Different Perspectives on Disaster Recovery

It seems a lot of the things we have been dealing with relative to the Coronavirus pandemic have brought us a different perspective, or at least have revealed a perspective that public health and emergency management have been concerned about for a while.  The pandemic given us a more accurate perspective on the impacts of a truly major public health event and the things we need to do to manage it.  We also find ourselves looking ahead to recovery and needing to view that through a different lens as well. 

Most disaster recovery, and in fact the way the Stafford Act is written, reflects physical damage from disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes.  We are dealing with debris, damaged infrastructure, displaced masses, and the like.  The pandemic is something completely different.  While we may see shades of some more traditional recovery activity, recovery from the pandemic is giving us a very different way of seeing things. 

Before we get into the details, one of the biggest factors in all this is trying to determine where recovery fits in.  It’s long been a conundrum for people who want to make emergency management an exact science to be able to stick a pin in the exact spot where response ends and recovery begins.  Not only does the lack of that delineation persist for the pandemic, it’s exacerbated.  But that’s not all.  While some recovery activity has already started (more about that in a bit), the big push may not be able to start until society can at least begin to intermingle (though likely with some continued precautions).  Further, true recovery arguably can’t take place until we have a vaccine.  Until we reach that point, recovery efforts are likely to have a stutter, as we start, then have to stop or at least slow down when infection rates increase again, then resume once they subside.  This is simply not a formula we are used to working by. 

I suppose the best way to examine this is to look at it through the Recovery Mission Area Core Capabilities:

  • Planning
  • Operational Coordination
  • Public Information and Warning
  • Infrastructure Systems
  • Economic Recovery
  • Health and Social Services
  • Housing
  • Natural and Cultural Resources

Planning, Operational Coordination, and Public Information and Warning – I’m initially lumping these three together as they are the ‘common’ Core Capabilities and we generally see these in recovery having eventually transitioned over from the response focus.  The challenge with the pandemic is that we see the overlap of response and recovery, in some circumstances, more than we are used to compared to other disasters.  Also, a lot of the recovery we currently see is coming in the form of direct services from the Federal government, with little to no connection to state or local governments.  This is heavily emphasized in matters of Economic Recovery (more on this later).  The overall sense I’m getting is that the fundamentals of these three common Core Capabilities haven’t substantially changed (obviously some of the tasks have), though the experience different jurisdictions are having varies.  Consider that most jurisdictions aren’t used to dealing with prolonged incidents such as this.  In fact, many jurisdictions have decided to no longer operate EOCs (hopefully these were virtual!) as the impacts within their jurisdictions have been minimal and what problems do exist are largely being addressed by an emergency manager supported by a multi-agency coordination group.  Other jurisdictions, obviously, are being hit much harder and their management of this incident has continued to grow as they address the myriad issues that rise up and prepare for what they expect to see next.  There are some of the differences in Operational Coordination. 

Looking a little closer at Planning, this should still be taking place regardless of the volume of work your jurisdiction is experiencing, and even if your jurisdiction doesn’t have a public health department.  There is a lot of planning that still needs to take place to account for recovery, continuity of operations, and contingencies.  This one really permeates the other Core Capabilities the most. 

Lastly within this group, Public Information and Warning.  Absent jurisdictions that are used to dealing with more prolonged responses and recovery, most haven’t had to address a need for persistent public messaging.  While a lot of it is echoing guidance coming from certain authorities like the CDC or state health departments, more localized matters still need to be addressed in terms of what local services are or are not available (or how they now need to be accessed), providing information on planned events, and addressing rumors and mis-information. 

Infrastructure Systems – Restoration of infrastructure is often a big emphasis in most disasters.  Roads, bridges, water and waste water systems, electricity, and other systems are often damaged or destroyed as the result of the disaster of the day.  In the matter of the pandemic, generally the most impact we see in these systems is delays in maintenance because of some decreased capacity among those that are responsible for them.  Perhaps the one significant exception, through from a very different perspective, is internet services.  While internet services weren’t damaged by the pandemic, they were heavily impacted with many organizations directing staff to work from home.  College students are now engaged in classes from home instead of the campus.  Families and friends are connecting more often via video calling. Even on-line gaming has seen a surge with people spending more time at home.  All this changed the dynamic of internet use.  Most businesses are provided with dedicated lines by internet service providers, designed to handle the concentrated surge of internet use demanded by a facility or collection of facilities.  Much of that use has dwindled, shifting to a drastic increase on residential services.  We also see increased demands on either end of this, with attention being drawn to entire areas that have no internet service as well as the need for increased server capacity of companies that host video calling and gaming platforms.  Even organizations and their employees have had to scramble to ensure that employees (and students) have internet access at home, the hardware required to access the internet, and the ability to connect to the organization’s servers and services. 

Another interesting perspective on infrastructure, however, comes from the emphasis on essential services and essential employees that we hear of every day.  While definitions of this have existed for some time, in this disaster alone we have seen that definition change a few times as we realize the connectivity between certain services and organizations.  Some important lessons to be documented and applied to future planning efforts. 

Economic Recovery – For as much as Infrastructure Systems (largely) haven’t been impacted, Economic Recovery has needed to be significantly re-imagined.  With businesses being forced to close and employees being furloughed or laid off, the global economy has taken a significant hit.  This is certainly a prime example, perhaps our first, of how deep a disaster of a global scale can cut us.  As a result, many nations around the planet have been pushing out some sort of economic stimulus, helping those that are unemployed as well as those businesses that are still open yet struggling with decreases in revenue.  The economic hit from the pandemic will take years to recover from and will require some very different ways of solving the problem.  Governments have only so much money to give.  Many jurisdictions are also examining the association between infrastructure and economic recovery in a different light, especially as thought is being put into when and how to re-open our communities and economies. 

As a related side note, we were recently awarded a contract to provide guidance on the reopening of transportation and transit in major cities.  Continued preventative measures as well as human behaviors are going to apply some interesting demands on urban planning, prompting cities to respond appropriately to these changes if they want to see businesses rebound, or even thrive as we move further into recovery. 

Health and Social Services – Rarely does public health lead the way through a major disaster.  Though we realize that just with other disasters where we might like to think that people are in charge, the disaster itself still remains in the driver’s seat and we are really just along for the ride, trying to address problems the best we can. Our health system is stretched, yet we see an interesting irony of hospitals laying off staff, as elective surgeries and other non-emergency services are presently suspended.   Obviously public health will continue to lead the way through our recovery.  Even with others seemingly in charge of other recovery functions, it is public health markers which will become the decision points that dictate our overall recovery.  On the social services side of this Core Capability, we also see a change in dynamics.  While the pandemic doesn’t have the physical impacts of a more traditional disaster, we are also seeing fewer people being displaced overall due to emergency legal protections being put in place to prevent evictions and utility service disconnections from lack of payment.  That said, we are still seeing traditional social service issues related to food, medicine, and mental health exacerbated due to the pandemic, the economic impact from the pandemic, and the mental stresses imposed by the pandemic as a whole, as well as social distancing, deaths, and other factors.  While many social services have traditionally been very hands-on and face-to-face, many of these services have moved to remote models, though others, by necessity, are still physically operating.  Social services recovery, linked to economic recovery as well as psychological matters like PTSD, will persist long after the pandemic.  Recovery plans must be re-imagined to address this.  Public health recovery, similarly, will last long after the pandemic as we need to take an honest look at the gaps in our system and work to address them. 

Housing – As mentioned earlier, there are few displacements (that should be) happening as a result of the pandemic.  Houses haven’t been destroyed as a direct result of the pandemic. Though how long will landlords be able to reasonably wait for back rents to be paid to them?  While those that own large apartment complexes may be able to absorb these losses, landlords with small properties will not.  They are small businesses, with bills to pay and mouths to feed.  While it’s great for tenants to get a reprieve, this also has impacts.  Local economies will likely need to figure out how to address this. 

Natural and Cultural Resources – Similar to infrastructure and housing, our natural resources have seen, overall, limited impact from the pandemic.  In fact, by many reports, many of our natural resources have seen marked and measurable improvement due to decreases in pollution and other impacts of ‘normal’ human activity.  Many cultural resources, on the other hand, have been impacted. I speak not of historical sites, which are often considered in the reconstruction activities associated with disaster recovery, but of museums and performance centers.  Museums, as with any other organization, rely on income to survive.  Many are non-profits, and generally put revenue into improving the facility and its collections, leaving not much of a ‘rainy day’ fund.  Similarly, collections haven’t been damaged, as they might have in another disaster, so there is no insurance claim to cover losses.  Similarly, performance centers, such as the 1930s era theater where I perform improv, haven’t seen revenue in weeks.  Here, we blur the lines between a different perspective on cultural preservation with economic recovery.  Another challenge local economies will have. 

So where does this leave us?  Clearly we are seeing different perspectives of each of these Core Capabilities, requiring us to approach them in ways different than we have in the past.  While the easy solution to many of them is money, an economy globally impacted has little funding to adequately do so.  We also see the interconnectivity of these Core Capabilities.  For many, there is reliance on others to make progress before another can see tangible improvement.  That said, planning is still the crux of it all. We must make deliberate planning efforts to address each of these.  Sure, we can reference current plans, but I argue that most current plans are inadequate, as the problems and the resultant solutions were not anticipated to look like this.  Planning also needs to occur at all levels, and there absolutely must be an emphasis on the first step of the CPG 101 planning process… Form a Team.  Our recovery from a global, national, and community level requires people working together.  We see now, more than ever, how interconnected things are.  This is no time to be insular.  We must consider all stakeholders, including citizens, organizations, and businesses, as part of our planning teams.  And by the way, we’re already behind. 

A couple more items before I close this rather long post.  First of all, consideration should be given to Continuity being added to the Core Capabilities.  Perhaps as a common Core Capability, but at least as one that is included in more than one mission area.  It’s a specific effort that, yes, does include planning (as should any other Core Capability), but has a very specific function and implementations. 

Second (and lastly), you absolutely must be capturing and documenting lessons learned (strengths and areas for improvement).  In fact, don’t wait to hotwash.  If you haven’t already, do one now.  You will do another later.  And likely one or more after that.  The duration of this disaster, and the different focal points and phases of it will constantly shift our attention and cause people to forget what they have learned.  Lessons learned must be captured in phases, allowing us to focus on sets of activities.  Be sure to document your lessons learned, share them far and wide, and set a timeline for implementing improvements.  There is so much to learn from this disaster, but it’s a waste if we ignore it or expect someone else to tell us what to do.   

I hope I delivered in this piece, highlighting the different perspectives of disaster recovery we are dealing with.  Are all disaster recovery activities fully turned on their heads?  Of course not.  We are still able to apply the standards we have been for decades, though some of them do need to be looked at and approached from a different perspective.  I’m very interested in feedback and thoughts. 

Stay safe. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Public-Private Partnerships Should be a Two-Way Relationship

Public-private partnerships are not a new concept to emergency management.  There are municipalities, regional areas, and states that have formed committees and strategized how the private sector can provide support during a disaster.  Certainly we have seen a lot of support, on both a large scale and locally, from the ‘big box’ stores, such as Wal-Mart, Lowes, and Home Depot.  Tide’s Loads of Hope program, something so simple but extraordinarily impactful, provides a means for disaster victims to have clean clothing.  Insurance companies have established a response capability to expedite their assessments and services to their clients.  Private sector partners know that these things are not just good public relations, but that they have a means of supporting communities that government and relief organizations may not.

There is another aspect to public-private partnerships that doesn’t seem to be widely addressed, and that’s the community business.  How can they help the community in a disaster?  First, business continuity is essential, since they may also be impacted by the disaster.  Small businesses don’t have the level of capability to leverage that large companies do.  Yes, the SBA can help them with long-term recovery, but the ability of some small businesses to get back to operations quickly can directly help a community recover.  I work with a lot of small communities, many of them serviced by small shops and independent grocers.  There are no big box stores for many, many miles.  For grocers, power outages result in spoiled food.  Road closures result in crippling supply chain problems.  While we’d like all businesses to have mitigation measures and preparedness for disasters, many small businesses simply don’t have the capitol to invest in things like generators and they obviously can’t control road closures.

What’s to be done?  Local municipalities absolutely need to bring these small business owners to the table, establish relationships, identify their needs, and consider identifying them as part of the community’s critical infrastructure.  The resilience of small grocers, lumber companies, and other purveyors is essential to the resilience and recovery of so many small towns.  The impacts are easy to see… if a store can keep running, they are not only providing essential goods and services to the community, they are also supporting the economy by keeping their employees working. What do they need?  Things like power and access, obviously, but tangential things like the availability of child care is huge.  Following disasters schools usually close and often become community shelters. Many parents work when their kids are in school.  If school is closed, they need access to child care.

How far can government go in supporting the private sector?  Many governments tend to avoid supporting the private sector as if it were some kind of disease.  It took many months to convince FEMA in the aftermath of Sandy to make dredging of private marinas eligible for disaster cost recovery.  These marinas (mostly small businesses themselves) support capabilities of fire and police watercraft, recreation (which has economic impact), and a significant fishing and crabbing industry, which is the livelihood of many off and on shore.  Obviously, FEMA needs to maintain accountability of funds and ensure they are being spent appropriately, but a big part of this was resistance to the idea of government providing direct support to the private sector.

While I agree that there are many nuances to this situation, it seems that in many cases the impact of small, local businesses in short-term recovery are disregarded, especially by state and federal governments, and that there exists a one-way door for business participation, where in this ‘partnership’ they are asked to provide goods and services, but how is government contributing to that partnership?  With the big box stores and other large companies, local governments certainly help with some permit expediting and perhaps physical space to set up and access to utilities, there is typically not much support required beyond that.  Small businesses may need more direct support to recover.  They may need help clearing their private access road or parking lot.  They may need the public road they are located on to be cleared for traffic sooner.  They may need a generator that can power their building.  They may need quantities of potable water brought on-site.  Their employees may need child care or public transportation.  These are things they either can’t immediately afford or simply don’t have access to. Local government may have better access to these resources, though, and with the justification of these small businesses providing essential goods and services to the community, the choice is easy.

Does this open government to potential criticism?  Absolutely.  Some business owners may claim discriminatory practices of government supporting some businesses and not others.  Some tax payers may even complain about the use of tax dollars in such a fashion.  While people may always complain, legal consequences and public relations problems should certainly be mitigated.  The road to addressing this is preparedness.  Engage your local attorney and the legal council for the state’s emergency management agency.  Municipal laws and state laws regarding authorities that can be enacted during a state of emergency need to be explored to not only make sure that local government has the legal ability to provide this support, but the conditions and procedures required for doing so.  The legal sources and procedures and standards for providing this support should be documented and made part of the local emergency plan. The municipality should have a criteria for determining what types of businesses could be included in such direct support (what is regarded as the municipality’s privately owned critical infrastructure?), and even outline requirements for those businesses, such as having a business continuity plan, implementing certain resiliency measures, or participating in coordination activities prior to a disaster.  Memoranda of understanding may be required, or other legal tools to identify the terms and conditions of support.

While this type of support from government to the private sector isn’t common, there are some municipalities who do it well.  I’m certainly interested in hearing what you’ve implemented and what best practices you’ve identified.

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

The Multi-Agency Resource Center

A disaster doesn’t end when the lights and sirens go away.  Communities are left dealing with clean up and rebuilding for weeks, months, or even years.  But we aren’t yet talking about recovery.  We are still talking about addressing early impacts of a disaster that have real implications on people’s lives and stability immediately following a disaster.

When a disaster is federally declared FEMA may open a Disaster Recovery Center in or near an impacted community.  These centers are helpful in getting survivors registered with FEMA and other agencies which might be able to provide some assistance, depending on the type of declaration in place and the specific impacts suffered by individuals and businesses.  While these centers do often integrate state agencies and non-governmental organizations, their primary purpose is to facilitate federal support, and, given the time that can pass before a federal declaration is in place, these centers may not open for days or even weeks following a disaster.  Clearly a gap exists.

Enter the concept of the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC).  MARC is a more global term, similar to emergency operations center (EOC), which encompasses a variety of facilities which different but related functions, based upon the agencies involved and the needs of communities.  MARCs aren’t anything new, but they are under-utilized.  Recent work with a client has brought the concept back to the forefront of my mind, thinking that planning for a MARC should be included as an annex to a great many emergency operations plans.

In searching Multi-Agency Resource Center, there are a number of references you will come across on the internet.  Fundamentally, a MARC is a facility established in a community in the aftermath of a disaster through which services are made available to individuals and businesses seeking assistance.  Absent a federal declaration, assistance can come from local, county, and state agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  Of course, don’t count out the private sector, as they may be willing and able to provide material resources and volunteers as well.  Also, consider that even if a presidential disaster declaration isn’t in place, some agencies, such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) can declare disasters independently and would likely be willing to send a representative to a MARC, if established.

Certainly, a MARC is convenient, as it offers ‘one stop shopping’ for those seeking assistance, rather than having to contact a multitude of agencies and organizations.  Better yet, it brings the agencies and organizations to the people, who, in all likelihood, aren’t aware are the vast amount of resources and services available to them.

What can be provided at a MARC?  In actuality, anything.  It can be co-located with a commodity point of distribution (CPOD), providing tarps, water, and other items to people.  Muck out kits and respiratory protection may be provided.  Guidance on removing water or mold, or on safe operations of generators can be obtained.  Perhaps people are displaced and need temporary housing, or have a question about the safety of their homes or businesses.  People may need food, unemployment assistance, legal aid, or disability services.  Even mental health and spiritual counseling can be offered at a MARC.  If the disaster involved a lot of green debris, the MARC could be a great location to offer a class on safe chain saw operation, in the hopes of decreasing injuries from the inevitable activity of community members.

As with any activity, a MARC should be planned.  Follow the tried and true planning process in CPG 101 and pull together a team of stakeholder agencies and organizations to discuss what assistance might be provided, how it would be organized, and ideal locations to host it.  There is some great information available from the National Mass Care Strategy.  Of course, once you have a plan in place, don’t forget to train and exercise!

I’ve worked in a variety of MARC-type facilities, but one in particular stands out in my career.  Following the Haiti earthquake in early 2010, NYC Mayor Bloomberg and NYS Governor Paterson created a Haitian Earthquake Family Resource center in Brooklyn, which has the largest Haitian population outside of Haiti itself.  There were quite a number of members of the NYC Haitian community who were directly impacted by this disaster so many miles away, with family members missing or killed, the loss of income coming from family members in Haiti, and services related to these issues.  Through this this facility, we coordinated the efforts of a number of local, state, and federal agencies, as well as NGOs.  Services included interpreters, legal information, grief counseling, and facilitated access to certain US and Haitian offices to obtain information and support.  This was a unique and meaningful application of the MARC to meet an identified need.

Has your jurisdiction ever used a MARC?  Do you have a plan in place?

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

 

Preparedness: Integrating Community Lifeline Considerations

Much of preparedness is about getting us ready to conduct situational assessment and prioritization of actions.  We train people and develop resources, such as drones, field-deployed apps, and geographic information systems (GIS) to support situational assessment.  The information we obtain from these assessments help in the development and maintenance of situational awareness and, when shared across disciplines, agencies, and jurisdictions, a common operating picture.  Based upon this information, leaders at all levels make decisions.  These decisions often involve the prioritization of our response and recovery actions.  Ideally, we should have plans in place that establish standards for how we collect, analyze, and share information, and also to support the decision making we must do in prioritizing our actions.  Exercises, of course, help us to validate those plans and practice associated tasks.

One significant hurdle for us is how overwhelming disasters can be.  With just slight increases in the complexity of a disaster, we experience factors such as large geography, extensive damages, high numbers of lives at risk, hazardous materials, and others.  Certainly, we know from Incident Command System training that our broad priorities are life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation – but with all that’s happening, where do we start?

One thing that can help us both assessment and prioritization are community lifelines.  From FEMA: “Community lifelines reframe incident information to provide decision-makers with impact statements and root causes.”  By changing how we frame our data collection, analysis, thinking, and decision-making, we can maximize the effectiveness of our efforts.  This shouldn’t necessitate a change in our processes, but we should incorporate community lifelines into our preparedness activities.

The community lifelines, as identified by FEMA, are:

  • Safety and Security
  • Food, Water, and Sheltering
  • Health and Medical
  • Energy
  • Communications
  • Transportation
  • Hazardous Materials

If this is your first time looking at community lifelines, they certainly shouldn’t be so foreign to you.  In many ways, these are identified components of our critical infrastructure.  By focusing our attention on this list of items, we can affect a more concerted response and recovery.

FEMA guidance goes on to identify essential elements of information (EEI) we should be examining for each community lifeline.  For example, the lifeline of Health and Medical includes the EEIs of:

  • Medical Care
  • Patient Movement
  • Public Health
  • Fatality Management
  • Health Care Supply Chain

Of course, you can dig even deeper when analyzing any of these EEIs to identify the status and root cause of failure, which will then support the prioritization of actions to address the identified failures.  First we seek to stabilize, then restore.  For example, within just the EEI of Fatality Management, you can examine components such as:

  • Mortuary and post-mortuary services
  • Transportation, storage, and disposal resources
  • Body recovery and processing
  • Family assistance

The organization of situation reports, particularly those shared with the media, public, and other external partners might benefit from being organized by community lifelines.  These are concepts that are generally tangible to many people, and highlight many of the top factors we examine in emergency management.

Back in March of this year, FEMA released the Community Lifelines Implementation Toolkit, which provides some great information on the lifelines and some information on how to integrate them into your preparedness.  These can go a long way, but I’d also like to see some more direct application as an addendum to CPG-101 to demonstrate how community lifelines can be integrated into planning.  Further, while I understanding that FEMA is using the community lifeline concept for its own assessments and reporting, the community aspect of these should be better emphasized, and as such identifying some of the very FEMA- and IMAT-centric materials on this page as being mostly for federal application.

Has your jurisdiction already integrated community lifelines into your preparedness?  What best practices have you identified?

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

FEMA’s 2017 Hurricane Season AAR

A few days ago, FEMA published its after action report (AAR) for the 2017 hurricane season.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that last year was nothing short of devastating.  The major hurricane activity revolved around Hurricane Harvey (Texas), Hurricane Irma (Caribbean/South Atlantic coast), and Hurricane Maria (Caribbean), but domestic response efforts were also significantly dedicated to a rough season of wildfires in California.  While each of these major disasters was bad enough on its own, the overlap of incident operations between them is what was most crippling to the federal response.  Along with these major incidents were the multitude of typical localized incidents that local, state, and some federal resources manage throughout the year.  2017 was a bad year for disasters.  I don’t think any nation could have supported disaster response as well as the US did.

No response is ever perfect, however, and there were certainly plenty of issues associated with last year’s hurricane responses. Politicians and media outlets made issues in Texas and Puerto Rico very apparent.  While some of these issues may rest on the shoulders of FEMA and other federal agencies, state and local governments hold the major responsibility for them.

This FEMA AAR contains good information, perspective, and reflections.  There are a lot of successes and failures to address.  While I’m not going to write a review of the entire document, which you can read for yourself, but I will discuss a few big-picture items and highlight a few specifics.

First, is the overall organization of the document.  The document is organized through reflection across each of five ‘focus areas’.  I’m not sure why this was the chosen approach.  The doctrinal approach should be a reflection on Core Capabilities, as outlined in the National Preparedness Goal.  Some of these focus areas seem to easily align with a Core Capability, such as ‘Sustained Whole Community Logistics Operations’, which gives me reason to wonder why Core Capabilities were not referenced.  While we use Core Capabilities as a standard in exercises, the purpose for them being part of the National Preparedness Goal is so that we have a standard of reference throughout all preparedness activities.  Any AAR – incident, event, or exercise – should bring us back to preparedness activities.

The second issue I have with the document is the focus.  While it’s understood that this is FEMA’s AAR, not a wholistic federal government AAR, it’s almost too FEMA-centric.  The essence of emergency management is that emergency management agencies are coordination bodies, as such, most of their work gets accomplished through coordinating with other agencies.  While it’s true that FEMA certainly has a significant work force and resources, the AAR seems to stop at the inside threshold of FEMA headquarters, without taking the additional step to acknowledge follow-on actions from a FEMA-rooted issue that may involve other agencies.

Among the positive takeaways were some of the planning assumptions outlined in the report.  There is a short list of planning assumptions on page 9, for example, that provide some encouraging comparisons between planning assumptions and reality.  This is a great reminder for local and state plans to not only include numbers and percentages in their planning assumptions, which will directly lead to identifying capability and resource gaps, but to also reality check those numbers after incidents.

Page 10 of the repost highlights the success of FEMA’s Crisis Action Planning groups.  These groups identified future issues and developed strategies to address these issues.  This is actually an adaptation of an underutilized function within the ICS Planning Section to examine potential medium and long-term issues.

Pages 11 and 12 highlight how Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) data from states and UASIs can inform response.  It’s encouraging to see preparedness data directly inform response.  I hope this is something that will continue to evolve.

Pages 22 and 23 discuss the staffing issues FEMA had with massive overlapping deployments.  Along with their regular full time workforce, FEMA also deployed a huge volume of their cadre personnel.  They also tapped into a pilot program called State Supplemental Staffing.  While there were some administrative and bureaucratic difficulties, it seems to have been considerably successful.

Overall, this is a good document citing realistic observations and recommendations.  While the document is FEMA-centric, the way of FEMA is the way of emergency management in the US, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on what they are doing, as many of their activities have reach to state and local governments we as other federal agencies.

What important concepts jumped out at you?

© 2018 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC™

Congressional Primer on Responding to Major Disasters and Emergencies

I believe the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which is a research arm of the Library of Congress, publishes an updated version of this document for each Congress.  While the primary audience is Congressional representatives, it provides a good overview of disaster response fundamentals and the relationship between the federal and state/territorial/tribal governments which can be a good reference for many, including practitioners, students, state and local officials, and members of the media.

Give it a look and pass it on to others.

https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=804217

– TR

FEMA Request for Staff

From FEMA…

As you are all very much aware, our Nation has sustained severe flooding and damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and we are anticipating major impacts from Hurricanes Irma and possibly Jose. This is the peak of the hurricane season and it is far from over; to this end, we are reaching out to you to help in response and recovery efforts.  FEMA is looking to recruit personnel, with an expected deployment of 30 days, in the following areas:

Program Area: Skillset Required

Individual Assistance: Survivor outreach and communication, case management

Logistics: Load and unload trucks; coordinate and deliver resources; track inventory

IT: Establish connectivity for facilities; install, track, and manage equipment; configure communications equipment

Disaster Survivor Assistance: Engage directly with survivors; demonstrate understanding of available programs; case management

Hazard Mitigation: Floodplain management, mitigation strategies for the built environment, flood insurance, FEMA’s grant programs and authorities

Disaster Emergency Communications: Set up, operation, and shut down of communications vehicles; installation of voice and data cables; knowledge of radio protocols

External Affairs: Communications, Congressional and intergovernmental affairs, media analysis, media relations, tribal affairs, private sector relations

Environmental and Historic Preservation: Knowledge of environmental, historic, and floodplain management processes and regulations

Human Resources: Human resources specialists and managers

Finance: Travel arrangements and budget controls

Acquisitions: Contracting officers, purchasing specialists, and procurement specialists

If you are available to serve in one or more of these areas, please send your résumé to FEMA-CAREERS@fema.dhs.gov, and please put “Higher Ed” in the subject line.  Feel free to also share this request throughout your networks.  This is a great opportunity to serve the Nation and support our survivors in this time of need.

Pre-Disaster Recovery Planning Guidance

So much of preparedness focuses on the Response mission area, which is necessary, given the need to protect life and property in the immediate aftermath of a disaster; but we should never leave disaster recovery by the way side.  I’ve blogged in the past about the significant lack of Recovery mission area exercises we typically see, but we shouldn’t forget that the foundation of preparedness is planning.  How does your pre-disaster recovery plan look?

If jurisdictions have a pre-disaster recovery plan at all (and I mean beyond two paragraphs in their comprehensive emergency management plan), it’s typically focused on debris management.  This isn’t without good cause.  Debris management is incredibly complex, has a lot of benchmarks to follow in terms of best practices, and must include all of FEMA’s requirements, which largely stem from lessons learned in debris management.  Having a debris management plan in place can also qualify a jurisdiction to receive a higher percentage of reimbursement.  That said, debris management isn’t the only aspect of recovery that must be planned for.

FEMA recently released the Pre-Disaster Recovery Planning Guide for State Governments (November 2016).  I’ll admit, the first thing I looked for in the document were references to CPG-101, which is FEMA’s established standard for planning.  I was thrilled to find that it’s not only mentioned, but much of the document is based upon CPG-101.  Found in the document’s early narrative are topics such as the importance of aligning disaster recovery with hazard mitigation, as well as aligning disaster recovery with response.  These are two important factors which make disaster recovery even more complex, as disaster recovery is clearly not only an end state itself, but also a bridge between response and mitigation.

The document also outlines the differences and similarities between pre-disaster recovery planning and post-disaster recovery planning.  Another important distinction.  Many give the excuse of not having a vigorous pre-disaster recovery plan because there are too many unknown variables to anticipate and plan for.  I usually throw my bullshit flag on this statement.  While there is some truth to the statement, it’s also a convenient excuse.  For the same reasons why we create emergency operations plans before a disaster ever strikes, we must develop recovery plans before a disaster strikes.  While there are unknowns, there are also many solid assumptions we can make for the foundation of our planning.  We can identify key activities, assign responsibility, and work toward identifying gaps and building capability and capacity.  Once a disaster does occur, we then pull people out of the response to begin drawing up more specific plans for disaster recovery, hopefully capitalizing on our pre-disaster planning efforts.

Much of the document is a breakdown of CPG-101 planning steps in the context of disaster recovery.  They give some great examples and references throughout the document.  From my quick review, this is a pretty solid document.  While the intended audience is state government, I see easy applicability of this document to most, if not all, local governments – so long as it’s approached with a scaled perspective.

I’m very pleased that FEMA continues to tie preparedness standards together, doing away with decades long practices of response-oriented preparedness tasks being handled one way, while the tasks of other mission areas are handled very differently.  Across the whole spectrum of preparedness, in consideration of every mission area and each of the POETE elements, we need to start identifying critical intersections which will help us capitalize on efforts.  We need to do away with the isolation and siloing of these, and begin working more collaboratively.  From this, we will see greater success.

Consume and ponder.  Feedback is always appreciated.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Exercising the Recovery Mission Area

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I get pretty excited about it – I got a blog request!  Last week, Darin, a LinkedIn connection, messaged me with a request to post my thoughts on exercising the recovery phase (or mission area) of emergency management.  His idea, as he expressed it to me, came from discussion at a Public Health Preparedness conference he was attending, where they were discussing ESF 8 (Public Health and Medical Services) continuity of operations and recovery exercises.  Challenge accepted!

When it comes to Recovery exercises, my first thought is that they are horribly underutilized.  We conduct a lot of exercises in the Response mission area, but it’s a rare occasion that we even mention Recovery.  The reasoning here is pretty easy – Response is sexy.  It’s the lights and sirens, saving lives, put out the fire, pull people from the wreckage kind of stuff that makes a big impact.  Recovery is often viewed as slow, tedious, bureaucratic, engineering kind of stuff.  Well… yeah… but there is a lot more to it.  Since when we plan exercises, one of the first things we do is to identify what Core Capabilities will be tested, let’s look at the Core Capabilities of the Recovery Mission Area.  Within each, I’ll mention some ideas you can incorporate into exercises.

The Big Three – Planning, Operational Coordination, and Public Information and Warning.  These Core Capabilities are found in every mission area and are sometimes applied differently.

  • Planning – Yeah, we should have recovery plans. I would argue that we have entered the recovery phase when all or most of the first two incident management priorities have been addressed – Life Safety and Incident Stabilization.  Sometimes these are resolved quickly, sometimes they take some time.  There are some fairly complex issues to be addressed in the recovery phase (many of which we will identify through the Core Capabilities), and we don’t do them often, therefore we should most certainly plan for them.  Remember, we exercise plans and capabilities – therefore our plans (and policies and procedures) are a significant focus when it comes to Recovery exercises.    This Core Capability is where continuity of operations plans will also fall.  Can your organization survive the lasting impacts of a disaster?
  • Operational Coordination – Recovery activities often involve organizations that had little to no activity during the Response phase. Most of these organizations are non-traditional responders who don’t usually operate under more strict command and control models, such as ICS, but in the Recovery phase of a disaster, I certainly advocate that they do.  Many of these agencies, typically the human services types of organizations, are very good at coordination and cooperation, as their daily priorities dictate that working with others is how needs are addressed.  The big challenge we often see here, though, is the introduction of some other organizations – typically those with regulatory responsibilities.  Regulation usually requires bureaucracy.  Bureaucracy usually requires time – lots of time – especially when exceptions are requested.  It’s really important to consider all stakeholders when planning an exercise to ensure that you get a chance to see how they interact, what the information flow and chain of authority looks like, what benefits they bring, and how they can work together in a timely fashion for the common good.
  • Public Information and Warning – We often take for granted the role of public information and warning in the Recovery phase. There are many benefits to keeping external stakeholders informed of what’s going on during Recovery.  Consider elected officials, business and industry, and special interest groups, along with the general public.  Your PIO and possibly your JIC should be just as involved in Recovery phase exercises as they are in those for the Response phase.

Aside from the ‘big three’, the Recovery mission area shares a Core Capability with the Response mission area – Infrastructure Systems.  Long-term restoration and rebuilding of infrastructure can lead to lengthy discussions in a Recovery-focused workshop or tabletop exercise.  What are the priorities for rebuilding?  Who will do it?  How will it be funded?  What are the completion timelines?  Will it be rebuilt the same or differently?  What are the impacts of doing it differently?  Who is impacted by this?  What do we do while we are waiting for it to be rebuilt?  Who makes decisions?  All important things to consider.

The first unique Core Capability in the Recovery mission area is Economic Recovery.  I was recently asked to present at a conference for a niche professional association comprised of professionals found in government, private sector, and non-profits.  While we will be covering topics in Hazard Mitigation and Preparedness, the biggest focus will fall within Economic Recovery.  Economic Recovery involves businesses reopening and people getting back to work to serve customers, make money, and become customers themselves.  After a disaster, it is absolutely vital for a community to get back on its feet, and the center of that is the local economy.  While many disaster impacts may be a relative drop in the bucket for larger companies, smaller businesses may have a hard time recovering – the central pieces of this are infrastructure restoration (see previous paragraph) and cash flow.  The SBA, USDA, and even IRS have mechanisms to assist with cash flow issues.  And don’t forget insurance!  Bring these and other stakeholders to the table to discuss economic recovery.  Consider priorities and mechanisms that must be in place to meet needs to support these priorities.  Your local chamber of commerce and other business associations will certainly want to be part of these exercises.  Does your jurisdiction have a business operations center (BOC)?  If not, consider it.  If you do, exercise it!

Health and Social Services.  This is the heart of all matters related to ESF 8 (Public Health and Medical Services), which Darin mentioned.  While this Core Capability is an extension of the Response mission area Core Capability of Public Health, Healthcare, and Emergency Medical Services; it is also so much more.  ESF 8 activity after disasters can last months or even years, particularly with ongoing issues such as medical monitoring and psychological impacts.  Eventually many of these services are absorbed into the system of regular service providers, but for a time the circumstances of the disaster may require some special coordination or monitoring.  The coordination needed involves an amalgamation of organizations at all levels of government, not for profits, and the private sector.  This can involve ongoing coordination with insurance companies, general practitioners and specialists; and must address the needs of everyone fairly and consistently, regardless of any differences, including their own financial resources or insurance coverage.  Tracking data related to the care and services provided is often important, but consideration must be given to HIPAA and other privacy laws.  Exercises can benefit from scenarios, such as exposures to radiological, biological, or chemical sources, which will drive discussion on the types of services to be provided, who will provide them, at whose cost, and for how long.  Many of these discussions should include topics of how to avoid social stigmatization of clients, sharing information between organizations, and the full range of social services that individuals and families may require.

Housing is typically the hardest nut to crack in all of disaster recovery.  Relative to need, there is little government owned housing stock available.  What is available may require waiting lists and relocation to access.  While many home owners are insured, we know that it takes some time for home owners to receive payment from insurance companies, and insurance is rarely at 100% coverage for losses.  Those that don’t own their own homes are often the left with the most dire situations.  While ‘FEMA trailers’ have provided some medium-term solutions, there are many issues to address.  I posit that plans at all levels are inadequate to address housing needs after a disaster.  If you have a plan, get a good exercise team to write a great scenario to test it.  If you don’t have a plan, conducting a workshop to identify and address major planning issues is the way to go.  A housing exercise is probably going to be one of the more eye opening yet depressing exercises you’ve ever done.

Lastly is the Core Capability of Natural and Cultural Resources, which focuses on the recovery of libraries and museums, documents and art, as well as helping to restore our own environment after a disaster.  Activities can range from restoring a historical landmark to major engineering projects to restore a wetland.  These activities can involve a great deal of technical expertise as well as regulation.  FEMA, the EPA, and the National Parks Service are often big players in these types of activities.

As for what types of exercises to conduct, that’s largely dependent upon the status of your plans and if you have conducted exercises on these plans before.  I always suggest starting with discussion-based exercises.  We often forget about seminars, which are more about conveying information than obtaining feedback, but are still valuable for discussing initiatives and new plans.  Workshops not only support the planning process to develop plans, they can also serve to facilitate a detailed review of a plan in its final draft stages.  Most Recovery exercises I have experience with have been tabletop exercises, which use a scenario to provide context to discussion questions for a group of stakeholders.  This is a great way to exercise decision making and to talk through the key tasks associated with plans.  Disaster recovery involves a lot of policy-level decision making, which is ideal for a tabletop.

Operations-based exercises for disaster recovery are found much less often.  Drills can certainly be conducted to test focused aspects of plans and procedures.  Drills in Recovery can help identify strengths and weaknesses of our processes, both for ourselves and for those we are trying to serve.  Functional exercises are broader and more encompassing than drills.  Much can be gained from a Recovery mission area functional exercise, but make sure that it’s grounded in reality.  Most jurisdictions don’t have an EOC activated for Recovery mission area activities. If you don’t, don’t try to run an exercise within that environment.  Some functions, however, may be run, at least for a time, from some sort of operations/coordination center, such as a health operations center (HOC).  With a good scenario focusing on addressing longer-term issues in the aftermath of a response, they can be done successfully.  Be sure to develop a pretty solid ‘ground truth’, however, to support the exercise, as much of Recovery is dependent upon what was done in Response, so players will need this context.  With a bit more complication, a functional exercise could be run virtually, with people participating from their own regular work stations as they often do during Recovery operations.  Testing Recovery plans in full scale exercises is significantly challenging based on the array and type of activities.  Because of the focus of activities, continuity of operations plans are likely among the most suited for full scale Recovery mission area exercises.

I’m curious to hear about your experiences exercising Recovery mission area plans and capabilities.  What ideas do you have?  What best practices have you found?

As always, thanks for reading!

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – Your Partner in Preparedness!

Adjustment of Public Assistance Cost Share per Capita

The following was provided in today’s FEMA Daily Digest Bulletin…

Based on an increase of 0.8 percent in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers for the 12-month period that ended December 2015, FEMA adjusted the calendar year 2016 statewide per capita indicator for recommending a cost share adjustment for the public assistance program to $137.

FEMA will recommend an increase in the standard 75 percent federal cost share to not more than 90 percent of eligible costs when a disaster is so extraordinary that actual federal obligations under the Stafford Act, excluding administrative costs, meet or exceed $137 per capita of state population. This adjustment applies to all disasters declared on or after January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016.”

It’s always interesting that there are ‘rules’, yet so much of the declaration process is political.

TR