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