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by Eric Holdeman: Emergency management in the blogosphere

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September 2011 Archives
September 01, 2011

NPR has a wonderful story To Dodge Blame, Officials Prepare Public For Worst which speaks to the issue of how to warn the public in order to keep them safe--while at the same time not being sure of what the outcomes will be.  The article is well worth your reading.


I do think they miss the point that many leaders are trying to make the best judgements about how best to protect public safety.  Not every politician in America is just trying to CYA and their record for the next election. Disaster research has found that the public is very forgiving of warnings that are meant to keep them safe, but turn out to be false alarms.  If on the other hand, you choose to not warn the public because you don't want to be seen as "crying wolf" or you are concerned about the impact to business--and something does happen.  Well, then you are toast, a crispy critter who will be gone as soon as action can be taken to get rid of you, be you appointed or elected. 


I also found it interesting that the article mentioned the second stage of denial:


  1. Nothing is going to happen
  2. If something does happen, nothing will happen to me
  3. If something does happen, and it does happen to me it won't be that bad
  4. If something does happen, and it does happen to me, there is nothing I can do about it


Why else do some people chose not to have fire insurance once their home is paid for?  Why would someone live in a flood zone and not have flood insurance?  Why would anyone chose to live in the path of a future volcanic eruption?


People measure time by their own experiences.  As someone in my own family said to me, "The previous occupants lived here for 30 years and they never had a flooding problem."  Well, 30 years is a blink of an eye in geological time.  Hmm, what are the people in Vermont saying, "I've lived here all my life and I've never seen anything like this."  OK, that is two or three blinks of an eye.


Warning is something you don't want to screw up if you expect to keep your job.  As I've written before, if I'm going to be shot, then it is going to be for doing something, not because I failed to act.


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September 01, 2011

Check out this job as an Emergency Management Administrator with Hampton Roads, VA

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September 02, 2011

There you are walking down the street minding your own business when you receive a text message from your local emergency management agency tell you that there has been a radiation leak and cloud of radioactivity is headed your way.  You are instructed to "shelter in place."


So you duck into the nearest building, say hello to the receptionist causing all sorts of anxiety when you inform her or him that they are about to glow in the dark.  At which point, noting that you have erred in providing too much graphic information you reach into your bag of tricks and pull out your iPhone radiation detector


Now feeling somewhat smug that you have such a device, along with twenty other attachments for the iPhone, you commence to scan for any radiation.  The readings come up "Green" indicating a safe Gamma Radiation free environment, so you stick your arm out the door to check outside too.  All clear, you administer first aid to the receptionist who is passed out on the floor giving her/him the good news that they will not turn into a light stick anytime soon.


Feeling fully confident that the environment is safe you disconnect the device and go out on your merry way.  Which is to the chiropractor to get an adjustment for your back because you carry so much gear with you at all times.


While walking down the street in the cool breeze of a late summer day your mind starts thinking about, "Just how do they calibrate those radiation detection devices?"

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September 02, 2011

2011 has been a memorable year for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  There have been plenty of disasters to respond to in the first eight months of the year.  It seems that we have had a significant disaster response ongoing throughout the year with floods, storms, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes and widespread flooding in almost every corner of the nation (except Texas and other Southwest states in the midst of significant drought).  See FEMA Under Fire as Natural Disasters Pile Up which is a nice compilation of stories by Emergency Management Magazine staff.  I can tell you that it is a good thing that FEMA has been beefed up with more staff or they would be totally overwhelmed with the disasters that they have had to respond to.  Remember that they don't leave after the disaster response is over.  The recovery effort will go on for months and even many years--in each community impacted by the disaster.


What I find troubling is the fight that seems to be brewing over where the funding is going to come from to replenish the Federal disaster relief fund administered by FEMA.  The funds are running so low that they have had to prioritize how the remaining funds are being spent.  Hurricane Irene has caused them to spend more than a week on a pretty intensive disaster response phase, especially in the Northeastern states.  See FEMA’s Budget Disaster


It would appear that Republicans are looking to not draw lines in the sand, but rather in concrete in order to prove their point.  This type of tactic is like stacking the bodies of disaster survivors around themselves like so many sandbags in order to hold the budget relief system hostage.  Eric Cantor is saying that more money can be appropriated for disaster relief, but only if those appropriations are matched by cuts elsewhere in the Federal budget.  If you want to have that debate you need to do it when you are not drastically impacting the lives of people who are waiting for Federal aid.


Disasters have been political before and will be in the future.  What I hate to see is that the mechanisms that are in place to provide disaster relieve held hostage to the political process that is, as everyone knows, dysfunctional in D.C. at the present time. Thus the FEMA Category 5 Budget Disaster analogy that is tracking right for D.C. and should arrive next week in the halls of Congress when the legislators return.  While most people try to hide the dysfunctional nature of our families, in D.C. it appears we wallow in it,  destroying confidence in government in general and specifically in our nation's citizens who are already concerned about the current state of affairs. 


Ron Paul had made the comment earlier in the week that we should go back to how we handled disasters 100 years ago.  I guess that means using horses and wagons to deliver disaster relief supplies.  I think his thinking is best summed up by Governor of Connecticut, Dannel P. Malloy, "I Think He's An Idiot."  Hey Ron, they stopped making buggy whips a long time ago.

September 03, 2011

Homeland Security Affairs, the journal for the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security has published 9/11 Essays from the the three people who have served as Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.


Never Any Doubt: A Resilient America by Tom Ridge

In his piece, which I think I like the best, it is a high level overview of where we were and how far we have come--and how far we still need to go.  A few of his points include: the threat remains strong and continues to change; some attacks have been thwarted others have just failed; it is a multi-generational threat; security is an ongoing process and not an endpoint.

He points to the fact that terrorists won't rest and neither can we.  Lastly I noted his comment that "...achieving these and other goals requires the navigation of a federal system where urgency does not come easily when politics, budgets, and bureaucracy are involved."  Amen to that!


9/11: Before and After by Michael Chertoff

Michael Chertoff is a lawyer and former judge, so he only comments on the legal issues associated with intelligence gathering, information sharing, and the trial of terrorism suspects, be it in the US Legal system or using military commissions.  He takes a couple of pot shots in his portion.  One at the New York Times and another at the Obama administration for inability to close Guantanamo, basically, a "see we were right in the first place."  I would have to agree with his statement here, "However inelegantly evolved, the current legal structure for incapacitating terrorists seems a rough compromise between security and civil liberties concerns, an is distinguished by a remarkable degree of continuity between the Bush and Obama Administrations." 

Note that he did not talk about Destroying FEMA during his administration.  That's my potshot!


Progress Toward a More Secure and Resilient Nation by Janet Napolitano

The currently serving Secretary of Homeland Security provides a more traditional, look how far we have come viewpoint on the past ten years since 9/11.  She noted that one third of the terrorist attacks that were being planned and detected were stopped because of the general public providing a report to law enforcement, "See something, say something."   While I don't think she used the terms "Whole of Government" or "Whole of Community" that aspect of our need to work as a coordinated team was a significant portion of her message.


Lastly there is another essay by Paul Stockton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs. which I have yet to read and will do so and comment on tomorrow.

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September 03, 2011

We are always looking to describe what the next major disaster might be like.  Based on that description we do our planning for how disaster mitigation, response and recovery might help in addressing such a scenario.


Take a look at Totally Psyched for the Full-Rip Nine which gives a minute by minute description of what events might unfold during and a little bit after a magnitude 9 earthquake on the Cascadia Earthquake Fault that runs from British Columbia all the way down to Northern California.


I can't say that this scenario is based on scientific fact, but it reads pretty true to me for the types of issues we'll be facing in the future when the Cascadia Fault does rupture, be it one segment, or the whole "sausage" as described in the scenario.


The one thing that does not ring true to me is the number of deaths and the financial impacts of the disaster.  The time of day will determine the number of deaths, are people at work or home asleep in bed?  The damages are not so flexible in the timing.  A $100B disaster is possible in my mind. 

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September 04, 2011

“All you need to know about communications interoperability you should have learned in kindergarten.  It’s called sharing.”  Eric Holdeman  A great deal was made out of the inability of first responders to talk to one another at the time of 9/11 attacks.  If you look at where homeland security funding has gone in the last ten years you will see that as a percentage of funding, communications interoperability is the clear winner.  Still, there is an inability for many jurisdictions to talk with one another.


The reason for this is not so much technological as it is human.  Agencies still build walls around their communications operations.  Sure, there are some mutual aid channels that are pre-established for coordination between agencies, but the underlying issue of a lack of trust or desire to have total control keeps people from talking to one another in a crisis situation. 


I would have to say that public safety agencies do need the cellular radio spectrum for their dedicated use.  With the advent of social media and spectrum hogging video they need their own network if communications are going to be unhindered by congestion and trying to share the airwaves with the general public. 


If that spectrum is provided, it will be an opportunity to do it right and learn to share with other public agencies. 

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September 05, 2011

The fourth article that was part of the reflection on the 9/11 anniversary that was published in Homeland Security Affairs was Ten Years After 9/11: Challenges for the Decade to Come by Paul Stockton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs.


This is an interesting read that is radically different from the essays from the Homeland Security Secretaries.  This article is more about the challenges the US military has in being able to project military power abroad and to to support and be supported by civilian authorities, both public and private.


I spent four years of my military career working on Military Support to Civil Defense/Authorities and national Continuity of Government (COG) planning.  Back then we had an inkling of our vulnerabilities, but they have grown over time as the military has gotten smaller, cyber threats have increased and the infrastructure continues to age.


His piece argues for the type of planning that the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) has been known for, that being critical infrastructure interdependencies.  Secretary Stockton spent a great deal of his article on the electrical grid and the interdependent nature of our modern world when it comes to electric power.  He correctly points out that without electric power we will go back to the stone age very quickly.  Communications, fuel, water, food and others are all dependent on having reliable electricity.  His discussion took me back to my Y2K days when the most planning on the topic I know of took place.


The cyber threat was also highlighted.  These cyber events are happening right now as I write this blog posting.  Millions of probes are taking place every day.  And, you don't have to be here in the United States to accomplish your task.  He rightly points out that it is not just the military command and control nodes that are important to protect from cyber attacks, but also the the defense industrial base.  I suppose that this is one reason that the next National Level Exercise (NLE) will be a cyber based scenario.


Lastly he questions the military's ability to support civilian authorities for what he termed "complex catastrophes."  Ones in which the mission capability of the military and its civilian base are so compromised by damages that you cannot effectively move people and equipment fast enough to support disaster relief activities.  I've written this before.  Twenty years and four days ago when I left the U.S. Army, it was twice the size it is today.  It does not have the same robustness it once had and it is "engaged" elsewhere.

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September 05, 2011

Remember the old adage, "It is not what you know, but who you know that counts."  When it comes to finding a job, this is really true. 


Check out 7 Steps To Social Networking Success which is a nifty infograph that lays out the steps to building your network.  I like the fact that they had an emphasis on the "Thank You" at the end.  I'm not so sure that a gift is necessary, but a handwritten card makes a wonderful statement that you really care.  Not many people still use this form of communications and it will make you stand out.


One last word of encouragement   Time and again I've read quotes from successful people who said they achieved success in their work and profession only because they did not quit.  Hang in there and give it your best effort.  I've written about this before, shoot for "quality failures."  Make every application count!  When I was getting out of the military I kept a list of "no's" that I received while job hunting for my career change.  I was up to 21 before I got my "yes." 

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September 06, 2011

The National Weather Service (NWS) is piloting a new Weather Ready Nation program that is intended to lower the costs in lives lost and property damage from severe weather events.  2011 has already been a banner year for billion dollar disasters, with nine already in the books and the heart of the hurricane season still ahead of us. So far this year $35B in losses has been recorded and I think the tab from weather related disasters will continue to climb.  After all, we still have almost four more months in the year.


For many years the NWS has had Storm Ready as a program that works with local communities to get them certified as being storm ready.  How this new program will differ will be interesting to watch. 


One thing is for sure, if you want to limit damages from storms you start with mitigation.  I would agree that warnings are important, but it is a lack of mitigation and people not having a place to take shelter in or their property being built in high risk areas is what causes a great deal of the damages that are making up those 9 billion dollar events. 


To work on mitigation will require action at the state and local levels.  More so the local than the state.  Elected officials will have to have the intestinal fortitude to say "No" to developers and others who want to put people and property at risk by locating them in harms way. 

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