The World Turned Upside Down – or Emergency Management on a Shoestring

I started drafting this post last month, but it seems like last year. I was going to scrap it, but then I thought it might be useful to see how far we have come, and share best practices.

With so many competing priorities, it can be very difficult to prioritize planning for emergencies that may never happen. Local government managers who were working around the time of 9/11 quickly realized that their “civil defense” policies and supplies were left over from the Korean War. Many of us revamped our strategies, created local emergency planning committees, and developed emergency plans. And then, other things happened. Construction. Lots of construction. The economy collapsed, and then kept growing. Other than large cities (and maybe cities not interrupted on a regular basis by extreme weather) many local governments let their emergency plans slide. In our Town, we are fortunate to have a core of committed staff who managed to resurrect our emergency planning process a few years ago, and then convinced the Town to fund a full-time emergency management administrator. This step is probably out of reach for many communities.

Emergency Management on a Shoestring was originally intended to offer suggestions for starting small and creating at least the foundation for responding to an emergency situation. Even now as everyone has been thrown into emergency management mode, we can still work to incorporate emergency planning into our now regular Power Hour routine! Here are a few ideas:

  • Practice using on-line meeting platforms like Zoom. Our private sector colleagues would be incredulous at our lack of knowledge on this subject. Since virtually all of our meetings must take place in person and in public, it simply hasn’t been a priority. It is now.
  • Figure out how to sync your work phone to your personal vehicle even though your personal phone is hooked up via Apple Car Play (asking for a friend).
  • Set up a “go bag” for your car.
  • Review ICS Protocols and complete on-line training.
  • Set up a standard operating procedure on communication. Take an inventory of what you already have set up, including use of email list-serves, texting, “reverse 911” systems, and sites like “What’s App”. We have had good success with What’s App because you can set up a “chat” for each individual event. We found in the past when we relied on email, invariably someone got left off the list.
  • Practice the communications systems you establish. In virtually all of the practice drills we have conducted, communication has been the choke-point.
  • Make sure you have all of the contact information for your key personnel in your phone. I just learned that the Office 365 App on my phone that syncs my calendar and email to my desktop may not sync contacts. Updating my contacts TODAY.
  • Plan to establish (or continue) regular emergency management meetings with your teams progressing to table-top drilling in the future.
  • Set up a dedicated phone line for emergency events ahead of time. 
  • Track expenses and staff time!

Some of the best practices that we have put into place to address the immediate crisis include:

  • Opening our Emergency Operations Center in a building that is centralized and convenient for staff.
  • Assigning the Health and Human Services Director as Incident Commander.
  • Assigning Section leads for Finance & Administration, Planning, Operations & Logistics.
  • Relocating staff full-time to the EOC including communications, emergency management, and finance.
  • Implementing a daily 10:00 a.m. call for all section leads (pro-tip from Free Conference Call yesterday: set your meetings for 10 minutes before or after the hour to avoid call overload).
  • Providing daily public updates about what is happening in Town, including key updates from the Commonwealth (updating on weekends as well when needed).
  • Providing a more granular level update to elected officials each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
  • Ensuring that all communication about the COVID-19 response is funneled through our Public Information Officer.

I wonder if any of my fellow Hamilton fans are humming lines from The Battle of Yorktown: “…and as our fallen foes retreat I hear the drinking song they’re singing: the World Turned Upside Down…” Please share your strategies, stories, laments, and joys. Let’s practice social distancing together, crisis carbs in hand.

One thought on “The World Turned Upside Down – or Emergency Management on a Shoestring

  1. Thank you Kate. I love your posts. You are compassionate, funny and practical-a winning combination that serves us so well in tough times. Keep posting!
    Happy Spring to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

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