|Former Daytona Seabreeze HS & fellow UF Gator alumni Amanda Loach, now with the Alaska Homeland Security & Emergency Management, checking the information board at the Willow Community Center.|
Unfortunately, the Sockeye fire response is to a 9.0 earthquake response as a pick-up baseball game is to the World Series. And to their credit, the Alaskan emergency managers I spoke to knew it. They learned this lesson during the 2014 Alaska Shield exercise held to commemorate the 1964 earthquake that rocked Anchorage. They realized that because they weren't prepared for a catastrophic mass care response, a lot of the response activities defaulted to outsiders who stepped into the void to do what had to get done. They wanted to stay in control of the mass care response no matter how big the event.
So what to do?
In the face of a catastrophic mass care event a state can react in one of two ways. In the first instance, they could wring their hands, complain that they're not resourced for this kind of thing, and insist that FEMA and the Red Cross take over their mass care response. Of course, when the response is over they can complain that FEMA and the Red Cross did it all wrong, spent too much money and took too long to get everything done.
The second choice would be to write the mass care plans and procedures that would allow the state to absorb the extra personnel required for a catastrophic event and yet still remain in control. After the lessons of Alaska Shield they decided to pursue this choice but didn't have the expertise to write the necessary plans and procedures.
Fortunately for them, I LOVE to write mass care plans and procedures. I'm serious. I had a ball. I sat down with my Alaskan counterpart, Debbie Reed, and talked about the one week of the response that I had been able to observe in Alaska (I also was able to listen to some of their conference calls while I was still in Florida). Debbie was keen on getting a state shelter plan. Based on what I had observed of their response, I thought that they would benefit from having written procedures for their mass care response. And with that Debbie turned me loose.
Most of what I did was copy and paste from templates and plans in my vast repertoire of electronic mass care documents. Then I went through and edited out non-Alaska terms (like "Florida" and "ESF 6"). Using this process I put together a first draft of the first ever State of Alaska Shelter Support Plan. This draft had all the easy parts of the plan: Purpose, Scope, Assumptions, Situation, and a start on the Concept of Operations.
During the final out-brief to a room full of stakeholders I told them, "I did the easy part. I outlined the state shelter support tasks they must be accomplished during the various phases. You guys need to get together and decide which agency or agencies are responsible for each task. That's the hard part."
Next I turned to writing a standard operating guide (SOG) for the Alaska mass care response. The first step in that task is to ask: Where does mass care fit within the Alaska state emergency operations center structure? The answer to that question should be in the State Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). The EOP said that the State Mass Care Coordinator (Yay for Alaska for writing a SMCC into the Plan) would activate a Mass Care Task Force when required.
During the Sockeye response they established the State Mass Care Task Force with four active subcommittees; Feeding, Sheltering, Volunteers & Donations and Pets. By the time I arrived each of the Subcommittees and the Mass Care TF were having weekly conference calls.
The Alaska State EOC is run according to the Incident Command System (ICS), with an Incident Commander and General Staff. Their Plans Section published an Incident Action Plan and I attended the 11 AM Tactics meeting. In the Tactics meeting they drew up the EOC structure according to the diagram below.
|Alaska Mass Care Group within the State EOC Organization|
|Debbie Reed (L), Alaska State Mass Care Coordinator and Amanda Loach (R). On the white board behind them is the "Mass Care Group" notation from the Tactics meeting.|
These 3 documents were not drafted in isolation. During my first week in Alaska I was joined by John Fulton, the FEMA Region 10 Mass Care representative. John and I knew each other from Sandy and we discussed the concepts outlined in the 3 documents.
As I was drafting the documents I also consulted frequently with Kelley McGuirk, the Regional Disaster Officer for the Alaska Red Cross, and Jenni Ragland, the Emergency Services Disaster Director for the Alaska Division of the Salvation Army.
|L to R, Laurie Levine (ARC), Jenni Ragland (TSA), Kelley McGuirk (ARC) & Amanda Loach (AHS&EM)|
The whole experience of my time in Alaska was positive and educational. Never before, and possibly never again, will I attend an emergency management meeting where Dog Mushers are an item on the agenda. I am grateful for the kindness and courtesy that was extended to me by everyone that I met in Alaska.