The MPA in Emergency and Disaster Management
MCNY's Emergency and Disaster Management Blog
By: Obiano Huntley
On March 29th, 2014, Purpose 4 students in the Emergency and Disaster Program got a chance to apply some of the knowledge they have acquired during their time at MCNY. This came in the form of a Tabletop Exercise which involved students from other purposes contributing. The exercise was the culmination on a lot of hard work which centered on drafting documents, planning and executing, to ensure that the exercise was seamless. The hard work and attention to detail resulted in a successful exercise which left fellow students and professors very impressed.
For nearly a year, the students who facilitated the Tabletop Exercise were working on preparing a Fire Safety and Emergency Action Plan (FS/EAP), along with a Continuity of Operations (COOP) plan for Resorts World Casino NYC. Though prevented from using Resorts World Casino as the site in this Tabletop Exercise, the scenario which was used incorporated many elements and approaches included in the final products for this client. Situation Manuals were presented to participants to bring them up to speed with the scenario. It was assumed that a bomb threat call was made to a fictional casino. Participants listened to a recording prepared by the Purpose 4 students. Based on information the Facilitator presented in a seminar, Students from Purpose 2 and Purpose 3, who acted in leadership roles for the casino, had to listen to the recording and gather information to fill out a Bomb Threat Information Card.
The same approach was used in the second portion of the Tabletop Exercise which focused on activating the COOP plan. Players discussed and deliberated along the lines set by the Facilitator. Maintaining critical functions, relocating to an alternate facility and steps involved in activating a COOP plan were all covered. Students in attendance were very engaged and found that the exercise made them consider aspects of response they would not have considered under different circumstances. Professor Matthew Khaled who is serving as the Constructive Action (CA) professor for the Purpose 4 students, along with Director Ali Gheith who served as the Exercise Director played important roles in making the exercise achieve its objectives. Their input and insights were invaluable and contributed to making the experience dynamic and interesting for all who were in attendancStudents from the lower purposes actively participated as Players and Evaluator and benefited immensely. When their time comes, the meticulous approach used by the present crop of Purpose 4 students is one they promised to emulate. Drafting the After Action Report (AAR) is next on the agenda for the Purpose Four Students as the lessons learned can be passed on to other students to ensure that exercises of this nature can continue to get better.
Disaster Central is also a resource for information relating to MCNY’s MPA program in Emergency Management and Homeland Security, as well as providing insight and commentary on the topics of Disaster Management, Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
By: Obiano Huntley
In recent weeks, students of MCNY have actively participated in two Full Scale Exercises (FSEs) put on by the Emergency Managers at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. These undertakings are focused efforts aimed at meshing theory with practice, and were the result of the Director of the Emergency and Disaster Management program at MCNY leveraging relationships built over the years.
George Washington Bridge FSE
The first FSE took place on October 6, and saw sixteen students from the program playing survivors of a massive and fatal accident on George Washington Bridge involving a fuel tank truck. The simulated exercise not only tested the preparedness of agencies tasked with responding to such events, but also contributed to students gaining valuable insights into how response and coordination go hand-in-hand.
The accident scenario was unique in that it occurred at 3 a.m. on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge, a situation potentially confusing because response was needed from both the New York and New Jersey sides. It was however clear that a lot of planning went into making the exercise a reality, and that responding agencies are continuously pushing themselves to protect the City. The vehicle pile-up, damage done to vehicles, the use fake smoke, moulaging done to volunteers, and other props made the scene look very chaotic and real.
The first responders promptly arrived and assessed the situation. The Hazmat team, firefighters, EMS and personnel from other agencies did a great job at triaging and securing the site. Under the supervision of the Lead Controller, the Safety Personnel and Controllers, volunteers were directed to make the scene be realistic for the responding agencies, a feature that added an element of realism to the exercise that the responders appreciated.
Lasting for roughly one hour, students, most of whom were participating in a FSE for the first time, enjoyed the atmosphere and were appreciative of the opportunity that was afforded to them. Being able to not only see how meticulous Emergency Managers must be, but also being allowed to sit in on a Hotwash, where leaders of various agencies relayed their concerns and satisfaction with the FSE, revealed invaluable insights about our state of preparedness. Such opportunities which are exclusive to students from the EMD program at MCNY are a testament to the hands on approach to emergency management that the institution prides itself on.
The Newark FSE
The second exercise, which took place on October, 19 was much grander. The level of participation was greater not only pertaining to the number of students from MCNY who participated (twenty-one), but also in terms of other volunteer groups and the number of first responders. The scenario was based on a terrorist bombing at a terminal at the airport, which was followed by a second blast, and was aimed at testing the collaboration and response of all agencies who responded to the scene.
Again, volunteers were moulaged and were told what their roles would be. Controllers led teams to different sections and first responders made their way through the rubble and smoke, which were obstacles, put in their way to test their ability to maneuver and assess the site. Triaging was essential in this atmosphere in which there was uncertainty about another possible detonation. The first responders were swift, though it was later observed that mistakes were made in how victims were treated when being handed over. These FSE are vitally important for students of emergency management who have learned to be sharp and recognize weaknesses that other volunteers may miss.
The responders in Newark were for the most part cordial made effort to take the simulation seriously; but it was noted that there were flaws in the design and execution of the exercise as a whole. For this reasons, it was agreed that a Hotwash involving students of the EMD Program to highlight the shortcomings, was needed. Once completed, observations and recommendations will be forwarded to the Exercise Planners.
Ali Gheith is the Director of MPA in Emergency and Disaster Management at Metropolitan College of New York.
On Saturday, June 22, students from MCNY’s MPA in Emergency and Disaster Management program participated in a Full Scale Exercise (FSE) organized by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Like in years pass, MCNY students actively participated and wounded up gaining a greater appreciation of the extent to which emergency managers and first responders go to protect lives, critical resources and key resources and the city.
The scenario was based on a crashed plane landing scenario. MCNY students along with volunteers from other agencies played survivors with varying degrees of injuries. Make-up artists were on site and did a great job of moulaging the victims prior to the exercise. For the teenagers, fascination was mixed with intrigue as everyone took photos and shared them through text messages and social media.
Once the victims were briefed as to what to expect, we boarded the plane and tried to make the incident as chaotic as possible for the first responders. Workers from various city agencies then stepped in and operated as they would as though the event was real. Hazmat teams, personnel from FDNY, the Port Authority, EMS and other first response agencies stepped in to rescue the survivors. Triaging was impeccably done after victims were assessed and taken off the aircraft.
Professionalism, focus and organization were evident in the various agencies that responded: this reinforced confidence in how the city is preparing for emergencies and disasters. Thoughtfulness and precision combined and resulted in a well formulated scenario, which though frightening, is very much possible.
The MCNY students all came away seeing first-hand the important role emergency managers and first responders play in events which test our preparedness and resolve. For emergency managers the true depth of specifics in planning a training and exercise event was more appreciated. The relevance of our involvement and the experience will come to bear as our careers in the field evolve.
Ali Gheith is the Director of MPA in Emergency and Disaster Management at Metropolitan College of New York.
By: Obiano Huntley
MCNY was well represented at the 2013 Emergency Management Summit which was held at the Hilton Hotel on May 1st. Students, educators and alumni were edified by presenters who spanned leadership from local and federal agencies responsible for ensuring the safety of New York City. Among those whose contributions interested the audience of over 200 like-minded professionals the most, were those by Joe Bruno, Commissioner of the New york City OEM; Salvatore Cassano, Commissioner of FDNY; Rick Searfoss, a former NASA astronaut; and James King, a former director of Kenyon International Emergency Services, a company which provides disaster assistance and relief services in mass casualty situations.
Commissioner Bruno gave an overview of his participation and experience in leading NYC OEM before, during, and after Superstorm Sandy. Credit was given to the Citywide Incident Management System (CIMS), which was instrumental in maintaining structure and accountability in the operations and in the various agencies that responded to the cascading events. Credit was also given to the men and women who monitored and managed hazards and features associated with the storm which exceeded projections. These ranged from the 14 feet storm surge, to the 20,000 calls per hour 911 operators handled, the 600 million gallons of water which infiltrated infrastructure, the 2 million cubic yards of debris generated from the storm and the massive outages which nearly crippled sections of the city. Commissioner Bruno was particularly thankful for the lessons learned which potentially can be applied going forward; the impediments being availability of funding and the time available, especially with the impending hurricane season. Our capabilities to more accurately predict storm surges because of storm bearing will allow for resources to be more efficiently deployed and mobilized, and directed to areas that are in the most dire need of them.
Commissioner Cassano of FDNY gave a similar account but was adamant that the foundation for the city’s ability to respond to the massive event that was Sandy, was laid in the months following 9/11. The tremendous work Incident Management Teams (IMTs) did in accessing and dispersing supplies and equipment proved to be invaluable. Though the fire department’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was depleted to 9% availability during Sandy because of the escalation of events, there were successes reported and the overall performance was aided by the IMTs, emergency managers and first responders. Commissioner Cassano called for more coordination with utility companies and pre storm evacuation of hospitals and senior homes.
Mr. Searfoss, who gave the keynote address on his experience as a career astronaut mainly focused on his four elements of leadership: perspective, purpose, program and people. These elements were integral to his success as a leader with NASA and he urged those in attendance to be considerate of others while keeping the mission of the entity they represent in mind. Packed with stories about various missions he was intimately involved in, Mr. Searfoss’s presentation was captivating and provided a view of management more administrators should emulate.
The presentation by Mr. King Kenyon International Emergency Services similarly included advice and teachings from an immensely experienced emergency manager. The lessons to be learned from past mistakes relative to the local and federal government’s response was stressed, with attention directed to a few cases Mr. King responded to. From his experience during 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina to Sandy, the means by which the bodies or the deceased are taken care of can have long lasting ramifications if not done in a pragmatic and sensitive manner.
The Emergency Management 2013 Summit proved to be fruitful and its growing popularity evidenced by the huge turnout shows that next year’s installment will be even grander. Supplemented by the breakaway sessions which covered topics as cyber security, disaster planning and communications in emergencies, the event allowed for the representatives from the MCNY community to be kept abreast with current and future trends.
Ali Gheith is the Director of MPA in Emergency and Disaster Management at Metropolitan College of New York.
By: Obiano Huntley
On March 26, 2013 students, professors and emergency management practitioners from the public and private sectors were edified by a consummate professional about the importance of having an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). Mr. Bo Mitchell, founder of 911 Consulting, delivered a three hour presentation which was packed with information, while at the same time dynamic because of his use of videos and humor. Mr. Mitchell managed to keep the audience engaged and through stressing the need for vigilance and proactivity, the mindset of persons in attendance changed for the better.
The free event titled, “Plan to Protect Your Brand” was orchestrated by MCNY and Red Pyramid NYC . It proved to be great success. An all hazards approach was emphasized by Mr. Mitchell; this entails situation specific risk assessments and plans aimed at preventing and mitigating the effects of all types of natural and man-made disasters. For entities to maintain and build upon their reputation, protecting workers and persons who venture into their compound or jurisdiction is of preponderant importance. Not only is it ethically and morally correct, but it is also federally mandated. Being negligent or haphazardly approaching such an important aspect of safety endangers the survival and reputation of public and private entities. Mr. Mitchell brilliantly made this lucid and built upon this in the sessions that followed.
These sessions focused on work place violence and active shooter situations. Referencing stipulations spelled out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Mr. Mitchell was adamant that professionalism and experience are key in developing plans which are compliant with federal expectations and regulations. Figures were cited to show the alarming state of affairs in the US: 4.1 million workplace injuries, 2 million incidents of workplace violence and nearly 6,000 accidental workplace deaths, all within the past year. Mr. Mitchell believes that in order to be resilient entities need to plan, train, exercise and drill. For an individual who has decades of experience in security and emergency management consulting, and an individual who has worked in drafting plans for universities, high rise buildings and Fortune 500 companies, this proposition resonated and reiterated the need for repetition and redundancy in preparation.
It seems almost a given that it would be easy for entities in the private and public sector to vehemently come on board. This however, as sadly pointed out by Mr. Mitchell, is not the case. Myths and fallacious reasoning such as “it wouldn’t happen here” and “we have done something” are not sufficient. Such wanton disregard of trends exemplifies nonchalance and can negatively affect your brand. Mr. Mitchell correctly views fear of change major impediment to effectively training and formulating plans by entities in the public and private sectors. Where change for the better is instituted, it can mean knowing how to react and how to correctly plan to mitigate the effects of a hurricane or recognizing signs in persons who are volatile and prone to becoming violent. “Protect Your Brand” proved to be informative and sensitized those in attendance as to why as emergency managers we should strive for perfection.
By Obiano Huntley
In the immediate aftermath of an emergency or a disaster many individuals usually turn to leaders of their faith for comfort and guidance. Such leaders should however be consulted and prepared not only for the recovery phase, but also in a more all-encompassing capacity which focuses on preparation, response and mitigation. This is partly the concern of the National Disaster Interfaith Network (NDIN) and the visit by its President, Peter B. Gudaitis made clear the importance of their role in fostering an inclusive approach, sensitive to the beliefs of the many faiths and religions.
Mr. Gudaitis’ presentation to Purpose 1 students at MCNY was highly informative and purposeful, not only with regards to the history and the workings of NDIN, but also in terms of the strides being made on a national level to consciously involve the faith based organizations in matters related to emergency management. Founded in 2005, the organization has gained national notoriety for its commitment and success in advocating for an approach by local and federal government which emphasizes the importance of cohesively reaching out and embracing congregations nationwide. To accomplish this end, convincing religious leaders to not only come on board but also build partnerships, educate their congregation, encourage volunteerism and properly counsel followers, have served as foundational aspects which must be built upon.
There were a few takeaways from the discourse which stood out and they are identified and expounded upon below.
a) Religious competency: Being able to interface in a non-evasive and respectful manner results in increasing the comfort level of all congregations be it Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or any other faiths. Educating all stakeholders about the traditions, meaning of emblems, titles of leaders and practices fosters collaboration and creates an atmosphere conducive to productive interactions.
b) Needs increased: In the aftermath of a disaster or crisis, Mr. Gudaitis pointed out that Faith Based Organizations (FBOs) and their houses of worship have served as shelters, centers for crisis management and counseling and as places of refuge. To meet the increased needs, training and education is needed.
c) Role of education: This was particularly stressed especially since emergency response plans, drills, and exercises are seen as important, but are rarely implemented. With houses of worship prone to coming under attack, increased vigilance is needed.
d) Growth: For there to be resilient communities, partnerships need to be formed, volunteers need to be acquired and trained and the growth of the organization needs to be supplemented with the support of local, regional and national entities, many of which are directly involved with religious leaders and organizations.
The incorporation of initiatives geared at preparing religious bodies is by no means an easy task; especially with many breakaways and sects and the sheer large number congregations to be reached and convinced about the merits of the approach NDIN promulgates. With leaders such as Mr. Gudaitis , his and like-minded organizations, and the increased interest and need for faith based groups to work together for the safety of the general populace, leaps have been made; leaps which will continuously make our communities and nations better prepared.
For more details about the great job that is being done at NDIN, select the link below:
Mr. Gudaitis also pointed out that there will be job openings soon, so it would be wise to check the website from time to time.
By: Obiano Huntley
Disaster relief organizations distinguish themselves from contemporaries for a myriad of reason; some are exceedingly massive in the scale of their operations, some because of their meteoric rise, some because of the degree to which communities are actually aided and others because of the emotions they stimulate when relief efforts are being carried out. The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, though not as large in its operations as other organizations, is growing rapidly and positively meets all of the aforementioned prerequisites.
The presentation to Purpose 1 students by Battalion Chief FDNY (Ret.) Jack Oehm, who serves as Director of T2T runs nationwide and Volunteer Coordinator, made this clear and provided a unique perspective on how disaster relief efforts can be handled. The foundation is named after a New York City firefighter who valiantly ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers on 9/11 in hope of saving lives. The foundation was established in remembrance Stephen Siller and has two primary objectives: to build smart homes for US military personnel who are severely injured during combat and to provide disaster relief assistance on a wide scale in formats that are expanding yearly.
In order to achieve these objectives the foundation started a fundraising run which retraces the steps of Stephen on that faithful day. The hugely successful run has raised millions, especially since it has become national in scale with other major cities simulating runs to raise funds with the goals of the organization in mind. Donations and grants also are valuable sources of funding and Chief Oehm emphasized that 99.9% of the funds raised are used for assistance of disaster survivors.
Superstorm Sandy provided an opportunity for Tunnel to Towers to expand its role and capacity. Centers were established in Garrison Beach, Long Island and Staten Island which serve as hubs to disperse resources to communities adversely impacted by the storm. The present project embarked upon witnesses the foundation training volunteers and providing equipment to aid in mold remediation projects in homes flooded because of the storm. If done by homeowners, this undertaking would be costly (ranging from $5,000 to $10,000) but the service is provided by the foundation free of cost. For hundreds of homeowner presently strapped for cash, the provision of such services goes a far way in making communities more resilient. Efforts to insulate and sheetrock homes have begun with the goal of being able to take on more aspects of rebuilding damaged home is the future.
Chief Oehm was adamant that partnerships such as those with the St. Bernard Project and the Gary Sinise Foundation are appreciated. In times of distress brought on by disasters, such collaborations are vital for the recovery of communities.
Through engaging and asking questions, students were clearly in awe as to how the foundation managed to swiftly and successfully expand. Selflessness and an unyielding commitment to realizing what Stephen Siller would have loved to see are the driving force behind the organization’s success. Volunteers and the leadership of Chairman, Frank Siller, and the memory of Stephen combine to make this foundation a major actor on the stage where disasters are the villain.
The link below will allow for you to learn more about the great job being done by this entity:
My time as a Solomon Fellow has been the most hands-on, practical and educational experience I have had in the course of my training in emergency and disaster management. Since beginning at the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response (OEPR) within the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), I have been asked to contribute substantially to a number of projects across multiple divisions. For my first few months at OEPR, I worked directly for DOHMH planning staff, compiling research, notes and ideas about DOHMH’s objectives in planning for response to threats from biological agents and working with other agencies. I met weekly with senior planning staff, along with my mentor, Erich Giebelhaus, to discuss strategy and overlap between several related projects.
When Hurricane Sandy was approaching New York City, DOHMH had a partial activation, and I stayed late that Friday night to receive just-in-time training and serve as a Desk Officer to the Planning Section Chief who oversaw many aspects of the DOHMH emergency response. Over the weekend and into the next week, my intern colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (also fellows) and I alternated shifts in the agency’s emergency operations center. I had the pleasure of working with the amazing women who run the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). Well after the subways had been shut down and Zone A evacuation was ordered, we worked late into the evening helping to staff shelters with medical personnel. That night, the head of the MRC offered to drive me home in her personal car. She was incredibly sweet and encouraging, and played the latest album by her children’s rock band all the way back to Brooklyn. I was amazed and impressed at how dedicated and professional this group was throughout the response.
In the weeks after the storm, I was invited into the field to hand out N-95 respirator masks to home owners gutting their houses in the Rockaways. I also acted as a note taker for many hot washes, where members of different ICS sections and working groups described their experiences responding during and after Sandy. At the time, I was just completing my Masters in emergency and disaster management, and it was an incredible opportunity to observe the entire life cycle of this disaster.
Right now, I am working with the OEPR Evaluations group writing post-disaster survey questions and learning about how important data collection is for emergency management. While I don’t wish the devastation that this storm brought on so many people, many of whom are still recovering, I couldn’t have been happier to ride it out with the emergency managers and planners at DOHMH.
I am grateful to the Solomon Family, FCNY, OEM and DOHMH for making these experiences possible for the other Fellows and me.
Alex Theran is a Fellow at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She is enrolled in Metropolitan College’s MPA program for Emergency and Disaster Management, and also has taken FEMA independent study courses, and attended New York State training courses on operations of the New York State Emergency Operations Center.
By Obiano Huntley – Students and faculty of the Emergency and Disaster Management program at MCNY had the pleasure of meeting and being presented with a wealth of information by an esteemed leader, and by representatives of the respected Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation on March 1, 2013 at the school. The rarefied presence of City Comptroller John C. Liu and presenters Austin Chi and Jennifer Yin of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, resulted in an insightful discourse, which left many in attendance wanting more.
Comptroller Liu delivered an address which gave the audience an idea as to how his office is approaching the management of disasters, and more specifically what is being done in the aftermath of Sandy to make the city more resilient. Topics such as the Rapid Repairs program, improvements to infrastructure and the politics of disaster management were touched upon. His positive outlook for the future and personal endeavors to rebuild communities devastated by Sandy show that his resolve is unbending with regards to seeing that more attention is given to improving the city’s mitigation and recovery efforts. Of particular importance was his mention of the role of effective volunteering, an undertaking he noted the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has nearly mastered. Though he was quick to not take praise for the success the organization has had in the city, Comptroller Liu’s role in promoting the positive impacts of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation cannot be denied.
The presenters from the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation combined to deliver an eye opening overview of the history, philosophy and efforts of this organization that has separated itself from other disaster relief organizations. Meaning “Compassionate Relief”, the words and actions of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation epitomize the drive for excellence in delivering assistance to areas around the globe which are afflicted by disasters. It is because of their selflessness and a separation of ulterior motives for assisting individuals, along with a culture which respects the rights and beliefs of the communities thy venture into, they have been successful. Founded by Buddhist nun Dharma Master Cheng Yen in 1966, the organization has grown bountifully because of donations and volunteers, but more so because of the tenets which guide their approach. Mr. Chi pointed to fact that the driving force behind each task the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation undertakes is simply to help; a feature which results in them being welcomed and revered across nations and cultures.
The effort to assist communities affected by Sandy witnessed the organization gathering funds and dispersing Visa debit cards worth $600 to families who could prove they resided in affected areas. Such drives are done in collaboration with city officials and volunteers, some from within the communities they served. The lack of red tape and bureaucracy, which impedes efforts to quickly provide assistance, is a feature Ms. Yin spoke about. Being effective, is in large part due to how quickly resources can be organized and mobilized, and this is one of the trademarks of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, along with their seriousness and commitment. This was amplified by the testimony of Sandy Survivor, John Reyes. His emotional account of the selfless service and professional conduct of the organization in helping him, resulted in him joining their relief efforts, capped off an evening, which left many in attendance eager to come on board.
EDM Program Director Ali Gheith thanked Comptroller Liu, representatives of Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation and Professor Lorraine Motola, who was instrumental in organizing the event. Other esteemed guests included President of MCNY, Dr. Vinton Thompson, Dean Humphrey Crookendale and other educators in the Emergency and Disaster Management program at MCNY. Nils Aucante and Niko Soo, represented the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, as videographers aiding in chronicling the development of this well regarded and evolving relief organization, whose model should be emulated.
The link below provides information about how individuals can volunteer with the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation.
By Michelle Johnson – The group met at Wyckoff Hospital and discussed family, community, and organizational preparedness. The presentation was followed by an active discussion, where the community demonstrated their need for this information and desire to learn more. The class provided practical information and resources in the languages spoken in these communities. This presentation was the first step in a three-semester long project, with the goal of building community resilience.
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