Meet a Delegate Monday: Pat Skinner

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Pat Skinner. 

Pat Skinner photo

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN?

In fall of 1997 the LSU AgCenter disaster mitigation and housing programs convened a conference in New Orleans called “Breaking the Housing Disaster Cycle.” Joe Wysocki, then program leader for CSREES housing education, mentioned that he was working with a North Central Region (NCR) committee called EDEN. EDEN’s three-year NCR committee life was coming to an end and the members wanted to explore taking the concept national. They joined our conference and – at the end – asked if Louisiana would take the leadership and begin expanding the membership. I became the first national chair and webmaster in January 1998.

2. Can you tell us a little about your role in disaster preparedness in your state?
My role in disaster management is primarily about risk appreciation and mitigation. I came to Extension in the early 1990’s for the specific purpose of conducting an education program associated with a river commission project to raise five structures “slab-n-all.” That program was funded by FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) for Hurricane Andrew. I had no Extension experience, but lots of experience with floods and the federal flood programs, primarily the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

In the late 1990s I led another project in which we developed and coached flood mitigation task forces in fifteen SE Louisiana parishes. The task-force project introduced our Extension agents to parish floodplain administrators (FPAs), and introduced both our agents and FPAs to their emergency managers and occasionally to local voluntary organizations active in disasters. The 1997 conference that brought EDEN to New Orleans was part of this task-force project.

My primary program since the 2005 hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) has been creation of an Internet-based Enterprise GIS system that provides flood- and wind-hazard information for any point in Louisiana; the point is specified by a user placing a pin in a map manually or by address lookup, using road and aerial base maps for reference. At www.LSUAgCenter.com/Floodmaps we host, read and interpret the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) of the NFIP for the entire state. We read the Basic Wind Speed (BWS) at a location from another Internet service we built for this application. We give the user ground elevation (consumed from the US Geological Survey), which the user can compare to Base Flood Elevation (BFE) on the FIRM to get an idea of how deep the 100-year flood would be at their point of interest. We even draw them a picture using our BFE Scenarios application. The BWS and BFE information is essential to people making building and restoration decisions because the statewide building code adopted in 2006 requires buildings to be designed and built to resist damage from these hazards.

Currently I have the privilege of managing a comprehensive disaster mitigation program that for the first time engages 4-H youth.

3. What was a highlight from your term as EDEN chair?
The highlight of working in Extension is always getting to work with really good, selfless people on a mission. That would be true for the early EDEN days, and still today. As I see how subsequent chairs have managed and led and hosted meetings I am horrified at what I didn’t know back then. But these are forgiving folk.

Louisiana took the leadership because EDEN asked us to. I took the lead role because my boss said I should. He believed in me, even though – or perhaps because – I knew nothing about Extension. I was unencumbered by notions of what was and was not possible at any level. So I guess the highlight was simply that over those early years we moved forward.

4. Can you tell us about the role you currently hold with EDEN?
My official role in EDEN is Web Manager and PD for the LSU AgCenter subcontract of Purdue’s NIFA funds for support of EDEN work. The LSU AgCenter hosts a number of EDEN Internet and Intranet web presences and provides networking support, working closely with the EDEN Communications group at Purdue. I gave up web-mastering many years ago and now just think up stuff for our very talented webmaster – Andrew Garcia — to do.
I am most active in the EDEN Exec and international committees, and now taking greater interest in the youth activities and disaster activation and communication planning arenas.

5. What was your favorite part of the 2014 EDEN Annual Meeting?
There were several high points, but my hands-down favorite part had to be bringing the 4-H’ers to the meeting and having the group receive them with such enthusiasm.

Meet a Delegate Monday: Becky Koch

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Becky Koch who will be presenting at the EDEN Annual Meeting.

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN?

Becky Koch March 2011After the 1993 Mississippi and Missouri River floods, Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois got a grant from what is now the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to study what they and other states could learn from the flood experience. They wanted to study how we could learn from each other, so each state did not have to start from scratch after a disaster like this. They sent letters to every extension director about a discussion meeting in Kansas City, asking each North Central Region state to send a representative. The NDSU Extension Service interim director came to me with this letter, stating that they needed communications people at this meeting and asked if I wanted to go. My first response,was, “disasters? That has nothing to with what I do.” But it was a free trip home for me, so I went to the meeting. Little did I know how much that spoof of an experience would impact my career and my life. I had no idea how important those connections and lessons learned would be beneficial three years down the road when North Dakota flooded. There was not an EDEN website in ‘97 when we flooded, so I emailed people every day for weeks with questions. I realized how important that network of states was when we experienced this similar disaster and I could turn to them.

2. In your opinion what is the most important part of preparing a business for a disaster?
One of the most important steps is having a communications plan. I’m responsible for 25 people in my department. I have not done everything I could for my “business” but we have a communications plan. Everybody knows how to learn if the university is going to be closed. We have talked about each of us taking individual responsibility to know what’s going on because I won’t have time to call everyone or the phones might be down. We also talk about being prepared at home. The university does fire drills, but they had never done a tornado drill, so we did a tornado drill to practice sheltering in place in addition to evacuating. Practicing where to go is so very important. A communications plan with staff and drills to practice the basics are necessary for any business to prepare for a disaster.

3. Can you tell us a little about your EDEN meeting material?
NDSU received a NIFA Smith-Lever Special Needs grant to develop an app for both Android and Apple smartphones and tablets to help businesses develop their disaster preparedness plans. The first question we always get is, “why do you need that as an app? All that information is online.” The nice thing about the app is that the business owner/manager can walk around the office, take pictures of equipment, write in what piece of equipment it is and when it was bought, and take inventory for a disaster. The app will make it easier, which will hopefully motivate small businesses to actually develop a plan. At the EDEN meeting, we will ask for volunteers to test the app, along with students in NDSU’s Emergency Management major.

4. Can you tell us about your role in handling disasters in North Dakota?
The disaster we get the most in North Dakota is flooding. We get blizzards, but the only thing you can do for those is prepare and shelter in place. We promote blizzard preparedness ,such as having a winter survival kit in your car, downloading our Winter Survival Kit app, keeping an emergency kit at home. It is easier to sell preparedness up here, because people have been stuck at home during a blizzard, so they take it more seriously. As a communicator, I send out news releases and notifications to our own staff. I also work very closely with Ken Hellevang to review what flood resources are online, and what else we need to post. We figure out what to send to the staff and public to get the word out about flooding that is occurring and how to be prepared and how to recover. I also work very closely with the subject matter experts, no matter the disaster, to see if other states have resources through EDEN or to help them create resources to give out to our staff or the public.

5. What piece of advice would you give to our delegates?
Utilize the network. I was at the meeting where we came up with the name Extension Disaster Education Network, and “network” truly is the perfect word. It is so important for us to work together, to ask questions of each other, to share resources, and to make sure we are telling the same story across state lines. Utilize the network: do not be afraid to just send out an email if you need information. Do not just wait for information to come to you, but reach out to others who might provide information and resources pertinent to your state and situation. Also utilize the courses online. You do not have to be an expert on something to teach it. Those courses provide the background and information you need to help you teach others about those topics.

Meet a Delegate Monday: Traci Naile

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Traci Naile, who will be presenting at the EDEN Annual Meeting.

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN?
I believe I first got involved when I was a PhD student, profile-photoand was looking into doing disaster work; I saw materials from EDEN. I was able to really get involved when I finished my PhD and started working at Texas A&M. I was able to attend my first conference while I was working at A&M, and have been going ever since.

2. Can you tell us about the study concerning incidence response planning at livestock shows?
That study was conducted by one of my graduate students at A&M. she wanted to find out what managers of large livestock shows knew and had done about incident planning. She wanted to find out if people on the government side know what was going on at the livestock side, and whether the show managers had actually talked to government partners in case something happened. She did interviews with big broad questions, and received great feedback about different things you have to think about when you are planning for shows, whether you are on the municipal side or the show side. One of the important things that came out of this study was the importance of communication. We will talk all about that at the EDEN Meeting, along with the other themes from the interview.

3. Can you tell us about the emergency management training requirements for Cooperative Extension personnel?
We sent a survey out to the EDEN Delegate listserve to find out what training requirements are in each state, and what EDEN professionals think should or should not be included. There is a lot of variability across states, so we wanted to find out why; why there is some training required and other training is not. We confirmed, with data, that the training requirements are widespread. Because of this survey we have a better sense of what training is required, what resources are used, and how EDEN delegates think we should be delivering disaster related training to Extension professionals.

4. Can you tell us a little about your involvement in disaster response experience in Oklahoma?
I am a Red Cross volunteer, and am specifically a local government liaison. I also work in operations management in bigger disaster responses. I have, both fortunately and unfortunately, been able to work disasters, and am fairly involved in that aspect. I also do other things related to the Red Cross: I am a volunteer leader for our chapter, on the local level. With that role I am the liaison to the county emergency response team, which has not been able to go out on anything yet because it just got started. But I am the go-between for the county team and the local Red Cross for setting up shelters and scheduling co-training. Another thing I do within our Red Cross region, Central Western Oklahoma, is the volunteer counterpart to the Senior Disaster Program Manager. I help plan events such as a mass care exercise for October and a statewide emergency management exercise. I also help train people on the new Red Cross procedures for responses. I am the subject matter expert for a training work group for the Red Cross divisional level, South Western Rocky Mountain division. So between all of these positions, I am very involved in preparing my area for a disaster.

5. What advice would you give to our delegates about the importance of communication before, during, and after a disaster?
It is absolutely vital! A big part is figuring out what communication means in the context of disasters. To me, communication is across partners and internally within an organization. Also having the people you work with trained to talk to partners. A lot of those beliefs come from my Red Cross background. In Oklahoma, we do not have a very cohesive response system because there is a lot of overlap. If you are communicating with all the other people preparing for a response, or in the recovery period after a response, it will be that much more efficient, and effective. For me that is where that communication piece comes in, and a large part of that is networking; making sure that you are clear internally and externally, have plans in place, and have worked to develop those relationships because they will be necessary when a disaster happens. That communication piece is extremely vital, because no one who is responding to a disaster can be expected to do everything, and do it effectively.