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!
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!
The leaders of our emergency world are at an interesting crossroads right now. The more I become submersed into this fascinating and exciting career, the more I see just how different it is from any other. And I’m not talking different based on just what we do. I’m talking different based on the how and the who!
Emergency management is unlike many professions because the formal education and training for this field has really only excelled in the last 10 years or so. Prior to that, our profession was dominated, and arguably still is, by people who really know their stuff because they DID their stuff. And they did it for years.
Fast forward several years and you begin to see the rise of a younger generation of professionals who bring training, theory, and unique perspective to an exceptionally experienced table.
Why is this of any bloggable value? Because I believe if we don’t acknowledge what is merging in our profession right now on all sides, we will miss the only opportunity in this field to combine the best of both worlds.
I absolutely love getting to know the “good ol’ boys” as they are sometimes referred to in my area. The things they’ve seen and done, the experiences, they’re just invaluable! Disasters are selective. They choose when and where they’ll hit and we just sort of deal with it and try to sort through the response in an after action report. The guys who have worked in first response their whole lives and become integrated (or “voluntold”) into emergency management are basically walking after action reports. But instead of sifting through notes, I have the opportunity to ask questions and dig deeper. And the return value for my time spent asking those questions is perfectly competitive with my time spent studying books, reading theory and completing training.
And it goes both ways.
Over the last several years, those of us who have been working towards higher education in emergency management have also had some chances to gain real-world experience. At the same time, those with all of the experience have started participating in formalized training and furthering their own higher education.
So that leaves us to decide what to do with this meeting point. In years to come, we will lose the vast amount of experience that saturates our current networks, and though we will have experiences of our own, it won’t replace or replicate what is already here. Everyone who enters emergency management will likely have been formally trained as education makes candidates more competitive. The profession may become less dominated by the fire chief of 20 years (a total generalization, I know) and captured by a rising generation.
What we have, RIGHT NOW, is the opportunity to marry the energy, excitement and education of the rising professionals with the knowledge, experience and oversight of the veterans. The opportunity to learn from each other to pass along key lessons and strengthen the network, or hold animosity towards one another over which is more important: education or experience.
It feels pretty special knowing your profession is at a pivotal moment where it is deciding what it will become. I hate that it’s taken us so many disasters to get here, but I love recognizing big changes so I don’t forget to take advantage of them before it’s too late.
If you’ve read my previous post, you know I’ve been thinking a lot about how I am going to engage my non-emergency minded colleagues and volunteers. I’m always thinking about that because I know that if I can get everyone involved, resiliency skyrockets!
Engage! Colleagues, that is.
This past week, I participated in facilitating a disaster behavioral health seminar and something occurred to me…they totally nailed the engagement concept!
It seems we spend a lot of time encouraging folks to take Incident Command System (ICS) courses, learn our FEMA ways, and give our jargon a special place in their hearts. Now, I absolutely believe this is a necessity for responding to disaster. Especially when we’re asking folks to become acclimated to a field they know nothing of and connect with on a basis of once to never. It might seem foreign, but ICS is where it all starts!
There’s just one thing we forget to do sometimes. To teach people where they fit in, why they fit there, and how to fulfill their specific role.
Does this go here?
At the seminar last week, they didn’t get lost in the weeds of leadership. And what I mean is this – ICS tells us how to lead, what the overarching structure is and a broad overview of the ins and outs of organizing emergency response. We have to know this, but we need to know more. We need each block of that organizational chart to function independently and completely to make each branch, section and dotted line as efficient as possible.
Our speakers and our participants acknowledged the inner workings of ICS, but then did something wonderful with the information. They recognized where they fall in the system and how they can fulfill the role they’d be given. They focused on how to be consistent, work together, and make their branch of incident response as efficient, effective and generally as rad as possible. Yeah, I said it.
It’s safe to say that most of our colleagues and volunteer members won’t have to lead during an emergency, so we have to meet people where they’re at when it comes to emergency information.
If I don’t make ICS applicable, if I don’t go that one step further and say, “You are here, and this is how you make your role successful so that others may be successful,” I am failing those I am asking to serve, and I’m failing those they will support. And I really, really hate to fail.
You know how I feel, Twitter fail whale.
Not bringing the information to where people are at and giving them a reason to care and a way to be successful leaves us talking to an empty room. And I don’t think that’s just in emergency management.
For more information:
If you haven’t completed and Incident Command Systems courses, visit FEMA’s Independent Study website, and start with ICS 100 (b, most likely, but there are equivalents tailored to certain types of organizations). Then give IS 700.a a go for an introduction to the National Incident Management System. These are the basics to get you started! If you love that, explore what other ICS courses FEMA has to offer, and in the meantime, locate your agency or local emergency manager and find out what your role might be and how to get ready for it.
There aren’t a lot of jobs that require everyone’s participation. And not just everyone in a certain facility or agency, I mean everyone. It’s tough sometimes! I certainly find myself “silo-ing” people into their jobs. I don’t know how to be engaged and I’ll never need to know how to be engaged. I think in the emergency world we find a lot of the same thing. We have jobs to do and whether people know we exist and what our jobs are, they expect they’ll be done and all will be well.
But it just takes more than that.
Working with professionals who have volunteered their time, I am now much more accustomed to adjusting to individuals who don’t think of emergency management on any type of regular basis. It’s kept me from having tunnel-vision or becoming so immersed inside an emergency management world that I forget how to relate with the public. (It’s also done wonders for this fast-talking acronym lover! To slooooow down, spell things out, give meaning to each word of our accurately/overly descript titles!)
Couldn’t have said it better, public health memes!
That being said, I know no matter how many disasters happen, and no matter what has actually impacted our area, encouraging people to think about disasters and preparedness on a realistic level is still a challenge. This is true for community members, colleagues in all types of organizations, schools, and so on. But I think I might have a solution that will help engage people using the best ally we have in preparedness: their minds! ♫Dun dun dun!!♫♪
As an emergency management addict – yes, I’ll admit it – I live thinking about the “worst case scenario” every day. Behind a truck with a radioactive symbol on the highway? I’m planning. Driving through gasoline storage tanks? Planning. Standing at the edge of the ocean? Planning! Random zombie apocalypse in Wal-Mart? Oh, you know I’m planning. I’m sorry, but no disaster scenario you throw me into is going to be as colorful as my “what if…”
So I wonder, what will the public’s “what if’s” do for them?
This month, I will begin a new series with my awesome Medical Reserve Corps teams and leave it open for adaptation in any facility that would like to play off of it. It’s called Disaster in Place and will be more than just a tool to raise “alert” response numbers (those availability responses I monitor when I send out events, tests, etc.) For example, for the month of May, I have scheduled to send out alerts to all three of my units on Tuesday during standard business hours on an Active Shooter scenario. However, the scenario won’t be mine to write.
It will begin with the explanation of Disaster in Place, the purpose and the instructions on how to successfully complete it. (For those of you that may want to replicate this idea, what I’m more or less using is below.) But I won’t leave my friends without some educational resources as well! Months ago, after the Aurora, CO shooting, I encouraged my members to take FEMA’s IS 907 Active Shooter: What You Can Do and we had some interest. But talking yourself through your own active shooting plan, right where you are at that very moment? That may encourage a little more planning indeed. I will also include a link previously shared on some of our Facebook sites, Houston’s popular RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. video on YouTube is a very clear, useful way to consider your choices in an active shooting incident.
The purpose is to leave our members feeling ready (and maybe even the people around them, if word spreads!). Not to live in fear, but to live in preparedness. To create strong, powerful communities where everyone is a part of my job and that’s what makes it successful. Disaster in Place will have several elements I think are critical for success – giving our communities something they can think, something they can see, and something they can do.
Next month, we’ll give severe weather a shot one evening or on the weekend! And once that catches on, I think letting people choose the time/place of that days drill will be appropriate and even more engaging. Stay tuned and I’ll update how it goes, and if you decide to participate, please comment, or shoot me an email and let’s share some great ideas.
Want to implement Disaster in Place in your organization? Here’s a snapshot of what’s cooking in my MRC’s:
Purpose: To engage non-emergency management related personnel at least once a month in their normal environments in order to increase awareness, personal preparedness and readiness. (MRC specific purpose: to also increase our alert response and stay actively connected to our members.)
Introduction: Our introduction looks a little something like this…
Good afternoon team,
This month we will begin our Disaster in Place series, designed to increase awareness, preparedness and response no matter what your environment today may be! Please take five minutes to participate in the exercise, and respond to this alert with a “yes” or “no” that you have done so. Please respond either way so we may track our alert response rate, even if you are not able to participate.
This month’s scenario is an Active Shooter event. Please take two minutes to review your surroundings where you are right now. What are your exits? Where are your hiding spaces? What resources, such as phones, windows, and other people are around you? Now take three minutes and decide, what would you do if an active shooter were to advance towards your area?
For tips on what you can do in an event like this, please review the following 5:22 video: Run. Hide. Fight.
For additional FEMA training, please advance to the following course at your leisure and forward your certificate to your coordinator, if you choose to participate.
Thank you for all that you do!
Goal: To require as little time as possible in order to encourage participation – professionals are busy! But in the end, you make time for what you care about, and I believe our members will do just that. We’re asking for a five minute interlude in their day, we’re offering several more minutes of optional training, with an unlimited potential community value.
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.
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.
A friend told me recently that nobody is going to pay attention to emergency preparedness unless we give them a reason to care (in so many words). And I have to say, truer words may never have been spoken. The funny thing is, everything that can actually happen seems to never motivate people into action. In reading Amanda Ripley’s The Unthinkable, history often shows us that even when disasters are actually happening right then and there, people seem to sink into a state of denial. So that really begs the question…why do zombies work?
I have this theory. Preparedness is boring, response is exciting. And the idea of fending for yourself in a cataclysmic event seems to be strangely attractive. Cracked.com came up with a great list of reasons we secretly want the zombie apocalypse (Note: Rated PG-13) that I can’t say I disagree with. The alluring factor of having nothing that stands between you and imminent danger is shocking to me, and yet I am subject to it.
Ask someone what they’ll do in a floodplain, tornado warning, or terrorist attack and they may shrug and mutter something about shelters or insurance. Ask them what they’ll do in a zombie apocalypse? They’re likely to pull out one of these gems (courtesy of zombieinitiative.org):
The key to my theory is this: no one is going to rescue the public in a zombie apocalypse and they know it.
In an apocalypse, it’s every man for themselves. If you know nobody is coming to rescue you, instinctually, you can only plan to rescue yourself. Meanwhile, the public often misunderstands their safety or places an extreme sense of trust into whomever they believe is supposed to protect them and that this agency will follow through. Not that we don’t warrant some trust, but the care of each and every individual is a task that we simply lack the resources to fully meet in a certain events. Why prepare for something you believe you will always be protected from? (Of course my question – why risk it in real life?) We’re all subject to zombieism!
Another key, in a disaster, everyone believes they will know that it’s coming.
Warnings will appear and they’ll have “plenty” of time to get ready. But zombies? Those suckers just arrive. In the movies, there is always someone waking up suddenly out of a coma and the world is overrun. There’s no time to think, only time to act. I’d venture to say people believe they will always have the luxury of knowing in “plenty” of time when something bad is going to happen. But that doesn’t always seem to make a difference anyway, as noted when a local to me river flooded and everyone parked near it just decided, “it won’t happen to me!”
Like I said, response is exciting, and I offer that it’s action movies and shows that have turned this super bad actionista/actionisto idea into something sexy. Even popular zombie shows like The Walking Dead have over 1.4 million Twitter followers and not a day goes by that #zombies isn’t a trending topic of some sort. In addition, they have over 16.4 million “likes” on Facebook, and over 2.4 million people talking about them at any given time. Millions of people who have no doubt questionned their own response in the apocalypse…millions of open minds. And there’s something creatively motivating about recognizing the direness of such a situation and realizing you will have no time, no warning, and no one to save you.
In today’s world, the farther we get from a disaster, the more complacent we become. And that’s whether you experienced it first hand or from afar. Rememer the slew of funding we received after 9/11? I think we’ve all noticed that’s significantly dwindling. And with every day that passes that we remain protected, lucky, or blissfully unaware, emergency funding is displaced and fire chiefs, town managers, or some other unprepared soul is “voluntold” to accept responsibility for planning. Without the tools and training. What happens next? Another big event with potential for major loss of life and property, more funding comes, years go by without an incident, complacency sets in, funding decreases, and so on and so forth.
Tthe CDC had it right. People care about zombies. For whatever reason, whatever theory. You just can’t beat the “what if…” in someone’s mind. But maybe, if we guide it a little bit, we’ll start really talking about preparedness, and maybe have a little fun, too.
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.”
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.
Virginia MRC: www.vamrc.org
National MRC: www.medicalreservecorps.gov
American Red Cross: www.redcross.org