What is an Emergency Manager?

15 03 2016

Headline in The New York Times:  “Anger in Michigan Over Appointing Emergency Managers”

Headline in The Nation:  “The Scandal of Michigan’s Emergency Managers”

Headline in the Arizona Daily Star:  “Problems in Michigan show rift over emergency managers”


Clearly, the headlines listed above are disturbing.  As a certified emergency manager, my interest naturally piques when I come across a headline which indicates that there might be problems with my profession which is focused on disaster management.  What the heck is going on in Michigan?  Why are people angry with the Emergency Managers? What rifts have been created?  The fact that events have caused such questions to be raised is of concern to both me and the others I know that work in the field of emergency management.

They seem like strange questions.  Why?  Well, because the “emergency managers’ that I know are dedicated public servants who are focused on saving lives, preventing injuries, and protecting property when a disaster occurs.  These individuals are busy making plans, organizing resources, and analyzing data all in an effort to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from effects of all types of hazards.  Perhaps getting organizations and citizens prepared for the hurricane season which begins on June 1st.  Perhaps sending out warning and alerts when a river is outside its banks and threatens a community.  Perhaps working with federal disaster aid workers who arrive in a community where a tornado has touched down causing loss of life and damages to homes and businesses.

A group of protesters carry signs against an emergency financial manager being appointed to the city of Detroit as they protest outside a private club where Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was scheduled to speak in downtown Detroit, Michigan March 8, 2013. Snyder declared that the city faces a fiscal emergency which virtually assures that the state of Michigan will assume control of Detroit's books and eventually decide whether the city should file the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. REUTERS/ Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS CIVIL UNREST)

A group of protesters carry signs against an emergency financial manager being appointed to the city of Detroit as they protest outside a private club where Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was scheduled to speak in downtown Detroit, Michigan March 8, 2013. Snyder declared that the city faces a fiscal emergency which virtually assures that the state of Michigan will assume control of Detroit’s books and eventually decide whether the city should file the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. REUTERS/ Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS CIVIL UNREST)

Usually citizens do not get “angry” about the work of emergency managers— but they seem to do so in Michigan?  It made me wonder why that could be.  Well, the answer is actually quite simple—- though Michigan does have its share of “disaster emergency managers,” they also have other positions, created by the State Legislature, that focus on “emergency financial managers.”  These “emergency financial managers” do not necessarily focus on disasters of all types (e.g. hurricanes, public health, etc…); instead they are individuals appointed by the Governor of Michigan to take control of a local governments facing a financial emergency. Sometimes they are even appointed to take control of public schools.

More than twenty times a Governor has appointed a manager to supplant a governing body or a chief executive officer to fix a financial problem.  After being appointed, these “emergency financial managers” have the authority to remove any of the governing body’s elected officials if they are not providing adequate assistance.  These managers are empowered to take total control of the finances of the agency, including having the ability to reduce pay, use private contractors, reorganize agency departments, and modify employee contracts.   They undoubtedly have tough jobs to do and obviously limited resources to do those jobs.  But, also, these emergency managers are often “outsiders” who are taking charge over and above the sentiments of the local populations and elected officials.  So, now I get it.  Now the headlines above make some sense—– I can clearly envision individuals who have “all the financial power” making citizens angry and causing rifts in a community.

The problem is that in Michigan, these individuals are simply called “Emergency Managers.”  That is misleading and confusing in many ways.  The headlines make sense to me now—- but I have a long background in municipal government working as both a city manager and an emergency manager (or should I specifically state a “disaster” emergency manager).  And I spent the time to investigate what is actually going on in Michigan.

But for the average citizen perusing the Internet, or who may still read a newspaper, they do not know there are two type of “emergency managers.”  They are not going to investigate the differences and they are going to assume that all “emergency managers” are the same because the moniker is the same—- even though the duties of the two types are not remotely the same.  And presently, you are probably hearing the term used many times in reference to the Flint, Michigan contaminated water emergency.

In a news release issued today, the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), believes “there is serious confusion and misunderstanding of the use of the term “emergency manager” in the press and public related to the Flint water situation,” as well as previous use of “emergency managers” in places like Detroit, Pontiac, and Benton Harbor, just to name a few locations.  So, what is the problem?

IAEM logoRobie Robinson, President of IAEM, takes a stab at answering that particular question in the news release.  He states that “the use of the term ’emergency manager’ to describe these appointed financial managers in Michigan has generated an incredible amount of dangerous confusion for the public, especially since the Flint issue has now become a national story.  Dedicated emergency managers across the country now are being forced to address questions that underline a misguided sense of concern about the role of an emergency manager.”  And, of course, Mr. Robinson is referring to the “disaster-type” of emergency manager.

“Unfortunately, an impression is beginning to take shape that emergency managers exist to cut budgets and reduce costs at the expense of the community safety and security,” Robinson noted, when indeed the exact opposite is true.”  As described above in this blog entry, the emergency managers most familiar in communities across the country, and including more than 4,200 professional emergency managers in the United States, do not act in a manner as a financial experts with immense powers to rein in the spending habits of a community.  Instead, most emergency managers work daily to collaborate with the community—- public safety agencies, non-profit organizations, the private sector, the media, in essence the “whole community,” in an effort to support disaster response and recovery efforts and build relationships to keep the community safe both on a daily basis; and in times of disaster.  And most importantly, they are not outsiders, they are members of the communities who build trust with those they serve.

“One thing must be made absolutely clear: the term ‘emergency manager’ in the Flint, Michigan, situation refers to a fiscal-­‐only function that bears no relationship to the term as it is commonly and universally used on national and an international basis,” states Robinson. “In the context of the Flint situation, emergency managers are actually municipal ‘emergency financial managers’ (EFMs) established by the Michigan legislature and appointed by the governor to oversee jurisdictions in Michigan that are threatened with financial insolvency.”

One last point I would like to make is that this confusion never really had to happen.  In Michigan, when this emergency manager position was created by Public Act 101 of 1988 (and as amended by Public Act 72 of 1990), the term used was actually “Emergency Financial Manager.”  But, as I understand the history, Public Act 72 was replaced by Public Act 4 of 2011, which RENAMED the position to emergency manager.

So the solution seems relatively simple—-let’s go back to the name of Emergency Financial Manager, or EFT, as was initially legislated in the early 1990s.  As stated in its news release today, “IAEM urges all media, members of government, and other leaders to educate the public, and help clarify that, in Michigan, an individual who is appointed to oversee a governmental body or jurisdiction because it is threatened with financial insolvency is not an ’emergency manager,’ but rather an ’emergency financial manager.’”

 

 

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City Fire & Rescue Services Improves ISO Rating to Highest Level

15 02 2016

Below, please find information from a News Release issued by the City of Missouri City today:

Earlier this month, Missouri City was notified by the Insurance Services Office (ISO) that effective Aug. 1, 2016, it will have a Public Protection Class rating of 1/1Y, the highest rating awarded by ISO. Currently, only 26 cities in Texas and 97 cities nationwide have achieved a Class 1 rating, a prestigious group that Missouri City will soon join thanks to the many staff members, elected officials and stakeholder partners that assisted in improving public safety needs for the “Show Me City”.

ISO’s Public Protection Classification Program (PPC) plays an important role in the underwriting process at insurance companies. Most U.S. insurers use the PPC information as part of their decision making when deciding what businesses to underwrite, coverages to offer or prices to charge for residential or commercial property insurance. Communities that improve their PPC rating may get lower insurance premiums.

“Receiving an ISO Class 1 is a huge achievement for a Fire Department. In the fire service world, it is a very high honor to have this designation,” Fire Chief Russell Sander said. “An ISO Class 1 public protection rating is the highest a fire department and community can receive. We are proud to join the ranks of other local, state and nationwide municipalities who have achieved a similar rating. ”

Missouri City & Rescue Services Chief Russell Sander poses in front of Fire Station 5

Missouri City & Rescue Services Chief Russell Sander poses in front of Fire Station 5

Missouri City’s Fire & Rescue Services Department put a plan in action after it received its most recent ISO rating in 2006, which at the time was an ISO Class 3 Public Protection Rating. The Department’s multi-year plan included enacting the Quint concept, improving and increasing the training of firefighters, and improving the fire education and prevention activities, such as adopting the 2015 Fire Code.

In 2014, the department had a contractor evaluate the City’s status and suggest improvements before the actual grading process began in 2015. ISO rates communities periodically based on the last PPC score. Improvements were made based on this study that were within the budgetary limits.

“The opening of Fire Station 5 was also crucial to helping the City achieve the ISO rating and ensured that residents in our ETJ received the same rating,” Chief Sander said. “Additionally, the operation of the squad full-time provided additional staff on duty. It also reduced the calls the Quint responded to out of station 1, leaving it available for fire calls.”

Property owners within five miles of a fire station and 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant could save a possible 9 percent on residential buildings and 4 percent on commercial properties. A Class 1 also assists as an economic development tool. Missouri City’s Class 1 rating will go into effect on Aug. 1, 2016 and, afterward, residents will be able to ask their insurance providers how the new rating may impact premiums.

ISO evaluates a community’s Fire Department’s response capabilities, training, and equipment. It also evaluates the 911 dispatch center’s ability to handle emergency calls. Municipal water systems are also evaluated.

More information on the program can be found on the Texas State Fire Marshal website: http://www.tdi.texas.gov/fire/fmppcfaq.html.

For more information about Missouri City, please watch the City website: http://www.missouricitytx.gov, like us on Facebook—fb/MissouriCityTX, follow us on Twitter and Instagram—@MissouriCityTX and watch Missouri City Television (Ch. 16 on Comcast and Ch. 99 on AT&T U-verse).





Brace Yourself for Fall and Winter Rainfall

19 10 2015

In its Fall 2015 Newsletter, the Brazos River Authority published an article indicating that those of us who reside in the Brazos River watershed, and that includes Fort Bend County, should be aware that we could experience more rainfall than normal this year.  The article is below:

A record-setting El Niño has the potential to deluge Texas with wet weather during the late fall and winter months, which could top off Brazos basin reservoir levels that have been dropping due to returning drought conditions. But the same weather phenomenon could also bring too much of a good thing, with potential flood conditions also a possibility in upcoming months.

The National Weather Service Fort Worth Office’s Climate Prediction Center projects that the El Niño conditions will continue into the spring.

What is El Niño? It is a weather pattern which begins in the Pacific Ocean and results in changing wind patterns and water temperatures. These weather patterns don’t just stay in that area, but move to other places, and affect the weather in the United States.

Climate experts say the current El Niño pattern is one of the largest ever observed, and El Niño is expected to get stronger in the coming months.

What will the impact be for the Brazos Basin?

The Pacific Jet Stream is expected to bring wetter conditions than usual to North and Central Texas, along with cooler winter temperatures. Interestingly, the NWS reports that outbreaks of extreme cold weather are actually less likely during strong El Niño winters, with fewer days of freezing temperatures. So while the weather may be cooler, extremes are less likely.

It is the increased cloud cover and precipitation that should result in lower than usual daytime high temperatures.

Texas experienced a wetter than usual spring this year, but the heat and dry weather of July and August allowed the drought conditions to return to the Brazos basin and other parts of the state.

If El Niño brings significant rainfall, as expected, it will end the ongoing “flash drought.” A flash drought is one that develops quickly but does not last long. Also, because the wetter weather is expected through much of the 2016 spring, that could prevent or delay drought conditions from returning later next year.

Flooding is always a concern, and can occur even during periods of drought, the NWS reports. During a prolonged wet period, however, the likelihood of flooding greatly increases because of saturated soil.

This past spring, the rainfall filled depleted reservoirs. This fall and winter, with most reservoirs remaining close to full, “the runoff from heavy multiple rain events would likely surge lake levels back into their flood pools,” the NWS warns.

Since data has been collected on El Niño patterns, there are El Niño events that can be classified as strong, and only two of these (1991-92 and 1997-98) were extraordinarily wet. However, those two seasons did not have much freezing precipitation. Two years that did have more freezing precipitation than normal were the 1965-66 and 1972-73 seasons, which interestingly, did not have higher precipitation levels overall.

State climatologist’s forecast

State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said that we can’t predict with certainly what this El Niño season will bring, but we can be pretty sure of some wet weather.

“Most El Niño events produce above normal rain across Texas, especially from late fall to early spring,” he said. “But the two strongest El Niño events in history were associated with near-normal to slightly below-normal rainfall in Texas. It may be that there’s a sweet spot for El Niño and Texas rainfall, and the strongest El Niño events overshoot the mark. The fourth-strongest El Niño (since 1895) was the 1991-1992 El Niño that helped produce extensive flooding along the Brazos River in December 1991. About the only thing that seems possible to rule out at this stage is the possibility of being substantially drier than normal over the next nine months,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

“Because Texas is near the southern edge of the jet stream on average, storminess increases during El Niño and decreases during La Niña. In general, the chances of wet weather in the winter increase across the southern United States and decrease a bit in the northern United States. Temperatures in the southern United States tend to be a bit cooler than normal during El Niño, and warmer than normal in the northern United States.”

How certain is the impact of an El Niño pattern?

“In some places the effect is more reliable than others,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “In Texas the effect is especially reliable, but even so, it only accounts for about a third of the year-to-year weather variations we experience. Since 1950, Texas as a whole has never had a November through March significantly drier than normal during an El Niño.

“An El Niño winter is typically cold, wet, and cloudy. The best overall adjective would be ‘yucky.’ But think of all the food that’s going to be grown next spring that will have a good solid start thanks to the wet weather over the winter.”

Brazos basin status and forecast

Despite a hot and dry summer that lingered into early fall, the unusually rainy spring resulted in full reservoirs in the Brazos basin. While reservoir levels have declined some as a result of the recent hot, dry conditions, they are still “in pretty good shape,” said Brad Brunett, water services manager for the BRA.

“Reservoirs typically lag behind the onset and ending of drought conditions,” he said. “Following a wet period when lakes fill up, it may take several months of dry weather before the effects are seen in lake levels starting back down. Toward the end of a drought when rainfall starts increasing, it takes a while before enough runoff is generated to start positively impacting lake levels. Because of the rain earlier this year, we’re in good shape heading into fall, and that should be the case heading into next summer, too.”

If El Niño brings heavy rains, what will that mean for the basin?

“If we experience higher than normal rainfalls, there’s a good chance we’ll have to pass more flood water through BRA reservoirs, and the (US Army Corps of Engineers) reservoirs may be up in the flood pools again,” Brunett said.

“The good news is that we should be in great shape as far as water supply heading into the summer months.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Rains from Tropical Storm Joaquin Did Not Stop All Outdoor Activities on East Coast

6 10 2015

Tomb of Unknown Soldier





Fort Bend Ramps Builds Richmond Resident a New Porch and Ramp

3 10 2015

Article about good folks doing good works in Fort Bend County.  This article was written by Katie Stamy, and published in the Fort Bend Herald on September 24, 2015.

Linda Marin, 52, of Fort Bend County suffered from a stroke several years ago, paralyzing her left side and keeping her from doing what she loves most, spending time outdoors. Marin’s stroke left her homebound. The only way she could go anywhere was with the assistance of her husband, Romera Marin.

That was until Saturday when Fort Bend Ramps built Linda a ramp outside of her Richmond home and Pecan Grove residents presented her with a motorized wheelchair. Sixteen volunteers attended to help with the construction on Saturday and were able to rebuild the family’s porch as well as construct a new ramp in eight hours. Shereen Sampson, a Pecan Grove resident heard of Marin’s situation, posted on the Pecan Grove Facebook page, and was able to raise $600 for the woman. With the money raised, the motorized wheelchair was purchased and the remaining $225 was donated to the family.

Fort Bend Ramps

Mike Funderburke with Fort Bend Ramps, Richard Hyde with Fort Bend Ramps, Robert Gully (seated) from Pecan Grove, Mike Speck with Fort Bend Ramps, Lawrence Jackson from with Fort Bend Ramps, Carson Speck with Fort Bend Ramps, Shereen Sampson from Pecan Grove, David Davenport with Fort Bend Ramps, Christie Glaser from Pecan Grove, Walter Armatys with Fort Bend Ramps, Carrie Brown from Pecan Grove, Reesa Ramos from Pecan Grove, Ron Glaser from Pecan Grove, and Randy Shulze, with Fort Bend Ramps, assisted in the building of the new ramp for Linda Marin. Photo by Shereen Sample

According to Sampson, the smile on Linda and her family’s face was the most beautiful gift. “Part of what made this so great for the whole family was that (Romera) was having to bring (Linda) up and down the stairs,” said Sampson. “It got to the point that she didn’t want to leave at all.” Lazarus, the 13-year-old son of Linda and Romero, spent Saturday helping the team build the porch and ramp along side his father and grandfather, said Sampson.

For lunch, residents provided the builders with lunch including burgers, chicken, casseroles and cookies to show their appreciation.
The team began at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday and finished at 4 p.m. “Fort Bend Ramps has it down to a science,” said Sampson in regards to the construction. “It was tremendous to watch them work. They have so many people, they have their own generator, and no mistakes were made.

“They normally just build a ramp but the porch was so unstable that they did that as well.” Carrie Dannemann Brown, Pecan Grove resident, also brought the family lawn chairs to have on their new porch. “(Linda) loves to be outside, that is one thing she talked about many times,” said Sampson. “That’s why this was so needed. She can go outside by herself now.”

“I think a lot of people assume that social workers are able to help every single person in need, but that is not the case,” she added. “I think there are so many other people in need that we need to keep our eyes and ears open for so we can help.”





This Day in Texas Disaster History – September 24th

24 09 2015

Ten years ago, Hurricane Rita crashed ashore in Southeast Texas.  Hitting Texas just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, many do not remember this storm.  However, it was a big storm which caused immense damage and about 150 deaths.  Here is an article that was published yesterday in the USA Today.  The article was written by Alan Gomez.  As the article notes, many lessons were learned from the disaster.  And the lessons were learned.  The State of Texas and its jurisdictions did indeed learn from Hurricane Rita.  The response to citizens in Texas was much improved three years later when Hurricane Ike hit near Galveston.  Here is the article:

Many who live along the Gulf of Mexico refer to Rita as the “forgotten hurricane.”

Hitting the U.S. just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, most Americans paid little attention to Rita, which made landfall Sept. 24, 2005, in a far less populated area along the Texas-Louisiana border. Where Katrina left more than 1,800 dead, Rita killed fewer than 150.

But for emergency managers, Rita was almost more important in terms of the lessons learned following the disaster. In the 10 years since Rita struck as a Category 3 hurricane, Texas emergency management officials have redesigned their evacuation plans, local leaders have started building new shelters and Louisiana legislators have updated their antiquated building codes.

“A major lesson? I would say so,” said Ryan Bourriaque, a lifelong resident of Cameron Parish in southwestern Louisiana who now serves as the parish administrator.

The biggest change came in the way large cities evacuate.

As it approached the coast, Rita’s forecast changed daily. The storm was first expected to strike southern Texas, then the massive Houston metropolitan area before actually making landfall close to the Louisiana border. That meant cities from Brownsville to Corpus Christi to Houston were sending their residents fleeing to points further inland, with 3 million people hitting the road at nearly the same time.

That led to agonizing traffic jams where people waited more than a dozen hours to travel just a few miles. Cars that ran out of gas were stranded by the dozens, several died from heat stroke and a van carrying nursing home evacuees exploded, killing 23 patients.

Madhu Beriwal, founder and president of the disaster management consulting firm IEM, said Texas officials were simply not ready for the size of the evacuation. As the storm approached, they ordered phased evacuations to get people out in manageable groups, and they implemented “contra-flow” traffic on highways, meaning all lanes are used to evacuate people in one direction. The problem, Beriwal said, is the state started those plans far too late, leaving a mess on the roads.

“You have to commend them for trying, but there were some problems with trying to do that in the midst of an evacuation,” she said. “It wasn’t successful because that’s a very complicated thing.”

The state responded by preparing plans for future evacuations and, in 2007, creating the Texas Statewide Mutual Aid System to allow local governments to help each other more easily. Now, all cities have evacuation plans and timelines for when to order them. The state has improved its communication with local officials to coordinate the entire system.

Greg Fountain, the emergency management coordinator for Jefferson County, Texas, said that plan includes contracts with fuel distributors and gas stations to ensure that there’s gas available along evacuation routes. He said those new plans were put to the test when Hurricane Ike tore through the same region in 2008. That time, Fountain said traffic moved through the evacuation routes more smoothly and there was plenty of fuel for evacuees.

“Three years later comes Ike and the plans were fantastic,” Fountain said.

Photo: Paul Sancya, AP

Photo: Paul Sancya, AP

Rita also led to other changes throughout the region. Cameron County, Texas, is the southernmost county in the state, but it was in the storm’s path at one point. Given that experience, Tom Hushen, the county emergency management coordinator, said the county began building new, domed shelters to withstand hurricane-force winds.

The county also has contracts with construction firms that can bring heavy equipment, debris-removal operations, companies that provide emergency food and water and others that provide portable bathrooms.

In Louisiana, Rita helped usher in a new era of building codes. Most of the homes in Cameron County, La., a coastal community with just 6,700 people, had been around for generations when the storm tore through. Bourriaque said many of the residents who lost their homes were upset that the Louisiana legislature implemented new building codes that included requirements to elevate homes built in flood zones.

“The feeling was, ‘We’re trying to survive and you’re telling me I can’t build my house back that’s been in the family for six generations?'” he said. “That’s $275,000 for a house that could be built on the ground for $75,000.”

But Bourriaque said Hurricane Ike showed how valuable those new codes were. During Rita, 50% of the county’s homes were destroyed or so badly damaged that they couldn’t be salvaged.

“The homes that were built post-Rita to the elevation standards survived Ike and were minimally impacted,” he said. “Not even losing siding or shingles.”

Despite all the work to improve responses to hurricanes following Rita, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said not enough localities have taken heed.

Fugate said FEMA, the National Hurricane Center and the Army Corps of Engineers work together to constantly update risk assessments for every coastal city from Texas to Maine. They run models to show local officials how to organize their evacuations and provide different strategies to conduct them effectively. He said some communities, like those around Norfolk, Va., have worked hard in recent years to update their plans. The rest?

“Some have done more than others,” he said.





Bretagne: The Last Known Living Search and Rescue Dog Who Worked at Ground Zero

20 09 2015

As members of Texas Task Force 1, Bretagne and her mom/handler Denise Corliss had an intense first deployment They joined nearly 100 other search and rescue dogs to find and save people trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11. They’ve had an unshakable bond ever since.

After hearing Bretagne’s story and learning that her 16th birthday was coming up, there was no question in our minds that she deserved a Dog’s Best Day for the ages.

To celebrate her birthday and thank her for her incredible service, we were honored to team up with the dog-lovers at 1 Hotels to bring this New York City hero and her mom back to the city for the ultimate Dog’s Best Day.