Friday, June 21, 2013

What I learned in the 2013 National Mass Care Exercise

The 2013 National Mass Care Exercise, held in Tallahassee, FL from May 20-24, 2013, brought together 60 federal, state, local, nongovernmental (NGO) and private sector mass care practitioners. We struggled to respond to two hurricanes and three impacts on the state. We tried out several well thought through plans and operational procedures. Like last year's exercise, some things worked and some things didn't. 

But because of last year's exercise, we executed our plans and procedures better this year. And next year we will do even better.

A draft of the Exercise After Action Report has been prepared and circulated to the participants for their comments. Our goal is to have the Report finalized and posted to the National Mass Care Strategy web site by July 1.

In the meantime, however, I can let you know what I learned. First, I learned that to write state mass care doctrine, train people to that doctrine, and then exercise that doctrine simultaneously is difficult for the exercise organizers and confusing for the participants. 

In a previous post I talked about creating a state Mass Care Services Doctrine. We've come a long way on the last 10 years toward standardizing the way we coordinate mass care at the state level. FEMA has put some of this process into a course, which I talked about in a previous post, but we need to get this course adopted by EMI and get federal, state, NGO and private sector mass care practitioners trained in the process. The exercise would be more effective if all the participants had the benefit of this course as a common baseline of understanding of the state mass care coordination process. I am going to push to make that happen.

The second big thing I learned in this exercise was how to forecast long term feeding and sheltering requirements for a hurricane. The exciting part about this was that we developed simple and effective formulas to make these estimates, and this process can easily taught and widely adopted in the mass care community. 

Forecasting future mass care requirements is an important part of the state mass care coordination process. The state does not have an on hand inventory of mass care resources that can be doled out to counties and the voluntary agencies when the requests roll in after the disaster. These resources must be either purchased by the state or requested from FEMA, a process that can take days or longer. This delay in fulfilling the request means that survivors on the ground in the impact area are doing without. This means that I can be requesting resources before the storm has even hit.

What? Requesting resources before the storm has even hit? You could order too much or too little. That's wasteful and in efficient. As Craig Fugate taught us many years ago, there are 3 ways to respond to a disaster: Cheap, Efficient or Fast. You have to choose one. Our political leaders and the public want Fast, which is inefficient and expensive. You want Fast? Then you project the type, kind and quantity of mass care resources that will be in short supply after the disaster and order them before the disaster so that they will be on hand when the public needs them.

Doing that has got to be hard. You're right, it is hard. But as a result of the 2013 National Mass Care Exercise we made a lot of progress toward figuring out how to make those forecasts for feeding and sheltering.

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