Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tales of Irene: Did we over react?

August 27, 2011 1100 hrs EDT (Maryland)

I have been watching Irene with interest, both as a resident of the east coast and as an emergency management practitioner.  I have been impressed with the planning and preparation so far, surprised by some of the doom and gloom, and now listening to those that think that everyone overreacted. So, I am prompted to impose my opinions on my readers once again...

The short answer to the question of overreactions is, IMHO, that it was not overreacting based on what the emergency managers had in the way of a forecast.  Hurricanes are unique, and preparedness officials are blessed, in that there is a lot of warning with tropical systems - almost too much it seems. The problem is there is not as much certainly as we would like. Forecast tracks change all the time and forecast strength is also seldom correct. But you need to work with what you have.

Evacuations are a tool to save lives. Getting people out of the impact zone is a no-brainier but when and how many is the tough decision facing emergency managers.  It takes a long time to evacuate resorts and metropolitan areas.  If you pull the trigger too fast (and the threat does not play out) you may have caused some unnecessary disruption to business and vacations. If you pull the trigger too late, you might put more people in harm's way, causing huge traffic jams and more suffering.  The forecast was dire and the track was a worst case scenario; so, emergency managers had to weigh these factors and that is what lead to evacuations from the OBX up to New England. 

Too Much Hype?
Almost everyone dislikes the hyperbole that politicians and newscasters seem to enjoy so much. I personally wish there was more of a "just the facts" approach to public information.  I understand that it is a tough job to get people to pay attention to warnings and to react to government advice, so a little hype is understandable. You need to do something to get people's attention, denial and inertia are normal and a lot of people do not listen but the over-the-top hype seems to have a negative effect on many.

My pet peeve and dismay is reserved for the the weatherman on the beach, or in the street, watching the destruction. There they stand, crouched down against the wind, dodging flying debris, etc., all while warning everyone to stay inside!  The hypocrisy is unbelievable! They set a bad example for everyone. If they can be on the beach why can't we?

Making Tough Decisions
With the storm weakening and the damage appearing to be minor (at this hour), I am sure that people are wondering if it was worth shutting down the entire eastern seaboard for this so called "storm of the century".  I applaud the emergency managers and politicians for making the tough decisions and announcing them far enough in advance to work.  The evacuations that I saw carried out went very smoothly. Ocean City and the State deployed  buses which came down and fetched the international student workers, who do not have cars normally, and took them up to Baltimore to stay in a University. That was a good plan and well executed. It appears to have gone off without a hitch.

Irene impacts Surf Beach, North Carolina (Rick Paxton photo)

I was faced with a personal evacuation "decision dilemma" myself as I was enjoying some time at the beach. I immediately started weighing my options when the forecast track got close to my location. It would be easy to move in the deck furniture and leave. Part of me wanted to stay as I enjoy a good storm. I grew up at the beach and never evacuated before. As a fire fighter I went out and ran calls in storms and I must say I found it invigorating. However, with family and pets to think about, and having no first responder role to play, I decided to leave and then went to work trying to talk my family members who live there into leaving.  

I left early and had no traffic. As soon as I got home the evacuation orders started so I would have needed to leave anyway.  As for my family, and other "locals" I know, none of them wanted to go and many of them stayed.  They wanted to watch over their property; even after evacuations were ordered and it was announced that water and sewer would be shut off. I hope that they all make out alright and I am watching closely to see how bad they get it.

Lessons to Learn
As with any disaster, or near disaster, there are lessons to learn. We will be watching for after action reviews and recommendations.  I hope that no one thinks this was a "crying wolf" situation. When the next one comes, the threat may be worse and the issues will be the same.  Bottom line, have a plan, be prepared, and remember it is better to be safe than sorry.

Looking forward to getting back to the beach to see if the roof is still on the condo!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Preparing for Hurricane Irene

I wanted to share this"Preparing for Hurricane Irene" letter from Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano to his constituents on Long Island.  I think they have done an excellent job of communicating with the local residents in advance of Irene.

Dear Neighbors,

With hurricane Irene heading toward our coast, we urge all Nassau County residents to prepare appropriately for the storm. Below please find a list of precautions to take and items to have in your home to prepare you.

1. Select a safe place for the family to weather the storm. This may be a location in your home - consider a windowless room on the bottom floor. If your home doesn't have a safe area, you should know the locations of at least two emergency shelters near your home. If you have special medical needs and don't think you'll be able to get to the shelter on your own, contact the county in advance to make prior arrangements.

2. Stock up on food and water. You should have enough non-perishable food and water in your home to last the family for at least a week. If your stock of supplies is old, be sure to refresh it. You might want to purchase new canned goods every few years and rotate the rest through your pantry. Water should be replaced annually.

3. Prepare other disaster supplies. You'll need to stock up on batteries, flashlights, rope, tarps, plastic bags, bad-weather clothing and other essentials to help you through the aftermath of a bad storm.

4. Get your home ready. If you have hurricane shutters, make sure that you have all of the parts and have some extra screws/washers handy. If you don't, have a supply of plywood precut to fit your windows. Gather anything loose from your yard and store it in the garage. Watch the news when a storm is approaching and protect your home when advised by local authorities. If you wait until the rain starts, it may be too late.
5. Develop a family communications plan. You might become separated before or after the storm. It's a good idea to have an out-of-state contact (a relative up north?) to act as the point of contact for all family members in the event of an emergency. Make sure everyone in the family knows who that person is and carries their phone number in their wallet or purse.

6. Check your insurance coverage. Companies stop writing coverage when a storm is approaching. Ensure that your homeowner's insurance has enough windstorm coverage to rebuild your home in today's market. Also, remember that standard insurance doesn't cover flooding. You'll need special flood insurance from the federal government.

7. Plan for the family pets. Shelters will not accept pets. However, there will be Pet Shelters in close proximity to the Human shelters for your pets. The best idea is to evacuate early to a friend's home that's located in a safe area.

8. Keep your vehicles gassed up to at least half a tank at all times throughout hurricane season. When a storm approaches, lines WILL get long (up to five hours!) and gas stations will run out of gas before the storm hits. You need to have enough gas to safely evacuate if the situation warrants.

Recommended Items to Include in a Basic Emergency Supply Kit:
  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra
  • batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger

Additional Items to Consider Adding to an Emergency Supply Kit:
  • Prescription medications and glasses
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Cash or traveler's checks and change
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container. You can use the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit
  • (EFFAK) - PDF, 277Kb) developed by Operation Hope, FEMA and Citizen Corps to help you organize your information.
  • Emergency reference material such as a first aid book or information from
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes.
  • Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

Find out how to keep food safe during and after an emergency by visiting

Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.  Stay safe.
Ed Signature
Edward P. Mangano
County Executive

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Sometimes you just need to share a good picture. This is one of my pet peeves....

Monday, August 15, 2011

Supplanting - Will it be an issue for preparedness grants?

As you may know, the FEMA preparedness grant programs are designed to “enhance community emergency preparedness and participation capabilities”, not to help fund baseline programs. The common concept for grants is that they are to “supplement not supplant” local dollars. However, many communities are looking at a loss of both local tax dollars and grant funds at the same time; what are they to do? Tough decisions must be made; is the option of shifting tax-funded program activities to grants a viable one? Maybe, but caution is warranted.
Many grant programs, including FEMA preparedness grants, have specific requirements that all grant-funded expenses must be new and that grant funds cannot replace existing state or local government funding. Substitution of existing funds with federal grants (supplanting) will be the subject of monitoring and audit reports. Non-supplanting rules are serious business, violations can result in penalties, including suspension of current and future funds, suspension or debarment from federal grants, repayment of monies provided under a grant, and civil and/or criminal penalties. So it is wise to carefully consider this as you restructure programs in light of shrinking fiscal resources.
The DHS Financial Management Guide offers one possible source of relief to the non-supplanting requirement in light of the situation presented by budget cuts.The guidance states that: “Recipients therefore must ensure that they do not reduce the current overall level of funding support to preparedness missions,absent exigent circumstances.”
Exigent circumstances are emergency conditions and many communities are certainly in situations that are deemed financial emergencies. So, does a budget crisis meet the test of an “exigent circumstance”? I am not going to answer that but suggest grantees may want to ask the question of their legal advisors and/or ask the Grant Programs Directorate for and interpretation. I think a lot of grantees are going to be finding themselves in this situation.
The DHS Financial Management Guide language on supplanting is quoted verbatim below.

Recipients of G&T funds shall not replace funding appropriated from State and local governments with their Federal grant funding. It is the purpose of these grants to increase the overall amount of resources available to any G&T funded organization in order to bolster preparedness and to increase services and opportunities. Current levels of activities or programs funded by State, local or non-governmental entity resources should only be increased by receipt of Federal funding. Recipients therefore must ensure that they do not reduce the current overall level of funding support to preparedness missions, absent exigent circumstances.
For example, if a State pays the salaries of three intelligence analysts, it cannot begin to pay the salary of one of them with Federal grant funding. It could, however, hire a fourth analyst.
Potential supplanting will be the subject of application review, as well as pre-award review, post-award monitoring, and audit. If there is a potential presence of supplanting, the applicant or grantee will be required to supply documentation demonstrating that the reduction in non-Federal resources occurred for reasons other than the receipt or expected receipt of Federal funds.
A confirmation during the application process may be requested by the awarding agency or recipient agency stating that Federal funds will not be used to supplant State or local funds.

Steve Davis, All Hands

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Twitter Hashtags and Emergency Management

(Updated November 11, 2011)  

While some emergency managers are embracing social media, others are still avoiding it. However, social media has emerged as an important tool for emergency managers. Emergency managers are using social media as a preparedness tool to engage the community, help with public information and as otherwise aid in dissemination of the preparedness message.  In addition, social media is emerging as an important tool for situation awareness during the response and recovery phases of an emergency.
It is important, in using social media for all phases of emergency management, to understand that it is not just about Twitter.  However, Twitter has clearly emerged as the most significant platform for emergency management engagement and situational awareness.  Twitter is simple; it is a micro blogging tool which is limited to 140 characters.  Anyone can follow what anyone else has to say.  This stream of  data (the Twittersphere or Twitter Stream) can be overwhelming based on the huge volume of silly Tweets that populate the stream.  However, the use of a “hashtag” (a short term preceded by the hash or # symbol) makes it manageable.  In addition, there are many Twitter aggregators and trend monitoring websites available; these use a variety of tactics to filter out what’s important or of interest to emergency managers. Currently some better software tools are emerging which may help automate the monitoring process.  Any monitoring or use of the Twittersphere will ultimately need to use hashtags. 

Hashtags are good to understand but hard to control; some say that hashtagging is a subtle art and I would have to agree.  As a user-defined tool, hashtags are both organic and rapidly evolving and there is no way to control them but there are some established ones to use and follow related to emergency management.  People will just start using a hash tag that seems to make sense given an emergency (Ex” #Joplin, #tornado, or #Earl) or use common terms like #hurricane. Hashtags help the public and emergency managers alike follow the conversation to see what I relevant to the event.  It will be interesting to see what emerges as an effective way to integrate Twitter and other social media in emergency management but it is clear that TwitterFacebook and a host of other tools are here to stay and these have already impacted the world of emergency management greatly.
Here is my list of commonly used hashtags (updated and in order of preference).
Hash Tag List
Emergency Management and Homeland Security
#HSEM – Homeland Security/Emergency Management - This is my clear favorite and it is becoming the preferred tag to use by many in emergency management and homeland security.  It is broad in meaning and well used.  In fact, the following hashtags are underused or used for different subjects as noted below.
#Disaster – Disaster related (also used often for trivial things like, “My hair is a #disaster!”)
#UASI – Urban Areas Security Initiative and anything relevant to those in UASI programs (past or present). Note: This started as a tag for the UASI conference but is now used to talk about relevant topics and Drive the #UASI Daily paper. However there are not many posts using it currently.
#DHS – Department of Homeland Security
#EM, #Emergency – Emergency Management – Used for many other (non emergency management) things and not used that often now for emergency management.

#Homeland – This used to mean that a post was related to Homeland Security but this has now been overtaken by those discussing the TV series Homeland and other things that are not relevant to Homeland Security. Instead, I suggest that you use #HSEM, #UASI, or #SMEM as appropriate. (This drives the #Homeland Daily but that is now all about the TV show.)

Public Health
#Outbreak – Disease outbreak
#H1N1 – The H1N1 virus
#Health – Health related
#BOLO – Be on the Look Out
#Quake, #Earthquake – All things seismic
#CBRNE – CBRNE is for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (or energetic) topics
#EMS – Emergency medical Services
#Fire – Fire and Rescue
#Hazmat – Hazardous Materials
#Missing – Missing person
#LEO – Law Enforcement Office or Organization
#WANTED –  Wanted person or vehicle
Weather Related
#Hurricane – Hurricane (obviously)
#Storm – any sort of storm (You can use #tropical #storm for instance)
#Tropical – Tropical weather (Ex: #tropical #wave emerges in the #Atlantic and Will we have #Franklin and #Gert roaming the Atlantic soon? #Tropical update)
#Tropicalstorm #TS (Tropical Storm)
#Tropicalwx – Tropical Weather)
#Twoat – Tropical Weather Outlook Atlantic)
#WX – Weather-Specific (preface with state initials for state-specific, e.g., #MDWX)
Social Media
#SMEM – Social Media and Emergency Management (Often abused for things not SMEM related)
#SMEMChat – Used during Twitter chats about SMEM on Fridays between 9:30-10:30a PST
#SM, #SocMed, #SocialMedia – Social Media in general

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What about THIRA - what does it have to do with my grants?

THIRA is the acronym for a "Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment."  While many people do not really understand the difference between the terms threat, hazard, and risk (that can be the subject of another piece) I’m sure most of our readers are familiar with Threat Assessments and/or Hazard Identification and Risk Assessments (HIRAs).  The term THIRA may be something new but the concept is not.  The reason that it is a term of some importance is that the term was included in the FY2011 Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) guidance and it is causing a concern for some grantees.  The HSGP guidance says that: 

"In order to qualify for FY 2011 funding, all grantees shall develop and maintain a THIRA."

While good folks at DHS/FEMA are developing a Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) supplement that will aid in the conduct of these and other risk assessments, there is no specific guidance out about how to do a THIRA that meets the requirements of the grant

The new CPG supplement guidance will be available for FY2012 and later but for now we need to figure this out for ourselves.  But fear not, the HSGP guidance also says that:

"Current State Hazard Identification and Risk Assessments developed for the purposes of Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) or Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) that have a terrorism component satisfy the FY 2011 SHSP and UASI requirement."

I am not sure to what degree states have included a terrorism component in their HIRAs but the terrorism threat certainly should be a factor under human-caused hazards.  However, some states have elected to exclude Hazardous Materials and Terrorism hazards from their HIRAs due to the perceived sensitivity of the related information and the potential for misuse.

That being said, my understanding is that a state (and by extension the UASIs within it) that meet this standard of a HIRA with a Terrorism component will meet the grant requirement.  Those that do not, will need to do a THIRA in order to qualify for funding. 

For those of you that will be doing THIRAs, remember to take a "Whole Community" approach.  Numerous partners—including federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, faith-based and community-based organizations, and the public—should be included in the process.  As FEMA has suggested, states and UASIs should engage these partners in building a shared perspective around threats and risk. Together they can identify how best the community can work together to minimize risk.

When you do a THIRA, you can start with using existing Hazard Vulnerability Analyses (HVAs) or HIRAs as a base and then work to identify the top threats and hazards for your community.  Then look at the risks—and opportunities—across the spectrum of threats and hazards. 

You might also want to check with your FEMA Region as I understand they are working to conduct their own THIRAs.

According to FEMA:

THIRAs are intended to be tools that allow organizations at all levels of government to identify, assess, and prioritize their natural and man-made risks.  These assessments are meant to facilitate the identification of capability and resource gaps, and allow organizations to track their year-to-year progress to address those gaps.  THIRAs should leverage existing hazard mitigation processes, but be conducted in a reasonably standard manner so that results may be incorporated into federal-level assessments.  FEMA will use these assessments to develop regional planning assumptions and, working with its partners, identify and implement priority actions to address assumptions identified.

Obviously, there is a strong basis for this work in the long standing hazard mitigation program practices; however, there should be a common approach to doing THIRAs as part of the annual emergency management program life cycle.  

If it were up to me, I would work to integrate these assessments with capability assessments, improvement planning, and performance metric activities.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

UASI Collaboration Update

Those of you that know me, probably know that I have been very involved in the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) and the annual National UASI Conference since the inception of both programs. I blog today to note that, while I am no longer going to be involved with the UASI conference, I am going to keep working to support collaboration among UASIs as I have been doing for the last five years.

Why the Change?
As you may know, the UASI conference is now managed by a Board of Directors, elected from UASI Points of Contact and organized as a 501c6. This group is now the "National UASI Association" and has taken full responsibility for the conference.  Last year was a transition year and I helped plan the conference on behalf of San Francisco, the 2011 host. Going forward, the conference will be working to do the conference on their own.

Meanwhile, I plan to continue to support and facilitate collaboration and communication among UASIs as I have done for the last five years via the web site and related mail lists. The UASI Association will  have a new web presence (TBD) and the 2012 Conference has already established its own web page at

Since my involvement with the Miami UASI (starting in 2003), I have been immersed in the UASI program as both a UASI program manager (contractor) and as a networker (volunteer). I and my business (All Hands Consulting) have been involved in the UASI program for eight years now.  

In 2005, I was asked by Miami to help organize a UASI conference for the IAFC Metro Chiefs Section. That small conference lead to the first annual UASI Conference which Miami hosted in 2007.  The Miami conference was followed by two conferences in Charlotte, NC. With the great support of the Charlotte Fire Department (Jeff Dulin and Christina Parkins in particular) the conference grew from an attendance of 400 to over 1,100. Subsequent conferences in New Orleans and San Francisco continued the trend of growth in attendance with this year's conference drawing 1,800 attendees.  

We supported the National UASI Conference with web site development, creative media, administration and program support for the first five years of the conference (2007-2011). The 2009 Charlotte conference paid for web services thought June of this year; since that contract has now expired, the UASI Conference is moving to a new web address. This completes a transition from conferences supported by Charlotte and All Hands, to conferences managed by the National UASI Association Inc.

While we are no longer supporting the conference, we will continue to host the web site as an information sharing portal for UASIs and other homeland security and emergency management program staff.

If you would like to stay up-to-date on UASI activities there are a number of information sharing tools at your disposal:

New Emergency Preparedness Tools for Local Health Departments

The San Francisco Bay Area Advanced Practice Center, which represents a partnership between the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the UC Berkeley Center for Infectious Diseases and Emergency Readiness, recently launched two new emergency preparedness products for local health departments: the Infectious Disease Emergency Response (IDER) Toolkit and the Seasonal and Pandemic Influenza Vaccination Assessment (SPIVA) Toolkit.

The IDER Toolkit provides local health departments with guidance and templates that can be used to develop and operationalize a National Incident Management System-compliant response plan for infectious disease emergencies at the local level. It draws on extensive public health preparedness activities, experiences from the recent H1N1 outbreak, survey findings, and discussions with health departments throughout the country. The IDER Toolkit addresses unique features of an infectious disease emergency response, such as disease containment and epidemiology and surveillance, and includes modifiable organizational charts, job action sheets, and public health-specific Incident Command System forms.  

The SPIVA Toolkit gives an orientation to using community assessment methods as a tool for emergency preparedness. The SPIVA Toolkit provides an overview of how to use key informant interviews and focus groups to inform assessment activities, a step-by-step guide to designing and conducting effective vaccination surveys, a description of online tools and resources that may assist with data collection and analysis, and field-tested examples that show how other counties have implemented community assessments.

The IDER and SPIVA Toolkits are free and accessible online at Help spread the word about these free resources for local health departments by posting one of our promotional web buttons on your personal page or organization’s website: