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Thursday, 11 February 2016 06:00

A Division Preparedness Perspective On The Key To A Successful Disaster Response

Written by  Deodat Budhu, P.E. & Nathaniel Haney

In a natural or man-made disaster, the public works staffs undertake a first responder role. The primary responsibility of the Orange County Public Works, Roads and Drainage Division after such an event is to provide roadway access for emergency traffic, debris removal, response to flooding issues and restoring standard operations. Emergency response planning is critical to the success of the response due to the extent of responsibilities involved.

Budhu-Haney-WindPlanning

Planning includes areas such as forecasting pre-disaster activities to mitigate potential damage, immediate response, communication, staffing support and recovery efforts. The roads and drainage division has eight maintenance units positioned throughout unincorporated Orange County with involvement in pre- and post-event activities and plans are in place that cover the aspects of a response to a disaster, including clearing routes for each of the maintenance units, list of equipment to have on hand, equipment disbursement schedules and staff training.

Each maintenance unit has a specific route to follow to open roadways after an event. The maintenance unit will “push and go,” moving the debris off to the side of the right of way and opening one lane to emergency traffic. The crews will open a roadway from their maintenance unit to a major road such as a state or major county roadway. The only deviation may require clearing the road to a hospital that is adjacent to their clearing route to provide access for emergency services. Upon completion of opening one lane, the crews will then backtrack and open a second lane pushing the debris to the side of the road. The debris will be disposed of in the recovery phase of the event.

A listing of specific equipment and supplies that must be kept on hand at each maintenance unit for disaster response includes: chainsaws, chain saw blades, generators, pumps, gloves, personal protection gear and other related items. This equipment is kept in a separate storage area from the equipment that is used daily and only issued to staff in the event of a disaster. The equipment and supplies are checked on a regular basis to ensure that they are in working order and rotated into the general operation equipment for daily use as new equipment is received. An example would be if a chainsaw is replaced during the year, then the new chainsaw would be placed in the disaster supplies and the existing equipment placed into daily use. The roads and drainage supervisory staff will meet with the main public works stockroom staff annually to review the supplies on hand and make decisions as to what additional equipment and supplies should be added prior to the upcoming hurricane season. The review includes the equipment that is staged at the individual maintenance units as well as the quantities of supplies in the main stockroom, which supplies all public works facilities, are all done prior to each hurricane season.

When there is prior warning of an event such as a hurricane, the plan has specific guidelines for preparation. Loaders, backhoes, dump trucks, and other large equipment are distributed throughout the county at the various maintenance units. This is planned to minimize response time and the need to transport equipment across the county to the site of the recovery area.

All equipment and vehicles are filled with fuel and thoroughly inspected for proper operation prior to the storm arrival. This includes the heavy machinery rolling stock (pickups, crew cabs, tractor/trailers, dump trucks etc.), diesel pumps, extra fuel cans and any other equipment that requires fuel to operate. At maintenance units with fuel islands, the underground storage tanks will be filled to assure the availability of fuel for the equipment. These preparations generally are initiated three days prior to the storm.

Recording and maintaining proper records is very important in dealing with response to an event. Specific information is required for pay rates, equipment usage and supplies that encompass the storm response.

In a declared disaster, the county may be eligible for reimbursement for costs related to the storm response through the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The staff should be trained and familiarized with the data that needs to be recorded, and trained on the method of recording and provided the proper forms for recording. This information should be reviewed early each year in preparation for the storm season. Data from special projects such as a community cleanup, or an emergency road repair can be input into the FEMA forms to keep staff’s skills sharp and provide management with important data on costs and time to complete a project.

Staffing

Staffing is critical for pre and post storm response. They are the first responders to open roadways, respond to flooding issues and the many other issues related to immediate response after the event, and have in-depth understanding of the response plan and have the proper training to initiate a rapid and safe response.

Responding to a disaster such as a hurricane can result in a high level of stress for staff, as they need to keep their family and homes safe as well as prepare to aid the public. To accomplish this, some staff are sent 24 hours before the storm is scheduled to make landfall to allow them time to prepare their homes for the storm. The next 12 hours period the remaining staff will be sent home to prepare and to ride out the storm at home. The staff is to report to their worksite when the winds subside to less than 40 miles per hour and during day light hours. The staff is also informed to call in to their work locations if they cannot make it to their assigned location due to storm damage. They are also informed that if they cannot make it to their normal work site, they are to attempt to report to the nearest roads and drainage facility. They will receive their work assignment at that location until they can get to their assigned work location.

After the storm, it is important to allow time for the staff to take care of their homes and families. The roads and drainage division will review each staff request and allow them time to take care of major damage at their home. As the recovery process moves forward, the crews may be working 12 hours per day, seven days per week. The staff will need a break from the stresses that occur during the recovery period. If the staff is working seven days per week, it is important to provide them a day off during this time to relieve stress. Permitting half the staff to take one day off will provide an opportunity for these people to make repairs to their homes and return fresh and ready to resume their duties. In the event where the recovery will be long term, the day off can be scheduled in advance to allow for a more efficient operation.

If there is a policy for emergency pay for the staff, both hourly and salaried, the guidelines for this pay structure should be explained well in advance in order to eliminate any questions during the response to the event. It is also important to have the staff that normally completes the payroll to be trained on these procedures and to have the ability to answer general questions on the pay plan. Important points to provide to the staff are how the plan is activated, what additional pay will be received a when the emergency pay ends.

Budhu-Haney-area17Training

Each employee is trained in what their responsibilities are prior, during and post event. They are informed as to when and where they are expected to report and what they need to do if they are unable to come to their work location. Each employee is trained in the respective task he or she will be required to undertake and what to do should any issues arise during the undertaking of the task. Updates to these responsibilities are typically handled by providing a short annual training, reviewing the basic procedures and emphasizing any changes.

Lead personnel and supervisors requires a more extensive and formal training. FEMA requires that all lead personnel and supervisors complete the National Incident Management System (NIMS) courses. There are six courses in this series: IS100, IS200, IS300, IS400, IS700 and IS800. These courses provide instruction on the basic setup of a disaster response and recovery under a unified command structure. These courses also familiarize the staff with the procedures, language and organization structure that will be used during the response to an event under a unified command structure. FEMA requires all areas of the country to be trained. Most (NIMS) courses are an independent study through the FEMA website. Staff can take these courses online at their leisure, take the exam and receive their certificate after passing the test. Certain (NIMS) courses are provided in classroom only settings due to the extent of the information being provided and the participation of the students.

Another method to train staff is participation in a disaster exercise. Each year the state is required to provide two disaster related exercises, one for weather related events and one for weapons of mass destruction events. The field staff can be part of the scenario by receiving calls from the department operations center (DOC) staff to hypothetically respond to an issue. This will offer a better understanding as to how the system will work during and event and to be aware of the volume of calls they may receive. The level of participation can be determined by management. Generally, new supervisors would be included in this exercise to provide them with some first hand experience.

Communication

Each area should be knowledgeable on the communication methods they will be using during an event. Hand held radios, cell phone, land lines, fax and emails are some of the more common methods used to communicate with staff as well as social media. Emergency back-up generators are located at each facility to assure communication and power is restored as soon as possible. In situations where the normal communications are inoperable, it may be necessary to assign a staff member to carry information to the field crews.

Remote maintenance units have a basic plan as to what their responsibilities will be if they cannot communicate with other units in the roads and drainage system. It is very important to reiterate to supervisors of the remote maintenance units their responsibilities to make decisions regarding their operations when communications are not available.

Each supervisor must have an overall understanding of how the disaster system operates and how the communication lines are arranged for the duration of the event. The roads and drainage division communication plan consists of three parts: communication to the field crews, communication within the public works DOC and interface with the county EOC. The communications will move in both directions, both up and down the chain of command. Each section must understand their role and how the chain of command operates. This minimizes the staff receiving directions from different sources and causing confusion and inefficient operation.

The field unit’s supervisors will receive their direction from the DOC. The staff will provide the field units with the locations where they are needed and what their specific responsibility will be. If the field unit needs additional support, such as a loader or assistance with a down power line, they will contact the DOC who will make the arrangements for the support needed in the field. This support can be derived from other roads and drainage units, other departments in Orange County, contractors, or through mutual aid.

The field crews will also provide information on what has been accomplished including items such as what roads are cleared, amount of debris picked up or flooding updates. This information will be sent to the DOC for disbursement to the proper locations.

The DOC has the responsibility to provide direction and support to the field units. The DOC staff will receive requests from the EOC for specific activities. These will be relayed through the DOC to the field crews. The DOC will compile the information from the field crews and provide that data to the EOC staff, which usually consists of government leaders. The DOC staff will oversee the response plan to assure that the field crews are initiating the plan properly. The DOC will work with other agencies such as cities, utilities and power companies to provide information and obtain support of the field crews. The EOC requests for support from the field crews will come through the DOC at public works.

Budhu-Haney-weatherThe EOC coordinates the entire disaster recovery operation. The EOC staff consists of representatives from all county departments, government officials, cities within the county boundaries, law enforcement, public and private utilities and non-governmental entities that may be required for the event. The EOC will be in contact with state officials, FEMA representatives, media, and various government and department leaders within the county. The EOC will review requests for service and resources and coordinate response between all departments and agencies and will provide information to the various DOC staff. The EOC monitors the entire response to meet the overall goals of the event as produced by the executive policy group. Reporting to the state EOC on the progress and status of the event is the responsibility of the EOC. The EOC will receive information from the public works DOC on progress listing quantities of debris removed, flooding status and damage reports related to the county right of way.

It is critical that the EOC and all other entities work closely together to provide a positive communication process. Each section must adhere to their guidelines and follow the set communication structure to minimize confusion and inefficient response.

Contractors

Disaster events can easily over task the existing staff of any agency. Preparing for the response, the public works department has implemented a disaster recovery contract to assist in post event activities. These contractors will work under the supervision of the fiscal/administrative division and are generally responsible for the removal and disposal of debris. The contract does provide for the contractor to offer professional support such as engineering services and to obtain equipment such as generators as the need arises. A representative of the contractor will be on site at the EOC prior to the event. The disaster recovery is activated by the Orange County mayor, and once activated the contractor will receive their direction and communication directly from the fiscal/administrative division and report to the DOC on their daily accomplishments.

Planning for the removal and disposal of the debris is important, but assistance is also required to monitor the debris that the contractor removes. FEMA has certain documents and requirements that must be maintained to qualify for reimbursement. To assists with this portion of the recovery, a monitoring contract should be implemented. This contractor will be responsible for all daily assignments to the disaster recovery contactor and documentation related to the debris pick up and disposal. They will oversee the certification of the truck capacity and post it on the truck. The contractor will staff the dump sites to ascertain the percentage of debris in each load. They will also provide the debris tickets to each truck and give them a location to pick up debris.

When the debris is delivered to the debris reduction site, the monitoring contactor will collect the tickets from the driver.

The monitoring contractor will be responsible to provide all the documentation that FEMA will require related to the recovery of the event. They will also assist with the submittal of information to FEMA, the FEMA audit and work closely with county to provided instruction and basic review of the policies and procedures of the FEMA reimbursement process.

The disaster recovery and monitoring contractors are an integral part of the disaster response process. Using the contractors allows for a faster removal of debris and this in turn has a positive effect on the citizens. The assistance provided by the monitoring contractor also saves many staff hours in preparing and submitting the reimbursement information to FEMA.

Conclusion

Preparation is important in any project but more in responding to a disaster. Staff must be ready for any and all challenges, such as communications, short staffing, or limited access to work areas due to damage. Having a successful emergency response program, training, exercises and drills are critical to prepare for these challenges. Each staff member must understand his/her responsibility and the responsibility of their team. Proper preparation can reduce the challenges faced in disaster response and result in a safe and rapid return to normal operations.

Deodat Budhu, P.E., is manager for Orange County (Fla.) Public Works Department, Roads and Draiage Division. Budhu can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Nathaniel Haney, is contract administrator for Orange County (Fla.) Public Works Department, Roads and Drainage Division. Haney can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..