With the frequency and size of disasters increasing, the ability for states to assist one another becomes increasingly important. The Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) is a congressionally ratified organization that provides form and structure to interstate mutual aid. Through EMAC, a disaster impacted state can request and receive assistance from other member states quickly and efficiently, resolving two key issues upfront: liability and reimbursement. Kim Ketterhagen is Minnesota’s logistics and mutual aid coordinator, EMAC Executive Task Force past chair and EMAC coordinator in Minnesota. He responded to a set of questions posed by Emergency Management magazine.
Question: Briefly describe how the EMAC works?
Answer: When a governor has declared an emergency in his or her state, and determines the state does not have the resources to respond on its own, the governor can request help from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam. The requests are sent through a nationally coordinated system to member states. States or territories willing to provide the assistance needed enter into a binding contract with the requesting state. The contract includes a cost estimate and guarantee that the responding state or agency will be reimbursed.
How are the states identified to be the lead and coordinate the response resources from unaffected states to those who have been impacted by disasters? How long do they serve in that capacity?
The EMAC governance structure starts with the National Emergency Management Association. There is an executive task force that includes 10 regional representatives. The task force selects the coordination group, which is the lead state responsible for maintaining the span of control during activation. Generally the state performs that role for a year.
The EMAC system has evolved over time. What were some of the significant milestones in its development?
There are really three significant milestones that impacted EMAC’s development:
• Clearly a major milestone was the day all 50 states became members of EMAC.
• Prior to 2004, EMAC was primarily used to deploy National Guard and state emergency management personnel. In 2004, after having been impacted by four successive hurricanes, Florida requested health/medical, amateur radio and other resources under EMAC. It was the first time in the history of the compact that the potential force multiplier EMAC offers to states had been realized. States can deploy any resource under EMAC that one state would like to share with another. Not surprisingly, the need for states to have intrastate agreements enable resources to be temporary agents of the state and education were the main lessons learned.
• It was just one year later, at the heels of completing the after-action report from the 2004 events, that the largest event in the nation’s history impacted the Gulf Coast. EMAC was a primary resource provider for hurricanes Katrina and Rita even though the education and in many states, the intrastate agreements, had yet to be developed. Nearly 67,000 personnel were deployed under EMAC to the impacted areas. It proved that EMAC can ramp up to deploy significant numbers of life-saving resources and also pointed out the need for education to the first responder communities that deployed without knowledge of how EMAC worked and their responsibilities under the compact. It also demonstrated that services could be rendered under EMAC in addition to deploying personnel. For example, after Katrina, when the state of Louisiana was unable to fulfill its obligation to conduct newborn blood screening, Iowa performed the screenings for one year.
Now that EMAC has been around for a few years, is the system fully developed, or are there still challenges to the operation of the system?
It’s always developing and changing. The EMAC is in a constant state of improvement especially when it comes to updating technology to make it more effective and efficient. Every event is a learning experience because the complexity of each event changes. The key is the flexibility required to keep up to the speed of changes in technology.
There are multiple information management systems being used throughout the nation by different states and metropolitan areas. What is the impact of these various systems on how EMAC is able to function? Is there a standardized information management system being used by EMAC?
Each state uses its own system for managing disasters. States use the EMAC Operations System to manage the EMAC missions during an event giving all states a common operating picture of the resource needs. Further, the EMAC system is evolving to integrate technology into member state’s systems
One of the significant challenges in disaster response is not making requests for assistance to multiple sources when looking for a specific resource or commodity. How does the EMAC system work to avoid states making duplicate requests to EMAC, FEMA or the commercial sector?
The EMAC operation system minimizes the possibility of duplicate requests if it’s used properly. The system is coordinated through the state emergency management agencies. Within each agency, there is an EMAC coordinator who is responsible for the state’s request. Because the EMAC system is coordinated through the state agency there is coordination within the state and assurances that services are covered in states. For example, you would keep enough resources in an area to provide proper coverage of that area. Resources that are not coordinated through the state emergency management agency lose that type of visibility. During events, EMAC liaisons are sent to the FEMA national and regional offices to coordinate the state response under EMAC with the federal response. There is a management system in place starting at the state level all the way to the national level. The system is computerized so that helps manage the resource request and allocation process.
What are the most significant challenges being faced by EMAC right now?
Changing technology, coordination, financial resources and education. We are continually increasing our outreach through presentations and training to keeping people trained as well as training new people
Is the emerging use of social media in emergency management being viewed as an opportunity or a threat?
I view it as an opportunity. National EMAC is using Twitter and Facebook. It’s definitely an opportunity to quickly move information out to the EMAC network. The challenge is getting real-time, up-to-date information from the field and from partners to share with the member states.
What advances do you see in the future? What’s next for EMAC?
I see potential for an international EMAC system as there is currently interest from international partners on further developing mutual aid and EMAC. Technology is always something we’re looking at and evaluating, and so is enhanced training.