What are the challenges for Resource Management in emergency management?

Hurricane Sandy was one of the worst natural disasters hitting the East Coast. One week after it first started, we still have millions of people in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey out of power. On November 2, Wall Street Journal reported that few of FEMA’s generators are humming. “Before Sandy struck, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said they had 400 industrial-size power generators ready to help the East Coast. Three days after Sandy landed, only a fraction of that equipment is actually providing power, despite the fact that millions are still without electricity.”

Generators as part of equipment management incident response

I am sure we are not fully aware of the reasons behind the mismatch of the supply and demand, and I have all the confidence that FEMA will learn from this and improve. I posted a discussion on expert groups LinkedIn, and got a lot of responses with possible explanations. People mentioned politics at FEMA, an inescapable fact of life. A more interesting thread of discussion is around mismatch of supplied resources with demand from the incident, and inability to coordinate with all the supplying parties.

  • “Some of it probably stems from the fact that the truck mounted generators can’t power cities, they are for facilities. Then add in that the generator comes possibly with a driver, or the driver must be supplied, and then cabling, electrician, etc. needs to be identified for install.”, commented Dusty Kitzmiller, COO of  Hazard & Homeland Security Consulting Group and CERT training coordinator
  • “90% of what occurs in an Emergency Operations Center is about moving people and things What we are seeing in many different instances in the Post-Sandy Response and Recovery efforts are logistical challenges. It is never just a Generator. Instead it is a Generator, the right cabling, the right adapters, and how it is being shipped to where it needs to be. If the Generator is a large one, then it is also a licensed installer, a fork lift to move it, a fork lift operator, a truck, and a truck driver”, commented Shawn Smith, President, Emergency Visions Inc.

So what could have prevented such a mismatch from happening? According to Shawn Smith, who helped to deploy a state resource management system in the Florida Division of Emergency Management, a properly developed and managed logistics “system of record” could have solved the problem. “Had a logistics “system of record” been in place prior to this event (there are several examples of this kind of technology used by Gulf Coast states), then the “reach-back” to Suppliers of all types (private contractors, mutual aid partners, NGOs, FEMA) could have been pre-planned, coordinated, and managed in a timely fashion and in a way that insures that all the critical logistical details are met”

So why haven’t this kind of logistics system been used by our state and local emergency management agencies? Two reasons come to mind:

  • Smaller agencies cannot afford a system like that, so agencies live with phone calls, clipboards, pen and paper. In a big situation like Sandy, these tools simply can’t handle the demand and numerous requests for resources.
  • Even the system has been installed, it was not maintained. Some popular Emergency Management Incident Management systems, like WebEOC, has a “Resource Management” module. But the effectiveness of the tool is only as good as the people and business process behind them. If the data is not complete or maintained up to date, the data is useless.

So what can emergency management agencies learn from the “generator incident” as referenced by the Wall Street Journal?

  • Establish the roles and responsibilities around Resource Management. Resource Management is one of the 5 components of National Recovery Framework derived from the original National Incident Management Framework. FEMA has provided guidelines on how to approach this, but hasn’t specified at a local level,  who will own this process and how to support the ongoing management of resources. So it’s up to the local leadership to define this ownership.
  • Evaluate  tools that can support resource management and equipment management together. Emergency management agencies need to consider their business processes and find tools to support and streamline their existing daily operations instead of adding more work. Cost of ownership is a significant factor. Also keep in mind that the data in the resource management system has to be compatible to other data, like their supply chain systems, equipment management and  procurement systems. Even better, the data needs to have an interoperable protocol,  i.e. EDXL, so it can be exchanged among organizations and systems easily. With EDXL, the equipment management system can update the Incident Command System in real time, providing all the necessary linkages to the equipment and the maintenance data.

To conclude, Sandy has again, like its counterpart Katrina, pointed to systemic weaknesses that still require some work and analysis. We have the capabilities to meet the needs of the community, in the amount of equipment that is out there. Now lets finish the job and implement standards of business processes to manage that equipment and enable the incident commander to complete the 90 percent of his task.  It’s time to help strengthen that task.

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