Saturday, January 30, 2016

An Interesting Class

     Other than some useful review of the modular Incident Management structure, it was hardly a class at all.  Instead, it was a very useful bit of touching-base with county- and state-level Emergency Management people, along with a cameo appearance by a couple of Indiana State Police Troopers.

     The purpose of the class is enable technical personnel -- Engineering and IT -- in my line of work to get to locations where we have necessary equipment, but no regular staff, during various emergencies and natural disasters (or to get to work at all; during some kinds of Snow Emergency, for instance, when the roads are deemed closed and driver risk a ticket just for operating a motor vehicle on public thoroughfares).  At the end of the class, we walk away with some understanding of command structure (i.e., who to ask for, who not to bother and how to stay out of the way), some basic safety gear (hardhat, visibility vest -- we have to buy own own but that stuff s cheap) and a better understanding of how to handle interaction with emergency workers (see below) while they have picked up a little insight into who these crazy people are and why we might need past a roadblock, across a flooded stretch of road, or to be out driving in a blizzard.

     One of the better quotes: "The scene of a disaster is not the place to be meeting for the first time and exchanging business cards!"  In Indiana, the IDHS is the state-level coordinating agency for emergency response and they have periodic conferences of county Emergency Managers; one purpose of those is simply to get them in contact with one another before they need to go borrow a cup of snowplows or whatever.  It's a good idea.

     I found the class useful and the IDHS and EMA people were exactly the type I hope to see in such jobs: serious about the work, sincere in the belief the can make a positive difference.  It's easy to gripe about government, especially at the bureaucrat level and even more so when it's a wrestling-smoke job like managing emergencies.  Even the description borders on an oxymoron!  Maybe in An-Cap Libertopia, there's a market solution to disaster; maybe all your neighbors will pitch in (just as they often do in emergencies in this world.)  Here in the world of what is, these government agencies do exist.  They're not going away and given that, I would rather see them in the hands of competent folks who think the job is worth doing than some tired, cynical timeserver.

     For the people who moan, "Where were the Feds?  Where was the state?" when things go wrong, here's how it works: emergency response happens from the bottom up; first response is coordinated and supported at the county level if it needs it.  If the county finds it too big, they get help from the state.  If the state needs help, they yell for the Feds.  FEMA -- the good handing-out-water-and-blankets side, not the tinfoil hat fantasy seen in YouTube videos of rail yards -- is by definition the last on the scene.

     To close, here's a hot tip from the Indiana State Police: "Do not tiptoe up behind an officer at a roadblock and tap him or her on the shoulder!"
     (Entire class laughs.)
     "No, this really happens, and more than you'd think.  You don't know what that officer was just doing, helping pull a mangled body out of a car wreck, looking for an armed suspect -- they are making split-second decisions."
       The other officer added, "And please, for your sake -- can I borrow this smartphone? -- do not be doing this." He'd palmed the phone and put his hand behind his right hip; as he said "this," he brought his hand back into sight just above his holster and smoothly upward, and many of us flinched: it looked for all the world as if he was drawing his sidearm.  An effective lesson.


The Old Man said...

We be necessary evils. Qualified as ICS level 400 (in logistics and ran the daily Sitrep for a while at Deepwater Horizon spill) and worked Hurricane George and Katrina responses years ago before I retired.
Loved the business card line - wish I'd thought of it... Glad AND a little paranoid to see that outreach is expanding.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had some fun. Were you at the EOC on Shadeland? I'm teaching an intro CERT class there next Thursday. We do have a pretty good EMA team in Marion county.

The Old Man said...

Was seconded to FEMA for George and sent to DISNEY WORLD! First tour at Katrina had me at the ICP in Baton Rouge and we bugged out to Metarie and set up a new ICP, where I was asst. SITL. Second tour at Katrina I was in the field doing cleanup - where I belonged.
For Deepwater I was SITL in the Mobile ICP. IMHO, that was a bleedin' charlie foxtrot. Declined a "request" to return...

Divemedic said...

Before I retired, I kept a Rolodex full of business cards from people who could provide services in an emergency. Everything from businesses who owned bulldozers to ones who could provide trench boxes.
Find the local emergency managers and give them your cards. That opens a lot of doors.

Roberta X said...

The whole idea of making contact and swapping cards in advance is a good one and not one that would have naturally occurred to most people in my line of work.

This program was three years in establishing. There was a lot of pushback from both sides. A couple of destructive tornadoes eventually force the issue.

The class was held at conference center on the North side. They're trying to hold three or four a year at widely separated locations, to get as many stations on board as they can.

Marion County EMA was, sadly, not represented at the class, despite about half the students having sites in that county. But as Hamilton County's Emergency Manager pointed out, knowing even one is the doorway to meeting the rest.

At least three times in my present job, I have had encounters with the Sheriff's Department up at the North Campus -- once during a bad thunderstorm late at night, the deputy saw my car in the lot, climbed the fence, and hiked the quarter-mile up the driveway, which was flooded in two spots, to bang on the door and ask what the dickens I was up to. He was...less than happy by he time he got there. I offered to drive him back to the gate. The more common occurrence is that they come by at night before the gate has closed, while I'm driving up the lane, and follow me in. That's a little tense: there's not enough light to tell if it's a police car until you get to the building. Any more, I linger inside the gate until it closes.