Loss of a Mentor and Friend

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A few days ago the EMS and first responder community lost a great man, Michael Hickey from Schuyler, New York.  He lost his life to the impacts of cancer which he was diagnosed with in 2000.  Fighting disease was no stranger to Mike as he fought multiple sclerosis for many years prior.  Despite facing all this adversity, Mike was not defined by these diseases.  He spent his life in service to others.  He served our nation as a radio operator in the front lines of the Vietnam War.  Upon his return home he used the GI Bill to put him through nursing school and soon after became a paramedic in the early years of the EMS program not only in New York State, but across the country.  Mike was a formative member and long-time captain of the Schuyler Volunteer Fire Company’s ambulance service and helped shape and influence EMS in central New York for decades.  Through his years of service he saved many lives and helped teach many EMTs and paramedics who would go on to save even more lives.

I first met Mike when I was three or four years old, having fallen onto our living room coffee table and cutting my head.  Mike was on the ambulance that responded.  Of course I don’t remember that meeting.  About 15 years later I would meet Mike again when I had joined the fire department and expressed interest in becoming an EMT.  While I took my EMT course in the classroom, Mike taught me in the field, encouraging me to ride as many EMS calls as possible.  He taught me first by showing me what to do then eventually by guiding me as I did the activities myself and giving me feedback.  Mike was my first professional mentor, always encouraging me to learn more, get involved, and do my best for the patients we served.  While I was still learning, he treated me like a peer.  I saw in Mike the professionalism, motivation, and knowledge that I wanted to reach in my career along with his passion for teaching and helping others.  Mike believed in me enough that he asked me to join him in a new medevac venture, which was another opportunity to learn a great deal and continue working with Mike for some time.

Through the years Mike became a good friend, as did his family.  He leaves behind his wife Pat and his grown children Wendy and Mike, Jr., two grandchildren, and countless people who he trained, mentored, befriended, and aided.  Mike Hickey is an  example of someone who left an amazingly positive impact on the world through his selflessness and professionalism.  Rest in peace, Mike.  You will be missed by many.

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A Guide for Analysts

Research is an essential activity to instructional design and emergency preparedness activities such as plan writing and exercise design. These are great tips to help your research be more effective!

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Below is a guide to help you research smarter and gain a better understanding of your sources and source selection process.

  1. The first step in the research process is identification of the problem you are trying to solve.  This requires written acknowledgment of what you are looking for and why.   Spend some time thinking about this and write down at least three detailed reasons.  The more work you do on the front end will save you time in the long run.

 Here are some questions to help guide this process:

  • Do you need an answer to a question?
  • Are you trying to prove or disprove a fact or hypothesis?
  • Are you collecting information to compare and contrast?
  1. After you have determined the problem statement or research question, consider what you might already know about the subject of inquiry.  I often complete this step by brainstorming in two categories: material information…

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International Cooperation in Emergency Management

I just read an article discussing some high-level meetings between the nations of Turkey and Azerbaijan in regard to emergency management.  While the article was short, it seemed to indicate hope in further discussions and cooperation between the two nations.  Admittedly, I didn’t know precisely where Azerbaijan is relative to Turkey so I looked up the region on Google Earth.  Interestingly enough, the two nations don’t border each other, being separated by the nations of Georgia to the north and Armenia to the south.  Kudos to them for meeting and learning from each other.  These types of relationships have to start somewhere, and it usually starts with understanding.

I continue to be interested in topics on international emergency management.  Even here in the US, despite the amount of cooperation that exists along our northern border with Canada, we aren’t as familiar as we should be with many of their practices in emergency management (for info on EM in Canada, visit this blogger’s website).  I’ve written in the past about some emergency preparedness practices in Cuba and programs and projects elsewhere around the globe, have visited emergency managers in Australia (who in recent news announced the Australian Emergency Management Institute will be shutting down physical operations due to budget issues – very unfortunate), worked a fair amount with our Canadian neighbors, met with a delegations from Israel and South Africa, and hope to visit emergency managers in other nations as I travel.  But that’s really not a lot… I want to learn more.

Unfortunately, many emergency management texts I’ve come across, either in professional or academic research, discuss ‘international emergency management’ in globalized terms.  They discuss USAID, the United Nations, the International Red Cross, and other large-scale efforts.  These are certainly important facilitators of global response and relief, but I’d like to know more about the programs of individual nations.  Where in government do their emergency management agencies reside?  Is it within the Ministry of the Interior, such as in Turkey, or does it fall within their military like many other nations?

What can we learn from other nations?  My previously mentioned post on Cuba cites quite a bit we can learn from them (isn’t it time to move past this diplomatic silliness we have with Cuba?).  It’s rather self-centered of us here in the United States to think that we do it best or that we can’t learn from others.  Many international conferences on emergency management are held in other nations (especially within the EU).  I wonder how well represented the US is at these conferences.The International Association of Emergency Managers is headquartered here in the US, but the IAEM conferences don’t see much of an international representation.  Certainly we have identified many best practices here in the US – things we should share with others – but we should also be open and willing to learn from others as well.

So much of our lives is global in nature.  We have a global economy.  My Toyota pick up truck, sold in the US, was made in Mexico.  Our cultures, foods, and customs have blended.  We track health epidemics globally because we know how quickly they can spread.  Many people are bi- and tri- lingual – often by necessity of business or family.  And certainly we recognize the global impact of disasters where no one is immune to their impacts.  While I’m not involved in international emergency management efforts, it seems, from an outsider’s perspective, that few people are.  Let’s learn more from each other.  We’ll all be better for it.

Tim Riecker

 

Are you Ready for Hurricane Season 2014?

Today begins National Hurricane Preparedness Week, ushering in hurricane season which starts a week from today on June 1st.  In the last 10 years we have seen some absolutely devastating hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  These storms are powerful, taking lives, destroying homes and infrastructure, and changing the landscape.  We were reminded that these storms can bring strong winds and flooding rainfall not only to coastal areas but well inland where governments and residents may not be as prepared as they should.

The graphic below is the National Hurricane Center’s prediction for the year.  While there is plenty of science behind this, it’s an imperfect science.  It’s one thing to predict tomorrow’s weather, it’s something else entirely to predict Atlantic storms two months from now.  Like most things in emergency management, it’s a guide – so don’t let it lull you into false confidence.  Be sure to prepare!

2014 Atlantic Hurricane Forecast

2014 Atlantic Hurricane Forecast

What do you need to know to prepare?  The graphic below has a list of seminars conducted by the National Hurricane Center which are accessible via YouTube.  The first one starts today!  Go to this website for more information and the links to the YouTube videos.

Hurricane Preparedness Courses

Hurricane Preparedness Courses

Be smart this year and make sure you and your family are prepared and safe.  Government and business emergency managers – be sure to give your hurricane plans and associated annexes one more look this week to make sure they are current and ready to activate.  Also, there is no time like the present to make improvements.  Just because we’re entering hurricane season doesn’t mean you can’t update plans now.  Don’t wait until hurricane season is over!  Be sure to distribute copies of the plans to key stakeholders and to run a seminar to remind people of the general content of the plan and what is expected of them in the implementation of the plan.  Pay special attention to trigger points, decision points, and succession.  Be sure to verify the availability of key resources; test generators and IT fail overs.

If you are looking for some assistance in reviewing your plans, training staff, or exercising plans please contact Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC at consultants@epsllc.biz.  We’re happy to assist you!

Are you ready???

Creating Operational Emergency Plans

I was inspired for this article from an email I received earlier today from Lu Canton, a rather prolific emergency management consultant who has branched a bit into consulting consultants.  His email today (a forward from his blog) was about making emergency plans ‘real’.  His point was that many planners focus on checking the boxes of the list of planning requirements (those prescribed by law, regulation, etc.) rather than focusing on ensuring that you have a plan that can actually be implemented.  He conducted a webinar over a year ago which I had blogged about.

Planning requirements are important, as they largely stem from lessons learned from earlier incidents.  Granted, some of these requirements come about being translated through the eyes and ears of politicians whose staffers write the legislation and don’t understand emergency management at all – resulting in convoluted, contradictory, and poorly focused requirements.  Requirements lead to standards, helping to ensure that emergency managers are addressing the needs of their jurisdiction and best practices in the industry.  To help guide us through this, many higher level agencies provide templates.  I’ve pontificated in the past about the danger of templates, which have a place in reminding us of these requirements and help us with format and flow, but are often misused by individuals who simply seek to fill in the blank with the name of the jurisdiction and claim they have a finalized plan.

How do we avoid falling into this trap?  Follow the planning process!  FEMA’s Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101 provides an overview of this process for creating emergency operations plans.  The two initial steps – forming a planning team and conducting a hazard analysis – are absolutely critical to the integrity of the process and ensuring a quality plan that meets the needs of your jurisdiction by addressing your threats and hazards.  Planning teams then need to consider these threats and hazards, make reasonable assumptions about their impacts (using a credible worst case scenario), then identify resources and strategies the jurisdiction will undertake to solve the problems they will face.

Does all this mean that a plan needs to be written from scratch?  Of course not!  In fact I strongly encourage people against it.  It’s practically guaranteed that you will forget a critical element.  One of the greatest things in the emergency management community is how we learn from each other.  You can reference templates you find, examine plans of your neighboring jurisdictions or jurisdictions similar to you, check out what is on LLIS.  There is plenty of great content you can examine and apply for your own use.  Just ensure that you carefully review and consider how it applies to you.

As you write the plan, think the details through.  This will help ensure that your plan is operational, not just meeting requirements.  Discuss with your planning team what is expected of each assisting and cooperating agency for each incident type.  Who will be in charge?  What resources will be necessary and where will you get them from?  What would the objectives be and what processes and decision points must be conducted to accomplish those objectives.  As you create the plan, map out these processes and ensure that you’ve considered the who, what, where, when, and how of each step in each process.  Recall that you are planning at a strategic level, not a tactical level.  Planning at a tactical level is nearly impossible with a pre-incident (aka ‘deliberate’) plan.  Tactics will be addressed during the actual response, hopefully referencing the EOP/CEMP you are writing now, and implemented through an incident action plan (IAP).

Remember, though, the proof is in the pudding, as they say.  Your plan needs to be tested to ensure viability.  Use a table top exercise to test policy and decisions, then a functional exercise to test the implementation of the plan and higher level tactics.  Full scale exercises and drills can test the tactical implementation of plans.  Good evaluation of the exercises will lead to planning improvements.  For insight on the exercise process, you can check out my exercise management series of posts referenced here.

Remember: when it comes to planning – keep it real!

Tim Riecker

Critical Infrastructure Vulnerability – Water Delivery Systems

Picture of the Baltimore Water Main Break, July 18, 2001

40-inch Water Main Break, Baltimore July 18, 2001. Source: Baltimore Sun

I’ve written several posts in the past on the vulnerabilities of our electrical infrastructure – both to natural and human causes.  Yet, our electrical infrastructure is not the only element of critical infrastructure that is vulnerable to failures and attacks.   We have a very old water infrastructure in our nation, with many areas still maintaining Civil War era cast iron pipes, with an estimated useful life of 150 years (at the time of installation).  How often does your area experience a water main break?

According to the US Conference of Mayors A major symptom of the aging water infrastructure includes 300,000 water main breaks in North America as result of the widespread corrosion problems adding up to a $50.7 billion annual drain on our economy. Leaking pipes are also losing an estimated 2.6 trillion gallons of treated drinking water annually (17 percent of all pumped water in the US), representing $4.1 billion in wasted electricity every year.”

This aging infrastructure has also failed us when we needed it most.  You might recall the Howard Street Rail Tunnel fire in Baltimore, MD on July 18, 2001.  I’ve designed exercise scenarios based upon this incident and have even received feedback from participants about the scenario being unlikely – they are rather surprised to learn that it is based on an actual event.

From the USFA Report on the incident:

“At 3:07 p.m. on Wednesday, July 18, 2001, a CSX Transportation train derailed in the Howard Street Tunnel under the streets of Baltimore, Maryland. Complicating the scenario was the subsequent rupture in a 40-inch water main      that ran directly above the tunnel. The flooding hampered extinguishing efforts, collapsed several city streets, knocked out electricity to about 1,200 Baltimore Gas and Electric customers, and flooded nearby buildings. The crash interrupted a major line associated with the Internet and an MCI WorldCom fiber optic telephone cable.

Throughout the incident, fire officials were plagued with three problems: fighting the fires in the tunnel; the presence of hazardous materials; and the weakening structural integrity of the tunnel and immediate surrounding areas.”

In reading the report you will see that the water main break both help and hurt the response.  The 40-inch main flooded streets and nearby businesses, but also was allowed to flow into the tunnel for a period of two hours, helping to decrease the temperature in the tunnel.  While no reports seem to indicate the impact of the water main break on nearby hydrants, I do include that impact in my exercise scenarios.

Water main breaks plague many areas around the nation.  The lack of potable water resulting from them creates a public health concern, resulting in many businesses and public buildings shutting down and households advised to boil water.  These breaks impact our ability to fight fires and, as a result of undermining, they can cause sink holes and damage to roadways.

In speaking to public works officials through the years, I’ve been told that every water system has leaks of varying severity.  Minor leaks often go undetected for a great period of time.

 

Securing our water supply is important as well.  Much of our water storage is in reservoirs, open and vulnerable to intentional contamination.  Most reservoirs have some measure of passive security (fences) and some even take more active security precautions.  However, we know that people who are determined can overcome these systems.  Luckily the sheer volume of water in most reservoirs would severely dilute any contamination introduced to them, but there may be agents so concentrated as to inflict harm.  The City of New York, for example, has a massive water supply system, with reservoirs as far north as the Catskills.  Their aqueducts, made famous in the third Die Hard movie, are massive.  The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is charged with securing the City’s water supply and does so through both active and passive security measures as well as active and on-demand water quality sampling.  Most areas, however, don’t have these law enforcement or public health resources available in such abundance.

Water is a critical component of our infrastructure and therefore must be protected.  It’s important not only to business and industry, but is also essential to human life, agriculture, and food production.  Similar to our roadways and electrical infrastructure, our water systems need a plan for restoration and funding to put that plan into action.  Beyond some more capable and financially stable municipalities, most water systems are implementing ad-hoc fixes and are only able to replace small sections of the system each year.

Does your plan account for water system failure?

Tim Riecker

Does Your Municipality Have an Emergency Management Handbook?

I recently came across an emergency management handbook assembled for municipalities in Connecticut.   First of all, I’m thrilled that officials in CT are openly sharing this handbook.  Doing so makes it easier for their municipal officials to find and, in the spirit of sharing found within emergency management, it is always great to share best practices.  There are a great deal of concepts, templates, checklists, and the sort which are benchmarked and shared throughout the emergency management community, by way of the Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) site and other means, which are of great help the collective profession.  If someone else has already done something and it seems to work, why not adapt it to your own needs instead of trying to create something completely different?

I recall early in my career when handbooks and reference guides assembled by states for their local governments were common practice.  For a period of time we seemed to get away from that for some reason, but the practice now is making a resurgence.  I consulted on a project a year ago for the creation of a UASI regional handbook and have seen others in use.  The CT handbook which I linked to at the beginning of the article is an excellent example of what should be included in a handbook and how it should be structured.  Recall from my training-related articles that my focus is always on the audience and their needs.  This audience-centered approach doesn’t only apply to training – it also applies perfectly well to document development. So who is the audience for these handbooks?  Certainly the chief elected officials of counties, cities, towns, and villages.  Their subordinates (department heads) can also benefit greatly from the content.  How about schools (primary and secondary education alike) and hospitals?  The more people who are familiar with the foundational concepts of emergency management and how it is applied in a particular state, the better.  With some modification to include more information for them, I’d also include private sector entities as well.

The structure of the CT document is also one to be benchmarked.  They make reference with brief explanations to federal and state laws and related authorities of individuals and agencies regarding emergency management and related topics, such as NIMS.  For these and other references throughout the document, they include external links where additional information can be found.  They include emergency management structure and flow, which helps local governments identify who they need to coordinate with and who they should request assistance from.  They break down the document into the phases of incident management and include information on each; including planning, training, exercises, and grants within Preparedness; communication, coordination, notification, resources, and other information within Response; debris management, PDAs, and recovery programs in Recovery; and the variety of common mitigation programs in Mitigation.  Appendices provide information sheets on things like the CT VOAD and 211, as well as templates and checklists for the critical elements of each phase of emergency management.

Recalling the needs of the audience, CT addresses them well with this document, which was a collaborative effort between their state emergency management department, emergency management association, state conference of municipalities, council of small towns, and association of regional planners.  These types of collaborative efforts help ensure that the right information is being conveyed.  Most new elected and appointed officials know little about emergency management and need to become familiarized with it before a disaster occurs.  While response is the most prominent phase of emergency management, the other phases are necessary to promote an effective response and a good, overall program.  Even for those experienced in emergency management, a guide such as this provides excellent references for the critical information.  The handbook is of reasonable size – only 90 pages – so it is easy to navigate.  While it has value in print, it is even more valuable electrically given the addition of hyperlinks which bring you to other information.  As a PDF, it’s handy to keep in the library of a iPad or other tablet where it can be referenced easily.  Overall, the information is succinct, giving only what is needed for foundational understanding.  The templates, checklists, and quick reference guide found in the appendices help turn the information into actionable content.

Lastly, the structure and content of the document lends itself well to a structured review (i.e. training), which gives people the opportunity to look at the document in-depth and ask questions.

Does your state or municipality have a handbook similar to this?  What are your thoughts on the one CT provides?  Would you like to see more content or less?  Have they missed something essential?

 

Tim Riecker