Category Archives: Response

What an EM Needs to Know During Ebola

Ebola.  Are you tired of hearing about it yet?  Not that it isn’t a notable virus that deserves our attention and our preparations, but as emergency managers, our job right now is not to eliminate the threat.  Our job right now has very little to do with the actual virus itself.  Allow me to make a case for you.

Case File

This blog just got serious…

Ebola is a virus that is spread through contact of the bodily fluids of an infected person.  It’s not in the air and to get it, you’d have to have a direct exposure that allowed for entry into your own body.  Once you’ve got it, yeah, that’s a problem.  But in many places, especially the US, actually catching the disease?  That is not going to be easy.

Lots of viruses are spread this way and our hospital systems are not only prepared, trained and ready for what’s already here, they’re prepared for what’s coming.  Personal protective equipment exists to build a barrier between our healthcare workers and those who require their services.  Processes and procedures have been in place to handle the worst of the worst for years on years.  So, why then all the fuss, and what are emergency managers actually supposed to be doing with this?

We already know that people fear what they don’t know, and that there are so many unanswered questions about the disease itself is the worst kind of unknown.  Where does it originate?  Can it mutate?  Why isn’t there a cure?  I get it – I find these questions intriguing myself!

Right now, however, our job isn’t to answer these questions.  Our job lies in the public panic.  I would estimate that is roughly 85% of our responsibility since the beginning of disease spread.  Of course there is training, drills, exercises and inter-agency communication to be done, but the major focus simply must be on communicating clearly with the public.  Most essentially on a local level.  Why?  Because the public has a disconnect in personal trust on a federal level.

And why shouldn’t they?  They don’t “know” federal departments.  Federal agencies aren’t first responders, and they’re more often than not separated from the local message and response.  They have a huge task before them (i.e answering those questions above that we aren’t challenged to solve), but they won’t be able to truly touch public panic and public perception.

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As emergency managers, it isn’t our job to answer the questions of the specialty agencies we support.  What we need to focus on is developing a consistent, calming, accurate message from our partner agencies to our community members, because their perceptions and their unnecessary panic is the emergency right now.

Those plans you’ve worked so diligently on?  People need to know they exist.  Those exercises you participate in?  People need to know that they happened.  We can’t answer the questions that make people so afraid, but we can keep fear from turning into panic by showing all of the ways we have always been prepared and we will continue to be prepared.  Our community members need to hear from us that we have a plan, that they can trust we know what we’re doing.  And we need to be trusted enough to explain how these scary things work, and what we’ll do about it.

It won’t be enough to go out and tell everyone they have nothing to worry about.  Let’s face it, that message ain’t gonna cut it!  It’s okay to allow our community members to feel something.  But when was the last time a scare tactic changed anything about anyone’s actual preparedness status?  Go ahead, I’ll give you some time to think about it…

Scare tactics don’t work.  We need to communicate all of this, take away the element of panic, and turn relevant concern into beneficial action.

Explaining what we do, having a consistent presence, facilitating that message and then showing people that just as we have prepared ourselves for the worst of the worst, so too can they prepare, is where the success is.  Our plans don’t fall to the wayside because they’re flexible enough to fit the different disasters we face.  Our plans, kits and equipment are adaptable.  Anyone’s can be, if they know where to start.

Here’s the catch…it really only works if your community has faith in your message.

Do you exist outside of the walls of your office?  Does your agency know you, does your community know you?  Are you equipped to lead the message our public needs to hear, or will you be out of touch?  And, for those of you who dread the role of the public information officer, that doesn’t mean being the man or woman on camera.  That means being a part of the development of the message and being a trusted source people can turn to in order to successfully receive it.

What have you done to create a trustworthy atmosphere in your community in advance of times like these where our success relies so heavily on our ability to share critical information?  Are you prepared for what happens if the community doesn’t hear us and panic does ensue?

Right now is the right time to get ahead of your message, and if you already are, it’s a great time to tell someone else how you’re nailing it.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

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August Disaster in Place – Chemical Event!

Below you will find the August content of my monthly Disaster in Place.  Disaster in Place is an email series I began in May 2013 to engage Medical Reserve Corps team members to think practically about preparedness for just a few minutes a month and increase our alert responses (what we use in Virginia to see who is available to respond in disaster).  It comes complete with training and educational opportunities for those who are so inclined.  (I wrote a blog post introducing this series back in May!)

I’ve been instituting the Disaster in Place training series with my three MRC units since May and am happy to share stats, info, and previous months’ with you.  Feel free to participate, use and share, but if you do, please let me know so I can keep track of the reach of this program!  It would be quite appreciated.  I’ll be posting these every month…enjoy!

August Disaster in Place – Chemical Event!

Good morning!

Welcome to the fourth of our monthly Disaster in Place series. As always, please click on the alert link in this message and indicate you did or did not participate in this exercise so we can track that everyone knows how to receive and respond to requests with  availability!

This month’s scenario is a chemical event.

A chemical exposure can happen for a few reasons, including terrorism and human error in a factory or even at home. If you were exposed to a chemical material, how would you react? Would you know to remove exposed clothing and wash for fifteen minutes with soap and water (or what we call decontamination)? What if that chemical was at home and a family member or friend was exposed?

For information about various chemical agents, including lists, FAQ’s, and decontamination, check out this fantastic resource from the CDC: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/

For additional training on hazardous materials at home, visit this free online course from FEMA, IS-55.a: Household Hazardous Materials ? A Guide for Citizens http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/courseOverview.aspx?code=IS-55.a

For even more training, check out this course from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – Intro to Chemical Agents: http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-public-health-preparedness/training/online/intro_chem_agents.html

And remember these important numbers: Poison Control Center – 800-222-1222 and Virginia 2-1-1 for all types of questions, connections and resources.

Hope you enjoyed this month!
Tanya

I didn’t know social media did all THAT

What. A. Week.  Seriously! I’m calling a time out for this week! Maybe even this month.  In true “when it rains, it pours” fashion, this last week has taken my battered brain on an intense ride.

I can’t focus on all of these events at once so I’m going to do like these disasters do.  Start local and submerse myself within the realm of social media and its impact on the local response and responder.  We’ll start with last Friday.  On April 12, 2013, a local college experienced an incident in which two women received non-fatal gunshot wounds.  Allow me, if you will, to take you on a little tour of these events.

At 1:52 p.m., the alleged gunman posted a picture of the entrance to the school, which is a satellite wing located in the local mall (another focal point of mine in disaster) to an online forum used by students.  At 1:55, dispatch received a call of shots fired within the building and police raced to respond, and 17 minutes later the local newspaper made its first Tweet about the event.

Within eight minutes of that, I had joined many other Tweeters in retweeing this information.  This continued until they conducted their first press conference, which was held at an astonishing time of 3:00 p.m.  It was also live tweeted by the local news.  The first interviews were done within this time frame and shared across Facebook and Twitter, just as the first photos were taken by a personal cell phone and shared in the same manner.

From threat to action to press conference and beyond, social media made the awareness of this event lightening fast.  Generally speaking, the race to gather information and put it out as quickly as possible has led the public to demand answers just as immediately.  Social media has not only supported the expectations for this, but it has changed the role the public has in disaster as well.

Suddenly, everyone is a reporter.  Everyone is a photographer.  Everyone is an investigator, surreptitiously accessing information because they can.  And they have an unlimited audience.  Though this blog is about the impact of social media on a local scale, I’d be remiss in failing to address the fact that authorities have actually started relying on these facts, specifically referencing the call for copies of personal photos and videos by the amateur reporter public.

Social media has become a conduit in which threats are made, and its users automatically become affiliated with some part of the response the moment they see or hear and report this information.  It’s become a crisis counseling or critical incident debriefing method as users are consistently able to share their experiences, fears, and concerns in ways they may otherwise never admit talking to you or I face to face.

Point being?  Social media is already integrating our communities into our response whether they like it or not.  Whether we like it or not.  If we’re not integrating that into our response, we’re refusing to engage the public in a way many of them can process, connect with, identify with or understand.  Social media plans need to be in the planning, the response AND the recovery.  Otherwise, our community is going to force us there and we won’t be ready to use their valuable information, or take advantage of opportunities to support community resiliency.

Even on the most basic, local scale, social media served a multitude of roles.  I know I’m not afraid to use these tools to meet my team members and my community where they’re at.  I hope you aren’t either.

That’s…A Bad Plan

Ever heard someone say, “In a real emergency, plans go out the window!”  I’ve heard it a million times…and I hate it.  If your plan hasn’t been written applicably, that’s…a bad plan. If it hasn’t been exercised with you staff and stakeholders, it’s useless.  If your plan isn’t engrained into your organization to the point of being second nature, you’ve got work left to do.

I’ve heard time and again that, “noone is going to do that,” in an emergency. I used to shrug and think well, that’s true. Who’s going to have time to make this call or commit to that action, in a real emergency? But I finally understand, I have been giving excuses to something that really doesn’t deserve them.

It seems many EM folks have been looking for ways to get around plans for years. Why? Incident Command gives us a clear direction on who does what, when and how.  Yet we fight against this, and all plans, constantly.  Allow me to elaborate.

Some time ago I participated in a discussion about triage. Folks were discussing ways to triage and track patients and instead of thinking of consistent, reliable plans, they decided on behalf of “triagers” that they were unchangeable, unwilling or incapable.  It became impossible to make a plan because instead of considering what was needed, we left with a nice idea and an “understanding” we’d never actually do it.

Another example: in a discussion about sharing information, everyone bypassed the Liaison Officer concept and the usage of a Public Information Officer, opting to contact whomever was in their address book because “you can’t rely on this agency to contact that agency to let them know what’s going on.”

Please understand, I am thoroughly impressed at the robust network many have established, but, if that person gets hit by a bus before a disaster, I need to know I’m going to know what I need to know. I need to trust that a specific role has a function, understands it and completes it. Networking is invaluable, but I can’t create a plan out of anyone’s personal network, because I can’t create a plan only one person can follow.

So…why write impossible things we only plan to bypass?  I submit to you that any plan that causes you to make up your own on the spot or leaves you lacking any faith in it, is….a bad plan.  Train your staff or change your plan, either way it needs to work.


And now boys and girls, a story!

Have you ever been to the fast food chain Wendy’s and noticed the square hamburger pattys and wondered why? The founder of Wendy’s, Dave Thomas, built his company on the motto that, “We don’t cut corners on quality.” He left the hamburger corners there as a reminder to his staff and to his consumers that this was their underlying value. True story!

Friends, colleagues, it’s time we stop cutting corners too. Let’s make the corners work, let’s get efficient, let’s get applicable, and let’s leave those corners there for our staff and our consumers to be reminded we’re here to give our best everyday.

Let’s stop writing plans we don’t even believe we’ll use, because if we don’t believe what we’re saying, it is highly improbable anyone else will either.

Free Word of Mouth?!

I’m a Medical Reserve Corps coordinator by day, and a Medical Reserve Corps coordinator by night.  Yes, that’s right.  When disasters happen in any one of my areas at any time, I jump into response mode!

I love disasters.  Not to say I love what they bring with them, but I love the opportunity to protect the community where I live and work by providing focused coordination for people who want to do good work for the people who need it most.  In case you’re not familiar, a Medical Reserve Corps unit is a team of dedicated medical and non-medical professionals who have committed their own personal time to promoting disaster preparedness, response, and often times public health.  Literally people who have made a decision to become part of something bigger than themselves.

Working with people who have actually donated their time because they care about their community as much as I do is a complete privilege and an honor.  In Virginia, we have over 13,000 members (to my last recollection).  That is 13,000 people who have said, yes! I cared enough to commit my free time to preparedness.  13,000 people who could potentially be looking after you in a shelter, a disease outbreak, a mass shooting, an act of terrorism.  13,000 people who don’t need us, but how much we need them is unfathomable.

Everyone cares about emergency preparedness directly following the impact of a natural disaster or a catastrophic event.  But in order for emergency management to do any good at all, we need people to care what happens when nothing is happening.  And it isn’t always the easiest job in the world to convince people to spend money they don’t have on things that will “never happen here.”

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Well then, aren’t you lucky?  No matter what state you’re in, MRC members are turning the idea of preparedness into the act of preparedness.  I think we all recognize that statistically speaking, prepared communities are more resilient before, during and after a disaster.  And it isn’t just the MRC by any means, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), American Red Cross, and various Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) are also becoming the conduits for our message.  Being word of mouth advertising, planning for their families and themselves.

Want to spread a message of preparedness quickly and efficiently and skip the part where you convince people it’s necessary?  Try one of these free resources that include people who have already made a statement – I’m part of something bigger than myself.

 

HELPFUL RESOURCES:

Virginia MRC: www.vamrc.org
National MRC: www.medicalreservecorps.gov
CERT: http://www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams
American Red Cross: www.redcross.org
VOAD: www.nvoad.org