Every year, FEMA and the United States Coast Guard meet to discuss the past year’s hurricane response efforts and to plan for future storms. It may not sound extraordinary, but it’s not only one of the best opportunities for FEMA to engage with the Coast Guard on our joint mission to protect the homeland, but it also brings together multiple FEMA Regions (representing the states most at risk from hurricanes) to discuss how we can better prepare for future storms.
This annual gathering allows us to learn how the Coast Guard is securing and reconstituting U.S. ports, conducting maritime operations, and fulfilling requests for search and rescue both at sea and in response to a major storm. Most importantly, it provides us lessons in leadership to take back to our organizations on how to do better for future storms and improve our decision-making processes.
The 2019 Senior Leadership Seminar took place June 26 – 27, 2019 in Norfolk, VA. In addition to recapping our operational posture and response to Hurricanes Florence and Michael, we discussed our emergency support functions for hazardous materials and search and rescue. Each of these brings FEMA and the Coast Guard closer together, as we swap stories, experiences, and lessons learned from past storms.
We also looked at the mission, where FEMA has often partnered with the Coast Guard to respond to hazardous material and oil releases and conduct search and rescue operations during contingencies. Throughout the 2017 and 2018 Hurricane Seasons, we worked together to protect communities and carry out our mission. The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season is no different. By talking about the challenges facing our communities and the areas of opportunity for positive impacts in our response, FEMA and the Coast Guard are better prepared for the next hurricane.
The seminar allows us to collaborate even with the differences across our regions. Each response to hurricanes is unique, but they can inform how we do things and how to do them better. Lessons from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, Michael, Florence, and beyond are changing the way we train staff, engage our states, and build capabilities to respond to an emergency. They impact every community differently, but our mission doesn’t change: helping people before, during, and after disasters. Each day, we’re making decisions to help prepare our communities and partners for the next storm, which is always different than yesterday’s response. It’s one of the most important aspects of our work with the Coast Guard, too, in that we can and continue to do better so we can serve our communities when they are most in need.
In each of our Regions and at the Coast Guard, we are identifying innovative approaches to future storms with the dual goals of reducing their impact on communities and improving our ability to respond to them.
In Region II, we are engaging industry partners to address our complex logistical challenges and improve supply chain redundancies, implementing a mentoring program to support capacity building, and collaborating with local partners to strengthen infrastructure resilience. In Region III, we are not only adapting our timelines for response but increasing our logistics capability, talking about debris missions, and expanding our FEMA Integration Team Program. In Region IV, we have instituted readiness visits with the region’s and states’ emergency management leadership where concerns specific to each state’s unique needs and capabilities are discussed transparently, effectively, and consistently during on-site visits. Each meeting has produced specific, measurable tasks and timelines which support the state’s training, staffing, logistics, and programmatic capabilities. In Region VI, we continue to hold regular exercises and quarterly Regional Interagency Steering Committee meetings to gather our state, local, federal and tribal partners in one room to discuss how our capabilities have changed and what to expect during the next disaster.
Following a storm, the Coast Guard supports FEMA and state agencies in a variety of missions, including search and rescue, and works with federal, state and local partners to reconstitute the Maritime Transportation System in the impacted port quickly to prevent disruption to the flow of commerce.
We’re making decisions in support of these initiatives and more, knowing that our communities, states, and the public across the nation are counting on us. Our job, our responsibility, and our charge as leaders is to ensure we are ready. This seminar is one example of the steps we are taking to ready ourselves, our Region, and FEMA to respond to the next hurricane.