Simulating working relationships during a disaster - the students' perspective

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How well a community responds to a disaster or emergency depends, in large part, on how connected the community is.  The first step to meeting the needs of those impacted by a disaster is knowing what the needs are and what resources are available locally to meet those needs.  This disaster-related interconnectedness of a community can happen two ways: during a crisis where everyone is forced to work together towards a common goal, or by aggressively making the connections before a disaster through training and workshops. 

One of the courses taught at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute, the Integrated Emergency Management Course, focuses on building the relationships and connections necessary to effectively respond to crises.  The course is a four-day, exercise-based training activity that puts local officials through simulated crisis scenarios so they develop the right procedures, practices, and plans to protect life and property.

Last week, we conducted the course for a group of 65 emergency responders, emergency managers, elected officials, and other local leaders from Volusia County, Florida.  The county is no stranger to disasters. Since 2004, Volusia County has been affected by four hurricanes, a tropical storm, two major tornadoes and several heavy rain storms that produced severe regional flooding.  Fortunately, this community has made disaster preparedness a priority.

Rather than trying to explain each portion of the course, we’ll let the feedback from students tell the story.  Here’s what a few participants said about the focus on making connections with other community leaders:

Ponce Inlet Police Chief Frank Fabrizio:

Bringing together many different organizations and disciplines from throughout Volusia County gave me a greater understanding of their needs and concerns and the resources they can provide for law enforcement. I found this training to be very beneficial and I believe it helped prepare Volusia County to better serve its citizens during an emergency.

Bob Mandarino, Fire Chief for the city of Ormond Beach:

The course and exercises had most participants playing their real-life roles and exposed them to areas of planning and communication where there could be room for improvement. The opportunity to network with fellow community participants and understand their perspective on how events should be managed will lead to the enhancement of processes for our community.

It was great to see a diverse group from our community learning and working together while preparing and handling the exercises.

DeLand Commissioner Leigh Matusik:

In addition to participating in training and planning exercises, this course helped all participants work together in a simulated emergency which makes us more prepared when we are put in a real world disaster situation.

training class
Here's a shot of the students before the simulated Emergency Operations Center and Joint Information scenario.

On day two of the course, we discuss the role of the local emergency operations center, how to communicate effectively during an emergency, and work with Public Information Officers on media relations simulations.  Here’s what Adam Barringer, Mayor New Smyrna Beach, Florida said about his experience:

This is my first visit to the Emergency Management Institute, participating in the Integrated Emergency Management Course.  The information presented is timely as our county has encountered natural disasters and “terrorists” actions threatening our nation’s safety.  The on-camera training, which I believe will become the most applicable to my role as mayor, was very valuable to me, as well as learning about the Volusia/Flagler Public Information Network; the Incident Command System organizational chart and levels of responsibility. 

My role as mayor will allow me to share this information with our city council, while my role as Chairman of Volusia Council of Governments will allow me to share this information with all mayors in Volusia County and the executive director of the Volusia League of Cities. 

interview training
One of the Public Information Officers in a mock interview during the Integrated Emergency Management Course.

The Integrated Emergency Management Course also provides information on the role of a Joint Information Center and how it can provide the media and the public with the most up-to-date, trusted information after a disaster.  Here are a few insights into the media and communications aspect of the training:

George Recktenwald, Director of Public Protection Volusia County Fla.

I learned working with the media to give out information can definitely help in an emergency. Social media is also important, since it can help build a network for the media and citizens to use during an event. The most valuable aspect of the training was the emphasis on making sure all of our websites and social media sites are relevant.

Loretta Moisio, Ormond Beach, Florida:

The training was beneficial as I have never been involved in a JIC and didn’t know how it would work. The information will be very valuable when I need to work in a similar situation because anything can happen anywhere at any time.  During training I learned that every detail in a news conference should be carefully planned as it can help to maintain calm during stressful situations and get the right information to the audience to assure their safety.

One thing we particularly like about the Integrated Emergency Management Course is that it is community-specific.  It’s tailored to the needs of the local community; so the Volusia County course was designed to provide a joint education and training package focused on the interaction of the Emergency Operations Center and the Joint Information Center.

The students’ reactions demonstrate why this kind of exercise-based, hands-on training is so important for emergency responders at all levels.  The more we can plan and practice, the better our communities and neighborhoods will be able to respond to emergencies when they happen. 

Last week’s course was particularly beneficial for everyone and we’d like to give a special “thank you” to the instructors and class participants.  If you’re an emergency manager or first responder and want to learn more about exercise-based training and Integrated Emergency Management Courses, visit .  To learn more about other training courses that FEMA offers  We hope to see you in a future class!

Last Updated: 
06/21/2013 - 16:34

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