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In February 1998 I came to a conference in Central Florida looking for relief following the devastating ice storm in Northern New York. A horrible tornado swept through Kissimmee. In 2007, I came to Cocoa Beach to attend the same conference, and once again, a terrible tornado has brought death and destruction to Central Florida. This time it passed just above Cocoa Beach, and the effects were only realized by me on television.
Television news is not my favorite means of monitoring a disaster, having been on the ground in an ice storm, a wind storm, 9/11 at the WTC, in India and Sri Lanka following the tsunami, and six weeks in New Orleans following Katrina. But I’ll admit, it is safer.
Once again, partnerships emerged in the response and recovery efforts. The Groundhog Day storm that hit Central Florida with an F-3 tornado brought people together from the public and private sectors and across jurisdictional boundaries. The morning following the storm Florida Gov. Charlie Crist stood side-by-side with officials from state and county emergency management, county sheriffs, members of Congress, the state CFO, and the attorney general. Faith-based organizations and the Red Cross were all involved in supporting the search and rescue effort which is still under way as I write.
Early lessons learned include the life-saving capability of a NOAA radio. We’ve all been told of the way such a radio works, but how many of us have one. They are silent until needed, and they can save your life. The Florida storm came with little warning in the middle of the night when most residents were sleeping. As I looked at the damage, I wondered how far I could have run, or how I would have protected myself, even if the radio had warned me. Houses were flattened, not just lightly damaged. Nonetheless, being awakened from a deep sleep with a few minutes to think would have provided some options. Maybe the safest would have been the bathtub. Flordia’s homes don’t have basements. In the days following the storm, television reports showed disaster proof houses made of concrete and steel with special safe rooms stocked with life-sustaining supplies. Can those whose manufactured or mobile homes were destroyed afford to rebuild with these enhancements? And in the meantime, how safe is a FEMA trailer?
Once the storm had passed and done its damage, the cooperation and partnering of Progress Energy to restore electric power, the law enforcement departments to prevent looting, search and rescue teams, and the sheltering provided by a number of sources were evident. Partnering is essential to response and recovery from a major disaster. Most recent disasters have required either mutual aid, EMAC, or federal support for response and recovery efforts. Localities still need to be prepared for the initial response, but partnering will be required. Sheltering involves school buildings, churches, community centers, fire houses, and other sturdy structures. Staffing often requires large numbers of volunteers.
Though there was no mention that I heard of CERT teams in this disaster, I believe CERT training and team formation to be of great value. Have you contacted the local CERT team in your community? Getting trained is the first step to partnering and helping your neighbor following a disaster.
In the last issue of DRJ, Lee Goldstein, a PPBI board member, listed the steps necessary to form a partnership. If you haven’t already done so, consider the possible public/private partnerships that could benefit disaster recovery in your area. Use Lee’s article as a starting point. To spread the word, I recently assigned Lee’s article and the DRJ glossary as required reading for my students in the master’s degree program in emergency management at Elmira College. I’m sure you know friends, colleagues, supervisors, or students who could benefit from them as well.
PPBI offers courses at DRJ conferences to help you with partnership development. Our board and members stand ready to respond to your questions. Contact us at PPBImail@twcny.rr.com or see our Web site at www.PPBI.org. Better yet, for a very small fee, you can become a member. We welcome your participation. Membership is always included with registration in one of our courses.
Perhaps I should post on www.PPBI.org the itinerary of my next trip. The disasters either follow me, or I follow them.
Dr. Tom Phelan is PPBI’s training director and president of Strategic Teaching Associates, Inc. His consulting clients include IBM, Virtual Corporation, Vantage HR Services, American Institutes for Research, IT Crisis, and several governmental agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. He serves on the editorial advisory boards for DRJ and Emergency Management Canada and teaches emergency management courses at three colleges, www.drpwithdrtom.com.
"Appeared in DRJ's Spring 2007 Issue"