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November 2012 Archives
November 01, 2012

First it was Hurricane Irene in 2011 and now it is Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  Irene ended up tearing up New England with record rains and flooding.  Now it is the Mid-Atlantic portion of the East Coast that is in clean-up mode.  The damages from Sandy will far surpass those of Irene due the more densely populated and heavily infrastructured areas where it took its toll.


Climate change with warmer ocean and air temperatures means that the air will hold more moisture.  Severe storms are forecasted to be larger, more violent and longer lasting.  I do not think that Irene and Sandy were freak events that won't be repeated in the future or even the near term. 


It is time that FEMA take the steps to directly address climate adaptation.  Specifically to look at the promotion of mitigation measures that can be taken to either relocate out of harms way, restrict the rebuilding in harms way, or promote the use of protective measures needed for infrastructure that cannot be removed.


My example on this would be New York City and Atlantic City.  It would be great to pick up NYC and move it 100 miles inland.  I recognize that NY is where it is at and where it will stay.  The city, state and federal government need to look at protective measures that can be taken, short term and long term, to protect the heavily infrastructured parts of the city.  For instance, I'm going to be very surprised if the entire subway system is back and running in just a few days.  If the water got into the electrical control systems it will take a long time and great efforts to get them functional again.  


Then there is the Atlantic City Boardwalk or homes perched above sand dunes, be they in the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore.  If people want to rebuild in a high hazard area, it is a free country and they should be able to do what they want with their money.  But, other taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for a federally subsidized flood insurance program or the costs to rebuild where nature can again destroy.  


When we talk about the federal deficit and where cuts need to be made or expenditures need to be increased--climate adaptation and mitigation are sure bets for a good return on the investment of our tax dollars.

November 01, 2012

Claire Rubin pointed out in a comment to my recently posted blog post on adaptation that there was this Dot Earth blog posting from the NY Times On Sandy and Humanity’s ‘Blah, Blah, Blah Bang’ Disaster Plans


Andre Revkin being who he is, it is nice to see a brief discussion about building resilience via our decisions going forward.

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November 04, 2012

“[Climate] Adaptation is necessary regardless of what society does about energy policy and emissions.”  Roger Pielke  Hurricane Sandy has elevated the discussion of climate change and climate adaptation to a new level.  Now is the time to push this concept forward!


It does not make a difference in the world of emergency management about what is causing the world’s temperatures to rise.  Yes, as citizens and inhabitants of planet earth we should care, but as emergency managers we are all about consequence management.  The consequences of global warming are what we need to focus our attention on.  How can we build more resilient communities over time? 


It will take decades before New York City has the level of protection it needs for a Category 3 Hurricane.  And, there is nothing stopping another hurricane coming up the coast in 2013 with a repeat of the damages we’ve seen from Hurricane Sandy. 


As this disaster fades into memory people will lose the energy to “raise taxes” to do what is necessary to protect people and property.  Those still living without power, standing in line hours and hours for gasoline are motivated today to take action for the future.  We need to tap into that energy and turn it into meaningful results, not only for the states of New York and New Jersey, but for the nation as a whole.  

November 04, 2012

Granted FEMA has done a good job of responding.  They pre-positioned staff and equipment as best as possible and now six days later those resources for response are flowing into the impacted areas.  Perhaps not as quick as some would like, but fast from a disaster response perspective.


What states and locals don't realize is that the recovery process will be a long and complicated affair with plenty of angst, disappointment and frustration by those seeking public assistance from FEMA and other federal agencies.  James Lee Witt pointed this out in his Op-ed in Newsday Witt: A blueprint to help in Sandy's recovery


Because of the broad swath of damage from the storm there is going to be a huge need for FEMA staff to assist in the recovery process.  I'm sure all the FEMA Regions are sending staff to assist in running Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) and the Disaster Field Offices (DFO) that will be established in all the states.  Disaster reservists are also there or on the way to assist with disaster assessment and to begin the long process of documenting "eligible" damages.  


My concern is if FEMA has all the staff that it needs, especially Disaster Reservists who's numbers have dwindled.  Yes, FEMA has begun recruiting and training Americorps staff to help with the recovery process, but these will be neophytes to the process.  


You might be thinking that New York City will have plenty of experience from the 9/11 disaster.  Interestingly I was with a few NYC OEM staff a couple of months ago and we were chatting about the events of 9/11 and how NYOEM responded.  I knew more about it than they did--since they had been hired after those momentous days.  Turnover is always an issue and you can't count on the number of experienced people you thought might be there when it is now eleven years later.


This next phase will be the real test of FEMA in the coming months and years.  Response is sexy, recovery is where the rubber meets the road.  When all the cameras and reporters are gone, it will be in conference rooms and cubicles that FEMA will either prove itself or come crashing down in a mountain of unprocessed paperwork.  



November 04, 2012

There has been anecdotal information about how social media has been playing a larger role in the disaster response phase of disasters here in the United States and abroad.  Now with Hurricane Sandy we have the larger scale disaster, not a catastrophe, that is impacting a broad swath of territory and people.


See US disaster agency tries to dispel social media rumors which speaks to some specific rumors that have been identified as being incorrect.  While FEMA might be using its website, I'm positive they are also using social media channels to get the right information out to people.  


You don't pick up wrong information via social media and then use just a website to respond!!

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November 05, 2012

The two commodities we need most in a disaster in order to continue operating is electricity and water.  Water is a basic need that sustains life and in other applications cooling for computers or people.  In hospitals it is a basic need to eliminate the possibility of infection and just plain old sanitation.


Sandy has pointed out how when a disaster hits an urban area what happens when the water and electricity stop flowing.  Several hospitals closed.  One for power and the other for a lack of water.  I'm also just guessing the availability of staff was also an issue since the "normal" commute was out the window.  My nephew who works in Manhattan and lives in the Brooklyn took a taxi to get to work in the morning, a journey that took three hours.  To get home he waited for a bus and then ended up walking home, which took four hours.


What I have found is that architects and engineers like to put things like generators that support a building's critical systems in the basement.  It is were many of the other systems are located and when running the noise and vibration are not as big an issue.  Of course, when there is a flood...the best plans often don't pan out the way you thought they would.  


When we designed the King County Regional Communications and Emergency Coordination Center (RCECC) we paid a great deal of attention to the generators.  We had two, one redundant to the other.  There was also a 6,000 gallon tank of water on site.  Where we missed the mark was on the amount of fuel storage for the generators.  We could not justify to the "money minders" that we needed more than three days of fuel.  They thought that the facility as critical as it is could be refueled if need be.  That of course could be problematic in a catastrophe.  


Think about where your generator is located and how much fuel you have available.  Do you have a supply of potable water?


Photo from when it was competed in 2003.

November 05, 2012

Thankfully the election barrage of television, radio, Internet Ads and phone calls will end and we will wake up on November 7th wondering what we'll do with all our free time.  No more deleting emails, or flipping the channels to get away from the negativity coming from campaigns and the Super Pacs.


There were two disasters that the presidential candidates had to contend with.  Both had Obama as the center piece.  The first of the two being his first debate performance.  If he does lose his bid to become a two term President he only has himself to blame.  He was ahead in the polls and it was Romney looking acceptable and not radical, while Obama looked detached opened the door for a late Romney surge.  Yes, President Obama came back in the later two debates, but the damage was done and he was in "disaster recovery" mode trying to reclaim what he had ceded to Romney.


Then came Hurricane Sandy.  It upset the political apple cart like no other disaster before it.  The timing was perfect for President Obama.  It was late enough in the campaign that it is only the disaster response by the Federal government that is being cast as a measure of his performance in a crisis.  Rather than being detached, he was present and going to the hardest hit states.  His personal engagement won him the praise of Governor Chris Christie.  FEMA and other Federal agencies were way out in front of the storm.  NOAA and the National Weather Service forecast was spot on and this allowed people and supplies to be pre-positioned to do the most good once the storm had cleared the damaged areas.


If Hurricane Sandy had hit a month or two earlier we would have had the same performance by FEMA and same accolades, BUT we would now be in the full recovery mode and the negativity about the bureaucratic nature of the Federal disaster recovery system would have been revealed.  There would be tens of thousands of unhappy voters and therefore unhappy elected officials calling for faster action and for the "red tape" to really be cut.  However, it is Congress and the FEMA IG who have put the red tape in place.  


If President Obama does win the election he can thank a hurricane, perfect timing and FEMA for bailing (should I say pumping) him out of a hole that he had dug for himself during the first debate.  


Lastly, for all elected officials and about-to-be Chief Elected Officials, remember how important it is to have personnel and plans in place before the event in order to preserve your future re-election.  If you have not built the system before the disaster hits, there is no political recovery for you.  You will end up in the equivalent of a FEMA trailer waiting for your term to end.  


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November 06, 2012

Hurricane Sandy put the exclamation point on the need for our disaster preparedness messages to be changed to reflect the reality of how long it might take for a disaster relief services and supplies to reach individual residents of our communities.  See ‘We Need Food, We Need Clothing’: Staten Island Residents Plead for Help 3 Days After Sandy


Years and years of drilling into people's heads that they have to be prepared to be on their own for 72 hours or three days has provided a negative learning experience.  When bad really is bad, three days is not enough.  Here on the West Coast which is earthquake country a week is the minimum that I'd recommend.  There is no time to pre-assemble disaster supplies.  These are "come as you are" disasters with no warning whats-so-ever.  


So what are you doing and what will your messages be in the future?  We need the American Red Cross and FEMA to help lead the charge on changing the messaging.  And, no I do not believe that telling people the truth about what they need to do will discourage them from becoming prepared.  If we hide behind the concept that "we can't ask them to do too much" we are only lying to them and to the elected officials we are supposed to be advising.


When people choose not to become prepared and they are caught flatfooted by a disaster they will still blame the government, since it is always someone else's fault.  But we will know we did our duty to the best of our ability.

November 07, 2012

In the military and many times in history time is marked by wars.  They punctuate the relationships between countries and sometimes bring great calamity to a nation's people.  In the emergency management field time is marked by disasters.  In the last eleven years we have had three watershed events that have changed "everything" radically.  Those are the Terrorist Attacks of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and now Hurricane Sandy.  9/11 swung us to a full assault on counter terrorism and to the detriment of a balanced all-hazards approach to emergency management.  Hurricane Katrina swung the pendulum back towards the middle and pointed out many other issues a modern society might have with human behavior in the face of a disaster and nature's wrath.  Now we have Sandy on our timeline.  


Social media has come of age and what know and believed about it will be considered Before Sandy or BS.  Now, today we are in the After Sandy (AS) era.  There are many lessons to be learned from the experiences people and governments had from the use of social media.  The Haiti Earthquake was the first alarm bell for social media and what it can do for emergency management.  With each successive disaster we are learning more about how to use this new tool.  There is much more to be done and much more to learn.


See Kim Stephens blog post Five SMEM Observations and Recommendations From Hurricane Sandy and also check the link in her post to 10 reasons why there'll now be a before Sandy and a post-sandy in SMEM which is a blog post by Patrice Cloutier.


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November 07, 2012

Disasters can always "Danger Points" in the lives of emergency managers.  I've always said that the disaster, especially a catastrophe, can be so bad that all our work before the event and in the response phase can look feeble.  


If someone has to end up with his head on a pike outside of the courthouse or statehouse it is going to be the Emergency Management Director, not the chief elected official.  Call it an occupational hazard!  Let this decapitated head be a warning to anyone who thinks they can be seen as failing during a disaster response.


The above could happen to the best of us.  On the other hand, there is this NY Times story about the State of New York Cuomo Fires Emergency Office Chief for Misusing Workers in Hurricane  If you are going to get axed this is not the way to go.  


I had finally met Steve just this fall at the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) Conference when it was held in Seattle.  We had connected earlier via social media.  Call it a lapse of judgement...or...this is not how you want to leave a senior position.  


Remember that there are eyes and cameras everywhere and any act of indiscretion can be the end of a career.  Let us be the people who set the example for other government officials.  


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