Friday, April 27, 2012

A National Mass Care Exercise - Hurricane Gispert

The draft of the new "National Mass Care Strategy" recommends that the nation conduct "an annual national Mass Care System exercise that focuses on state-to-federal coordination systems and integrating staff from key federal, NGO, faith based organizations and the private sector into an effective Mass Care Multi-Agency coordination system." The state of Florida  will conduct just such an exercise in conjunction with the annual State Hurricane Exercise in Tallahassee May 21-24, 2012.

Over 70 persons (50 of which are traveling to the site from out-of-town) from 29 different federal, state, NGO and private sector organizations representing the nation's Whole of Community will participate in the exercise as player, evaluator or controller. The focus of the exercise will be on building the state and the nation's capability to deliver Mass Care Services in furtherance of the National Preparedness Goal.

The scenario for the exercise involves the landfall of Hurricane Gispert in the Tampa Bay area as a major storm. Such an impact on a large, urban, coastal community would require a coordinated, national mass care response. The purpose of the exercise is to test the systems, processes and procedures necessary to coordinate a mass care event of this magnitude.

Many of these procedural documents are new, still in draft form, and have never been tested before. They include:
1) "The Acquisition and Employment of Federal Mass Care Resources, A State Template,"
2) "The State of Florida Multi-Agency Feeding Task Force Standard Operating Guide,"
3) "Draft Multi-Agency Sheltering Task Force Guidance Document,"
4) "Household Disaster Feeding Guidance Document."

Three of these documents are draft national templates that will be refined based on participant feedback during and after the exercise. Once refined, the documents will be made available on the National Mass Care Strategy website for use by the national mass care community.

The exercise will have 3 evaluators to ensure that the lessons learned are captured. There will be a daily and a final "hot wash" to ensure that this critical information is captured while still fresh on the participants minds. The results of these efforts will be incorporated into the After Action Report. This document will also be made available to the nation via the Web.

The ambitious nature of this exercise, both in the number of participants and the complexity of the tasks to be performed, guarantees that this endeavor will be challenging for all participants. This is the best way for us to prepare.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Home cooking in Sokone, Senegal

Observing the  daily, laborious, backbreaking job of preparing lunch and then dinner for 25 people at Jamie's home in Senegal was one of the most interesting parts of my visit. The cooks were a crew of young women, supervised by Jamie's host sister Sophia, the eldest sibling in the family and the one who ran the household on behalf of her mother.

The women at work cooking another meal.
The count for each meal was about 25 and could vary from that number by five either way. The patriarch and matriarch of the family ruled over a household compound filled with children, grandchildren, students from the country living as boarders and one Peace Corps Volunteer. Almost all of the household were women and children: the men worked in other towns and only came to visit.

The menu was some unvarying combination of rice, fish or chicken, onion and some other vegetable. On rare occasions (like our visit) they prepared noodles.  The family was Muslim so pork wasn't served, even though pigs were raised and no doubt eaten by members of the country's minority Christian population. The rice came from Thailand in 100 pound bags, examples of which I observed in abundance on trucks and donkey carts throughout the country.

Jamie's host sister Sophia
Sophia starts off each day with a bean sandwich from her mother's stand at the front of the house before heading to the market to buy the vegetables and chicken or fish for the day's meals. The family has no freezer or refrigerator so items other than staples like rice must be purchased daily. The morning we accompanied Sophia to the market was a Wednesday, the big market day of the week, so Sophia dressed for the varied social aspects of the visit.

 The day was already warm as Jamie, Gale, Sophia and I left the bean sandwich stand for the 20 minute walk to the market. On the main street we joined a stream of empty handed pedestrians moving to the market to make a purchase and a series of heavily laden carts drawn by donkeys, horses or oxen with products destined for sale. The market itself was a riot of color and activity.

Scene at the market in Sokone. The colorful clothing is made with the famous
Senegal “waxed” fabric.

Buying food at the market in Sokone on market day. Note the dried fish and the
scales in front of the seated woman with the blue turban.

The kitchen in the compound of my son Jamie’s host family in Sokone.

Cutting up the vegetables for the meal. 

Dividing the food in the communal bowls.
There was no running water in the household. All water was brought in buckets from a public spigot on the street. Goats, chickens and ducks shared the interior compound with the family. There was no chopping of vegetables on a cutting board. The vegetables were cut by  hand over a bowl with a small knife. I asked a young woman in my broken French, as she was busily engaged in this task, if this didn't result in cuts on her hands. She nodded and showed me a example.

Cooking the food was a laborious, time consuming task, with the women spending too much time (in my view) either squatting by or bent over a pot of bubbling liquid. Once the food is cooked the rice  is put into the communal bowls from which it is eaten by the family. Pieces of chicken are apportioned to each bowl. Almost everyone eats from the bowl with their right hand. The family divides by age and sex to their assigned bowl. 

As guests, we were given spoons to eat with. Jamie, Gale and I ate from a bowl with the mother and father of the family, a duck darting between my feet to catch any stray grains of rice that missed the passage from bowl to mouth. The mother tore off bits of chicken with her right hand and laid the pieces before us to eat. She squeezed the rice into a ball with her hand and then ate by passing the ball with a vertical motion in front of her mouth, almost as if she was licking her hand. Except her hand never touched her mouth, because she was using the same hand to divide the food in the communal bowl. She ate sparingly until she saw that we had our fill. 

The food was delicious.

One of the meals that we shared with Jamie's family.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Ecotouriism and the bats in the beobab tree

At the end of our arduous first day of travel in Senegal we arrived at an island outside the town of Toubacouba on the southwestern coast. The Saloume River created a mangrove tree covered delta that came under the ecological protection of the government in 2003.

We stayed in a thatched hut on beds with mattresses and mosquito nets. We had started our malaria medicine 48 hours prior to our departure but we still needed to avoid the mosquitoes. The electricity came from solar panels and the water from overhead tanks. The bathroom, such as it was, had no roof.

We slept the sleep of the exhausted and awoke to a clear, cool, fresh morning and a beautiful view of the salt water and mangrove trees of the delta. Except for the occasional splashes of fish feeding in the water below our world was silent.

Unsure of when lunch was to start, we arrived an hour and a half early. While waiting, Jamie and I cleaned out the island's supply of Flag brand beer and started on the Gazelle. For lunch we had a traditional Senegalese lunch of rice and fish called ceebu jen. During the heat of the day we slept and swam and returned the to the dining room for a late (for me) supper.

When darkness fell we armed ourselves with mosquito repellant and sat in wooden chairs by our hut, gazing at the night sky. Gale wanted to see a shooting star. That's when the bats showed up.

"They live in a beobab tree over there," Jamie said, pointing to his right.

I briefly thought about rising from my wooden chair to investigate. Sanity and lethargy prevailed. My weekly quota of adventures had been exhausted the previous day.

The bats were dark shadows that flickered above or even between us as a few flew under the roof. That was the closest that I had ever been to a bat in my life. Gale quoted her kindergarten statistic on how many mosquitoes a bat consumed in an evening. 

A shooting star fell. We went to bed.