Sunday, July 10, 2011

The new State Mass Care Coordinator's Course

In August 2004 I had been the Mass Care Coordinator for the State of Florida for over four and a half years but I was in that most dangerous of positions for an emergency manager: I thought I knew how to do my job when I really didn't. In my defense, there was no book or manual or even course that outlined how to coordinate mass care at the state level. FEMA offered a course on Community Mass Care but I had not taken it or even known of its existence. Everyone who knew anything about mass care had learned it from the Red Cross, coming up through the ranks first as a volunteer and then as an Red Cross employee. Some of these people had moved on to jobs in FEMA. I had one of the very few state mass care jobs in the nation but I had never worked or volunteered for the Red Cross.

In August-September 2004 I received Bachelor's, Master's and Doctorate degrees in state mass care in a six week period. My instructors in this intensive training course were named Charlie, Francis, Ivan and Jeanne, plus a series a excellent liaisons that Red Cross National Headquarters had the sense to send to Tallahassee to help me out.

Charlie crossed the state as a hurricane and our State EOC crumbled under the demands of 25 counties screaming for help at the same time. I was also overwhelmed, and remember talking with a land line on one ear, a cell phone on the other, and three people standing behind me waiting to talk. I requested help through the interstate Emergency Management Assistance Compact. I naively thought that there were other state mass care coordinators in the hinterlands ready to come to my aid. No one replied because there weren't any there.

In 2005 Florida was hit with four more storms, and I topped off that experience my spending two weeks in southern Mississippi after Katrina, coordinating the human services response in the six southern counties. Hurricane Wilma was one of the great untold mass care success stories of the last decade. After 8 storms in 16 months we had figured out what we were supposed to do. In January 2006, reflecting on what happened the last two years, I decided that I needed to try and share what I had learned with the other states. This turned out to be much more difficult than I imagined.

Almost five and a half years later we are finally getting there, thanks to some help from some key people in FEMA and the voluntary agencies. I helped a little bit, too. My dream of sharing what I learned in 2004-2005 has finally come true in the form of FEMA's new State Mass Care Coordinator's Planning and Operations Course. We have been working on this course for a year and a half. The pilot was delivered in Atlantic City, New Jersey in early May. We made some revisions based on that experience and are delivering the retooled course here in Tallahassee this week to 30 people from FEMA Region IV states.

The doctrinal foundation for this course comes from two documents: FEMA's Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101, Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans, and the State of Florida's Mass Care & Emergency Assistance Capability Level Guide (CLG). The Florida CLG was recently adopted by the Florida State Emergency Response Team, making Florida the only state in the nation to have such a document. I encourage other states to look at this document and adapt it for the circumstances of their own state.

The NIMS Mass Care Working Group, of which I am a member and Chairman, consists of national experts on mass care assembled by FEMA for the purpose of resource typing.  "Resource typing is the categorization and description of response resources that are commonly exchanged in disasters through mutual aid agreements." After two and a half years of work our Working Group is about to turn over to FEMA (hopefully for release soon as interim guidance) two documents that categorize commonly used mass care personnel, teams and equipment. In one of these documents is the Job Title and description of a State Mass Care Coordinator. One of the training requirements listed in this Job Title is the State Mass Care Coordinator's Planning & Operations Course.

Hopefully, by the end of the year, the State Mass Care Coordinator job, which hardly existed in the nation six years ago, will have a nationally approved Job Title and description, and a national course to prepare individuals to perform in this position. Having the opportunity to train to perform in an emergency management position is much easier than trying to figure out how to do the job in the middle of a disaster.

I know from personal experience.

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