base constituency and trying to make political hay. It gets tiresome to keep listening to it from either side of the legislative isle.

There is a nice video clip included in the blog posting from CNN on PETN the explosive used in both attempted bombings. This is perhaps the more meaningful piece of information for emergency managers.

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January 02, 2010

It feels like we Americans might be technology snobs. Thinking that we have the market on all the latest and greatest ideas. The reality is we are rapidly falling behind in having an educated work force. And, we educate the world's intellectual elite and then will not give them a Green Card to work here. Thus they return to their own countries that are doing much better these days, thank you very much!

What got me thinking about this was just a web site from CEN-European Committee for Standardization. Specifically a posting on the standardization of PPE

I think we can learn a great deal from other nations of the world. We don't own al the good ideas, standards or procedures.

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January 03, 2010

The title may be crude, but that is the basic equation for why mud slides, also known as debris flows occur. To find out what the U.S. Geological Survey is doing to help predict when and where slides will occur see Forecasting Deadly Mudslides and Debris Flows in California

The work they do in California will have application in other areas of the nation.

The link above was shared by Bill Cumming.

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January 03, 2010

The link to this blog posting is all about the Delta Flight Christmas Attack and the failure to prevent it in the first place.

While this is an IT heavy blog posting by an IT expert, I call your attention to it since this is also the future for emergency management and the use of IT systems not only to display and share information, which is how we basically use them now, but also as an analytical tool to find out what is going on.

Quote from the Blog Posting: "Next generations of information management systems will not principally rely on users dreaming up smart questions to ask computers. Rather, this new breed of technology will make it possible for data to find itself and relevant discoveries to find the consumer (e.g., a user). And all in real time of course."

Our situational awareness could be vastly improved by being able to mine the data streams that are like Niagara Falls these days. This is true in government, but also in social media. While some of this is classified, there is way more information that is open source.

Now we need the IT experts or bright entrepreneurs to make it all happen!

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January 04, 2010

See my latest article for Emergency Management online edition on Decade of Disasters--What the Oughts have Wrought

Feel free to comment on any significant events that I might have missed and add your thoughts on their impacts.

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January 04, 2010

Doctrine is not static. As new threats appear, doctrine changes. It has almost been 40 years since I joined the U.S. Army. When I went through my basic training as both an enlisted person and officer, all the training was focused on Vietnam War tactics. This while the war was winding down for the USA--the doctrine takes time to catch-up.

The next focus was war with the Soviet Union in Europe. Heavy armored divisions were the answer along with the associated equipment. Now of course there is a new focus for military forces. Lighter armed units, more flexible, easier to deploy in a number of different scenarios.

With emergency management there has also been an evolution in doctrine. In a recent blog posting I discussed the use of the term "protection" vs. "mitigation." See the quote below from a footnote in a GAO report in July 2005, which was right before Katrina.

"DHS defines prevention as activities intended to deter all potential terrorists from attacking America, detect terrorists before they strike, prevent them and their instruments of terror from entering our country, and take decisive action to eliminate the threat they pose. Protection is defined as activities intended to reduce the likelihood of attack on assets or systems and limit the impact should an attack occur. Response is defined as activities intended to implement immediate actions to save lives, protect property, and meet basic human needs. Recovery is defined as activities to develop, coordinate, and execute service- and site-restoration plans and reconstitute government operations and services through individual, private-sector, nongovernmental, and public assistance programs."

It seems to me that disasters like wars change doctrinal focus. Where we are today "officially" on the debate of protection vs. use of the word mitigation is unknown to me. I'm sure it is evolving.

Bill Cumming found the quote above.

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