Long Path Toward Catastrophic Preparedness (Part 2)

A post by Steve Cain upon his return from a Resource Allocation Workshop.

Some of you may be noticing a change in FEMA’s approach to emergency management. That become apparent at this workshop that I mentioned in the previous EDENblog.  That change in emergency management looks at the whole community as a resource. FEMA increasingly emphasizes “Whole of Community Response Planning” in all they do. Their goal is to improve the nation’s preparedness through more effective collaboration with all members of the community. This reflects a shift from a government centric approach to the concept that communities are capable of providing self-aid/self-help. These principles depend on:

  • A public that is a resource, not a liability  
  • Engaging atypical partners and collaborators 
  • Training and exercises that involve all stakeholders   

 Also, whole community planning may mean that response agencies need to: 

  • Obtain regulatory waivers, change standards, and change policy 
  • Focus on outcome-related objectives, especially increasing the number of people who survive 
  • Recognize that response is a push event; recovery is a pull event, and 
  • Develop pre-scripts or “play-books”

For more on this topic here’s a video of FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino explaining the “whole of Community” and “Maximum of Maximum” concepts. 

FEMA understands that volunteers and local organizations tend to know their communities well and are trusted leaders. As trusted leaders, volunteers can enhance the value of correct information and efforts in an effective and motivating manner in planning for and after a catastrophic event.  And, Extension has resources to help. As FEMA embraces the “whole community,” Extension can find a home in that community.

From a catastrophic event perspective, several lessons were derived from the workshop.

  1. The definition of long-term recovery in ESF 14 is restrictive. It can be expanded.
  2. States and communities will have to be strategic about which areas will recovery and redevelop.
  3. Communities that prepare for response will be better prepared to recover.
  4. Companies will be strategic about where they rebuild. Cooperation between the state and private sector will enhance community recovery.
  5. States can more quickly engage federal partners in the disaster response. Such response includes pre-scripted mission assignments for the federal and national partners.
  6. There will not be enough resources for the entire event, which will put pressure on local communities to respond and recover.
  7. If telecommunications capabilities exist immediately after the event, they may decline before recovery begins as generators run out of fuel and no fuel is delivered into the area.
  8. The role of neighborhood communities and volunteers is generally underdeveloped. Although they can be valuable assets, they are often overlooked and underused. Extension can help.
  9. Most, if not all, state  Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs) do not have adequate, if any, catastrophic plans. We are developing one in Indiana. When completed, I will share it. 
  10. A more complete vision of the 15 ESFs will help Extension communicate with emergency responders.
  11. I am convinced that developing Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COADs) is one of the most effective and efficient (low cost) ways to prepare our communities. COADs are often the local, community-based groups that resemble a state VOAD.

Long Path Toward Catastrophic Preparedness (part 1)

A post by Steve Cain upon his return from a Resource Allocation Workshop.

Hat’s off to the emergency managers from the eight states* who recently put together a Resource Allocation Workshop to plan for a New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) event. Leaders from the eight states said they are not prepared for a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in the New Madrid area. This was a historic opportunity to bring together teams from each of the states who met with 15 distinct teams from federal and national agencies and organizations to close the gaps before the events happens.

In the plenary session, Brigadier General John Heltzel, Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium Board chair, said, “Gaps cost lives.”

As a part of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security team, we rolled up our sleeves for two-and-a-half days and met with the experts and examined the state’s resources for each of the 15 Emergency Support Functions (ESFs).

While Extension could play a role in all Emergency Support Functions that would be spreading already thin resources too thin. In Indiana, Purdue Extension contributes  as a supporting agency in ESF 6 – Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human Services; ESF 11 – Ag and Natural Resources; and ESF 14 Long-term Community Recovery.

Observing the state, regional and national experts while they examined all 15 Emergency Support Functions showed that they have a mindset of 1) response and 2) “things.”  Maybe it was the nature of the scenario, but most of the discussions concentrated on response requirements for a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. That was probably a good thing because it took the entire 2.5 days. Conversations were focused on the Incident Command System, language, and the number of people and things the states would need from the federal partners to adequately address needs following an event of this kind. This workshop better enabled federal partners to hear states explain their capabilities and expectations, so that they can better plan for the provision of necessary support. It also allowed the states to understand the process through which federal support is provided (Mission Assignments, contract support, etc.). This type of workshop would be valuable just before hurricane season in some states. One can’t help but think, what might be accomplished if we had a second workshop that focused on mitigation and preparedness for the same event.


*The eight states were Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee.