Welcome To the Washington State Emergency Planner's Forum!

We've created this forum/blog as a resource for all of you emergency planners out there...Public Sector, Private Sector, Emergency Management Volunteers...anyone who has a role or interest in emergency planning. We will be posting the latest news, developments, good ideas, and publications on this site. Look forward to a wide-ranging exchange of questions and answers here!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Emergency Management Organization Self-Assessment Tool

Here's an excellent product for local emergency management organizations to evaluate their structure and capacity to carry out their missions.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Rail Safety Alert: Increased Volatility of Some Crude Oil Varieties

If you happened to view the videos of that recent train derailment and subsequent HUGE conflagration last week, you might have asked the same question I did: "How come crude oil blew up like gasoline or propane?" Well, the answer is that certain varieties of crude oil are much more volatile than others.

Planners, when you are coordinating your HAZMAT/LEPC/ESF-10 plans, you may want to inquire if similar types of crude oil are being transported through your jurisdiction. This USDOT safety bulletin has the pertinent details...

Rail Safety Alert: Crude Oil

Friday, January 3, 2014

Washington State Emergency Management Logistics Newsletter

Our own WA EMD Logistics Program staff publishes a quarterly newsletter, chock full of useful information for emergency planners. Here's the link:

WAEMDLogistics Newsletter 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014

"Exercise Is Not Optional!"

While the title of this post is a quote ascribed to the late fitness guru Jack LaLanne, it also applies to emergency plans of all varieties. I recently spoke with a fellow emergency management planner from another state, who had written an awesome coordination document for her agency's response to winter storms. The plan came about as a result of serious failures during the previous year's weather incidents. She followed all of the best practices outlined in FEMA's CPG-101, used a valid planning process involving all the right stakeholders, got "buy-in" from those stakeholders, and the plan was eventually approved (and praised) by everyone. So this was a success story, right?

Well, unfortunately this tale didn't have a happy ending, because once this plan had been promulgated (signed) by all the parties, it was added to the "digital shelf" and gathered "digital dust". Despite the planner's repeated suggestions that this awesome plan be validated by at the very least a table-top exercise, none of the stakeholders had time to do that. So, just like an automobile collision you can see coming but can't prevent, this year's winter storms hit and most of the same issues from the previous year showed up again.

Emergency managers aren't fans of the "Groundhog Day" effect for good reason: Repeating your mistakes usually results in people getting hurt, angry, inconvenienced, and losing trust in your agency's competence, not to mention getting your boss fired. And yet choosing not to exercise an emergency plan is a sure-fire method of seeing the same errors again, and again..and again... (Of course, most emergency management folks won't survive too many "Groundhog Days" before joining the ranks of the unemployed!)

So if you have perhaps made a New Year's Resolution to "get more exercise" in 2014, think about expanding that resolution to exercising your emergency plans as well. You and your organization will be in much better shape as a result!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sandy Created a Black Hole of Communication

 This article from "Emergency Management" magazine provides some excellent insights for local jurisdiction emergency planners. One key point: Twitter has apparently replaced AM or FM radio as the preferred method of getting information.    Sandy Created a Black Hole of Communication

Friday, December 27, 2013

Catastrophic Planning Considerations: Part Two by Jim Hutchinson

My first post referred to several key principles that need to be incorporated as elements of successful response planning for a catastrophic disaster. Those listed were:
- Whole of Government response - vertically (local-to-federal) & horizontally (all agencies)
- Public/Private cooperative operations
- Time of the Essence/Sense of Urgency or unusually rapid response
- Immediate federal response and increased State EOC operational role
- Area or regional coordination
- Appropriate regulatory relief facilitating response and recovery activities

Each of these principles has many associated effects and consequential actions. I will detail one example of a consequence of scale and the need for timely action as it is expressed in a contingency plan:
A catastrophic disaster can push huge numbers of people out of their homes and into shelters. It can also impact critical infrastructure so that food cannot be delivered or cooked or distributed. This scale effect results in a problem feeding people. Normally disaster feeding is provided by non-governmental organizations (NGO) supporting local jurisdictions. If these organizations are unable to increase staff, local food supplies are depleted, or the NGOs need to open kitchens in ad hoc locations, then local jurisdictions are likely to request assistance from the state. The state has a number of resources to support mass feeding: State agency mobile kitchens, surplus food distribution programs, and school feeding programs (jointly administered at state and local levels). Of course there’s the old standby: Cases of military Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs). But the state is not practiced in conducting feeding operations for disaster victims, not to mention feeding the expected huge numbers of household pets accompanying survivors.

When the State EOC (SEOC) receives a request for assistance (RFA) from a local jurisdiction, it is normally routed to an Emergency Support Function (ESF) team to coordinate the requested assistance. If that ESF team cannot fill the need, the request is rerouted until the need is met. In a catastrophic disaster the scale will produce a dramatic increase in RFAs, which will quickly overwhelm the SEOC’s ability to coordinate those requests. A comparable situation in web systems is called a Denial of Service attack when the targeted website receives so many “hits” it becomes completely overwhelmed and has to shut down. The SEOC won’t have that option during a catastrophic disaster, so planners have to design countermeasures to keep the SEOC functioning effectively. These countermeasures can be as straightforward as expanding the SEOC staffing and infrastructure to building ad hoc mission-specific “task forces”, staffed by subject matter experts. Such task forces would lead coordination efforts and provide guidance to the policy-level executives, rather than directly participating in field response.

This type of “All In” operation is wholly outside Washington State’s experience. To make it work, we need to build a general operational approach which reflects a consensus among our potential partners. Since this is entirely new territory for our state emergency management collaborative, there will be a lot of paradigm-shifting required. Staffing a greatly-expanded SEOC with already-trained folks may prove to be the toughest challenge, as daily business requirements usually keep state agencies and NGOs from participating in training and exercises on a regular basis. (NOTE: We’d love to hear your suggested solutions for this particular challenge!)

In a nutshell, Washington State’s emergency planners are busy writing contingency plans for key functions triggered by a catastrophe, but the most important of these plans is how we will be organized to carry out these contingencies. We’ll have to be trained and reasonably proficient before the “Big One” hits, so that we can adapt to changes, be flexible, creative, and keep going no matter what the catastrophic incident throws at us.

Jim Hutchinson is the lead Catastrophic Planner for Washington State Emergency Management Division