By Leischen Stelter
I have to admit, the first day of the International Association of Emergency Managers here in Orlando has been a strange one. People are attempting to go about business as usual, preparing for the largest conference of emergency managers, but it’s obvious our collective minds are with those who can’t be here because of Hurricane Sandy.
At the moment, I’m sitting at the WebEOC booth, which is projecting The Weather Channel live and showing a live map of the storm’s progress. Craig Fugate just came on, telling everyone in the New York and New Jersey areas to take cover. “We’re focusing on safety and getting people somewhere that they’re safe. This means not getting out and not driving around,” Fugate said.
Fugate was supposed to be the keynote speaker this morning at IAEM, but as those of us in emergency management know, duty comes first. That’s the case for many of the conference’s speakers and attendees. IAEM announced that there are still 1,500 emergency managers in attendance, but I’ve heard from a few attendees that more than 1,000 people aren’t here.
I’ll just do a quick synopsis of the morning sessions I attended:
- IAEM had a big presentation of their new and improved website (preview only, the new site won’t actually be rolled out until the end of the year). The new site will focus on being fresher, with more regularly updated current events and will generally be more “hip and modern.”
One of the biggest changes will be the addition of a discussion board. During the research for the new site, designers heard that many IAEM members participate in email discussion lists, but are inundated with email during the day. Soon, those discussions will be migrated over to this new discussion board and each group will have a moderator so if members want a closed discussion group they have that option. There is also an enhanced social media element and the website has a great (and simple) interface for mobile devices.
- A captain for the United States Coast Guard (apologies for not catching his name) gave an update about the Uniformed Services Caucus Partners. He reported that there are now 32 members in the caucus and they’ve seen tremendous value in coordinating their work with IAEM.
He also talked about the unprecedented severity of Hurricane Sandy:
“I stand before you in awe. In my 27 years in the Coast Guard, I’ve seen numerous hurricanes, but there’s never been, in 1,400 storms over 161 years, a northern Atlantic storm that’s taken a left hook,” he said. “I discounted it with my own staff and told them to wait and see what happens on Sunday and I woke up this morning and sure enough it was turning left.”
- Linda Langston, First Vice President of the National Association of Counties (NACO), gave a great presentation about how emergency managers need to reach out and partner with elected officials. She said she first became aware of the importance of emergency management after talking to the governor:
“I asked the governor what were some of the lessons he learned when he first became governor? He told me to learn everything you can about emergency management because no matter what happens in four years, you’re going to experience an emergency,” she said.
She also talked about the importance of learning how to communicate with elected officials.
“We need to build partnerships so all communities can be resilient. You need to find ways to engage with your local elected officials, who may or may not be engaged in a way that you would like them to be. That means that folks need to learn to expand outside of the language that you speak,” she said. “You speak an interesting language and it’s not mine.”
Stay tuned for more from IAEM. If you want to follow live updates of what’s happening at IAEM, you can follow us on Twitter: @AMUDisasterEd. The hashtag for the event is: #IAEM12.