#Pledge2Prepare

September is National Preparedness Month, I am hoping that all of you, no matter how prepared you currently are, will do something extra, whether that is for you, your family, your neighbors/neighborhood or the community as a whole! On 9/23/14, we are having our first Preparedness Day at Millersville University to try to educate our students and faculty in the importance of being properly prepared. If you have colleges and universities within your jurisdiction, reach out to them and ask then to do something special for their campus community. Many of our campuses in Central Pa have had staff take the Planning in Higher Ed course through FEMA, now it is time to put it to use. If you, or any of your local universities/colleges need information about what we are doing or even ideas, please reach out to me!

As part of Preparedness Day, we are starting a #Pledge2Prepare campaign on YouTube. We have started with our university President, and we are going to see how many folks we can get to “Pledge2Prepare.” As soon as I have the video on Youtube, I will send you all the link. We are looking for big name celebrities like Brian Williams (former volunteer firefighter), Craig Fulgate, Bernadette, Megan, Meghan, Ewa, Jessica, The Rock…..etc to do a short video and put it on YouTube, let’s make the challenge, take the challenge and do something special for National Preparedness Month.

If you would like to make your short video now and put on Youtube, here is all we ask:
1) Put in the #PLedge2Prepare (Hashtag)
2) State the following: September is National Preparedness Month, I am Pledging to Prepare, you should too!

Help us spread the message and lets truly do “Whole Community” preparedness

A New Way of Creating Emergency Management Preparedness

I was training a bunch of future instructors in Georgia last week when the question came up, “How will we get people to practice preparedness.” I started in to my normal conversation about habits. If we can get to the children in their formative years, teach them good preparedness habits, eventually we will have a generation of people that are prepared, and more importantly, believe in preparedness. Unfortunately, as we are all aware, children are taught fire safety in school, yet when they go home, many times the lesson is lost on the parents. Therefore, we need to continue to teach our children to form good habits and get to that point in which we have a generation of adults that believe in preparedness and encourage their children in these good habits.

As the school year begins today for many of our parents and their children, I want to remind everyone that September is National Preparedness Month. Hopefully when your child comes home from school, you will share the concepts your child has learned and encourage them to be prepared.

Last year I wrote an article about parents sending off their pride and joy to universities and colleges around the world. I explained the benefits to making sure your children have a disaster action plan for their life away from home. Many of you contacted me and I forwarded a basic college action plan, and this is a good start. However, we are still missing the mark with the masses. College is a long way from home, no matter what the physical distance. Our children are exposed to all types of dangers and potential disasters and need to be prepared before an incident occurs. As I begin this semester, I took a look at my class roster for my undergraduate course, Introduction to Emergency Management. It dawned on me that well over half my class is filled with students who are not emergency management students. I have a discussion board in which the students introduce themselves to the class and answer the question of why they are in this class. Many of the students answered that they are taking this particular class because it is online. Online does not equate to easier when it comes to course work, but it is easier if you live a distance from campus and do not want to drive here. While some would be disturbed with these types of explanations, I look at this as a tremendous opportunity to spread my message of preparedness. The students in our program understand the meaning our preparedness and are walking the talk. Now, I have an opportunity to educate many students who understand very little about emergency management.

At this point, some of you are reading this and stating the obvious, “just because they are in the course does not mean they will take preparedness seriously.” And, I would agree with you except for one thing, I am not teaching them in the traditional sense. Every assignment is a practical exercise in preparedness. The students have to create their own disaster action plan. The students have to research and write a paper on what they would do if severe weather closed campus and they were stuck wherever they are living. The students have to develop a short preparedness video for elementary school students. These are just a few of the “practical” assignments students have in this course. This last assignment gives us two huge benefits, one the research and educational process for our students, and two, the videos are being posted on social media, “Life Saving Seconds” on Youtube, so that we can have teachers show short preparedness videos to that next generation. We are turning what some might have viewed as lemons into lemonade. We are just in the infancy stage of this important work, but with each semester, we are growing the knowledgebase and growing our library of videos.

Preparedness isn’t just a word or something that emergency managers do, it has to become a habit and way of life for everyone, so we are all better prepared no matter what the disaster.

Education and Experience, part 4: A New Revelation

I wanted to take still yet another, one final look at Education AND Experience together in Emergency Management. As I have conveyed in my posts, without those who came before us, emergency management may have a whole different feel and look today. These emergency managers with their worldly experience and “get things done” type of attitude kept the profession afloat, created the rules and established the plans most of us follow. We now need to build on what these emergency managers have created and add to it if we are going to make our profession what we need it to be in the eyes of the public, and the politicians.
Education and Experience gives our profession the ability to move into the future and work hand in hand with the other policy makers to achieve a better outcome. We continue to have issues with this debate between some practitioners and some academics. As a person who lives on both sides of this fence, I can understand the concerns of both sides, and I, like a lot of practitioners and academics, know we need both moving forward in order to properly be prepared to protect our citizens and nation from all types of disasters.
As I mentioned, I have had this conversation many times with many people inside and outside the profession. I was at the FEMA Higher Education Symposium, and I can tell you I learned a lot and I heard a lot of very well educated people discussing emergency management, the past and the future. We listened to Dr. Wayne Blanchard speak about his initial tasking of creating more educational opportunities for emergency managers through Higher Education. He spoke of those first few schools and how he thought it was an insurmountable task to get one university or college in each state to teach emergency management, today we have nearly three hundred schools and the list is growing.
While at the symposium, I also heard some from my profession speaking and a few made me nervous. Listening to some speakers, I understand why the practitioners would be nervous about education and educational incentives. It was at this point where I began to think about my own educational history. But, before I go there, I want to say there is a difference between those who are in academia “studying disasters,” and those that are in academia teaching emergency management. Sometimes as practitioners, we look at academic researchers and don’t make the distinction.
As for those that are teaching emergency management in Higher Education, we need to remember that the practitioners, especially those early pioneers, created the field and we need to pay respect to them and develop our lessons and learning outcomes based upon the field these practitioners have created and the profession these practitioners are developing.
So, as I have had a few conversations, I started to reflect on education in emergency management, and how I got my start in the field. Thirty plus years ago, I was a young career firefighter. I had a deputy chief tell me to make sure to pursue my education. In those early years of going first to a community college for my associates degree, and then to a four year university for my bachelor’s degree, I was often chastised by the senior members of my organization. “What do you need college classes for to be a firefighter?” Firefighting, as I was told, was a practical application career, who needs books. “You don’t put out fires by reading books and sitting in a classroom writing papers!” This was the mentality of that generation of firefighters, and I am sure law enforcement officers too. Today, most departments require a college degree for promotion; some even require a degree to be hired. I have a lot of students in larger fire departments and police departments that are working on their masters degree just to have promotional opportunities. Those degrees in Fire and Police Science and various other related programs were developed out of the working knowledge of firefighters and police officers. Academia then helped further develop those programs with some assistance from the respective fields.
As I thought about the above and my educational experience, I finally had that light bulb moment, the emergency services, excluding emergency management, are decades ahead with their respective education and professional needs and time frame. The fire service and law enforcement are hundreds of years in the making. As any of us will agree, the emergency management field and profession are truly only a few decades in existence. We all realize the need for education, and the benefits of education in today’s world with today’s technology, politics, budgets, etc. In a few years, there will be few of us in the profession that don’t look at higher education as a requirement of emergency management, especially from a leadership standpoint. Yes, we ALL NEED experience, we cannot be emergency managers without it, but we also need to understand and realize the need for a solid educational foundation.
As for those of us in the field of academia, we need to understand that to build this bridge, we need to understand the profession from the practitioner’s standpoint and also know where the field was developed and where it is in its growth process. Just like the fire service, police service and emergency medical services, we are all response based, applied sciences that will grow with both solid experience and a strong education. But we need to remember that response is just one part of the equation, which is why education is so vitally important.

How do we teach our children good habits? One example with evidence!

In both my undergraduate and graduate classes, we spend a good amount of time trying to figure out how we can better prepare people to deal with disasters.  One of the things that is quite clear when we have these discussions is that we must start by teaching and preparing our children. As we all know, good habits taught to children can carry on for a lifetime of good outcomes. We know that for instance Stop, Drop and Roll taught in the elementary schools has proven to be successful as a lifetime habit. So how do we get to our children and how do we teach them these good habits?

I am a firm believer that if we are going to be better prepared as a nation, and even more importantly not just a nation, but across all nations, that we must train future generations. Recently I was having a conversation about how do we properly prepare people and how do we form good habits, when an example came to me.  As I was speaking, I used my son as an example. He is now nineteen, away at college and living in Philadelphia. I often talk about how he does “x” or he talks about “y’, basic safety and preparedness issues. This is when it struck me about the habits as a real world example. As a safety professional and emergency manager, from the time he was born, I not only, as all parents do, was totally consumed with his health and well-being, but also taught him about health, safety and preparedness on what I am sure he would say was a daily basis, he may even say minute by minute. When we traveled, he would need to know how many doors it was in each direction to an exit from our hotel room.  Seatbelts were never optional! I was glad when he got to school that it was an “opt-out” notification system rather than an opt-in, although I think he would have opted-in any way. Although he might tell you I was overbearing with some of these things, the reality was I made sure I never missed an opportunity to educate him on personal preparedness, for his benefit, as well as his parents!

Several weeks ago we were driving home from a soccer game with a friend and our friend drove through a large puddle while trying to be funny. Before I could say anything, David began talking about the dangers of driving through standing water and flood waters. I marked this one down as a success story, maybe he was listening!

As I reflected on this story and many other examples, it dawned on me that the research I am working on and the various project trying to better prepare our children is quite simple, in order to prepare future generations, we must do a better job of educating today’s generation. I imagine in the future when he has a family, my son will share the lessons with his family that I have always shared with him, soon as these lessons get passed down from generation to generation, we will have a generation with new good habits. If you study disasters, you will learn that people survive disasters based not only upon their own past experience but more importantly the experiences passed down from generation to generation.  There are documented cases where earthquakes and Tsunamis have struck and the population survived because they had been told the warning signs through generational learning. These survivors had never experienced one of these events before; they only knew what they were taught by their ancestors.

We need to do a better job of generational learning and education. We need to figure out a way to get it in to our schools and our school age children. If we can get this generation, we can then rely on them to help with the next generation, so that when their children come home from school and talk about preparedness, the parents will understand and will listen and assist, rather than ignore and avoid the issues, because as all of us know, it WILL happen here!

Predisaster Stress Preparedness for our Children

Although the title seems to line up with my normal conversation about doing a better job to prepare our children for disasters, this is not a post about this specifically. My son is a college freshman and I feel has seen a lot and experienced a lot in his now, almost twenty years. However, one item that has surfaced recently in several different fashions has been the end of life.
A few months or so ago, the father of a very close friend of his almost died of a heart attack. A little over a month ago, the father of another close friend of his died in a tragic motor vehicle accident, the day after my son was sitting at his kitchen table having a conversation about cars and engineering. Yesterday, while at a hockey game, a gentleman in our row had a heart attack. Yesterday was a bad day, for many reasons, but to this man, his friends, family and all of those sitting around him; I can only send my deepest sympathies.
Why is this something to write a post about on this site? It needs to be brought to light because of the impact of it on children, teens and in reality any civilian who is exposed to stressful trauma. In coordination with another faculty member, we are currently working on some research on survivor’s stress. I have been reading, studying and even looking into my own subconscious about the stress that is caused due to traumatic events. Yesterday, it really hit home and I have a whole other area to think about now.
As way of history, I have been a first responder since I was sixteen. My very first fire was a triple fatal involving a mother and two children. In my thirty plus years in the emergency services, I have lost track of the number of fatalities and serious injuries. Now, here I am trying to explain to my nineteen year old son why I could not do anything for this gentleman yesterday. On one hand, I am trying to deal with his emotional level, he has had to deal with a lot in recent months, and now to see someone pass away right in front of him, this was tragic. More importantly, we had to have a conversation dealing with how and why this happens. There were dozens of trained professionals, including myself in the arena and many working for the arena. Care was almost instant, yet CPR was still in progress as they took this gentleman to the ambulance, and it was tragic.
Where am I going with this conversation? We need to do a better job of preparing our children for tragedy. All of these years, all of the events, all the tragic outcomes, yet as a trained professional, I have not done a very good job of preparing my own son, so how well have I done in helping others to prepare. Yesterday was another wakeup call that we must do a better job in not only preparing the next generation in how to react to a disaster, but also in how we counsel them when they are face to face with tragedy.
We have counseling services for responders, Critical Incident Stress Management, and independent counseling for survivors of tragic events, but maybe we need to start doing more stress-related counseling to prepare our next generation before tragedy strikes.
Thanks for listening!

Awards and Honors: Insurance Policies for Disasters

This week the South Central Task Force, SCTF, will be handing out its first ever Mrs. Smith Awards.  What is interesting about these awards is that they are being given to those who work tirelessly on preparedness.  Often when we think of awards for responders and those in the field of emergency management, these awards are given to someone who risked their life to save someone in a disaster.  These awards recognize those that may never even be in the field, although many recipients are, as we all wear our multiple hats.  These awards are for those that work hard and are dedicated to the task of preparedness.  If you have followed this blog, or ever been part of a conversation with me, you know how highly I emphasize the need to do a better job at preparedness.  We cannot allow our citizens to be reliant on us for all of their needs in times of disaster.  The number of responders continues to dwindle, while the number of disasters and emergencies do not.

I know a lot of folks in the emergency services who bulk at the concept of receiving an award for “doing their job.”  I have often been part of conversations in which a responder, who is receiving an award for some feat to assist with saving a life states, “I was just doing my job.”  The best of the best receive these awards awkwardly and ask simple questions like, “why should I get an award for doing my job, many people go to work each day and do their job without any recognition.”  While these conversations, and this post does not mean to downplay those heroes that have gone above and beyond, the firefighter who risked his or her life to save someone from an untenable position, or the police officer who put himself in harm’s way to prevent injury or death to an innocent civilian, we are talking about the routine.  Unfortunately every time we give an award for the routine, it takes away from those most deserving.  Having a “person of the year,” is always a catch 22, we honor one, but do we then turn off the masses that were equally as deserving?

I like the concept of the Mrs. Smith Awards because we are looking at those who go above and beyond not when the disaster strikes, but before any disaster happens.  These are the ones that train hard even when no one else is watching.  As I used to tell my son, and many of you have heard this one from your parents and coaches, “Champions are made when no one is looking.”  These award recipients are those champions, the ones preparing and asking all of us to prepare for an event that may never occur.  These are the people that talk the talk and walk the walk.   These are the people who don’t need recognition, but deserve recognition.

All of the “Mrs. Smith’s” in the world can rest well and be thankful that people like those who will be receiving awards this Tuesday at the annual SCTF Homeland Security Conference are out there doing what they do, twenty-four/ seven to help all of us be better prepared no matter what the event and hoping the event never occurs.   These are our insurance policies for disasters!

Leadership vacuum

Recently I had a conversation with a young firefighter in a leadership position at a volunteer firehouse.  He was basically stressing himself out by trying to do “everything.”  Since on various occasions I have been asked by my emergency management students to spend some time on leadership, I thought it would be a good time to discuss some of the basics I have learned over the years.

Rule number one is probably the most important, you can’t fix everything!  Those in leadership positions that care the most try to take on the burden and pick up the slack for those who do not care as much.  This goes back to a basic rule, one in which twenty percent of the people usually do eighty percent of the work.  The issue that many good leaders face is that they care about the organization, the people and the mission, and due to how much they hold these things close to their heart, it creates challenges for these good leaders.  A good leader has a difficult time because s/he cannot, and should not, turn off how much they care about the organization and its people and mission.

As I explained to this young leader, the trick that good leaders learn is to do what you can and try not to focus on things that are completely out of your control.  A good leader, and I have had this conversation more than once in the past several months, tries to help those who are doing their best, while tolerating those that seem to merely be along for the ride. A leader does not ignore or avoid the personnel who don’t appear to care, but needs to understand some of the reasoning and tolerate it.  For instance, maybe that member who seems not to care had previously been a twenty percent member and was not treated well by previous leaders, or has worn him or herself out previously trying to do everything themselves.

I explained to him there are several things that good leaders do in order to maintain their personal health and stress levels while accomplishing their goals. First, look at your priorities and that of the organization. Second, create a list of what needs to be fixed to accomplish the priorities. Third, determine what can be fixed from the list.  Fourth, from item three determine what can be fixed easily and quickly.  Fifth, do those items from number four first to accomplish some small victories.  Putting this to an example, I explained to him that I have a list of policies that I need to write.  Finding time to sit down and write a policy in its entirety is almost impossible with my schedule.  Therefore, I make sure I take a minimum of five to ten minutes a day to work on small portions of the current policy I am working on, which allows me to finish a policy once a week.  Each week I am completing one policy and gaining a small victory. 

I will continue to try to address strategies and issues in leadership.  To bring this all together, remember, 1) Good leaders always care about the people and the mission; 2) Good leaders should care the most about those that care and support the mission; 3) Good leaders tolerate those that don’t care as much and understand that there are always things we do not know that may be affecting that person’s ability to care; and 5) Good leaders must know that they cannot be all things to all people and will only hurt themselves and their health if they try to do everything themselves.

Experience versus Education part III

I wanted to take one final look at Education AND Experience together in Emergency Management.  As I have conveyed in my last two posts, without those who came before us, emergency management may have a whole different feel and look today.  These emergency managers with their worldly experience and “get things done” type of attitude kept the profession a float, created the rules and established the plans most of us follow.  We now need to build on what these emergency managers have created and add to it if we are going to make our profession what we need it to be in the eyes of the public, and the politicians.

We have all heard of the school of hard knocks, and many of us have probably learned a lesson or two in this school.  But, in order to be credible and achieve our mission of preparedness at every level and in every facet, we need to educate ourselves in fields that we did not need to venture in to in the past.  Emergency management was preparedness, but more so response, and therefore reactionary.  As all of us know and as has been spoken about at every conference and in almost every discussion involving emergency management, we need to be more proactive.  We cannot just keep rebuilding in the same places and expect better outcomes.  We cannot keep allowing thousands of lives to be lost and billions of dollars to be spent rebuilding properties every year and think this is good emergency management.  We need change, and change means new, better and different types of education.  We need to collaborate with others in related fields for successful outcomes.

If you were at the International Conference of Emergency Managers conference in Reno, you heard a powerful and timeless speech by Dr. Dennis Mileti concerning what we need to do moving forward.  In his book, Disasters by Design, he was espousing this message back in the 1990s.  We need to be better educated and better prepared to deal with other professionals to do better planning and preparedness to prevent repetition every time there is a natural disaster.

Education will help bridge this gap!  We need to understand and work with the scientist to better understand sustainability and resiliency through environmental factors.  We need to work with the economist to create methods of influence in the language of money.  We need to work with the political scientist to understand and work better in the political system for change.  We need to work with engineers to design better products, warning systems and disaster resistant shelters to assist the population in areas where disasters will strike.  We need to work with the local communities to stop building in the wildland interface, flood plains and behind man-made walls.  We need to work with the insurance industry to create incentives for those who are making their properties more resilient and sustainable while not protecting those who chose to let insurance be their own method of preparedness.

What does this have to do with education?  A well-rounded education at the undergraduate and graduate level is the key to forming the relationships and the knowledge base to deal with all of the above issues and many more that I have not mentioned.  As terrible as it may sound, it is the key that first, grants us access to the “club” and second, then allows us to understand the systems and processes once we are on the inside.  Experience though must go with this education, we need both.  As I mentioned in prior posts, reach out to the local college or university and start working with the students who are acquiring the education to help you, while looking to you for the experience to help them.  Let these students get involved, let them update or assist with updating your Emergency Operation Plan, EOP.  Or, if there are small communities that relies on volunteers, direct the students towards these communities to assist them with their EOP. Allow these students and their ambition and technical savvy to help you with creating training programs, or to develop community based programs.  Pick the brains of the next generation to see how they can help you, so you can help them.

The key to a good education in emergency management is the same thing that I have mentioned above, a well-rounded education.  Colleges and Universities are utilizing two types of faculty for successful outcomes: experts in their various fields, and emergency management practitioners.  We need, professors in Earth Science, English, Political Science, Government, Occupational Safety, Social Work and Mental Health and Trauma for theoretical and practical educational purposes.  And, just as important, we need educators who are practitioners in emergency management, educators who have been in the field, understand the field and work or worked in the profession, to be a successful educational experience.

Education and Experience gives our profession the ability to move into the future and work hand in hand with the other policy makers to achieve a better outcome. Reach out to your local college or university and become a partner for the profession.

Experience versus Education part II

Education versus experience, or as has been stated in my last post, education plus experience for a better emergency manager.  Many of you wrote me and cannot understand why this is even an issue, but unfortunately it is in many areas.   Several of you brought up another valuable quality that often is not spoken about, good leadership skills.  I will speak to leadership in a future post, but I want to first complete the last post and explain my thoughts on how we can combine education and experience for the benefit of everyone.

If you have more employees or volunteers in your emergency management agency then you know what to do with, you can probably stop reading now.  If you are like most of us and you are struggling for staffing, whether career or volunteer, then my concepts will hopefully help you out, while gaining experience for those seeking higher education.

Last month at the International Association of Emergency Mangers conference I spoke about regionalization.  There are several issues with regionalization; some of these issues can be applied to helping those with limited experience gain experience while helping those in need of staffing to accomplish their staffing goals.  How does this apply to experience versus education?  There are many very good emergency managers who for various reasons do not have formal higher education, and they are good emergency managers.  However, there are also a lot of people seeking higher education in emergency management but they do not have the experience in the field.

Those working in the field may or may not get formal higher education, but most have various levels of training at the state and federal level to include the many great classes at EMI.  I am taking nothing away from any of these emergency managers, they are many of the best in the business and I have learned much of my emergency management skill set from these managers.  Many of these folks are in leadership positions and manage small and large emergency management agencies.  But what about those looking for experience, how do we help them?

This is where I think the regionalization concepts can help everybody.  Emergency managers are looking for staffing, schools and students are looking for experience opportunities.  Over the past several years, we have had quite a few students volunteer for our local EMA, our county EMA and our regional EM task force.  Students have written plans and procedures, developed emergency operation plans, and assisted in emergency operation centers for both exercises and real world events.  How many of us have the staffing or time to keep up with the latest EOP updates?  How good are we are social media?  Unless you have been under a rock, you know that social media has taken off like wildfire in the emergency management field.  Think about the earthquake in Haiti to last year’s Boston Marathon event, how would you react if you had a major natural disaster and the regular channels of communications are down?  New York City used social media throughout Hurricane Sandy to track people needing assistance and send help.  You don’t have to like social media, or even use social media, but when your citizens are using it, and they expect someone to come assist because they tweeted, or made a Facebook post, how will you answer the subsequent media inquiry when you don’t monitor social media or respond to the request?

These are just a few of the areas that students can assist you in doing your job, while assisting them with gaining experience.  Our regional task force uses students to assist with various committees, as victims and participants in full scale exercises, and to produce various pamphlets and training materials.  These are all areas where we would struggle to get things done without this “free and willing” help.  During Tropical Storm Lee when we opened up our regional multi-agency coordination center, I showed up with a recent meteorology graduate who had just started in our Emergency Management program.  She helped tremendously with weather explanations and forecasting, a capability we would not have had at our MACC.   These students are not only working side by side with emergency managers, but they are also learning the field and networking with our field’s professionals.

I realize that higher education is quickly growing and that it is “change.”  We can either continue to fight it or we can embrace it and use it to our benefit.  As was said at the IAEM conference, we are a rising profession trying to be more professional.  In order to get the politicians, the public and the business community to listen to our call for preparedness and heed our warnings, we have to accept the change and use these new methods of education and this new talent to continue to grow our profession and become even more professional!

Why is education important?  The world is changing.  Emergency managers no longer have the benefit of receiving money because we request it, or because a disaster strikes.  We need to understand budgets, technology, scientific methods and reasoning.  We need to understand psychology and sociology.  We need to continue to educate ourselves at a higher level so that we can show we belong in the highest circles of government and business.  Nothing can take away the value of experience in emergency management, but starting now and moving forward, we must also understand and accept the need for higher education.