Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Blue Cell Intel Summary, Vol 1. Issue 7

Weather, Weather and more Weather...
As 2011 comes to a close, we reflect on the significant weather related events that continue to shape and refine our emergency response procedures and practices.  Our reflection begins with spring 2011 that may well go down in the weather history books as the most extreme weather related events on record. From the massive April tornado swarm, to record Mississippi river levels, to extreme drought and wildfires in the Southwest, weather extremes were both violent and relentless, taking a terrible toll on human life and the economy.     
We saw 314 deaths from the tornado outbreak on April 27 which is the fourth most on record in a single day.  Tornados continued causing death and destruction through the spring to culminate with the Joplin, MO tornado on May 22.  This tornado took 151 lives making it the seventh deadliest single tornado on record.  Spring also brought immense precipitation to the United States creating record-setting crests along the Mississippi River to include Caruthersville, MO, Birds Point, MO, Vicksburg, MS, Natchez, MS, Red River Landing, LA as well as historic levels in many other locations including Memphis.
Extensive flooding was experienced by many Americans when 6.8 million acres flooded in Lower Mississippi River Valley.  In this area, 3.5 million acres of farmland was flooded to include one million acres of farmland flooded in Arkansas and 900,000 acres of farmland flooded in Mississippi  which was 10 percent of the farmland in this state.
Conversely, Texas experienced their driest March, April and May on record.   Records continued to be set by the most wildfire activity on record in April with almost 1.8 million acres burned.  The extreme drought caused Texas ranchers to lose $1.2 billion because pastures did not green and livestock losses are expected to exceed $1 billion due to lack of water and feed for cattle.
The tumultuous weather continued in August when Hurricane Irene struck the eastern seaboard.  It made landfall over Eastern North Carolina's Outer Banks on the morning of August 27 as a Category 1 hurricane and Irene continued to move north striking the Coney Island area of Brooklyn, NY on August 28 as she was downgraded to a tropical storm.   Considerable damage occurred in eastern upstate New York and Vermont, which suffered from the worst flooding in centuries.  Irene caused widespread destruction and at least the death of 56 individuals.  Damage estimates from Irene throughout the United States range from $10 to $15 billion.
Weather induced disasters allow emergency responders to utilize the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and hone their skills to provide the best response possible for the citizens of their communities.  “Based upon emergency management and incident response practices, NIMS represents a core set of doctrine, concepts, principles, terminology, and organizational processes that enables effective, efficient, and collaborative incident management.  The institutionalization of these elements nationwide through training helps to mitigate risk by achieving greater preparedness” according to the Department of Homeland Security.  Many of the communities affected by these weather events were ready to respond to the disasters using NIMS while others attempted but missed the mark providing a disservice to their communities.
The Blue Cell, LLC continues its mission to provide the tools, ideas, training and real world application of the Incident Command System Planning concepts to ensure emergency responders do not miss the mark in future weather related disasters.  The Blue Cell is thankful for our success in 2011 and we look forward to providing professional and progressive training, consulting and deployment services in 2012.

Susan Douglas
Consulting Services Group Lead

The Blue Cell, LLC 
Fort Worth, Texas Office 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Blue Cell Intel Summary, Vol. 1 Issue 6

Hazard Vulnerability Assessment: A Community Effort

“Hazard mitigation is any sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate the longterm risk to human life and property from hazards. Mitigation activities may be implemented prior to, during, or after an incident. However, it has been demonstrated that hazard mitigation is most effective when based on an inclusive, comprehensive, longterm plan that is developed before a disaster occurs. “ (Federal Emergency Management Agency, Local MultiHazard Mitigation Planning Guidance, July 1, 2008.) The process of assessing and mitigating all possible hazards and risks within an agency, city, or region is a critical task that must be undertaken by all communities. It must be performed by all the agencies and businesses within those communities; if local risks and hazards are not assessed critically and cross-jurisdictionally, community members and response agencies will not be able to work together to plan, prepare for, or mitigating against the probable hazards they face. There is a direct increase in losses incurred after a disaster if planning and preparedness efforts have not occurred. Calculating the type of impact each hazard will have on the community and speculating outcomes in terms of personal safety, loss of infrastructure, loss of life, business continuity, and other areas allows leaders within the community to outline plans to mitigate against these risks, determine priorities within the community, and increase the effectiveness of response actions in times of need.

Over the past ten years our nation has seen over 597 federally declared disasters, ranging from severe storms and flooding, to wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, snowstorms, and many other disasters. Major hurricanes such as Rita and Katrina wreaked havoc on communities within the United States, killing hundreds and leaving thousands displaced, while also costing billions in damage in Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi and Alabama. The cost and devastation of disasters increases exponentially when little mitigation or planning has occurred pre-disaster. If individual communities, counties, regions, and states could begin working together to create comprehensive disaster mitigation and response plans, actual prioritization of mitigation tasks could be viewed as a joint effort amongst all agencies. A community wide assessment of local hazards, risks and vulnerabilities, including local or state Emergency Management, Fire and Rescue agencies, Law Enforcement, EMS, Public Health, Hospitals, other Healthcare partners such as home health and hospice, non-profit and volunteer agencies, private industry and business, community members, and any other stakeholders within the area, is the only way to address all the probable risks each of these groups or agencies may face. When individual agencies share their hazard analysis with each other and cooperate in their planning efforts to ensure each individual plan integrates into all other local response plans, lives, structures, infrastructure, sensitive eco systems, and economic losses could be minimized.

By working together to address potential hazards for each of these individual agencies, everyone is able to understand why each individual has different priorities and an overall situational awareness becomes apparent pre-event. This pre-disaster cooperation will clear up confusion during an incident response and allow communities to understand what plans are in place, what type of response will occur, and what expectations there are for each agency and as a community. The necessity to integrate the planning and decision making process not only with response agencies, but to also include community members, cannot be over exaggerated. These populations must have a greater understanding of how their community functions, how to reach the largest populations quickly, and where vulnerable populations live and work. They will offer valuable insight into how impacts of disaster will affect their community, and individuals within that network. They are also hungry for knowledge of planning efforts, and the more informed and prepared the public, the better chance of survival and a quicker transition from response to recovery.

 Planning can’t occur in a vacuum, it must evolve into a process that is inclusive of all stakeholders. Hazards and risks must be prioritized based on impact to all sectors, and work that occurs to mitigate impacts should be done using a cross-sector approach. Emergency managers are well aware of the need to assess risks and hazards within their city or county, but do not necessarily share this information with other groups or agencies within their community. The same can be said about many organizations; risk assessments may occur within an agency, but the collected data is not disseminated to the community. For example, hospitals are required to perform their own annual internal assessment of risk as a requirement of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JHACO). However, it is a little known fact that JHACO also requires them to share their highest prioritized hazards with response agencies in their community and work with them to collectively develop an integrated response strategy.

This cross-sector sharing of hazard and vulnerabilities from one agency to another is not occurring in most counties or regions within Colorado, and is not on a large enough scale if it is occurring to some degree. Because Colorado is such a diverse state, geographically and in population, hazards and risks vary greatly throughout; response capabilities and available resources change rapidly as you move across our great terrain. Impacts of certain hazards and the priorities for hazard mitigation planning are viewed very differently region to region. Utilizing a collaborative approach for hazard assessment and planning helps create a valuable prioritization of resources within each region. Local response capabilities will be enhanced tremendously, community assets will be evenly distributed through plans in place pre-disaster, and dialogue about community risks will allow for a foundation of a resilient community. This will greatly reduce the impact of hazards and risks and help decrease individual disruptions in services and within critical infrastructure, continuity of business will be facilitated, and communities will become resilient while also self sustaining in times of disaster. It is crucial that state and local government begin to work together with community partners in preparedness from both the private, non-profit, industry, and community to truly create integrated plans for improving abilities to respond to disaster. When planning occurs collaboratively, every stakeholder is allowed input and all plans are created with one mission in mind; the safety and security of our communities in times of disaster, and the improved ability of responders and leaders to quickly assess and handle a disaster response when disaster occurs.

Nicole Cantrell
Exercise Specialist, The Blue Cell, LLC

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Blue Cell Intel Summary Volume 1 Issue 5


This months Blue Cell Intel Summary comes from Randy Freed from our Denver Office and was edited by Susan Douglas from our Ft. Worth Office.

I have said many times that every deployment is like getting shot out of a cannon.  It’s always the same fear; am I up to the challenge?  Will I screw up and get someone hurt?  All things considered, I just love the opportunities and the adversities every emergency brings.  My latest deployment for Hurricane Irene provided me with many tests and trials.

A colleague and I boarded a plane at Denver International Airport at 6 A.M. enroute to Richmond, Virginia via Washington D.C. as Richmond was already closed to air travel.   We had driven most of the night and we were already in overdrive.  Even though Richmond is about 100 miles from the coast, Hurricane Irene was in full bloom as we arrived at Virginia’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

My teammate and I were deployed as an EMAC A-Team and were billeted at the ESF-7 Resources section.  I have to tell you Virginia has it going on.  The State EOC has a terrific lay out; underground, big and new.

We never did figure it out, even though we are seasoned operators, why we had the night shift.  Eight at night to eight in the morning all the while the relative rookies had the day shift.  In all fairness, the rookies arrived first but still rank ought to have privileges.
Ready to pump out Req A’s like they were water, we sat, we watched and we waited to be utilized. 

Ultimately, no Req A’s were broadcasted.  Evidently, Virginia’s Governor mandated no out of state resources would be used.  So while we tried to look busy we had the privilege to watch the Virginia resource unit do their thing.   We observed and on occasion were asked our opinion about what to do.  The five people in the unit did a fine job of getting commodities out to the affected counties. 

The EOC manager gave a situation overview every shift change that even the most critical of Plans Chiefs would enjoy.  The Governor gave a positive uplifting speech and then, without any staffers, went to each ESF and visited.  He spent the entire day doing his diligence.
We were not being utilized and when everyone else is working that is a bad feeling.  Fortunately, my colleague and I were asked if we wanted to go to New York to assist and we shouted, “Hell yea.”   We flew from Richmond to Boston then to Albany.  We were met at the airport by the ground support unit and I felt like a big dog.

New York’s EOC is a 1950’s fallout shelter so it is also underground and enormous.  It is very reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove.  You walk 30 feet down a long tube or culvert to the center and make a 90 degree turn through the blast door much like NORAD.  The set-up is by department not ESF’s or function.  My teammate was sent to the EMAC A-Team section and I was sent to the Plans section because that is my forte’ and they were in desperate need of qualified individuals in Plans.
Truthfully I do not intend to be critical, but these are my observations that I found interesting.  We were a Planning section in name only.  In fact were we a pure Situation unit, all 12 of us on the day shift.  The night shift suffered through the ordeal with only 5 or 6 people.  Don’t misunderstand, we were busy but in my opinion gravely underused.  I do not know who at the New York State EOC was actually performing Planning functions, if anyone, but it was not us in the designated Planning section.  My job was tracking electric utility outages from seven power companies and attending meetings on behalf of the Planning section.  I went to the teleconference for the county EOC’s, the command and general staff meeting, the planning meeting with FEMA and the last meeting of the day was the teleconference for all the state agencies involved.  

After a couple of days we had a personnel turn over and I was promoted to Deputy Plans Chief which would look good on a resume but I could not get the staffing unit to get that information to FEMA to be included on the Incident Action Plan (IAP).  Yep, that’s right, the New York State EOC did not produce an IAP but FEMA did one that included the state’s information.  You can imagine how it is; I suggested very gently an IAP but was rebuffed so I let it go.  But as far as resume building, I’ve got a good job with no intention of changing.  My job at the New York State EOC was to build a situation report every 12 hours and generate an executive report.  The Counter-terrorism task force desk was tasked with doing a separate executive report.  We collaborated by sharing information and dividing work.  It was very redundant and a waste of manpower.   

The numbers were enormous; 940,000 people without electrical power, 100,000 people evacuated in one day.  Shelters, Disaster Recovery Centers, nursing homes and hospitals in need of evacuation encountered egress difficulties as many roads were destroyed.  While we were there, Tropical Storm Lee came for a visit.  Nine inches of rain on Binghampton, NY which was already inundated caused an evacuation of 20,000 residents. 

New York utilizes a computerized emergency tracking system called D-Lan instead of WebEOC that I am familiar with.   I have to say as a guy who has an ongoing feud with technology I found it pretty efficient and intuitive.  Dare I say superior.

New York is a nervous state.  The vibe is anxious and we spent way too much time and energy writing a situation report for an unknown audience.  The stereotypes of people in the Northeast are accurate.  I walked in one morning and said “GOOD MORNING EVERYONE!” The entire unit looked up at me and said nothing.  With a smile I loudly asked if they were stumped for a response.  Nothing but silence, WOW!

Finally, I had a great experience and look forward to my next deployment with the intention of serving whomever I am working for.  This is my great joy.

Randy Freed

Lead Trainer, The Blue Cell, LLC  
Deputy Planning Section Chief, The  Blue Cell Deployment Services Group

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Blue Cell Intell Summary Volume 1, Issue 4

As the 10 year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks approaches, it is nearly impossible to avoid the subject; everyone has a feeling, a story, a comment. Terrorism as a concept for me goes all the way back to the 1972 Olympics. Watching ABC’s Jim McKay transform from sportscaster to newscaster in front of the entire world left an indelible mark on not only myself, but an entire generation of Americans. I went on to run track successfully in my young adult life, but my first Olympic memories as a spectator were heavily impacted by that tragedy rather than a historical race. Professionally, my introduction to terrorism came as a very young marine. A course that I was encouraged to complete through the Marine Corps Institute was called “Terrorism Counteractions”. Interestingly, having referred back to that material from that course several times in recent years, I believe that it was not only a great course, but a topic that remains relevant today in many regards. Much like the Terrorism Counteractions course, few things have changed. 
With the impending financial challenges the country faces and the strain of fighting multiple wars on multiple fronts, I have to wonder, will the efforts in anti and counter terrorism continue, and if so, what will that look like? Preparedness dollars are already beginning to shrink. Undoubtedly, we are better than we were before and maybe as good as we’ve ever been, but the question of are we truly ready still lingers.  
On May 1st of this year, Bin Laden was killed by naval special operations personnel. We have come a long way; Bin Laden’s death speaks to that truth. However, and despite having spent a hell of a lot of money, we simply aren’t there yet. The leadership and management of this country, in our representative form of government at every level, has to recognize the need to keep every US citizen’s security a national priority, whether it has been 10 or 100 years since the last attack. I can think of 2977 reasons why.

Todd Manns, Planning Section Chief, The Blue Cell, LLC

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Blue Cell Intell Summary Volume 1, Issue 3

The New FEMA ICS Forms
Yes, I am going to sit here and actually blog about the new ICS Forms. As a firm the usage and understanding of the new FEMA ICS Forms is a daily occurrence for The Blue Cell. We are teaching on average 5 ICS 300 courses a month and 1 Advanced Planning Concepts course a month. We receive phone calls, emails or text message inquiries reference the forms at least 3 times a week. We of course also sell and have under development several ICS forms related products. Not the sexiest thing about us, but truly a reality of being a planning company.
The new forms have some great, inherit basic features:
The ability to have page numbers as part of the form
The signature box allowing the position that actually filled out the form to be adjusted
The apparent thought that went into new ICS 204, making it all hazards and applicable to the staging area
The fore thought that communications may be getting done on something other than a radio
 The largest challenge that practitioners will face with regard to the new forms is the fact that at present they are only officially available in PDF fillable. The reason given for this is so that at least for a time they cannot be altered. In an operational setting this is a challenge. On a recent deployment, without having a certain level of adobe, this meant that the form could not be saved. Any good plans chief or resource unit leader knows that though proper naming convention strategy, the Incident Action Plan from the first operational period forward is process of editing the previous version with the changes for the next operational period. With PDF fillable that is not an option. On this particular mission I observed team members leaving the file opened 24 hours a day to avoid losing what was already written or simply having to re-write the entire form. In some instances this is fine, but when things tighten up or are moving fast, it becomes an area of frustration. A solution is to have at least one computer with Adobe Pro loaded on it. That computer should be one that final edits are going to press will be conducted from. The documentation unit laptop would be obvious choice.
A second challenge is the new ICS 209- Incident Summary. Weighing in at 5 pages, 53 boxes and 17 pages of instructions, this form is now huge. I had a plans person from a jurisdiction large enough to be a UASI tell me, “it’s just another IAP, why even fill it out.”  Well the purpose of the incident summary is to not be an IAP, but to give a practical overview for leadership that are supporting the incident. In other words the audiences are not only different but considerably diverse. The fact that it is situational dependent will predicate which and how many of the 53 boxes you have to fill in. The solution here is to know the form in advance and understand and write to the appropriate audience. Unlike the IAP, that has a specific audience, primary audience (the workers and leaders in operations) the incident summary could end up on the President of the United States desk. Yes, in recent years, that has actually happened.   
Todd Manns, Planning Section Chief, The Blue Cell,LLC

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Blue Cell Intel Summary Volume 1, Issue 2

Working Along The Mighty Missouri
I had the good fortune to be requested and assigned to flood fighting operations in the Siouxland area over the past few weeks. The Siouxlands are the Cities of South Sioux, Nebraska, North Sioux, South Dakota and Sioux City, Iowa; the feeling I get there is that of one big city along the Missouri river, or one big community. The sharing of resources, ideas, and information has been impressive.  A common occurrence has been volunteers that simply jump in their cars and cross the river to go fill sandbags. The Red Cross serves all three states out of one office, the three states and counties share a communications / command post amongst them, and lastly, emergency management officials know each other from living and working together on an ongoing basis. There is no ’exchanging business cards after the emergency has started in the parking lot.’
My mission this time was a technical assistance- planning mission to create, vet and tabletop a full evacuation plan of the South Sioux City, Dakota City, and Villages of Jackson and Homer, Nebraska. In support I had a great planning team in Lincoln at the Nebraska State EOC. The team, led by a Nebraska National Guard major, is made up of the State Fire Marshall, a ranking member of the State patrol and State Department roads with support from the state EOC GIS specialist.
We have conducted teleconferences twice a day in the development and vetting of this plan. It has been a unique approach to be the point man, in the field with the support element 150 miles away. We have come up with several practices that I think are moving to the “best “category. One is the concept of inner and outer perimeter. Another is state supported points of dispensing along safe routes. The third is the use of social media in a preparedness mission while the incident is unfolding. Another item that had to be taken into consideration was the evacuation of the largest beef processing plant in the country, which happened to be on the primary evacuation route. The crowning achievement with regard to notification was the establishment of a county wide text messaging system for emergency management which was put in place and operational within 24 hours of commencement. The enrollment for messaging (with the option in two languages), was broadcast by local television, radio and advertised by leaving handbills at various businesses and community locations.
In conclusion, flood fighting as a planner has been very interesting from the perspective of using existing plans and coupling them with created concepts. The affected area in this case was extremely large and the resource allocation component began to impact decision and expectations. This mission solidified the Blue Cell concept of planning as An Art, A Trade, An Advocation.   
Todd Manns, Planning Section Chief, The Blue Cell, LLC

Click here to see a short video of the dam release

The Blue Cell Youtube Channel

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Blue Cell Intel Summary Volume 1, Issue 1

Who We Are
The Blue Cell is a Colorado Based: training, technical consulting and deployment service company. We create and offer a few select products through our webstore and our new Adroid market app. We are also the creators of the web based simulation environment Chelsea County USA. As a company we are organized very much like a working planning section on an incident management team. Our situation unit helps us maintains a linkedin, youtube, facebook, twitter presence on the web. Beginning in June of 2011 we will be offering information in this monthly blog. 
We are a full service planning company, applying these skills in the 4 pillars of emergency management. We are committed to the belief that planning as incident managers is.......
* an Art
* a Trade
* an Advocation
We are regularly asked about the company name. Well as most of you know, the basic elements of the Incident Command System are Command, Operations, Planning, Logistics and Finance.
Over the years in some circles (Military, Industry, Special Operations Public Safety ) these sections have been associated with a color.


The Blue Cell
In this blog we will attempt to talk about the things that are happening contemporarily in the world of incident and emergency management. The view will be from the perspective of the writer and will not only illustrate challenges but also alternative suggestions and solutions.
Todd Manns, Planning Section Chief, The Blue Cell, LLC