Sunday, October 20, 2013

Once upon a time ... a mass care story

Once upon a time, in the land of hurricanes, King Craig Fugate brought together all the emergency managers and all  the voluntary agencies and the private sector and even some Femites to devise a plan to save the kingdom from the evil Big One that they all knew would some day threaten their very existence. Just as all good stories have a villain, so must all good emergency plans have a scenario. The scenario offered up was called Hurricane Ono, a Category 5 hurricane that struck southeast Florida, rampaged across the peninsula to Tampa, renewed strength in the Gulf and hit the state again in the Panhandle. As an added prize, the scenario included a failure of the Herbert Hoover dike around Lake Okeechobee, with the total inundation of the adjacent communities.

The Evil Stepmother who first presented this scenario to the assembled State Emergency Response Team (SERT) in Tallahassee in 2007 was Carla Boyce, at that time the SERT's Plans Chief (and now an Important Person at FEMA Headquarters). Her presentation had a profound affect on me. In one way or the other most of my thoughts and actions in emergency management and mass care since that moment have been directed toward preparing for such an event.

We worked on the plan for two years. We brought in some smart people from the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Southern Baptists with hard earned experience and I learned a lot of mass care from them. We spent a lot of time trying to answer some pretty basic questions. How many meals per day would we need to produce and distribute? Who would provide them? How many shelter teams would we need? Where would they come from?

I remember thinking that the mass care community has been doing this for a long time. Why haven't they come up with a standard process to make these kinds of calculations? I mean, we were coming up with astronomical meal and shelter requirements. How do we know these numbers are right? We didn't, and still don't. Plus, I had a nagging problem that wasn't solved in the plan. When you ask for the WORLD and the WORLD shows up, you're going to need a helluva lot of people to tell all those trucks where to go.

We tested our plan, using the Hurricane Ono scenario, during the May 2009 State Hurricane Suiter Exercise. This was the last State Exercise for King Craig. He had been nominated, but not yet confirmed, as the new Director of FEMA during the time of the exercise. For some reason we had massive, and unprecedented, participation from FEMA Region 4 during that exercise.

Hurricane Ike, which had struck Texas in September of 2008, had already had an influence on the plan and the 2009 exercise. The disaster feeding in Texas during Ike, according to multiple, conflicting reports, had been ugly. I had a number of long conversations with FEMA, state and voluntary agency participants with first hand knowledge of the events. The root cause of the problem was a lack of coordination.

I was determined to do whatever I could to make sure that such a problem did not happen in Florida. In January 2009 I emailed Lynn Crabb, at that time the lead for Mass Care at Red Cross Headquarters, that we needed to get the mass care voluntary agencies together with FEMA and the states (well, at LEAST Florida) and do a "Vulcan mind meld" to resolve this problem. Mickey Caison, the disaster lead for the Southern Baptists, had the same idea and was in a better position to do something about it.

At Mickey's behest, FEMA Headquarters Mass Care assembled a team of subject matter experts from multiple stakeholders on a series of conference calls with the objective of creating a Multi-Agency Feeding Plan Template. I was fortunate to be a part of these conference calls, which ultimately grew to over 40 participants. This document was the first big step toward creating some kind of state mass care doctrine.

Before the Feeding Plan Template was even finished I drafted a State of Florida Multi-Agency Feeding Plan and sent it out to all of our stakeholders for comments. What was significant about this plan was that we included the private sector food suppliers (Sysco & US Foods) in the planning process. As a result, and as was my intention, Florida published the first Multi-Agency Feeding Plan in the nation.

I rushed to get the plan completed because I wanted to test the plan during the 2009 Hurricane Suiter Exercise. There was just one problem. Both the Feeding Plan Template and the State Feeding Plan called for the creation, under specified circumstances, of a Multi-Agency Feeding Task Force (FTF). What was a FTF supposed to do? The Plan wasn't real clear about that. Some kind of multi-agency coordination involving feeding. We think.

So I decided that we were going to establish a FTF during the 2009 Hurricane Suiter Exercise. I was able to round up a bunch of smart guys who knew a lot about their little piece of disaster feeding and I put them all in a room on the third floor of the building next door to the EOC during the exercise. I got Rick Hinrichs from the San Diego Chapter of the Red Cross, and Fritz Wilson from the Florida Baptists, and Kevin Smith from the Florida Division of the Salvation Army, among others. The hardest part was to get Sysco and US Foods to agree to be in the same room together. They eyed each other during the exercise until they realized that we could generate more business than either one could handle.

We all learned a lot about how we should and shouldn't coordinate mass care at a state EOC during the 2009 Hurricane Suiter Exercise. I learned that no matter how smart I thought I was, that no matter how much knowledge and experience that I had coordinating mass care at the state level, and no matter how hard I was prepared to work at getting my job done right, I couldn't be in three different critical EOC meetings at the same time. And we learned that a feeding task force was a good idea but wouldn't be effective unless it had an operational procedure that defined internal TF roles, tasks and processes.

I had participated in a dozen state hurricane exercises and I had learned more in the 2009 exercise than I had in all the other exercises put together. I was eager to do it again in 2010. But the Deepwater Horizon disaster blew the 2010 exercise out of the water and the EOC Continuity of Operations exercise scheduled for 2010 was rescheduled for 2011. In the Fall of 2011 I started thinking about what kind of mass care exercise we needed to have in 2012.

Another big thing that I learned from the 2009 exercise was that when the Big One hit Florida we would need a lot of help in the EOC. And we couldn't fill the gap by grabbing state workers off the street and thrusting them in the EOC in half-day increments like we did in 2004-2005. We needed people who knew mass care and were able to step into an EOC and be effective with some preliminary training.

Where could we get these kind of people? The voluntary agencies, like the Red Cross, didn't train their people to perform these roles. Neither did the Salvation Army. There were few, if any, State Mass Care Coordinators out there. And those that had the experience were on the hurricane prone coastal states and not likely candidates to be released to come help me during hurricane season.

The big disaster event in 2011 was Tropical Storm Irene. I benefited from an EMAC deployment to New Jersey during Irene. When I returned to work I developed a Power Point presentation saying that Florida was going to hold a National Mass Care Exercise in Tallahassee in conjunction with the State Hurricane Exercise in May 2012. I emailed this presentation to everyone I knew in the national mass care community and said that anyone willing to pay their way to Tallahassee was welcome to play in my sandbox.

But who I really wanted to come to the Exercise were my state counterparts and I knew that they wouldn't be lining up to come because they had no money. I contacted Waddy Gonzalez, the head of FEMA Mass Care, and explained how I was doing him a BIG FAVOR by putting on this National Mass Care Exercise, and was helping him do his job of increasing mass care capability in the states. All he had to do was find the money to pay for some state people to come to the exercise. Waddy, to his great credit, came up with the money for 5 state people to attend.

Thus we were able to get the participation of Wendy Stewart from Georgia, Daniel Porth from Arizona, Dennis Dura from New Jersey, Dante Glinecki from Missouri and Ed Lyons from Arkansas. Ultimately we were able to get 64 participants from 26 federal, state, nongovernmental, private sector and academic agencies. Arguably, this was the largest mass care exercise ever conducted in the nation.

I had no budget and no staff available to make this happen. Fortunately, I had lots of friends in the mass care community who saw the inherent benefits to the nation of the exercise and agreed to help. Jono Anzalone with FEMA Region VII (now with the Red Cross) volunteered to be the Lead Controller for the Exercise and offered Cory Fast and Kam Kennedy from his staff to help with the project. Ryan Logan, the Mass Care Lead for FEMA Region IV (also now with the Red Cross) pitched in to help with the planning for the exercise. More people, too many to name here (I'll forget somebody and be in trouble) were instrumental in the success of the exercise.

As more and more people started saying that they were coming I started to get worried. How was I going to productively utilize all these people? And a bigger problem, where was I going to put them all? They wouldn't fit in the EOC.

Based on feedback from the 2009 exercise we updated the State Feeding Plan and drafted a Feeding Task Force (FTF) Standard Operating Guide (SOG). One of our objectives for the 2012 exercise was to test the new plan and to establish a Feeding TF to test the new SOG. So why not set up a Sheltering TF? And as the number of participants grew higher we added on a Distribution of Relief Supplies TF. And I had to scramble with the Florida Division of Emergency Management Exercise people to find rooms for these TFs within easy walking distance of the State EOC. In the end, this was good preparation for us because we would need to do the same thing if the Big One were ever to happen.

The 2012 Hurricane Gispert Exercise was a success, but not because we did everything perfectly. We allocated a lot of resources to capturing the lessons we were learning and we had a long list of things that we screwed up. Some of the horde of people who arrived were put to work as Evaluators and Kam Kennedy was assigned to be in charge of Documentation. To that end, we had Hot Wash meetings at the end of each day and Kam made everyone do daily written critiques. All of the information that she collected was put into the After Action Report (AAR).

A significant source of the problems we encountered in the exercise was that what we were trying to do was hard and few participants had the training or the experience to have a clear idea of what we were trying to accomplish. In essence, we were simultaneously trying to create, train and exercise state mass care doctrine to 60 people in 4 days. Doing that is really hard, in case you were wondering.

I was thrilled at what we were able to learn in 4 days. And the best part was that 5 state mass care people were able to take hard earned knowledge and experience back to their states. Dennis Dura, from New Jersey, participated in the exercise and put what he learned to good use 5 months later when Hurricane Sandy struck his state. Furthermore, as a result of the contacts he made at the exercise, he was able to bring Daniel Porth from Arizona to New Jersey for the Sandy response.

Once we got the Exercise AAR completed and posted to the Internet on July 1 I set to work translating the lessons learned into new state plans and procedures. The State of Florida does not do sheltering but supports county and municipality shelter operations. The state has never had a Multi-Agency Shelter Support  Plan but the myriad issues with functional needs support in general population shelters and the complex problems with transitioning shelter survivors to appropriate housing made it seem like a good idea at the time.  The New Shelter Support Plan, of course, would establish criteria for the activation of a Shelter Task Force. Sheltering wasn't really an area of my expertise. So I had to pester some smart people who knew what they were talking about, like Rick Schofield of the Red Cross, in order to get the document written.

The 2012 Exercise revealed that a Shelter TF without a Shelter Plan or an operational procedure was about as much good as a beached whale. So to get ready for the 2013 Exercise we had to write (and coordinate) a Shelter Support Plan, a Shelter TF operational procedure, a revised ESF 6 operational procedure, and updates to the Feeding Plan and Feeding TF operational procedure. I had a lot of work to do.

As usual, real life gets in the way of our dreams. In June we had Tropical Storm Debby and in August Tropical Storm Issac. Then I deployed in response to Sandy for 3 weeks in November. As a consequence we didn't complete the updates and rewrites of all the plans and procedures until April, a month before the exercise.

Ahh, the exercise. I had to round up the usual suspects again to help me put on this big exercise for which I still had no staff or budget. The grim reality that I faced was of my two biggest partners, the Red Cross was in the middle of re-engineering and FEMA was battling the Sequester. But we got it done.

We got state mass care people from big states and little states from all corners of the country: Larry Shine from Texas, Tracy McBroom from California (now with the Red Cross), Sue Bush from Washington and Dwayne Hubert from Maine. The Sequester cut down on the number of Femites in attendance but we had the same wide representation from agencies representing the Whole of the National Mass Care Community. We learned a lot and gave a lot of people some good training. Once again, Kam Kennedy helped document the lessons learned that were included in the 2013 National Mass Care Exercise After Action Report.

Now, once again, I am updating plans and procedures to reflect what we learned. We are going to hold the Exercise in Tallahassee one more time in 2014 but are looking to give somebody else an opportunity to shine (and do some of the work). California has shown interest in hosting the Exercise in 2015 and Texas in 2016.

But, and to the point of this epistle, to get where we need to be we need to implement the National Mass Care Strategy. The Strategy emphasizes the standardization of mass care terminology, procedures and processes. Holding these national exercises allows the mass care community to come together and sort out the process of how we coordinate mass care at the state level. As you can tell from the story that I just related, the process of building a state mass care doctrine didn't start until 2009.

To make these National Mass Care Exercises more effective in building national mass care capability we need to give the participants additional training and preparation before they arrive at the exercise. An unfortunate number of the participants in the 2012 and 2013 exercises looked like High School football players at an NFL game. They had neither the training nor the experience to perform at a high level in that environment. And this wasn't their fault. The agencies involved need to do better at building the capability to provide the right people with the right skills.

The U.S. Army has a course called the Command & General Staff College to prepare senior captains and majors to be staff officers and planners. At the end of the course they select a few of the elite graduates to take additional training in high-level planning. At the end of this extra training these officers are sent out to regular assignments in the Army, a resource to be harvested in need. And when a 4 star general has a need for planners for an important operation, these officers are plucked from whatever job they have and collected at the 4 star's headquarters. They work 20 hours a day for 2 weeks writing and briefing a plan for the 4 star. Then they go back to their regular jobs.

The Army calls these planners Jedi Knights.

The mass care community needs to build their own cadre of mass care Jedi Knights. And the American Red Cross, as the True Leader of mass care in the nation, needs to be the agency to lead the way and set the example in this regard.