Edited Version February 3, 1999 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Library Online Presentation

"Emergent Coordinative Groups
Women's Response Roles
in the Florida Tornado Disaster"

Jennifer Wilson
Doctoral Candidate in Comparative Sociology
Florida International University, Miami, Florida

Arthur Oyola-Yemaiel
Doctoral Candidate in Comparative Sociology
Florida International University, Miami, Florida

EIIP Moderator: Avagene Moore

The original unedited transcript of the February 3, 1999 online Virtual Library presentation is available in EIIP Virtual Forum Archives (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the participants to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Library! We are pleased to introduce the authors of the paper to be presented today --- Jennifer Wilson and Arthur Oyola-Yemaiel.


Jennifer Wilson is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Sociology at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. Her areas of research interest include the professionalization of emergency management, vulnerability, gender and disaster, and emergent organization after disaster.

Arthur Oyola-Yemaiel is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Sociology at Florida International University. His research focuses on development and conservation of nature, with implications for sovereignty and security issues, conflict and its resolution, and vulnerability and social change.

Jennifer and Arthur are working from one computer today to present their paper, 'Emergent Coordinative Groups and Women's Response Roles in the Central Florida Tornado Disaster, February 23, 1998.'

Please see background material on Jennifer and Arthur plus a link to their paper, Quick Response Report #110, at <http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/990203.htm>.

Note that the URL above and any URL's Jennifer uses are live links. You can view the information by clicking on the link and it will load in your browser window behind the chat screen. After Jennifer completes her formal presentation of QR #110, I will give brief instructions for submitting questions or comments in an orderly manner.

Jennifer and Arthur, thank you for being with us today. I turn the floor to you, Jennifer.


Jennifer Wilson: Thank you Avagene.

Storms that swept across Central Florida in the early morning hours of February 23, 1998, spawned the deadliest round of tornadoes on record in Florida. Ninety percent of Florida's tornadoes have winds under 72 miles per hour. However, according to the National Weather Service, due to the effects of El Niño atmospheric disturbances, the several tornadoes that struck Florida on February 23, contained wind speeds ranging from 210 mph to 260 mph. According to the National Weather Service, only two other times has Florida been hit by tornadoes with wind speeds of more than 206 miles per hour in 1958 and 1966. Both were El Niño years, and both times the storms hit Central Florida.


Tornadoes touched down in Brevard, Dixie, Manatee, Nassau, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia Counties. Forty-two people were killed and more than 250 were injured throughout the Central Florida area. Osceola County experienced the worst impact of these series of tornadoes. Twenty-five people were killed and 148 were injured in this county.

Osceola County Office of Emergency Management estimated that the county sustained more than $37 million in damage to 150 homes, 200 mobile homes, 15 RVs, a strip mall and about 30 businesses. Some damage was inflicted upon an additional 225 homes, 60 apartments and 25 mobile homes.



We visited Osceola County, Florida, on four different occasions in order to study this community's coordinated response to the tornado disaster.

We interviewed emergency management organization personnel, government and non-profit disaster relief organization personnel and citizen/victims.

There is significant evidence that in times of disaster groups of affected people who do not have their needs met through pre-existing social (organizational) means will organize among themselves in some fashion to satisfy these requirements.

Emergent or ad hoc organizations then arise which form outside the structure of the official disaster relief network and are aimed to link with the "insiders" in order to acquire a fair share of the means for recovery. Although new organizations, these groups often draw upon existing networks for labor and resources.

We also know that today, women are becoming incorporated into the official disaster relief network. Due in part to professionalization, women are more often found in official emergency management positions at the federal, state and local level. Women also continue to enter other emergency response organizations such as the police and fire departments in greater numbers. These conditions together with the fact that women have traditionally participated in human service agencies such as the American Red Cross and others, make their presence more prevalent in the emergency operations center (EOC) as representatives of important functional areas. Women's greater participation from across fields in the EOC, may provide less reason for outside ad hoc organizations to form. Thus, women's needs may primarily be met through existing organizations.

In order to explore further the complex issues of women and emergent organization in disaster, our intent was to examine a disaster-affected community's emergent, ad hoc groups which formed to broker or coordinate between service, non-governmental and governmental organizations and, in so doing, meet certain recovery needs of the population that otherwise would not be met.

Specifically, we looked for women's roles in these emergent organizations. However, we found no evidence of formation of emergent, coordinative groups in Osceola County, Florida following the February tornado disaster. The response was handled using pre-established organizational channels. Conditions for the formation of coordinative groups were not present. Thus, the opportunity for women to participate in these groups was non-existent.

Why were there no emergent groups? The Osceola County emergency operations center (EOC) Operations Manager stated: "Initially it was overwhelming. The sheer volume of needs was tremendous. This county has never experienced anything like this. Were we prepared? No, we weren't." However, all indications from other respondents were that the official response was immediate and thorough. Victim respondents whom we talked with were highly satisfied. Furthermore, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross respondents believed that the response went extremely well despite the lack of preparation.

Although this county has rarely experienced a disaster of the same proportion as the tornadoes, there were some very innovative techniques utilized during the response. For example, the Osceola County Office of Emergency Management established a storeroom for citizens whose homes were destroyed to store their possessions until they could find replacement housing.

In addition, the OEM established two warehouses: one for incoming donations and one for outgoing donations. Osceola OEM was aware that the county would receive large amounts of unusable donations that could then be forwarded to other agencies that would be glad to have them. The OEM Operations Manager said that "at one point we had nearly twenty semi's coming in and twenty semi's going out each day" with donations received and then subsequently forwarded.

Another unique or unusual response by Osceola County OEM was the coordination of volunteers. The OEM arranged to have photo identification badges made for each volunteer. This was accomplished through the development of a database which kept track of volunteers' names, what skills and/or equipment they were able to provide, and their assignments. The database also tracked the volunteer needs within the community. The OEM also covered volunteers with accident insurance and Workman's Compensation insurance during their volunteer work. According to the Operations Manager of Osceola County OEM, there were close to 3000 volunteers who did 19,000 hours of work in the county in response to the tornado disaster.

In all, respondents had very few complaints concerning the response to the tornadoes. Rather, the respondents to whom we spoke praised the coordinated efforts among the community's organizations. Indeed, according to our respondents there was a high amount of coordination among existing agencies or organizations. For example, "town meetings" by city-county coordination were instituted immediately after the event (the next day) in order to facilitate communication among all the players.

Respondents reported that there were only minor communication problems that were resolved quickly. This may be due to the fact that the EOC was expressly utilized for coordination purposes among the players. Because most of the Osceola County departments and offices were involved in the response in some way coordination was further facilitated. These departments include the human resources department, the parks and recreation department, the road and bridge department, the collections office, the solid waste department, the billing office, and others. These offices provided labor, equipment, and communication to the response effort.

Another reason for the quick and thorough response, is the fact that several of the key response agencies had members of their regional or state offices come into the county in order to facilitate the response. Florida state Department of Emergency Management had a representative come in "almost immediately" after the tornadoes to work with Osceola County OEM in instituting the state-designed response plan. This same procedure occurred at the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army which both had members of their regional disaster response teams arrive within twelve to thirty-six hours of the tornado disaster. These teams' expertise in disaster response and their assistance in Osceola County was evident in the coordinated and swift response of these organizations for sheltering and donations (American Red Cross) and feeding (Salvation Army).

There was substantial evidence that the responders were concerned with making recovery from the disaster as easy as possible for individual victims in the community. One way in which this was accomplished was that the Disaster Relief Center contained representatives from the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration, some state agencies such as the Insurance Department, and United Methodist Disaster Relief all in the same building. This is significant because in many communities this does not always take place due to lack of space and willingness to work so closely together.

In addition, the local bus system, LYNX, established separate routes to transport tornado victims to the DRC. Furthermore, most of the local social service agencies decided to set up a disaster relief fund for the donations they received. Every agency was then able to draw from this fund to practice their individual disaster relief work, i.e., mental health, food bank, etc.

This procedure was taken in order to balance out the amount of disaster relief donations received by individual agencies since some received large amounts of funds and some received little or no donations. This is a significant component of the coordinative effort as non-profit agencies often have difficulty obtaining adequate operating funds.

Where were the women? A few women were key participants within their existing organizational positions. For example, the director of the county personnel office was key in organizing the county's volunteer program.

A horticultural agent of the Department of Agriculture designed a computer database program to keep track of the volunteers. Kissimmee's assistant city manager was essential in facilitating the working relationship between city workers and the Osceola County Office of Emergency Management's response plans. In addition, the director of the local American Red Cross played an integral part in shelter provision. One of the co-directors of the local Salvation Army was crucial in providing feeding to both victims and rescuers. And, finally, the sheriff's department EOC representative served to link her department's response efforts with the OEM.

In total, six women were prominent in the community tornado response in Osceola County, Florida. Although the total number of important female responders is small, only half of those women (three) occupied traditional female working roles in their official positions. Three were in social services but the remaining three occupied "less-traditional" female working roles: a police officer, a horticulture agent, and an assistant city manager (public official).

Even though these women regularly occupied "less-traditional" working roles, two of them fulfilled more traditional female roles during the disaster response. One woman was responsible for coordinating volunteer workers and the second handled phone communication at the EOC. The third woman took on a much more substantial "non-traditional" working role during the disaster response as the mediator between city workers and the county OEM response process. Thus, we can argue that women were vital in the response process within the pre-existing organizational structure.

In conclusion, in this relatively small community, the coordinative effort of local agencies was supported and assisted by the convergence of outside experts. The tornado, although severe and devastating for some, was localized and did not have a catastrophic effect of large magnitude in which the entire social structure/institutional fabric ceased to operate.

In contrast, a disaster of the scope of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, caused devastation so widespread that the social-organizational structure of everyday life was virtually dismantled. In Osceola County, the tornado left clusters of localized heavy damage, but the majority of the community was left intact and able to concentrate relief efforts on the damaged areas. This resilient community was able to respond effectively, solving the problems at hand that otherwise could have created unmet needs for sectors of the population. In doing so, unmet needs never arose. Among the reasons that no emergent coordinative groups formed in Osceola County is that already existing organizations adapted to meet the basic needs of the affected community.

In short, the exchange relationship was conducted both within existing organizations and between these organizations so that the outside or ad hoc groups were not needed. This may have been accomplished in part because women, racial minorities, and cultural ethnic/religious ethnic minorities, are often integral parts of the disaster relief network. More diverse emergency response organizations represented in the EOC are more likely to be sensitive to the needs and concerns of all members of the affected community.

Now back to you, Ava.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Jennifer and Arthur.

For Q&A: If you wish to ask a question, please submit a question mark (?) to the chat screen; you may compose your question or comment but please do not send until you are recognized. We will take questions in order of requests to speak. This will allow us to conduct Q&A in an orderly fashion. First question of Jennifer and/or Arthur, please.

[Audience Questions]


Amy Sebring: It sounds like of some of the things Osceola OEM did in response were highly adaptive to the situation. Do you think the participation of women in the EOC had a positive impact on adaptivity?

Jennifer Wilson: Yes we think so. For example, the volunteer database was the idea of the woman who ended up running it and the social service agencies which joined together in the donations fund were operated by women.


Avagene Moore: Jennifer and Arthur, have you done any comparison re: women's emergent roles in other disaster studies? Is the preparedness status of states and local jurisdictions such as seen in Florida the key driver for emergent roles? Perhaps I should have added lack of preparedness.

Jennifer Wilson: In answer to the first question, not yet. Yes, it seems to be so. Emergent organizations arise when response and/or recovery processes do not meet the needs of the victims.


Jose Musse: Know your experience, the same, in other countries or state (role emergent woman)?

Jennifer Wilson: We believe that this is the case throughout the world. In many cases women and men participate in emergent groups. Emergent organizations are not restricted by gender. What most likely happens is that women take the leading roles because they are most active in the recovery of their households, as well, as often being active in neighborhood organizations such as churches, etc.


Amy Sebring: I noticed you had a TIEMS paper concerning women in emergency management. Can you tell us a little about the thrust of that paper? And is it available on Internet somewhere?

Jennifer Wilson: It is not available on line but it is forthcoming in the March 1999 issue of International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. It will be substantially improved and expanded.


Russell Coile: I suggest that you take a look at the role of women in (California, for example), in Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams and Community Collaborative Groups such as Card and Cadre - see FEMA Ccompendium of Exemplary Practices, II 1997 and III 1998.

Jennifer Wilson: Yes, we are familiar with this.


Amy Sebring: Do you and Arthur hope to do some follow-up studies together?

Jennifer Wilson: Yes, we are planning to expand the study on the Central Florida tornadoes into mitigation and preparedness issues, specifically advance warnings and public outreach.

We also would like to expand into comparative analysis of other tornadoes around the nation, their response and recovery and the role of emergent organizations.

Avagene Moore: If I might comment, the thing that strikes me about this discussion is that this is such a great impetus for better preparedness everywhere, not just in Florida or California. I cite those states because they seem to be leaders.

Jennifer Wilson: The issue of vulnerability is one of the most important research issues. For us this is the basis for understanding the nature of social disasters whether they are natural or technological and will allow us to become better prepared to cope with them.


Burt Wallrich: Los Angeles County puts control of disaster operations in a Recovery Coordination Center, which is part of the Chief Admin. Officer's office, and which is headed by a woman. As soon as the response phase of a disaster is over, she is in charge of county recovery efforts. This means she also has a major role in planning and mitigation efforts.

Jennifer Wilson: To Burt, very interesting.


Lindsey Burke: Well this is more of a response. Do you have any advice for new women emergency managers? I will be finishing my degree here in a year and a half and would like any advice you may have.

Jennifer Wilson: Great! Very encouraging to hear this. You know that you may not meet many other women in your field.

Lindsey Burke: Yes, that I am aware of.

Jennifer Wilson: But with so many new degree programs, etc. there will likely be more represented in the field soon. I would be interested to hear over time how your career develops and what your experiences are.

Lindsey Burke: Thank you and I will keep EIIP updated.


Rick Tobin: Please excuse my coming in late. I wanted to ask Jennifer if she had ever read, "When the Canary Stops Singing"? It is about women changing the face of business but it is very relevant to women's perspectives in emergency management.

Jennifer Wilson: We are not familiar with this book. Can you give us a reference for it?

Rick Tobin: Pat Barrentine is the author, by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1993.

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Rick.

Jennifer Wilson: For Jose, we did not mention that there are cases of many emergent groups arising in Mexico City after the earthquake of 1985--women were the primary founders and participants. This also happened in Peru after an avalanche in 1970.

Jose Musse: Woman in Peru, have role emergent very important, Leader Terrorist are Woman, are very hard and very cruel. Who fighting a terrorist better are woman in Agency Police, Intelligence.

Final Question:

Amy Sebring: Jennifer, can you put up your email address for follow-up? [Added later: [email protected]]

Avagene Moore: We are about out of time today. Reminder: see background material on Jennifer and Arthur plus a link to their paper, Quick Response Report #110, at http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/990203.htm.

Avagene Moore: Jennifer and Arthur, we appreciate you being with us today and for sharing your paper with us. To the audience, thank you for your attention and participation also. Amy, would you please tell us about the coming week's events in the Virtual Forum?


Amy Sebring: Thank you Ava. Tomorrow evening, 8:00 PM EST, Mutual Aid Session.

Feb 9 Tuesday 1: 00 PM EST: The Lake County (IN) LEPC, EIIP Partner, will be featured in the Round Table; Bill Timmer, LEPC Chair and Highland (IN) Fire Chief, and Dean Larson, Ph.D. CSP CEM, Department Manager, Safety and Industrial Hygiene, U.S. Steel - Gary Works, will lead the discussion.

Amy Sebring: Feb 10 Wednesday 12: 00 Noon EST: What is the Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management? John R. Harrald, Ph.D., Director of the Institute at George Washington University will tell us about the institute's teaching and research roles in the Virtual Classroom. Ok, Ava.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Amy. It is time to close the Virtual Library. We will return to the Virtual Forum room for a few moments. If Jennifer and Arthur have a few more minutes to spend with us, we can express our gratitude to them one-on-one there. Please move to the Virtual Forum room now. Thank you all!

Jennifer Wilson: Thank you for having us. We enjoyed it.