EP 29 The Maria Effect from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness with Jeff Schlegelmilch

The Maria Effect from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness with Jeff Schlegelmilch

EP 29 The Maria Effect from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness with Jeff Schlegelmilch

Today, I have with me Jeff Schleglmilch, from Columbia University. And he’s gonna talk a little bit about what he does down there with the research they’re doing, with emergency management and disaster response. And I’m excited about hearing about what they did down in Texas with their research and reviews, and everything, how it went. Jeff, welcome to EM Weekly.

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Hey, thanks for having me.

[TODD DEVOE] Tell me a little quick history about yourself and what you guys do at Columbia.

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Sure. So, my background is I started in the field of public health preparedness. I was working on my Master’s in public health at the time, after 9/11, you know, when funding was at its peak, in 2003, 2004. I did an internship for the city of Boston and turned that into a full-time job as a planner, and later also an epidemiologist, doing a lot of bioterrorism planning, infectious disease planning, working for the city. And then eventually, moved over to the Yale-New Haven Health System, which has some inward facing preparedness stuff. And then also, kind of an (inaudible) consulting environment, so I got to work with groups all around the country. And then, ultimately, found me at Columbia University, at their National Center for Disaster Preparedness, we’re based at the Earth Institute there. And I think what really attracted me to that is that it has a very strong foundation in research and in, you know, those academic principles of having a strong evidence base. But we’re very very impact-oriented. And so, we are always looking to, not the only sort of capture and understand the best of research that’s out there on disaster preparedness, but we want to see that it’s applied and that it’s applied to contemporary issues in disaster policy, at the national level, at the local level; and also, in the fields of practice, whether it’s information management, education, and training, exercises, coalition development. But how do we translate what we learn in the science into tools that folks can use every day?

[TODD DEVOE] That’s kind of cool stuff right there. Now, are you guys doing different things, than say, Delaware is doing or Colorado?

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Yeah. And you know, those are both also great institutions. I recently got back from a conference I was hosting, out in Colorado with, I should say, a meeting. The National Hazards Conference, it was a meeting of the disaster academic centers with the leadership, came together and it’s amazing. You know you used to be able to count on one hand the number of centers, now there are literally dozens out there, focused on this. And everyone takes kind of a different slice at this, really based on the people who are there and frankly, the funding that they have access to and what they are supposed to do with that funding. So, I think in a lot of ways, as a part of the disaster research community, we are sort of cut from the same DNA. I think along the continuum of research and the policy and practice, we are very, very impact-oriented. And some other centers tend to populate the research a lot of more and sort of have… have larger research teams than others. But certainly, certainly, from the same spectrum on the color wheel, I guess.

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[TODD DEVOE] When I first started in my academic journey, the only people that were doing any kind of research – and it’s from the Sociology department – was Delaware. And you see the change here, in the different departments and different focuses. So, I think that’s… and I’m an (inaudible), just so everybody out there… obviously, I’m a guy that runs an emergency preparedness podcast, right? So, I’m an (inaudible). So, I love to see this stuff grow. And as a professor, myself, that I teach, I really love the fact that there are more places for students to go and get information and good research. So, thank you guys for putting that together.

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Sure, sure, absolutely. And like I said, it’s great, as you mentioned, that there are so many other people getting engaged with this, so many other programs. I mean, Delaware really wrote the book on the stuff they were doing before it was cool, made it cool, but post-9/11, there’s more funding, as more and more disasters have hit, and folks from other fields have come together. I think a lot of other centers have grown into this and really just formed great partnerships across different divides. So, it’s a very exciting time to be doing this work with the level of community that’s being built around, both within the profession and beyond.

[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, one of the things that I’m doing is, I’m writing a lot more. And I’ve written an article based upon what emergency management is, versus leadership, versus management, versus… you know, what exactly do they do. And I’m writing a piece right now that I’m focusing on, kind of, where does emergency management fit in the role. What exactly do they do during a disaster. And I just kind of want to hear your opinion on that. Now, going back to the history, right? We started off as a nuclear type of thing, right? With civil defense, then FEMA got formed in the 70’s by Jimmy Carter. We still had a nuclear nexus. And then they kind of said: “Ok, yeah, now let’s have those guys of FEMA do emergency response for disasters.” And it kind of went stagnant – for lack of a better term – for a long time. And then 9/11 comes and we see now, this new approach. So, can you sort of take me through that history and how we’ve grown, and where we are? And where are we? Are we in our teens now? Are we in our 20’s? Where… you know, in the human lifespan, where are we sitting as emergency managers today?

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Yeah, you know, I’d say maybe we’re on our late 20’s, early 30’s. Like, starting to figure some things out. You know you bring up a good point. I mean, the history of this is so important that you know, born out of the civil defense days, and sort of some community engagement, and the civil defense era, and a lot of plans and procedures around the nuclear threat. And then we get into the creation of FEMA, and sort of trying to centralize of that, with continuity of government planning and things like that, and then getting into kind of the modern era with hurricane Andrew and a lot of these other responses that really made us stretch our thinking and really involve from more of a command and control to really coordinating across the resources of the government and what does that means? And what kind of leadership does that require? But the post 9/11 world has really… again, it’s one of those milestones that has changed emergency management. It’s real, particularly at the state and local level has professionalized it. And it’s not… I don’t mean to be condescending to anyone who was in this world beforehand, but beforehand, a lot of times, there was just not a lot of funding available. This was something that was an off-shoot of a public safety agency, something maybe in the fire, or police, or EMS. And it was maybe staffed by a part-time person. It was really in post 9/11 that it actually became a career path for emergency management. Particularly, outside of the federal level; a lot of funding came into it, a lot of resources came into it. And a lot more research was being applied to a lot of different ways on this. So, it looks very, very different now, as an industry post-9/11 and pre-9/11, it’s funded very differently. And the way that it’s being leveraged, the kinds of disasters, the kinds of preparedness, and the kind of community focus, you know, bringing people together. And I think, in a way, it’s become even more political. I don’t mean that necessarily in the partisan sense of, you know, you’re either for free trade or you’re not, or you’re either for Obama care or you’re not. But what I mean by that is that the networks that are required of an emergency manager to meet the needs that a community faces in a disaster are across all different sectors. Public, private, faith-based, multiple government organizations; so, it requires a deep understanding of the political structures, and the political systems, and the political incentives that play into that mix. And the most successful emergency managers, in my opinion, are ones who understand, that are savvy enough to know how to navigate those systems in order to achieve, ultimately, a very objective goal, that is very apolitical, which is keeping people out of harm’s way, and returning them to normalcy or recovering even stronger after a disaster strikes.

[TODD DEVOE] The returning back to normalcy, and the normalcy bias associated with our messaging and whatnot with emergency management is key. And making those, you’re right. I mean, those relationships prior to anything going on is really instrumental in making sure that our response as emergency managers is successful. We have a large fire going on right now here in south Orange County.


[TODD DEVOE] The Riverside County border. We’re evacuating, that’s like, 11,000 people that were evacuated from that area. And to go off without a hitch says a lot to how much advanced we’ve done with our emergency messaging. And building these coalitions prior to anything going on. And I think that’s really important for emergency managers to be coalition builders. Changing gears here a little bit. So, you responded to Houston. I shouldn’t say Houston, I hate saying that, I keep getting myself caught on that. You responded to Texas. And we do know that Houston is the sexy one, because it’s a large city and everybody is focused on that, the media. We have Team Rubicon down there, all over the place, that are doing stuff, and they are doing a lot more work outside of the city of Houston than they are in Houston, so. Let’s talk about your trip to Texas.

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Yeah, yeah, no. Thanks for bringing that up. No, we went down there. Respond is probably a strong word, because as you mentioned, there are teams there like Team Rubicon, the Cajun Navy, the FEMA, Health and Human Services, the state and local responders, who are really down there, actually getting their hands dirty and pulling people out of harm’s way and things like that. And so, I mean, in that response sense, that wasn’t the kind of work that we were doing, and I wanna give all the credit to just the amazing work that everyone is doing down there. But we went down there, both under the auspices of our organization, the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. Our director is also the director of the Children’s Health Fund, which provides medical care to low-income children in areas that generally don’t have access to health care, and it’s doing that work of mobile medical units, affiliated with programs in the (inaudible) area. As well as some relationship, so some potential donors and some federal officials who we were providing some feedback to, and developing some tools for. So, we really went down there to get a strong sense of what was going on, and in particular, what the long-term recovery needs were going to be. And that’s where our center, in particular, has its most well-established involvement in disasters. It’s not only conducting research on the recovery side, but also in developing tools and resources, and working with communities in that recovery phase. So, our first trip down there, I should say that our only trip so far, although we’re planning a much longer engagement, this isn’t a one and done; to snap a photo or anything like that.


[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] This is the first of many. It was really to get a sense. I mean, and you mentioned Houston, and corrected yourself. And actually, I appreciate you doing that, because we actually, intentionally, avoided going into Houston, because it was such an access of media, of attention, of focus; that our concern was actually in what’s going on in these other areas, outside of Houston, where there’s less attention. But probably, even more profound vulnerability. And so, we spent a few days there, we flew in and out of Austin and met with some state officials, some federal officials, and sort of got a sense from the command level, what was going on, heard a lot of great stories about how preparedness (inaudible) and preparedness activities really helped coordinate the medical evacuations, and things that… you know, the preparedness (inaudible) really saved lives. Then, we hooked up with a faith-based responder group that was also connected with this group that had a network of airplanes. Different private airplane owners. And it turned out that while many roads were inaccessible to the affected areas, there were over 100 pilots with planes, ranging from large aircraft to small single-engine aircraft. And there were 50 or more municipal runways that were accessible in affected areas. So, they were coordinating supplies from the faith-based community, packaging them, getting them set up, and then flying them out to these affected areas, as the more formal response structure was working on getting, you know, a larger presence and a larger footprint there. So, on the first day… I guess, second day. First day, we went to the command centers; we flew down with someone, who actually owned a wealth management company, and had an aircraft, and was shuttling people back and forth. So, we went down to the Beaumont area, which was a very heavily flooded, kind of down on the Louisiana border, and we were able to see sort of how some of these churches and other faith-based organizations were providing these resources, providing these supplies; water, diapers, hygiene, sanitation kits, and distributing them, and how this infrastructure was set up. And then, the following day, we drove down to the Rockport area, and we’re able to see where the wind damage had occurred. Where the category four storm had made landfall. And really get a close look there, and very similar too, I mean, there definitely was a presence, you could see, you know, they had the assistance centers there, they had line workers, you know, working on the power lines. But there too, also, stumbled on an impromptu disaster relief camp, that was a citizen there, who was a private chef, her business was destroyed, but her house survived. And it became this access of resources. Through social media, they started receiving donations, they had generators coming in, they had a freezer truck, and the department of health had actually inspected them and given them an interim license to be able to serve food to folks there. Which strikes me, because it’s something where, you know, in the past, we would have seen our government agency say: this is too much risk for people, it’s not official, let’s shut it down. And then here, instead, you know, really working with them, and really working with these emergent response resources and saying: let’s get this certified, let’s get this clear. You know, and getting everything set up so that, you know, they really embraced these emergent responders that sort of supplemented a lot of the more formal resources that were coming through. And in many ways, were able to help people before they could get there.

[TODD DEVOE] I’m learning that Texas is kind of a special place. I actually spoke to a former emergency manager here from Orange County, who actually moved to the greater Houston area, and we had a conversation regarding some of the response, and lack of response, if you will, from the government. But yet, we still had the citizens helping each other out there. Is that… do you think the whole thing with the Health Department, is that like a Texas-specific thing? I mean, do we see the same thing happening, say, in Florida? Or in other areas? Or do you think it’s because of the… I don’t know. The independence that Texas sort of has that got that through?

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] You know, I think it’s a lot of different things, but it’s also not an accident. And I think that’s the most important thing, is that the whole community response of Texas has to do with a lot of different factors, has to do with the level of investment that the state won, the level of funding that the state has received, how they’ve been able to invest that funding. And as you mentioned, this whole… I mean, the governor came out very early on and said: this is going to be about Texans helping Texans. And there is an underlying culture of community and of taking care of each other and of taking care… you know, that all played into this. So, I don’t know that there’s a single answer to why this is, but there certainly are a lot of different things that we’ve seen from their health care coalition development to the sheer scale that the faith-based community is able to operate at. And this is an area, too, that has a lot of mega churches of 10,000 or more. So, you have big structures to being with. But just the level of sophistication of some of these supply chain networks, and some of these informal networks, it was really staggering. I think in Florida, you saw some of this. Florida also is hit with a lot of hurricanes, has some underlying experience for this. The health care coalition structure, instead of giving more money to sort of these hubs that would coordinate this through some of the university and other health care system, it was less money given to more counties. And so, I think that’s where you saw a little bit more difficulty, and the health care, a little bit of confusion in the evacuation, the issue, that tragic story of the patients who died at the nursing home, it’s looking more and more like that was an anomaly that probably is more specific to that situation, rather than a larger systemic issue. But there is a… but all in all, I think, you know, Florida was well-prepared to receive and manage and direct federal resources. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing in Puerto Rico, though, is where that level investment has not had as much attention, you had a lot more underlying infrastructure issues, you’ve got a much higher level of devastation, you’ve got much less political capital in DC because they don’t have voting representation in Congress, and it’s an island, and it’s much more isolated. So, unfortunately, I think that the outcome for Puerto Rico is going to be far worse and far longer before we even have a strong sense of the damage in the kind of mainstream emergency management community that’s not directly there.

[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, I actually have some friends that are in Puerto Rico, on the island itself. I was talking to them prior to the storm coming in, and I was chatting with them online. My friend said, “Have to go, I just lost power. I don’t know when I’m gonna be able to talk to you again.” And I just… you know, he came back up a couple of days later and said, “We’ve got some power by generator, kind of piecing everything together. There’s some cell coverage here and there. We’re ok.” And I said, that’s cool. But yeah, I mean, Puerto Rico, that right there is a crazy… I think it’s gonna be an interesting study in itself. I mean, considering the fact that they evacuated the Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico! And then Puerto Rico gets slammed, it’s an amazing story. So, I think that’s gonna be one of those ones that we’re gonna be looking at for a few years, especially in the academic setting. And I think it’s gonna be a really good case study for us, as far as response. It’s crazy. I mean, the whole situation down there. And we’re still… I don’t think we have a full understanding of what the impact was of the storm, do we?

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] No, absolutely not. And I think this is one where… you know, I mean, in addition to the federal resources already been stretched thin. You know, as I mentioned, the lack of sort of political capital that… I mean, you don’t have voting members of congress sitting on appropriations committee that can sort of apply that kinds of pressure that other delegations can. You have underlying political issues and infrastructure issues in the territory, long before the storm ever hit. And then you just have massive devastation, that it caused much more widespread. And you know, you don’t have a bunch of roads from the neighboring states that you can take and then get pretty close, you know? The Cajun Navy, that responded to Texas and Louisiana, and other parts, they can’t… you know, attach a boat to the back of their truck and drive down there, you know? So there is just the sheer isolation of it as well. And it’s a large place, with a lot of people, so of all of the things that I think worked out in favor of Texas – and again, this isn’t to say everything went perfect; of course, there was some things that went wrong and we have to keep our eye on the ball for the long-term recovery for Texas and Florida and the areas in the surrounding states. Because they’re gonna need it, and they’re gonna need that sustained help. But they’re in a much better position to begin their recovery process than Puerto Rico, because we’re still gonna be in response for weeks, and probably months, before we even have a full picture of this, because it is just complete devastation over a large area. And the very infrastructure design to absorb traditional federal emergency management response has been disrupted. So, it’s… I mean, I hope that it doesn’t turn out that way, but every new bit of information that comes in suggests that it will be.

[TODD DEVOE] Right. I try to avoid politics as much as I can on this show, and in my life, actually. But sometimes it’s really hard to. And it seems be that the Trump administration, from the media, is getting a lot of heat on the response. And I don’t think… and correct me if I’m wrong. Has there been an administration that has been tested this hard in emergency response? In my lifetime, I don’t recall. But it seems like those major storms coming in, does the federal government have the ability today, or have we diminished FEMA to the point to where they can’t respond to something like this in such consecutive hit?

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Yeah, I’m not aware of any time, and certainly in FEMA’s history, when they’ve had to deal with these many major storms making landfall, really in their nearly 40-year history. It definitely is unprecedent. I think the other thing, though, is that FEMA and really any federal response, is primarily designed to build upon state and local response.


[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] And when we have these mega disasters, which is something that our center focuses on a lot, you have so much disruption, that the very infrastructure that FEMA and that these other organizations plug into, that it doesn’t necessarily fit the model. And I think that’s what we’re seeing in Puerto Rico as well too, is that there was a lot of responders there, a lot of folks doing good work, but the scale is so large, and the ability to absorb the infrastructure, to manage it. And so, federal response is designed, in most cases, to supplement state and local.


[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Not replace. Not replace state and local. But when you have, like we saw, after Katrina, such a catastrophic damage to the underlying infrastructure, to the underlying… even the political processes and the political systems. And I’ll go just a little step further without getting too political, I was asked to do an abet for Fortune before Harvey hit, on how president Trump was responding in the early days. And also, a podcast I did, focused on disaster politics, and really looking at these political structures and political systems. And I’ll have to say that, you know, that there are a lot of things with the administration that people can choose to be angry about. For Harvey and Irma, we saw a lot of the things happening that we would expect to happen. And this is what I wrote about by piece in Fortune is that, in the short-run, you know, the role of the president is really fairly limited. They need to appoint really good people, which, in this case, we saw; within FEMA, within the health and human services assistant secretary for preparedness and response. Now, other areas, state department, you know, EPA, I’ll let you… you know, decide (inaudible).


[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] But within… I mean, these were career professionals, and even the interim staff were carryovers where the Obama administration, under Craig Fugate, really put highly qualified people in these interim roles that weren’t filled. So, they passed the first test by putting good people in place. The second is to approve the disaster declarations, get everything out there in pre-stage so it can respond quickly, and we saw all of that happen exactly as it should. And then in the piece, I talk about the longer-term recovery and how sustained that has… and how the president needs to bring communities together and not drive them apart. And at the time, it was too late to see. Now, unfortunately, for Puerto Rico, what we saw, a lot of these early declarations, a lot of things being approved for Harvey and Irma, for Maria, it seems to be much more delayed. We’re seeing much less realization of the scope of damage, we’re seeing… at least initially, a rejection of the waver of the Jones Act, to allow foreign flagships to come into port there. So, there are a lot of things here that I think we need to keep a close eye on. And again, this isn’t about parties and politics, this is about what is the checklist that any elected official, and in this case, the office of the president needs to follow. And I think we saw it follow very well in the early stages of Harvey and Irma, but we’re seeing some things missed for Maria. And again, it’s one more on the long list of things that are making Maria’s impact in Puerto Rico a much bigger challenge.

[TODD DEVOE] You’re completely correct on that. I mean, it’s funny to see people quickly to jump on, those that don’t understand. And I hate to say this, there are definitely some people out there that don’t really understand the process and are jumping on some things early. There is some definitely, some mishaps that I see, coming from the emergency management world on Maria. And I think we need to get in the front of this, and I don’t know what the answer is. You know, I’m from California, I really can’t impact the federal policy. These just come down to the fact that they don’t have players in congress? I mean, I know they have representation that’s there, kind of fighting for them, but do you think that’s really what it comes down to? Just some people sitting in the right groups? I hate to believe that! But maybe that’s what it is.

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Well, I think it’s a multitude of factors, there’s no one single thing. And again, I think that’s the most important thing, is that the first thing that you need in place to have a good federal response is a good state and local understanding of what they need to ask, and how they need to ask it, and when they need to ask it. And I think that is really the difference, even within Katrina, to the state of Mississippi’s response versus the state of Louisiana’s response.


[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Is the maturity of the internal emergency management structure. And so, you know, these underlying issues that president Trump talked about with Puerto Rico, about the deficit, about infrastructure. Now, they were very poorly communicated, I would say. They probably… it wasn’t helpful to tweet these things out. But at the same time, it’s not untrue that these things are factors, and this factors in the ability to manage federal response from the state and local level. But also, the criticism of the information is equally true, that… you know, why do we focus on other things while, you know, 95% of the island is still without power?


The Maria Effect from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness with Jeff Schlegelmilch[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Why isn’t there a great focus? And a little bit too, is that Maria and Puerto Rico requires a much more creative approach to disaster management than Harvey and Irma did. I think Harvey and Irma really learned and applied the lessons of Katrina, all up and down, in a continuum. But Maria is a level of devastation, a level of isolation. And certainly, not having that political presence, and there not being an electoral incentive, or being on top of this, is going to be an issue going forward. It probably has been an issue, in terms of whether consciously or just sort of in the background, as to what are the pressure points for a politician, and first and foremost, the its constituents, and when you don’t have empowered constituents, because they’re in a territory, rather than a state, it doesn’t come to the top of mind the way that it does in a state like Florida.


[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] So, and again, I’m not saying that people are saying, “Don’t respond, because there is no votes in that,” but I think that there is an unconscious behavior where we… there isn’t a front and center political motivation, we’re exhausted from two other responses, and then there was this kind of “oh crap” moment, where everyone realized how bad it was, and now things sort of seem to be getting into gear with all of this.

[TODD DEVOE] To be fair for everybody, I mean, it’s not just Puerto Rico who people forget that, you know, it’s part of the United States. And kind of makes me chuckle a little bit when you hear the news pundits out here, talking about Puerto Rico, and they have to tell everybody, “yes, they’re all United States citizens.” And you know, it’s the same thing with the people Saipem and the people Guam. You know, they’re all United States citizens out there, and we do have a bunch of territories that aren’t represented, necessarily, the way you think of, in Congress. And I think all of those areas now, if you think about Puerto Rico, maybe we need to take a closer look at how we can respond to emergencies in those areas. But again, that’s a whole another podcast.

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] One of the key differences in Puerto Rico, and you’re absolutely right, because the US Virgin Islands were hit, and there are a lot of other areas that were hit, and it’s kind of the Houston effect, it’s because they’re smaller and they’re further away, they get less attention. Puerto Rico is also much, much bigger and much more populated, it’s sort of in a different class in terms of infrastructure and population and size. But again, no more or less deserving than anywhere else of the attention. And this is creating a lot of new things for an already stretched federal disaster workforce, who again, I wanna emphasize, I think is doing a lot of good work, and is working very hard. But that doesn’t, you know, working hard and doing things really well, doesn’t necessarily breach the gap to the level of response that’s needed for this. And it’s pushing boundaries, it’s an unprecedented level of strain on these agencies.

[TODD DEVOE] You know what I found kind of weird about this whole terror thing? Is that Cuomo flies from New York to Puerto Rico to go visit Puerto Rico.

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Coming from New York, that’s actually no surprise at all, and I think that’s where Puerto Rico does have a lot of political capital with the ex-patriot community. There is a tremendous Puerto Rican population in the state of New York and in the city of New York, and I think Cuomo went there with some very good intentions and for all the right reasons, but it also is no accident that there is also a very large voting block with direct connections. And I think, you know, again, and again, this is the focus of the disaster politics podcast that I do, is that these things do motivate. I mean, if you have a large voting block within your constituency, you’re more likely to be engaged with the issues that they’re engaged with. And New York, I think it’s gonna be at the forefront of a lot of this because of the Puerto Rican community, and other areas where you have a large Puerto Rican community. There will be more pressure on the legislators who do have voting authorities, who do sit on the appropriate (inaudible) committees, and that is one way in which you may see a little more momentum building for things like emergency supplemental fundings and more advocacy, where the territory isn’t empowered to advocate for itself.

[TODD DEVOE] With the different responses, you have the Harvey response, the Irma response, and then the Maria response. Is the Maria response hindered because of the other two large scale hurricanes that hit the mainland more so? Or if Maria was by itself, do you think we’d still be having those same hiccups in the response?

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] I think both are simultaneously true. I mean, I think there are certain things about Maria that we’ve been a little slow to react to. I think there is a lot of confusion, there was a recent poll I saw out that, I think the number was 47%, but it was roughly half of Americans that don’t realize that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. You have… you know, you have all of the underlying issues that have nothing to do with the other (inaudible) in terms of infrastructure, in terms of political issues over decades on the island, that’s sort of the state and local level infrastructure issues. The isolation of it as an island and the destructive power of Maria were all factors that are independent of how much federal resources were strained. And so, I think anywhere you see this level of devastation, you’re going to have a delay in getting in there, because the… you know, to use just one very simple example, the roads you need to drive on to get there are all washed out. So you can’t even physically get there. So, over an area this big with this many people. Now, with that being said, no doubt that a lot of resources have been stretched across the other two responses. And these aren’t small hurricanes or small areas. You know, one thing going to Texas reinforced for me too, it’s big. It takes a while to get around. And you know, there are a lot of teams, and there’s a tremendous national capacity, and FEMA certainly trains for, and the federal government certainly trains for different weapons of mass destruction type of scenarios, nuclear scenarios, things like that. But when you have, I mean, you’ve got a major chunk of the United States that is under direct disaster response, and in some cases, disaster recovery, and that’s not even… we haven’t even really talked much about the wildfires out West that you mentioned earlier, and the other disasters that are always constantly going on as well too. You know, there’s only so much. And the other factor too, is I think there was this exhaustion, both in… you know, I can tell you too, I’m not in the field responding the way that these folks are. We’re monitoring, we’re doing interviews, we’re advising, we’re… you know, taking some of our practical tools and revamping them. And I’m exhausted. So, I can’t even imagine what somebody in the field really actually doing real stuff is… and so yeah, yeah, that weighs on it. I mean, we do it, and the folks in the field do it, because that’s what we do in this field, is we figure out how we can help and we do within our role as much as we can to help. But there are limits. There are limits to the capacity, and there are limits to the energy going into this. No doubt that that is contributing in some way, it’s human nature. It’s part of the human condition.

[TODD DEVOE] And right, not to mention in the mix of this, we have a large earthquake in Mexico City, and we sent… when I say “we”, California, sent a couple of task force down there to do some search and rescue, so we’re sending resources to the foreign countries as well. Which, rightfully so, they needed it, so I’m not (inaudible) that, by any means. It’s just another button that came into this entire situation, you know? And in the middle of the earthquake, we also have what? A volcano pop off. So…


[TODD DEVOE] I mean, we are definitely in some crazy times here with our responses.

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Yeah, yeah. We just need… I think we need pestilence and plague, and then we’re hitting all the horsemen, yeah, yeah.

[TODD DEVOE] Oh, here we go again. Oh, man, no kidding. Thank you so much for your time and the great information that you gave us. If anybody wanted to get in touch with you, how would they do it? And also, give the address to your podcast as well, and we’ll take this information and we’ll put it in the show notes, and make sure that if you don’t have a pencil on hand, that you can go ahead and click on the resources down below. So, go ahead and share that information with us.

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Yeah, absolutely. You can follow me on Twitter, I’m @JeffSchlegel. And the podcast, you can follow the podcast on Twitter, it’s @DisasterPolitic. The main page is on SoundCloud, but you can find it on iTunes, Google Play, and everywhere else, just do a search for Disaster Politics Podcast. I’m on LinkedIn, and then you can follow our center, at NCDP.columbia.edu, and the NCDP is just the acronym for National Center for Disaster Preparedness. So, NCDP.columbia.edu. And if that’s not enough, then I think there’s e-mail links and things like that all over. So, you know, send me a (inaudible) and I’ll send one back.

[TODD DEVOE] Awesome, thank you so much. Everybody, I want to thank you all for listening today on this podcast. If you are on the iTunes or any other media downloading, please go to the comments, just tell us how we’re doing, let us know. And if there’s anybody who you would like to hear from on the podcast, again, let us know. And I do appreciate everybody listening, Jeff, and I appreciate your time.

[JEFF SCHLEGLMILCH] Hey, thanks for having me and thanks for doing this. And everyone out there responding, just be safe, and you’re in our thoughts.


Twitter – @jeffschlegel@DisasterPolitic

Linkedin – https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeff-schlegelmilch-480576b/

Website – http://ncdp.columbia.edu/

Fortune Article – http://fortune.com/2017/08/28/hurricane-harvey-houston-trump-response/


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About Todd De Voe 72 Articles
Involved in Emergency Response, Emergency Management, Education and Volunteer Management for over 25 years.Served as a Corpsman assigned to the Fleet Marine Force of the United States Navy. I now teach Emergency Management at Coastline Community College, I am also the Host of EM Weekly.


  1. Excellent episode Todd & Jeff! I am glad that we are talking about this, no filters. There is much more going on than what the press is focusing on, and little understanding of the complexities of emergency responses. I am sharing this with everyone I can to see of people begin to understand it is not an overnight miracle, it will take time and resources.

  2. Jeff hit the nail on the head with his comment: “those relationships prior to anything going on is really instrumental in making sure that our response as emergency managers is successful.” Developing a good working relationship and establishing trust among various actors prior to any event well make an EM’s job a great deal easier. Everybody focuses on funding and equipment which is good but one of the greatest assets, in my belief, is the investment in people. Without the collaboration and “whole community” concept nothing will go right no matter how much good equipment and resources are at one’s disposal.

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