Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 30, 2014

Big bad but not even a CAT 1

Filed under: Disaster,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2014

Sandy Track

Sandy taught important lessons.  Maybe not every student who encountered her teaching has learned as much as she offered, but few went home without a bit more wisdom.

There are several of Sandy’s students — especially after a couple of beers — who will explain the difference between a local emergency and a regional disaster.  Some will admit that after Sandy they see how a disaster, especially in a dense urban context, can detonate the whole web of modern interdependencies.  Just a few more two years ago and very bad might have become catastrophic.

A tough teacher in the school of hard knocks.  But some — enough? — are better prepared for the worse still to come.

August 27, 2014

3,287 Days Ago

Filed under: Disaster — by Jerry Monier on August 27, 2014

This essay was originally written on the evening of August 29, 2013 with the title of 2920 Days Ago.  Since then, the essay has been updated to reflect the passing of an additional year since Hurricane Katrina.  The views represented in this essay are those of the author and do not reflect the views of his employer.

Any random date on a calendar represents an important personal or professional milestone.  Birthdays commonly represent another year of personal maturity and growth.  Wedding anniversaries represent the passing of another year of sharing the ups, downs, struggles and celebrations of life with a significant other.  In other instances, a specific date reminds us of the significant tragedies that have influenced the collective resilience of the United States of America.  The date December 7, will always be “a date which will live in infamy” influencing the builder and baby boomer generations of American society.  The date 9/11 will always memorialize the sacrifices of persons who fell victim to the terror attacks of that day having given rise to an American enterprise known as Homeland Security.  The personal perspectives and memories of these events change with the passing of each year.  This essay was originally written on the evening of August 29, 2013 and represents the author’s observations in the years following Hurricane Katrina’s landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi state line on August 29, 2005.

It is about 9:10 PM Central Time on August 29, 2013. I have just finished reading a bedtime story to my seven-year-old daughter. As I lay with her and watch her fall asleep, my mind wanders back to the night of August 29, 2005.  My location at that time was the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, located on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. I was tasked with executing a plan developed the previous week, during the now well-known Hurricane Pam exercise. Our goal was to establish a field hospital at this facility. Over the upcoming days, our facility would treat an estimated 6,000 survivors requiring medical intervention,  An additional 18,000 survivors were triaged and then transported to various mega-shelters located throughout the United States.

In the short time spent with my daughter that evening a year ago, I closed my eyes and listened to her calming bedtime lullabies.  My mind began to shift between the past and present. Earlier in the week, a professional colleague had commented in an email about the “Big 8” coming up this week. That email, coupled with my own thoughts, brought me to realize how much has and has not changed in the days, months, and years since August 29, 2005.  This Friday, August 29, 2014, represents the 9th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the passage of 3287 days.

3287 days has spanned three presidential terms.

3287 days has spanned the terms of three Secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security.

3287 days has spanned the tenure of three FEMA Administrators.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Governors in Louisiana.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Governors in Mississippi.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Mayors in New Orleans.

3287 days has included three significant tropical weather systems making landfall or affecting the same Louisiana coastline affected by Hurricane Katrina.

3287 days has included two significant tropical weather systems making landfall near New York City, and impacting the Northeastern states of the United States.

3287 days has included the largest oil spill in American History impacting the same coastal communities and social economies affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike.

3287 days has spanned four Directors of the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness or the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

3287 days has included countless reports published by the GAO and Congressional Research Service on the preparedness of the United States.

3287 days has included acts of terror committed in the United States.

3287 days has included a school shooting in Newtown, CT.

3287 days has included congressional fact finding and the publishing of A Failure of Initiative.

3287 days has included the passing of PKEMRA legislation.

3287 days has included the development of homeland security to an all hazards environment.

3287 days has included the expansion of homeland security’s focus.

3287 days has included the expenditure of 14 plus billion dollars to build hurricane protection levees around the metropolitan New Orleans area.

3287 days has included the expenditure of 17 plus billion dollars in recovery aid to the State of Louisiana.

3287 days has included the development of catastrophic response plans for major metropolitan areas.

3287 days has included the production of Quadrennial Homeland Security Reviews-each having their own characteristics and personalities and political spin.

3287 days has included the development of several Homeland Security or National Security Strategies.

3287 days has included the development of National Frameworks for Prevention, Response, Preparedness, and Mitigation.

3287 days has included numerous policy changes, defining how we as a nation respond to and recover from catastrophes.

3287 days has included the birth of two beautiful daughters.

3287 days has included the earning of an undergraduate degree.

3287 days has included the earning of a prestigious graduate degree.

3287 days has included many memories.

3287 days has included five career moves.

3287 days has included the rebuilding of Louisiana’s emergency management culture in the face of constant adversity.

3287 days has included the demonstration of resilience in an enterprise known as emergency management.

3287 days has included an unknown number of reports, academic papers, research, and the development of think tanks based on the premise of resilience.

3287 days has included the deaths of 1,836 US residents due to Hurricane Katrina

3287 days has included an influenza pandemic.

3287 days has included a significant natural disaster in Japan with numerous cascading effects, including the loss of fixed nuclear reactors.

3287 days has included the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

3287 days has included a national recession.

3287 days has included detrimental budget cuts to government agencies in the state of Louisiana, potentially impacting their ability to respond to the needs of their residents in the future.

3287 days has included the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

3287 days has included the development and implementation of Presidential Policy Directive 8.

3287 days has included the development and introduction of THIRA.

3287 days has included the consumption of numerous bottles of whiskey.

3287 days has included the process of healing.

3287 days has included a synthesis of interaction, experience, and complexity.

3287 days has included the demonstration of resilience by multiple stratums of society.

As my daughter fell asleep I realized just how much can actually occur in the span of 3287 days. By the same token, I also realized how much can be lost over 3287 days.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the negative effects of partisan politics on American society.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the negative effects of finger pointing and blame on the homeland security enterprise of the US.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed how the success of the homeland security enterprise is only as good as the most recent catastrophe.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed attempts to define the concept of homeland security.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the struggle to define an all hazards approach to resilience.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed how the physical, social and political attributes of the term risk reduction has been negatively applied to public policy.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed an increase in dependency upon the federal government.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed a political desire to “not be the next Katrina.”

In the past 3287 days, I have observed hundreds, if not thousands of applicants and speakers describe their “Katrina Story.”

It is now 9:46PM in the evening, and I have come down from the attic where my personal notes from the “Katrina Days” are stored in a fireproof container.  I open my notes from late August of 2005 and begin to process the emotions of eight years ago, and how my thoughts and perceptions have changed over the past 3287 days.

As the clock approaches 10PM, I locate a picture of an elderly couple and a golden retriever.  A colleague took the picture on the morning of August 31, 2005 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (PMAC).  The couple arrived as part of the initial push of evacuees from the New Orleans area.  This picture has had a place of prominence in every office that I have occupied over the past 3287 days.

Jerry M picture

As I recall, the only belongings the couple had with them were several days of food for their golden retriever. I remember how I checked on them constantly while they were at the PMAC. I remember making sure they had water and food while they waited on metal chairs outside the PMAC in the dense, late summer humidity of Baton Rouge. I remember walking outside in the late evenings and early morning hours 3287 days ago and seeing the couple sleeping in those folding metal chairs, each with their head on the other’s shoulder. I remember the golden retriever staying awake and observant while his masters slept. I remember walking outside and noticing the couple was missing. 3287 days since then, and I still wonder what happened to that couple.

As I continue through my notes, I remember the promises of federal assistance and how a community embraced those who needed assistance with or without government direction.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the student body of LSU adopt survivors rescued from a nursing home as their own grandparents.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a medical community embrace volunteerism and their professional oath to serve those in need.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a new football coach and his players move pet crates to establish a pet shelter for companion animals who had evacuated with their owners.

3287 days ago, I witnessed my wife, sister-in-law, and father-in-law come to my aid and staff what would become one of the largest companion animal evacuation shelters in America.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a dog named Ollie become the first pet evacuee housed at this shelter.

3287 days ago, I witnessed employees of the State of Louisiana demonstrate and renew a level of energy and commitment to the people of Louisiana.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the best of a community.

3287 days ago, I witnessed what is now termed “self-organizing communities” prior to it becoming another buzz word of this emerging enterprise of homeland security

3287 days ago, I witnessed resilience.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the best of Louisiana.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the resilience of America.

3287 days ago, I determined that I was PROUD to be a Louisiana responder and emergency manager.

It is now 10:30 PM in the evening and the memories of that night and the days to follow continue to flow.

3287 days ago, at this time, I was told to expect the first wave of evacuees from New Orleans.

3287 days ago, I looked a minimal staff of medical volunteers, state employees, and 100 or so LSU students in the eyes and told them that I didn’t know what to expect.

3287 days ago, we accepted our first wave of nursing home evacuees.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that we would eventually receive the patients and heroic medical practitioners from Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that we would hear the first-hand stories of orderlies feeding hospital patients semi-frozen peas one pea at a time to maintain their nutritional intake and survival.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that something as simple as a beacon light on a crane would shut down the evacuation of patients from New Orleans area hospitals.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that I would experience the emotional roller coaster of planning for the dead, while rejoicing each birth that occurred at our makeshift campus hospital.

3287 days ago, I never thought that I would reach a point of acceptance, and see those following days in an entirely different perspective.

A lot has happened over the past 3287 days. 

In the past 3287 days, the people of Louisiana have demonstrated resilience throughout various natural and man-made adversities.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our homeland security enterprise should not be about resilience, rather resilience has and continues to be the strong narrative of this enterprise known as the United States of America.

In the past 3287 days, I have wondered what happened to that elderly couple and their golden retriever.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our homeland security enterprise has emphasized processes and frameworks rather than focusing on the social networks and community empowerment.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our enterprise should be focused on helping that elderly couple with a golden retriever.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our enterprise is a service industry.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that there are those who need our help.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that no matter the governmental policy, citizens will help others, regardless of race or socio-economic status.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized the significance of citizen responsibility

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that in the absence of political motivation, people will help people.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that an overabundance of partisan politics will gum up the works of our enterprise.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized the righteousness of our society.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that an elderly couple with a golden retriever, an expectant mother, or a dog named Ollie will be taken care of by our “Great Society.”

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that regardless of media biases, this is a great country, and that the resilience of this country is truly dependent upon its citizens.

As for the next 3287 days, I am not sure what lies ahead. 

I know that in the next 3287 days, my daughters will be sixteen and thirteen years of age, respectively.

I know that in the next 3287 days, my wife and I will be celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary.

I know that in the next 3287 days, I will have aged nine years, and be that much closer to retirement.

I know that in the next 3287 days, the people of Louisiana will continue to demonstrate resilience.

I know that during the next 3287 days, I will have eight more opportunities to reflect upon those days following August 29, 2005.

I know that during the next 3287 days, I will continue to ponder the gains and losses made to better the emerging enterprise known as homeland security.

———-

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jerry Monier is a Spring 2013 graduate of the CHDS Masters Program. In the past 3287 days, Mr. Monier has served as a national level homeland security consultant, public health preparedness manager for the State of Louisiana, and most recently, the Chief of Preparedness for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in Louisiana. During Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Monier was employed by Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and was assigned to establish a field hospital at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center located on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The PMAC Field Hospital provided medical care to 6,000 survivors and triaged an estimated 18,000 survivors of Hurricane Katrina.  The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of his employer.

June 3, 2014

High-tech, low-tech, and no tech: communication strategies during blackouts

Filed under: Disaster — by Christopher Bellavita on June 3, 2014

“High-tech, Low-tech, and No tech: Communication Strategies During Blackouts” is the title of a homeland security master’s thesis I’ve been meaning to write about here.

It was written by Diana Sun Solymossy in late 2013, and is available at this link: http://calhoun.nps.edu/public/bitstream/handle/10945/39020/13Dec_Sun_Solymossy_Diana.pdf?sequence=1

Here’s a synopsis of her research.  I’ve also posted a video of Diana talking about her research.

The Problem:

Communicating important information to the public during disasters is a core objective for emergency managers. But how can emergency managers communicate with their community when plugged-in forms of communication are not available to a large number of people?

The Context:

Power outages frequently occur, and often accompany major crises, particularly natural disasters such as severe weather events. Thus, during crises, communications are often severely hampered – just when emergency managers have the greatest need to communicate with the community.

Despite the preponderance of power outages, coupled with this important communications need, a review of the literature revealed few existing recommendations on what tactics could help emergency managers communicate with the public when the lights go out.

In fact, a number of reports concluded that “something else” would be needed when the power goes out, but few, if any, went on to suggest what that “something” might be.

The Data:

[The research looked at what] specific solutions have successfully been used to communicate critical information to the public during emergencies involving major blackouts.

This … project reviewed and analyzed three crises that involved major blackouts and subsequent communications problems:

1. Multi-state blackout, northeast U.S., 2003

2.  Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast, U.S., 2005

3. Triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear), Japan, 2011

The Findings:

[The research identified] a three-tiered framework [for communicating during disasters], consisting of “high-tech, low-tech, and no-tech” communications strategies.

High-tech — Emergency managers can leverage the high usage of mobile devices and exploit it for emergency communications purposes. Assuming emergency managers have access to backup generators, they can send out messages via social media channels. Governments in the disaster-affected areas of Japan’s triple disaster now consider social networks to be a valuable communications tool in disasters.

Low-tech — It was clear across the three cases that, whatever the situation, what people needed most was extremely localized information. Across the cases, hyper-local community radio stations were among the top sources of extremely local information that people needed most. In addition, as conditions improved, hyper-local radio transitioned to sources of support and comfort, thus serving as vital lifelines to connect communities.

No-tech — When all else fails, local governments must be prepared to go backward and use old-fashioned methods to reach people with information. In all three cases, people used their ingenuity to figure out ways to get information out, including handwritten posters, old-school flyers, and bullhorns. The focus should be on getting information to the places where people naturally gather following disasters, e.g., corner stores, evacuation centers, gas stations.

The Conclusions:

None of these methods is revolutionary, so what is new here?

What is new is the proposal that emergency managers in local jurisdictions proactively prepare for the worst scenarios, by making preparations for communicating with their public, via the “high-tech, low-tech, no-tech” combination.

Key elements for success include:

- Focusing on the hyper-local information that people need.

- Flexibility to quickly adapt and use those tools and channels that are up and working.

- Nurturing and encouraging private efforts to help in response and relief efforts.

- Preparing for the worst.

- Not relying on a “techno-fix.”

 

March 27, 2014

Dignity in Disaster

Filed under: Catastrophes,Disaster,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Technology for HLS — by Philip J. Palin on March 27, 2014

Shigeru Ban has been awarded the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize.

The Japanese architect’s practice is comprehensive, but he has given particular attention to innovative design, materials, and construction techniques for post-disaster settings.

He was one of the first to use — and creatively adapt — cargo containers for use as human shelter. (See here application in Northeast Japan following 3/11.)

No one else has so beautifully and effectively deployed cardboard.  Originally conceived as a quick and inexpensive means of providing temporary post-disaster housing in Rwanda, Kobe, Haiti and elsewhere, the material is now recognized as a sustainable, resilient, and flexible resource for an extraordinary range of form and function.

Cardboard Cabin_shigeru

Cardboard Cabins (Kobe, Japan) photo found here.

Below is the “Cardboard Cathedral” replacing the much-mourned earthquake pummeled Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand.   It has been found that with regular maintenance — mostly painting — these temporary structures can be long-living.

In response and recovery we often begin at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: water, food, and basic shelter.  Too often we are inclined to ignore the higher reaches of beauty, inspiration, and hope.  Shigeru Ban’s architecture demonstrates attending to biological fundamentals need not exclude engaging the psychological and spiritual.

Cardbaord Cathedral_Stephen Goodenough Photo

Cardboard Cathedral (Christchurch, New Zealand) photo by Stephen Goodenough

January 30, 2014

The mitigation message

East Rivers Elementary

Cobb County elementary school children sleeping Tuesday night in the gym

Last Tuesday my train pulled into Union Station, Washington DC, shortly before noon.  The station and surrounding city were unusually quiet.  The Federal Office of Personnel Management had given most of its employees liberal leave to stay home.   Most area schools followed this lead.

On Capitol Hill — where I still had some meetings — the snow did not really begin until about 2:00 and was not quite as bad as predicted even into the height of the typical rush hour, which given the OPM decision had much more rush than usual.

By the next morning there was nearly 4 inches of snow at Reagan Airport and over 8 at Dulles.  Wednesday got underway with official delays.

Still some were inclined to second-guess the Tuesday mitigation decision made with the best possible information Monday night.

I hope the second-guessers are giving close attention to the more recent news out of Atlanta.

Even at dawn Tuesday, January 28 the best information available to Georgia decision-makers — very much including the general public — was that the worst weather would track south and east of Atlanta.  Beginning between about 7 and 8 that morning the best information began to shift.  By 10 it was snowing in Bartow County on the northwestern edge of metro Atlanta.  By 11 it was snowing hard and icing.  At 11:23 Cobb County Schools (along the Northwest Atlanta beltway) closed and began busing students home.  At 12:15 Georgia DOT suggested private-sector workers head home.

By 1:00 many Atlanta highways were grid-locked, more the result of sudden volume than — yet — because of the weather.  (Should bring back unpleasant memories of similar events in Chicago and DC in recent years.)  As some of you know, traffic is not an unusual problem in Atlanta, even in fragrant and sunny springtime.

At 1:55 the Governor declared a State of Emergency; the most immediate effect being to pour state employees onto already packed roads.  Across the United States we are predisposed to evacuations.  It is a bad — sometimes, someplaces deadly — habit.

By mid-afternoon the snow and especially ice were adding to the problems.  You have probably seen the videos.  There were several hundred vehicle accidents just in the Atlanta area.

On Wednesday many Tuesday afternoon commuters were still stuck in their cars.  Some had abandoned their vehicles.  In several cases school buses were forced to retreat back to classrooms.  Several hundred children — the numbers are still unclear — spent the night in their schools. (See picture above.) My ten-year-old nephew got home from school, but neither of his parents could.  Shane spent the night at the neighbors.

There will be after-action analyses. There will be studies.  There will be hearings.  There will be blame-gaming. There will be lessons-learned.

What I hope someone will declare clearly and well is that 1) there are many things we cannot accurately predict, 2) especially in unpredictable contexts innate vulnerabilities are exposed, and 3) in densely networked environments, like cities, these vulnerabilities can sometimes meet and mate, propagating suddenly and prolifically.

So… for a whole host of risks we are wise to invest in mitigation and to keep in mind that what will always seem an over-investment before will likely pay profitable dividends after.

This principle applies well beyond the weather, including water systems, supply chains, fuel networks, bridges, and much, much more.

January 16, 2014

Engaging Uncertainty

Filed under: Catastrophes,Disaster,Infrastructure Protection,Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on January 16, 2014

Water-Order     Gov. Tomblin (right) and Jeff McIntyre, West Virginia American Water

Late on January 9 not much was known about the chemical leak into the Elk River. No one seemed to know how much of the chemical had poured into the river or been sucked into the water system. No one could be sure what sort of health-risks might arise from skin contact or ingesting water tainted with the obscure chemical. There was uncertainty about when the contamination had begun and how long it might take to remove the contamination. When 300,000 people might again be able to consume their tap water was beyond reasonable prediction.

Our species survived — and eventually thrived — largely based on our weird ability to imagine the future and recognize steps to achieve (or avoid) what we imagine. When this imagination is anchored in experience or knowledge (indirect-experience) it is a source of confidence, even solace. When the anchor is ripped up and our fragile craft is swept into a cyclone of uncertainty… well, different folks respond in different ways. But there is a tendency for fear to proliferate, which can unwind in atypical behaviors and amplify uncertainty.

In the first two days of the West Virginia water crisis there were many indicators of imagination untethered. Rumors spread. Conspiracies were alleged. Even worse to come was envisioned. But mostly fears were contained, rumors corrected, and a covenant of social trust and mutual concern was, if anything, strengthened.

A 500 word blog — okay, I’m not always so concise — is not the right place to undertake a full analysis of what happened and did not happen in terms of community resilience. But I advocate this being done.

My hypothesis is that what happened mostly involved the expression of preexisting social networks and relationships.

But I also want to credit — and ask others to more rigorously explore — the role of leadership that was courageous enough to embrace uncertainty.

I was in eastern West Virginia (outside the impact area) from Sunday through Tuesday, close enough to get a bit more of the local media angle. I was impressed by the calm, realistic, and consistently understated approach of the Governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, and the President of West Virginia American Water, Jeff McIntyre.

I never heard them claim to be in control. I did hear them state clearly the sources of uncertainty. They outlined in writing and in their remarks what was being done to engage the uncertainty. They did not try to distract citizens from the uncertainty with accusatory vents. They did focus on what citizens could do for themselves and their neighbors. They recognized progress. They did not over-promise.

Here is one of the first statements made by the Governor (bold highlights by me).

We urge all residents in the affected areas to follow West Virginia American Water Company’s “do not use” order until it is lifted. This includes water companies supplied by West Virginia American Water in this area. If you live in one of these areas, do not use tap water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, washing, or bathing. At this time, I do not know how long this will last.

Don’t neglect the use of that personal pronoun.  Next he said:

We ask that all West Virginian’s check on their friends, families, and neighbors—especially those with small children and seniors living in their households—to make sure they have enough water, food, and supplies. If you—or anyone you know–experiences symptoms including: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, irritation of the eyes and skin, seek care immediately.

Here’s what a citizen can do, even should do.  The most important action that can be taken is to practically and personally renew the human relationships on which we all depend.  Begin some new relationships if you can.  Then, here’s what  your government is doing on your behalf (he said more, this is one of four paragraphs):

I’ve mobilized and deployed all appropriate government assets and resources, including our Office of Emergency Management, our experts at DEP, DHHR Bureau of Public Health along with our National Guard—who are out doing health and wellness checks across the area along with collecting, testing and monitoring the water. The federal government is also providing assistance. The President has approved my request to issue a federal emergency declaration to provide FEMA resources. County emergency offices are also working 24-7.

Your basic human needs can and will be addressed:

If you are low on bottled water, do not panic. Help is on the way. We are taking every measure to provide water to you. There is no shortage of bottled water. Supplies are moving into the area as we speak. We encourage all West Virginians in affected areas to contact their local emergency management office for water distribution sites.

Please be active in helping yourself and others:

If you or your organization would like to donate supplies, please contact your local emergency center. If you are in the Kanawha Valley Area, we are organizing a call to action drive for needed items—including water, sanitizer, wipes, liquid baby formula, paper plates, plastic utensils, and microwavable meals. The drive will take place on the Boulevard in front of the State Capitol from 2:30 – 6:30 today. It is important to emphasize, water and supplies are available—there is not a persistent shortage of bottled water.

We are grateful for the offers of support from private firms and charities—and our fellow West Virginians—to aid in providing relief.

This is the second time I have listened-in to Governor Tomblin deal with a basically no-notice and hard-hitting disaster.  The first time was the late-June 2012 Derecho.  In that multi-state event I was able to compare and contrast his approach to that of other governors, mayors, and such.   When others were attacking, blaming, and threatening, Governor Tomlin was thanking and encouraging and informing.

I think there are some lessons to be learned.

January 14, 2014

Private-public collaboration essential to water restoration effort

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With the active, coordinated, nearly  synchronous involvement of neighborhoods and individuals across the region the Kanawha Valley is currently engaged in a process of flushing and restoring a 1700-mile water network.  A continually updated map is available here.

This is an amazing example of “whole community” in action.

November 6, 2013

Free book: Navigating the Unknown: a practical lifeline for decision-makers in the dark

Filed under: Disaster — by Christopher Bellavita on November 6, 2013

Patrick Lagadec is the Research Director at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, France. He co-authored one of my favorite papers: How Crises Model the Modern World (available from the Journal of Risk Analysis and Crisis Response, at this link - http://www.atlantis-press.com/php/download_paper.php?id=2458.)

According to his website, (with my emphasis) Lagadec:

is [a] member of: the French Academy of Technologies, the European Crisis Management Academy. His research and expertise focus on crisis prevention and management in increasingly “unconventional” crisis environments; vulnerability and preparedness appraisal; in-crisis steerage – both public and private – of critical infrastructures and vital networks; post-crisis case study, debriefing and training; and the development of sustainable responses to shifting security paradigms and the new challenges of governance that complex systems have to face in the light of global “ruptures”.

Lagadec has made his 22 page book — Navigating the Unknown — available at no cost on the Crisis Response website.  Here’s a link to the book: http://www.crisis-response.com/PDF/Navigating_the_Unknown-Lagadec_2013.pdf

The book:

condenses years of research and field experience in the management and piloting of ‘out-of the-box’ crises. It is not only designed for leaders but also for citizens eager to rethink their own perspectives, visions and paths.

Navigating the Unknown is worth a read. It reminds, asserts, and challenges.

September 29, 2013

Yarnell Fire Investigative Report

Filed under: Disaster,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on September 29, 2013

On Saturday September 28 the Arizona State Forester released the Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Report analyzing the circumstances leading to the June 30 entrapment and deaths of 19 firefighters of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew. The report and accompanying documents are available at:

https://sites.google.com/site/yarnellreport/.

July 2, 2013

Where The Heck’s My Dec?

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Disaster,Legal Issues — by Christopher Bellavita on July 2, 2013

The post for Tuesday, July 2, 2013 was removed at the author’s request.

June 30, 2013

19 firefighters reported dead in Yarnell wildfire

Filed under: Disaster — by Christopher Bellavita on June 30, 2013

http://www.kpho.com/story/22724064/19-firefighters-dead-in-yarnell-wildfire

NETC

June 18, 2013

How to be a disaster hero

Filed under: Disaster,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on June 18, 2013

Welcome to Disaster Hero.

That’s the title of an advertisement I saw in the June issue of the IAEM Bulletin. IAEM stands for the International Association of Emergency Managers.

Here’s a picture of the ad.

Disaster her add

You can play the game online, at no cost. Just click on this link. http://www.disasterhero.com/ (It took a while to load the first time, but subsequent runs don’t seem to take as long.)

Here’s what the FAQ file says about the game:

Disaster Hero is a free online game designed to teach children (grades 1 through 8), parents, and teachers/caregivers how to prepare for disasters. The overall goals are to ensure that players know what to do before, during, and after a disaster. Parents and teachers are included so that the family and school are familiar with the main concepts of disaster preparedness. Emphasis is placed on three steps – make a plan, get a kit, and be informed….

Disaster Hero covers four main topic areas: (1) basic preparedness steps – including get a kit, make a plan, and be informed – to be accomplished to protect the participant and family before, during, and immediately following a disaster or large-scale emergency event, (2) common disasters (earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes), their associated danger signals, typical effects, common injuries, and appropriate responses, (3) basic quick-care tips and techniques for specific common injuries, and (4) basic information about geographic-specific disasters.

A 12 year old boy lives in my house. He is an avid gamer, and by avid I mean to the point where his mother occasionally searches Google for the difference between avid and addiction.

I asked him to play the Disaster Hero game and tell me what he thought about it. He avidly agreed.

I gave him the url and let him explore. What follows are summaries of the field notes I took while he was playing. Words in quotation marks are his, generally directed at the screen, as if no other humans were in the room with him.

———-
There’s an option to register as a user, but he chose to play as a guest. That cuts the start time significantly.

Then you have to load the flash based game. It took about 5 minutes to load. Our broadband access is around 5 mbs; not especially fast. I wondered what the game demographic was. What kinds of kids have access to the internet at home and in school?

“This is taking forever. They really missed a marketing opportunity here. When Droid games load, they run crawlers that advertise other games you could buy. The people who put this game together could be telling people disaster facts while the game is loading. This is taking forever.”

The game opened to reveal a stage that looked like a mix of CNN, Fox News and the Price is Right.

“Oh God; it’s a game show.”

You select your age appropriate difficulty level: bronze, silver or gold. Then you pick a charter who will be your avatar, sort of like Skyrim and maybe tens of dozens of other games.

Next comes an overly long introductory narrative about a retired emergency manager who spent a lot of his career going from planet to planet helping out.

“I don’t care about all this talking. Let me play.”

The head hero (Dante) left the operational world to train the next generation of disaster heroes.

“This is so annoying.”

The action takes place on a planet that has lots of disasters caused by earth, wind, fire, and so on. But the primary theme, as the advertisement promised, is “make a plan, get a kit, be informed.”

There is a skip option, so you only have to listen to all the talking once. The rules are basic and simple.

“Oh my god. Just shut up.”

Next you pick someone to compete against: Techtonic, Tempest, Whirlwind and Dr. Deluge. Guess what disasters they represent.

Living in the northwest, subject to the whims of the Cascadia subduction zone, he selected Tectonic.

After more words from Dante, the first game starts. The player navigates on a jet pack through a worm hole to pick up disaster supplies (I think that’s what it was), competing against Techtonic to see who can score the most points.

Occasionally there are disaster related multiple choice questions: Such as “How can you tell when an earthquake will happen?” Eventually the player gets enough points to move on to the next stage.

Then more talk.

“This is so slow. I want to skip the talk, but I’m afraid if I do I’ll miss something important.”

The next part of the games consists of three rounds, based on Make a Plan, Get a Kit (the type face makes it seem like “Get A Hit”), and Be Informed.

The Make A Plan game starts with 16 sentences to read about how to make a plan and what to include in it. The words can also be read by the game.

“I’m not going to read all that.”

Once past the reading screen, you go to a picture of two rooms and you have to find the 10 differences between the rooms. Click on the missing item (like a telephone) and another lesson pops up — e.g., make a list of your contacts, and so on.

“This is tedious.”

After that game was over, he moved to the Get A Kit screen and found another long list of sentences, this time about the kit. Because of a Flash problem, the list included such items as “forget your pets,” “food when the electricity does not work,” and “medicine is lost.” But one could work through easily enough what the real list was.

Once that was done, the next game appeared. It consisted of 9 squares, each one containing an object that appeared for a few seconds then disappeared. Click, for example, on three decks of cards and you score points; plus you get a hint about keeping a deck of cards in your kit so you have something to do during disaster downtime.

Be Informed was the third game. After going through another list (“I’m not going to read that.”), there was a map of the United States, shovels, shields and red crosses, plus a news crawl at the top of the screen that said something about floods and earthquakes and other things. The player had to do something with the shovels and shields, but — without reading the directions — it was not clear what one was supposed to do. So Tectonic won that round.

Once that game was over, the player goes back to the Headquarters screen to receive congratulations and the news that there was another round coming up.

“I’m done.” he said, returning to his room. “I’m going back to Minecraft.”

A few hours later, before he went to bed, I asked him for his summary review of Disaster Hero. I asked him what score he would give the game if he were doing a review for something like IGN (a site that reviews games).

“I’d give it about a 6.5 on a scale of 10. Essentially it’s a bunch of moderately interesting mini games needlessly framed around how to prepare for a disaster. There are lots of mini games, but they are not especially interesting. The introductions to the sections are tedious. The sense of humor in the game is not amusing.”

I asked him what he learned about disasters from the game.

“Nothing that I can think of right now. I didn’t want to take the time to read all that stuff. I wanted to get right to the game. If I wanted to learn something about disaster preparedness I’d just search it online. I didn’t need to play a game to find out how to be prepared.”

Disaster hero color

May 22, 2013

Even in our grief, applying the algorithm

Filed under: Disaster,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 22, 2013

Plaza Tower Elementary Before After

Plaza Towers Elementary School, Moore, Oklahoma. Before and after

My mother’s family mostly live around Oklahoma City.  As far as I know all my cousins are okay.  But it is a huge clan, much more prolific than my father’s.  I have not met most of the youngest generation.

Even without a personal connection — including childhood memories of  my grandpa’s storm cellar — the outcome of what happened in Moore and nearby prompts many of us to quietly, respectfully ask some questions; and listen patiently and non-judgmentally for answers at the right time.

Threat 

Is the frequency of the threat increasing?

Is the innate energy of the threat increasing?

Can we do anything to reduce the threat?

Vulnerability

Since the 1999 tornado has new construction reasonably reflected the nature of the threat? (For example, safe-rooms, basements, other “protective action”)

Since the 1999 tornado has there been any retrofitting to reflect the nature of the threat? (For example, construction/designation of safe-rooms)

What is the nature of public training, exercising, messaging and other aspects of threat preparedness?

Consequences

Does this event — and similar events — have implications for residential density?

Does this event — and similar events — have implications for preventive actions? (For example, there was at least some talk late Sunday and early Monday — before the tornado struck — of canceling schools across a wide area of Central Oklahoma.  Those involved in snow-closings will recognize the treacherous nature of such decisions.)

How do we best mitigate the worst risks?

Or as a friend wrote yesterday how do we — allow ourselves, discipline ourselves, empower ourselves — to “think-differently” about such risks?

May 21, 2013

“I think I have to turn off the news. As a grown man I’m crying for those school children.”

Filed under: Disaster — by Christopher Bellavita on May 21, 2013

The quote is from an anonymous person somewhere in New York on May 20th.

The images are from Oklahoma. Also on May 20th.

Moore ok 1

 

Moore ok 2

 

Moore ok 3Moore ok 4Moore ok 5Moore ok 7Moore ok 6