Last December we invited a bunch of mass care people around the country to come to our Florida State Hurricane exercise in May and play in our mass care sandbox. In April, when we realized that most of them were going to show up, we scrambled to accommodate them. I didn't want to turn anyone away.
Ultimately, 64 people participated in the mass care portion of the State's Hurricane Gispert exercise. Over 50 of the participants came from out of state (some from as far away as California and Arizona). These 64 people came from 26 federal state, voluntary agency, private sector and academic organizations. The scenario was for a major hurricane to strike the Tampa Bay Region. If this was a real event, we would need about that many people from all those organizations to coordinate the mass care response to the high standard that the Governor and the public expect. In all the hurricanes and disasters we had done, both real and practice, we had never practiced a mass care response that large - which was why we did it.
Needless to say, some things went well and some things didn't. We all learned a lot. It's hard to bring together 50 people, no matter how good they are or how much they know, who have never worked together before, and put them in a organization and a system that is untried and untested, and not expect problems. I had spent several years thinking and talking to people about how we would organize something this big and I thought that I had a good plan. My plan lasted about 2 hours into the exercise.
Despite the problems we encountered the exercise was a tremendous success. We got the job done, even if it was ugly. Come to think of it, that's a good summary for a lot of disasters many of us have worked. The After Action Report is now available online: Florida Hurricane Exercise 2012, Mass Care After Action Report. I recommend it to you.
We also developed and tested a document to assist states in acquiring mass care resources from the federal government. The document was posted online today and is called Acquisition and Employment of Federal Mass Care Resources: A Guidance Document. I recommend this document to you also.