Good Work – Mike Fisher, Bastrop County

30 12 2012

When I hear about Emergency Managers doing good work, I like to recognize them in my blog.  The Austin American-Statesman recently noted that Mike Fisher, Emergency Management Coordinator from Bastrop County, was recognized with the Jack Griesenbeck Leadership in Regionalism Award.  This is an honor awarded annually by the Capital Area Council of Governments.  The Council recognized Fisher with the award for his dedication to wildfire prevention and his commitment to emergency response with a regional approach.

MikeFisher12-12-12The CAPCOP website indicates that Fisher’s “distinguished career includes experience in various crucial capacities with the City of Bastrop and Bastrop County, including a decade of service as the city’s fire chief. In addition, Fisher is a founding member of the Capital Area Wildfire and Incident Management Academy at Camp Swift in Bastrop County. This year marks the 15th continuous offering of the academy, held each October. In September 2011, Fisher served as the local incident commander along with state and federal counterparts to manage the Bastrop County Complex Wildfire.”

“Fisher is currently assigned as deputy team leader of the Capital Area Type 3 Incident Command Team; serves on the state’s Emergency Management Preparedness Grant Advisory Committee; and since 2006 has actively served on CAPCOG’s Homeland Security Task Force, which provides regional coordination and response for major events such as the Bastrop County fires. Among his many honors and awards, Fisher also was named Citizen of the Year by the Bastrop Chamber of Commerce in 2011.”

“The CAPCOG award is named after former Bastrop County Judge Jack Griesenbeck, who served as the agency’s first chair in 1970. Griesenbeck, who  understood the need for collaboration across city and county lines, played a key role in creating the 24-member Texas Association of Regional Councils.”

Many emergency managers across the State of Texas are working on regional approaches to deliver services to citizens in a more effective manner.  It is nice to see Mike Fisher get noticed for his efforts!

Fort Bend County, Fireworks, and Drought

28 12 2012

Just in time for New Year’s Eve, the Texas Forest Service has determined that drought conditions no longer exist in Fort Bend County.  The KBDI Index must be an average of 575 for drough conditions to exist within a TexasFireworks county for the purpose of restricting certain aerial fireworks.  Though the County’s index was nearing 500 just a few weeks ago, it is now at 419.  So aerial fireworks will now be allowed to be used in the unincorporated areas of the County on New Year’s Eve; but remember, most cities have bans on the use of fireworks.  Please check with your local jurisdiction to make sure what the regulations are for use of fireworks.

However, many places in Texas are still facing drought conditions.  Public water systems across the State, and in our area, are taking actions to conserve water usage.  There is a possibility that dry conditions may continue across the State for the next several months.  As a matter of fact, the Gulf Coast Water Authority is attempting to limit the use of water by ten percent.  The Gulf Coast Water Authority provides water to some areas in Fort Bend County.  For more information, the City of Missouri City has issued a Media News Release on the subject (published on December 28, 2012).  The content of the News Release is below:

Missouri City Drought Contingency Implementation

Texas is experiencing widespread drought conditions. Forecasts for early 2013 include below normal rainfall and above normal temperatures. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has issued an Order requiring the implementation of certain water use restrictions, and, as a result, the Gulf Coast Water Authority has set a goal of 10 percent reduction in water use. As a result, effective December 28, 2012, the City of Missouri City has implemented the Stage 2 Response of its Drought Contingency Plan for its Surface Water Treatment Plant Utility Service Area.  This is the area served by Sienna Plantation Municipal Utility Districts. 

The current (time period) water supply reductions and corresponding demand restrictions are temporary in nature; however, the current end date is unknown. 

The City in conjunction with the Gulf Coast Water authority will be monitoring usage and sharing information, and the City will be supplying notice and reports relating to the drought contingency plan to local and state authorities.  

At this time, for residents of Sienna Plantation utility districts, please implement the water conservation measures specified by your utility provider.  Typical water use restrictions include limitations on outdoor watering and at home washing of vehicles.

For more information, please contact your utility provider at the number on your water bill or you may contact the City for additional information at 281-403-8500.

Social Media Accessibility Toolkit: New from Emergency 2.0 Wiki

17 12 2012

idisaster 2.0

Post by: Kim Stephens

One question that inevitably comes up when discussing social media with emergency managers  is the problem of accessibility: Is the content on social media available to everyone in my community? In turn, community members with disabilities want access to content on social networks and want to use these tools during a crisis. Although there are answers about how best to address these concerns, before today, solutions were not in one handy location. That has changed with the launch of the Accessibility Toolkit on the Emergency 2.0 Wiki (full disclosure–I was involved with planning the launch of this site). The wiki is a voluntary initiative of the Gov 2.0 QLD Community of Practice in Australia, launched in December 2011.

The purpose of the toolkit is stated clearly on the site:

The Emergency 2.0 Wiki Accessibility Toolkit was developed to empower people with disabilities to use social media for…

View original post 472 more words

Drones versus Privacy Advocates in California

17 12 2012

I recently posted an item about the use of drones by local municipalities, especially by first responders.  Today, I ran across the article below indicating that some individuals have great concerns about the use of drones by local governments.  The location of this dispute is in Alameda County, California.  As published by the Homeland Security News Wire, December 17, 2012:

Congress earlier this year passed legislation  ordering the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to accelerate the approval of the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for law enforcement and other domestic purposes, and law enforcement agencies around the country are moving to purchase drones. Some months ago  Alameda County sheriff Gregory Ahern said the county would purchase a drone to help with “emergency response.” According to Ahern, Alameda Sheriff’s personnel tested a UAV late last year and gave a public demonstration of the machine’s usefulness for emergency responses during the Urban Shield SWAT competition in late October.

Not everybody is happy with the domestic use of UAVs.  Arstechnica reports that Sheriff Ahern and his staff will have to wait to buy their drone  as the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-Norcal) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have forced the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to pull a last minute agenda item from their meeting earlier this month which would have approved $31,646 in grant money from the California Emergency Management Administration. The ACLU-Norcal and the EFF are accusing Sheriff Ahern of attempting of securing funding for the drone without public scrutiny.

“Public policy shouldn’t be made by stealth attack,” ACLU-Norcal attorney Linda Lye told Arstechnica. Ahern denied trying to hide the purchase of the drone from the the public, and in  an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle claimed the UAV would not be used for blanket surveillance, as feared by opponents.

“This device is used for mission-specific incidents. We strive to gain the public’s trust in everything we do, and I would never do anything of this nature that would destroy the public’s trust beyond repair,” Ahern told the Chronicle. Documents obtained by the EFF say otherwise.

The documents show that sheriff department personnel have other intentions on how they would use the drone. A memo written by Captain Tom Madigan of the County Sheriff’s office in July, say potential uses for the drone include a range of policing uses that are exactly what concerns the ACLU-Norcal and EFF.

The memo reads:  The Alameda County Tactical Commanders were consulted, a regional group of SWAT team commanders throughout the County of Alameda. A UAV would be valuable to assist with barricaded suspects, surveillance (investigative and tactical) perimeters, intelligence gathering, rough terrain, suspicious persons, large crowd control disturbances, etc.

“UAVs have unprecedented capabilities to infringe on our civil liberties,” Trevor Timm, an attorney with the EFF, told Arstechnica. Timm added that drones can be equipped with cameras that can read heat signatures through a building or facial recognition programs.

Before a decision is made, the EFF and ACLU-Norcal want a public discussion to take place over the use of drones as well as a set of guidelines which would protect individual privacy and place limits on how drones can be used in domestic policing. The proposal would then be taken up by the County Board of Supervisors early next year.

The ACLU-Norcal released documents last week showing that the Sheriff’s office began receiving bids for drones from Aeryon, Lockheed Martin, and ING Engineering.

FEMA Awards $1.8 Million for Community Safe Room in Matagorda County

16 12 2012

Congratulations to officials in Matagorda County for securing significant funding to build a community safe room.  FEMA News Release R6-12-164, published on December 12, 2012 announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded $1.8 million to the state of Texas for construction of a community safe room in the city of Bay City in Matagorda County, Texas.

Matagorda CountyFEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) will pay 75 percent of the $2.4 million total cost for the project, which is being built under the Texas Safe Shelter Initiative.

The concrete dome shaped safe room will be 20,000 square feet in size and will provide protection from storms and tornadoes for the people of Matagorda County, including those with access and functional needs, as well as medical special needs.  It will also serve as a wellness center/physical rehabilitation facility for the Matagorda County Hospital District.

The federal share of the funds for the project come from the agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). HMGP provides grants to states, and tribal and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures that reduce the loss of life and property due to natural disasters and to enable mitigation measures to be implemented during the immediate recovery from a disaster.

At the same time of the above announcement, FEMA also noted that funding was awarded to Kleberg County and the City of Brownsville for additional community safe rooms.  All of these community safe room projects involve the local communities participating by paying for 25% of the each project.  All projects serve dual needs for the community so the shelters will be used on a daily basis as well as during emergencies.

FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

Humor – Drones and Santa Claus

15 12 2012

Santa Drone Humor

Are Drones a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

12 12 2012

The following article was first published in Governing magazine, and then later in Emergency Management magazine.  Written by Eli Richman, and published by Emergency Management on November 30, 2012, the article provides an overview of the use of drones by emergency responders in the United States.  It is becoming apparent that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, can assist law enforcement agencies in a variety of activities.  As pointed out in the article, perhaps it could be helpful in finding a lost hiker in a national forest.  Closer to home, perhaps a drone could have been used a few years ago when local responders attempted to find a missing kayaker lost on a stream in Fort Bend County?

Drone owned by Montgomery County TexasFire first responders could use such a tool also; perhaps for getting a birds-eye view of a hazardous materials incident or major fire.  Think about how valuable the use of such equipment might be as hundreds of responders attempt to fight a raging wildfire in close proximity to a subdivision.  Emergency managers could use an unmanned aerial vehicle for conducting damage assessments after a hurricane.  It would seem to be an efficient way of getting needed information without putting responder lives at risk.  As a matter of fact, it has recently become known that NASA is readying a couple of experimental UAVs to track future storms.  Why?  To assist communities in preparing for the storms.  

For more information on NASA’s use of drones:

But, the use of drones is not without controversy.  Many individuals have privacy concerns, thinking that use of such equipment is confirmation that “Big Brother” lives and is trying to gain personal information from innocent citizens.  In addition, some politicians have indicated that the purchase of drones with homeland security monies is a suspect expenditure.  Hopefully, any legislation related to government’s use of drone technology will incorporate logical regulations that will still allow first responders to use UAVs for saving lives, arresting criminals, and assisting responders to extinguish fires.

No jurisdiction within Fort Bend County owns a drone.  As you will note in Mr. Richman’s article, Montgomery County does have a drone in their equipment inventory.  What does Fort Bend County do when we need to get a birds-eye view?  Probably, the first request would be to the Houston Police Department; we would request for assistance from one of Houston’s police helicopters.  Another possibility, would be utilizing the Civil Air Patrol (CAP); today, Texas has 3500 volunteer members who are active in Civil Air Patrol.  CAP is an outstanding resource for conducting inland search and rescue missions.  And, of course, contacting Montgomery County, and requesting mutual aid assistance would be another option.  Over the last several years, counties in the Houston area collaborate closely in matters of emergency response.

So, to give you an overview of this topic, please read the attached article.  It provides a balanced viewpoint on the issue of using drones.  If you have any thoughts on the subject, please feel free to make a comment on the blog site.


Drones:  The Future of Law Enforcement?

Eli Richman

Law enforcement officials say that’s not their intention, and they couldn’t use drones that way even if they wanted to. “We did not obtain this for the purpose of surveillance,” says McDaniel. “Our ShadowHawk’s maximum aloft time is only two hours and 20 minutes, and you would never fly it for that length of time to begin with.” FAA regulations prohibit drones from flying higher than 400 feet, and they require that drones remain in line of sight of the user. In other words, says McDaniel, if a drone’s around, you’ll know it. “It’s not like its 30,000 feet up in the air and you can’t see it and you can’t hear it. It’s going to be visible to the naked eye, and you’re certainly going to hear it.”

Current drone technology may not lend itself to stealth surveillance, but that’s why privacy legislation should be passed now, before it becomes a problem, say advocates. “While drones are new and novel and everybody’s worried about the privacy issue,” says Stanley, “we need to put in place some farseeing rules and protections that will cover every possible evolution of this technology.”

So far, no state has passed legislation regulating drones, although New Jersey took a preliminary step in June by introducing a bill that outlined warrant procedures for law enforcement’s use of drones. In August, the International Association of Chiefs of Police adopted guidelines for the use of unmanned aircraft. The guidelines call for transparency in how the vehicles are used, and say that any images captured by aerial drones and retained by police should be open to the public. In cases where drones might collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing, or if they will intrude on reasonable expectations of privacy, guidelines suggest police should obtain a prior search warrant. Those instructions aren’t binding, but they’re a good start, privacy advocates say.

At the federal level, the ACLU has recommended that government use of drones be banned except in very specific cases. One piece of legislation has been introduced in Congress by Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, which would ban domestic governmental drone use except in patrolling the border or in high-risk security situations. The bill currently lacks bipartisan support. While the ACLU says the bill isn’t perfect, its legislative counsel Chris Calabrese says the bill is “starting in the right place, and we’re going to work with him as he moves forward.”

In addition to questions about privacy, another concern is drones’ security. First, there’s the immediate worry that comes from allowing individually operated aircraft in domestic airspace, particularly in a post-9/11 world. That concern was borne out last year, when a man in Massachusetts was thwarted after attempting to equip several drones with C4 explosives and fly them into the Capitol and Pentagon. Second, civilian drones can be hacked, or “spoofed,” by a counterfeit GPS signal. (Unlike military GPS signals, civilian signals are not encrypted.) The spoofed drone thinks it’s in a different place, allowing the hacker to take rudimentary control of it. In a demonstration in June, the University of Texas’ Humphreys led a team of researchers who successfully hacked into one drone’s navigation system.

Regulating this type of vehicle typically would fall under the purview of Homeland Security, but that department has so far declined to regulate the UAV industry. That’s a major problem, says Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management. “I find this to be a bit of a ‘nobody’s minding the store’ type scenario,” McCaul says. “No federal agency’s willing to step up to the plate, and when you have the [Government Accountability Office] saying the DHS needs to do it, I tend to agree with them.” Without regulation at the federal level, security oversight could fall to individual states.

For his part, Humphreys says he’s not overly worried about drone security. Spoofing a UAV requires a high level of expertise and very expensive software. But as with the privacy issues, it’s an issue that almost certainly will be exacerbated as technology advances. “What my nightmare scenario would be,” he says, “is looking forward three or four years, where we have now adopted the UAVs into the national airspace without addressing this problem. Now the problem is scaling up, so that we have more heavy UAVs, more capable UAVs and yet this particular vulnerability isn’t addressed.”

There’s no question that unmanned aerial vehicles could forever change crime fighting, disaster response and a host of other functions. Given the push from the federal government, it seems inevitable that drones will increasingly be a part of police assets around the country. But it’s important to address concerns over privacy and security now, says Humphreys. “Let’s let it go ahead,” he says. “But let’s be vigilant.”