Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 4 at the National Hurricane Conference

This has clearly been one of the best National Hurricane Conferences that I have attended in the last decade. The presentations that I have attended have been high quality and with timely topics. The presentations, plus the opportunity to interact with professionals around the country, make this an excellent conference for emergency managers.

Curt Sommerhoff, the Emergency Mangement Director for Miami-Dade County, gave an outstanding presentation on the county's sheltering program and a new program that they are piloting for FEMA. This pilot involves identifying faith based and community organizations that provide some kind of service in a disaster. This is a perfect example of Craig Fugate's Whole of Community concept. Craig says to "plan for the real, not for the easy."

Mark Askey, FEMA Mass Care, talked about the beginning of the discussion towards development of a national Mass Care Strategy. FEMA, the Red Cross and the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) are going to lead the effort. Look in the near future for VOAD to publish a web site where everyone can first, know about this effort and second, have an opportunity to contribute to the development of this strategy.

I rushed back from lunch to listen to Marcie Roth, FEMA's functional needs guru. This is a controversial topic, and Marcie gets to travel around the country telling emergency managers what they don't want to hear. She had some breaking news: FEMA will soon release an Information Bulletin on how jurisdictions can apply for Homeland Security grants to meet their functional needs requirements in general population sheltering.

Many emergency managers are still in denial about how we must change our operational procedures to meet with this federal guidance. Others have moved beyond Denial and are mired in Grief about the whole thing. Others, like me, have passed beyond these two stages and have arrived at Resignation. We know we have to do it, we just don't know how.

Eventually we will get beyond this issue and move on to another. The planning effort we have undertaken in Florida will get us there, just not by the start of this hurricane season.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 3 of the National Hurricane Conference

The National Hurricane Conference is more than training, general sessions and workshops. Emergency Management, like most other efforts of human endeavor, works more effectively if the actors are operating as a team and have established some level of personal relationship prior to the disaster. I have been to many hurricane conferences and the value of this particular conference is the opportunity to engage and establish relationships with emergency managers across the nation and the world.

The mass care community is a subset of the emergency management world and I spend most of my free time at the conference connecting and reconnecting with the members of this community. Most of the people in this mass care world are members of the American Red Cross and Mass Care Femites who are former members of the Red Cross. There is a smaller group from other nongovernmental mass care agencies like the Southern Baptist Convention and the Salvation Army. Finally, there are state and local employees who have mass care as a principal responsibility. There are very few of these, and frequently I am the only one.

During coffee breaks, sessions at the bar and over meals, there is a lively exchange of mass care developments and best practices. I hear lots of gossip from all the different agencies, frequently after being sworn to secrecy. Since I am utterly dependent on them all during a disaster, their secrets are safe with me. We talk about current, past and even future disasters, mostly while reading our Blackberries.

This morning I attended my breakthrough session, the one that makes the entire trip worthwhile. A woman from Louisiana talked about a program that was started there in 2006 as a result of hurricane Katrina. The program identifies and trains volunteers who will provide Personal Assistance Services to individuals with functional needs in general population shelters. These services are for people who need assistance with tasks associated with daily living. Finding out about this program has literally saved me months of work. I was wondering how we were going to create such a program in Florida, and here was the lady with the road map.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 2 at the National Hurricane Conference

The first order of business for the day was a Mass Care Rap session. Our friend Lynn Crabb, the lead for Mass Care at Red Cross Headquarters, volunteered or was volunteered to lead the Rap Session. As usual, I had no shortage of opinions nor the willingness to express them. The session was well represented by the voluntary agencies: Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Baptists. FEMA Headquarters and Region VI were also there.

The initial and major topic was Administrator Fugate's announcement that he wanted the nation to develop a mass care strategy. An 18 person council was formed to fulfill this task, but has yet to meet. The council is made up of individuals involved in the mass care community and of the community at large (academia, private sector, children, etc). The first task of the council will be to assemble a "compendium" or catalog of resources that the principal nongovernmental organizations have available at a national level.

Another task will be to compile for the edification of all an explanation of how mass care resources are assembled at the local, state and national levels in response to a disaster. Here I brought up what I think is the greatest issue for mass care nationwide - the lack of mass care capability at the state level.

To address this shortfall FEMA has developed (with my assistance) a state mass care coordinators course. I will be one of the instructors for the pilots of this course in Atlantic City, NH the week of May 2 and in Tallahassee, Fl the week of May 9. Once this course is completed and available to the other states we can begin to address these capability issues.

After the Rap Session we heard from Bill Read, the director of the National Hurricane Center, and my favorite speaker, Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator. Craig emphasized the importance of getting elected officials at the state and local levels involved in the upcoming hurricane exercises. That way they can practice making the very difficult evacuation decisions under great uncertainty.

Craig also brought up the importance of using social media to get the "word" to the public so that they can make the right decision when facing the uncertainties during an oncoming hurricane.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 1 at the National Hurricane Conference

This year's conference has the most interesting lineup of mass care sessions that I have seen. This morning there is a four hour training session on functional needs. Sound exciting? Not really. But functional needs is probably the hottest topic in emergency management in the country.

The training is being conducted by Katherine Galifianakis of the American Red Cross and Susanne Simmons of FEMA Mass Care in the District. They are heroically presenting an eight hour course in just four hours. The problem in presenting this course is that the federal guidance for functional need support services in general population shelters raises a host of questions that the instructors are not in a position to clearly answer.

Unfortunately most of the questions are one of degree and timing. Do all these services have to be available when the doors to the shelter opens? Do all the services have to be available in every shelter? Many people believe that the answers to these questions have been taken out of the hands of local emergency managers and placed in the nebulous clutches of federal lawyers in the employ of the Department of Justice. And these lawyers have no practical experience in emergency management at the local level.