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May 2010 Archives
May 01, 2010

Workplace violence has been with us for a long time. Unfortunately with increased media attention to these events I think there are more high profile/multi-casualty events. There are those that take domestic violence and extend it to the workplace, and also those that are specifically targeted to workplace. Certainly it has been shown again and again that our schools are not immune to these types of incidents with Columbine and VA Tech being the worst ones.

The Department of Homeland Security has an Active Shooter Guide for the General Public

Certainly the best course of action is to evacuate any building/space that has someone walking around and shooting people. There are situations described where you might be able to barricade and shelter in a room that the shooter has not entered.

Not described in the guide is the situation where you are trapped in a room that a shooter has entered and is walking around and shooting people. To hide in such a situation is to wait for an execution in my opinion. They do provide some limited guidance about taking direct action against the person with the gun. One other item I've read years ago was a study that said that running out of the room, even if it mean running past the gunman, is better than staying there trapped and in hiding.

This situation is not the type that I've not included in my disaster preparedness presentations. Given the frequency of these events it might be appropriate that we start incorporating the preparedness and response actions that the average person can take.

What do you think?

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May 01, 2010

The rescues are complete, the fires are out, the search for the missing is over. Now as normally occurs, the blame game begins. Some of that is detailed in the NY Times BP Is Criticized Over Oil Spill, but U.S. Missed Chances to Act

BP is what is called the Responsible Party which is all defined in the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP)

What all this means is that BP is on the hook for the cost of clean-up, to include the costs associated with the government side of the response. There is a Unified Command that is established. The Coast Guard is the overall Incident Commander (using the ICS system) with BP participating and funding the operation. They get to offer suggestions, coordinate their private sector response with that of the government. The bottom line is they write the checks for all costs associated with the spill. The last estimate I saw saw those costs could run up to $3 Billion

Naming the spill and keeping the BP name out of it was lucky for their corporate brand. Perhaps it wasn't all luck. The public information center for these oil spills is the only true Joint Information Center (JIC) that I'm aware of. It is doubtful that there are "multiple JICs) being established in this particular incident. This forces BP and the government to both stand up and in the same briefing give their version of what they are doing. Having a JIC helps in the coordination on the operational side because it keeps the participants talking on both the response and information dissemination side of the equation. I wonder if they will eventually add some social media to their web site?

My other thought about the incident is how worst case planning can pay off. Anticipating how bad things can get allows you to have more resources immediately available for when the bad news does get worse.

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May 02, 2010

For the last 20 years government travel has been an issue that erupts in media on occasion. Typically there is a report of some abuse in the use of travel. Back in the early 90's there was a Washington State employee on their way back from Eastern Washington and as they crossed the mountain pass they stopped and did a little skiing. The car they were driving was a marked State of Washington vehicle. It was a dumb move, even if the event happened after normal work hours. The travel ban and examination of every travel request that followed made going anywhere very difficult.

When I was with King County there was what I called the "Palm Tree Rule." If the destination for the conference or meeting included sunshine and palm trees (especially in the winter) then you would not be permitted to attend. This included any event funded by other entities. I recall the Department of Homeland Security hosting a meeting in Hawaii. Sure enough I think it was 60 Minutes that had video of then Secretary Ridge sitting around a pool.

What brought this all to mind was the recent travel of the Seattle Parks Department Director. The sins he committed were two (2) people traveling to Australia to a conference with a registration fee of $3K. Those two items of information along with the fact that the Parks Department is in dire financial straits and employees took furlough days doesn't paint a picture of someone being in sync with the finances of the time.

The Parks Director's last day will be May 10th and now the Mayor of Seattle has come out with the requisite tightening of the travel rules. I'm sure there were rules before, but not for the department directors themselves.

Even local travel can be an issue. I always told my staff that when driving a government vehicle they must be on their best behavior. You must be courteous to other drivers and no "hand gestures" that indicate your contempt for other drivers, etc. Trust me--it has happened! Another rule was if you had to stop for a meal, or to use the bathroom--do not park in the parking lot of a bar/tavern. It sends the wrong message!

I'm a big believer in being able to travel and learn from other people and jurisdictions. When getting ready for the design of the $30M Regional Communications and Emergency Coordination Center (RCECC) for King County we took several trips to view a number of existing facilities. It was one of the best things we could have done to assess the "state-of-the-art" at the time and we gleaned many lessons learned from the experience. It could not have been done with phone calls and video conferencing.

I've learned to pick my battles reference travel. Choose one or two events that will add the most value to your program and try to attend those if you can.

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May 02, 2010

Domestic or foreign? That is the question concerning who parked a car in Times Square on a Saturday night. CNN's report Napolitano: Car bomb being handled as 'potential terrorist attack provides the basic details on the event as it unfolded last night in New York City.

New York has deployed hundreds of cameras in the city and Time Square has to be one of the area in the city with a higher density of video cameras. These are great for catching "who done it" but so far the ability to prevent situations like this is limited.

A big city with lots of cars and on-street parking makes it easy for someone to park a car and escape on foot. While the car did not explode and the contents rigged to explode where not high explosives it is a reminder of what the future may hold for our major metropolitan cities.

Department of Homeland Security has had Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) as areas of emphasis going back three to four years. Grant funding has been specifically targeted towards improving state and local capabilities in dealing with IEDs.

The importance of terrorists training with explosives and practicing with small detonations to ensure that they work is highlighted by this failure. The old adage of "If you see something, say something" is good on for every citizen to remember. If it something seems out of place, call 911 to let the law enforcement officials check out the event.

Unfortunately sooner or later one of these attacks will be successful--again.

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May 02, 2010

"You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it." Margaret Thatcher I'm a big believer in being persistent without crossing the line to being insistent. I've not always been good a figuring out where that demarcation line is, but I try. Another related quote that fits is, "If it was easy it would have already been done." Battles are not fought over the little things. Unfortunately many times it feels as though the "battles" end up being about "turf."

If you have a good idea, or an action to take that people reject out of handâ€"stick with it. Don't expect immediate acceptance. Just look at the use of social media in emergency management. I started talking about it around 18 months ago and people were not enamored with the idea. Still today there are many skeptics, yet I feel the tide has turned and there are more people looking at ways to use social media. In a few more years if will be considered mainstream.

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May 02, 2010

See the link to Dealing with HAZMAT Issues: Regulations and Spill Clean-ups

While not dealing specifically with just an oil spill, this is a good general article on who is responsible and the challenges of cleaning up following a spill.

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May 02, 2010

If you think back only four months there is a significant list of disasters that have already occurred in 2010 and we are only a third of the way through the year:

  • Severe winter storms on the East Coast--D.C.
  • Earthquake in Haiti
  • Earthquake in Chile
  • Earthquake in China
  • Mexico Earthquake that rattled the SW
  • Volcanic eruption in Iceland
  • Polish airplane crash
  • Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Tornadoes in Mississippi
  • Flooding in Tennessee
  • "Almost" car bombing in NYC
These 11 disasters/events are front and center in the media and in the minds of people throughout the world. We should be using all of these events as "Teachable Moments" to educate general citizens, but also elected officials and others who have a responsibility for becoming prepared for disasters--that is pretty much everyone!

I wonder what is next? Could we have the BIG ONE in California or the Pacific Northwest?

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May 03, 2010

The linked story is about Tent Camps in Haiti, but the real lesson for us is about long term recovery planning.

In forwarding the above article Frannie Edwards wrote:

Here is an article about Haiti from the LA Times. It provides an excellent papadigm for the challenges of long term recovery that California will face after a major earthquake. Even after Northridge, which was a relatively small event with a limited impact area, getting people back into decent (and available!) housing was a problem. When no housing is immediately available the challenges will be greater. This highlights the need for serious long term recovery planning that envisions how we go from response and temporary accomodations to longer term interim shelter and restarting the economy.

We emergency managers along with most others keep getting caught just preparing and responding. Mitigation pays the biggest benefits in the long term by preventing or minimizing damages. Those things we can't prevent or mitigate we will have to recover from. Just look at New Orleans Disaster Recovery Stalled Under Nagin and the mess that remains there. While some would argue it is driven by the socio-economic status of the region and an inept local government I'm not so sure that there would not be other areas of the United States that would struggle to get back on their feet.

For those areas of the country with a large number of disaster events we can have a false sense of security in our ability to deal with disasters. It is the catastrophic disaster that needs to be planned for, not in the response, but in the recovery. I know we'll respond just fine as a nation, it is the long term recovery that concerns me.

May 03, 2010

Some are trying to say that the current oil spill in the Gulf is Obama's Katrina. Personally I'd have to disagree at this point. If it all "goes to hell in a hand basket" then maybe--but we won't know for some weeks to come.

You need to remember what got the Feds and the then President Bush in trouble was that they did not aggressively pursue the disaster response, and FEMA was weakened at the time from five years of neglect. I detailed my thoughts on the Katrina debacle in my Washington Post Op-ed of five years ago Destroying FEMA that appeared in the paper the day after the levees failed.

It is still early in this disaster. Today they had a good day with the winds and tides holding the oil out in the Gulf. That can all change rapidly and how the response and recovery is handled will be the legacy that the administration leaves in Louisiana.

They need to be careful and not take the eye off the ball in Tennessee. There is some significant flooding occurring there and FEMA will have the lead on that disaster response and recovery.

May 04, 2010

Getting started on public-private partnerships may be the hardest thing to do. We talk about it a great deal, but then not many people actually follow through to do the work. While every geographical and political setting is different you can take some basics and apply them to the task just about anywhere.

The article Technologies, partnerships buoy unique security district is about the Houston Ship Channel Security District. There efforts are more about security than emergency management, still all the parts are there. And, it all begins with relationships, relationships, relationships. Those security plans, technology and yes, relationships can all pay off when natural disasters strike the region.

One note, I'm guessing the author of the article is British. There is some interesting phraseology used, e.g. "Face to Face" meetings are described as "eye to eye."

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