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Community Engagement: The Boston Marathon Bombing

Photo Credit: Britannica

The Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013 changed how police departments communicate with the public during important emergency events. For the first time, social media played a critical role in communicating information about the bombings and capturing the culprits (Haddow, 2017).

On the day of the bombings, Commissioner of Police Ed Davis held a press conference. He calmly explained what happened and reassured the public that Boston had a comprehensive emergency response plan in place. The FBI, State Police, National Guard, and ATF were already in the city, offering their services. The Commissioner exuded confidence, control, and common sense. He asked for the public’s help in capturing the perpetrators (Global Breaking News, 2013).

Commissioner of Police Ed Davis and the Boston Police Department were committed to providing accurate, timely information to the public and keeping the lines of two-way communication open. He asked people to stay home and away from crowds for their own safety. He asked people to call the Mayor’s hotline and the Boston PD TIPS line with information (Global Breaking News, 2013).

The Boston Police Department was a leader in using social media to communicate with the public. Photos, videos, and information were shared through Twitter, Facebook, and websites. Inaccurate information was quickly corrected. It was noted by Bar-Tur that “BPD’s presence online helps reinvent the whole notion of community policing for the 21st century” (Haddow, p. 185, 2017). When the Tsarnaev brothers were finally caught, Boston Police Department tweeted a resounding “CAPTURED!!!” (Haddow, p. 185, 2017).

Instead of cowering in fear and feeling powerless, the Boston community was kept involved. This community empowerment contributed to situational awareness and the recovery of Boston after the event.

Global Breaking News. (Presenter). (2013, April 15). First press conference boston marathon

       bomb attack [Video file].Retrieved from (link not working):

Haddow, G.D., Bullock, J.A., & Coppola, D.P. (2017). Introduction to emergency

       management. (6th ed.). Cambridge, MA: Elsevier.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

October 7, 2019

Copyright 2019-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

4 Comments »

Communications and Social Media in Emergency Management

FEMA communications station

At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Seventeen minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 smashed into the South Tower.  At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 nose-dived into the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia.  All three airlines had been hijacked by members of the radical Islamic terrorist organization, Al Qaeda (Haddow, 2017; 911 Memorial, 2018).

Communication breakdowns were widespread during the emergency response to the attacks on the World Trade Center.  911 operators did not know what was actually happening.  Evacuation orders were confused and misleading.  Telephone lines were jammed with callers, and cell towers were down.  Signals to firefighter radios failed.    Public address and intercom systems inside the World Trade Center went out (CBS News, 2004; Sharp, 2011).

Confusion and lack of situational awareness led to higher casualties, especially among first responders.  People in the South Tower were told not to evacuate and to wait for instructions and aid from emergency personnel.  Others evacuated up, toward the roof, not knowing that they needed a key to get outside to the roof (CBS News, 2004).

Fire and police personnel were using different radio channels and could not communicate with one another (CBS News, 2004; Sharp, 2011).  A repeater system installed in the World Trade Center after the 1993 bombing was not completely functional (Sharp, 2011).

By the time the Boston Marathon bombings occurred on April 15, 2013, emergency managers had learned the importance of communications during disaster events.  For the first time, social media played a critical role in communicating information about the bombings and capturing the culprits (Haddow, 2017).

The Boston Police Department was a leader in using social media to communicate with the public.  Photos, videos, and information were shared through Twitter, Facebook, and websites.  Inaccurate information was quickly corrected.  When the Tsarnaev brothers were finally caught, Boston Police Department tweeted a resounding “CAPTURED!!!” (Haddow, p. 185, 2017).

“Information sharing is the basis of effective disaster communications” (Haddow, p. 191, 2017). The public needs to know what is happening and where to get help.  TV, radio, and newspapers have been the traditional media used for information.  But the use of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter has changed all that.

“Social media is imperative to emergency management because the public uses these communication tools regularly” (Haddow, p. 171, 2017).  Not only can members of the public receive accurate and timely information from reliable sources, but they can help response efforts by submitting videos, photos, digital maps, and other information.

The use of social media allows friends and family to communicate with one another.  They can view press conferences by local and national leaders.  Information about shelters and registering for aid is readily available.  People can contribute donations through websites (Haddow, 2017).

On the downside, social media has been responsible for spreading hysteria and misinformation across the Internet.  “Misleading, faulty, or malicious information or pictures” (Haddow, p. 161, 2017) can hamper response and relief efforts.  Dishonest people have been known to solicit donations for relief aid that never reached the intended source.  When terrorism is involved, calls for retaliation are often posted.

Emergency managers have found that interacting with the public through two-way communication is an effective tool during disaster events.  When emergency managers and local leaders commit themselves to providing timely and accurate information to the public, the whole community benefits.  Communication specialists are now an important part of every Office of Emergency Management.  They work with the local media to get disaster and relief information out quickly and effectively.  Understanding what is actually going on helps members of the public to make well-informed decisions about evacuation, relief aid, and recovery (Haddow, 2017).

“The mission of an effective disaster communications strategy is to provide timely and accurate information to the public in all four phases of emergency management” (Haddow, p.162, 2017).  Social media can provide information about disaster preparedness and limiting damages resulting from disasters.   Local emergency responders can provide warnings of an impending event, information about evacuation routes, and up-to-date details about an ongoing event.  After the event, social media and websites can help people register for and receive disaster aid.  The FEMA website offers complete information about its mission and what services are available to disaster victims (Haddow, 2017).

Decades of experience have taught emergency managers the value of effective communication.  Improved communication technology and social media contribute enormously to that goal.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

October 10, 2019

Copyright 2019-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

References

911 Memorial. (2018). 9/11 Memorial Timeline. Retrieved from

       http://www.timeline.911Memorial.org/#FrontPage.

Associated Press. (2004, May). Communication breakdown on 9/11. CBS News. Retrieved from

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/communication-breakdown-on-9-11.

Haddow, G.D., Bullock, J.A., & Coppola, D.P. (2017). Introduction to emergency management.

       (6th ed.). Cambridge, MA: Elsevier.

Sharp, K. (2011, September). Interoperability & other lessons from 9/11. Public Safety

       Communications. Retrieved from

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Remembering the Joplin Tornado 2011

The Joplin, Missouri Tornado

Joplin is an urban community in Jasper County that is situated in the southwest corner of Missouri. Although it boasts an average population of around 49,024, the population swells to 270,000 during the day due to industrial, agricultural, and educational employment and resources. Southwest Missouri is considered part of “tornado alley.”

On Sunday, May 22, 2011, Joplin experienced the deadliest tornado in 47 years and the seventh deadliest in U.S. history. “At 2:40 pm, the National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Office issued a tornado watch-out for parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.” Three hours later, the Joplin/Jasper County Emergency Management began coordinating with the NWS to track the path of the storm. At 6:17 pm, a warning was broadcast to the public which gave them approximately 24 minutes to secure themselves in a safe environment. Outdoor emergency sirens were sounded then and again at 6:31 pm. “At 6:41 pm, an EF-5 tornado touched down in Joplin with winds exceeding 200 mph. The tornado cut a 22.1 mile path that was 1 mile wide and passed for 6 miles through the city.”

The results of the storm were devastating. The tornado “almost completely destroyed the commercial district of the city.” More than 15,000 vehicles were carried by the wind to new locations, many of them “rolled into balls of bent metal and broken glass by the force of the storm. In parking lots, concrete barriers designed to stop cars, each of them weighing 200-300 pounds and re-barred into asphalt, [were] plucked into the air and tossed as far as 60 yards.”

At St. John’s Medical Center, 183 patients were evacuated by staff within 90 minutes. Approximately 4,380 homes were completely destroyed; 3,884 homes suffered some kind of damage. More than 130 transmission poles went down, causing power outages to 18,000 customers. Thousands of buildings were destroyed, including St. John’s Medical Center and the Joplin High School. Three million cubic yards of debris lay scattered on the ground. The storm resulted in 161 deaths and 1,371 injuries.

Governor Jay Nixon declared Joplin a disaster area and called out the National Guard. Since “FEMA had been conducting disaster response and recovery in Missouri in the months prior to the Joplin tornado,” President Obama quickly mobilized the agency into action. The Joplin disaster was added to an emergency declaration previously declared by the President.

Joplin, Missouri Preparedness and Mitigation

One of the biggest issues to emerge from the Joplin tornado disaster was the weakness in Jasper County’s warning system. This weakness contributed to the catastrophic loss of life during the the Joplin tornado.

Jasper County’s warning system policy is to “sound sirens over the entire county even if only a part of the county is included, so sirens were sounded for three minutes that day [May 22, 2011] when a tornado warning was issued for the northern part of the county but didn’t include Joplin.”

Three minutes after the last siren was turned off, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a tornado warning for Joplin. It was decided not to run the siren again. Residents of Joplin missed the tornado warning unless they were watching TV or listening to the radio.

The sirens did not sound again until the tornado was already descending on Joplin, and it was too late for residents to react.

The Springfield, Missouri National Weather Service misidentified and misreported the location of the tornado three times. Joplin residents were led to believe the “tornado would pass north of the city.”

The same National Weather Service was known for sounding the sirens too frequently. Jasper County’s policy — to sound the sirens for both tornado and severe thunderstorms — was based on the premise that any storm bringing strong winds warranted an alarm. Over a four year period, Jasper County issued 34 tornado warnings and sounded the sirens, even though only two tornado warnings were issued. People had become accustomed to the sirens and did not take them seriously.

On the night of May 22, 2011, residents heard the sirens but waited for confirmation of a serious tornado threat by watching TV or looking outside. They later reported confusion over the sirens that sounded right before the tornado hit because they did not understand the urgency of the situation. That urgency was not communicated to them through traditional channels.

People looking outside would not have seen the tornado because it was “completely and totally invisible” due to rain, making people dependent on the warning system. In spite of advanced technology, weather forecasters still cannot determine the course of a tornado because “radar can’t see a tornado moving on the ground.”

“Only human eyes can see a tornado on the ground; trained spotters remain a crucial part of the government’s warning program.” In fact, at 5:31 pm on May 22, 2011, storm chasers sighted a huge storm system west of Joplin and feared the worst. Eight minutes later, the storm turned into an EF-5 tornado. At 5:44 pm, Joplin residents still were not aware that a tornado had landed. People died due to lack of situational awareness.

Joplin suffered approximately $2.8 billion in economic loss due to the tornado. At least 30% of the city was impacted by the event.

It was later determined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that houses in Joplin were not built to withstand strong winds. More than 83% of structural damage was caused by winds of 135 mph or less — equal to an EF-2 tornado. And 135 deaths were caused by collapsed buildings.

“Tornadoes have winds that create uplift or vertical suction that will pull a poorly-connected roof off of a house.” Many houses were not bolted to a foundation and roofs were not adequately anchored to walls. Home Depot collapsed because the roof was not properly anchored.

Flying debris from houses increased the overall damage. A study done by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that the use of hurricane ties — metal clips used to secure rafters and trusses to the outside walls of a house — were not required on homes by local building codes to withstand strong winds. Furthermore, U.S. model building codes did not require that tornado hazards be addressed at all in building codes.

The hospitals in the Joplin area were not prepared for the overwhelming influx of patients after the tornado. After St. John’s Medical Center was evacuated, the medical staff conducted field triage and medical treatment in the parking lot. People who were unaware of the damage to the hospital continued to bring patients there. Hospitals were forced to operate on emergency generators. Although EMS and medical personnel set up field triage stations throughout Joplin, they were forced to improvise due to a lack of medical supplies. Ambulances treated people on the spot instead of transporting them to the hospitals.

The Incident Command System was not prepared to deal with thousands of responders and volunteers. Responders did not coordinate with the local ICS even though staging areas and check-in procedures were in place. They lacked equipment and training and did not follow consistent protocols. Some buildings were searched multiple times because different groups of responders used different markings. The freelancing responders also posed a safety issue for other responders.

The Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) was overwhelmed by fatalities. In spite of assistance from law enforcement and the Department of Human Health and Services, the team was only able to process 1 or 2 bodies per day. Families were identifying victims, but this stopped after a family misidentified a body. The Missouri Highway Patrol took control of the missing persons list in order to expedite matters. To top it off, personnel did not have training in fatality management.

Volunteers lacked training, supplies, and affiliations with well-established organizations. AmeriCorps took over management of volunteers.

“Communications and information sharing between the [Joint Field Office] and the [Joplin Division Office] proved to be challenging during the initial response.” There was no clear chain of command. The use of large data files with email and voice mail led to poor information management and dissemination. No common operating picture (COP) could be created due to an inadequate information management system. This hurt FEMA’s credibility.

During the tornado, social media was not effective because Joplin residents did not know what exactly was going on. Local leaders later realized that there was not enough engagement between the City of Joplin and the public. The city’s website was difficult to navigate for anybody seeking information.

On the positive side, “participation in the National Level Exercise 2011 (NLE 11) helped to prepare Federal, State, regional, local, and private sector personnel to respond effectively to the Joplin tornado.” From May 16-19, 2011, participants simulated a catastrophic earthquake. FEMA Region VII and the State of Missouri developed the Joint FEMA Region VII and State of Missouri New Madrid Earthquake Response Operations Plan. During the exercises, Missouri emergency management and response agencies practiced plans and procedures for mass casualty evacuation, mutual aid, and EMAC. The resources, systems, procedures, and partnerships exercised were later used in the Joplin response. Agencies learned how to activate and use regional resources. They learned about FEMA grant programs. They learned how to use a mobile field hospital and a patient moving and tracking system.

Over the years, “Southwest Missouri jurisdictions had undertaken a number of regional preparedness initiatives that proved instrumental for the response to the Joplin tornado.” These jurisdictions worked cooperatively on grants, exercises, training, and other preparedness opportunities within the Missouri Homeland Security Region D. FEMA training in ICS and other systems and procedures enabled a rapid, effective, coordinated regional response to the Joplin tornado.

The Response to the Joplin Tornado

The response to Joplin’s tornado followed FEMA’s Whole Community approach. “This only transpired because of the preparedness partnerships that had been developed among Federal, State, local, private sector, voluntary, and non-profit entities.” These partnerships “enabled emergency responders to meet the needs of survivors immediately after the Joplin tornado.”

The Four Corners Emergency Management mutual aid agreements were activated. The Southwest Missouri Incident Support Team provided valuable support to the Joplin/Jasper County emergency operations center (EOC). The team had received training and equipment through grants from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Incident Support Team “used its satellite capabilities to augment communications to the Joplin/Jasper County EOC.”

Four Corners Emergency Management handled all calls for aid from Joplin. The Crawford County Health Department sent nurses and portable refrigerators to Joplin. Greene County provided 110 responders from the Sheriff’s Office, the Office of Emergency Management, the Highway Department, Building and Development Services, and Public Information.”

EMS and medical personnel, with the help of mutual aid agencies, set up field triage and medical treatment stations throughout Joplin. The State of Missouri activated the Missouri I Disaster Medical team, which set up an 8,000 square-foot, 60 bed mobile field hospital to treat patients.

Responders from more than 400 public safety organizations were sent to Joplin from Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, and other states as a result of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). “Within 24 hours of the tornado, more than 800 police cars, 300 ambulances, 400 fire trucks, and 1,100 responders had arrived in Joplin to contribute to response operations.”

The City of Joplin worked with the Southwest Missouri Incident Support Team to create staging areas and check-in protocols. Standard Incident Command System procedures were established, and the daily Incident Action Plan was produced and distributed.

The Joplin Fire department lost two fire stations and necessary equipment during the tornado. But the department had to respond to routine calls as well as deal with the aftermath of the tornado. Help arrived from fire departments throughout southwest Missouri. Rural fire departments provided tanker trucks. The Southwest Missouri Incident Support Team contributed an experienced commander to help with operations. Integrated teams were developed, using both Joplin fire personnel and mutual aid responders. The Pierce Manufacturing Company loaned the city two pumper trucks. FEMA erected two modular buildings to replace the two fire stations that were destroyed.

The City of Joplin kept the community informed through press conferences, press releases, and news alerts. officials used email, the city’s website, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to disseminate information about shelters, volunteer opportunities, making donations, disaster recovery centers, and registering for FEMA disaster aid. The city tried to help victims and family members find each other.

Non-profit organizations such as the American Red Cross, AmeriCorps, and Citizens Corps descended on Joplin to help with the response. AmeriCorps established a missing persons hotline and agreed to manage the thousands of volunteers who arrived to help.

The Joplin Humane Society and Joplin Animal Control, with help from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the American Humane Association, the Humane Society of the United States, and Red Rover, opened animal shelters to house the hundreds of animals left homeless by the tornado. The Missouri Veterinary Medical Association sent three Missouri Volunteer Veterinary Corps (MOVVC) veterinarians to Joplin to care for the animals.

Utilities were quickly restored after the tornado due to the dedicated efforts of utility workers and mutual aid assistance from all over the Midwest. Sprint’s Emergency Response Team provided satellite phones and wireless devices to public safety officials. Company representatives from the private sector coordinated with State officials to get utilities restored.

The Federal Coordinating Officer at FEMA assigned Liaison Officers to particular city officials to keep them abreast of pertinent information and to respond to questions posed by city officials. This strengthened the coordination between Joplin and FEMA to provide disaster relief to the city. The Joplin Division Office of FEMA reached out to the community with instructions on how to register for disaster aid.

FEMA already had a strong presence in Missouri due to multiple disasters which had already occurred. On May 9, 2011, President Obama issued declaration FEMA-DR-1980 for five Missouri counties. On May 23, 2011, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate amended DR-1980 to include Jasper County. This allowed FEMA to provide Individual Assistance, debris removal, and emergency protective measures funding to individuals who registered for assistance.

What Changed After the Joplin Tornado

“Recovery and response efforts in Joplin were a combination of public and private efforts . . . the robust recovery in Joplin to date is due largely to federal, state, and local officials’ taking a hands-off approach to the recovery.”

More than 92,000 registered volunteers racked up more than 528,000 volunteer hours on Joplin’s response and recovery as of November 2011. Social media became a crucial tool in coordinating volunteer efforts.

“Insurance companies’ quick responses following the Joplin tornado helped tornado victims — both homeowners and business owners — get immediate relief.” Insurance adjusters arrived quickly in Joplin to assess rebuilding needs. “Insurance payments in Joplin exceeded $2 billion.”

Businesses actively participated in donating supplies and money to the recovery. Children became entrepreneurs and sold lemonade in order to contribute to the cause. Most importantly, businesses made commitments to quickly rebuild. Less than four months after the tornado, 69% of destroyed or damaged businesses had reopened.

The American Society of Civil Engineers concluded in a 2013 study that post-tornado houses in Joplin should be required to install hurricane ties that secure the rafters and trusses to the outside walls. But during the first months of recovery, “Joplin city officials unofficially waived building regulations, procedures, and local zoning laws in the immediate aftermath of the tornado” in order to facilitate rebuilding. The same study also recommended that safe rooms be incorporated into schools, hospitals, and other buildings. Yet, Joplin city officials opted not to require the installation of safe rooms in the aftermath of the tornado due to increased building costs. It was not until later that Joplin agreed to mandate hurricane ties on new home construction. The City also agreed to mandate anchor bolts, which attach a building’s frame to the foundation, and masonry reinforced with metal bars. The city finally agreed to start requiring safe rooms and wind-resistant windows in schools, hospitals, and other buildings.

A moratorium on new housing construction was implemented to facilitate debris removal. FEMA agreed to pay for 90% of debris removal and the State of Missouri agreed to pay the remaining 10%.

Six months after the tornado, FEMA released an update on Joplin’s recovery efforts. They revealed that the Army Corps of Engineers had facilitated debris removal and the construction of temporary buildings for schools, the fire department, and the hospital. Since 9,500 residents had been displaced from their homes, the Housing Task Force had been working hard to provide rentals for them.

After the tornado, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommended changes in Jasper County’s warning system that would more effectively communicate urgent warnings to the public. Some of their recommendations included sirens with different sounds, the use of color coding on TV and online to indicate the severity of a storm threat, and using social media and mobile devices to communicate more accurate weather information to the public. The agency also recommended that weather forecasters become more proactive and use ominous and forceful language to convey urgency about imminent threats.

Based on these recommendations, Jasper County applied for federal funding to purchase 10,000 weather radios and construct 4,000 storm shelters, both of which were seriously lacking prior to the tornado.

CivicPlus, a government website builder, agreed in 2012 to build a new website for the City of Joplin. The company built a user-friendly website that enhances two-way engagement between city officials and the public, especially during emergencies.

Other social media networkers have created pages on Facebook and Twitter to prepare their own communities for disaster and provide information on emergency response and recovery. One such site is “Joplin Tornado Info,” started by Rebecca Williams and her mother, Genevieve, right after the tornado. The page still actively relays information about Joplin and its recovery efforts.

Missouri hospitals upgraded their emergency response capabilities after the Joplin tornado. The Missouri Hospital Association concluded: “Hospital leadership and management and emergency planners must continue to make emergency preparedness a top priority within their organizations.”

Mental health professionals conducted a study on the effects of the Joplin tornado on the community and found that “long-term community disaster mental health monitoring, assessment, referral, outreach, and services are needed following a major disaster like the 2011 Joplin tornado.” The effects of such a disaster can lead to long-term depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and cause dysfunction in people who have not received post-disaster mental health services. According to Houston, “a significant amount of mental health outreach and referral was evident in the 1.5 years following the tornado.”

Conclusion

The residents of Joplin, Missouri had grown accustomed to storm threats bypassing their community, so they had no reason to believe that a third of the city would be destroyed by an EF-5 tornado on May 22, 2011.

They had grown accustomed to warning sirens blaring whenever weather forecasters spotted a storm with strong winds. Joplin residents had no reason to believe that the sirens which sounded on May 22, 2011 were any different from the ones they had heard hundreds of times before.

Weather forecasters could see on radar that a terrible storm was brewing, but they did not have the capability to recognize the formation of a deadly tornado until it was too late.

The City of Joplin was ill-prepared to withstand a tornado or any storm system with strong winds. Building codes did not require hurricane ties, anchor bolts, wind-resistant glass, or safe rooms. The city had few, if any, community storm shelters. The use of weather radios was not a common practice.

On the other hand, the City of Joplin, Jasper County, and the State of Missouri were well-prepared to respond to a disaster event. “FEMA had been conducting disaster response and recovery in Missouri in the months prior to the Joplin tornado.” The State already had experience dealing with FEMA and had spent several years building up preparedness relationships. Officials from Jasper County and the City of Joplin had participated in the Department of Homeland Security’s National Level Exercise 2011 program a few days before the tornado. They applied what they had learned to the response. And since President Obama had already issued FEMA-DR-1980 for five Missouri counties earlier in the year, it was easy for DHS administrator Craig Fugate to amend that declaration to include Jasper County.

Joplin’s response to the tornado was based on FEMA’s Whole Community approach. Mutual aid contracts were activated. Within 24 hours, help arrived from other Midwestern states and counties throughout southwest Missouri. Non-profit organizations set up relief shelters, hotlines, and animal shelters. Businesses donated money and supplies.

Joplin leadership encouraged the community to rebuild quickly, using all available resources. The residents of Joplin showed resiliency, flexibility, and adaptability in their recovery.

Dawn Pisturino

October 2019

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2019-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Please contact author for sources.

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Remembering the California Camp Fire 2018

Huffington Post Photo

Around 6:30 a.m. on November 8, 2018, the deadliest fire in California history broke out near Pulga, Butte County, California after a Pacific Gas & Electric high tension power line fell to the ground. Strong winds spread the fire to Concow, Paradise, Magalia, Chico, and Centerville.

Thousands of people, pets, and livestock were forced to evacuate. Towns not touched by the fire were overwhelmed with evacuees. Community organizers set up shelters and tent cities. Representatives from insurance companies and FEMA erected stations to help people affected by the fire.

By the time the fire was extinguished three weeks later, 153,336 acres and over 18,800 structures had been destroyed. At least 86 people perished.

Pacific Gas & Electric took responsibility for the fire and immediately began the cleanup process. But the costs of the damage forced PG&E to file for bankruptcy and cleanup efforts were delayed.

The cleanup has been estimated to take two or three years. Over 1,500 people were hired to remove debris. They must be certified in Hazmat cleanup due to concerns about asbestos. PG&E moved forward with its tree removal program to help prevent future wildfires.

A major hazard after the fire was the contamination of the water supplies. Benzene, a known carcinogenic, was released into the water when water pipes melted. People were forced to drink bottled water or install huge water tanks and have water delivered by truck. This hit surviving businesses particularly hard.

Many people who lost their homes and jobs moved away to start fresh someplace else. Six months after the fire, only 1,500 residents had returned to Paradise out of a population of 27,000. Businesses supplying basic goods re-opened with limited hours. Internet, telephone, and electricity services were restored.

More than 1,000 animals were rescued and taken to shelters, an overwhelming number. Six months later, all but 200 had been placed with new or recovered families.

On August 6, 2019, the Butte County Public Health Department issued a press release indicating that many locations in the Camp Fire burn area remain under the do-not-drink water advisory. Water quality is monitored by the California State Water Resources Control Board.

Agencies which have cooperated with response and recovery include: the California Department of Fire, California Department of Transportation, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Highway Patrol, California Office of Emergency Services, National Weather Service, California Conservation Corps, Butte County, and the City of Chico, California.

Dawn Pisturino

September 10, 2019

Copyright 2019-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Please contact author for sources.

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The Hoover Dam – What if it Broke?

hoover_dam_1

The Hoover Dam – What if it Broke?

I.

At any given time, Lake Mead – which is held back by the Hoover Dam — can supply water to 29 million households in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Turbines and generators at Hoover Dam turn water energy into electrical energy. A failure at Hoover Dam would cut off both water and power to all of these seven states, and especially, to all the communities located in the Colorado River Basin.

A breach in the Hoover Dam wall would cause 10 trillion gallons of water from Lake Mead to form a tsunami wave that would travel down the Colorado River, destroying Davis Dam, Parker Dam, and several bridges, and wiping out Lake Mead, Lake Mohave, and Lake Havasu. Communities located on the Colorado River would be flooded.

There would be an immediate loss of hydroelectric power, irrigation water, and drinking water that millions of people in all seven states depend on. The economic losses would be devastating.

Bullhead City, Arizona is one of the cities located on the Colorado River. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would immediately notify Bullhead City and Mohave County [in Arizona] of the impending catastrophe. The Mohave County Disaster Plan for uncontrolled releases from dams would be activated, involving the Mohave County Department of Risk and Emergency Management and multiple other departments in Bullhead City and Mohave County. The Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Arizona State Parks Department, and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area [in Nevada] would also be involved.

It would require expert and efficient coordination and excellent communication capabilities to evacuate 30,000 people (the ones in Bullhead City, Arizona living closest to the river) in 90 minutes, before the water held back by Hoover Dam and then Davis Dam, hit Bullhead City. In spite of all evacuation plans to move people to Golden Valley and Kingman, Arizona, people would greet the news of a Hoover Dam failure with disbelief and then panic. Highway 95 is the only main route through Bullhead City. It would be jammed with traffic. People on higher ground might be safe from flooding, but they would be trapped by lack of alternate roads out of the city. Law enforcement would be essential to keeping the traffic moving.

It is my estimate that if 10,000 people managed to get out of town in 90 minutes, 10,000 residents would be trapped on higher ground, and 20,000 fatalities would result from drowning and injuries. Thirty miles of Highway 95 would be flooded by water. At least 16,000 homes and businesses would be flooded or destroyed. The local hospital, which sits on a hill, could only be accessed by helicopter. The sewer systems would be flooded, contaminating the environment. Remaining residents would be without power and water. They would have to walk through the hills to highway 68 or be flown out by helicopter. The American Red Cross and other volunteer organizations would have to set up emergency shelters in Golden Valley and Kingman, Arizona within two hours to help the survivors.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors would ask the Governor of Arizona to declare an emergency situation. He, in turn, would ask the President of the United States to declare Bullhead City [and all other cities along the Colorado River] a disaster area. Bullhead City and Mohave County would be overwhelmed. FEMA would be mobilized.

II.

If an unknown terrorist group launched a nuclear device at Hoover Dam and caused a rupture in the concrete wall, the scenario would be the same as described above. In addition to physical and environmental damage and loss of human life, the air and water would be contaminated with radiation and debris. The 10,000 people who managed to stay behind on dry land would have to be rescued and evacuated over 24 hours due to exposure to radiation.

Emergency shelters would need to be set up within two hours by the American Red Cross and other volunteer organizations in Golden Valley and Kingman, Arizona to supply food, water, and other basic needs to survivors. But over the next day, wind currents would bring the radiation over the mountains and into Golden Valley and Kingman. Local law enforcement would pass out gas masks and be on patrol to control panic, looting, and general disorder while State and County emergency workers evacuated the area.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors would ask the Governor of Arizona to declare an emergency situation. He, in turn, would ask the President of the United States to declare the area a disaster zone. FEMA would be mobilized to the area.

Conclusion: When President Trump talks about our deteriorating infrastructure, We the People need to take it more seriously. There are a number of dams across the country which need much-needed repairs and reinforcement. Waiting for a disaster to occur is unacceptable. When he talks about preventing terrorists from entering the country, he knows what he’s talking about. Our deteriorating infrastructure is vulnerable to attack.

Dawn Pisturino

September 2019 and April 23, 2020

Copyright 2019-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Contact author for sources.

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Remembering the Oklahoma City Bombing 1995

Oklahoma City bombing

Photo by By Staff Sergeant Preston Chasteen – Defense Imagery

The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing is considered “the deadliest and most destructive act of domestic terrorism” in American history. Using a fertilizer bomb which cost around $5,000, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols partially collapsed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and “destroyed or damaged 324 buildings in a 16 block radius.” The glass shattered in another 258 buildings in a radius of 55 miles. Damages were estimated at $650 million. Deaths totaled 168 people, including 19 children in the building’s daycare center, and injured around 700 people.

The event did not affect Oklahoma City alone. The small town of Kingman, Arizona, the Mohave County seat, was suddenly catapulted into the national news when it came out that Timothy McVeigh had been living in Kingman just months before the bombing. His Army friend, Michael Fortier, helped him to plan the bombing. When the FBI raided his mobile home, they found over 100 detonators.

How do I know this? I live outside Kingman, Arizona. And Timothy McVeigh had lived in the Kingman area on and off for several years. He was an occupant at a particular motel in Kingman. He worked at a local True Value hardware store. At one time, he worked at a well-known casino in Laughlin, Nevada. My husband, who was a Pit Boss at the time, knew him as a fellow employee. McVeigh drove an old yellow Buick which I saw drive by our house on more than one occasion.

Timothy McVeigh had become friendly with well-known pro-gun, anti-government activists in the area. A few months before the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma bombings, strange things were happening around Kingman, Arizona.

A large fertilizer explosive device was exploded out in the remote desert near the living ghost town of Oatman, which has never been explained or solved. At least 2 bomb threats were called in to Black Mountain Elementary School in Golden Valley. The perpetrators were never caught.

After the Oklahoma City bombing occurred on April 19, 1995 (the two year anniversary of the end of the Waco, Texas stand-off), the FBI descended onto Kingman to investigate the Kingman connection. Residents responded to this invasion by selling T-shirts which read, “I Survived the FBI.” In spite of their presence and the investigation, I have always believed that some of the conspirators got away. They simply disappeared underground.

Could the Oklahoma City bombing have been prevented? Probably not. There was no way to predict that the strange happenings around Kingman would lead to such a major man-made disaster. They appeared to be random events. But hindsight suggests that they could have been exercises conducted by the conspirators, leading up to the BIG EVENT.

One thing is certain: “the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 . . . raised the issue of America’s preparedness for terrorism events.” Since emergency management as a discipline deals with risks, the avoidance of risks, and the consequences of risks, it made sense to include terrorism under the big umbrella.

FEMA was an independent agency then which had grown in status and importance under President Bill Clinton. As a result, the agency was able to respond to the bombing within 45 minutes of notification of the event. Section 501(b) of the Stafford Act gives FEMA primary authority to respond to a domestic disaster, and this authority was exercised for the first time with the Oklahoma City bombing. FEMA coordinated with the FBI to preserve and control the crime site. This experience helped to clarify responsibilities and authority in future disasters.

Oklahoma was well-prepared for the disaster. The immediate response was to publicly request the assistance of all medical personnel in the area. Volunteers and volunteer organizations, such as the American Red Cross, arrived to help. Hospitals set up triage stations. Local law enforcement and EMS personnel utilized their excellent training. The state of Oklahoma had already worked hard to perfect coordination between the Public Works Department, the National Weather Service, and the National Guard. The Department of Public Safety had already developed a strong disaster plan. The entire state was involved in responding to the disaster. This has been dubbed the Oklahoma Standard.

In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, FEMA created Project Impact: Building Disaster-Resistant Communities which asked communities “to identify risks and establish a plan to reduce those risks.” This kind of community-based action is exactly what is needed to mitigate (prevent) events from happening and to keep communities prepared to respond effectively after the event has happened.

Source: Haddow, G.D., Bullock, J.A., & Coppola, D.P. (2017). Introduction to emergency

       management. Cambridge, MA: Elsevier Inc.

Dawn Pisturino

August 13, 2019

Copyright 2019-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Remembering the Laughlin River Run Riot 2002

 

Laughlin River Run Riot 2

Laughlin is a small township in Clark County, Nevada which lies along the Colorado River, across from Bullhead City, Arizona. It takes about 25 minutes to drive from Laughlin to Needles, California. Laughlin boasts a constable and a handful of police officers. For intensive law enforcement needs, it relies on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department – located 90 miles away in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Laughlin is known for its nine casinos and annual Laughlin River Run, a motorcycle gathering which began in 1983. On April 27, 2002, Laughlin made the national news when a deadly brawl broke out between two rival outlaw motorcycle gangs: the Hells Angels and the Mongols.

The Flamingo Hotel (now called the Aquarius) was host to the Hells Angels, while Harrah’s was filled with Mongols. Around 2:15 am on Saturday, April 27th, approximately 35 Hells Angels entered Harrah’s and verbally engaged with about 40 Mongols hanging out in Rosa’s Cantina bar. The brawl began when Hells Angels member Raymond Foakes attacked a member of the Mongols. Two Hells Angels died by shooting, and one Mongols member died by stabbing. Dozens of people were injured, including sixteen who were transported by EMS to Western Arizona Regional Medical Center in Bullhead City, Arizona and University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Police confiscated 50 knives and numerous guns.

There were about 140 police officers on patrol in Laughlin for the event. Police immediately shut down the town, closing off all exit routes. Hundreds of law enforcement officers and SWAT members arrived from Kingman and Bullhead City, Arizona; Needles, California; and Las Vegas, Nevada. The casinos shut down, stranding people wherever they were.

My husband was the Pit Boss on graveyard at the Golden Nugget, where tensions between the Hells Angels and the Mongols first flared. According to him, customers who were stranded there were given pillows and blankets and allowed to sleep around the pool.

Police interviewed more than 500 people, and surveillance tapes clearly showed what happened. They arrested several people. Harrah’s made counselors available to guests and employees and opened an information hotline. Then they re-opened the casino on Saturday afternoon. In fear of retaliation, the town was kept on tight security and police watch. Bikers who were free to leave left en masse on Sunday morning.

Harrah’s later lost a lawsuit which claimed that the casino knew about tensions between the two outlaw motorcycle gangs and did not do enough to beef up security. Harrah’s denied all responsibility.

The motives for the brawl were based on years of gang rivalry between the Hells Angels and the Mongols. A vendor selling Hells Angels gear was harassed by Mongols members at the event. A Hells Angels biker was found dead by police along Interstate 40 near Ludlow, CA. He was on his way home from Laughlin to San Diego. Police determined that he was killed about an hour before the riot.

The River Run Riot, as it is now called, spurred the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to increase police presence, information sharing, and surveillance for future Laughlin River Runs. Officers from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms manned checkpoints with special firearm-sniffing dogs to disclose hidden firearms. The curfew for juveniles from 6 pm to 5 am was continued, and glass and metal drink containers were prohibited.

The Laughlin casinos, which chip in to pay for security and law enforcement presence, increased their hotel prices and made the River Run much less friendly to outlaw biker clubs. The River Run began to draw fewer crowds, and some anti-Laughlin biker gatherings emerged. The costs became greater than the benefits, and the last Laughlin River Run was held in April, 2019.

The remarkable response by law enforcement to the incident minimized the deaths and injuries that could have occurred. The multi-jurisdictional cooperation between Arizona, Nevada, and California brought a number of people to justice and helped make towns and highways safer, during and after the event.

Dawn Pisturino

September 9, 2019

Copyright 2019-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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