Friday, May 25, 2012

Three dress rehearsals for one day

It would not be the whole truth to announce that the 2012 Evergreen Exercise Series begins June 5 and 6 with a response phase, continues June 12-14 with a logistics management phase, and concludes with a short-term recovery workshop on August 8 and a long-term recovery workshop on August 22.

While those are certainly the dates of the Series’ most visible milestones, its impact began in 2010 with the decision to develop a local/state centric exercise in concert with FEMA Region X.
This exercise series is the dress rehearsal for the real possibility that an earthquake could strike at any time. The design, preparation, evaluation and development of an improvement plan following the exercise has fomented intense collaboration among the key stakeholders who will be in the driver’s seat when the real event occurs. And we agreed that we would budget as much as possible from our own ongoing workloads, concentrating the efforts of many of our staff on the task of building and executing this exercise without the burden of pleasing an outsider.
Too often, I have participated in exercises of grand scale that have left me wondering why I as a local or state emergency manager (I have been both) was even present. Too often, I have seen critical actions jumped over in the interest of introducing outside assets and capabilities that, in real time, would not be deployable for as long as 72 hours after the disaster. And, too often, a test of local and state readiness has taken a back seat due to a lack of funding or a broader focus that eclipsed local and even state control.  As a result, those first few hours or days when we are literally going to be left to our own devices seem to have been afterthoughts, because the exercise development process was not ours to direct.
The Evergreen Series is unique because the participating cities, counties, states and province own it outright—no strings attached. The Series actually began in the first meetings when we thrashed out an agreement that allowed each participant to select what they would like to test, building on the platform established by a scenario that featured a series of earthquakes in Central Puget Sound. It is unique in that we will focus on the second and third day, beginning with plausible assessments of the conditions we would face at dawn the day after the quake, and continuing through the next 48 hours as we marshal our assets from within the state and from nearby British Columbia and even Alaska.
  • We will initially call on our Pacific Northwest Emergency Management Arrangement (PNEMA) to acquire assistance. This will come from Alaska and British Columbia. Included in conference call briefings on June 5 and 6 will be information that will allow both B.C. and Alaska  to assess the impacts on their respective governments and their citizens.
  • We will also be testing our ability to receive and support Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) assistance. EMAC is the state-to-state government assistance compact supported by all 50 states.
  • Logistics is a major issue in disaster response and recovery. For this reason we are devoting three full days (June 12, 13 and 14) to examine our capabilities at the federal, state and local level to receive, inventory, and distribute commodities needed to alleviate pain and suffering and assist with the response and, ultimately, the recovery.
  • The final and most unique aspect will be the recovery sessions. On August 8, short-term recovery issues will be fleshed out with government professionals and private sector counterparts assessing the most pressing requirements. Because this is a major, near catastrophic scenario, it is anticipated that the August 22 session will involve elected, appointed decision makers and the state’s business and social leadership as well.
The principal point is that Washington State cannot and should not rely upon outside assistance as the primary means of revitalizing impacted areas following a disaster. Help will come, but it must augment a strong, cohesive, collaborative effort from all quarters of our state.
Finally, a thorough and challenging after action report and improvement action plan will be prepared. It is intended to inform the not only the current officials in state government, but to help orient the transition to a new gubnatorial administration in 2013.
So, what actually began in 2010 does not conclude with the last report or the publication of the improvement action plan—that work will spur deeper and more extensive exploration of the gaps we identify so that we are as prepared as possible for a disastrous event that is most assuredly going to occur one day.
Many steps must be taken for our state to be ready for that ‘one day’, to respond more quickly to it, to rebuild from it faster. Thanks to this series of exercises, the critical path toward that day will be more sharply defined, allowing us to proceed—still step-by-step, but more swiftly and sure—toward forging our own resilience.
We are not aware of a similar approach to date.      

Jim Mullen
Director, Washington State Emergency Management
President, National Emergency Management Association