Category — Search & Rescue

Derecho? Dangerous Weather Phenomena or New “End of Times” Disaster Screenplay?

This past week saw charring wildfires consume thousands of acres and hundreds of homes outside of Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs Colorado forcing the evacuations of tens of thousands of families. Thursday however saw the development of a rare weather phenomena just south of the Chicago area that formed a destructive line of vicious deadly storms that raced across the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean sometimes at speeds of 80 miles per hour. Derecho

On Friday, here in the mid-Atlantic region, daytime temperatures were over 100 degrees with high humidity with little relief at night. Friday evening saw the skies turn to a wicked boiling caldron of foreboding clouds. The skies roiled with dark hues of gray, oranges and black making one think of movie special effects, but this was no movie. Lightning bolts angrily scratched across the sky only to strike the ground in an awesome display of nature’s fury. Lights flickered several times and then there were none. No streetlights, no traffic signals. Just headlights from cars driven by startled motorists – many trying to get to the safety of home. But some found no safety at home…

High, hot winds ripped trees from the ground and toppled power lines with hurricane strength. The drive home was surreal with debris swirling everywhere. On two occasions we narrowly missed tree’s falling across the road. As millions of homes were relentlessly plunged into darkness the derecho pummeled communities with storm bands that cut a swath of destruction across three Mid-Atlantic States.

Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia have declared states of emergency as down trees and power lines lay strewn seemingly everywhere. There is no electricity for millions of area residents, hundreds of grocery stores or gas stations. With no air conditioning, refrigeration and, in many areas, no telephone there is an air of “concern”. In addition to Internet being mostly inaccessible, VOIP users also lost use of their voice telephones. Elderly residents and those with disabilities living alone are particularly vulnerable at this time. Power companies are scrambling to repair damage typically associated with a hurricane making landfall and expect that repairs make take up to a week and perhaps longer. The buzz from local county officials is that emergency plans have fallen well short of the current crisis. Local agencies are scrambling to locate facilities to stage large-scale water distribution – that is once they have secured the actual supply of water of course. How much worse can it get?


We are among the fortunate. We opted to be prepared and not paranoid about emergency preparedness. Our All Hazards NOAA Weather Radio did not fail us! Storm tracking and local news gave us a good view of what was going on before we ventured outside of our “safehaven” Saturday morning. After clearing fallen trees from our driveway and road with recently maintained chain saws and fresh two-cycle oil and gas, we were able to get mobile. Debris was everywhere and we had to be watchful for downed power lines.

A quick recon of our neighbors found them to be a bit scared but ok. A couple neighbors have portable generators that are running small air conditioning units, fans and refrigerators. The generators are outside and power cords snake their way thru windows and doors slightly ajar. Water for personal sanitation seems to be the big issue at present, but fuel is key now. It’s hard to safely keep any quantity of gas at hand for emergencies safely. A number of local gas stations did not have power so their pumps were down. Long lines at gas stations that do have power; though, this is to be expected.  We’ve heard reports of communities that have water supply issues as their water purification and pump stations are without power. We have a well and are thankful. We planned for power outages with a backup generator and underground LP storage and think we’ll be good to go for several days until we can arrange for a re-supply of LP.

We are now two days into the aftermath of the derecho, temperatures remain cozily close to if not over 100 degrees. Still no power and over breakfast we’ve just been alerted to NOAA storm watch #442 more storms are possible, the heat index is 100 to 107 and conditions are changing and not for the better… The pets have been brought in to protect them from the sweltering heat. In many communities people are not doing well…  As local county officials and relief agencies to whom so many are desperately turning for resources and assistance struggle with the mere logistics of delivering critically needed water and stumble in shock at the shortfall of their emergency plans, we pray for relief from the heat… We are now at event +3 days…

Derecho. Not a screenplay, just reality….

Facta non Verba

July 2, 2012   1 Comment

2011 – The Costliest Year for Emergencies?

This past year was unusual both in terms of frequency of disasters and each event’s high cost. In recent years, typically one or two large to catastrophic events have dominated the news — like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. Whether 2011 with its multiple billion-dollar disasters is a trend is hard to tell, but professional emergency planners and managers should be prepared for that possibility.

The National Climatic Data Center at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration compiled data, including total loss data, on the 12 billion-dollar disasters of 2011. The following information illustrates the historic nature of those disasters:

The Groundhog Day blizzard of Jan. 29 to Feb. 3 dumped one to two feet of snow across the Northeastern, mid-Atlantic, eastern and central states, resulting in 36 deaths. Total losses were more than $1.8 billion.

During the Midwestern/Southeastern tornadoes of April 4-5, 46 tornadoes affecting 10 states caused nine deaths, more than $2 billion in insured losses and exceeded $2.8 billion in total losses.

The Southeastern/Midwestern tornadoes of April 8-11 included an estimated 59 tornadoes across nine states that were responsible for numerous injuries but no deaths, and more than $2.2 billion in total losses.

On April 14-16, about 177 tornadoes across 10 states in the Midwest/Southeast resulted in 38 deaths. While few of those tornadoes were considered intense, they caused total losses greater than $2 billion.

The Southeast/Ohio Valley/Midwest tornadoes of April 25-30 were responsible for more loss of life than any of the preceding tornadoes of 2011. An estimated 343 tornadoes across 13 states caused 321 deaths. Several major metropolitan areas, including Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville, Ala., were directly affected by several strong tornadoes, which were responsible for $7.3 billion in insured losses and more than $10 billion in total losses.

The Midwestern/Southeastern tornadoes of May 22-27 resulted in total losses greater than $9.1 billion, more than $6.5 billion of which were in insured losses. More than 180 tornadoes caused at least 177 deaths; 160 of those deaths were in Joplin, Mo., in what was the single deadliest tornado to strike in the U.S. since modern tornado record keeping began in 1950.

An estimated 81 tornadoes and severe weather struck the Midwest and Southeast on June 18-22; losses exceeded $1.3 billion.

Spring through fall, drought, heat wave conditions and wildfires in the Southern Plains and Southwest affected Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona, southern Kansas, and western Louisiana and Arkansas. Direct losses to agriculture, cattle and structures totaled more than $9 billion.

Mississippi River flooding during the spring and summer resulted from persistent rainfall (nearly 300 percent of normal precipitation) combined with melting snowpack. Economic losses were estimated at $3 billion to $4 billion.

Upper Midwest flooding in the summer resulted in five deaths and estimated losses in excess of $2 billion. These floods were caused by the melting of an above-average snowpack across the northern Rocky Mountains combined with above-average precipitation.

Hurricane Irene made landfall on Aug. 20 as a Category 1 hurricane over North Carolina. Over the next nine days, it moved north along the coast, bringing torrential rainfall and strong winds while causing flooding across the Northeast. Losses were more than $7 billion; at least 45 deaths resulted from the storm.

Wildfires impacted Texas, New Mexico and Arizona during spring through fall, losses from which exceeded $1 billion.

The estimated economic damages from these events exceed $45 billion as of press time, making it likely that 2011 will be the costliest year for insured losses since records have been kept. Given that 2011 was the first year of the 21st century’s second decade, it’s clear that those responsible for emergency management and disaster planning must anticipate the future in a bolder, more proactive way than they have in the past. The historic events of last year demonstrated some unusually destructive characteristics, attracted significant media attention, and laid bare numerous deficiencies in the plans, systems and processes used in all phases of emergency management.

When talking about disasters, 2011 has been a significant year on its own — and the events of the year appear to be keeping with the noticeable upswing in the number of declared disasters in recent decades. Although it is too early to establish a firm trend line or pattern, as a nation we need to consider the following:

  • Are large-scale disasters and catastrophes, events whose costs are measured in the billions of dollars, the new normal in the foreseeable future?
  • If so, how should the emergency management community plan and prepare for such mega-disasters?
  • Do we need to make changes, major or minor, to our policies, programs and response/recovery systems?
  • Should the threshold for a presidential disaster declaration be changed? (A staffer from the U.S. DHS Office of Inspector General recently noted that the formula hasn’t changed since 1999.)
  • Should the preparation of a national risk assessment be given a higher priority?
  • Should the DHS’ education and training programs give more attention to risk management for catastrophic natural disaster events?
  • Will the Whole Community concept being promoted by the current administration at FEMA be essential? Is it adequate as now articulated?

The emergency management community seems to be entering new territory with respect to the scale, number, frequency and cost of disasters in the United States. It is essential that we’re prepared for the worst as we head into a new year.

Facta non Verba

Article republished with permission from Emergency Management.

February 28, 2012   No Comments

Tapping the Potential of Faith-based Organizations in the Wake of Disaster

Becoming “Nehemiah Complaint”

(reprinted with permission)

Over the course of the years, I have had the opportunity to witness quite a few churches operate in the wake of a disaster. Before getting too far into this article, I want to say that there are many faith-based organizations that have done a tremendous job of responding to disasters, but those are not the ones I am addressing here.

Aftermath of Joplin, Missouri Tornadoes

I remember some of my early programs included discussions about what I called “chaotic response”. These references were regarding the groups of youth or volunteers from different churches that, with hearts of gold, would deploy themselves into disaster zones only to become a part of the problem and not the solution. One of my favorite anecdotes was that of a church that, with broken gas lines hissing all over town, took it upon themselves to set up a large number of BBQ grills in a parking lot to feed the storm victims…

The government is much more politically correct when describing this activity; they call it “spontaneous response”. I still refer “chaotic”.

I will never forget one experience I had this summer. As my team worked debris removal in the heart of Joplin’s “ground zero”, we were encountering every type of debris imaginable from hospital waste to broken glass, from shredded sheet metal to twisted power cables.  We had several pieces of heavy equipment operating in a few acres of space and over 60 workers. Our team, no strangers to deployments, were geared from head to toe with hard hats, steel toed boots, long pants, safety glasses and masks.

It was in the midst of this that a large white bus pulled up…

There was window paint decorating the bus that exclaimed in no uncertain terms what had brought the bus to this place for on each window was emblazoned messages like “To Joplin with love” and “God’s Army”. As the bus came to a stop, the doors were flung open and I had my first view of what was to come.  The youth leader was the first out of the bus…

He was a large man, in his mid-to-late-twenties with a goatee and what looked like a middle-aged version of a Mohawk. The Hawaiian shirt was a great look for him, but the pale-purple sandals really caught my eye.

There is an old saying, “As the leader goes, so go the people”. Never a more true statement here. The entire bus was packed with young people, all in shorts, light t-shirts and baseball caps. They were all wearing running shoes or crocks and in one hand, they each had sun-screen; in the other, yard rakes.

I wanted to alert the field hospital immediately just to let them know they were about to have a run!

What is the difference between a “Missions Trip” and a “Deployment”?  The answer is almost obvious.

Missions trips take place every year and can range from puppet shows on the street to trips overseas to spread the gospel or a message of hope.  Deployment is a military word and refers to the transfer of soldiers to an area where the purpose is to overcome an obstacle or enemy.

While many churches and faith-based organizations will schedule missions trips to disaster-struck areas in order to rebuild homes or churches, teams deployed into disaster zones need to be properly deployed and need to be deployed with a knowledge base of training that allows them to be of use where they are needed the most.

Simple understanding of the phases of disaster, basic research, and trained people can make all the difference.

Now, I am not saying this group should not have come to Joplin. What I am saying is that too often I see faith-based organizations step into situations where they have no business being simply because they have allowed the “separation of church and state” to overshadow common sense. As I visit churches, I find that the separation of church and state has become almost a “comfort zone” in which we exist; a world where churches operate on their rules while the government operates on its rules.  We have to be willing to embrace the concept that this separation cannot apply to deploying. There is a National Response Plan that includes us all as American’s, church-going or not.

This particular group was geared to work in a food tent, to be distributing water or to be assisting at the City’s base of operations. There was no way this group should have been in that “ground zero” area.

Aside from the liability they immediately became the minute they stepped off their bus, they were immediately not operating within the confines of any authority; a poor witness for a faith-based organization.

While large denominations, for the most part, have phenomenal training programs, it is still the local churches and the independent churches that hit the ground the most, and it is in lack of training that representatives of God can quickly bring hell to a town.

I am not discounting the value of missions by any means.  Many of our members are involved in missions and we wholeheartedly endorse the concept of missions, but we believe that the ministry performed by certain teams comes through the professionalism, the efficiency, and the timing of the response.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief organization states “When humanity is judged, one of the decisive factors will be how well we responded to the needs of our neighbors.”  It is this belief and philosophy that has made the Convention’s work some of the finest ever seen in the wake of disasters.

“But Eddy, if I start requiring all kinds of training for my people in order to go we’ll lose volunteers!”

“My people don’t have time to train AND respond so we take what we can get!”

I believe there is a biblical basis for requiring your church members to train and prepare to respond rather than becoming “chaotic response”.

It is in the Bible’s book of Nehemiah that we find our original blueprint for this avenue of ministry we call disaster response.

Although the current books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book, and were originally just chapters called “Ezra I and Ezra II”, the chapters were eventually split into two separate books.  The book of Ezra now contains a portion of the history of how Jerusalem came to ruins, but in Nehemiah, now that since 1560 is its own book, reads like the story of a deployment.

Nehemiah was a spiritual leader who had the gifting and wisdom to seek practical solutions.  We find in the beginning of the account that Nehemiah was involved in government.  He worked for the government.  When Nehemiah saw the ruins of Jerusalem, he chose to act.  It says in Chapter One that he wept at the first report.

Let me point out that this is where the church excels.  Nehemiah’s heart was broken and he wept.  I believe that what makes churches so valuable and gives them more potential than any other type of organization is that the infusion of faith into the human spirit ignites passion and it is that passion that can be the catalyst for large movements.

Nehemiah approached the king and discussed the current situation with the king, very much like our C4LDRT (Chasing4Life Disaster Response Team) leadership has briefings with government agencies now.

The king, in Chapter 2 asks Nehemiah what his goals are in order to hold Nehemiah to a form of accountability, and Nehemiah presents his missions statement and purpose, adding that he would like permission to respond to the disaster.

This is a key element in how we should respond.  Never self-deploy, and never enter the gates of a city without permission.

The account continues with even more insight for us as Nehemiah requests of the king a few things; the first is the permission.  The second request is that the king give him certificates so that upon deployment, Nehemiah will have the ability to operate freely in the disaster zone.

In the same manner as Nehemiah, the church needs to require of its members that they be constantly educating themselves and acquiring certificates of training from entities such as FEMA and DHS.  Simple online courses offered for free from DHS and FEMA not to mention dozens of others can be a great source of education and understanding for any faith-based organization’s volunteers. If a church expects to deploy alongside fire departments, there should be no difference in understanding between the two entities or they will not be able to function together.

Nehemiah gets his certificates, and has another request for the king; grant funding.

While the scripture only briefly touches on this, the story says that Nehemiah was “granted” what he asked for, and this included even security provided for by the king’s soldiers.  My point here is that once Nehemiah was NIMS compliant, he suddenly became a respected entity. It was obvious that the king no longer was seeing Nehemiah as just another “Bible-thumper”, and Nehemiah was having doors opened for him!

You can see the precedent set for churches in disaster here; there is a great value to be placed on pre-arranged relationships and “permissions”.

It is only at this point that Nehemiah can deploy, and as the story progresses, we see that he enters the city, begins to work, and inspires those around him who marvel at his efficiency, professionalism and authority.

As the year comes to a close, we have to look ahead. 2012, (Mayan calendar considered or not), we are sure to see more disasters that will require massive amounts of volunteers. The faith-based population is the largest population in the United States and therefore, could be the largest work-force in the wake of disaster, but we have a responsibility to ready ourselves, get trained, become educated and follow in the footsteps of Nehemiah.

If you are in church leadership, I encourage you to seek out training opportunities such as CERT for your people. Meet with local authorities to determine what you might do to create NIMS compliant response teams within your fellowship. Make your next bake sale or fundraiser a source for purchasing hard hats.  From the little things to the big things, you can become a part of a system that needs you, but needs you to do it right.

As for those of you in governmental positions, I have another word today…

Seek out faith-based leaders in your community and include them.  The passion and numbers of the faith-based community is a source we do not tap into often enough and if we intend on becoming more efficient and effective, we need to utilize this vast and tremendous resource.


Original post: Becoming Nehemiah Compliant

Reposted with permission from Chasing4Life.


Fact non Verba

January 9, 2012   2 Comments