Hidden Heroes all gathered at Fort Worth and then went to work!
This PAST WEEK I spent my time at the Texas Division of Emergency Management Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. It was a sea of white cowboy hats and uniforms. 3,500 emergency managers, responders and officials!
It was an interesting week of discovery as current events guided attendees throughout the conference and the exhibit hall floor which was packed with hundreds of vendors, each displaying solutions to emergency management issues and obstacles.
As the show ended, there was no rest for the attendees as Officials with the office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday that Abbott has directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to deploy various emergency resources because of ongoing flooding and severe weather across northwest Texas and the Texas Panhandle.
It was bizarre as the show ended to have such a deployment activated literally within minutes as the flooding situation in our “drought-ridden” state suddenly became top priority for almost everyone at the conference. Here is just a short list of the folks that headed toward the disaster rather than heading home to a weekend with the family:
Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (Texas A&M Task Force 1): 2 Swiftwater Boat Squads
Texas A&M Forest Service: 2 Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System Strike Teams comprised of High Profile Vehicles, and 2 Boat Teams
Texas Department of Transportation: Personnel to assist with traffic control and road closures
Texas Parks and Wildlife: Game Wardens and Boat Squads
Texas Department of Public Safety: Helicopters with hoist capability
Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (Public Works Response Team): Personnel to support flood pump operations
Texas National Guard: 2 Ground Transportation Platoons with High Profile Vehicles
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality: Air/water/wastewater monitoring
Texas Animal Health Commission: Personnel to provide livestock support
According to the latest briefings, the TDEM is also was contracting additional water pumps to assist local entities impacted by flooding. They also said that the TDEM placed the following resources on standby to help support operations as warranted:
Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (Texas Task Force 2): Urban Search and Rescue personnel
Texas Department of State Health Services (Emergency Medical Task Force): Severe Weather Packages
Tuesday and Wednesday at the conference the conversations followed the path of current events as we discussed the need for sufficient lighting after power outages and during flood events. One major theme at the show was the need for fully-outfitted mobile vehicles that could be utilized by emergency management agencies to bring efficient and effective command to remote areas; a majority of these were in the form of trailers that provided everything from showers and toilets to shelter beds, command stations, drone launch pads and so much more.
Other conversations included the changes taking place in the State of Texas regarding populations and language barriers, the need for better and more efficient evacuation plans and better notification systems.
As Emergency Managers began to shop for the solutions to all of these issues, the weather crept closer and closer. It was just an hour before the end of the show that warnings began to go out and briefings were being held on the exhibit floor of the conference.
I have to wonder how many emergency managers made it home at all. It is this dedication that makes the emergency management sector stand-out but unfortunately they spend much of their time as the “hidden heroes” as they are hidden away in mobile command units or at emergency operation centers away from the public eye. As we watch the water rescues and the road closures, the warnings and the shelter creations, we tend to forget that somewhere, drinking cold coffee and working around the clock is an emergency manager calling the shots, procuring what is needed to preserve the lives in the community and keeping track of perhaps hundreds of professionals and volunteers alike.
There are four phases of emergency management.
The four phases of Emergency Management make up a continuous cycle of planning and action undertaken by an office, division or department of Emergency Management which is in many cases, one single person.
Mitigation is the most cost-efficient method for reducing the impact of hazards. A precursor activity to mitigation is the identification of risks. Physical risk assessment refers to the process of identifying and evaluating hazards. The higher the risk, the more urgent the need is to target hazard specific vulnerabilities through mitigation efforts. This means that our emergency managers are working on today’s flood a year ago. They tirelessly, and under pressure of possible failure, have to make the right decisions and write plans that will ensure success when the disaster strikes. Almost all of this work goes unseen by the public.
Preparedness is a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluation, and improvement activities that allows the emergency manager to ensure effective coordination and the enhancement of capabilities to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against disaster events that have been identified within the Hazard Vulnerability Analysis (HVA). This past week emergency managers from around the state were gathered at this conference to do some of that work as they perused the available solutions throughout the exhibit hall and attended classes that were specific to threats in their communities. Again, this time, research and dedication went unseen by the public.
In the preparedness phase, the Emergency Management Department develops plans of action to manage and counter risks and takes action to build the necessary capabilities needed to implement such plans.
The response phase includes the mobilization of the identified emergency staff, including first responders, to an internal or external event which could have an impact on the community. At this time, everything that the emergency manager has worked on is suddenly in the spotlight as he deals with hidden threats, changes in timelines, overworked responders, shortages of supplies, a desperate public and so much more. There is no more time for planning at this point, the emergency manager’s plan has to work because if it does not, this is the only part of an EM’s job people will pay attention to and it won’t all be positive feedback.
If an emergency manager just does their job the rest of the time, won’t everything go smoothly? Hardly. Remember, the disaster never reads the plan, the disaster never follows the plan and the disaster will never respect the plan.
The aim of the recovery phase is to restore the affected area to its previous state. The responders have gone home, the flashing lights are turned off. The media, for the most part, has left. In the mind and eyes of the general public, the disaster has ended, but this is not true for the emergency manager. While a tornado may have occurred on May 21 and only lasted for eight minutes, that same tornado may last months if not years at the emergency management office.
It differs from the Response phase in its focus: recovery efforts are concerned with issues and decisions that must be made after immediate needs are addressed. Recovery efforts are primarily concerned with actions that involve rebuilding destroyed property, re-employment, the repair of other essential infrastructure, as well as the re-opening and support of essential services throughout the community.
Recovery operations are an extremely important phase in the Emergency Management continuum and yet the one that is most-often overlooked.
Yes, these heroes were all together this past week and I wish you could have seen them. Men and women of every age, seeking solutions that could someday save your life or the lives of your loved ones. Their vehicles are subdued and generally not bright red with ladders and diamond plating; it is possible that you could pass them on a side road and never notice their vehicle. They are the watchman on the wall and so you do not see them in the larger crowds of responders when the news crews are flocking to your community.
These are the hidden heroes that never stop and never sleep and it was truly an honor to be a part of this past week and to call many of them friends and colleagues.
I would be remiss to not mention that at the conference the late Edinburg Fire Chief Shawn Snider was posthumously inducted into the esteemed Texas Emergency Management Hall of Fame. Snider’s distinguished honor recognized his unparalleled commitment, tireless work, and unwavering dedication to emergency management throughout his illustrious career.
Chief Shawn Snider, sadly passed away on May 1, just three weeks before the conference started. Snider left an indelible mark on the field of emergency management and in the fire service. His relentless pursuit of excellence in emergency response and preparedness made a profound impact on the community of Edinburg and beyond.