Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) Planning

January 30, 2012

I have witnessed the Center for Disease Control (CDC) effort to pass down new SNS planning guidance to local health departments and watched in dismay as a 500 page compliance document emerged in each county.  Disaster planning had its trials in the early 1990s in NC as well, wrestling with the same type of guidance from FEMA. Fill in all the blanks and include all of the unnecessary requirements…. or lose funding. The state and the counties both had disaster compliance bookends or window props…. that is about all they were useful for. NC Emergency Management and the counties stepped up, told FEMA we were going to produce operational plans, and low and behold the template was dubbed “the Model Project” and FEMA pushed the new NC planning format out to all other states as their new guidance.

State Public Health and county health departments TAKE NOTE! The current SNS plans at the state and county levels are non-operational and take way too much time to maintain. Every year is a revision, instead of updates, and the plan is full of training schedules and rosters, meeting schedules and rosters, employees names instead of positions, radio check rosters, just-in-time training slides and finally…. redundant information that is already approved in the county or state emergency management operations plan. The CDC needs a wake-up call and NC needs to provide it. An operational plan for the SNS should be 100 pages tops…. not a behemoth 500 pages of useless non-operational attachments. The attachments in the SNS Plan account for 2/3’s of the total plan. This is 2012, not 1990….. plans should be streamlined, linked to other collaborative plans, and “digestible” in under an hour. We need a manageable SNS Plan that can be trained on and exercised, not constantly revised and taking up way too much shelf space.

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January 9, 2012

Summary of 2011 tornado events as compared to 2010:

2010 – 1,282 tornadoes in the US with 45 Fatalities

2011 – 1,718 tornadoes in the US with 553 Fatalities

2011 proved to be the costliest year yet for the insurance industry in terms of natural disaster losses worldwide. Insured losses last year totaled $105 billion led by the Japan tsunami. That topped the previous record of $101 billion set in 2005, when losses were up due to claims from Hurricane Katrina.

2011 was a record breaking natural disaster event year in the US with a dozen “billion dollar” disaster events now documented. The President of the US declared a record 99 major federal disaster declarations easily surpassing the 2010 record of 81. The “average” year in the US sees 34 major declarations.

This brings to mind the ongoing debate of “are disasters being driven by more powerful events…. Or, are more people moving in the way of disasters” to cause the record declarations and record cost. Case in point – if you look at the same acreage that was raked by the Joplin tornado last year 10 years ago in a 2001 aerial photo, there is far less infrastructure present in terms of housing, businesses and the hospital. I think all will agree that determining the reason for these record numbers is pertinent to determining how the shrinking disaster and preparedness funding streams can be best utilized. Several of the 2011 disaster events in the US were way beyond the disaster response capability of the affected region. We have to start looking at more novel mitigation and preparedness efforts versus trying to buy more equipment and train more responders….


New Year – 2012

January 4, 2012

I begin 2012 with ownership……. I have consistently been tabbed throughout my careers as the “glass half-full” type of guy and in 2012 I will try and embrace that moniker. I have denied it in the past, played it off, even admit to some “glass half-empty” times when I allowed people or events to drag me down…… mostly people. I have come to the conclusion that some people will always be negative or hard to work with, no matter how much you try or give…. and that’s just life. The key is not to get bogged down in trying, but, to accept their lot in life and move past them. In the past I have always tried to move through them, but, in 2012 I will accept the fact that I will be better off moving around them. Sure, I will continue to try and persuade them and manage them towards the “half’-full” life, but in the end, it is their decision and their effort that will be needed to move forward. Some folks are comfortable in their “half-empty” lifestyle and so be it. For those ready to embrace 2012, smile more than you frown, laugh when there is nothing else to say or do, and consistently offer a hand (whether it is taken or not), I not only raise my glass to you, but, I look forward to sharing it as well!


Snowstorm Surprise….. or Not

November 7, 2011

HARTFORD, Conn. — Tens of thousands in the chilly Northeast remained without power Sunday, eight days after a rare October snowstorm knocked much of the region into the dark. Many spent another day without lights or heat, lingering at shopping malls, hitting the movies or bunking at friends’ homes as they faced the possibility of another day without power.

The storm, which hit Oct. 29 and 30, hammered the Northeast and cut electricity to more than 3 million homes and businesses throughout the region. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has launched an independent probe of the utility companies’ response amid a torrent of customer complaints, including a local fire department that said CL&P jeopardized safety by not quickly clearing roads of downed power lines and tree limbs. (Washington Post, Nov.7, 2011)

Interesting how the utility is catching all of the blame with no mention in the article of local or state government resource evaluation…. rare snowstorm or not, I am having trouble understanding why the response and recovery has been so slow and cumbersome. The region has to have well  experienced snow and ice plans in place at the local and state levels, as well as debris removal plans.  Connecticut Emergency Management appears to be fully activated looking at their website…. with full integration from FEMA ESF’s.

Next interesting piece is the announcement on the Connecticut EM website:

As of July 1, 2011, the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security is involved in an agency consolidation with the newly-created Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. While the transition is taking place, please continue to check back here for up-to-date information before a new, consolidated website is launched in the near future.

Can’t help but wonder if the state agency has been overly downsized and that the re-organization is effecting the latest event…..? Politicians and public administrators still miss the importance of having a quality emergency management system in place at all levels of government to respond to and mitigate disaster events whether they are “rare,” “freak,” or forecasted. Emergency management is not just emergency services, is not emergency communications, is not fire or medical response, is not public safety….. but, is a system that coordinates and collaborates with all of these entities. So, why combine it with or house it under a more singular agency where “system” planning and mitigation gets no attention due to day – to – day singular agency “fires” that have to be continually put out. The proof is in the outcomes…. shelter or no shelter, power or no power, valid public information or rumors, debris clearance or impassable roads…… re-election or sitting at home for the next event?


Are Managers Really Prepared to Communicate?

October 19, 2011

Interagency communication can be challenging as it pertains to conducting, monitoring and promoting communications within a disaster management / preparedness setting. The challenge is becoming more and more convoluted in terms of the growing physical size of organizations, technology and the expanding trend of less face to face communication. A manager’s communications skills have to be multi-faceted in order to communicate effectively across a wide medium of informational platforms. These skills are in demand on any given normal day at work. Additional stress is created by disasters or crisis events as the manager now may have to add the public to their growing list of groups to communicate with. Disaster events have the potential to engage a large number of agencies, organizations, and individuals from all levels of government and the private sector for an extended period of time. Catastrophic disasters may draw the communication skills of a manager for months, even years in returning their jurisdiction to normal. Proactive, credible interagency communication skills both day to day, as well as during and after a disaster or crisis event is critical to the survival of a manager within their organization and with the public.

The issue is the growing complexity and challenges of interagency communication that has to be conducted, promoted and monitored by today’s manager. Participation in one group or collaborative effort at a time is quickly becoming an example of past communication challenges. Participation in multiple groups, agencies and inter-departmental collaboration efforts is the new norm. This participation may be face to face, but is more likely to utilize a technology platform such as video conferencing, web meetings or conference calls. This type of interagency communication often requires additional communication skills that have not been taught to or experienced by the manager. Interagency communication can very well mean inter-cultural communication in today’s global setting. Additional skills of trust building, “reading” the words between the lines in voice inflections, understanding pauses and interruptions, and developing a “gut feeling” about an idea or person – without ever sitting down face to face and meeting is an entirely new skill set.  The accompanying issue that revolves around this growing complexity and challenge is the inevitable occurrence of some type of disaster or crisis event that takes these extenuating circumstances to an even higher level of complexity.

A manager’s interagency communications skills are a direct reflection of his capability to manage and facilitate organizations in a successful capacity. Sound management and  administrative theories have to be applied to strengthen interagency communication skills, prompt recognition of communication failures, make examples of interagency communication successes, and heighten the expectations of interagency communication needs during and after a disaster or crisis event. Interagency communication is strengthened by good listening skills by the manager. One of the best ways to actively validate open communication lanes is for a manager to spend a day “in the shoes” of his employees or peer agencies. Actually receiving communications at different levels of the organization can only strengthen the process and help to identify communication bottlenecks.

The output at the street level of any public agency is a direct reflection of the manager’s communication skills to have the agencies culture and values exemplified at the lowest level. How employees at this level understand and carry out their responsibilities is vitally important to the success of any manager, and especially any manager involved in an active disaster or recovery event.


Reflections Of UNC

October 11, 2011

As I approach my 7th year with the university, it has been interesting to watch the budget struggle on campus. In state government, it was an annual experience….. it appears many here are experiencing it firsthand. I enjoy my position at the university, my interaction with the students and the personal opportunities that have been afforded to me. My current position is the first position that I have held in over 15 years that does not involve direct supervision of employees. I work with students, staff and faculty in managing my program and the lifting of the stress of supervision was welcome at first. After six years, I find that I miss the challenges, the camaraderie and even the stress of the supervision and management of an agency or a section. I plan to eventually return to state or county government to lend myself back to the profession that I truly feel that I was cut out for. I am grateful to have been allowed to finish my undergraduate degree as well as complete an MPA degree that should greatly enhance my opportunities as the time comes for me to seek this transition. I will tell anyone that it is never too late to go back to school and an advanced degree later in life is actually an enjoyable experience to be able to bring your work experience to the academic setting.

Public service is the lifeblood of this country. I see it taken for granted, abused or mocked in the media almost every day. I feel that it is an essential, critical profession that every city, county, state and nation owes its very existence to. I have worked and managed in this profession most  all of my adult life, and now have been educated in how to do it smarter and better without compromising my underlying passion of doing it right while upholding my personal values and ethics. Experience is still a must in disaster management, but a formal education is needed at some point in time to complete a person’s whole perspective in management and communications skills.


9/11 Anniversary – Remembrance Thoughts (Chapel Hill Fire Department Event)

September 19, 2011

Thank you Chief Jones….

Congressman Price, Mayor Clineshmidt, Chief Blue and guest…..

It is indeed a true honor to be here with you on this anniversary date that we should never forget, and always pass on to our brothers and sisters in the service who serve beyond us.

September 11, 2001….. a morning like any other morning…. Changed forever at 8:46am when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

We are here this morning to remember all the victims of that day, all told almost 3000 perished in New York City, in Arlington Virginia, and in a rural field in Shanksville Pennsylvania. My experiences though, were working alongside the public servants in New York City who had lost 343 firemen, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority Officers.

My 9/11 experience began as most of you, watching the TV in disbelief at work at our regional EM Office on that Tuesday morning. I would like to share with you this morning a few of my experiences for the next 3 weeks that were all driven by that first crash at 8:46, and the next at 9:02am.

By 11:00am, I was on my way to Raleigh having been requested to come in and assume the State Emergency Response Team Leader role…. Our Director and Asst Director were in Denver, Colorado at the annual national state EM Directors Conference….ALL STATE EM Directors were in Denver Colorado that morning.

 As I arrived, I was shuffled into the briefing room just in time to stand next to Governor Easley for a live press conference where he assured the citizens of the state that we were prepared and ready for what the coming days may bring. I spent the next 3 days in charge of the state EOC until my Director could drive back from Colorado.

On Friday afternoon, he asked me to deploy to New York City as part of the first national EMAC Incident Management Team.  Sunday Morning I drove up to Albany, New York. Monday afternoon, September 17th,  our team was flown into New York City by military helicopter. Tuesday morning, I was assigned a role in Logistics for Recovery Operations. Sadly, we knew that Tuesday that there would be no more survivors due to the extreme heat from the fires that were burning under the pile. Determined, Fire Department New York members and others continued rescue operations into the following weekend. It was that weekend, on Saturday, September 22nd, that rescue operations ceased, Sunday was a day of closure, and recovery operations began in earnest on Monday September 24th.

My first impression I would like to try and share with you was “the pile” that was deemed as “ground zero.” A smoldering pile of steel and debris some 4 to 5 stories high and as wide as 3 football fields. The smell was indelible, like a house fire but 10 times stronger. I wore a mask when I went down from the EOC, but the smell was permeating. I had experienced wide swaths of hurricane damage, narrow corridors of Tornado damage, flooding and fires…. But by the time I had walked just halfway around the pile my first time down, I had to stop and sit down realizing how many souls were buried just yards from where I was….

And it was a fireman who walked over and asked me, if I was alright….I told him this was my first walk down, and he said that he understood…. Didn’t give me a hard time, didn’t launch into what his role was or what he had been doing… just said “take your time” before he walked off.

Our job in logistics brought me down to the pile almost everyday as we began the slow process of tracking, recovering and re-assigning response resources. We were always met with patience and understanding… and the usual question of where was THAT accent from….. which I normally answered WHAT accent, youse guys have got an accent!

After the first 3 days of being ferried to our hotel, we walked the 10 blocks after that. The outpouring of generosity was incredible, shop owners would see our gear and run in to their shops and come out with water, drinks, sandwiches…. People constantly thanked us on the streets as we walked… restaurants would not give us a bill after our meals, and all this made you walk more humble, and more appreciative of this massive effort that was underway. I understand in speaking with New Yorkers that this mood of generosity and closeness actually continued on for about a year… which is quite impressive that a single event would resonate among the city for that long. Disasters do bring out the best in people….. the media may only report the small amounts of looting and crime after disasters… but I want you to know that statistics show that people give more, crime rates go down and people help each other through these difficult times.

 I will tell you that the Incident Command System worked in the EOC and down at the pile. As I learned more about the Fire Department New York and what they were overcoming, I began to appreciate their history, their strength and their sense of family. It seems everytime I was introduced to a fireman he would call over his brother, sister, uncle or even father and introduce me to them and this went on every day. You hear the number 343 as the total firemen and paramedics killed in the department…. What you might not have read or heard is the breakdown of that number….

1 Chief

2 Assistant Chiefs

18 Battalion Chiefs

20 Captains

47 Lieutenants

Chaplain

247 firefighters

Fire Marshall

2 Paramedics

I tell you this breakdown so that you will realize that tradition and service is what kept this department going. What a loss of leadership and experience in one day.

 So, Through your daily shifts, the occasional quarrel, the occasional rumor control, the constant training and even when Chief Jones or Chief Blue gives you THE LOOK…. I hope that from this talk you might smile and remember the tradition and service that you represent and THAT should be what keeps you going.

I am proud that we as a country overcame this event, I am proud that with the help of people like Congressman Jones, and the leadership of people like Chief Jones and Chief Blue that our services are more prepared and better trained than we were 10 years ago. But it is a different time, and a different place we find ourselves in…. and I do miss the security that was taken from us. When my children were in elementary school, I remember I would see a lost backpack under the bleachers during a game….. I would run over, look through it, and try to determine whose child was going to be in trouble that night if I didn’t get it delivered……. Now, when I see a backpack under the bleachers I become aware, I approach cautiously looking for anything that may be protruding, and then I find a law enforcement person to report it to…… I do miss it just being “just a lost backpack”……

I would like to end with a quote from the album of one of my generations foremost singer / songwriters… Bruce Springsteen, who put out “The Rising” in 2002 whose songs are all about 9/11…

“Into The Fire” is the third song on the album, and he writes from a loved ones perspective but reflects the true meaning of tradition and service that day:

 “I need you near but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love bring us love”

Thank you again, for the honor of speaking with you on today, the 10th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001, attacks…. And we will never forget…..