USCG Erehwon’s New Year’s Resolutions For Disaster Preparedness

Posted:2:05 am EDT
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The elves working at the FAM factory worked long and hard to get their directives out.  The elves know very well that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Nonetheless, they sent an ALDAC to all missions with a reminder to remember disaster preparedness as they start 2016.  There are, afterall, 10 Major Natural Disasters Predicted In The Near Future. If that’s not scary enough, here are the 5 Cities That Will Be Wiped Off the Map by Natural Disasters according to cracked.com.  And just because the world did not end in December 2012 despite the Mayan prediction and the Roland Emmerich movie, doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen, right?

The elves point out in the ALDAC that per FAM 1812, a crisis unready organization is one that:

  • Does not know where it is at risk
  • Does not routinely communicate internally or externally
  • Has not considered how to respond
  • Has not identified key managers
  • Has unclear policy guidance
  • Has no emergency procedures checklists
  • Has an uncertain/unclear media policy and strategy
  • Cannot anticipate
  • Is concerned more with liability than results

The American Consulate General Erehwon is vulnerable to natural disasters like flood, cyclones, heat waves, even droughts.  One year it almost drowned in flood, and was almost washed away another year by a super cyclone. The principal officer was wondering if the elves were talking specifically about his post when he saw the ALDAC.  He had nightmares that employees under his command were swept away by flash floods and he was eaten then spit out by an giant snake like Jon Voight in Anaconda.  Nightmares. And that my friends, is how USCG Erehwon ended up with the following New Year’s Resolutions For Disaster Preparedness this year.

#1.  The EAP is boring but a must-read.  I need to get familiar with post’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP). This year, no kidding. I now recognize that a plan is just an illusion of preparedness in a binder unless accompanied by training and constant practice.  We all need to know the plan and know the drill. As one ambassador once said, “we drilled for asylum seekers, for bomb threats, for anything we could think of.” I guess, we’ve got to do it.  Per 7 FAM 1812.1, my broadest and deepest responsibility is to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens in the event of a crisis. I will make sure that the plan is tested, that regular radio tests are done, and we go through the mission’s telephone tree, even if I have to run the tests myself.

#2. I will no longer skip the Crisis Management Exercise (CME).  Yes, the CME scenarios are occasionally fantastic but an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear meltdown did happen all at the same time at one post. It could happen again elsewhere. Per 7 FAM 1812.1-9, a crisis management exercise at post is an excellent way to test planning and identify problems to address before a crisis hits.  I get that. Really. No, I would not want a Congressional committee asking me on C-SPAN why I missed the crisis management exercise at post.

Debris fills the land in Ofunato, Japan after a tsunami during a search and recovery mission on March 15, 2011. Members of the Los Angeles Search and Rescue Team, Task Force 2 are responding to the recent national emergency in Japan due to the earthquake while providing needed care, rescue techniques and tools.

Debris fills the land in Ofunato, Japan after a tsunami during a search and recovery mission on March 15, 2011. Members of the Los Angeles Search and Rescue Team, Task Force 2 are responding to the recent national emergency in Japan due to the earthquake while providing needed care, rescue techniques and tools. 4th Combat Camera Squadron Photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel St. Pierre Date Taken:03.15.2011 Location:OFUNATO, IWATE, JP

#3. Remember the humans, yes I will. People applying for visas show up whether there’s a flood or a cyclone as long as the consular section is open. Local employees show up as long as the office is open. Per 7 FAM 1812.4-1, while the host government and even other embassy sections may exert pressure to keep visa services open, the protection and welfare of U.S. citizens must always take priority over visa services.  Also postponement of a conference or a dinner party is not/not the end of the world. I will be mindful that local staff supporting a conference or a dinner party have family members to take case of in the event of a crisis or a natural disaster.  When flood water is rising or when the cyclone is roaring, post closure “out of an abundance of caution” actually makes sense.

#4. I will be visible, present and attentive. I will show up for my colleagues, post clients and the community before, during, and after a crisis. I heard that leaders who hide or appear removed from the crisis negate their perceived and expected leadership actions.  I will be there for you next time, and every time after that. I know now that I cannot just show up for a photo-op after a crisis, even if the photo is for DipNote. My colleagues rolled their eyes the last time I did that, and there’s apparently a video of that! So never again!

#5. I will work to improve communication. I was personally distressed at the unfolding calamity. I did not do any town halls though I heard that the RSO did one brief radio announcement.  I know now that my staff needed to hear from me before, during and after the incident. I will endeavor to improve my communication skills to avoid misunderstandings, inaccurate information, and misinterpretations.  One ambassador once used the embassy radio network to brief the staff twice a day during a coup d’état.  After things settled down, staff members expressed their appreciation for these briefings, noting how reassuring it was to know what was going on and, moreover, that someone was at the helm. I will try my best to emulate that.

#6. I will learn to prioritize. I am learning that people are more important than events or things. More important than the blasted dinner reception for the principal officer’s conference. Or that antique china cabinet that needs rescuing from rising flood water. Per 7 FAM 1814.2, a disaster checklist would be helpful to capsulate the plan into a streamlined format that outlines what needs to be done, and in what order.  If there are sacrifices to be made – and there will be – I will step up to the plate first. Yes, everyone will get fuel for their home generators before mine. I promised I will be the last one the support staff will need to worry about in a crisis.

#7 . I will attempt to understand the likely response of the host government. What options are available when ports are closed or when roads are dangerous? What happens if shelter in place is no longer the best scenario? Per 7 FAM 1813.3-1, I will make every effort to learn and understand the response infrastructure the government has in place, get to know the officials who would have primary responsibility for crisis management and identify any predetermined sites the host government plans to use, such as communications centers, emergency shelters, mass feeding areas, etc.  I need to know who can assist post if the unthinkable happens and there are no USG assets to rely on.

#8: I will request mental health services for my staff.  I will make it clear that getting treated for a mental health issue is a sign of strength and responsibility, not weakness, and that my request for a visit from RMO/P is not a “check the box” exercise nor to shield myself from criticisms but in recognition that people handle traumas and crises differently.

9. I will do a debrief. From now on, post will do a lessons learned debriefing exercise and endeavor to share it with others. The exercise will include a collective self-analysis of actions taken and leadership decisions, successes and failures, and perhaps most importantly, what can be made better if the same thing happen again in the future.

#10. I will thank people and show appreciation.  I will learn to show appreciation to everyone who made it possible for post to survive the crisis. I will remember to prepare appropriate awards for staff members, and formal commendations appropriate to persons outside of the mission who provided assistance. I will pat myself on the back but only in private and will not self-nominate myself for any award even if I think I did a most excellent job.

Happy First Week of 2016! If I’m not faithful to these new year’s resolutions, you know what to do!

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