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.