Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey - FEMA Director Brock Long

From NASA twitter account

Hurricane Harvey is a disaster on a massive scale. I cannot express how significant this particular event has been. 800-year storm, with destruction and flooding across areas in Texas, the size of several smaller states, and billions of dollars in damage (potentially $40 billion+).

People line up to volunteer

In the wake of the Hurricane, many local heroes have appeared. First responders and local civilians banding together to help their community. Lines around the block to be a volunteer and help. People coming from across the country to help evacuees. The amount of effort amazes me.

Image result for Brock Long FEMA

One other thing that did surprise me. FEMA Administrator Brock Long. I've watched Administrator Long spend a significant amount of time in front of cameras answering difficult questions and providing real leadership for the government's operations/activities.

A couple of things that he did that deserve kudos:

1. He isn't second guessing the leadership on the ground. In several interviews, Administrator Long was asked about whether or not Houston should be evacuated (NO!) and about what the local first responders, judges, and other community leaders are doing. He has emphatically stated over and over again that it has to be their call because they are the ones actually in the situation and can more properly assess the exact scenario and outcomes. In addition, he's asked repeatedly for citizens to be involved, because the local support because "Helping Texas overcome this disaster is going to be far greater than FEMA coordinating the mission of the entire federal government. We need citizens to be involved. (link)" While in the military, we talked about "Trusting the boots on the ground" because arm-chair quarterbacking doesn't help anyone in an emergency. You have to put your faith in the local leadership and then provide them the support they need, so that you can get through the scenario. After the emergency, there is always enough time to go back and perform a lessons learned review (which is one of my Morey's Laws: Fix the Problem, Not the Blame).

2. He is asking the media to get the message out rather than look only for the stories.  Because communities need clear communication and up-to-date information, especially in evacuation notices and flood warnings, Administrator Long has asked the media to not only go in search of stories but relay the message of leadership to the community to help reduce the loss of life and damage to property (wish I could have found a clip on this one).

3. He is putting first thing first. When asked about the ecological implications of Harvey (specifically what happens if the refineries in Texas are leaking oil, which felt like stirring up a story to generate some fear/hysteria), Administrator Long was very straightforward. I don't have the exact quote, but he basically stated that the primary focus is response and life-safety mission. While that is the primary focus, he is already pushing forward recovery and inspection teams to be ready. There will be time for these other activities, once everyone is safe. He very specifically put people's lives first, which is exactly what a leader should be focused on.

An interview clip that covers most of these points came from NBC News:

And even HuffPost has identified Administrator Brock Long as The Man for the Job In Texas.

Administrator Long has nearly two decades of experience with emergency management and planning, including natural disasters and a state response to Deepwater Horizon in 2010. He's worked at FEMA in several leadership roles prior to this, and he was executive Vice President for emergency management consulting firm Hagerty Consulting.  Although Administrator Long has been in the position less than a year, I am happy to see this level of competence coming from a highly placed government official. I only wish that all of our leaders showed a portion of his expertise.

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