What | So What | Now What

Anyone in the emergency management arena knows the disaster cycle of prepare, respond, recover – or at least one of the many forms depending on what is being highlighted.  A similar series of steps should be used for the information in disasters.  I’ve previously written about the DIKW model describe how bits of data moves to actionable information.  Recently, I was introduced to the three step “What | So What | Now What” and prefer it.

What

This is the same what from the who, what, when, where, why series.  Not to be confused with the what from WTF.  What has been observed?  What is known?  What is the problem?  Describe the current state.

So What

The bare essence of a disaster is not having enough resources to meet all the needs immediately.  Action needs to be prioritized based on the commander’s intent. The so what is: why does the what matter?  Why should I care about the what?  Describe why the current state is the problem.  This is often the context around a need.

Now What

Understanding the what and so what leads to the now what.  The now what is the way forward: identify the resources, action and timeframe to resolve the what.

This simple set of three questions can be asked anytime someone brings forward new information.  It is a great mentoring technique to help mentees focus their thought process to go beyond reporting problems and to recommend courses of action.

All disasters are local … and the IMATs are at the other end.

FEMA Incident Management Assistance Team

An emergency is a situation requiring immediate action to protect life and property.  All jurisdictions have law enforcement, fire department and medical service that respond to emergencies on a daily basis.  A larger incident is met with a larger response.  When a county needs assistance, they turn to the state governor.  When the state needs assistance, they turn to the President and Federal government.  The President turns to FEMA to handle the situation.  FEMA turns to the IMATs to lead the response.

The National IMATs are the last stop as there is nobody next in line to turn to take the lead.  The National IMATs prepare and exercise for the largest, most complex, and nastiest disasters that may impact the states and territories.  The National IMAT is a team of about 30 people.  Each is an experienced expert in their respective areas and expected to take their place the co-lead of that function.  Remember, even when a state is completely overwhelmed, the state governor and the state emergency manager is still responsible.

The 10th Amendment to the US Constitution keeps power to the states that is not specifically granted to the Federal government.  The state Governor remains the final authority in a disaster. A presidential declaration is really an acknowledgement that federal resources will be made available to the Governor to support the state’s response to the disaster.  POTUS and FEMA are not there to lead the response.  This is a commonly misunderstood fact.  A governor can (and does) restrict what the federal government can do during a response. When the Governor doesn’t want to pay the cost share, then FEMA can’t do it.

The Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (S.3721) requires the FEMA administrator to “develop a national emergency management system capable of responding to catastrophic incidents” and “each Regional Administrator to establish multi-agency strike teams to respond to disasters, including catastrophic incidents”.  This led to the creation of the Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMATs).  Each FEMA region maintains at least one IMAT.  Three additional National IMATs are maintained by FEMA headquarters.

The three National IMAT names refer to their primary office location, not their geographic coverage.  They are East 1, East 2 and West.  The primary on-call team is expected to respond in two hours and be on the ground in twelve hours.  The secondary on-call team has a 48-hour respond time.  The third team is off-call.  When a team deploys, the other two team take a step up so there is always an on-call team.

FEMA is mandated to respond to presidential declarations through the process established by the Stafford Act.  An IMAT typically responds at the direction of the FEMA administrator and the President.  Note, there precedents where FEMA has been engaged for non-Stafford Act declarations.

Mexico Earthquakes

The 1985 Mexico City earthquake with 8.0 magnitude is 7.9433 times bigger than the 2017 Central Mexico earthquake with magnitude 7.1.

The 1985 Mexico City earthquake struck in the early morning of 19 September at 07:17:50 (CST) with a moment magnitude of 8.0 and a Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent). The event caused serious damage to the Greater Mexico City area and the deaths of at least 5,000 people.

The 2017 Central Mexico earthquake struck at 13:14 CDT 19 September 2017 with a magnitude estimated to be Mw 7.1 and strong shaking for about 20 seconds. It caused damage in the Mexican states of Puebla, Morelos and the Greater Mexico City area, including the collapse of more than forty buildings. Mexico’s SASMEX earthquake warning system provided 20 seconds’ warning in Mexico City. 308 people have been reported killed, and more than 2633 injured.

While the full extent of the deaths in the earthquake a few days ago are not know and the intensity was less, I believe we’ll see the benefits of all the earthquake preparedness and mitigation done since 1985.  I hope these events will be analyzed for lessons which will be applied in other cities at risk of earthquakes.

“How can I best help the ___ disaster?”

I’m seeing a bunch of posts here and elsewhere about donations to Texas.  Let me offer you my perspective.  Right now, I’m in the Harris County EOC.

Unsolicited donations take a huge amount of resources to receive, sort, and distribute.  The priority now is life-saving and life-sustaining.  All resources (people, stuff and money) need to focus in this direction … and also to a longer view of helping people recover to a new normal which may take weeks or months for most, and never for others.

Organizations purchase the primary disaster supplies in advance of a disaster.  A good size chunk of the monetary donations will be used to replenish stock for the next disaster.  They’re all emptying their warehouses.  A lot on faith that the American public will donate.

Pick your favorite charity.  Examples: American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Convention, Save the Children … many more are listed at https://www.nvoad.org

See what they’re asking for.  A lot ask for money because that is what helps things move.  Money fuels the trucks, pay for transport and distribution.  Even volunteers aren’t free; they need to eat and sleep too which takes money.  Money is also given directly to survivors.  It replaces prescriptions, purchases medical equipment, and other supplies to help drive survivors’ recovery.

Not certain you believe what charities post on their website?  Go visit https://www.charitynavigator.org

They’re widely accepted as a neutral and reliable third-party rating of charities.

While I’m here…. the new cycle.  Many people are working very hard on this (and every) disaster response.  During the disaster and at the start of the response, the news is everyone friend.  The dramatic rescues and visuals are good for ratings.  But that wears off in about a week.  Then the news media turns on the responders.  Shouldn’t you have been more ready?  Why didn’t you do ___?  Everyone knew that Texas would get record setting rain sometime, right?  Why did you evacuate the tourists and ruin their vacations?  Why didn’t you evacuate the residents?

Everyone is talking about Houston.  There are many communities in Texas suffering that don’t make the news.

Want to know what rivers are flooding?  https://waterwatch.usgs.gov

Want to know how much rain will fall?  http://www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov/qpf/day1-7.shtml

Want to know where the storm will hit?  http://www.spc.noaa.gov and http://www.nhc.noaa.gov

Want to know where the winds are?  https://www.windy.com/

Social media doesn’t help either.  You’ll see an email or post somewhere claiming some blown out of context tragedy, and passionately click the forward button without checking it.  Please pause and verify against multiple trustworthy sources.  The airport didn’t flood so bad that planes were underwater (despite the photo you’ve seen).  I’m waiting for the obligatory shark swimming past house photo we see at every flood.

 

What do I think a person can do to help?

  1. Support your favorite charity with either your money or time. And keep doing it after this disaster ends.
  2. Test your smoke alarm. Home fires are still the leading disaster that kills people.  If it were a single event, you’d be outraged at the deaths.
  3. Get to know your neighbors. The single biggest indicator of the resilience/recovery of a community is how well people knew each other before the disaster.  Income, location, demographics and other factors don’t matter.

 

Thank you for reading this far.
Cheers,
Keith

ICS Humor

A group of ICS folks are sitting in a room.  The room is hot and they’re sweating.  The planners look for someone to measure just how hot the room is getting.  The finance admin person starts to wonder how much is paid to the A/C contractor to maintain the system.

Meanwhile, the log person sets up a fan to cool the room.

As the room cools, the ops chief thanks everyone for coming together to solve the problem.

Mark’s Gospel and Social Media

There is a chasm growing between points of view.  People are being told that perspective is a binary decision: you can only be one or the other, nothing in between.  That is quickly followed by don’t trust the other side, they will deceive you and fill you with bad information.

I happen to be reading Mark’s Gospel and ran across Mark 7:15-23.

There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

The relevance for today struck me like a hammer — granted Mark was writing about food and I’m thinking social media.  People (including myself) need to be open to new information, perspectives and opinions.  Listening to someone you disagree with doesn’t defile you.  It really expands your perspective which can open your heart and mind.  The more you understand about another person, the more likely you are to find a common solution.  And the less likely you are to see them as an enemy.

Don’t be afraid of new information.  Use your resources to gather information, weigh it for validity, and think for yourself.  This goes for both information you strongly agree with and information that makes you really angry.  Verify it as those listening to you will think it comes from your heart.

Moral Courage

Martin Luther King famously said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” It is great to imagine the US population whipped into a fury of loud voices to push back. This is not the starting point.

The start is the moral courage to shift the conversations around us. The start is the each person defining the moral line in the sand they will not cross — before they unwittingly cross it.

“…But it’s not the world that I am changing. I do this so this world will know that it will not change me” sings Garth Brooks in The Change. This is where each person starts: putting their feet down firmly to stand for something.

I challenge you to stand where you are.
I challenge you to find your own morality and ethics.
I challenge you to shift the conversations around you through dialog that opens perspectives — not berates people on their own perspective and belief.

We need to close this chasm where it isn’t enough that one side wins, the other side must lose too. We need to find a way to dialogue to an agreeable solution.

Will everyone be perfectly content? No.
Will we get through this? Yes, together.

Never Surrender the Science

“Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.” –Wikipedia

Science stands regardless of your personal belief.  Science stands apart from personal preference, politics, culture, language, and many other subjective matters.  When I say “science”, I mean good quality, peer-reviewed science.  Science that can be recreated.

Do not let others steal your science.  If you agree, feel free to take this art and use it.

And the original Adobe Illustrator file to customize it to your needs.

 

 

 

The sound of the sun

This morning, I was laying in bed thinking about the sound the sun makes.  Do you know that nobody has heard the sun?  Sound waves need matter to propagate and space is a vacuum.  If sound could travel in a vacuum, would the sun make enough noise that we could hear it?

Light gets from the Sun to the Earth in 8.4 minutes.

Sound would 14 years to make the same trip assuming sea level atmosphere all the way to the sun.  However, add an iron rod between the Earth to the Sun, and noise would only take 343 days to make the trip because iron carries sound nearly 15 times faster than air.

 

The numbers in this calculation…

  • Speed of Light: 299,792,458 meters/second
  • Speed of Sound: 343 m/s
  • Speed of Sound in Iron: 5,130 m/s
  • Earth-Sun Distance: 152,000,000,000 meters
  • Time for Light: 507 seconds
  • Time for Sound: 443,148,688 seconds
  • Time for Sound in iron: 29,629,630 seconds

Where to find more information

Here is a list of readings that I’ve compiled for my classes and students over the years on topics relating to the intersection of technology and disaster, crisis, risk management.  This list is kept current as older material becomes obsolete and new materials is available.  Let me know what you think are solid reference materials on these topics. Continue reading Where to find more information