Edited Version of August 30, 2000 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation

"Community & Family Preparedness Conference 2000 Overview "

Ralph B. Swisher
FEMA CFP Program Manager

Avagene Moore - Moderator
EIIP Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the August 30, 2000 online Virtual Library presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Library Archives (http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/livechat.htm). 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 to participants’ questions are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.

[Opening / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum!

Our discussion today is an Overview of the Community & Family Preparedness (CFP) Conference that was held last week at EMI, Emmitsburg, Maryland. We are pleased to have Dr. Ralph Swisher with us to talk about the CFP Program and the events of last week's conference. We are also happy to see folks in the audience who work with community and family preparedness programs around the country.

Ralph Swisher joined FEMA in 1981; he is a policy specialist in the agency. Ralph has served as Community and Family Preparedness program manager since 1994 prior to which he managed the Emergency Public Information program from 1989. Please see Ralph's entire bio after the session today. It represents an impressive career -- the bio is at <http://www.emforum.org/vforum/000830.htm#SWISHER> .

And now, help me welcome our speaker, Ralph B. Swisher. After Ralph completes his formal remarks, I will remind you of the protocol for the Q&A segment of today's session. Ralph, I turn the floor to you now.

Ralph Swisher: Hello everyone! This year's Community & Family Preparedness Conference was a great success. Quite a number of participants told me it was the best conference yet. It was certainly an exciting and enthusiastic conference. Presenters and other participants alike were exciting. We had a good mix, different because of the agenda, but the agenda brought their diverse perspectives together and the chemistry was right.

Our agenda concentrated on 3 main topics:

1. School safety, all-hazard in concept, but the specter of school violence was on everyone's mind

2. Reaching children, educating them to disaster preparedness and living in a disaster resistant culture was one theme with several parts:

  • Working with school systems to get disaster preparedness information into the classroom via curriculum materials
  • Working with youth organizations in disaster preparedness, response and recovery activities
  • Reaching women and children, especially in single-parent families, to reduce the disparity in vulnerability and the effects of disasters on them.

3. Working with minority groups and their leaders to help them protect themselves better and reduce the impact of disasters on their communities.

Marilyn Maguire, a former school system superintendent in Washington State, was the keynoter. She set the tone. The conference was charged up by her keynote address on 'Safety First at School' that focused on both school violence and all-hazard preparedness in "A Comprehensive Approach to Prevention and Intervention. She was the first, of many, to emphasize involvement of young people in planning how to prevent school violence and preparing to deal with it, if it does occur.

Kay Landry, Guidance Specialist with the Maryland State Department of Education, brought 5 Maryland students from a forum of 500 students convened by the State's school system to get young people's input to Maryland's program. The impressive student panel reflected the constructive result as they described the development of plans in their state meeting and then its application, with their involvement, in their home schools across the state.

Linda Mason, Director of Education & Training, Arizona Division of Emergency Management, described their School System Preparedness program. She later described FEMA's Multi-Hazard Program for Schools, a training course designed for key actors from school systems, first responders, emergency managers and community partners to prepare for major emergencies and disasters. The all-hazard course, which uses scenario-based exercise for various disasters, has experienced a tremendous surge in demand and high praise from those using it. Interest has been sparked by the concern over school violence.

Mary-K. Appy, Vice Pres. for Public Education for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), with Dennis Compton, Mesa, AZ, Fire Chief, described how NFPA works with schools, school systems and community partners in collaboration in implementing the "Risk Watch" injury prevention curriculum.

Dr. Russell Wright, Curriculum Specialist with Montgomery County, MD, School System and developer of the Event Based Science Curriculum for middle schools, explained how the curriculum uses such events as natural disasters to draw students enthusiastically into exploring areas of science and how people in different roles deal with problems caused by natural phenomena like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe weather.

Ron Gird, Customer Service Program Manager, NOAA/National Weather Service, described the range of warning systems and forecasts, public education materials and Web sites, available as resources for local preparedness and public education, which the National Weather Service has developed.

Tom Hegele started the Hurricane Floyd-North Carolina Case Study with a video panorama, after which Dr. H. Nolo Martinez, Director of Hispanic/Latino Affairs in the North Carolina Governor's Office described the situation with the rapidly growing Hispanic population there and the outreach effort to them.

Katie Pomerans of Family and Consumer Services, North Carolina State University, described the problems of different groups and the outreach to them from that program.

James Montgomery of FEMA's Office of Equal Rights discussed FEMA's role in assuring equal access to disaster assistance.

Scott Poland, Director of Psychological Services, Cypress-Fairbanks School System and member of the School Psychologists Assn., is one of a team of experts consulted on a variety of school violence cases. His presentation was another high point of the conference, bringing a strong sense of the reality of those incidents to an excellent review of principles for handling them. He stressed the importance of involving the students in the solution, as did others. We'll report in more detail, but see his book, "Coping with Crisis-Lessons Learned: A Resource for Schools, Parents, and Communities," co-authored with Jamie S. McCormack, if you want to get excellent information quickly.

We were treated to another panel of impressive kids in a panel titled "Disaster-Ready Kids--Self-Reliance in Times of Disaster."

Rose Burlingham of North Carolina described 4-H kids' involvement, including help with animals, in Hurricane Floyd floods. And Evelyn Adams, from Alaska, talked about 4-H disaster preparedness activities in her area.

Scott Stuart and Ryan Lynch, members of an Exploring Post (Boy Scouts) and CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) in the Quincy, MA, Emergency Management Agency, accompanied Deputy Director Tony Siciliano, long-time CFP activist declared New England emergency manager of the year this year, as I recall. LaVerne Feaster, State 4-H Leader Emeritus, Arkansas State University Extension, added a strong note of support for using the talents and commitment of 4-H youth in emergency management.

Professor Betty Hearn Morrow, Florida International University, made a strong case for addressing the disparate effects of disasters on women and children.

In a panel on "Making Things Happen," Betty Bumpers, wife of Sen. Dale Bumpers (AR) and founder of Peace Links; Jan Paschal, Regional Representative of the U.S. Secretary of Education; Elton Gatewood, Nat'l Pres. of Neighborhoods, USA; and Sylvia Williams, National Disaster Coordinator, NAACP; all described inspiring examples of making things happen in different settings.

Richard Krajeski, Kristina Peterson and Richard Johnson spoke on working with faith-based organizations, of which they are representatives.

Carolyn Gravely-Moss, Wash., DC EMA Training Officer, spoke on working with ethnic minority communities.

The conference also heard a strong statement of support from Kay Goss, FEMA Associate Director for Preparedness, Training, and Exercises, in her "Charge to Participants." She reviewed her range of preparedness initiatives from Higher Education to International Affairs, Indian Tribal Policy, Capability Assessment (CAR), CHER-CAP in Hazmat Readiness and others.

We'll cover the several workshops in a report on the conference coming soon. No time today. It was a packed conference and we'll give a full report soon. It also left us with a number of challenges. I am ready for any questions.

Avagene Moore: Thank you for the overview, Ralph. The CFP Conference sounds like an excellent opportunity for those who were fortunate to attend. Before we get into the Q&A part of today's program, we would like those who attended the CFP Conference to input their thoughts, perspectives, reactions to the conference. Give us your impressions or if you have a follow up question for Ralph, I am sure he will be glad to respond. We will give these good folks a moment to input their comments. Ralph, we heard one or two before we officially started today.


Ray Pena: An excellent conference, well managed and presented. Dr. Swisher and all the FEMA folks at EMI deserve great credit.


Bernadette Frerker: I would like to thank all those involved in putting the conference together. I was extremely motivated to get involved with the youth in my community and

network with others who share similar visions. It would be nice to have more time at the conference for tabletop exercises. Also, a little more time for the speakers.


Jeff Phillips: There was sooo much information and things to think about that I spent a few hours on Monday organizing and finding ways to integrate what I had heard and learned into my daily affairs. I look forward to the conference report in order to continue this effort.

Ralph Swisher: In part, I'm in the same boat as Jeff. I took a lot of notes, but couldn't cover everything.

[Audience Questions &Answers]


Rick Tobin: Did anyone discuss implementation of the "Masters of Disasters" program?

Ralph Swisher: Yes. Bob Roberts of the Red Cross, Kathy Henning of Montgomery County, MD, and two others but I can't recall names. It came up several times.


Isabel McCurdy: Can you elaborate on some of the challenges?

Ralph Swisher: I think the biggest challenge remains making a bigger dent in the problem of getting people who have so many other challenges just getting through each day or week to think ahead and actually make significant efforts to prepare for disasters. Then they get devastated. That includes minority communities, the problems Betty Morrow talked about in the heavily disproportionate impact of disasters on women and children, especially single-parent families headed by women. Another perspective on that is shifting toward developing a broader array of partnerships with national organizations. Nobody reaches everybody effectively.


Amy Sebring: Did you do 'Disaster Saves Awards' again this year, Ralph?

Ralph Swisher: I'll go back to challenges as we go along, but no, we didn't solicit or give Disaster Saves Awards this year. We solicited them last year but received none that met the criteria in the documentation provided. We need to find a better way of tracking some very impressive things going on and see that they are shared. Another challenge is that one.


Ed Pearce: I am in the private sector. Was there any discussion about the role of corporations supporting these initiatives?

Ralph Swisher: The only area this year in which the private sector was covered was in support of the school safety activities, and that was primarily reference to software systems helping with that preparedness effort.


Ken Patterson Sr: How does one become involved in the Masters of Disasters program?

Ralph Swisher: Masters of Disaster was developed by the Red Cross and they manage its implementation. Get in touch with their Disaster Services people locally, or Rocky Lopes at Red Cross HQ (he may refer you to someone else.)

Amy Sebring: See also <http://www.redcross.org/disaster/masters/> .


Leslie Little: Was there any discussion regarding the special needs high-risk disabled populations and disaster planning strategies?

Ralph Swisher: Yes, there was attention to high risk and disabled people. That was in a workshop that I didn't catch. Let me add that it is a major concern of the African American communities growing interest because of the number of elderly people that need help, whether in evacuating or staying in their homes. I didn't get to that in my overview, but they are an important group to stay with in our initiatives.


Avagene Moore: Ralph, when the Virtual Forum addresses needs of women and children, for example, and the fact that disasters impacts them differently or more severely, we get arguments from a few of our audience. How do you handle such opinions about gender and minority populations? Many think they are all treated the same in their communities.

Ralph Swisher: I think we need to look at the specific facts on the matter of how heavily disasters affect women and children. It isn't an ideological issue with me, which is the basis for most of the arguments I have heard. It is a matter of vulnerability, why they are vulnerable, and what specifically can be done to help those who need better protection and assistance. The answers aren't always easy, and the situations are different in different areas, different countries. But Hurricane Andrew research by Betty Morrow is what got her into the question, and the differences were big.


David Crews: Is there an initiative to integrate the Family and Children programs with Project Impact or is it already part of the program?

Ralph Swisher: Integration isn't the term I would use. CFP has invited and cooperated with Project Impact communities since the first 6 Impact sites were chosen. We have local people associated with the public education part of it in every conference. I can't see changing that. I see our role as trying to make sure the connection is made between those active in disaster public education and those putting new Impact projects together, to make sure that experience and existing activity is made available. But I wouldn't "integrate" a particular project with an ongoing functional part of disaster preparedness that typically has a longer life. We must cooperate and support each other, but they are not identical.


Leslie Little: Will the report(s) have suggestions and/or working solutions for special needs and low-income, i.e. working poor groups that could be used by disaster planners?

Ralph Swisher: Yes, but at this point I can't say how many specific, concrete ideas will be in this year's report. We also need to go back occasionally and pick up on such basic problems from past conferences, reports, and documented activity in good programs out there. That's where the things that work come from and are proven.


Amy Sebring: Ralph, were there any specific outcomes from the conference? Calls for action? Further plans for your conference Web site? < http://www.humtech.com/cfp/>.

Please note that there is a place there to contribute success stories and resource exchange and I assume that is one of the ways you hope to continue?

Ralph Swisher: We had a session at the end in which all participants were asked to propose changes from basic program activities to the color of napkins in the cafeteria. We'll compile those. Second, there were some good proposals in specific presentations and workshops, and we'll compile those, as we have in the last three conferences. And sooner! I'll retire if we don't get them out sooner this year.


Jeff Phillips: Will participants receive notification when the conference report is put on the Web site?

Ralph Swisher: Yes. We got participants' email addresses, and will mail to those without one. We'll also put a notice in our next ActNow Update.


Avagene Moore: Ralph, I know you love the CFP program - one reason you are so good at it. What is your vision for the CFP program, say 5 - 10 years from now?

Ralph Swisher: I think the answer to that is in what will happen at the community and neighborhood levels. We are beginning to restore in some sense, but in a different way that fits changes in our communities and in communications in a high tech society, the way we live in reasonable comfort and confidence with disaster. Communities are still the major part of disaster preparedness, of disaster response, of recovery, and of making the kind of investment we talk about in mitigation -- in Project Impact.

We went through a period when disasters didn't dominate the news. The last 10 or 15 years has seen steady escalation, and the communities most affected by mobility, social change, family weakening, etc., had the hardest time handling them. I think the next five years will see the neighborhoods, community organizations, churches in particular but by no means dominantly, get back to their traditional roles but appropriately for modern society.

The national role will be a continuation of the research role, keeping up with lessons learned, successful ways of dealing with the whole area of preparedness and response and recovery, and keeping and building the network going so information is shared. The matter of staying on top of disaster preparedness stays alive and becomes part of a "disaster-resistant culture" or resilient culture, as the current phrases have it. That's one major part of the vision.


Carol Parks: When is the next conference?

Ralph Swisher: Tentatively set for mid-to-late June 2001. Again at FEMA's Emergency Management Institute, Emmitsburg, MD.

Ralph Swisher: One parting comment from me: The combination of people from different groups and professional positions made it a remarkably good conference. They responded well to the speakers and the things discussed.


Avagene Moore: Our time is about gone for today. Thank you very much for being with us today, Ralph. We appreciate your time and effort on behalf of the Virtual Forum and the good disaster public education accomplished by your program. Please stand by a moment while we take care of some business. Today's session will be accessible via the Transcripts link on our home page by Monday. The text version will be up later today.

Avagene Moore: Amy, will you tell us about next week please?

Amy Sebring: Thanks, Avagene and thank you, Ralph and thanks, to all our participants today. I counted 44! We are pleased to see a few new faces, and hope you will join us for future programs.

Please note that the 1998 and 1999 CFP Conference Reports are in the User Docs section of our Library, which you can access under Quick Picks on our home page.

Next week we are pleased to present a new Partner, Consequence Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) in a session entitled "Islands in the (Emergency Data) Stream -- Planning for Interoperability." "CMI-Services is about facilitating information sharing among the numerous sources of municipal, state, and federal data relevant to WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) consequence management," and is envisioned as a stakeholder driven process.

Please join us then for what should be an interesting discussion. Back to you, Avagene.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Amy. Thanks to all our participants today. Your participation is very important to us. We will adjourn the session for now, but you are welcome to remain for open discussion. You no longer need to use question marks. Please help us express our appreciation to Ralph for today's presentation.