“The National Strike Force”

The current issue of the Coast Guard’s Journal of Safety and Security at Sea. Proceedings of the Marine Safety and Security Council features articles on the National Strike Force, but there are a host of other great articles on related topics in the issue.  For a free copy (and a free subscription) of the Proceedings click here.

The Proceedings is a nice, slick-paper magazine issued quarterly. The current issue is 98 pages long. Definitely a “keeper” for your library.

Leadership – some new resources

In recent weeks, two topics have been keeping me up at night:

(1) The sheer volume of guidance, reports, documents, directives and the like that are coming from FEMA and other federal agencies responsible for emergency management.

As  noted in an earlier posting, there is an inverse relationship between the volume of materials to be read and understood and incorporated into planning in practice and the resources (personnel and money) available at the state and local levels of government. I assume also that the Red Cross and many non-governmental organizations also are feeling the effects of sequester-driven and other budget reductions.

(2) Leadership, primarily lack of.  The very agencies who issue the documents noted above are not willing or not able to show the flag and lead the way. Just today, the Wash. Post noted huge cutbacks in the number of meteorologist on staff at the National Weather Service and their ability to perform vital functions n times of weather emergencies are seriously impaired.

Somehow the requirements have to be streamlined and rationalized so that the reduced workforce and resource base can get the most essential tasks and functions done, and at the same time the reports and non-essential paperwork requirements get reduced.

As promised, here is some new material on the topic of leadership:

Two weeks ago the Diva was in London Ontario, participating in an invitational conference on Leaderships held at the University of Western Ontario. The small group of participants was comprised on Canadian and American professionals in the various elements of emergency management. You can see some of the past work of the organization, and in the near future I expect they will post a proceedings of the conference. [(I will feature that fact and provide a URL when it is available.)

One of the documents shared at the conference was the report titled: Leadership on Trial: a Manifesto for Leadership Development (2010). For a preview of the report and ordering info, go to this site. There also is a slide set available here: Collaboration Conference.

“Public Leadership in Times of Crisis: Mission Impossible?” – great article!

While doing some housekeeping in my personal library ( also known as a storage locker), I turned up this great article. Normally, I would not violate the copyright of an article, but I found the full text on the web. I think it is a terrific article and urge you to read it.

Although the date on this article – Public Leadership In Times of  Crisis, by Arjen Boin and Paul ‘t Hart – — is 2003, I find it very pertinent to issues we are dealing with right now in the post-Sandy environment.

Note:  A reader has pointed out a book by the two authors above, plus two more, published in 2005.  See this Amazon link for details:

As always, your comments are invited.

Signs of Lessons Learned!

Here are some positive signs of learning from experience gleaned from articles this week:

LEADERSHIP:  I cannot remember the last time such a positive rating for all levels of government occurred after a disaster. We must be learning something from past events!  See: Superstorm was super-test for state and local leaders; Experts have given New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg good reviews for their performances after hurricane Sandy. Nov.19.  In addition, I would give FEMA high marks for the response phase.

TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE FROM EXPERIENCECalifornia Learns From Hurricane Sandy In Northeast; Nov. 19

COMMUNICATION NETWORKS.  For those of you who are interested in the technical details of disaster networks, see this posting from the iDisaster blog.  It talks about the progress made since the Haiti earthquake.

Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy – some initial articles

Aftermath of H. Sandy

CNN on October 31. “Is Sandy a Taste of What’s To Come? Lead paragraph:

” We should not be surprised. That’s the view of many climate scientists as they survey the destruction wrought by the superstorm that ravaged the Northeast this week. The melting of Arctic ice, rising sea levels, the warming atmosphere and changes to weather patterns are a potent combination likely to produce storms and tidal surges of unprecedented intensity, according to many experts.”

In the NY Times, Oct. 31,  The warnings came, again and again.

For nearly a decade, scientists have told city and state officials that New York faces certain peril: rising sea levels, more frequent flooding and extreme weather patterns. The alarm bells grew louder after Tropical Storm Irene last year, when the city shut down its subway system and water rushed into the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan.

With an almost eerie foreshadowing, the dangers laid out by scientists as they tried to press public officials for change in recent years describes what happened this week: Subway tunnels filled with water, just as they warned. Tens of thousands of people in Manhattan lost power. The city shut down.

Leadership during Disasters:

An interesting article about 3 styles of leadership, from elected officials interested in higher office.

Other articles on disaster and leadership include: The 2011 paper published in the American Journal of Political Science called “Make It Rain? Retrospection and the Attentive Electorate in the Context of Natural Disasters.” The authors claim “…electorates punish presidents and governors for severe weather damage.”

More on the Superstorm in a Climate Context, by Andrew Revkin, NYTimes blogger. October 31.

Study of the Role of U.S. Presidents in EM and Disaster Policy, 1950-2009

For those of you who share my interest in the history of disasters and emergency management in the U.S., I recommend this new journal article: US Presidents and Their Role in Emergency Management and Disaster Policy, 1950-2009, by Naim Kapucu, et al.

This 34 page article is available as a free download, once you login.

NOTE: As you will see from the comment made today by Bill Cumming, the authors did not get all of their dates and facts correct.  Generally I defer to Bill on such matters.

Also, I am working on a second edition of the text Emergency Management; the American Experience, 1900-2010, due out in 2012.  That book will contain carefully fact-checked details on the history of emergency management for the past 110 years.

Comments on the age-old question: “Who’s in Charge in a Catastrophic Disasters”

Coast Guard Commandant Thad W. Allen, from htt...

Image via Wikipedia

Who Is in Charge of What During Major Catastrophes Still Unanswered . National Defense Magazine, November 2011.

When a natural or manmade disaster strikes the United States, which federal agency is in charge of the response? The answer is all of them and none of them, former Commandant of the Coast Guard retired Adm. Thad Allen suggested recently.

Homeland Security Presidential Directive-5, released in 2003, said that the Department of Homeland Security secretary takes command of a non-defense related catastrophe. A presidential policy directive released in April this year reiterated this.

“Tell that to [Health and Human Services] in a pandemic,” Allen said at the National Defense Industrial Association homeland security conference. Since his retirement in 2010, Allen has emerged as a leading voice in the disaster response community.

The High Personal Cost of Disaster

Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Damage (27RTR2JSK3)

Image by Kordian via Flickr

Fateful Choice on a Day of Disaster; When the Tsunami Struck, a Mayor Had to Decide Between His City and Family; WSJ, April 9, 2011.  Mayor Futoshi Toba of Rikuzentakata, Japan, lost his wife and his house in the Japan tsunami, but stayed on his job at city hall.  This article highlights the conflict between personal and professional demands.

More than 2,300 people—a tenth of the population here—were dead or missing.

A month later, Mr. Toba finds himself in a role of bewildering complexity and responsibility, as Japan struggles to recover from the worst natural disaster of its modern history and its leaders debate how—and even whether—to rebuild a part of the country that was already in steep decline. The decisions Mr. Toba and other local politicians make now may well determine whether the hard-hit areas on the northeast coast survive and thrive, or never recover.Mayor Futoshi Toba’s house in Rikuzentakata was destroyed in the tsunami.

Where Is Superman When We Need Him?

Superman (comic book)

Image via Wikipedia

Where are the great leaders who can handle a catastrophic disaster?  What are the characteristics and needed experience for such people?  Some major research is needed on leadership for major and catastrophic disasters, especially those with unusual dimensions like the Japan disasters.

Many years ago, when I read comic books, the Superman character had great appeal. You may recall that the mild-mannered reporter named Clark Kent often ducked into a phone booth to achieve his transformation into Superman – the strongman with Krypton-endowed super powers.  The boldly-dressed hero emerged from the booth to take on the big challenge of the day. [More bio info for Superman can be found here.]

We sure could use him today, to lead the way out of catastrophic disasters, though I expect he would not enjoy the paperwork attendant with the job.  Somehow, people still have the expectation that their ordinarily leaders will go through the transformation to a super-leader. Here’s the bad news: when you elect a Clark Kent to a major city, state or national office, you do not get Superman to take the lead for events with extraordinary circumstances. If you are lucky you will get a competent manager, and if you are not you will get a person who crumbles under the weight of the new job. (A practical problem is that we no longer have any phonebooths!)

So, if we are going to have mere mortals lead us and successfully manage disaster response and recovery, we had better do a better job of recruiting and training them for extraordinary duty.