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by Eric Holdeman: Emergency management in the blogosphere

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October 2010 Archives
October 01, 2010

The recent publication of information that terrorist plots to attack countries in Europe were being developed should be a sobering thought to first responders and emergency managers here in the United States.

I believe our biggest threat is the lone wolf terrorist who does not try to be super sophisticated and has only automatic or even semi-automatic weapons. We have seen several times over what one or two people can do when they are committed to killing people, examples range from Columbine to the Fort Hood shooting incident.

The terrorist who is trying to build some complicated bomb is missing the mark. Getting the materials, testing your device (this was an error the Columbine Duo failed to do), is not the easiest thing to accomplish. There are plenty of would be terrorists missing limbs or lives when they made mistakes in assembling bombs.

In all these cases, we as emergency managers have the role of consequence management. It is highly unlikely that we will be involved in the prevention aspect of countering terrorist intentions. For the type of attack I described above we need to concentrate on the basics:

  • Warning systems (an attack is happening)
  • EOC activation and coordination procedures
  • Mass casualty planning
  • Public information messaging--social media
  • Drills and exercises on the above

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October 02, 2010

How do you go to Europe and not look like an American? This might be what some people are thinking when considering their upcoming trip and in light of an anticipated US State Department travel advisory

This is of course coming from the threats of Mumbai terrorist attacks in Europe. Having lived there 4.5 years myself, it was certainly easy to spot the Americans in the crowd.

  • Blue jeans
  • Tennis shoes
  • Lots of Ketchup on "everything"
  • Saying "Ya'll"is another give away
Really though you can blend in better if you just dress more like the natives. Look around at what the locals are wearing and dress the same. Hanging out in tourist spots is probably another give away, but why go to Europe and hide in your hotel room--you could be attacked there too!

If you can afford it, go! But, this is a new era and learning to take some precautions is appropriate.

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October 02, 2010

I'm not too sure this new initiative is going to go anywhere. A private sector readiness program that certifies businesses, hmm! In my personal experience -- I can't imagine many wanting the certification. Small businesses are focused on surviving in good years. Today it is especially tough.

See announcement below:

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano today announced a key milestone in the Department's efforts to develop a robust small business preparedness planâ€"soliciting public comment on a private sector readiness certification program specifically tailored to the needs of small businesses.

"Ensuring America's small businesses have the critical information and training they need to better respond to disasters will strengthen the entire nation's preparedness and resilience," said Secretary Napolitano.

DHS published a notice in the Federal Register today seeking public comment on its proposed plan for implementing separate classifications and methods of certification for small businesses under PS-Prep. This first-of-its-kind program will tailor voluntary private sector preparedness certification standards to specifically meet the needs and capabilities of America's small businesses.

The small business preparedness plan is part of the Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation and Certification Program (PS-Prep)â€"a 9/11 Commission-recommended voluntary partnership between DHS and the private sector to improve businesses' preparedness and resilience for disasters and emergencies. PS-Prep enables private sector entities to receive emergency preparedness certification from a DHS program created in coordination with the private sector.

For more information go to http://www.fema.gov/privatesector/preparedness/ and to comment on it email FEMA-POLICY@dhs.gov

Wendy Freitag shared the links.

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October 02, 2010

"If you are going to have ideas ahead of the times, you will have to get used to living with the fact that most people are going to believe you are in the wrong" Bruce Lloyd

I don't necessarily think of myself as "Mr. Innovation" but I have had the lead on a couple of concepts that either have panned out, or are in the works.

Those two are: First, taking a regional approach to emergency management, one that takes down the barriers between organizations and forges strong public-private partnerships. The second one is the importance of social media to how we are going to communicate in the future. That is with the public, and maybe even between governments. I see it changing "everything."

As I've tried "selling" these two concepts over time I've seen the truth in Bruce Lloyd's quote above. Not that I have to convince everyone to my viewpoint, but I do think that time will be the final arbiter if I was right or not. I recommend that you should not let people doubting your ideas stop you from pursuing them. Someone has to be firstâ€"why not you!

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October 02, 2010

Government Technology has an article on the status of states adopting social media as a means of communication. States Lag Behind is based on a survey done by the National Association of Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

The article shows a mixed bag of results and initiatives by the various states. To me it feels a lot like it was when the Internet first came on the scene and governments were grappling with how to employ it and keep their staffs from getting the organization in trouble. We seem to have worked through that and I think we'll work through this technology transformation too. You can check out the survey and form your own opinions.

One quote that from the linked article above that summarizes it for me is, "It can be concluded that overall, state approaches lack significant maturity [towards employing social media]."

A bonus item on this topic is a Masters Thesis by Laurie Van Leuven, subject OPTIMIZING CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT DURING EMERGENCIES THROUGH USE OF WEB 2.0 TECHNOLOGIES Laurie is off doing a one year fellowship with DHS and is hoping to work on social media projects while there in D.C.

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October 03, 2010

Most of the time I write about how we need to be mentoring the next generation of emergency managers. However, there is an opportunity for this new, more tech savvy generation to mentor up the chain and help us old fogies with the newest technology and how to integrate it with our work and in the discipline overall.

There is a Governing Magazine article on this topic. See the ten quick suggestions there for how junior government employees can mentor up in their organizations:

1. Guide others on the role and potential professional uses of game-changing social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
2. Introduce Google Docs, and thus the ability for multiple people to collaborate, share and edit documents.
3. Make the case for online instant messaging as a way to improve communication and productivity for siloed employees.
4. Let older colleagues know that sometimes iPod earbuds worn during the work day can help with focusing on the task at hand; they aren't inherently a distraction.
5. Remind colleagues that Millennials like to work in "real time," which means that banging away on laptops during a meeting is not a sign of disrespect; it's more likely that they're getting an assignment started online.
6. Create a "show and tell" opportunity and highlight a few iPhone apps developed by other like-minded institutions or governments that may hold potential in your area.
7. Help leverage everyone's assets by creating regular online and offline opportunities for brainstorming and collaboration.
8. Let non-tech savvy colleagues know that you needn't be expert or even fluent in all aspects of a computer program to try it and get some value -- don't be afraid to try new things.
9. Prove that flexible working hours can be more efficient -- Millennials may come in 30 minutes later than some of their older colleagues, but they often stay two hours later if they feel that their efforts are appreciated.
10. Realize that your older colleagues may not be digital natives and be accommodating. While improving bureaucracies is inherently difficult, be open to helping colleagues find the small ways to modernize their roles and responsibilities -- starting with greater openness and transparency whenever plausible.

This morning I am trying to get an App on my iPhone to work right. I wish there was one of those tech savvy millennials around right now to help me with my issue.

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October 03, 2010

Generally our disaster preparedness messages have a singular focus.  One message that we use to try to motivate individuals, families, businesses, all races, all cultures, all ages, etc. to become prepared.  The one aspect of diversity you may have added is translating the message into different languages--without any modifications to how culturally relevant those messages are to the population that speaks the language.

I was at a conference last week where a speaker offered that we need to look at how we market our preparedness messages.  The illustration used was that of condoms.  People buy condoms for different purposes.  Some for safe sex to protect against sexually transmitted diseases, others as a birth control measure and still others to add "spice" to their sexual encounters.  When companies market their condoms to they tailor the message to the group and their motivations that they are trying to reach.

In essence we need to do the same.  Just as the market for other goods and services is becoming more fragmented, so is our ability to reach people with our disaster preparedness message.  More research is needed to get our messages across in ways that reach the various target markets.  For instance there are religious groups for which disaster preparedness is part of their culture.  How we market to them should be different than what we do for other segments of the population we serve.

The one good news item is that the online translation services are getting better and better and we can change and reformat our electronic messages and not have the printing costs that come with printed materials. 

To sum it all up, the one size fits all message is gone from condoms and from emergency management.

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October 03, 2010

If you are looking to track a particular topic and know what is being written across the world on that subject you should use Google Alerts

As explained by Mark Lewack:

Once a day, I receive a collection (from Google Alerts) of News articles, web page updates, and blog updates relating to numerous topics, one of which is "emergency management". This is a good situational, topic awareness tool, as it keeps me up to date on developments in the Emergency Management and related topics.

Google Alerts is a very nice tool to have, as I can pick and choose relevant materials to pass on to my colleagues, you included (unless of course you already receive these materials).

Another nice feature is you can change the language (e.g. changing the last two letters of the web address to es (vice en for English) will change the text to Spanish (other languages include it for Italian, fr for French, he for Hebrew, ar for Arabic, and ru for Russian), the frequency of alerts, and which type of content to receive (e.g. news articles, blog updates, web page updates, etc.)

Note: you must respond to verification e-mail (click on the provided "in-text" link) once you've made your selections and submitted your request.

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October 04, 2010

Government Technology has an article on the Future Workforce, and I'd add workplace. In summary it is:

  • Tech savvy
  • Mobile
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Multi-tasking
  • Tied to technology
  • 24/7 connectivity
Some emergency managers are old fogies by comparison. Is there any meeting you attend where they ban the use of a laptop or Blackberry during the meeting? This is old style management/leadership. Already when you go to Microsoft you will see everyone at a meeting on some type of IT device.

The younger generation is much better at using the technology and can share much with us as we make the transition from "Boomer Leadership" in emergency management to the next generation of leaders. In response to my blog posting on Mentoring Up yesterday I got a response from one of the younger generation trying to break into emergency management. Unfortunately I think this can be typical of what is experienced by folks offering their technology services as volunteers. See below:

I wish you could get this message to every single emergency manager in the country. I am 26 years old, just graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in Geography with minors in Geospatial technology (think GIS/remote sensing) and Applied Design (think graphics design). I have a programming background and am extremely tech savvy. I also have 9 years of fire/ems experience, 2.5 years of law enforcement experience, and almost two years of emergency management experience.

I have tried contacting the the local EM office several times to see if I could volunteer there. They have yet to offer any reply to my attempts. I have met these guys in the past so it's not as though I am a stranger. I was offering to do any projects they needed help on. I have experience establishing social media presence for fire and ems and even for businesses.

I am very proficient in graphics design and video production software, I currently am working on a national PBS television project and could offer help with all facets of public information material from videos to brochures to whatever.

Even with all of this, most of the emergency managers seem to have little interest in actually doing anything to move forward. In fact, my experience in trying to find an emergency manager willing to take on a apprentice/intern/volunteer has been very difficult. When I was in Vt. they said they could take on an intern because they didn't have any money...it's free to have an intern. Then I asked the town where I was a firefighter if I could take on the EM responsibilities and they said sure, they didn't really know what they were outside of filling out the yearly required paperwork but I worked with the fire chief and got some projects done. I did manage to get an internship at the University of Vermont and Bill Ballard was great. I got UVM "Storm Ready" Certified, first school in Vermont to get this certification, and managed to secure an internship at the National Weather Service thanks to this project. I received an award from the NWS for the work I accomplished while interning there. I also worked for a world renowned spatial analysis lab while going to UVM (http://www.uvm.edu/rsenr/sal/) where I gained a lot of GIS experience. So, not to toot my own horn, but I am absolutely no slouch.

The last time I had met with the two emergency managers at the agency they said they desperately wanted to complete some GIS projects and get more of an online presence. Yet they can't even reply to an email. To quote one of them during my visit, I had said that my career goal was to work as an emergency manager somewhere in the area, the directors response "Uh, I don't think so, that's my job"... Their website is nearly two years out of date and as a resident of the area I am extremely disappointed that they are so difficult to get a hold of.

We can do better as a discipline. If you get contacted by someone offering their services "for free" hear them out and see if they have something to offer your program.

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October 04, 2010

Following the events of 9/11 and Katrina the Department of Homeland Security fell in love with the Incident Command System (ICS). You can now find ICS for hospitals, schools and yes--emergency management agencies. ICS has been used to plan retirement parties and weddings.

When I was attending an Army training course our class came up with the answer of "22 Trucks" for any problem. Even if it wasn't about logistics, the answer was "22 Trucks." Somehow I feel that we've started to use ICS as the 22 Trucks answer to every problem we encounter. It is as though it is the "Love Potion #9" to everything that ails emergency management and first responders.

Here's my current thinking on ICS:

  • ICS is a tool to accomplish something--incident management in the field. It is not a panacea for every issue. It works extremely well for people and organizations that have emergencies and disasters and they need a "hands on response."
  • Everyone should have an orientation to ICS so that they know what it is and how it functions, even if they won't ever be expected to function within ICS.
  • State emergency management agencies in particular should look at using a hybrid system for organizing their EOCs. This system would include using ICS principals and the National Response Framework of Emergency Support Functions (ESF) because that is how the Feds are organized during response operations.
  • In my experience, FEMA may say it is using ICS, but if you look deeply at how a response is functioning - beyond the titles, you will find the program entities running the show versus a pure ICS structure.
  • If anyone needs training and practice in using ICS it is the Federal Government. Federal agencies have been slow to conduct training and implement the use of the system for their own departments.
  • You should not try to use ICS when it is totally foreign to how you do business day to day and you won't use it except in rare emergencies. It is too difficult to have people retain the nomenclature and structural ideas. Instead, use the principals of ICS and adapt them to your use as it fits your organization. Having an Incident Action Plan (IAP) is a wonderful idea. Call it what you want--but have a plan that gets everyone on the same page.
  • ICS needs to learn how to incorporate the information, skills and contributions of the average citizen. It is the future of large and small scale responses here in the United States that people will want to help. We need to be able to channel their efforts to help and not hinder the response. Shutting them out of ICS is the wrong answer!
Lastly, remember that when, as in the song "Love Potion #9" was obtained, the results were not always what was expected.

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