Preparedness & Recovery

Walt Disney Co., Full-Scale Exercise Highlights Day at IAEM

FEMA acting deputy administrator addresses association audience in Long Beach, Calif.

by Jim McKay / November 14, 2017

Public-private full-scale exercises aren't that common, especially when they feature The Walt Disney Company.

But that's exactly what took place recently and what was shared at the 65th Annual International Association of Emergency Managers in Long Beach, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 13.

The exercise eventually took place at ABC studios, but not before nine months of planning collaboration. It was an active-shooter scenario, involving local Glendale and Burbank police departments and included 70 volunteers, 50 "players," 30 VIPs and 150 observers, including Walt Disney personnel from around the globe. All of those people required credentialing.

The planning was such that one of the planners, Joseph Paz, operations project manager for Global Crisis Management at Walt Disney, doubted the exercise would ever happen. He and Gerald Shamburg, manager of training and exercises at Walt Disney, were tasked with putting the exercise together.

One of the many lessons learned? Give the planning stage at least a year. Others?:

•    You can't overcommunicate.
•    Have good objectives.
•    Have a committed design team.
•    Expect the unexpected. Be flexible.

Communication, throughout the planning state and right on through to the exercise, proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of the whole scenario. As more people became part of the equation, more questions arose, and the more difficult communication became — and the more Paz muttered, "It ain't gonna happen."

Questions like what to do about local neighborhood concerns like the nearby child-care facility? What about the sounds of AK-47 gunfire coming from the building? Are the radios the disparate agencies using all encrypted? What about cellphones and social media?

"No matter how much you plan, you've never done enough of a walk-through," Shamburg said. Evidence of that happened during the exercise when police barged — guns drawn — into a portion of the building that they weren't allowed to go to.

In the end, there were multiple shooters in the building, many casualties, including police officers and it all seemed very real. At any time, a volunteer could raise his or her hand and opt out if it got too tense. 
Again, the keys were collaboration and communication to get to the goal of any response-recovery effort: Get back to functional normal.

In another session, consultant Lucien Canton shared his experience with collaboration while he was director of the Office of Emergency Services in San Francisco. His efforts led to an ongoing task force on sheltering that is still a big issue in the city as single-room occupancy hotels evaporate.

In 1997, during the Delta Hotel fire which displaced 100 residents, Canton asked what to do with the displaced people. It was usually the Red Cross' problem but not anymore. Canton assembled the task force, which developed a plan of action for people displaced during fires and other disasters.

It developed policy solutions such as: The city owns the problem, it's no longer just handed over to the Red Cross; the department of human services would lead; use the Red Cross shelter management system in all sheltering.

The efforts were called upon during the wet El Nino year of 1989 when three shelters had to be created and the EOC activated. From that, many lessons for the shelters were learned that furthered policy, including:
•    City workers needed to be trained by the Red Cross.
•    Normal services like garbage need to be ramped up.
•    What to do with pets? People won't leave them.
•    Not all services can be provided at all shelters.
But the key takeaway: Sheltering is just one component of care. What to do with displaced residents when the shelter closes has to be a top consideration.

In the morning keynote, Acting Deputy Administrator of FEMA Daniel Kaniewski talked about the whole community approach and how that all came together during the recent hurricanes, the Northern California fires and a bit about the recovery in Puerto Rico.

He said he just returned from Puerto Rico and called it an ongoing recovery effort. He said the four hurricanes in six weeks affected 26 million people and the effort in Puerto Rico of 50 days was the largest, longest air, food and water effort in history.