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BOLDplanning Conducts COOP Workshops in Marion County, Oregon

Last week it was off to beautiful Salem, Oregon, for BOLDplanning team member, Cathleen Atchison, MEP, PCP. There, she conducted Mid-term COOP (Continuity of Operations) Workshops for the continued development of Marion County’s plan. The turnout (and the momentum) was amazing as workshop participants further realized the importance of COOP planning, and learned more about using the BOLDplanning.com platform.

Atchison expects everyone to apply the knowledge gained during last week’s workshops to make plan improvements before the company’s next visit. On August 14-15, 2019, BOLDplanning will facilitate more workshops, preparing everyone for a countywide COOP tabletop exercise. It is scheduled for September 10, 2019.

BOLDplanning Travels South, Works to Finalize EOP and COOP Plans in Georgia

For Tennessee-based BOLDplanning, it’s always a pleasure to travel south to neighboring Georgia, especially Douglas County. The County uses the BOLDplanning.com platform for both its emergency and continuity planning. Last week’s visit (July 25 and 26) to Douglasville, the County seat, involved a one-day Emergency Operations Plan Finalization Workshop, and a one-day COOP Plan Finalization Workshop. Both were led by BOLDplanning representatives, Carlin Alford, Regional Director for FEMA Regions IV, V and X, and Mike Van Berkum, planning consultant (and former Iowa State Patrol Colonel). Douglas County Judicial and Courts, along with the Supreme Court Judges, were among those in attendance.

BOLDplanning is excited about returning to Douglasville in the weeks ahead, as the company will next be involved in the County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) Community Kickoff Meeting. There’s more good news to come on the continued planning efforts in Douglas County and their use of not one, not two, but three BOLDplanning.com modules. Stay tuned!

Common Emergency Planning Pitfalls and How You Can Avoid Them

Developing a meaningful and actionable Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) is no easy task. Neither is keeping the plan current given changes in organizational resources (personnel and equipment), or even changes within the community the plan is written to serve. As published in its Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101 (CPG 101) for Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes these and other planning pitfalls and offers guidance for how to avoid or overcome them. Here’s what the Agency has to say:

The most common planning pitfall is the development of lengthy, overly detailed plans that those responsible for their execution do not read. A plan that tries to cover every conceivable condition or that attempts to address every detail will only frustrate, constrain, and confuse those charged with its implementation. Successful plans are simple and flexible.

Another major pitfall faced by planners is failing to account for the community’s needs, concerns, capabilities, and desire to help. Often, plans are written based on the “average citizen” or mirror image of the planners. However, communities are diverse and comprise a wide variety of people, including those with access and functional needs, those requiring the support of service animals, and those who cannot independently care for themselves, such as children. This also includes diverse racial and ethnic populations and immigrant communities. Failing to base planning on the demographics and requirements of the particular community may lead to false planning assumptions, ineffective courses of action, and inaccurate resource calculations. 

Related to this pitfall is the notion that responders are the only people who can take action. The public often does their work before responders arrive. The community must be engaged in the planning process and included as an integral part of the plan.

Planning is only as good as the information on which it is based. Too often, planners rely on untested assumptions or uncoordinated resources. Planners should ensure that they have adequately validated assumptions and properly coordinated with those agencies/entities that they include in their plan.

Planning needs may be coordinated directly with a required agency/entity via a memorandum of agreement (MOA)/memorandum of understanding (MOU) or by signatory of a designated representative. Planning is not a theoretical process that occurs without an understanding of the community, nor is it a scripting process that tries to prescribe hazard actions and response actions with unjustified precision. Community-based plans provide a starting point for operations, adjusting as the situation dictates and as facts replace planning assumptions.

Chances are your organization or department has encountered one, some or all of these planning pitfalls in developing and maintaining its EOP. And, chances are it’s struggling to find practical and proven workarounds to them. Revisiting CPG 101 might sound elementary, especially to seasoned planners, but it may certainly prove worthwhile.

So may participating in FEMA’s resident, locally presented, and independent study emergency planning courses. There, you can identify applicable authorities and statues; gain insight into community risk perceptions; recognize organization arrangements used in the past; and ascertain Mutual Aid Agreements (MAAs) with other jurisdictions. You can also identify private sector planning that can complement and focus public sector planning; learn how historical planning issues were resolved through After Action Reports (AARs); and perhaps most importantly, discover and fill preparedness gaps.

You, like so many others, may also find it beneficial to seek assistance from knowledgeable, experienced and well-credentialed planning professionals, as they can provide valuable insight and guidance to help you reach your emergency planning goals.

BOLDplanning provides comprehensive consulting services and powerful, online software for the collaborative development of Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs), Continuity of Operations/Government Plans (COOPs/COGs) and Hazard Mitigation Plans (HMPs).

Cyberattacks: A Real and Growing Threat for State & Local Governments

We all live and work in a digital world, and that world is fast becoming an even more dangerous one. Today’s hackers and scammers are smarter, more creative, and more proficient at getting the information, and oftentimes the money, they want. Much of that information, unfortunately, is housed and used by state and local governments, including public school systems. As such, today’s continuity planners must work with their IT departments and others to protect their municipality’s precious data and the people they serve. That means taking cybersecurity into consideration when developing or updating their Operations Plans (COOPs), Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs), and even their All-Hazard Mitigation Plans (HMPs).

Ransomware is a costly threat.
According to experts, ransomware poses one of the greatest risks to municipalities large and small. Ransomware, as the name implies, is a type of malicious software that blocks access to computer systems or data (usually by encrypting it) until the victim pays money, and sometimes a lot of it, to the attacker. A lot of times, the ransom demand comes with a deadline, meaning if the victim doesn’t pay on time, the data is gone, and gone for good.

Just last month (June 2019), the City of Riviera Beach, Florida, agreed to pay $600,000 in ransom to hackers who paralyzed its computer systems. The City of Baltimore, Maryland, and more specifically, its Committee for Public Counsel Services, experienced a similar, but vastly more costly attack back in May 2019. It ended up costing the City roughly $18 million to repair damages.

Other municipalities across the country have felt the sting from ransomware too. Among them are Greenville, North Carolina; Augusta, Maine; Licking County, Ohio (where the police department was targeted in 2017); and Imperial County, California, to name just a few.

If you think such an attack can’t (or won’t) happen to your municipality, think again. Recorded Future, an internet technology company specializing in real-time threat intelligence, identified 53 ransomware attacks against state and local agencies in 2018, up from 38 the year before. As of April, the company had spotted 21 such attacks in 2019. And, that’s just from with the sparse data that’s available nationwide, as ransomware attacks often go unpublicized.

Don’t get caught off guard.
Mitigation and preparedness are key to avoiding, addressing and overcoming a cybersecurity attack. Take the standard precautions of using antivirus/antispyware software; keeping your operating systems and applications current; adopting a formal internet/email policy; and training employees in basic cyber security principles. Also, have a plan of action in place for when and if your municipality falls victim to cyber criminals.

But, don’t just put the plan in writing. Put it to the test. Consider adding a cyber scenario to your next COOP/EOP exercise. It’s a simple and inexpensive way to assess and improve your organization’s cybersecurity preparedness.

With 10,000+ plans under its belt, BOLDplanning Inc. is the preeminent developer of online software for Emergency Operations Planning (EOP), Continuity of Operations/Government Planning (COOP/COG), Business Continuity Planning (BCP) and Hazard Mitigation. The company’s highly credentialed team of experts are also well-versed in facilitating HSEEP-compliant exercises to help ensure organizational preparedness for cyberattacks, natural disasters and other disruptive events.

Does Your Hazard Mitigation Plan Include the Potential Effects of Climate Change?

Climate change. For years, scientists have studied its causes and effects, some warning of its long-term consequences. Today, climate change remains a hot topic (no pun intended) as emergency managers across the country must contend with its commonly associated hazards. Among them are more intense storms, frequent heavy precipitation, heat waves, drought, extreme flooding, and higher sea levels. 

No matter where you stand on the subject of climate change, or where you are on the map, one or more of these hazards most likely poses risk to the state, county, tribal or territorial government you serve.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) believes that regardless of why the climate is changing, emergency managers have to be poised to respond to disasters and support preparedness efforts nationwide. 

A key part of that preparation includes the development of a Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP). These plans, as everyone in the planning community knows, include (at a minimum), 1) a risk assessment, 2) a capability assessment, 3) the mitigation strategy, and 4) plan maintenance procedures. HMPs must be updated every five years, and approved by FEMA, in order for their owners to qualify for certain, pre-disaster federal funding.

In 2015, and as explained by the Council of State Governments, FEMA put in place a requirement that state disaster plans would only be approved (thereby making the state eligible to receive federal funding for pre-disaster mitigation projects designed to build resilience) if they addressed the projected effects of climate change on hazard risks. In other words, whereas earlier states were using historical data to predict risk, the new requirements want states to also consider the probability of future challenges posed by climate change.

Note the key phrase there—if they addressed the projected effects of climate change on hazard risks. That means that HMPs do not need to use the term “climate change,” much less attempt to explain its cause(s). It just means that the plan must include a summary of the probabilities of future hazard events as well as changing future conditions.

Even FEMA removed references to climate change from its own strategic planning document in 2018. Within it, there are no mentions of global warming, sea level rise, extreme weather or any other impact of rising surface temperatures. In fact, the document cites only cybersecurity and terrorism as emerging threats.

Specifically, the document reads: “Disaster costs are expected to continue to increase due to rising natural hazard risk, decaying critical infrastructure, and economic pressures that limit investments in risk resilience. As good stewards of taxpayer dollars, FEMA must ensure that our programs are fiscally sound. Additionally, we will consider new pathways to long-term disaster risk reduction, including increased investments in pre-disaster mitigation.”

There’s no doubt about it, climate change will continue to be studied, and of course, debated, for years to come. The best thing you can do as an emergency planner is to keep your focus on preparedness and resilience, regardless of the hazards, or their possible causes. Follow FEMA’s guidelines on the subject, and write a hazard mitigation plan that specifically addresses the risks and vulnerabilities within your state, county, tribe or territory. Just as important, review the plan on a regular basis and keep its contents current.

 

Want to read more on the subject? Download BOLDplanning’s popular White Paper entitled “Seven Key Reasons You Need a Current and Rock-Solid Hazard Mitigation Plan.” Its contents should prove meaningful as you seek expert guidance on this important topic.

Emergency Operations Planning Kicks Off in Dakota County, MN

Like all counties across “The North Star State,” Dakota County, Minnesota, understands and appreciates the importance of emergency preparedness. As such, it is now working towards the development of a new and improved Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). Just last week (July 15-16, 2019), designated planning managers and key departmental leaders from the County participated in a series of workshops facilitated by Tennessee-based BOLDplanning.

The workshops, which were held in the County seat of Hastings, were led by BOLDplanning representative, Matt Eyer, PMP, CHS-V, CBCP. Also in attendance was company representative (and former Iowa State Patrol Colonel), Mike Van Berkum. Among the many workshop activities, participants verified all previously inputted plan documentation, and identified their emergency operation responsibilities within their respective agency roles and expertise.

Dakota County is the third-most populous county in the State of Minnesota. The EOP’s development is the third such project for BOLDplanning in the Twin Cities Region.

Wildfire Risk Continues, New FEMA Aid Now Available

It was around this same time last year when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) first started talking about its new Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) Post Fire funding assistance. As you may recall, it was offered as an expedited and flexible means for communities to recover and protect themselves from wildfires or other natural disasters. Given the number of fires reported in 2018 (58,083 according to the National Interagency Fire Center), the assistance couldn’t have come at a better time. Now, FEMA has apparently upped its game by making these funds available absent a major disaster declaration. (Typically, HMGP funding is only available following Presidential major disaster declarations.)

The new post fire program is part of the Agency’s implementation of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) of 2018. Section 1204 of the DRRA amended Sections 404 and Section 420 of the Stafford Act, and allows FEMA to provide HMGP Post Fire assistance to any area that received a Fire Management Assistance grant (FMAG) declaration under Section 420 on or after October 5, 2018.  Among the latest to receive an FMAG declaration is the State of Alaska, for the Shovel Creek Fire burning in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

In recent fiscal years, HMGP funds were provided for these post-fire events on a temporary basis; the amended Section 404 (and 420) now permits permanent funding under HMGP.

Per FEMA, the amount of funding available to recipients will be determined by the type of hazard mitigation plan, i.e., standard or enhanced, approved for each state, territory, or tribe, and the number of FMAG declarations recipients receive during a fiscal year (Oct 1-Sept 30). Federally-recognized tribes may apply as recipients if they have burned land from the FMAG-declared event. Project funding is prioritized based on project type and location.

Here are just a few examples of wildfire mitigation project types suggested by FEMA:

  • Defensible space measures: The creation of perimeters around residential and non-residential buildings and structures through the removal or reduction of flammable vegetation.
  • Ignition-resistant construction: The application of non-combustible building envelop assemblies, the use of ignition-resistant materials, and the use of proper retrofit techniques in new and existing structures.
  • Hazardous fuels reduction: Vegetation management to reduce hazardous fuels, vegetation thinning, and the reduction of flammable materials to protect life and property beyond defensible space perimeters but proximate to at-risk structures.

 As evidenced by past events, wildfires pose serious risk to life and property. Take California’s Camp Fire as a worst-case example. It killed 85 people, destroyed nearly 19,000 structures, and left the City of Paradise, California in absolute ruins. But wildfires don’t have to be nearly that large or destructive to wreak havoc and send damage costs soaring.

Losses from wildfires added up to $5.1 billion over the past 10 years according to the Insurance Information Institute, Inc. All the more reason to mitigate, mitigate and mitigate. Take this opportunity to read more about the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Post Fire Program, and how it can benefit your community going forward.

BOLDplanning Addresses Arkansas Governor’s Earthquake Advisory Council (AGEAC)

It’s hard to believe that a year has already passed since BOLDplanning attended the last summer meeting of the Arkansas Governor’s Earthquake Advisory Council (AGEAC). Just yesterday, July 15, 2019, Arkansas native and BOLDplanning representative, Brittney Whatley, CBCP, (pictured) participated in the meeting and delivered a report by the State’s Education Committee. She was joined by BOLDplanning’s Chief Operating Officer, Rick Wimberly.

For those of you aren’t familiar with AGEAC, it was formed by Proclamation in 1984 by then Governor Bill Clinton. The Council was established to allow a wide cross-section of Arkansas citizens to have advisory input to the Arkansas Earthquake Preparedness Program which was institutionalized by Act 247 of 1989. Council members have and will continue to influence their respective areas toward seismic preparedness within the state of Arkansas.

Arkansas is located in the New Madrid Fault Zone (NMFZ), which has a long history of large earthquakes. As such, earthquakes are a major hazard within the State’s All-Hazards Mitigation Plan, developed by BOLDplanning.

As always, the company’s participation in the annual GEAC meeting helps team members stay current on information regarding seismic activity within the State of Arkansas. (Of course, for Whatley, it also gives her the chance to return home where she can spend some quality time with friends and family.)

First Hurricane of 2019 Tests Louisiana’s Resilience Early in the Season

Hurricane winds. Torrential rain. High storm surge. There was a lot of talk about the potential for these things last week as Barry, a tropical storm turned hurricane, strengthened in the Gulf of Mexico and set its sights on Louisiana. Weather experts, emergency management, law enforcement, and even Louisiana’s Governor, believed the storm could be packing a punch, and they wanted everyone to be prepared. After all, Barry was the first hurricane of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, and the fourth one to ever make landfall on the Louisiana coast in the month of July. 

Fortunately, Barry only reached category one status (and then only briefly) as it made landfall near Intercoastal City, Louisiana, on Saturday, July 13, 2019.

That’s not to say that contending with Barry was a snap. It clearly wasn’t. High winds downed power lines and trees, and damaged homes and businesses. Flood waters overtopped levees and made many streets impassable. There were even a few water rescues (by boat and air), and some people had no place to go but local shelters. Still, it could have been worse. A whole lot worse.

Two factors made all the difference for Louisianans. First, there was plenty of advanced warning about the storm so people had ample time to prepare. Some boarded up their homes; others piled sandbags; several stocked up on essentials and braced for the storm’s impact; and many followed mandatory evacuation orders, leaving areas along Louisiana Highway 315 in Terrebonne Parish. Louisiana also declared a state of emergency in advance of Barry’s arrival, ensuring its readiness to respond to a “worst-case” situation. The National Guard was called in, and the State’s Emergency Operations Center was activated.

Second, the storm didn’t wallop the State like everyone anticipated. The hurricane quickly weakened to a tropical storm with sustained winds averaging around 60 mph. Rainfall was heavy, but far less than predicted for most areas. Many were expecting 20-25 inches of rain, but received 10-12 instead. One location reported receiving 17 inches of rain, but it was definitely the exception.  

Now that Barry is long gone, Louisianans should give themselves a pat on the back for a job well done. They heeded the warnings, took the necessary safety precautions, and remained focused throughout the storm (even though it wasn’t nearly what they expected). Today they’re cleaning up and moving on, proving to everyone (yet again) their state’s resilience.

Of course, Louisianans, like all those living along the Gulf Coast, know that the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season is far from over. The season runs through November 30 and usually doesn’t peak until late August/early September. That said, Barry may have been a nuisance but it was a great exercise in preparedness for what may be yet to come.

Download BOLDplanning’s Free Grant Source Guide

Grant funding can be a tedious and confusing process. However, many emergency management agencies rely heavily on grants to support their operations. While some grants are standard fare for EM departments, others may be less obvious.

It’s why we’ve created a new resource entitled Grant Source Guide. This free download highlights numerous grant opportunities preparedness professionals can access to help fund special projects and operating budgets.

Don’t miss out on the funding your agency needs (and deserves). Download this free BOLDplanning resource now.