EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — March 8, 2006

Hurricane Katrina
Lessons Learned?

Michael D. Selves, CEM®
First Vice President and Chair, Government Affairs Committee
International Association of Emergency Managers

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. On behalf of Avagene and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Our topic today is "Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned?" This is based on the new White House report "The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned" which may be accessed from:


The actual recommendations we will be discussing today are found in Appendix A at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/reports/katrina-lessons-learned/appendix-a.html

Now it is my pleasure to introduce today's speaker. Michael D. Selves is First Vice President of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) and Chair of IAEM's Government Affairs Committee. Mike is the Director of the Johnson County Department of Emergency Management & Homeland Security in Olathe, Kansas. He is a member of IAEM, KEMA, the American Society of Professional Emergency Planners, and the Kansas City Metropolitan Emergency Managers Committee.

Mike is active in the National Assn. of Counties (NACo) where he is a member of the Board of Directors, the Homeland Security Task Force, and chairs NACo's Emergency Management Subcommittee. He is also a member of the Regional Homeland Security Coordinating Committee and Co-Chair of its Emergency Planning Subcommittee for the Kansas City Metro Area. For more details on Mike's extensive background, please see today's Background Page: http://www.emforum.org/vforum/060308.htm

We are using a slightly different interview format today. I have prepared a series of ten questions, to which Mike has prepared responses. Welcome, Mike.

Mike Selves: Hello everyone, glad to be here.


Amy Sebring: Mike, let's start off with some of the issues mentioned in the IAEM press release. First the broad overall issue of the role of each level of government in addressing problem areas. As stated in the press release "Before implementing many of these recommendations, we need to get the state and local emergency management professionals who work in this field daily, as well as mayors, county commissioners and governors, at the table to work out what these changes in our relationships will really mean," said Robert Bohlmann, Emergency Management Director for York County, Maine and Government Affairs Chairman for the International Association of Emergency Managers.

Larry Gispert, IAEM Regional President representing the hurricane-prone Southeastern region, stated, "Local emergency managers stand ready, willing and able to sit down with our State and Federal partners to fix those systemic problems exposed as a result of the Katrina response. A unilateral approach by the Federal government to fixing these problems would, in reality, just compound an already problematic situation."

How do you think we can change the top down approach to disaster planning in this nation?

Mike Selves: First, it’s not certain that we CAN change this approach; however, we will obviously try. I think we will have to work with this issue on a number of fronts:

  • Work with our own partner organizations (e.g. NEMA, NACo, the Homeland Security Consortium, etc.) to quickly review and analyze the proposals being made.

  • Work with our network of Congressional contacts to highlight where Federally-directed requirements or initiatives don’t meet the "reality check" of implementation at the state and local level -- especially when these essentially constitute "unfunded mandates".

  • Work within the DHS to get representation "at the table" as these initiatives are being developed and discussed. Our initial discussions with Undersecretary Foresman and members of his staff are certainly encouraging. It is important that we recognize that although the report under discussion originated in the White House, it’s pretty clear that the Preparedness Directorate will be tasked with a major portion of the actual "vetting" and implementation of the report’s recommendations.

  • Keep our state and local colleagues (both IAEM members and non-members) engaged in providing feedback and support.

Amy Sebring: You may recall that the 911 Commission recommended greater participation by the public in disaster planning in their communities. Would IAEM support a greater role for the general public at the local, state, and national level in providing review and input to plans? If so, how could this be achieved?

Mike Selves: While it might not be possible or advisable to engage the "public" in traditional emergency operations planning, certainly we should endeavor to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to the overall planning process. It has long been a principal tenet of the Integrated Emergency Management System that all pertinent elements of the community be included in plans. Family emergency planning, Citizen Corps Councils and CERT teams represent ways that citizens may be a part of the overall plans for disaster.

Direct involvement of individual citizens is somewhat problematic, however. One example of what I would call "citizen driven" involvement is the Public Readiness Index, a project of the Council on Excellence in Government. While initiatives such as this offer great potential for local emergency managers to assess where the public is with respect to preparedness, we are greatly concerned about the other potential uses to which such instruments may be put. (e.g. their use as a political or media tool to pressure or embarrass elected officials.)

In short, broad community involvement in preparedness is desirable, but such involvement must be coordinated so as to supplement the professional efforts at creating community emergency plans.

Amy Sebring: Let's move on to the issue of accountability. Throughout the recommendations it is suggested that the National Preparedness Goal and Target Capabilities List be used to serve as a scorecard with Homeland Security Grant funding tied to achieving satisfactory scores. Specifically, recommendation # 104 states that DHS should finalize the TCL by the end of the Second Quarter, FY 06 with input from Federal, State, local and professional entities in order to evaluate preparedness. If I am not mistaken, that would be by the end of March. Has IAEM been approached as a professional entity to participate in the process?

Mike Selves: It’s hard to keep track of what Federal initiative relates to what recommendation. IAEM, as a member of the Homeland Security Consortium, has been invited to participate in an evaluation effort aimed at this recommendation. Dewayne West, IAEM immediate past president, will be participating in this effort on our behalf. It remains to be seen how significant an input or review this will be.

Amy Sebring: In the press release you observed, "At a time when the Administration is recommending decreases in assistance to State and local governments in the form of cuts to the Emergency Management Performance Grants, COPs, fire and homeland security grants, this report calls for greatly increased workload and accountability on our part."

A concern might be that the TCL approach is highly complex, would require a great deal of paperwork, and might result in nothing more than improvements on paper. Given the limited availability of funding for local staff, could these requirements actually interfere with real improvements? If you agree, what alternatives might be considered for satisfying the need for accountability?

Mike Selves: The TCL effort is but one of many complex, and often confusing, requirements that I was referring to. The whole NIMS compliance piece that we’ve had to deal with is another, the recently instituted National Plans Review and subsequent on-site reviews by DHS contractors, the increased workload generated by the response to 9/ll (e.g. completely revised or new terrorism annexes, administration of or participation in UASI and SHSGP programs, etc.) would also make that list. Even such requirements as assisting public health agencies with pandemic event planning should be considered, not to mention planning requirements for Foreign Animal Disease events. The list is long.

At some point in time, the marginal value of the grants will decrease relative to the work involved as well as the perceived threat, and the process will essentially grind to a halt. (Witness the situation toward the end of the Civil Defense era). We have to impress upon Congress and the Executive Branch agencies that responsibilities and resources are linked and that programs which become perceived by local and state elected officials as "unfunded mandates" will be resisted, ultimately resulting in a decrease in preparedness.

As Larry said in the press release, we welcome accountability. One of the best examples of effective accountability is the EMPG program where Federal, state and local agencies negotiate certain work plan "deliverables" commensurate with the proposed funding. Future assistance is then dependent upon follow-through. Also the program requires matching funds (either "hard" or "soft") from the non-federal partners. This is the model for what I believe is responsible and reasonable accountability, mutually established.

Amy Sebring: As you know, Secretary Chertoff has advocated a risk-based approach to Homeland Security funding. However, there is no consideration of natural hazards risk in the recommendations. For example, recommendation #42 states "DHS should require State and local governments, as a condition for receiving Homeland Security grants, to develop, implement, and exercise emergency evacuation plans and to cooperate fully with all Federal evacuation activities."

And, "Each State, starting in FY 07, should receive an annual report card that will grade the ability of the State to conduct evacuation operations. The report card will be based on exercises, training, effective use of Federal grant monies, and other relevant criteria as a condition of further grant funding."

Recommendation #43 continues with this theme. While it is obvious that mass evacuation is an important issue for the hurricane prone states, should other states not facing this risk be required to meet the same standards?

Mike Selves: For a number of years, we in IAEM have raised the issue with congressional and executive branch contacts that for a "risk-based" funding concept to be acceptable, we must have some basic consensus by partners at all levels of government as to what constitutes risk. So far, we appear to continue to have a long way to go in this area. We will certainly be very aggressive, both collectively and individually, in making DHS understand that evacuation (especially mass evacuation) planning may not be the highest priority in many areas of the country.

My own metropolitan area (Kansas City) has reviewed our requirements for mass evacuation and found the need to be extremely remote. In a meeting of our regional homeland security committee, a representative of DHS was asked, "What situation in this area do you see as requiring a mass evacuation of the entire metro area?" His reply was, "A bioterrorism incident or pandemic flu." The public health professionals on the committee nearly fell off their chairs in disbelief. It is this kind of "knee-jerk" "one size fits all" mentality in DHS which must be challenged at every opportunity.

We pointed out to him that we intended to work on mass care and sheltering as a higher priority due to the fact that a major New Madrid fault earthquake would undoubtedly cause massive spontaneous evacuations from St. Louis/Eastern Missouri to our area.

This particular recommendation you’ve cited is a classic example of what I meant when I mentioned the "reality check" we as, local professional must provide. Federal officials must be made to realize that insisting on unrealistic or inappropriate standards will lead to local governments either complying and therefore wasting funds, or simply saying, "Keep your money, the costs of complying are greater than the benefit of federal funding."

As to your question about the "annual report card", I will be interested in seeing the reaction of Governors, County leaders, and Mayors to this kind of veiled "blackmail". (Probably a significant "reality check"!) Here again, it’s not accountability that we object to, but the fact that imposed requirements will be resisted, whereas collaboratively developed requirements will be accepted. We believe, obviously, that any national system of Emergency Management accountability must be the result of the latter.

Amy Sebring: Speaking of risk assessment, should an All Hazards risk assessment be used for funding allocations?

Mike Selves: Of course, if we’re really serious about establishing realistic and reasonable priorities and plans of action.

Amy Sebring: Let's move on to some of the other specific recommendations: #77 states "DHS should establish an integrated public alert and warning system in coordination with all relevant departments and agencies." The subparts merely mention the need to communicate emergency information to the public, building on the EAS system, and using the TCL as a reference to build and sustain the system. What additional recommendations are needed in this area?

Mike Selves: I have no idea how TCL got worked into this recommendation. (I think someone must think it’s some sort of magic talisman that you use to justify virtually anything.) The bottom line is that DHS has never used the EAS to provide any sort of public warning or information. I guess we should be thankful that they now recognize its existence. They need to understand that there is a whole universe of warning systems out there in addition to EAS (NOAA All Hazard Radio, for example), which can be used to convey warnings and information to the public.

The key is for the Federal government to get its act together on how and under what circumstance they will access these systems, and then, how the messages will be coordinated with state and local officials. Hopefully, they will address this issue and not simply throw a lot of money at "technology" as they have done in other areas.

Amy Sebring: The IAEM press release also refers to recommendation #107, "DHS should conduct State and local officials training and exercises." This includes Governors and their cabinets and mayors of UASI cities. Since these officials do play a critical role in disaster response, for better or for worse, isn't this a good idea?

Mike Selves: I think it is clear that we all would like more involvement and buy-in by our elected officials. What we were trying to highlight was, once again, the "reality check" aspects of the report. To say simply that these officials should do this (with the unfortunate implication that this was mandated) without close coordination with state and local Emergency Managers is not particularly politically savvy or practical.

Amy Sebring: While emergency management is based on a cycle of continuous improvement, at least in theory, we often feel that although lessons may be learned, that those lessons are not applied, and that the same mistakes are repeated again and again. Do we need to do some hard thinking to identify those specific issues that keep cropping up, and get at some root causes before we identify potential solutions?

Mike Selves: Folks, I’ve been in this business for 17 years (not as long as some, but longer than is advisable for any sane person) and I’ve seen the term "lessons learned" used ad nauseam. The problem seems to be that we don’t "learn" the lessons; we simply identify them and then ignore or forget them.

In response to your question, it’s not "hard thinking" that’s needed. Most of these things are "no-brainers". Maybe we should stop thinking about these lessons and just do something. One of the speakers at the NEMA Mid-Year asked the question: Five frogs sat on a log, three of them decided to jump off. How many frogs remained on the log? While many of us immediately responded "two", the answer was "five -- there’s a big difference between ‘deciding’ to do something and actually doing it." I think that story has great applicability here.

Amy Sebring: Finally, various reports on Katrina have identified the lack of qualified and experienced professionals at top levels of government as a major contributing factor. IAEM has developed the CEM program to address this issue. Is DHS showing any interest in using the CEM for key federal officials?

Mike Selves: Not yet that we can discern, although we have brought up both the CEM and the EMAP processes to some key DHS folks.

Amy Sebring: Anything you would like to add Mike?

Mike Selves: I’d just like to thank EIIP for allowing me to comment on these very important issues. Let me just say that we are going through very confusing and challenging times in our profession right now. I know that many of you are confused, tired, and frustrated by what you see as random, unreasonable and often hostile attitudes and proposals coming out of D.C. I have been particularly affected by my recent conversations with our colleagues from the Gulf Coast states. These folks have been through hell, many have risked their lives and lost their homes. Yet recently they were with us in Washington, fighting for what we know to be right, trying to make people understand what needs to be done, and the role emergency managers play in the process.

Let me tell you, on a personal level, it is very hard for me to hear their stories, and see their frustration. I would say to every IAEM member, we have a solemn obligation to do everything we can -- speak, write letters, join in efforts to changes things on their (and ultimately, our) behalf.

Last Sunday, I was in attendance when James Lee Witt addressed the National Assn. of Counties legislative conference. He concluded with this saying, "If we don’t plant the trees of the future, we don’t deserve to stand in the shade of the trees of the past." That pretty well summarizes what our challenge is today. I hope we all rise to the challenge. Thanks.

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

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Judith Sibert: Good Afternoon, Mr. Selves. In the recommendations I see training and integration of ICS and NIMS and increasing citizen awareness. Nowhere do I see any consideration for training of local emergency managers. I feel that there is currently a huge spectrum of educational levels for local emergency managers across the county.

I was wondering if you agree with that and if so, do you feel it had an impact on the Katrina response? Do you think attaching FEMA’s IS-1 (Emergency Manager: An Orientation) and IS-230 (Principles of Emergency Management) to further grant funding, as has been done with ICS and NIMS, would begin to help with this issue?

Mike Selves: Actually that is a matter of great concern for IAEM. We have identified training, and particularly the funding for EMI and the Higher Ed program, on a number of our congressional priority talking points. One of the absolute strengths of emergency management over the years has been we operate from a focused and recognized "doctrine" and that must be preserved, regardless what happens to FEMA.

Mollie Penrod: Thank you Mr. Selves. How do you see businesses (I work for the private sector) being incorporated into this process?

Mike Selves: Absolutely. One of the surprising things we keep seeing from DHS is that they seem to think that this idea of private sector involvement is a new one. Most of us in local EM offices have long realized that business is a member of the partnership and that our governmental efforts cannot succeed if we do not incorporate private sector partners. In my own community, we have a long-standing relationship with a number of private partners we couldn't do without. What we'd like the Feds to do is collaborate with us in this regard and not treat it like some "new revelation".

Mollie Penrod: Will IAEM work to help ensure that local government should be required to incorporate their CERT teams into their plans - that is, if they are going to train these people? I've heard from some people that this isn't always happening. They can be a great supportive resource, but only if they are incorporated into the local jurisdiction plans and the CERTs are trained to that plan.

Mike Selves: IAEM supports CERT and always have. In fact one of the most important principles many of us have brought forward is the absolute requirement that local emergency managers must be actively involved in CERT programs.

Avagene Moore: Mike, thanks for being here today. Do you see an increased awareness on the part of the local level that they can and should influence what is going on in Washington? If not, what can be done to make emergency managers, mayors, county executives and others speak up and make the contacts that should be made? In other words, speak as one loud voice on behalf of local jurisdictions and what we need at the grass roots level?

Mike Selves: Thank for that question, Avagene. I will tell you that our outreach is greatly increased. Two initiatives I've been working on: getting a current list of State emergency management associations and involving those associations in our legislative effort, whether they are IAEM members or not.

The second initiative is to work with our legislative partners such as NGA, NACo, NLC and others to get local officials involved as well. For example, this past weekend, I participated in a number of presentations and committee meetings, and we got an enthusiastic response from many of the elected officials, especially those from the Gulf Coast counties!

Charlie Venable: Mike, In regard to lessons learned (LL) or relearned, as was pointed out, what would you suggest to improve the process for capture and dissemination of LLs, if there is one?

Mike Selves: I'm not sure. As I said, that the problem is not capturing the LLs -- it's actually taking actions to correct the problems. We've "learned" these lessons time and again. What we need is a real process for finding collaborative processes for taking corrective actions. How we go about doing that is open to discussion, but it certainly needs to be a cooperative effort at all levels of government.

Amy Sebring: Mike, you may discern that I am for greater transparency in planning (within the limitations of security issues). For example, the Catastrophic Incident Supplement to the National Response Plan (NRP-CIS) is "for official use only" and I have never seen personally. Has DHS shared this document with IAEM or state officials if you know?

Mike Selves: Quite possibly with the states, but not with IAEM officially.

Avagene Moore: Mike, I also appreciated your comments on how we have not learned lessons. Poor communications continue to plague us and elected officials recently spoke to some committee asking for more money. In your opinion, is the communications interoperability problem a money issue or a people/turf issue?

Mike Selves: Well, it seems to be both. But there seems to be too great an emphasis on technical issues and not enough on the people issues, in my humble opinion.

Amy Sebring: Mike are you all working on any technology issues? I think there were some recommendations in this area.

Mike Selves: I can barely make my phone or computer work, but I know there are a number of our folks who are intimately involved.

Avagene Moore: Mike, with the millions (or is it billions now?) spent since 9/11, are we better prepared for all hazards? Why or why not?

Mike Selves: To the extent that we have at the state and local level been able to "work around" many of the terrorism rules from DHS, we have improved our situation. However, we are very concerned about this narrow focus at DHS. We feel that with the Katrina event in the background, we may be getting through.

Hattie Hanley: Given the availability of the Homeland Security Grants, why has the technical part of the communications interoperability problem not been solved? And what turf issues are you referring to?

Mike Selves: First, the cost of implementing technical solutions at every local level is well beyond anything that can practically be supported by the grants. I don't think I mentioned turf issues.

Hattie Hanley: A follow-up question: What needs to change regarding the way the federal grants are coming down to states and local jurisdictions to solve this communications interoperability technical issue?

Mike Selves: Hattie, I am not really the one to answer that questions, but I certainly share the concern.

Amy Sebring: Mike, you mentioned the EMPG mechanism for accountability. Can you give us a brief recap on status of EMPG funding for FY07? If I recall correctly, DHS has never understood supporting personnel. Are they getting the message?

Mike Selves: I don't see much evidence that they "get it" (George Foresman being the exception). On the other hand, we have made a lot of progress with the Congress and the number of members and staffers who now understand what emergency management is all about, and how important this program is, is growing.

Amy Sebring: Let me give IAEM a plug here. There is some status info at http://www.iaem.com and a document at http://www.iaem.com/documents/EMPGcontactmemomarch04061.doc

Erica Preston: I would like to go back to the discussion on lessons learned. Can you think of an example of a lesson that has been learned through a collaborative process that could be a model for the future?

Mike Selves: I can't really think of anything major, but I can certainly reference a couple of areas where we really tried to make a difference and it went in an odd direction. First was the idea that morphed into NIMS. One lesson we learned was the need for the Feds to work within the ICS structure locally. This amazingly became NIMS, which has involved massive training, compliance requirements and planning changes when all we really wanted to do was get federal agencies to recognize and use ICS when they operated locally.

Avagene Moore: Hattie, I mentioned turf issues in my question. As an experienced local level person (16 years) I saw a lot of this when new radio equipment was purchased, etc. The Sheriff was never interested in communications with anyone other than his staff and he was not alone in that narrow view. So the vendor set him and others up without consideration of a disaster need to communicate with anyone else. Some of that still exists, I believe. That is the people / turf problem.


Amy Sebring: Let's go ahead and wrap it up for today. Thank you very much Mike for an excellent job. We appreciate your time and effort to share this information with us. Please stand by a moment while we make a couple of quick announcements. Again, the formatted transcript will be available later today. 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 and click on Subscribe.

Avagene Moore: A heads up, please - the EIIP Virtual Forum presentation for Wednesday March 22 is a discussion about the Virginia Emergency Management Training, Analysis & Simulation Center (EMTASC). Our speakers will be Bob Harper, EMTASC Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Charles Venable, SAIC. Charles is here today--welcome! Make plans to join us for this presentation.

Amy Sebring: Thanks Ava. Thanks to everyone for participating today. We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to our guest for a fine job.