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Archive for August, 2011


Tales of Irene: Did we over react?

August 27, 2011 1100 hrs EDT (Maryland)

Hurricane Irene 2011

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 certainty in the forecasts 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. More…


Supplanting – Will it be an issue in the future of preparedness programs?

As grant funds are shrinking for all but the Tier I UASIs, the issue of supplanting may come up as UASI jurisdictions discuss options for “program contraction” in light of non-supplanting requirements.

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. More…


Twitter Hashtags and Emergency Management (Includes my #Hashtag List)

While some emergency managers are embracing social media with both arms, 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.

The five phases of emergency management
The (now) five phases of emergency management

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. More…


What People Don’t Get About My Job: I Worked at FEMA

Saw this on the web today.  What it is like to be a FEMA DAE.

I’m going to write about both my old job and my current job, because there are a lot of misunderstandings about both. 

I was formerly an employee of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the type of employee known as a Disaster Assistance Employee or Disaster Reservist. I am writing this as a former employee speaking about my experiences and anecdotally, and I am in no way a representative of the agency. I recently quit so I could pursue graduate school, however many people seemed to not really understand a lot about my position or what FEMA even did.

Most Americans either have an overly generous view of FEMA or think that FEMA only operates in major disasters a la Katrina. Both of these views are wrong. FEMA doesn’t come out if you have a little water in your basement or if a Tornado destroys only two houses in an entire state (usually). Conversely, just because a disaster may seem small, does not mean that it may not rise to the level of requiring FEMA assistance.

Additionally, many Americans seem to miss the fact that the agency can’t enter a state without a governor’s request, so many times FEMA’s “slow response” is actually a governor’s slow response. The agency chooses not to ever point this out because governors can become senators, and senators with grudges have the power of the purse. As for my specific position, I was called up when there were disasters and traveled to these disasters. When there were no disasters I didn’t work. For the past three years that I worked at FEMA there were plenty of disasters, so I worked most of the year. Additionally most disasters require a lot of overtime so I was able to make a healthy amount of money to hold me over while I sat at home. Other disaster assistance employees (DAEs) were not so lucky. DAEs, unlike the often vilified government employees, are not entitled to the Federal Healthcare plan, only recently began to receive sick time, and can very easily be fired (at least from a specific disaster). My relatives and friends always thought it was outrageous that I was paying out of pocket for health insurance.


New Emergency Preparedness Tools for Local Health Departments

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: