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FEMA Guidance: Responding to a Disaster During a Pandemic

I believe in "confluence" of disasters.

If a natural or other disaster is not enough, how about responding and recovering from one during a pandemic! 

It really sounds like one of those gotcha type of scenarios that you might encounter at a four-day IEMC (Integrated Emergency Management Course) put on by FEMA. Just when you think you are getting ahead of the disaster curve, the controllers inject a pandemic on top of the earthquake or hurricane you are dealing with. Well, welcome to 2020, and it is not FEMA, but Mother Nature, climate change and a failure to mitigate potential damages that is going to be nipping at our ankles for the rest of 2020 and into 2021. 

See FEMA's new COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season. I don't know why they used hurricane in the title -- maybe because it is almost hurricane season and it would get more attention. You only need to look at Michigan this past week and the flooding that they are experiencing to see that guidance like this should fit an all-hazards approach. 

In the purpose statement, they highlight this fact: "While much of the SLTT [State, Local, Tribal and Territorial governments] considerations and planning guidance is specific to the public sector, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and the private sector can utilize these factors for planning and preparedness. This document can be used to gain a better understanding of governmental posture, planning, and readiness efforts and how NGOs and the private sector play critical roles in response and recovery operations."

What might be different? Here is some language in the plan on remote operations for logistics:

To support virtual deployments and remote disaster operations, FEMA is planning to:

  • Increase communications to the public through social media platforms, virtual townhalls, and coordinated messaging to survivors from FEMA officials and SLTT leadership, and ensure that all communications are provided in ways that are accessible to individuals with disabilities and limited English proficiency;
  • Ensure remote disaster personnel have the most up-to-date policies and procedures, training needs are met, and supervisors have the tools needed to appropriately manage employees;
  • Increase availability and deployment options for FEMA personnel to make informed decisions on how to support disaster operations while protecting the health and safety of the workforce;
  • FEMA Logistics Staff coordinate the transportation of COVID-19 test kits arriving through Project Airbridge on April 14, 2020
  • Continue use of virtual personnel mobilization center process to facilitate rapid deployment of personnel and ensure that deployed personnel receive information technology services as needed to prepare them to directly support impacted areas; and
  • Increase information technology support for remote disaster operations, including, but not limited to, remote inspection processes, remote preliminary damage assessments, and working with partners to pre-identify accessible technology platforms that can support virtual meetings with interagency, private sector, NGOs, and SLTT partners.
As I wrote earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, I believe in "confluence" of disasters. They seem to come in bunches and don't think you will be hurricane-, flood-, earthquake- or tornado-free for the next 24 months. 

You need to look at your own plans and procedures to see what might need to be modified, say for example: shelter operations!

Pete Gaynor shared the new guidance link with us. 

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.