Community Capability Building for Post 9/11 Terrorism Preparedness




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Community Capability Building for Post 9/11 Terrorism Preparedness

Frances Edwards-Winslow, Ph.D., CEM

Director, City of San Jose OES/MMTF

This paper is dedicated to Deputy Chief Ray Downey and Battalion Chief Jack Fanning, FDNY, lost at the World Trade Center on 9/11



Emergency Management Before 9/11

The United States has a fifty-year history of active civil defense and emergency management organizations at the local, state and federal government levels. These agencies engaged in threat analysis and risk assessment, emergency public education on threat and risk mitigation, organizational and community planning and preparedness for the threats they identified, and continuity planning to ensure that the community could support the population during the disaster and recover from it. Within the continuity planning piece was, ideally, an integration of the assets and resources of the organization to mount an effective emergency response to the threat events.


Based on these required actions, emergency managers evolved over time as the scope and complexity of their work evolved. Originally civil defense directors were likely to be retired military men. In the 1970’s as the paradigm shifted away from defense and toward all hazards emergency management, women entered the field with backgrounds in nursing, teaching, and social sciences, as well as military, police or fire related experience. Most training was on-the-job, learning from other local and state level emergency managers.
In the 1980’s the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) created extensive educational opportunities through on-site training at the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland and through independent study courses. They also sponsored a formalized series of courses called the Professional Development Series that led to a capstone course and certificate. Building on the success of the federal programs many states began to offer courses to prepare emergency managers to be more effective leaders and facilitators of intergovernmental cooperation.
During this era several centers for the academic study of emergencies developed. Among the best known founders of the field were Dr. Henry Quarantelli of the University of Delaware and Dr. William Petak of University of Southern California. Dr. Gilbert White’s Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder published foundational works in the field and sponsored a summer conference that brought together academics, researchers and practitioners for an exchange of ideas and the development of joint studies. The National Science Foundation Quick Response Grants enabled researchers to go to the sites of disasters to study the human, organizational and societal impacts of typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes and technological disasters.
A series of spectacular natural hazards in the 1980’s signaled the start of academic offerings in emergency management. The Mexico City Earthquake and the Armenian Earthquake were widely covered by the emerging 24-hour television news services. Hurricane Hugo and the Loma Prieta Earthquake challenged the ability of local government emergency managers to facilitate emergency response and recovery. Researchers studied not only the sociology of the disasters, but also the physical sciences, engineering factors and epidemiology of these events to help emergency managers better understand the actual ramifications.
At the same time FEMA funded the National Coordinating Committee on Emergency Management, now the International Association of Emergency Managers, to investigate standards for professional certification in emergency management. Following a multi-year effort involving academics, researchers and practitioners the Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) designation was codified, and specific standards of knowledge, education and practice were established to define an emergency manager.
In California the academic community and the practitioner community recognized the need for a formal educational process to assist existing emergency managers to develop the knowledge, skills and competencies that were suddenly being required to perform successfully in the new multi-hazards emergency management arena. People who had become emergency managers in the civil defense era lacked the required knowledge of seismic forces, engineering, and public relations demanded by “America’s disaster theme park.”1 Few incumbents were trained in threat evaluation and risk analysis, and many lacked adequate skills in all hazards emergency plan writing. The University of California Extension System partnered with leaders of the California Emergency Services Association to create Certificate in Emergency Management programs. Bill Bethel, emergency manager for San Bernardino County and a retired military officer, encouraged University of California, Riverside Extension to model the program on “war college” style in-service training as used successfully by the military for many years. Rodger Kelley, MD and Frances Edwards-Winslow, Ph.D. partnered with Janice Pratt of UC Irvine Extension to create a program based on the professional continuing education model. This model was replicated at UC Berkeley Extension by John Laye, and later at UC Santa Cruz by a consortium of emergency managers, including Edwards-Winslow.
The decade of the 1990’s exercised the abilities of the new profession in ways never before anticipated. The decade opened with the Oakland Hills Firestorm, the most expensive urban wildland interface fire in American history.2 This was followed by Hurricane Andrew, still history’s most expensive hurricane.3 Small earthquakes in various areas of the West culminated in the Northridge Earthquake, reputed to be the most costly disaster in history. Multi-state flooding, multi-state drought, additional damaging hurricanes and active tornado seasons challenged emergency managers throughout the United States.
After about ten years of successful programs, the UC Extension System began to experience significant declines in enrollment in certificate programs. The last program to close was at UC Santa Cruz Extension. Students surveyed noted that most public employers set pay based on the name of an employee’s degree, but not on certificates. Most preferred to go a bit longer and receive a master degree in public administration. The problem was that few public administration programs offered emergency management courses. FEMA’s higher education project was created to respond to the need to create academic courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels in emergency management. University of North Texas and Thomas Edison University in New Jersey were among the first to offer degree programs in emergency management. With the development of supporting course materials more higher education institutions began including emergency management coursework in the curriculum.4
The result of all these efforts was building capability for emergency response. These efforts led to the development of a nationwide cadre of trained professional emergency managers who ultimately formed the foundation of response to the terrorism of 9/11.

It Wasn’t “If” But “When”

In 1993 a foreign terrorist group placed a truck bomb laced with cyanide in the World Trade Center in New York City. While relatively unsuccessful it killed 6 people and injured about 1,000, and caused “tremendous economic disruption.”5 In 1995 the Tokyo subway was attacked by a cult using Sarin, a deadly nerve agent. While there were few deaths, over 200 people were seriously affected and about 5,000 sought medical care. Just weeks later an American terrorist used a truck bomb to destroy the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.


Congress acted rapidly. In December of 1996 Senators Nunn, Lugar and Domenici sponsored an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriation Act to create the Domestic Preparedness Program. Six federal partner agencies - Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, FEMA, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy - formed a partnership to use federal funds to train and equip the 25 largest cities plus Honolulu and Anchorage to respond to the victims of a “Weapon of Mass Destruction/Nuclear, Biological or Chemical” event.6 Cities got an average of $600,000 from the combined federal partners and a week of train-the-trainer courses, followed by a chemical full-scale exercise and a biological tabletop exercise. This program ultimately will cover the 122 largest American cities, and will be completed at the end of FFY 2003.7
The initial program envisioned the development of a Metropolitan Medical Task Force (MMTF) comprised of police, fire, emergency management and emergency medical resources to respond to the scene of an attack.8 As the reality of biological warfare dawned, the program was refocused to the Metropolitan Medical Response System that brought a more active role for public health and hospitals, clinics and physicians.9 The MMTF remained the emergency first responder in the field while the MMRS accepted the patients and provided emergency and definitive care, as well as developing a plan for the administration of vaccines and prophylactic antibiotics.
Federally-provided training for the city personnel was eclectic. Command structures were taught based on the Incident Command System. Emergency medical care techniques were adapted to an attack, and later to an epidemic. Equipment caches and pharmaceutical stockpiles were created at the city level for the first time. The “deltas” between industrial accidents and chemical attacks, and between a disease outbreak and a biological attack, were emphasized. Training was aimed at first responders in police, fire and medical professions, emergency managers, EOC personnel, and ultimately all public employees.10
Domestic terrorism became a more pressing issue as the millennium approached. The Federal Bureau of Investigation identified militia groups, Christian identity organizations, and environmental groups like PETA and ELF as domestic terrorists.11
Foreign terrorism remained a possibility as well. Ahmed Ressam, allegedly a graduate of Osama bin Laden’s training, plotted to bomb Seattle and other U.S. cities under the cover of millennium celebrations.12 He was stopped at a border crossing from Canada, where he was found with maps with landmarks circled that he was alleged to be planning to blow up: San Francisco’s Transamerica Tower, three Los Angeles airports and Seattle’s Space Needle.13 While implementation of any plot was stopped by an alert border guard, this event demonstrated the clear possibility of terrorist attacks against the United States.

The Watershed

On September 11 the world changed. Civilian aircraft on domestic routes were used as bombs. 3,200 people died in New York City, Arlington and rural Pennsylvania. In those first moments emergency managers around the country activated their EOCs, coordinated with police and fire to take protective actions in their communities, and began public education and outreach to the chemical industry, hazardous materials users, schools and medical facilities.


FEMA responded by opening the Federal Response Plan and activating the Emergency Support Functions. Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, Search Dogs, Urban Search and Rescue Teams were deployed to the World Trade Center site to support the efforts of New York City’s public safety staff. The Department of Health and Human Services had the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile component delivered within twelve hours.14
Events at the World Trade Center clearly demonstrated the new world in which public safety first responders found themselves. The World Trade Center moved public safety personnel permanently out of their stovepipes. Fire personnel had to learn to respect the site as a crime scene and try to preserve evidence when possible. Law enforcement personnel had to understand the dynamics of a multiple casualty incident scene, and accept that crime scene contamination due to rescue efforts was inevitable. Clear definitions of “work” blurred as rescue, search and rescue and evidence collection occurred sorrowfully and simultaneously. Critical incident stress management and personnel protective equipment were employed by some public safety personnel for the first time. The smoldering “pile” created a new paradigm for emergency response.
Emergency managers who could not get a call back from the local media a week before 9/11 were suddenly the media’s focus. The public craved accurate information on the potential threats and clear direction regarding protective actions. While hucksters and charlatans marketed gas masks and hand held biological assay devices, emergency managers had to evaluate the science behind the new gadgets and seek out experts to advise the public and public agencies on their utility and cost/benefit. Local officials sought briefings on threats, preparedness levels, and methods for improving the local community’s safety. Emergency managers, the invisible members of the Public Safety Division, were suddenly empowered to bring together their police, fire and medical colleagues for rapid threat analysis and brainstorming, for creation of security action plans, and to make public presentations to governing bodies at the local, state and federal levels.15 Talk show hosts on radio and television interviewed emergency managers.16 Critical incident stress management became a very personal concern, as emergency managers worked long hours under great stress and considerable scrutiny, often while simultaneously learning of the deaths of friends.17
Local governments all over the nation had to determine the proper local balance between security and freedom. Emergency managers were called on to evaluate customer friendly work environments against employee safety issues. Identification badges were issued and external doors locked. Uniformed security guards and x-ray machines appeared in city halls across the United States. Elected officials were forced to allocate scarce resources to security while they watched hotel tax, sales tax and taxi franchise fees plummet. Airports, many of which are owned by municipalities, lost revenues and incurred new security-related costs. The economic cost may never be completely calculated.

Capacity Building After 9/11

Emergency management is the most multi-faceted profession in modern government. Good decisions and worthwhile plans require a high level of scientific understanding. Emergency managers have to understand public administration: the organization of government, how the agencies, departments and levels of government relate to eachother, and how to work within a hierarchical organization that is led by elected officials with limited taxing and revenue raising authority. Budgeting, personnel management and legal issues are also part of an emergency manager’s job.


Emergency managers have to understand the community in which they work: its ethnic diversity, language needs, cultural concerns, age and wealth distributions, educational levels, and economic base. Emergency managers have to be comfortable moving within the world of public safety, working with police, fire, and emergency medical personnel; collaborating with public works, transportation and planning personnel; and negotiating with auditors, accountants and information technology professionals.
The abilities to write well, to research issues, and to develop logical and defensible positions are critical. Intellectual curiosity is required, as an emergency manager must be a life-long learner, with new intellectual demands coming with every new project.
Emergency managers have to be able to move from being the authority figure at a public meeting to the colleague at a public safety committee meeting to the subordinate with the senior management of the organization. They have to have several personal leadership styles, and sensitivity to the feelings and needs of others. They have to be able to relate to the media, to community leaders and to outside government leaders. They have to know how to inspire, to inform, and to motivate.
These multi-faceted demands require an individual with a liberal arts background, well grounded in grammar, logic and analytical skills. Few elements of knowledge are unique to the emergency management profession, and these are most easily acquired as the specific application of the general knowledge of science, social science and government acquired in a four-year degree program.
When I hire a new employee for the Office of Emergency Services I look for the candidate with enthusiasm, stamina and courage. The knowledge described above should come from a bachelor’s or master’s degree program in public administration, political or social science, or journalism, for example. The skills are developed over time, with good mentoring and opportunities to practice existing talents. The abilities may be part of the person’s background, or be based on previous opportunities, or personal commitment to the profession. Competencies will develop based on the opportunities to use the knowledge, skills and abilities that they bring to the job.
Growing the Emergency Manager of the 21st Century”
Developing the next generation of emergency managers is a joint obligation of the academics, practitioners and professional organizations. Academics should not only provide knowledge, but also guide students toward seeking mentoring from existing practitioners. One of the best ways to make the connection between a student and a practitioner is through professional organizations like the American Society for Public Administration’s Section on Emergency and Crisis Management, and the International Emergency Management Association.
Current practitioners have the obligation to pass along their accumulated knowledge through mentoring students and through accepting interns into their offices. A few hours spent with a practitioner writing a federal grant, researching a legislative position, or attending a public hearing can help a student focus the knowledge they have acquired and the skills they have. The importance of mentoring is clear when emergency managers talk about their own training and interest in emergency management. Most will describe the people who first helped them find their way through the bureaucracy and acronyms, the teachers and practitioners who mentored them in the first baffling months.
Teachers can be a conduit to mentoring opportunities for students by adequately preparing students to perform acceptably in the government office. Most successful interns or new employees in emergency management have good basic communications skills, good writing skills, and good critical thinking skills. Such students are valuable assets to an emergency management organization. The time spent in mentoring by the professional can be repaid through useful project work performed by the student. Teachers can help students to evaluate their own level of preparedness for the professional world and encourage improvement where needed for success.




Key to Community Safety

The Office of Emergency Services is the key to community safety. It is the only government agency that puts public safety education and training as its first priority. Emergency Services staff members teach people how to evaluate risk, mitigate threats where possible, and prepare to remain safe when disaster strikes. There is no uniform or badge for most emergency managers, and little community recognition. But within the organization the emergency manager is the facilitator who brings others together, who champions the cause of mitigation and preparedness, and who opens the Emergency Operations Center and steers the staff through unfamiliar operations during disaster response.


Education, training and mentoring bring a person to a level of self-confidence that permits excellence in this demanding career. Emergency managers will never be the heroes, but they are the lynchpins that hold the community together through every disaster.

1 Governor Pete Wilson, circa 1991, reflecting on his first year in office when there were twelve Federal disaster declarations that covered “all the Biblical plagues.”

2 William L. Waugh, Jr., Living With Hazards, Dealing With Disasters, Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2000, p. 85.

3 Ibid., p. 78. Hurricane Andrew was the most expensive natural disaster until the Northridge Earthquake.

4 A list of academic offerings and course support materials are available at www.fema.gov higher education project page.

5 Richard T. Sylves and William L. Waugh, Jr., Disaster Management in the U.S. and Canada, Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas,1996, p. 285.

6 The City of San Jose was one of the first 27 cities to participate in the Domestic Preparedness Program. The author is the Director of the San Jose Metropolitan Medical Task Force.

7 Capt. John Walmsley, United States Public Health Service, Region IX MMRS project officer, report presented at the San Jose Metropolitan Medical Task Force Committee meeting, May 11, 2002.

8 Contracts provided to the 1997 and 1999 cities by the Department of Health and Human Services.

9 Contracts provided to the 2000 and after cities. The original cities received a contract extension and an average of $200,000 in additional funding to develop the MMRS element and the biological warfare preparedness portion.

10 This was the model of the Department of Defense training programs delivered to the 1997 and 1999 cities. When Department of Justice became responsible for training after 2000 the models became more diverse, as classes were delivered under contracts with universities, consultants and other entities.

11 Bay Area Terrorism Working Group website, fall 1999.

12 Linda Deutsch, “Jury selection exposes feelings about terrorism,” Associated Press, March 13, 2001.

13 Cheryl Devall, “Differing portraits emerge of terrorism defendant,” Mercury News, March 14, 2001.

14 Capt. Chris Jones, Public Health Service, Region IX project officer, speaker, Six Month Anniversary Commemoration, NASA/Ames, March 11, 2002.

15 For example, the City of San Jose created a Virtual Security Department from its Public Safety Community Service Area, made up of Police, Fire, Independent Police Auditor and the Office of Emergency Services. OES was made the lead agency and brought in additional departments in support roles: City Manager’s Office, Information Technology, General Services, Public Works, Department of Transportation, and Human Resources.

16 Before year’s end the City of San Jose was featured on MSNBC and The History Channel, as well as on many local television interview programs and radio programs. National media such as the Wall Street Journal, AP wire service, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Christian Science Monitor conducted interviews with the San Jose OES Director and published articles about the city’s emergency management programming.

17 Jim Alexander, New York City Office of Emergency Management, lunch speaker, Hospital Conference, National Institute for Government Innovation, Las Vegas, February 25, 2002.


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