Archive for the ‘Homeland Security & Emergency Management’ Category

The Challenge of Developing Situational Awareness During Hurricane Disasters—Part Three: Understanding the Impact (or the “What’s Next?”)

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Author: Jim Weldin, Senior Emergency Planner, IEM

This is Part 3 of a three-part series on hurricane analysis. Part 1, “Determining the What,” dealt with anticipating the impact of a tropical system and Part 2, “Consequences (Or the ‘So What?’)” focused on consequence management. 

Hurricane Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City on October 29, 2012, at approximately 8 p.m. The 933-kilometer-wide storm produced 158 kph winds as it moved northwest toward the New Jersey coast as a Category 1 hurricane. A new state record was set for the lowest recorded barometric pressure (an indicator of storm strength), which was measured at 27.94 inches at landfall.

Hurricane Sandy’s impacts on New Jersey included high winds with hurricane-force gusts, storm surge, and significant rainfall. Surge heights were considered major to record-level—i.e., in the 6- to 9-foot range—along the coast, resulting in major inundation of coastal areas and flooding of barrier islands. Rainfall levels totaled up to 7 inches for most locations in New Jersey. (more…)

The Challenge of Developing Situational Awareness During Hurricane Disasters—Part Two: Consequences (Or the “So What?”)

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Author: Jim Weldin, Senior Emergency Planner, IEM

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on hurricane analysis. Part 1, “Determining the What,” dealt with anticipating the impact of a tropical system. We discussed various tools and projections used by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management to predict the potential impact of a tropical system. This post focuses on consequence management.

Historical data on the impact of past storms was useful in projecting potential consequences in New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy. In addition, FEMA, through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), provided maps of flood-prone areas and historical data on property flooding insurance claims as part of its mission to reduce the impact of flooding on private and public structures. GIS mapping helped emergency managers define facilities most at risk, including key residences and businesses; hospitals and schools; and critical infrastructure, such as power plants, water/wastewater treatment facilities, and police, fire, and emergency medical service (EMS) stations. (more…)

The Challenge of Developing Situational Awareness During Hurricane Disasters—Part One: Determining the What

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Author: Jim Weldin, Senior Emergency Planner, IEM

These series of articles will discuss the aspect of gaining situational awareness during hurricane disasters. The overall theme is to determine the potential storm impact, the consequence of that impact, and finally utilization of this information to provide recommendations for consequence management.


Emergency management and civil defense agencies are responsible for coordinating response to a disaster. This coordination occurs in a centralized location—the emergency operations center—where information is gathered and analyzed to determine the impact or potential impact of an incident, ascertain resource needs, and establish priorities for assigning resources where they are needed most.

I was engaged in this process while supporting the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management when Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast of the United States in October 2012. My experience in the State Emergency Operations Center and 2 weeks later in the Joint Field Office working with 2,600 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff was consistent with the challenges that every emergency operations center around the world faces when confronted with a dangerous natural disaster: determining the what, the so what, and the what’s next.

Part One: Determining the What!

The State of New Jersey is the most densely populated in the United States, with a population of approximately 9 million people. Much of that population is centered in the urban areas in the northeast part of the state near New York City and coast of the Atlantic Ocean coast. The unmet needs of this large urban area can quickly overwhelm the capability to deliver services.

To coordinate the assistance needed during disasters, a critical function of the emergency operations center is to determine what is occurring, the impact or the consequence of what is occurring (the so what), and the consequence management or the plan to respond (the what’s next). Significant challenges, however, impede the ability to determine these three elements. (more…)

Planning to Provide Continuity

Monday, May 23rd, 2016
Disaster Recovery for Businesses

An open sign is one of the few items left after a tornado struck this convenient store in Oklahoma in 2013. (Photo: State Farm/Flickr)

Author: Gary Scronce, Director of Preparedness Programs, IEM

Where I live in Louisiana, we have been hearing a little more about emergency preparedness than normal lately with the start of hurricane season on June 1 fast approaching. Then this morning, I noticed that the week of May 16-20, 2016 has been designated as Business Continuity Awareness Week. A lot of the focus of the emergency management community prior to hurricane season is on trying to get the public to prepare itself and rightly so. During the first 48-72 hours after a hurricane, people should be prepared to take care of themselves. So how does this tie to Business Continuity? In two important ways at least.

First, the public sector version of Business Continuity Planning (BCP) is Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP). Governments develop COOP plans to help reduce or prevent the risk of critical government services and functions going offline in a disaster. For those risks that can’t be prevented, COOP planning prioritizes those services and functions and seeks to minimize the time it takes to recover them if they go offline. The faster governments can recover, the faster they can resume providing day to day services to their citizens/customers, respond to their emergency needs and support their recovery from disaster.  Being able to do those things helps a community get back to “normal” faster. (more…)

Protecting Our Armed Forces Critical Infrastructure: Prioritize Patriot

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Author:  Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe, US Army (Ret.), IEM Vice President of Response and Defense

Reprinted from The Hill

patriotJust 50 years ago, theater missile defenses arrayed our nation’s capital.  Since then, we were able to close down the homeland Nike Hercules sites. And for the past 13 years, we have dealt with specific 9-11 type threats by way of air and ground based alert interceptor aircraft and selected deployment of limited short-range air defense capabilities based upon specific threat assessments.

But as the Department of Defense designs our Armed Forces for the future, the joint force capabilities must continue to be responsive to our Combatant Commanders’ requirements.  That being said, today – and in the foreseeable future – combatant commanders must consider the threat from aircraft and ballistic missiles. This includes the imperative of protection that can only be provided by Patriot, THAAD, and the SM-3. (more…)

Common Alerting Protocol Used in Response to October 2013 Fires in Australia

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Author: Dr. Patti Aymond, Senior Scientist, IEMemergency022

Research shows that in an emergency situation, the most effective warnings are those that are delivered consistently over multiple channels. When people hear the same message from different sources, they are convinced it is real and are motivated to take action.

However, with so many diverse warning technologies available, it has been a challenge to develop a standard format that can be used to distribute a consistent message successfully by all systems.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) has addressed this challenge by developing the Common Alerting Protocol, or CAP—a message standard to support the automatic exchange of consistent alert and warning messages among different types of communication systems. CAP increases warning effectiveness and minimizes the complexity of notification since the CAP format is used by a variety of different systems.

As a software developer and a partner in OASIS standards development, I am proud to see the benefits of CAP coming to life through actual use in emergency management situations. This year, we saw it used during the unfortunate series of wildfires in New South Wales, Australia. (more…)

Quebec Oil Train Disaster – It Could Happen in Your Town

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

The train explosion involving a 73-car crude oil unit train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec on July 6 serves as a sobering example of what can happen in your town.Quebec-train-wreck

The train’s oil was being transported from the Bakken Oil Region in North Dakota to New Brunswick to be refined. The incident occurred just 10 miles from the Maine border.

Rail shipments of crude oil are on the increase because of limited pipeline capacity in the Bakken region and in Canada. Unit trains carrying crude oil are traversing urban areas across the United States and Canada because our cities were connected years ago by railroads. In some cases, unit trains are blocking off entire portions of some urban areas because they can only unload so many cars at a time. (more…)

India Floods in Uttarakhand-Natural or Man-Made?

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Author: Jackie Covington, Emergency Management Associate, IEM

Many people are overwhelmed when such an extreme disaster like the June 2013 flooding in Uttarakhand, India happens. The scale of destruction is huge and thousands remain stranded in parts of northern India as they wait to be rescued from Uttarakhand where at least 5,000 people may have died due to the heavier than normal June monsoon rains. At least 12,000 people have been evacuated. The priority right now is for the continuation of rescue efforts. The devastation is the result of extreme heavy rainfall and landslides. Could this be the disaster that was waiting to happen? Many questions are being asked and remain to be answered, such as was there adequate response and evacuation planning? What if anything was done in advance to mitigate against such flooding and destruction of this magnitude?

Uttarakhand-India-Flood (more…)

Tornado Tracks from Moore & El Reno, Oklahoma Show an Eerie Correlation with Heavily Populated Areas

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Author: Bill Proger, Java Developer, IEM

On May 31, the area around Oklahoma City, already battered by tornadoes a little over a week before, experienced several more tornadoes that caused damage including loss of life.  A tornado reaching an EF-3 (Severe) wind speed and damage rating touched down just southwest of the city of El Reno, approximately 30 miles west of Oklahoma City.  It moved east and ended at the Interstate 40 corridor.  On May 20, a tornado reaching the maximum EF-5 rating devastated a large area immediately south of Oklahoma City. It touched down near the city of Newcastle, cut through Moore, and ended approximately two miles west of Stanley Draper Lake.

The interactive tornado map above, powered by OpenLayers and using an OpenStreetMap layer, shows the May 20 and May 31 approximate tornado tracks, as well as tracks of other tornadoes that have occurred in this area since 1999 and reached a Severe or higher wind speed and damage designation. Their tracks are approximated with straight lines between their starting and ending locations.

It is apparent from the map’s pattern of streets and building footprints at higher zoom levels that many tornadoes produce tracks that impact lives and infrastructure in urbanized, heavily populated areas. As an example, zoom in on the May 20, 2013 track just west of Interstate 35.  Panning west in the storm track’s reverse direction, we see the intersection of the track with Plaza Towers Elementary School, on which the most closely followed rescue effort was focused, and with Briarwood Elementary School a little to the southwest.  Near the school, the track intersects the footprints of other mass gathering places, including a movie theater next to the interstate, and many individual homes.  Looking at the May 31 track, the reader can see its convergence with Interstate 40, a major highway serving Oklahoma City.

As focused as many tornadoes often are in their damage paths, a tornado moving through a heavily populated urban area can have a devastating cumulative effect even with a relatively short track. Current discussions about increasing public safety during tornadoes are very timely.

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Raises Questions About Planning and Zoning

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Author: David Willauer, Transportation Manager, IEM

The explosion at the West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas, this week serves as a sobering reminder of the role of planning and zoning for facilities near chemical plants. Why were a middle school and a nursing home located so close to a fertilizer plant that stores and uses dangerous chemicals, such as anhydrous ammonia?

West Texas Fertilizer plant - buildings near explosion

Source: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/17/17800341-texas-town-a-disaster-blast-may-have-killed-15-injured-160?lite

Planning and zoning officials often do not have critical information such as downwind hazard zones or isolation protective action distances during the planning board process. As a result, schools, nursing homes, residential subdivisions, and child care facilities are often built too close to chemical facilities with downwind hazard zones or too close to highways and railroads transporting chemicals with known recommended isolation protective action distances.

IEM is working with local officials and industries in several states to gather real data about hazardous materials storage and transport and to translate that into actionable intelligence that helps planning officials make more informed zoning and facility siting decisions. This process is also building stronger bonds between industry, communities, and local officials as they collaborate more closely to improve public protection.

For details about the explosion, see Explosion hits fertilizer plant north of Waco, Texas.