EP 44 The Direction of FEMA with Brock Long
Todd Devoe, discussing the Direction of FEMA with the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Brock Long.
[BROCK LONG] We’ve got to graduate inside the emergency management community and realize that the emergency manager is not just, you know, possibly a first responder in their local community, but they may come and do hundreds of millions of dollars if they have to help local officials understand how to utilize it.
All right, well, enough of me talking. Let’s listen to the interview with FEMA administrator, Brock Long.
[TODD DEVOE]Deepwater Horizon, which was an amazing, crazy response. If you (inaudible), there’s debriefings on that. It’s just one of those emergency management career pinnacle nightmares, and also, a way to see how incident command and the unified command works. So, Brock, welcome to EM Weekly.
[BROCK LONG] Hey, glad to be here, Todd. Thank you for allowing me to be on this podcast. Thank you.
[TODD DEVOE] How did you get into emergency management?
[BROCK LONG] Todd, that’s a great question. For me, it was divine intervention. I think emergency management found me. And the reason I say that is that, when I was attending Appalachian State University for my MPA, I had a conversation with a classmate in the hallway, and asked– his name was Eddie Smith. He is with the city (inaudible). And I asked him what he did for his internship at summer, and he said he’d done it with New Hanover County, North Carolina emergency management agency. And he started talking to me, and I became more and more interested in the conversation that followed up. And fortunately, I was able to make the same connection with New Hanover County, and the following summer I did an internship in emergency management at the local level, and I never looked back. I spent my whole career in emergency management, which is pretty rare.
[TODD DEVOE] How did you end up in Georgia, from North Carolina?
[BROCK LONG] Oddly enough, I sent my resumé to several state emergency management agencies in states I thought I wanted to live in, and Georgia emergency management agency was the first one to respond to me sending the resumés that were there. They were setting up an innovative school safety program because Georgia ranked number one in the country at the time – this was all before Columbine – they ranked number one in the country for the most amount of deaths in schools. So, they set up an innovative school safety program that I got in on the ground floor of, and served as a school safety coordinator and local emergency operations planner in net capacity. And again, it was all before Columbine, so it’s pretty interesting.
And then, from there, I became a hurricane program manager. I was with Georgia emergency management agency and experience hurricane Floyd in 1999, and then I interviewed with FEMA region 4 on the morning of 9/11, but eventually became the hurricane program manager, in charge of a lot of evacuation planning and running a couple of response teams, known as the hurricane (inaudible) team, down at the National Hurricane Center, as well as helping to establish what’s now known as the evacuation (inaudible) on team that the USDOT runs on behalf of FEMA.
[TODD DEVOE] You’re doing this, and then somehow, you get wrapped up into the Deepwater Horizon. How did you feel when you got tapped on the shoulder for that?
Obviously, the University of Delaware has been doing that for a long time, but they’re changing their focus from just the strict social impacts of disasters into actual disaster management, you know. And you see them at the local community colleges as well, going up all the way to Ph.D. programs now. That being said, what can we do, as a profession, to help professionalize EM? One follow-up on that is that I heard that you were interested in doing, like, the FBI-type academy for emergency managers, and how would that look?
[BROCK LONG] Todd, that’s an excellent question. So, there are a lot of answers to this question. But, from where I see it, as a result of going through this unprecedented 2017 disaster calendar year, the one thing that stands out to me, more than any, is that we need highly trained people, rather than stuff. And it’s not just within FEMA. You know, at one point, a majority, as in 85% of our entire agency, was deployed out in the field in one point during the hurricane season. And the bottom line is that we have to continue to find ways to improve consistent and good training, and cross-training, down not only through the federal government, through the Department of Homeland Security Surge Capacity, but going down towards the state and local level. And so, we’re actively, as a result of going through the 2017 disaster year, you know, looking at how we actually may change the IMAT team concepts to go, possibly, to more of a USR team concept, to where we start formulating 20 or 30 IMAT teams within each state or local jurisdictions that we can call upon for additional staff support.
One of the things I think FEMA needs to work on, in regards to the FBI academy vision is, that I fully believe that we need to bring in people — you know, if we can bring people in at a consistent level, and change, explode the entire way that we hire inside the agency, so that we’re not hiring people at high-level positions, but that actually we’re cultivating people all the way up through the organization. And so, if we look at a true academy style hiring process, it does a couple of things. It creates camaraderie within the agency, it creates consistency within the training, and what I ultimately would love to be able to do is, recruit in classes. You know, all walks of life, being able to recruit in classes. Send them to (inaudible) for 16 weeks to do true academy-style training, learning all things Stafford Act, all things to CFR, all things FEMA policy, all things case study. You know, running through the different directories and the different phases of emergency management, to understand not only the policies but the training needs. The goals and the gaps that we have to overcome.
And then, ultimately, you know, once they graduate from the academy, you send them out into the fields. So, I have a larger vision of creating state integration teams, where when it’s time to break up the walls of the FEMA regional office, and I would like to be part of the conversation inside state agencies and (inaudible) staff, a multi-discipline staff inside state agencies, and eventually, larger cities, to where, you know, we’re able to execute blue sky day, preparedness mitigation functions, training and exercise functions, we’re part of everyday conversations, and not just being invited once a federal disaster declaration comes into play.
And so, I want to be part of the blue sky day conversation as well as have staff there to quickly roll over into incident management, at that state and local level, similar to the way the FBI looks. So, once you graduate from an academy, it would be great to be able to send emergency managers out to one of these state integration terms for three to five years, so that they fully understand how state and local governments receive FEMA’s (inaudible), of all types. And guidance. How to implement that.
And then, once they’re done there, you know, with the state integration teams, then hopefully, they’re allowed to apply to one of the ten FEMA regions that they want to serve in, and we put them where they’re most aligned, and where we think they’ll perform great, and then they work their way up to headquarters, to actually design policies and programs, and the way forward. So, it’s a grand vision, it’s a lot that may not be able to get put into place in four years, but at least I can start to lay the foundation for a grander vision for how this agency looks in the future.
[TODD DEVOE] That’s something I could get behind, because, you know, we all know, in emergency management, that a disaster is local. Sometimes, I think that the residents and the citizens in the United States believe that FEMA comes in a white horse and it’s gonna have all the answers to everything. And I know that you’re going through that right now with Puerto Rico and some of the issues that are going down there. How do we help, from the federal level, the locals do a better job of understanding emergency management in the sense of their roles and responsibilities and their response and recovery?
[BROCK LONG] Well, at the local and state level, I think that resiliency lies in the hands of local elected officials. And I believe that, as a result of going through the 2017 disaster year, those state representatives, state legislators, and local elected officials need to hit the reset button and take a look at whether or not they’re fully funding their local and state emergency management agencies with proper staffing and equipment. This is the trend, and we’re gonna go in and see more disasters; well, then budget and emphasis needed to reflect that.
Any time that FEMA is the primary, and you know, sole responder into a location, that’s not optimal. I believe that you know, proper disaster response and recovery should be federally supported, state-managed and locally executed. I believe that we also have to graduate past just writing plans to meet accreditation standards. We need to operationalize these plans. We need to overcome a lot of the problems or LIG recommendations or negative (inaudible) that we have.
We have to overcome those on blue sky day by properly setting up contracts ahead of time, and you know, setting up pre-event contracts, making sure that we can actually execute; and if we can’t execute from a FEMA capital or physical standpoint, then what’s the next way we’re going to use mutual aid? Or you know, call upon assistance in another way? So, there’s a lot that we have to work on, but again, I don’t own a state or a local government to response or recovery. You are in charge. My goal is to help you, at the state and local level, achieve your response and recovery and preparedness goals.
[BROCK LONG] I come from the school where I get nervous about mandating what a state or local government should do. Largely, the direction that I Would like us to move is, how do we help you achieve your goals? I don’t know what’s best for your state or your local jurisdiction. I may be able to– and from my position, I do have a responsibility to recognize national gaps, where national gaps exist, and start forcing conversation and action to be taken to overcome those gaps as I see them, as they’re taking place. But largely, I want to circle back to, you know, creating consistency and doing true integration planning.
You know, our hope is to, within the next 30, 60 days, to really start rolling out a federal footprint inside the state agencies in the states that want (inaudible) integration teams. And so, we’re picking a few states where we’d like to pilot this, to where we come in, and we’re actually helping you to do the things that I just mentioned, like set up the proper pre-event contracts to do debris or staff augmentation, writing disaster cost recovery plans, you know?
We’ve got to graduate inside the emergency management community and realize that the emergency manager is not just, you know, possibly a first responder in their local community, but they may come and do hundreds of millions of dollars if they have to help local officials understand how to utilize it. And it’s not just FEMA funds. We have to overcome fragmented recovery, and your emergency manager has got to be able to recognize, you know, once they’ve established their recovery goals, what agencies provide different funding?
And there are over 17 different agencies, if I understand correctly, that provide disaster funding, or some type of funding down after a disaster. Which agencies do you grab the funding from and put it together and harness it and use it for the greatest good to help you overcome? And that’s what an emergency manager, a large portion of the emergency manager’s job is. And so, it’s not just response. We tend to focus too much on the response and not enough on the long-term recovery aspects. And so, I hope, through these state integration teams, that we can help state and local governments start to truly plan for and achieve, you know, their response and recovery goals. Not mine.
[TODD DEVOE] How’s that impacting your ability to get out there and help out with those local agencies?
[BROCK LONG] Well, I mean, right now, if you look at the three major hurricanes and the Northern California wildfires, we still have 65% of our agency, that is, deployed across the country. Not only helping those four events, but we have, I think, over 30 open disasters right now, as we speak, in over 22 different jurisdictions. And that includes Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. When it comes to the response, you know, I’m gonna be the first one who lets everybody know that FEMA can’t do it alone. And we have got to go back and address specific roles and responsibilities when it comes to what the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be able to do to implement and to do, versus what state and local agencies, all the way down to the citizen level.
So, I think we need a comprehensive overhaul in truly how we approach response. Because I don’t have enough people to do it, and the mission is growing daily with new threats, like North Korea. And so, the bottom line is, that I think this is a great time to start having some collaborative discussions about the level of disaster, and how we manage money, and different things. And if you look at the number of disasters that we have in this country, 75% of them are typically under 41 million dollars.
What we learned, going into Harvey is that we have too many staff deployed to a lot of disasters that are under that threshold of 40 million dollars. And we’ve got to get to a point where states and local governments are comfortable managing disaster funds to that level without a huge federal footprint of staff to do it, and to lead it, you know, on behalf of the state and local government, so that when the worst day hits, when (inaudible) occurs, or Cascadia occurs, you know, the Federal Emergency Management Agency can truly do catastrophic response and recovery. That’s where you’re going to want us most, not in the smaller 40 million-dollar disasters.
[BROCK LONG] Todd, I’m (inaudible) anything, but I think I’ve got a broader vision. You know, for the Be Ready campaign, we’ve gotta graduate past telling everybody to be ready for three days, because it’s an unrealistic financial (inaudible) in many households. You know, and that kind of thing. The other thing that we’ve got to do is that, across the federal government perspective, and in a state government, or a local government, each one of these agencies is doing some level of readiness or preparedness campaigning, like HHS, and CDC, FEMA.
You know, (inaudible) has some pretty robust public awareness campaign efforts and that kind of thing. It’s time to pull our resources together, come together, and ask each other what the goal is when it comes to helping citizens truly recognize their true risks and vulnerabilities; not only where they live, but where they work, where they visit. How to assess those risks, make the right decisions on the proper level of insurance, how they’re going to communicate, you know, etc., to where they truly become, you know, ready to be the first responder when called upon.
And, you know, if you look at just the statistics, if you lived in Alabama, Todd, we have a ton of tornados that go through there. If a tornado went barreling through your community and knocked your neighbor’s house down, and you happen to be there, you’re going to turn into the first responder. How do you do simple search and rescue? What actions should you take to be able to do that? If you’re involved in an active shooter, the majority of the FBI statistics would suggest that the victims become the true first responder. How are training them, incorporating them into our preparedness, rather than just first responders saying, “Here is what it’s going to look like when we respond to an active shooter event.” We’ve got to start giving them tangible skills in what to do during those types of events.
So, it’s not just beating up citizen core and those CERT teams. We’ve got to get back into the classroom, and you know, through the US Department of Education. You know, we’ve got to teach people how to save money, we’ve got to teach people why they need insurance, not only for their household but also for their business. You know, we need to make continuity of operations apart of all phases of emergency management and have those discussions. And we have to recognize how these campaigns change or how the response will change.
What’s something that we’ve learned most recently, not only in the California wildfires, but also in Puerto Rico is that people are becoming more and more dependent on digital technology, cell phone technology; but yet, the systems that we’re putting in place, they’re not resilient, they’re not redundant. And when there is a gap in service, it creates panic and a lack of situational awareness. So, how do we collectively start to overcome those? Or do warning order communication in areas that don’t have communication for several weeks?
So, there’s a lot that we’ve learned. But the one thing is that, never before, being a FEMA administrator, I am more than willing to start a collaborative effort to start driving that whole community preparedness and response aspect.
[TODD DEVOE] Two things on the technology. One is, I want to talk a little bit about FirstNet; and the other one is about EAS. Let’s start with EAS first. The Emergency Alert System that’s out there now, I know because of our cell phones, and stuff like that, for like, the Amber alerts, and it’s doable. But how do we reach people that are now breaking away from cable and traditional mediums for online stuff? How do we reach them with EAS?
[BROCK LONG] You know, that’s an excellent question. And you know, obviously, with IPAWS, that is definitely on the radar screen of those inside FEMA that are administrating the IPAWS program. It is a true program that we face, and a dynamic one; it’s going to continue to change, as technology goes forward. And so, some of the discussions inside FEMA now are, for example, we’re starting to recognize that people are cutting the cord on cable and going to more streaming channels, so why doesn’t FEMA have a streaming network that teaches people how to mitigate their house to, you know, how to assess their risk, and you know, how to be better prepared? So, those are some of the things that we’re already starting to address internally, as we’ve got to adapt as the citizens adapt on how they absorb information.
But also, you know, I think when it comes to like, social media and the other outlets that are out there, it’s one thing to say you have to have a social media presence. But what we’re starting to recognize is that there are different social media platforms that work better in some phases of emergency management, better than others. For example, I believe, Twitter works in the response phase, but not as effective in the long-term recovery phase, in my opinion. And so, what are the social media tools? How do we, you know, not only recognize what’s out there but how do we use those to reach different populations at different phases of a disaster?
[TODD DEVOE] That’s always a tricky thing, because especially like, you know, going back to Facebook. Facebook was all the rage for a while, but now it seems to be the thing that kids don’t want to do, because it’s not cool anymore, because once old people start liking Facebook, it’s no longer cool, so, how do you keep up with technology, I understand that’s an issue. And trends, I suppose, that’s one of those issues that we have to keep looking at and trying to get in front of, and you’re right about that.
[BROCK LONG] ntly evaluate what’s working and what’s not. Where are we versus where we need to be, and if we need to be somewhere else, how do we get there?
[TODD DEVOE] Where do you see the future of FEMA going in the next three years?
[BROCK LONG] You know, I’ve got great staff inside FEMA. One of the things that I have inside the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and what I want people in the state and local level to know is, is that I have an incredibly dedicated staff. You guys work long hours. And I think that if the local or state emergency managers that walk in this building, they’d interact with the staff, or could see it when it’s activated, you know, the National Response Coordination Center is activated, that what they’ll find is that a majority of the people inside FEMA understand the issues that local and state government officials face, it’s just a matter of having a voice and being heard, and being able to shape the program.
So, one of the things that we’re doing internally is, creating an inclusive strategic plan process. And we’re going to concentrate on three buckets: one, how do we create a culture of preparedness? Two, how do we truly become ready for the disaster or catastrophic readiness? And then three, how do we reduce the complexity of FEMA programs? And those are going to be the three buckets that this agency concentrates on.
And not everything conveniently fits into those three buckets, but the staff faced on, reaching out to them, and holding what we call Discovery Change Sessions, inclusive sessions throughout the agency, and with our stakeholders, ultimately, the ideas and the issues that we face, or the things we need to implement, can fit into each one of those buckets. And so, that’s where we’re faced there. Next, as I said, I’ve got dedicated staff, but the workforce structure inside FEMA that we have to operate in is a little broken.
Not only that, but I think that there are some major changes to the Stafford Act that need to be made. And one of the things that I have found is that, you know, after going through the events that we went through, the Congress, the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, they are all ears, and have been incredibly supportive of the agency, you know, asking me and asking us what needs to change to get better.
[TODD DEVOE] FEMA’s training, in general, is pretty decent. You know, I have to say. What can we do to encourage more people to participate in EMI programs, and to standardize what an emergency manager is across the country?
[BROCK LONG] That’s great. I’m all for accreditations, you know, and consistent training. I mean, I’m a firm believer in resource (inaudible) and making sure that we have cross-trained staff. In regards to EMI, we’ve had internal discussions about what is truly the outcome that we’re striving for, based on all of the training that we offer. And I don’t think I’m ready to comment on truly what we’re searching for this time, but it is on our radar screen, and it’s something that we’re truly working through.
And it’s not only the external training that we offer, but also how, as I go back to the first part of this interview, is we’ve got to train together, internally, inside FEMA, to create consistencies and camaraderie’s that will result into better program and program delivery out in the field. So, there is a lot that could be done, but some of the major gaps that I see across the country goes back to the disaster cost recovery. We have got to start focusing on how to correctly utilize– understand what you’re entitled to after a presidential disaster declaration, or a Stafford Act disaster, like Deepwater Horizon, where the Stafford Act– a non-Stafford Act disaster, like Deepwater Horizon.
What are you entitled to? How do you grab that money? How does the money come down? It doesn’t all come at once, but how do you set up recovery goals around the funding you’re entitled to, and how the cash flow works around that grant funding, and tie it all together to do the greatest good. We are not concentrating on that aspect, which is the longest and hardest aspect, that leads to the most amount of mistakes down the road. Nation-wide, we’ve got to put our fingers back on disaster cost recovery and how we manage a lot of funding.
[TODD DEVOE] Ok. So, here comes the toughest question of the day. What book, or books, do you recommend for somebody who is getting into emergency management, and/or if they’re already in a job, leadership?
[BROCK LONG] (inaudible) rules for leadership, by (inaudible) Rules. All right. Pretty interesting read. You know, where we are as a nation right now, with the North Korea threat and everything else, I mean, there’s a true gap in the way we do continuity of operations. We have to resurrect national continuity programs, and continuity planning, and continuity government planning across all levels of government, ok? And not only all levels of government, but also in the private sector. And I can tell you– well, I’m not going to endorse a book, but the book that I’ve currently been reading is (inaudible), it’s really interesting to see… you know, go back into history and look at how the public awareness campaigns were put forward.
There were much more robust public awareness campaigns in empowering citizens back in the 50’s than we’re doing today. And we gotta get that back. But it also goes into the importance of continuity and how the government works, and you know, with the North Korea threats and the changing threats in the cyber security world, we need to focus more on continuity of operations. So, how about that?
[TODD DEVOE] We’re coming out to the end here. Is there anything else that you’d like to say to emergency managers out there, that are listening to EM Weekly?
[BROCK LONG] Yeah, I believe, again, to me, successful response and recovery is one that is federally supported, state managed, and locally executed. It’s my job to figure out how to get this agency to help you execute and achieve all of your preparedness, your response and recovery goals. Not dictate it, not run it for you. That’s not the goal. You know, that’s what I’m here to do. Hopefully, we’ll accomplish that.
[TODD DEVOE] All right, thank you very much.
[BROCK LONG] Thank you.
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