EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – November 12, 2003

Regional Cooperation & TOPOFF 2
The King County, WA Experience

Eric E. Holdeman, CEM
King County Office of Emergency Management

Avagene Moore, CEM
Moderator, EIIP Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! On behalf of Amy Sebring and myself, we are happy to see everyone here today. We are here for an overview about the King County (WA) Office of Emergency Management experience in Regional Cooperation and TOPOFF 2 Exercise this past spring.

It is my pleasure to introduce Eric E. Holdeman, CEM, the Director of the King County Office of Emergency Management. Eric is responsible for emergency management and E-911 regional support to all areas of King County (which is the greater metropolitan area of the City of Seattle) and for facilitating regional coordination between levels of government and emergency management programs in the public and private sectors.

Establishing public and private disaster prevention and preparedness partnerships with businesses in the Puget Sound region and building "Disaster Resistant Communities" continues to be a major area of emphasis for him. He has been designated the Homeland Security Coordinator for the King County Executive.

You are encouraged to see the background page for Eric's complete bio. He is quite an accomplished emergency manager and heads up a commendable program in King County.

The EIIP Virtual Forum is very pleased to host this session today. It is my pleasure to welcome Eric Holdeman to the EIIP Virtual Forum!


Eric Holdeman: Hello everyone from cold and clear Western Washington State! I'm pleased to be able to be part of this forum today and hope to share a few insights we've garnered from participating in the Top Officials 2 (TOPOFF 2) (T2) Exercise.

Most of my comments will be about the design process since perhaps some of you might be considering future participation, or may be approached by the Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP). T2 was a multi-state exercise with both Illinois and Washington States participating. In Illinois it was the State of Illinois, Chicago, Cook County and their collar counties.

Here in Washington State, the State participated along with the City of Seattle, King County and as an offshoot of the exercise; Pierce County, which is south of King County. January 2002 was the start of the process when ODP approached all three major players to participate in T2 in 2003. Much of the initial concern was about funding and expectations from ODP.

$2.5 million was made available to the Washington Venue for use to allocate for the exercise. Only a small portion of that amount was allowed for up-front for the design work. Our venue commitment was to participate to the level of funding provided. The real out-of-pocket expense was the time spent on this exercise versus working on other elements of our emergency management program.

ODP staff was generally easy to work with. We had a dedicated ODP lead for our portion of the exercise. He spent considerable time out here in Washington State. King County gave him office space, a computer, access to a copier, etc. in order to help facilitate the day-to-day coordination needed. This worked well for us.

On paper we had a joint design team made up of representatives from each major organization. Unfortunately this broke down with each jurisdiction conducting independent exercise design efforts for sub-venue events. Canada also participated in the exercise, but was late coming to the table, had to deal with SARS, and meaningful play that should have impacted our multi-lateral coordination did not happen.

I think a real problem for the design and execution of the exercise was that FEMA was not at the table as a major partner on the Federal side. There wasn't anyone at the local federal level working during the first nine months of the design process. Our local FEMA Region did not become active in the design and preparations until about October 2002.

Our local FBI Office, with whom we have excellent relationships, was a reluctant partner in the exercise. They were consumed by daily threats and with the Iraqi War looming. The FBI did not do sufficient planning for the exercise. They were betting the exercise would be cancelled because of the war.

Because of FEMA not being at the table, and the FBI being a third or fourth party to the exercise, little federal coordination was happening both here locally and back in Washington D.C. I heard repeatedly that information was not flowing down from D.C. to Federal Regional Offices. We knew more about what they were suppose to be doing than they did. They also were not provided any exercise funds, so their participation had to come from their operational budgets, which did not include funding for this level of an exercise.

During the exercise design process we found ourselves being "surprised" by various aspects of the design process. After a while we decided not to make any assumptions about how the design process would proceed. There was some difficulty in merging the needs of the national level with that of the local level. This was evident in the pre-exercise schedule in designing a series of seminars that were meant to help prepare both venues for the full-scale exercise.

The bottom line is that you are responsible for getting your region ready for the exercise. The national level preparations will not do the trick. Here are some other points about the design process.

* Initially there was a "Red Force" concept, an opposing force" which was to be operational during the exercise simulating the terrorist cell. That effort self-destructed at the first presentation of the concept.

* All parties did not observe exercise "Eyes Only" concept of protecting what the sequence of events would be and the detailed aspects of the exercise.

* King County was interested in incorporating the "Real" media into the exercise play. This was nixed by ODP, citing "Issues of National Security." The Virtual News Network (VNN) simulated the media. There was insufficient funding provided to make their play realistic.

* Remember that the contractor supporting the exercise design is working for ODP, and not for you. They take their direction from ODP.

* Lastly, there wasn't a sequence of increasingly complex series of exercises leading up to the full-scale exercise.

Here are some other big questions to consider about TOPOFF:

* Is TOPOFF an Exercise or a Demonstration of our capabilities?

* Are you exercising reality or some other form of construed event to fit your purposes?

* How scripted are you making the exercise? What level of "Free Play" is being allowed to occur?

* How does "Unified Command" occur beyond the event scene?

* Is the Joint Information Center (JIC) concept one that organizations are willing to support and work towards?

I would also like to highlight a portion of the exercise that will never appear in any of the after action reports. That was the Cyber Exercise conducted over a two-day period the week before the full-scale exercise. What made this a real success was the partners stayed at the table during the design process and worked through issues to have a single coordinated event that added real value and examined vulnerabilities that are real, and routinely are not exercised. In this instance the contractor supporting that portion of the exercise added real value.

In summary:

* The TOPOFF series of exercises is getting incrementally better.

* Dept. of Homeland Security and Secretary Ridge are committed to this exercise concept.

* It is your opportunity to exercise with the Feds.

* Doing a joint exercise like this will test the strength of your local and regional partnerships.

I was also asked to comment on our regional activities here in King County. Since coming to King County seven years ago, the vision I've tried to foster is one of regional collaboration before, during and after disasters. Some of the things we've done with our partners are:

* Written a Regional Disaster Response Plan for public and private organizations here in King County. To date we have 114 signatories and the planning continues.

* We have a Regional Public Information network that is both a group and a web site that allows public agencies a single place to post news releases and "pushes" information out via email to PDAs, pagers, cell phones and computers. Go to www.govlink.org and click on RPIN.

* We have an Inter-county Mutual Aid Agreement with 10 of the 39 counties in the state as signatories.

* We are working here in King County on a Regional Mitigation Plan.

* Recently we just signed a Tri-county Interlocal Agreement with Pierce and Snohomish Counties to collaborate on emergency management in general and Homeland Security in particular.

* And, we just moved into a new state-of-the-art "Regional" Communications Emergency Coordination Center (RCECC) that is intended to be a hub for coordination during and after disasters here in King County.

Thanks for taking part in this forum and I look forward to dialoging with you today. In the future you can contact me at 206-205-4060 or eric.holdeman at metrokc.gov. Together we can learn a lot from one another! And now, back to our moderator!

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Jennifer Vuitel: Could you please expand on how well, or not, the JIC worked?

Eric Holdeman: Jennifer, I had hair before I started working on the JIC issue. Public information was a huge issue here. We ended up, for various reasons, having four JICs. So, it was quite complicated. For King County we put together a regional JIC. We had over 40 agencies contributing over 120 personnel. It was the first time we had such a combined effort of people and agencies.


Amy Sebring: I understand from the media that there has been a federal "internal" after action report. Have you seen it, and do you know if they intend to make at least some of the findings public?

Eric Holdeman: There is a draft document that is marked FOUO. Given what I see in the press every day that is sent to me FOUO, my guess is that lots of what is written will go public.


Jim Miller: How did all this start? Did you request ODP to get involved in an exercise you were planning or did they come to you with the idea?

Eric Holdeman: Jim, a trail of tears experience. ODP actually came to us. They were looking for a State with an international boundary so they could play with Canada.


Avagene Moore: Eric, you commended the "cyber" pre-exercise effort. Who was involved in that? And will the lessons learned there be useful to the next TOPOFF?

Eric Holdeman: Reference the Cyber Exercise, the parties were the same, state, county, and city with some private participants. What was special about the event is that the IS people put aside their differences to actually do collaborative work. Lots of relationship building went on, and an appreciation for sharing information with one another during times of cyber-attack.


Paul John: How did the funding flow from the Feds (ODP)? To State then County down the line?

Eric Holdeman: Paul, we ended up doing separate agreements with ODP. The state tried to stay out of any discussions on splitting the funds between the city and the county.


Ed Pearce CBCP: I am responsible for disaster planning in the private sector and have worked closely with local emergency managers. How did the private sector participate?

Eric Holdeman: Ed, thanks for participating today. Private partners are a vital part of what we do here in King County. Unfortunately, not all the players valued that level of participation. We pushed and did achieve some business interaction. Here at the County ECC we had our local electrical utility, BNSF RR, and the Port of Seattle with our regional transportation agency.


Amy Sebring: I gather from your remark regarding Unified Command beyond the incident scene there were some difficulties in this area? Can you explain the challenges you faced there?

Eric Holdeman: Amy, I think this is the crux of a bigger issue. Early in the design phase at a national seminar, multiple federal agencies all said they "were in charge." Locally, we had the issue of what does "jurisdictional integrity" mean in relationship to "joint" decision making. Not having a series of exercises leading up to the "big one" hampered our interactions during T2.


Burt Wallrich: I have a question related to Ed Pearce's: Were any NGOs involved, either through the VOAD or other collaborative structure or individually?

Eric Holdeman: Burt, as I recall, the only NGO was the Red Cross. Together with our Parks Department, they set up a shelter for evacuees, with special attention to this being done in a WMD atmosphere.


Jennifer Vuitel: In retrospect (and back to JICs) do you think four JICs would have worked effectively in a real situation?

Eric Holdeman: Jennifer, I'm a big believer in putting people face to face in times of crisis. You can talk about having a Joint Information System (JIS), but there should only be one JIC and multiple Information Centers ICs feeding the single source that is releasing information to the media and the public.


Avagene Moore: Eric, as someone who has been in this business a long time, I find it discouraging that we are not making more progress in collaborating and communicating with each other. In your professional opinion, what needs to be done to bring us all to the table and really improve our capabilities?

Eric Holdeman: Avagene, I continue to wrestle with this every day. Big events like 9-11 do help people recognize their interdependencies. We use the 9-11 event as a motivational tool to launch the signatory process for our Regional Disaster Plan. I think this is not just an intellectual issue, but an emotional one colored many times by the politics of each region. I tell my folks to go where the energy is. Don't bang your head against a brick wall of someone who doesn't think regionally.


Amy Sebring: I gather there will be a TOPOFF 3? Do you know when/who is being planned?

Eric Holdeman: Amy, I've heard that states/regions have been approached, but there has not been a public announcement of where T3 will occur.

Avagene Moore: Eric, I have been told that the next TOPOFF will include the UK as a player.


Jennifer Vuitel: Has the momentum decreased for continued planning in your region or have you been able to maintain?

Eric Holdeman: Jennifer, I like big events. They cause organizations that normally are not at the table to start interacting. We did have a series of three "discussions" with the Mayor of Seattle's Office leading up to T2. Since the end of T2, no follow-up sessions have been held. Our regional planning is continuing both for disaster response and mitigation – but I don't see T2 as being a major influence on this.


Steve Davis: How is your Homeland Security Strategy reflecting lessons learned from T2 and actual disasters? I am working on one now and looking for the less than obvious things to include. I was thinking more of planning and organizations to impact regional cooperation.

Eric Holdeman: I don't think T2 has impacted our strategy one bit – yet. We are an Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) region and working now on our strategy. The Threat Assessment should drive our resource allocation. But, I think it will come down to dividing up the dollars – people have to want to do things jointly together. You give up some control for more effective relationships.


Tom May: To what extent was there success with the interface to business and industry and to humanitarian NGOs, communications questions, etc.?

Eric Holdeman: I think there was some success in people seeing how government works. We also had QWest participate from their Corporate Office. Exercises bring people together.


Amy Sebring: What kind of formal debriefing process was held subsequent to the exercise?

Eric Holdeman: Amy, we had a hot wash following the exercise. People were trying to be polite. ODP used a different type of evaluation style. They did not measure you against your plan. They had people there to document who said/did what and when. Then they took this all in a post mortem fashion and put it all together to bring a sequence of decision making out.


Isabel McCurdy: Being a British Columbian from Canada, what lessons learned resulted from international participation?

Eric Holdeman: Isabel, unfortunately I didn't see much benefit at the county level. The real benefit was the Department of State working with their counterparts on information sharing during an event that could span international borders.


Jennifer Vuitel: What was the most important lesson you learned from the exercise?

Eric Holdeman: Jennifer, while it was a "painful" experience for me, we need to do more, not less, of these exercises. This was the first time in 32 years of doing exercises for myself that we had all the levels playing in the same exercise at the same time. We need to understand one another's roles better.


Avagene Moore: We are out of time for the November 12 EIIP Virtual Forum. Eric, we appreciate your time and effort on our behalf today.

Thanks to everyone for participating today - you have been a great audience - and – please help us thank Eric Holdeman for his fine presentation. Eric, you did a great job! Thank you for working the EIIP Virtual Forum into your busy schedule!