Monday, December 12, 2011

New from FEMA: National Preparedness System Description

Nearly three years into the Obama administration, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate are putting their stamp on the nations preparations for natural disasters and threats from terrorism. The focus on preparing the nation in the Bush administration began after 9/11 and then intensified after Katrina. The Obama Administration is not changing the direction set by the Bush Administration so much as refining it and making it more accountable in this era of diminished resources.

Earlier this Spring President Obama released the Presidential Preparedness Directive 8 (PPD 8) which laid out how the nation would prepare for disasters in the future and directed DHS and FEMA to prepare and release a set of documents within an ambitious series of deadlines over the next year. In October FEMA released the National Preparedness Goal and I commented on the document in my October blog. Earlier this month another document directed by PPD 8 was released, the National Preparedness System description.

Preparedness is all about building and maintaining capability. The new National Preparedness Goal identified the Nation’s core capabilities across five mission areas: Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery. Mass Care Services is one of fourteen core capabilities in the Response Mission Area. But what is capability? In 2007 the Bush Administration, in the National Preparedness Guidelines, defined capability as "the combination of elements required to deliver the desired outcome." The new National Preparedness System description defines capabilities as "the means to accomplish a mission, function, or objective based on the performance of related tasks, under specified conditions, to target levels of performance."

The key part of that definition is the phrase "to target levels of performance." The phrase looks like accountability, walks like accountability and smells like accountability. The people looking for this accountability are in Congress, and they have, in typical federal government fashion, thrown billions of dollars in the last decade at states and communities and fire departments and police departments and fancy emergency operations centers in an effort to build the nation's capability. And to what end? Are we more prepared? We don't know, but we sure spent a lot of money on it. 

In June of this year I wrote about creating national standards for mass care resources and how that can help to develop mass care capability. The State of Florida Mass Care & Emergency Assistance Capability Level Guide, adopted this year, makes an effort to define mass care by "related tasks, under specified conditions, to target levels of performance." To evaluate the mass care performance of a jurisdiction during an event or exercise the evaluator must compare performance against a targeted level. If the performance does not meet the target then corrective action is needed. The corrective action could be to apply for a grant for federal funds using the evaluation as justification. Or the corrective action could be to fire the mass care coordinator.

What all this really means is that target levels will drive accountability and federal dollars to jurisdictions. So who gets to decide at what levels the targets should be for a given jurisdiction?                     The federal government in Washington? How will that go over? Not too well. They tried that already with the Target Capabilities List in 2007, to much wailing and gnashing of teeth by the locals.

So let each jurisdiction set their own target levels for each core capabilities. But who's got the time for that? And that leaves the funding process open to gaming by each jurisdiction by setting high targets that need lots of federal dollars to achieve.

I am curious to see how FEMA sets this thing up. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

IAEM Conference - next year in Orlando, FL

This was an excellent Conference, not only because of the international composition of the attendance  but due to the wider scope of hazards other than hurricanes. There are people in this country who actually worry about earthquakes. Amazing.

I am thrilled that the Conference will be held in Orlando, FL next year. This will dramatically increase my odds of attendance and decrease the costs to the government of my participation .

The U.S. Air Force was well represented at the Conference and we had a respectable contingent of Army officers also on hand. There were some FEMA people on hand but not as many as at the other emergency management conferences that I attend. What also caught my eye was the number of Left Coast participants, particularly from California and Washington State. There were also a lot of local emergency managers from all over the country and its good to hear the different perspectives that they bring.

The Red Cross and Salvation  Army were well represented, with some of the usual suspects here as well as the opportunity for me to meet and interact with mass care professionals from other parts of this nation.Jeff Jellets from the Salvation Army and I gave a presentation on Tuesday on "What's New (and Important) in Mass Care." I credit Jeff for making up the sexy title.

Jeff talked about the new National Mass Care Strategic Council and their charge to develop a National Mass Care Strategy. He also promoted the Mass Care Feeding Template, available at the National VOAD site. This template was developed  by a national working group (on which I participated) to help the emergency management and mass care communities resolve some of the feeding "challenges" that were encountered in 2008 during the responses to hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

I spoke about the National Incident Management System Mass Care Working Group (MCWG), of which I am the Chairman. For the last three years we have been working on resource typing, an effort to standardize naming conventions and capability descriptions mass care resources nationwide. This effort encompasses everything from Field Kitchens and Food Distribution Vehicles to Shelter Management Teams to State Mass Care Coordinators (like me). Our first set of documents were passed to FEMA in August for approval and should be made available for public comment soon (that is, in FEMA's definition of "soon").

I brought a lot of business cards and used them and was able to expand my network of emergency management professionals, which is a lot of what these conferences are about. I attended a lot of informative workshops and speeches and broadened my base of professional knowledge, which is the second important part of these conferences. There is still a lot that I need to learn in the ever changing world of emergency management.

Tonight is the banquet where I get to walk across the stage and receive my Certified Emergency Management Certification from IAEM. I am looking forward to it. I am also looking forward to returning to Tallahassee tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM)

I arrived in Las Vegas, NV yesterday for the IAEM annual conference. This is my first visit to Nevada and Las Vegas. For those of us involved in emergency management, this is the place to be this week.

The highlight of the week will be the banquet Wednesday night when I will be invited to the podium with some forty odd others to receive my Certified Emergency Managers Certificate. The CEM is a professional certification awarded by IAEM. In the spring I submitted a 3 ring binder two inches thick full of documentation. I had to complete an essay and take a test showing my general knowledge of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. I didn't need the certification for my job but I looked at the requirements, and they were substantial, and decided that I could meet them. I'm glad I did.

This morning at the conference we listen to speeches and this afternoon we attend breakout sessions. I will be presenting at one of this afternoons sessions with my good friend Jeff Jellets from the Salvation Army.The title of our session is "What's New (and What's Important) Mass Care?" Sound interesting? There are a lot of people at this conference and I'm sure some will be. I have talked to some Red Cross and Salvation Army friends that I have not met in some time. I have made some interesting people that I had not met before and I have already learned a lot.

A good start to the conference.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The National Preparedness Goal for Mass Care

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate announced the publication of the National Preparedness Goal this month and "Mass Care Services" is one of the national core capabilities identified in the document. The NPG is the first of several outcomes directed by Presidential Policy Directive / PPD-8: National Preparedness, released in March of this year. Buried in PPD-8, the NPG and The National Preparedness System document (due to be released next month) is verbiage designed to better target the dwindling future stream of homeland security dollars.

With headlines like "How Far Did $635 Billion Spent on Homeland Security Go?," and Congress seeking more accountability of where the money is going, FEMA and DHS must be able to answer the following questions:
  • How Prepared are we?
  • Where are the shortfalls in capability?
  • Who gets the priority for resources?
The previous administration tried to tackle this monster with the Targeted Capability List (TCL), among other things, to less than rave reviews from state and local emergency managers. From 2007-2009 I participated on a mass care working group assembled by the FEMA Preparedness Directorate to prepare the next version of the TCL. Called Capability Level Guidance (CLG), we developed a pretty good document for mass care. FEMA decided to hold off on publishing the document until the new PPD-8 and the NPG were released. I didn't want to wait that long. 

The problem was that there was no doctrine anywhere on coordinating mass care at the state level. There was no way that that I could objectively measure the mass care capability for the state, or to establish a standard that I could train to. The Mass Care CLG that we developed was the first and only document that fit the bill. And FEMA wanted to wait on it.

So I took the document, de-federalized it, and added some Florida specific items that wouldn't fit in a national document. The document was still 95% like the original. I worked with my mass care partners in the state to get their buy-in, and then asked the Florida Division of Emergency Management to agree to adopt it as the mass care capability standard for the State Emergency Response Team. The State of Florida Mass Care Capability Level Guidance was released in July 2011.

With the release of the NPG FEMA will get in the business of defining core capabilities. A core capability is made up of distinct critical elements necessary to achieve the National Preparedness Goal. A capability provides the means to achieve an outcome. Mission Areas - Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response and Recovery - are groups of core capabilities. Mass Care Services is one of the core capabilities in the Response Mission Area.

The term "mass care" is commonly understood in the emergency management community as feeding, sheltering and distribution of relief supplies to disaster survivors. Mass Care Services is defined in the National Preparedness Goal (NPG) as: "Provide life-sustaining services to the affected population with a focus on hydration, feeding, and sheltering to those who have the most need, as well as support for reunifying families."

If we want to define the amount of mass care resources that we want to pay for, then we need to define what level of outcome we want this capability to achieve. In the NPG FEMA started this process by assigning each core capability one or more performance thresholds. The preliminary (which means FEMA is amenable to modification) targets for Mass Care Services are:

"1. Move and deliver resources and capabilities to meet the needs of disaster survivors, including
individuals with access and functional needs and others who may be considered to be at-risk.
2. Establish, staff, and equip emergency shelters and other temporary housing options (including
accessible housing) for the affected population.
3. Move from congregate care to non-congregate care alternatives and provide relocation assistance or
interim housing solutions for families unable to return to their pre-disaster homes."

As the NPG makes clear: "The capability targets - the performance threshold(s) for each core capability - will guide our allocation of resources in support of our national preparedness."

The mass care community needs to be involved in this discussion about capability. We can start by understanding the National Preparedness Goal. Next up, next month, is the release of the National Preparedness System. This document will provide more detail about defining and measuring capability.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Responding to Irene in New Jersey

In May of this year I made my first visit to Atlantic City, New Jersey to assist as instructor for the pilot of FEMA's new State Mass Care Coordinator's Course. That was when I first met Bill Schaffer, my counterpart and the State Mass Care Coordinator for NJ. I told him if he ever needed any help to call me, because if I had a big storm bearing down on me I was definitely going to call him to send me a couple of people to help me out.

Little did I know ...

I spent the weekend of Aug 20-21 watching all the computer models steer Irene into Florida as a major hurricane and I was loading Bill Schaffer and a lot of other friends into my speed dial. By Tuesday Bill was looking at a possible historic Category 2 impact on New Jersey and we started chatting on the phone about what he and the Garden State were facing.

"What are the chances you can come up here?" he asked me.

Under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) the state of New Jersey could request me and pay my expenses. Florida requested and received over 800 state and municipal workers from other states during the historic 2004 hurricane season. I had EMACed before, to Mississippi in 2005 after Katrina and to Baton Rouge in 2008 for Ike. With the hurricane season already going hot and heavy, I didn't think I could be gone for 14 days, the normal EMAC deployment, but I could handle 7 days out of the state.

Since I'm a state employee who doesn't own his own work time I had to check this out with my bosses in the agency and they were agreeable. I told Bill I was ready to go and by Friday morning I received my deployment orders and I was on the plane to Philadelphia that afternoon. The storm was 48 hours from landfall.

The Rock
On Saturday August 27 I arrived at the New Jersey Intelligence and Operations Center (aka The Rock) at a little after six in the morning. The dark clouds in the sky and the whispers of the wind reminded me of other early mornings when I walked into a building to prepare for the arrival of a hurricane. The National Hurricane Center said that tropical storm force winds would arrive that afternoon, so whatever other resources needed to be moved, they had to be rolling that morning.

Bill and I quickly arrived at a division of labor. Bill's situation reminded me of the old saying, "When you're up to your ass in alligators, its hard to remember your original objective was to drain the swamp." We decided that Bill would focus on the alligators while I figured out the resources required to drain this particular swamp.

Bill was worried about what was happening that moment, that day. My job was to determine what mass care resources New Jersey would require in two days and the rest of the week. To do that I had to define the scale of the disaster. To determine the mass care resources required for a disaster response (whether hurricane, earthquake or flood) one has to define the scale of the disaster in terms of population, geography and intensity. The process to accomplish this task is defined in the State Mass Care Coordinator's Course (see previous post on this Course).

Unfortunately, the NHC predicted track carried the eye of the storm up the coast of the state. Fortunately, the predicted intensity had dropped to a Category 1. In my 16 year emergency management career I had responded to many Category 1 hurricanes in Florida.  All of those responses had been handled by our counties, with little assistance from the state. But New Jersey wasn't Florida (duh!). The building codes were different, the emergency management capabilities of the counties, municipalities and voluntary agencies were different. Yet they had endured the vaunted winter nor'easters. Was this equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane? Is a Category 5 hurricane equivalent to an 8.0 earthquake? Don't know.

The State Mass Care Coordinators Course also says that we need to define the scale of the disaster, estimate the mass care requirements and determine what resources the voluntary agencies are providing by 24 hours before impact (or by 12 hours after for a no-notice event). If the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other voluntary agencies didn't have enough resources to meet the mass care requirements then the state and/or federal government  had to step in to meet the shortfalls. Most states have little or no mass care capability, so FEMA would have to make up any identified shortfalls. And FEMA needed time to get the stuff and get it there.

When I showed up at the Rock on Saturday morning we were almost 24 hours from the impact of Irene. The state of New Jersey had to make a decision: did they need to ask FEMA for additional mass care resources? Or not? The biggest contribution that I could make all week was to help them make that decision.

Even my admirers will admit that I am overly opinionated on many subjects, but especially on mass care. On this topic I kept my opinions to myself. I waited to be asked and I wasn't. I knew that they weren't asking FEMA for additional resources and I silently concurred in that decision. If I thought that they had a substantial mass care shortfall and needed more resources I would have spoken up. They didn't so I didn't.

Working Irene in the Rock
Overall I would say that New Jersey did really well in responding to Irene. They haven't had a lot of practice with hurricanes in the last century. A number of people told me that this was the largest disaster that New Jersey had experienced in their memory. Consequently, they were unaccustomed to an event this large and had to devise better coordination and communication procedures. In the seven days that I was there, I could see them taking these actions.

The risks from a hurricane are from wind, surge and inland flooding. The old Red Cross adage is to "Run from the water and hide from the wind." New Jersey did that. The greatest effect that Irene had on them was from inland flooding, and that had a lot of practice with inland flooding.

The most impressive part (to me) was that NJ didn't ask for resources from FEMA during the response. With all 21 counties (for the first time) federally declared for Individual Assistance and Public Assistance under the Stafford Act, New Jersey will get their fair share of federal recovery funds. For a medium sized (by population) state they handled a big disaster (not a catastrophic, as some Jerseyites tried to tell me, or even a major disaster) using their own resources during the response. Good job.

But you're only as good as your last disaster. And they could be doing the same or a bigger hurricane again in two weeks. I told this to anyone who would listen. I also said that this wasn't their worst case scenario. And good wasn't good enough. The citizens of New Jersey want and deserve the best. I think that they can deliver it.

I discovered that I was the first individual to ever EMAC into New Jersey. I went there because I truly wanted to help the people of New Jersey in a big response. I also had an ulterior motive. I am the state Mass Care Coordinator for Florida but I have no staff and no budget. When the Big One hits Florida (and it will) I will be looking for help from other states. New Jersey assured me that they will be there when I need them.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The hold that 9/11 still has on me

I watched the second tower fall on the giant screens of Florida's State Emergency Operations Center. At 10 AM I instinctively decided to head for the EOC and was already there when the alert notification was broadcast to all the state agencies that the EOC was moved to Full Activation status. As I walked out of my office a good friend told me that a plane had also crashed into the Pentagon. As I drove I was unable to stop myself from crying.

To this day I have wondered at my powerful emotional reaction to the attack at the time and since. I wasn't present at the WTC or the Pentagon. A great many of us witnessed the events on television but being AT the disaster is entirely different. As many who have been to large disasters can attest television cannot completely capture the experience.

I did not know anyone who was killed that day, nor did I know anyone who had an emotional attachment to someone who died. So why, as I read and saw once again the images of that Day as they were surfaced for the tenth anniversary, did I feel tears welling in my eyes again?

The events of the day certainly changed my life. Eighteen months after the attack I was riding in a Humvee from Kuwait into Iraq. But they event that crystalized the whole experience for me occurred not on 9/11 but on Friday, 9/14, at the memorial service in the National Cahredral. Still in the EOC, I watched the assemblage of the President and the other senior leaders on a television in a side room. At the end of the service, as the crowd left, the chorus sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

The song hit me like a thunderbolt with the message that we were at war. Alone in a room I was filled with a terrible grief and tears welled in my eyes. I didn't grieve for a person, a place or a thing. I'm no sure what I grieved for then, or what I continue to grieve for now. I was consumed by an overwhelming sense of loss.

Something was taken away from all of us who lived through that day, no matter where we were. After ten years, I am still unable to put into words what it was that I lost. I sense the hole but cannot divine what used to occupy the space.

Monday, August 15, 2011


A big part of being an emergency manager is figuring out how to communicate the hazards and the risks to the public so that they (us) can make better decisions when a disaster comes. Then we write our disaster plans and sit around a table guessing how many of the "public" will 1) listen to our message, and 2) take the appropriate action. How many will leave like they're supposed to? We have to plan for them. How many will stay with they shouldn't? We have to plan for them, too. We have to anticipate what they will do and have the resources there when they do it. If we wait until they act, then it's too late.

For that reason we set up our web site and then get out amongst the public and do our best to drive them to it. In Florida, our web site is It's not just for the public - I use it all the time. The site is where I go to get phone numbers, addresses or to log into the message system for the emergency operations center. I've been in my job almost twelve years and the web site is like a comfortable, old sofa in the living room. The one with the broken leg and the torn cushion.

Time to get a new sofa.

I hadn't thought much about how the web site could be improved until I was asked several months back to serve on a working group for that very purpose. Most of the members of the group are from the Division of Emergency Management(DEM). I represent the rest of the State Emergency Response Team (SERT), the great, unwashed body of people from the rest of the state agencies. I was selected for this important responsibility by Richard Butgereit, the lead sled dog at DEM for this project. His criteria for my selection, or so I surmised, was that I was leaving one meeting when he was entering the same room for a web site meeting, and he asked me to stay. In other cards, my selection was by Chance, that great decider of Fates.

I was glad he chose me because this project is important and, as Richard will tell you, I have lots of opinions on many subjects, even those that I don't know anything about. I'm also glad he chose me because I have been introduced to the interesting and arcane world of web site design, of which I knew almost nothing. As I learned, our web site wasn't like an old sofa, but was more of a log cabin, with five bedrooms, a modern kitchen, a two car garage and a second story added in a haphazard fashion. And to get to any of the additions, you had to enter through the log cabin.

I'm not being critical of any of the previous custodians of the site. As many of us in state government understand, you do the best you can with the resources that you have. Now we have the resources to start building a better web site, one that will better serve the many customers who come there seeking information about current, past and future disasters.

A web site is not the only way to communicate  with the public but its an important one. For that reason, we are getting a lot of interest and participation from the group members. The changes that I've seen so far are exciting. I may not get a new cabin out of this deal, but I just might get a new sofa.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The new State Mass Care Coordinator's Course

In August 2004 I had been the Mass Care Coordinator for the State of Florida for over four and a half years but I was in that most dangerous of positions for an emergency manager: I thought I knew how to do my job when I really didn't. In my defense, there was no book or manual or even course that outlined how to coordinate mass care at the state level. FEMA offered a course on Community Mass Care but I had not taken it or even known of its existence. Everyone who knew anything about mass care had learned it from the Red Cross, coming up through the ranks first as a volunteer and then as an Red Cross employee. Some of these people had moved on to jobs in FEMA. I had one of the very few state mass care jobs in the nation but I had never worked or volunteered for the Red Cross.

In August-September 2004 I received Bachelor's, Master's and Doctorate degrees in state mass care in a six week period. My instructors in this intensive training course were named Charlie, Francis, Ivan and Jeanne, plus a series a excellent liaisons that Red Cross National Headquarters had the sense to send to Tallahassee to help me out.

Charlie crossed the state as a hurricane and our State EOC crumbled under the demands of 25 counties screaming for help at the same time. I was also overwhelmed, and remember talking with a land line on one ear, a cell phone on the other, and three people standing behind me waiting to talk. I requested help through the interstate Emergency Management Assistance Compact. I naively thought that there were other state mass care coordinators in the hinterlands ready to come to my aid. No one replied because there weren't any there.

In 2005 Florida was hit with four more storms, and I topped off that experience my spending two weeks in southern Mississippi after Katrina, coordinating the human services response in the six southern counties. Hurricane Wilma was one of the great untold mass care success stories of the last decade. After 8 storms in 16 months we had figured out what we were supposed to do. In January 2006, reflecting on what happened the last two years, I decided that I needed to try and share what I had learned with the other states. This turned out to be much more difficult than I imagined.

Almost five and a half years later we are finally getting there, thanks to some help from some key people in FEMA and the voluntary agencies. I helped a little bit, too. My dream of sharing what I learned in 2004-2005 has finally come true in the form of FEMA's new State Mass Care Coordinator's Planning and Operations Course. We have been working on this course for a year and a half. The pilot was delivered in Atlantic City, New Jersey in early May. We made some revisions based on that experience and are delivering the retooled course here in Tallahassee this week to 30 people from FEMA Region IV states.

The doctrinal foundation for this course comes from two documents: FEMA's Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101, Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans, and the State of Florida's Mass Care & Emergency Assistance Capability Level Guide (CLG). The Florida CLG was recently adopted by the Florida State Emergency Response Team, making Florida the only state in the nation to have such a document. I encourage other states to look at this document and adapt it for the circumstances of their own state.

The NIMS Mass Care Working Group, of which I am a member and Chairman, consists of national experts on mass care assembled by FEMA for the purpose of resource typing.  "Resource typing is the categorization and description of response resources that are commonly exchanged in disasters through mutual aid agreements." After two and a half years of work our Working Group is about to turn over to FEMA (hopefully for release soon as interim guidance) two documents that categorize commonly used mass care personnel, teams and equipment. In one of these documents is the Job Title and description of a State Mass Care Coordinator. One of the training requirements listed in this Job Title is the State Mass Care Coordinator's Planning & Operations Course.

Hopefully, by the end of the year, the State Mass Care Coordinator job, which hardly existed in the nation six years ago, will have a nationally approved Job Title and description, and a national course to prepare individuals to perform in this position. Having the opportunity to train to perform in an emergency management position is much easier than trying to figure out how to do the job in the middle of a disaster.

I know from personal experience.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Creating national standards for mass care resources

Since November 2008 I have been the Chairman of FEMA's National Incident Management (NIMS) Mass Care Working Group. The task of the Working Group has been to create national standards for mass care resources. Mass care has various definitions but the common view encompasses disaster feeding, sheltering and distribution of relief supplies. Most mass care in a disaster is done by voluntary organizations like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the Southern Baptists. For this reason, these organizations are well represented on the Working Group.

We meet three or four times a year and our meeting this week was in Nashville, TN. Participant travel costs for these meetings are paid by the FEMA contractor for the project. The contractor also documents our meetings and makes sure that the documents we produce are spelled correctly and in the format that FEMA prefers.

At these meetings, and at monthly conference calls in between, we struggle to perform a sort of alchemy; the creation of something valuable from an assortment of otherwise disconnected information. FEMA calls this process "resource typing." The resources selected for this process are either personnel, teams, or equipment. Teams consist of personnel and sometimes equipment. Equipment sometimes has a crew. Some teams or crew members require personnel qualifications. Some don't. Sorting all this out can be confusing because the rules aren't clear and in some cases, no one has done this before.

Resource typing is all about capability. A bigger machine has more capability to pump water than a smaller machine. One person, by virtue of education or experience or both, can have more capability than another. Capability is important because the purpose of resource typing is to help emergency managers request resources in the event of a disaster. We "type" a resource by dividing the capability into 3, 4, or 5 levels. A Type 1 has more capability than a Type 2 or a Type 3.

For example, field kitchens are used in disaster feeding because they can produce meals in an impacted area that has no water or electricity. The kitchens are pulled into the area inside large trailers and are established in an open area like a parking lot. A Type 2 kitchen can serve 20 thousand meals a day while a Type 3 kitchen can serve 10 thousand.

In addition to field kitchens, we have resource typed mobile kitchens (like a Salvation Army canteen), a Food Service Delivery Vehicle (like a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle), a shelter management team and a donations warehouse management team. We have also typed personnel qualification sheets called Job Titles. We typed my job, a State Mass Care Coordinator, as well as a Shelter Manager 1, 2 and 3.

Today we approved these documents and asked the contractor to prepare and submit them to FEMA. We are already working on typing additional resources. One that we are still working on is a Temporary Child Care Team.

I believe that the work we do is important and the documents we create are desperately needed in states and communities across the nation. Creating these documents has been an educational experience for me, as well as the other members of the Working Group. It's a pleasure to work with people who are experts in their field and share the same desire to improve the nations ability to repond in a disaster.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

SLOSH, MEOW and MOM - more from the GHC

At the first afternoon workshop I attended the Regional Evacuation Study Roundtable for the Northeast Florida and East Central Regions. Using federal and state funds from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, $29 million was spent to generate the first simultaneous regional evacuation study for the entire coastline of the state of Florida. These studies are important for state and local planners to plan for hurricane evacuations.

SLOSH stands for Sea Lake Overland Surge from Hurricanes. SLOSH provides a graphical representation on how far inland the water from a hurricane is expected to penetrate. $24 million of the cost of the study was devoted to flying an airplane along every inch of the state's coastline and using a laser to calculate the height of the coastal counties. This digital data was stored in an extremely LARGE database and would be the basis for the SLOSH calculations.

The SLOSH are too complicated for me to go into here. Suffice to say, the depth of the surge at any given point on a coastal county depends on not only the elevation of that location but on the size, intensity, forward speed and direction of movement of the hurricane. Therefore, they fed this data into a supercomputer for a few days and ran hundreds of hurricanes with a combination of the different variables for each hurricane. MEOW stands for the Maximum Envelope of Winds for each of those hurricanes.

To be safe, the SLOSH maps produced for use by local and state planners shows the MOM, or Maximum of Maximums of all the different hurricanes run through the computer. These maps show the depth of the penetration and the depth of the water at each location, among other things.

This is an extremely simplified version of a very complex subject. Since the release of the products to the counties last year, planners have been trying to digest the enormous volume of data that the studies provide. Planners will use this info to make Plans to evacuate and shelter everyone based on the forecast provided by the National Hurricane Center.

Governor's Hurricane Conference - Part 2

Thursday at the Governor's Hurricane Conference is a day of workshops. My first workshop of the day was my own - I was the speaker. With the scary title "Latest Developments in Resource Typing for Mass Care," I was curious as to who would show up. When I saw that my presentation was scheduled to compete with the workshop entitled "American Red Cross Roundtable," I wondered if anyone would come at all. My concern came from the fact that I expected my audience to be mostly Red Cross people.

Fortunately, there were people at the conference who weren't scared by the title but were actually interested. "Resource Typing" is a fancy term that comes from the National Incident Management System (NIMS). NIMS defines a resource as personnel, equipment or supplies. When a disaster strikes there is an immediate demand for more resources. Emergency Managers in the affected area request resources from outside the affected area. Resource Typing identifies common items that are requested in a disaster, provides a uniform description of the resource, and categorizes them by Type, or capability. A Type 1 resource has more capability than a Type 2 resource.

I have been the Chairman of the NIMS Mass Care Working Group since 2008. FEMA assembled in this group the subject matter experts necessary to resource type resources needed to perform mass care. Most of the members of the work group come from the voluntary agencies usually involved in mass care feeding and sheltering: the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptists and the Adventists.

The purpose of my presentation was to spread the word about what we are doing in the world of resource typing and mass care. The process has been long and laborious, but we are ready to submit some resource typing documents to FEMA for approval and distribution to the emergency management community for their use.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

At the Governor's Hurricane Conference in Ft. Lauderdale

This is the 25th Aniversary of the Governor's Hurricane Conference. I have lost count of how many of these conferences I have attended, but I know I have been to at least ten. I enjoy this conference because I get to see a lot of people in the Florida emergency management community that I don't get to see the rest of the year.

Besides the fact that this is the 25th anniversary of the conference, we have a lot of firsts for the conference this year. This is the first conference for the new Director of the Divison of Emergency Management, Bryan Koon. This is also the first conference for our new Governor, Rick Scott.

The first speaker of the afternoon opening session was Governor Bob Martinez, who was the Governor of Florida when the first conference was held. Bryan Koon spoke next and mentioned that the last hurricane conference he attended, in Rhode Island, was three hours long. Florida's five day conference and training sessions gives him a new perspective. Bryan says that he enjoys his job. That's good. He will have some trials in his future.

Governor Scott is a much different public speaker than Governor Crist. I heard Governor Crist speak at the State EOC and at this Conference many times. All his speeches were the same, and emphasized what a great job we were doing. Thus, I did not find them very memorable.

Governor Scott's first speech was memorable. He made a number of comments that weren't in his prepared remarks. He told funny stories. He made mistakes reading his presentation. And best of all, he kept it short. Like Bryan Koon, he may have to endure some emergency related trials as a part of his job in the future.

Tomorrow I have a speaking engagement first thing. I am looking forward to it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 4 at the National Hurricane Conference

This has clearly been one of the best National Hurricane Conferences that I have attended in the last decade. The presentations that I have attended have been high quality and with timely topics. The presentations, plus the opportunity to interact with professionals around the country, make this an excellent conference for emergency managers.

Curt Sommerhoff, the Emergency Mangement Director for Miami-Dade County, gave an outstanding presentation on the county's sheltering program and a new program that they are piloting for FEMA. This pilot involves identifying faith based and community organizations that provide some kind of service in a disaster. This is a perfect example of Craig Fugate's Whole of Community concept. Craig says to "plan for the real, not for the easy."

Mark Askey, FEMA Mass Care, talked about the beginning of the discussion towards development of a national Mass Care Strategy. FEMA, the Red Cross and the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) are going to lead the effort. Look in the near future for VOAD to publish a web site where everyone can first, know about this effort and second, have an opportunity to contribute to the development of this strategy.

I rushed back from lunch to listen to Marcie Roth, FEMA's functional needs guru. This is a controversial topic, and Marcie gets to travel around the country telling emergency managers what they don't want to hear. She had some breaking news: FEMA will soon release an Information Bulletin on how jurisdictions can apply for Homeland Security grants to meet their functional needs requirements in general population sheltering.

Many emergency managers are still in denial about how we must change our operational procedures to meet with this federal guidance. Others have moved beyond Denial and are mired in Grief about the whole thing. Others, like me, have passed beyond these two stages and have arrived at Resignation. We know we have to do it, we just don't know how.

Eventually we will get beyond this issue and move on to another. The planning effort we have undertaken in Florida will get us there, just not by the start of this hurricane season.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 3 of the National Hurricane Conference

The National Hurricane Conference is more than training, general sessions and workshops. Emergency Management, like most other efforts of human endeavor, works more effectively if the actors are operating as a team and have established some level of personal relationship prior to the disaster. I have been to many hurricane conferences and the value of this particular conference is the opportunity to engage and establish relationships with emergency managers across the nation and the world.

The mass care community is a subset of the emergency management world and I spend most of my free time at the conference connecting and reconnecting with the members of this community. Most of the people in this mass care world are members of the American Red Cross and Mass Care Femites who are former members of the Red Cross. There is a smaller group from other nongovernmental mass care agencies like the Southern Baptist Convention and the Salvation Army. Finally, there are state and local employees who have mass care as a principal responsibility. There are very few of these, and frequently I am the only one.

During coffee breaks, sessions at the bar and over meals, there is a lively exchange of mass care developments and best practices. I hear lots of gossip from all the different agencies, frequently after being sworn to secrecy. Since I am utterly dependent on them all during a disaster, their secrets are safe with me. We talk about current, past and even future disasters, mostly while reading our Blackberries.

This morning I attended my breakthrough session, the one that makes the entire trip worthwhile. A woman from Louisiana talked about a program that was started there in 2006 as a result of hurricane Katrina. The program identifies and trains volunteers who will provide Personal Assistance Services to individuals with functional needs in general population shelters. These services are for people who need assistance with tasks associated with daily living. Finding out about this program has literally saved me months of work. I was wondering how we were going to create such a program in Florida, and here was the lady with the road map.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 2 at the National Hurricane Conference

The first order of business for the day was a Mass Care Rap session. Our friend Lynn Crabb, the lead for Mass Care at Red Cross Headquarters, volunteered or was volunteered to lead the Rap Session. As usual, I had no shortage of opinions nor the willingness to express them. The session was well represented by the voluntary agencies: Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Baptists. FEMA Headquarters and Region VI were also there.

The initial and major topic was Administrator Fugate's announcement that he wanted the nation to develop a mass care strategy. An 18 person council was formed to fulfill this task, but has yet to meet. The council is made up of individuals involved in the mass care community and of the community at large (academia, private sector, children, etc). The first task of the council will be to assemble a "compendium" or catalog of resources that the principal nongovernmental organizations have available at a national level.

Another task will be to compile for the edification of all an explanation of how mass care resources are assembled at the local, state and national levels in response to a disaster. Here I brought up what I think is the greatest issue for mass care nationwide - the lack of mass care capability at the state level.

To address this shortfall FEMA has developed (with my assistance) a state mass care coordinators course. I will be one of the instructors for the pilots of this course in Atlantic City, NH the week of May 2 and in Tallahassee, Fl the week of May 9. Once this course is completed and available to the other states we can begin to address these capability issues.

After the Rap Session we heard from Bill Read, the director of the National Hurricane Center, and my favorite speaker, Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator. Craig emphasized the importance of getting elected officials at the state and local levels involved in the upcoming hurricane exercises. That way they can practice making the very difficult evacuation decisions under great uncertainty.

Craig also brought up the importance of using social media to get the "word" to the public so that they can make the right decision when facing the uncertainties during an oncoming hurricane.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 1 at the National Hurricane Conference

This year's conference has the most interesting lineup of mass care sessions that I have seen. This morning there is a four hour training session on functional needs. Sound exciting? Not really. But functional needs is probably the hottest topic in emergency management in the country.

The training is being conducted by Katherine Galifianakis of the American Red Cross and Susanne Simmons of FEMA Mass Care in the District. They are heroically presenting an eight hour course in just four hours. The problem in presenting this course is that the federal guidance for functional need support services in general population shelters raises a host of questions that the instructors are not in a position to clearly answer.

Unfortunately most of the questions are one of degree and timing. Do all these services have to be available when the doors to the shelter opens? Do all the services have to be available in every shelter? Many people believe that the answers to these questions have been taken out of the hands of local emergency managers and placed in the nebulous clutches of federal lawyers in the employ of the Department of Justice. And these lawyers have no practical experience in emergency management at the local level.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Rumsfeld's account of the war

Donald Rumsfeld finally published his account of the war in Iraq in his memoir, Known and Unknown. I have been waiting for over eight years to hear his explanation of why there was no plan for the occupation of Iraq. I have speculated as to what happened in this space since November 2006. In that post I blamed Rumsfeld for the lack of a plan, stating that he was in charge of planning for the invasion, and for the aftermath, and that he "deliberately excluded the Department of State and other agencies from any significant participation in the planning for or execution of the occupation."

That was what I thought at the time. Rumsfeld's memoir has changed my view somewhat.

In 2008 former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith published his account of the war, War and Decision. I read his book and wrote about it in this space (See On Understanding the War, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). I also read Tommy Franks' book and a U.S. Army history of the war. Rumsfeld's book provides the best explanation to date of what happened and why no occupation plan was developed and implemented.

On page 487 of Rumsfeld's book he summarizes what happened to postwar planning:

"Postwar planning for Iraq lacked effective inter agency coordination, clear lines of responsibility, and the deadlines and accountability associated with a rigorous process. I suspect that the failure to fashion a deliberate, systematic approach by which the President could establish U.S. policy on the political transition in post-Saddam Iraq was among the more consequential of the administration."

Now, who in the U.S. government is responsible for identifying inter agency foreign policy issues, crafting a policy, and presenting a recommendation or options to the President for a decision? The National Security Advisor, who at that time was Condi Rice.

Rumsfeld doesn't point the finger at Rice and lay all the blame at her feet. He rightfully says that the administration as a whole was at fault. A number of people in that administration did not serve the President, or the nation, well on this issue.

The problem lay in the fact that Rumsfeld and Defense had a very different vision of U.S. government policy for Post-Saddam Iraq than did Colin Powell and the Department of State. Rumsfeld wanted to transition immediately to an Interim Iraqi Authority (IIA). The IIA "was intended to bring Iraqis from all parts of the country, plus externals, and all political factions into a temporary national governing coalition." The State Department had a different vision. "Instead of putting an Iraqi face on postwar Iraq as soon as possible, the State Department proposed an American led civil authority for an indefinite period."

Incredibly, the government entered the war without any agreement at the highest levels of how the post-Saddam Iraq would unfold. No wonder there was no plan. How could this happen?

Admittedly, I haven't read the whole book, but just the parts about the post conflict planning. Fortunately, Rumsfeld doesn't get into petty name calling and wild speculation as to the motives of his counterparts in the State Department, notably Richard Armitage. Its obvious Armitage and Rumsfeld have major policy differences and probably don't even like each other. That's fine. Stuff like that happens in Washington. Despite 726 pages, Rumsfeld leaves a lot unsaid.

But how did this argument go on for almost a year without resolution, to the detriment of the outcome of the entire enterprise? Both guys are smart men, and each course of action had its own merits. Either plan would have been better than no plan. What we got was no plan.

What we got was Ambassador Bremer sent to Iraq to implement what Rumsfeld thought was the IIA, but instead was what State wanted to do all along: the Coalition Provisional Authority. Only, State didn't have the resources to adequately staff the CPA, much less execute their plan as they envisioned it.

Rumsfeld had plenty of resources in Iraq. He had me and several thousand other woefully underutilized civil affairs soldiers mobilized and deployed to Iraq. We received our alert for this mission in May of 2002. May 2002! If the plan was Bremer and the CPA, we could have been preparing for that for nine months. We could have resourced the occupation. But it didn't happen.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

FEMA, Catastrophes, and the Whole of Community

During one of the recent Snowmageddon's FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate was severely chastised by a Good Morning America interviewer because he wasn't rushing federal resources to rescue stranded motorists. On the other end of the spectrum are web sites proclaiming that Craig is erecting "FEMA camps" to house citizens who resist federal agents sent to seize their guns (Yes, these sites are there, I saw them).

We have a long way to go on educating the general public about roles and responsibilities in a disaster but after almost two years in charge Craig has finally found the button at FEMA that gets everyone in the organization's attention. He pushed that button and now everyone at FEMA is talking Catastrophes and Whole of Community.

Whole of Community is a concept and a philosophy that goes to the heart of roles and responsibilities in a disaster. Whole of Community means that when a disaster strikes everyone in the community has a role, and everyone must take responsibility for some part of the response and recovery. The more severe the event, i.e. when a disaster becomes a catastrophe, the greater the roles and responsibilities of the individual citizens. In other words, if you are waiting for FEMA to come and pull your car out of a snowdrift, what will be your response when nothing is left of your entire city but rubble and survivors?

The old joke in emergency management says that a disaster is when a tree falls on your neighbor's house, and a catastrophe is when a tree falls on YOUR house. Very few people have experience in catastrophic events. When I was in Hancock County, MS, a few days after Katrina, I ran into someone from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. He had come to Florida in 2004 to help us on the hurricanes and we were in Mississippi returning the favor. I asked him what happened, and he said they had a plan, but the extent of Katrina's damage had overwhelmed it.

I have heard Craig Fugate many times define an emergency as an event where the responders outnumber the survivors and a disaster as where the survivors outnumber the responders. A catastrophe is where the event overwhelms the plan. The only thing worse than a disaster overwhelming your plan is entering a disaster without any plan at all.

How many jurisdictions today have a catastrophic plan? I don't know, but I don't think very many. The state of Florida has an excellent catastrophic plan. I know, I helped write the mass care feeding and sheltering annex to the plan. Hundreds of local, state and federal workers participated in the development of this plan over a period of several years. The process was one of the most educational and informative periods of my emergency management career.

The person who drove us to write Florida's catastrophic plan? Craig Fugate.

And now Craig wants us all, from small town to big city, from sea to shining sea, to start thinking about catastrophes, and how we can get the whole of the community to pitch in and help when one may happen. I am an emergency manager in one of the most high risk states in the Union. I think about catastrophes all the time, and what I have to do to get ready should one suddenly arrive.

But that's just me.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Survivor Directed Response

The paradigm is shifting in emergency response and emergency managers must incorporate this shift in their plans and operational procedures. I call this change the Survivor Directed Response. In a speech last April I heard Craig Fugate, the FEMA Administrator, counsel us to stop treating the public as a liability and start relying on them as an asset. I think the public will go beyond the asset/liability category to actually directing the actions that we will take during the response.

How can this be? In previous disasters media reports have forced emergency managers to take actions they had not planned or anticipated. As an emergency manager, we know that we are in big trouble when our disaster is the lead story on all the cable networks. Our problems intensify when our disaster is not only the lead story on television, but occupies most of the airtime. The final confirmation of the catastrophic nature of our calamity is the report that Anderson Cooper or Katie Couric has arrived in the impact area to tell the nation and the world how well our response is progressing.

Anderson Cooper: Well, Sir, can you tell me how things have been going here at Ground Zero of the disaster?

Member of the Public: Things are going terribly. I don't know who's directing this response, but they should all be taken out and shot.

Anderson Cooper: There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Things don't sound quite as good out here in the disaster area as they try to make it seem in the far off Capital City.

The power of social media means that the public doesn't need Anderson Cooper to help them voice their concerns. In the Snow-calypse of 2010 the Mayor of Newark was directing his Public Works response based on input from his Twitter feed. Essentially, the individuals in the jurisdiction most affected by the disaster were directing the response. Hopefully, His Honor wasn't issuing orders directly to snow plow drivers.

In catastrophic planning there is nothing with a greater potential for a survivor directed response than mass care, the provision of food and shelter. FEMA's new State Mass Care Coordinator's Course (coming soon to a venue near you) and the draft Mass Care and Emergency Assistance Capability Level Guidance begin to address this issue.

In 2007 and 2008 Florida incorporated elements of a survivor directed response into our catastrophic mass care plan, although I didn't call it that at the time. The whole state was involved in catastrophic planning under a FEMA sponsored project called Hurricane Ono. The scenario used to develop the plan was suitably horrible: a category 5 hurricane striking Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Facing the grim realities of 6.5 million people packed at the end of a peninsula between a swamp and an ocean, we offered the survivors three choices for shelter. The first choice was to take a tent, cook stove, food and water and camp on the survivor's property with the reptiles and the insects. The second choice was to stay at the overcrowded, noisy, smelly public shelters in the impact area. The third choice was to board a waiting bus and travel to the land of air conditioning and flush toilets.

A lot of people, including Craig, who was the State Director at the time, fought me on providing resources for the third choice. The message of New Orleans was fresh in every one's mind, that if the people left, then they would never come back. My argument was that we couldn't feed and shelter that many people under those conditions. Some of them had to leave.

"You can't force them to leave," many shouted back at me.

"I'm not forcing anyone to do anything," I replied. "They're going to be demanding to leave."

Anderson Cooper will be right there, amplifying their demands. The survivors will be telling us on Facebook and Twitter that they are ready to go, and where to come to pick them up. I just hope that when the time comes, that we are listening.

Craig Fugate also advised us to "plan for what is hard." The hard part in all this is figuring out what the survivors will do before they even know it themselves. How many will take the tent and the cook stove? How many will stay in the shelter? How many will get on the bus?

I need to figure this out several days in advance because I need to know how many buses to order so that they will arrive when they are needed. When the people decide that they are ready to leave they will expect the buses to be there. After all, they are directing the response.