Was the Sewol Korea’s Katrina?

By now everyone is familiar with the South Korean disaster this past April – the sinking of the MV Sewol and the loss of almost 300 passengers, most of which were high school students, and to date, two divers involved in the recovery of the bodies.  The vessel was carrying almost 4000 tons of cargo – over 4 times its rated limit.  The morning of its fateful trip, the top-heavy Sewol took on water and capsized.  A lack of leadership on the vessel resulting in confusion, trapping hundreds in a watery grave.  This would be a horrific disaster for any nation to face.

Through the years we’ve seen numerous ferry boat disasters around the world, most of which are off the shores of developing nations – those with few if any safety standards and a lack of regulatory and enforcement agencies.  Rarely, however, do we see ferry boat disasters occurring in developed nations.  In many regards we consider South Korea our peer and sometimes even an innovator, especially in the areas of technology and engineering.  It seems, however, that regulation has not kept up with innovation.  South Korea’s response efforts have also been criticized.

In 2005, the United States suffered the impacts of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast.  Over 1800 people lost their lives.  The disaster within the disaster was how poorly our emergency management system worked.  Their were failures at higher levels of Federal and State government, resulting in response delays and poor coordination and delivery of resources.  FEMA was blamed for most of these failures.  People were fired or asked to resign and new plans were created and implemented – most of which at the behest of legislators.

Now in South Korea in the wake of the ferry tragedy, their federal government is on the verge of launching a new national safety agency, meant to usurp responsibilities from various other federal agencies including the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, the National Emergency Management Agency, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, and the Coast Guard.  Change is clearly needed, but will a new organization bring about the changes needed to protect the citizens of South Korea?

We tend to see a great deal of change when tragedies such as this occur.  Obviously changes need to be made, but few accept responsibility.  Changes also seem to be made to give the illusion of progress, with no real plans set in place to address the underlying issues that exist.  It seems people feel that change itself will provide the fixes which are needed.  We’ve seen reorganizations put in place at FEMA on several occasions, intended to streamline or address dysfunctionality.  We’ve seen the same happen with the American Red Cross – who seems to alternate between two different organizational models with each decade.  Just recently the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Administration resided amidst their scandal – activities which have taken place quite a distance from his post, activities which you hear little responsibility taken by the individual hospital administrators where it truly lies.

It’s not to say that all organizational change is unnecessary.  Organizations are organic, living, breathing entities – not static creations.  They must evolve and adapt to continue being successful.  That doesn’t mean, however, that every occurrence of negative press necessitates an organizational change.  Organizational changes are expensive in time, money, and the anxiety of employees.  They stall out progress of the organization until rebuilding is complete, then progress resumes slowly as the kinks are worked out.  Many think a plan for reorganization is simply drawing a new organization chart and that its implementation, after the firing of a few people and handing out new titles to others can be implemented overnight.  This, clearly, is fundamentally wrong.  Consider that even small businesses put a great deal of time into creating business plans which outline the resources, organization, and strategy of a new company.

I would challenge that it’s the people and the culture of these agencies that need to change.  Certainly they need new or different approaches to problems, some adjustments in their chain of command, and the tools to do their jobs better.  A radical reorganization should only take place if it’s completely necessary.  Consider what the creation of DHS has done for us – yes, their have been some improvements in prevention, preparedness and response; but at what cost?  A massive umbrella agency with coordination and leadership problems of its own.  DHS didn’t escape Katrina unscathed either due to its position between the FEMA Administrator and the President.

It seems that reorganization is the easy knee-jerk answer to problems.  Let’s slow down a bit, assess the failures and their causes, and address the internal problems first.  Without doing so, new agencies and new titles will carry the same problems.

© Timothy Riecker 2014

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???