Saturday, May 24, 2014

Lessons from the 2014 National Mass Care Exercise

We will write a After Action Report (which we hope to have out to the public by July 4) but I had a number of first impressions:

1) We did better than last year, which was better than the year before. This shows that we are trainable and there's hope.

Michael Whitehead, State Mass Care Coordinator for Florida, briefing the 2014 National Mass Care Exercise participants on the morning of the 3rd day.
2) I had a personal goal of not getting overwhelmed during the Exercise and I succeeded. In last year's exercise, as well as the year before, I was called upon to be everywhere at once and solving multiple, complex crisis of misunderstanding within the Mass Care Task Forces. I failed in my ability to simultaneously act as a Player, Controller, Evaluator and Coach. This year a number of people besides myself who understood the Big Picture and were able to step in and resolve these crisis without my direct assistance.

One of many visual displays on the walls of the Shelter Task Force during the 2014 National Mass Care Exercise.
3) We validated the State Mass Care Coordination process (see diagram below). Not everyone even  understands the diagram, much less the process, but that's an education issue. The process works and can work in any state that needs to expand their mass care coordination capability in a large disaster. Doctrine is defined as accepted knowledge that can be taught to others. We now have that accepted knowledge and can go teach others.

4) The organization that we developed in order to coordinate 4 Mass Care Task Forces at once (see chart below) was not effective. I wrote about this organization in my March 2014 blog post. Everything worked except the part about using a Task Force Coordinator to coordinate with the four Task Forces. Larry Shine, the Texas State Mass Care Coordinator, and I tried to figure out how to coordinate the activities of the 4 Task Forces and we got some things right and, for multiple reasons, we got some things wrong.

Getting things wrong in this Exercise is not a crime. We deliberately tried to stretch the horizon of what we knew so that we could learn what did and didn't work. We found out that this organization didn't work but discovered what we think is the solution. What's the solution? See #5 below.

The Feeding Task Force conducting business during the 2014 National Mass Care Exercise
5) We need more trained Mass Care Planners and more people trained in mass care planning. These are different requirements. The new FEMA Mass Care/Emergency Assistance Planning & Operations Course (which we delivered at the Governor's Hurricane Conference last week) will take care of training more people in mass care planning. We will deliver this course at the National Hurricane Conference in Austin, TX next year, as well as at the Florida Governor's Conference.

Identifying and training Mass Care Planners is another matter. I first identified this problem in my October 2013 blog post. The issue is that in smaller disasters (where we are assisting thousands or tens of thousands of survivors) a failure to adequately plan can be overcome by pouring more resources on the problem. In disasters involving hundreds of thousands or even millions of survivors this isn't possible. The physics of time and distance interfere with our lack of planning.

We need people with the skills to project how many #10 cans of green beans, wheel chairs, and clean up kits we will need in 5 days for a population of 5 million impacted  by a Category 3 hurricane or a Modified Mercali Intensity of X. We can't train people to perform this function until we agree upon a doctrine.  At the 2014 NMCE we advanced the cause in this area and are close to a crude spreadsheet to give us these answers (and by crude I mean better than making up the answers).

The mass care discussions continued on into the evening at the 2014 National Mass Care Exercise
I had a great time at the Exercise and the feedback from the 100+ participants was that they learned a lot. We increased Mass Care Services capability in the nation as a result of this Exercise. Next year in June 2015 Texas will host the Mass Care Exercise in Austin. I can't wait.

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