EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — October 10, 2007

International Lessons Learned in Disaster Response
What the U.S. Can Learn from Other Nations

Damon P. Coppola
Senior Associate, Bullock & Haddow, LLC

Oliver R. Davidson
Private-Public Partnerships for Disaster Reduction

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

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]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us today. On behalf of Avagene and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Today we are observing the International Day for Disaster Reduction, so we have an international theme, "International Lessons Learned in Disaster Response: What the U.S. Can Learn from Other Nations."

Today's topic comes from a paper that Damon Coppola wrote in connection with this year's Higher Education Conference, entitled "The Importance of International Disaster Management Studies in the Field of Emergency Management." There is a link to the paper on today's Background Page, and we encourage you to go back and review at your convenience. While the points in the paper were addressed primarily to emergency management students and their teachers, we felt this issue deserved some focus in the broader professional community.

Now it is my pleasure to introduce Damon Coppola, author of several emergency management academic and professional texts, including Introduction to International Disaster Management, Introduction to Homeland Security, and Introduction to Emergency Management. As Senior Associate with the Washington, DC-based emergency management consulting firm Bullock & Haddow, LLC, Damon has provided planning and technical assistance to emergency management organizations at the local, state, national, and international levels, and in both the nonprofit and private sectors.

We are also extremely pleased to welcome Ollie Davidson, a consultant with over 25 years of experience in International and Domestic Emergency Management with expertise in analyzing disaster needs, resolving complex problems, identifying necessary resources and implementing workable solutions. He spent several years working with USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) where he directed 320 international relief operations to earthquakes, volcano eruptions, hurricanes, etc. He continues to advise organizations such as the Humane Society of the U.S., the American Red Cross, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the World Bank and others. If you have not already done so, please review our Background Page for further biographical details, as well as links to materials related to today's topic.

Welcome to both gentlemen and thank you for taking time to be with us today. Incidentally, Damon is joining us today from Bangkok, Thailand, where he currently resides (and where it is late in the evening!), and Ollie is somewhere on the road somewhere between Pennsylvania and Chevy Chase, MD.

Amy Sebring: Damon, I turn the floor over to you please to start us off.


Damon Coppola: Good afternoon, and thank you to Amy and Ava for inviting Ollie and me to present at today's forum. The focus of today's topic - the international emergency management experience - is one that is near and dear to both of us.

Like I'm certain is true with everyone participating today, Ollie and I each watched the Katrina disaster unfold and questioned what could have been done both prior to and during the response to improve the outcome, and what this event indicated about the nation's emergency management capacity. Of all the many 'areas of improvement' that have since been addressed, it is the applicability of the international experience for which we shared a common interest. This presentation is a summary of our observations and recommendations.

The United States' emergency management system firmly traces its roots to the civil defense structures developed during World War II and the subsequent Cold War. As such, and understandably so, the evolution of this system has been largely inward facing and even xenophobic at times.

In the mid to late 1990's, advancement in the field intensified to meet public demand for greater governmental involvement in emergency management, and many early binds and assumptions were abandoned. Emergency management became a much more established profession, with the academic and research sectors heavily influencing these changes. Nevertheless, the expansion of emergency management's knowledgebase and academic structure remained heavily focused on domestic research, development, practice, and lessons.

Most would agree that the end-product of these drivers - the emergency management system practiced in the United States today - is among the most advanced and well-funded in the world. The equipment and systems utilized, the training applied, and the dedication of its many practitioners to exercise and expertise, are unequalled. Yet despite the obvious achievements at all government levels, systemic failures still occur with regularity, thus proving the obvious - that as a nation we do not yet possess all of the answers.

When the topic of international emergency management is broached, what typically come to mind are the frail emergency management and civil protection systems found throughout the developing world. There are, however, a great number of highly successful emergency management systems, practices, and practitioners to be found in both the industrialized and developing nations. From each of these we stand to learn considerably. Their lessons become our lessons only when we pay attention. For example:

  • After fighting the encroachment of the North Sea for over 2,000 years, the Dutch have developed a flood control system unrivaled by any other nation. US planners often measure success in terms of resisting 100-year floods or 500-year floods. In the Netherlands, where 60 percent of land lies below sea level, flood control systems are being updated to increase protection to 100,000-year flood events from the present 10,000-year defenses in place.

  • The Japanese have been suffering from the effects of tsunamis for thousands of years. Almost 200 major events have been recorded in the last 1300 years alone, or an average of one event per 6.7 years. The result of this experience is a remarkably diverse tsunami management system that combines widespread public education, advanced warning systems, and extensive mitigation countermeasures.

  • As a result of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the government of Israel has developed highly advanced systems of threat monitoring, detection, and prevention, and has improved their systems for dealing with the consequences when attacks occur. After 9/11, officials from DHS and several State and local government agencies met with counterparts in the Israeli Government to learn from their experience.

  • The hazards risk management methodology developed by the national emergency management agencies of Australia and New Zealand are the most comprehensive in the world. They have allowed for standardization of the practice across all municipalities, and were one of the primary resources used in the development of FEMA's guidance to towns and cities throughout the United States.

There may be no better time than now, as the effectiveness of the nation's systems are being called into question, to approach emergency planning in a manner that more effectively considers the international experience, or "comparative emergency management" as it is called. As such, we make the following four recommendations:

1. Incorporate Lessons from the 'Third World' Model

Disaster management in developing nations is influenced by a recognition that governments are often unable to manage without outside assistance the consequences of disasters. When capacity exceeding events occur, much of the funding to support response and recovery is passed by the United Nations, foreign governments, and other donors directly to international, nongovernmental (NGO), and private organizations specializing in response and recovery.

Following Katrina, as government response systems failed, restrictive policies prevented any more than a small percentage of USG relief funding from being funneled to NGOs and other government-sponsored volunteer organizations. Responding NGOs were nonetheless able to fill in many of the gaps left by strained government, fueled by internal fundraising efforts.

It is likely that greater governmental collaboration and more direct access to federal aid would have greatly expanded their reach and effectiveness. By institutionalizing such forms of external assistance, emergency managers can grasp upon the strengths and efficiencies of each participating organization that do not or cannot exist within a bureaucracy. Such changes are likely to correct many of the unrealistic assumptions regarding governmental response capacity exposed in Katrina's aftermath.

2. Diversify the Professionalization of Emergency Management

Perhaps the most profound change that is occurring in the field of emergency management is the increased professionalization of the local emergency manager. These officials, no longer a fireman or police officer who got a 'bum rap,' are the laudable product of years dedicated to education, training, and experience. A working group convened by Dr. Blanchard recently defined emergency management as the profession "charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters."

These professionals are poised to expand their knowledgebase beyond the constraints of a curriculum limited to domestic theory, practice, and lessons. Very few academic programs adequately address comparative emergency management, and fewer still have courses dedicated to its study. Elsewhere in the world, such programs are prevalent, and practitioner knowledge has expanded accordingly.

3. Collaborate with the International Community to Solve Common Problems

Since the United Nations dubbed the 1990s the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), the international community has been working to develop global systems and technology that allow for vulnerability reduction in all member states. In this effort, and in follow-on initiatives, the United States has participated yet taken a more advisory role - operating predominantly as if US domestic systems were the ideal model. Participation was active in the sense that it utilized the United States' experience and expertise to develop improvement of our own systems - lessons that could presumably be shared with the world community.

One product of this effort, the highly-regarded publication Disasters by Design, did however recognize that the US had much to learn from the international community in stating on its final pages, "The United States must share knowledge and technology for sustainable hazards mitigation with other nations and be willing to learn from others as well." The authors added that "US agencies have historically been constrained to concentrate on hazards in this country," but that, "new technologies for information dissemination and participation in the [IDNDR] should make it easier for the United States to more fully engage in knowledge transfer throughout the world." As the ISDR and the Hyogo Framework progress, the question remains about whether that knowledge transferred travels on a one- or two-way street.

4. Recognize that someday, the US will require significant international disaster assistance

In August of 2005, the United States faced an unprecedented scenario where it was on the receiving end of international disaster assistance. Through an inaccurate assumption that the United States would always provide, not receive international disaster assistance, its international capacity has been handled entirely by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) virtually independent of FEMA or any other domestic resource. And while very little operational support and almost no in-kind assistance was ultimately accepted, a lack of planning, experience, and exercise in this area left DHS ill-equipped to accept or utilize that which was offered.

Katrina has left us unable to ignore a vulnerability to capacity-exceeding events. And when that time comes, the nation must be better prepared to accept a much larger flood of international aid likely to call upon several ill-considered issues, including: individuals (without visas!) clearing immigration, gear clearing customs, coordination and control under ICS structures, and other factors studied ad nauseam in the international sector. One must consider why, as the nation prepares for various low likelihood scenarios including radiological and nuclear attacks, is this more probable prospect ignored?

One by one, glimmers of hope appear that indicate domestic emergency management is giving due consideration to the international experience. For instance, the National Response Plan and the new National Response Framework both include more direct provisions (vague as they may be) for the management of international assistance. FEMA is currently developing a new course for its Higher Education Program focused entirely upon comparative emergency management. And a new DHS-funded emergency management program at the University of Hawaii is focusing its program on the global perspective. This expansion of knowledge will ultimately offer a greater insight to our next generation of emergency managers. Clearly, though, we have a long way to go.

There remain significant challenges. My colleague, Ollie Davidson has contributed some thoughts about continuing impediments to international-domestic disaster-related cooperation for today's discussion.

Ollie Davidson: There are many reasons for disconnects between US agencies /organizations acting in the USA and the USG /international organizations operating in other countries. Here are a couple of examples, to start the discussion.

Structural Separation: FEMA is buried in DHS and OFDA is buried in State and USAID. USAID, State and FEMA have their own personnel systems so that it is not easy to move from one open position in another agency to another. Each agency has a different set of procedures to accomplish their objectives. Although both FEMA and USAID/OFDA operate from a "disaster declaration", they are very different. FEMA operates within more complex authorities, e.g. public assistance, individual assistance, etc.

OFDA's extensive use of personal services contractors rather than "borrowing" emergency management specialists from other US federal, state and local agencies inhibits cooperation.

Different authorities and independent budgets make it more complicated to operate joint activities. Each agency is a jealous guard over their system and each has resisted efforts to force them together. The Clinton administration transition team had a paper done (unpublished) about how to combine the two disaster offices, FEMA and OFDA.

FEMA's Emergency Management Institute has invited international participants for many years. FEMA relationships are with more highly developed countries, therefore, above the level of countries where OFDA provides most disaster assistance, training, etc.

There are many other reasons but I'll stop here. We can get into some more detail on these issues in response to your questions, so we will now turn the floor back over to our Moderator to start the Q& A portion of the program.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Damon and Ollie. Now, to proceed to your questions or comments.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Marilyn Wright: What methods that have been successful internationally in suppressing bird flu transmission among humans will likely be successful in the U.S.?

Damon Coppola: Tracking of the illness in Southeast Asia has been very successful now that locals are becoming more trained in identifying the illness. International / regional coordination is something that has helped neighboring nations to coordinate efforts as well. Vulnerability is definitely a more difficult social issue in the developing countries, where backyard chicken coops make prevention more difficult

Ollie Davidson: The Humane Society of the US has a specialist working on several aspects of bird flu. Also, USDA has people working on it. I can link you with those, if you want a more technical answer.

Ed Kostiuk: I can assist Marilyn with her answer if she wishes to contact me off list. There are several factors that WHO and CDC are working on with the International Community concerning response, identification and deployment of forces for H5N1. [email protected]

Ryc Lyden: Ollie: What do you see as a next step in improving the coordination and cooperation on the US government level?

Ollie Davidson: FEMA and USAID have worked cooperatively in the past; I think that it will happen again, in a year or so.

Marilyn Wright: Does an armed populace in the U.S. cause a difference in disaster response requirements in comparison to other countries?

Ollie Davidson: We have accepted few international responders. I have not heard that people were reluctant to come.

Damon Coppola: I have never heard of this as a major issue outside of Katrina, but security has always been an integral part of emergency planning in the US in regards to looting.

Don Bonchack: We at FEMA have always thought that more collaboration between the National VOAD community and InterAction would be very worthwhile. We believe we could benefit from some of their international experience. We plan to hold a workshop on Lessons Without Borders to get the conversation going. Any other ideas on how the two parties can collaborate more?

Ollie Davidson: Planning for a coordinated response from international groups has been done with the Urban SAR teams. These teams would be closely coordinated with USG/State officials.

Damon Coppola: I think that the involvement at academic institutions could get the discussion going as well.

Ollie Davidson: The UN INSARAG holds coordination meetings to plan a joint response anywhere in the world. Perhaps the USA? These sessions could be a model for coordination. INSARAG = International Search and Rescue Advisory Group. Fairfax Co. is the US lead, I think, for USAID/OFDA.

Avagene Moore: A heartfelt comment: Thanks to both of you, Damon and Ollie, for your candor. I attended my first international conference in Europe about 10 years ago and was struck by how much we have in common globally in this business and how much we need to share and network. However, I have not been able to get EM acquaintances at any level interested in participating and learning from our global friends. I hate to attribute this to arrogance across the board but haven't come up with a better word for our national disinterest in learning from those beyond our borders.

Amy Sebring: Does our attitude in U.S. need to be changed?

Ollie Davidson: FEMA now has a number of staff familiar with international responses, senior and mid level. There is hope! Don B and others are very aware of how groups work together, again, a few holdovers and many new staff at FEMA with a good attitude!

Damon Coppola: I believe that the change will come as more universities get the next breed of emergency managers interested in the topic - this is happening now at the University of Hawaii where their director has created a consortium with a UN University in Japan, the Asian Institute of Tech. in Bangkok and the University of Guam.

Marilyn Wright: What role does technology such as wikis or blogs play in increasing international coordination? Is this a recognized role?

Damon Coppola: Well, this conversation today is a testament that it is now possible in the developing countries. I know that international organizations have been doing this for years, but more regionally than globally. But it certainly has to be the direction it is heading.

Ollie Davidson: Unfortunately my experience is that a lot of US emergency managers are too busy doing and not reading.

Shannon Dames:
Which countries offered to come post Katrina?

Ollie Davidson: Don, do you know that?

Don Bonchack: Just a correction to an earlier statement by Damon. We did accept foreign offers in Katrina. Plus, there is now a pretty comprehensive system in place to manage foreign offers in the future thanks to collaboration with State Department, OFDA, and other federal agencies.

Ollie Davidson: One example was the Disaster Resource Network teams, a logistics team that came to the Little Rock airport (just like they did in Sri Lanka), a great example.

Damon Coppola: Don, I do not disagree that the US did accept offers of assistance. However, as the Townsend report states, many opportunities were lost. I was in Ecuador at the time, and saw first hand how difficult it was for private companies and their national government in that country to figure out even how to offer their assistance.

Ollie Davidson: I spoke to a European group in about 1990, FEMA agreed. The USG would accept international donations & teams; not many were really accepted until Katrina. Interesting the Japanese government said they were sending a team to "check on their nationals" after a CA earthquake. Sound familiar?

Marilyn Wright: Do Europeans maintain an attitude of local independence? Of organizing at the local level, by neighborhoods, versus awaiting national response?

Ollie Davidson: I think so, but usually people organize AFTER the event.

Damon Coppola: I agree with Ollie.

Amy Sebring: Damon, are you aware of any efforts to involve local communities in preparedness from which we might learn? I have the impression that in some poor countries, there is more of a village strategy?

Damon Coppola: I believe that, because of the prevalence of NGO and development work in developing countries, there are more concerted and coordinated efforts in this regard. Many of these grew out of the public health problems that were addressed, so the knowledge existed. This has definitely been the case with tsunami preparedness here in Thailand, in which USAID has been heavily involved.

Shannon Dames: The topic of academia is interesting and I do agree that it will help change where we are at. I am currently studying for a masters degree in Disaster Medicine and management thru University of Philadelphia and it does have an international component, which I love, as I have been involved in international disaster relief efforts.

Damon Coppola: Traditionally this topic has been addressed more by the international development community, which I think is part of the disconnect. I have seen many more adoptions of my International Disaster Management book overseas than in the US, but several professors in the US have indicated they are working on incorporating the topic in their EM programs.

Ollie Davidson: www.interaction.org has many members doing development and disaster work. A great resource for information and jobs.

Amy Sebring: I will put in a couple more comments related to international response to U.S. disasters, then will move on.

Ed Kostiuk: There were 23 countries that offered assistance during Katrina. Also, during the WTC collapse, many countries offered assistance and several responded with SAR teams. We can discuss off list.

Tim Lynch: Task Force1 from BC City of Vancouver was on the ground in Katrina. This would make a good case study since they were impeded by law enforcement issues.

Don Bonchack: Quite a number offered. Maybe we can share something more on it afterwards, after checking in with our International Office. FEMA International gives a few examples of offers accepted: Singapore: (4 Chinooks) China: blankets UNICEF: school kits Holland/Germany: water pumps.

Gerald Smith: Ollie: Can you please explain the role of Disaster Resource Network teams? Who are these folks? Thanks!

Ollie Davidson: They were born from the World Economic Forum, corporate teams who respond to disasters, recently Peru earthquake.

Shannon Dames: Are you familiar with the Sphere Project? They deal with disaster response on a global level with the goal to standardize responses among all agencies.

Damon Coppola: Yes - Sphere has definitely been key in 'herding the cats' of NGO response!

Amy Sebring: Damon, I would like to pick up on your "Third World" point. It seems to me that had the U.S. really studied and understood the implications of poverty among the world's most vulnerable populations, it might have been better prepared for the challenges that arose in New Orleans. Would you agree?

Damon Coppola: I think that social vulnerability is, of the four vulnerabilities (namely physical, social, environmental, and economic) known the least in the US. This was certainly a social vulnerability issue.

Michael Farinacci: It seems that the National Response Framework has replaced (de-centralized) the "central government" thinking/approach about emergency management and given more credence (inclusiveness) to the State and Local response. On the international scene does this approach seem to be mirrored?

Ollie Davidson: OFDA adopted ICS from the US Forest Service (internationally they called it the Incident Management System) long before FEMA began to utilize it.

Damon Coppola: It is the direction that Hyogo would like things to head, I believe.


Amy Sebring: That is all we have time for today. Thank you very much to you both for an excellent job. We hope you enjoyed the experience.

Damon Coppola: Thanks all for participating. Feel free to email at [email protected] Cheers!

Amy Sebring: Please stand by just a moment while we make a couple of quick announcements. If you are not on our mailing list and would like to get notices of future sessions and availability of transcripts, just go to our home page to Subscribe.

We are pleased to welcome a new partner today, Emergency Planning Consultants, "Providing a range of emergency management services, including plans, training, and exercise, to state and local governments"; POC: Carolyn J. Harshman, President.

If your organization is interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the link to Partnership for You from our home page. Please note, we want to increase the number of EIIP Partners, to show the support we have in the community. You are NOT required to link to us, if you cannot.

If you are on our EIIP mailing list, you will be getting an announcement in the near future about this effort, and we hope you will take the time to seriously consider our invitation.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Damon and Ollie for a fine job!