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CTOBER 22, 2005
Michael "Mick" Mayers is the Deputy Director of the South Carolina Emergency Response Task Force’s Urban Search and Rescue Program (SC-TF1) and a Fire Captain/Paramedic with Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire and Rescue Department.  Beginning his emergency services career in Bridgeport, PA, he has served as a firefighter since 1980.  

Mayers is enrolled in the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program and holds an Associate's Degree in Fire Science Technology from Savannah Technical Institute.  He also maintains professional certifications as a fire officer and instructor as well as IFSAC Hazardous Materials Technician and National Registry Paramedic certifications.

Since 1998 he has served as a committee member and Secretary of NFPA 1006, Professional Qualifications for Rescue Technicians.  He is an adjunct instructor for the South Carolina Fire Academy and until recently was an adjunct faculty member of The Technical College of the Lowcountry.  

Among many commendations, Mick received his department's Meritorious Conduct Medal in 1984 and was the Fire and EMS Operations Commander during visits to Hilton Head by several Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the United States, as well as detail commander of many major sports and special events held on the Island over the last 10 years.

Capt. Mayers is a native of Montgomery County, PA and lives on Hilton Head Island with his wife, Kathleen, and daughters Emma and Caroline.  He is a fourth generation firefighter; his father is the Fire Marshal for Towamencin Township, PA and his brother is a career fire officer in Anne Arundel County, MD.

Disaster Consequence Management
Should the Defense Department or the Fire Service Stick To Their Traditional Role?
By Michael “Mick” Mayers
Deputy Director, South Carolina Emergency Response Task Force
Having been part of the “train wreck” that lawfully responded after Hurricane Katrina to the affected parishes of St. Tammany and St. Bernard, it seems that more now than ever it is necessary to start some honest and open conversation about the future of disaster plans in the nation. 
Although plenty of innuendo was splashed around shortly after Katrina, throughout Rita, and even now we are hearing some of the beginnings of it with Wilma, I think we can all agree that there is plenty of blame to go around at the local, state, and federal levels.  Since even the lamest pundits have said enough about that, let’s move on to some constructive talk and to what we really should be doing; avoiding making the same mistakes twice.
Major General John White, in his update on the federal hurricane response to President Bush at Randolph Air Force Base, stated, “we knew the coordination piece was a problem” .  If you remember, he further illustrated the problem of coordination using the example of five helicopters showing up (theoretically) to rescue the same individual.  He went on to discuss that we were “not maximizing the use of forces to the best efficiency”.
Whereas I agree with Major General White in those statements, I can’t say that I agree with anyone’s presumption that the military alone would do any better of a job of response than do the civilian agencies, nor do I think that the Department of Defense taking over in massive national disasters will solve the problem either.  That whole concept is a money grab, plain and simple and obvious to anyone with a brain. 
The problem on a very general level in this case was not as much with the plan as with the implementation.  Furthermore, the problem was exacerbated by the inability of state and local government to fulfill their own plans.  Why that inability existed is up to the investigators to determine.  My guess, however, is a little less nefarious than the press likes to imagine.  There was a lack of coordination in a huge part because a large hurricane hit one of the nation’s largest cities and because the residents and visitors to the affected areas had become complacent.  I also think that the impact of the storm so affected the communications infrastructure that there was not an effective means of managing (or even requesting) the appropriate resources when it was determined that they were necessary.
Without going into the Federal Response Plan, I’d like to turn to the spirited debate regarding a national mutual aid plan.  I am happy to say that the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, or EMAC, exists. That existence, however, is simply in that it is a functioning mutual aid agreement between 48 of 50 states.
The system does not work, however, if people aren't able to communicate (like in cases where the infrastructure is disrupted) or won't communicate (I'll leave that one up to your imagination) or just plain assume help is on the way. The affected state must request assistance and the mutual aid states must offer to fill the request for assistance (because after all, you are getting ready to send a lot of help and that help requires fuel, food, shelter, water, etc. so you just can't head out the door and hope for the best).
As I have said before to people, since the EMAC agreements involve a little more than getting in the fire truck and heading south (like authorizing physicians to act outside of their state license and accepting liability for the actions of responders, and of course, paying the bills), there's the issue of a signature authorizing the help to respond.  Now where that SHOULD only take the better part of an afternoon, in the wake of Katrina, our state found that with phone service disruptions and fax machines being incommunicado, the requests were coming much, much later.

In the meanwhile, FEMA was authorizing and positioning Federal US&R assets from New York, Washington, and other corners of the continental United States, requiring them to literally drive through the states served by US&R teams participating in the EMAC program while these state teams sat and awaited their lawful orders. We saw the same setup again in Rita and this week again with Wilma.  When I say there are no lack of resources, I’m not kidding.  When Illinois can mobilize hundreds of firefighters and apparatus through their Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) and elsewhere 1000 firefighters can go off to learn about sexual harassment, be reassured there is no problem in getting manpower.

Now some of you may say agree or disagree strongly with my tone in regard to those statements, and in both counts you'd be partially right. There is some issue with "not sending the closest asset", but truth be known, FEMA has existing arrangements with those 28 highly-trained and highly effective US&R task forces and not with the other assets, so logically, they could avoid the paperwork shuffle and simply deploy the 28 task forces based on their relationship with the FEMA system. The problem with that is, that the assets being passed up were sometimes ones that had a significant ability to contribute to incident relief, especially in the aspect of just being closer, and the fact that these teams were deployed anyway and utilized just as the federal teams were, makes me wonder if someone was just too stubborn to use those assets.
Furthermore, the argument that the military can bring a large number of resources to bear on the emergency in a short period of time is a very valid and rational argument.  The military units that South Carolina’s task force worked with (notably the Colorado National Guard units working in Chalmette as part of the search and rescue element) were extremely valuable, very cooperative, very efficient, and I was proud to work alongside them.

.That being said, 1) those Guardsmen were very efficient at patrolling and keeping the peace, and coordinating logistics, but they were definitely on their own plan and not always in the plan coordinated by the AHJ and; 2) there were also a large number of firefighters who were available and ready to go and the only thing keeping them out of going was a statement saying “don’t come” and their level of self-sufficiency.  With some logistical support, might we not be able to employ a beefed-up version of MABAS utilizing EMAC?

My suspicion, however, was aroused almost a year before Katrina even raised her head, where there was jockeying from certain military agencies for incorporating US&R into the DoD in some fashion. In fact, prior to our agency taking over US&R in South Carolina, the South Carolina National Guard was the designated US&R agency.  My other concern against wholesale integration of disaster management into the military is this; do you gut programs that are already in place to put in a military version?  The states have already spent untold millions of dollars in gearing up for terrorism programs and other preparedness functions.  Do you allow a branch of Federal government to take over yet another part of delivering service to the public (after all, the statement has been made by the President that “rescue” and “firefighting” are a local responsibility, thus the logic in gutting the FIRE grants several years ago), or do we terminate the people who haven’t been stewards of the taxpayers’ money and get people who are really capable of doing the job in there?

This disaster management concept could be the slippery slope that leads to a nationalized fire service; although I found the merits and demerits of the Australian Fire Service to be quite intriguing (State Fire Service) and I like the thought of an interdepartmental transfer to Hawaii to finish out my career, I know how nationalization plays to every fire chief and emergency manager across the country. I anticipate some lively debate as this whole thing begins to make its rounds.  Will the new military version of disaster management include me, the state US&R Deputy Director, or am I now out of a job because I haven’t been to basic training? Am I in danger of becoming obsolete?  (I’m not personally worried; I’ll be eligible for retirement in a little over a year).

With all of the discussion about NIMS implementation, there should be no doubt that if done correctly and a military liaison were utilized in a Joint Management Team format (or even if they just reported like they are supposed to at the designated EOC) then the military WOULD be involved and fully able to participate in the plan. The difference is that they would be a partner in the plan and not the director of the plan.  I guess that's what concerns me when we discuss the military’s version of disaster management. I think that no one agency has any business dictating their view on the situation when the emergency is as multi-faceted as this multi-state, multi-jurisdictional, multi-discipline disaster that threatens not only the people and property of such a large area but national infrastructure as well. 

In Joint Forces Quarterly, an article by Hamblet and Kline titled Managing Complex Contingency Operations discussed that in the realm of certain complex missions (like managing disasters or multilateral peace operations), a flatter hierarchy is necessary at the command level to accommodate certain concepts considered to be outside of the military scope. The problem anticipated problem, however, is that the discussion also pointed out that this shift from a traditional, vertically-oriented entity is not necessarily embraced by all and has not been without conflict.

Although you don’t know me, anyone who does can tell you that if I really thought US&R could be done better by someone else, I'd be the first to step aside.  In that regard, I don't think that "collaborative and cooperative behavior" is on the minds of these officers as they suggest a take-over of emergency operations in an attempt to pad their own budgets, so I don’t foresee turning over the keys to my Suburban anytime in the near future.  I think, though, that if some of these Department of Defense folks were to engage in some mutual dialogue instead of seeking a power grab, they might get some support from the people who actually do this for a living.

There are clear reasons why there is a discussion on whether the military should take over disaster management; it is because the nation’s emergency services and disaster management officials need to get in gear and plan for these events, practice their plans, learn from their mistakes, and put that plan into effect when the time comes.  Of course, some cooperation from the federal government, by not cutting funding to responders or to FEMA, to choose good stewards of our tax money, and to permit the cooperation between civilian and military agencies, would really help as well.  I would suggest talking this subject up among your peers and planning for the future.  It could be that the “train wreck” in the Gulf States today could end up in your living room tomorrow.