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.