IAEM: Better Tornado Warnings and EOC Battle Rhythms
Homeland1's exclusive coverage of the International Association of Emergency Managers' 57th annual conference, held in Orlando Nov. 2-4, picks up with the shorter general session presentations on the conference's first day.
In a brief update on H1N1 influenza, Alexander Garza, M.D., assistant secretary for health affairs and chief medical officer at DHS, made an analogy based on his experience as a paramedic and EMS medical director. Some EKGs are regular, and some are regularly irregular, but the H1N1 situation is like an unpredictable "irregularly irregular" EKG. Garza reminded the audience that for a long time, the expectation was that the next big influenza threat would be bird flu from Asia, not swine flu from the Western Hemisphere.
The current picture, he emphasized, recalls a core principle for emergency managers. When things go wrong or are completely unexpected, "You don't rely on the plan, you go back to planning."
Garza also recommended Flu.gov for Webcasts, news and other flu information.
In the next session, Chief Jeffery D. Johnson of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Aloha, Ore., current president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, discussed some key issues for the intersection of the fire service and emergency management.
A number of good changes have grown from the "nationalization of the fire service" that began after 9/11, Johnson said, such as requirements for National Incident Management System certification and national standards for training.
Interagency coordination, though much improved, is still crucial. "Things break down when I don't know what to expect from you," he said.
And other areas remain problematic. For example, he noted, there's still no national strategy for communications interoperability. "If we can't talk, the call won't go well."
Johnson predicted that the next generation of technological advances in the fire service will be information technology-based, the successors to traffic signal preemption and GIS. He briefly described a huge change in his department’s responses after local highway cameras were tied into the dispatch center.
Finally, Johnson said, "The worst is yet to come in public safety" budgets, because of recent investment losses in pension funds.
Frequent IAEM conference presenter Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service, was next up, to update the conference on his agency.
Although much progress has gradually been made on forecasting severe weather (the average lead time for a tornado warning is now 12 minutes), the NWS keeps pushing for something better.
Hayes mentioned a recent week-long conference of 109 countries in Geneva, Switzerland, that focused on consistent, standardized climate observations that should help improve forecasts.
The NWS is currently deploying dual-polarization radar, which will improve tornado imaging, and is also working on finer-scale warnings of coastal inundations and flash floods.
Transportation disaster recovery
In the first round of breakout sessions, Janet Benini, CEM, associate director for policy and plans, Office of Intelligence Security and Emergency Response, U.S. Department of Transportation, outlined the National Transportation Disaster Recovery Strategy. Its goal is to set up a recovery process for transportation networks that provides greater resilience.
Much current disaster planning, Benini noted, focuses on the "CNN phase," that is, the immediate response, and recovery planning is still relatively new. In fact, she reported, her research found no transportation-specific recovery plans whatsoever.
Transportation disaster recovery relies heavily on using alternate routes and alternate modes of transportation:
* Secondary roads versus highways.
* Public transportation versus private cars. (Benini noted that car ferries were brought from Washington to San Francisco after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake damaged the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge.)
* Building transportation infrastructure to a superior standard (including Intelligent Transportation System concepts and technologies).
* Improving transportation links, including being open to post-disaster changes and to smart-growth policies.
Progress is being made on some interesting fronts. For example, there’s better knowledge now about how to recycle damaged road materials, thus reducing debris management concerns.
And USDoT can provide disaster recovery funding through several means:
* Emergency relief for federally owned roads.
* Federal transit grants that can be used for disaster recovery.
* Similar grants for airports.
Benini mentioned a project by the Transportation Research Board, part of the National Academy of Science, for preplanned recovery of transportation infrastructure.
She also referenced the National Disaster Recovery Framework, an initiative begun by FEMA in August with the establishment of a National Disaster Recovery Framework Working Group, and the Long-Term Disaster Recovery Working Group. In the latter, the DHS and Housing and Urban Development secretaries co-chair a working group that includes officials from more than 20 agencies.
Rhythms and cycles in the EOC
In the next round of breakout sessions, Shane Booker, director of operations for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, gave a presentation titled “Battle Rhythm: Managing EOC Operational Periods.”
The Indiana state-level EOC is organized according to NIMS, with an ESF Branch under the Operations Section. To bring the necessary parties up to speed, Indiana established a training program of EOC Operations I, II and III courses, plus monthly in-service sessions of about an hour each.
The state EOC operates on 12-hour periods, in part because initially there weren't enough trained personnel for three eight-hour shifts. The shifts run 0700–1900 and 1900–0700, with overlap for briefings and handoff.
The EOC staff found that incorporating periodic (brief, bulleted) summaries to elected officials, typically every two hours from 0500 to 2100, dramatically cut down on phone calls asking for updates.
One innovation is that the system, which uses WebEOC software, collects after-action comments and other feedback on an ongoing basis, rather than waiting till the incident is over and many comments might already be fading.
In the first day's last round of breakouts, Jeff Jelletts, CEM, territorial disaster coordinator for the Salvation Army and Michael Whitehead, mass-care coordinator for the State of Florida, covered the draft of the new Multi-Agency Feeding Plan template, which was developed by FEMA to help states plan, coordinate and implement mass-feeding operations.
Jelletts noted that the template suggests identifying a Mass Care Coordinator under ESF 6 – Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human Services, but that at least for now, there seems to be a shortage of qualified individuals.
The plan breaks mass feeding into three phases: Immediate, Sustained and Long-term.
The Immediate phase will rely on on-hand supplies, such as existing relationships with local vendors, MREs and commercial self-heating meals.
Regarding the use of mobile canteens such as those operated by the Red Cross, Jellets cautioned that "A resource is not usable unless all operational components are present." For a mobile canteen, those include not just the truck and crew, but fuel (for both the vehicle and its kitchen) and food.
The Sustained phase will depend on existing relationships, donations, U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities, and federal/state acquisition and distribution. At this level there are also added resources needed, such as utensils, clamshells, water, sanitation and garbage disposal.
In addition, insulated containers, such as those made by Cambro Manufacturing Co., will let a mass-feeding operation expand its distribution footprint.
In Long-Term, the final phase, emergency managers should be thinking about the transition out. This phase will focus on bulk distribution and/or financial assistance, rather than actual meals. The USDA's Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can also assist here.
Whitehead emphasized that each state must adopt their own version of the plan, using the template as a guide, and that the template is intended for coordination, not command and control.
Answering a question from the audience, Whitehead said that given the two-meals-per-day default standard, the answer to "How many meals do I need?" determines the size of the mass-feeding infrastructure.