Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in a Homeland Security and Disaster Response Seminar hosted by St. Thomas University. Topics discussed by a distinguished panel included domestic and international terrorism within the U.S.; illegal immigration; and natural and man-made disasters. Panelists addressed the issues on a local, state and federal level and focussed on command structure and response coordination.
Most of the discussion was on terrorism. South Florida residents should be pleased to know that there is a Miami Joint Terrorism Task Force whose mission is to develop a proactive strategy to enhance law enforcement efforts in the Miami area to combat both domestic and international terrorism. I was wondering what a hurricane guy like me could contribute to this seminar. The truth is that we at least know pretty much what we are dealing with in a hurricane threat. There are checklists for what to do before, during and after the hurricane. With terrorist events, there are a lot of unknowns. I made the point that after a terrorist act, people want to know what is going on and a consistent message, in my opinion, is extremely important. There are several different agencies involved in combating terrorism, and we were told that each agency will have a public information officer ready to respond. I made the point that one reason communications work so well from the National Hurricane Center is that the Director or Deputy Director usually do most of the interviews. The NHC had a fantastic public information officer while I was the NHC Director. But during a hurricane event, everyone wanted to hear from the person in charge. I think the same thing will apply during terrorists events as well. Broward County’s Emergency Management Director, Chuck Lanza, said that the #1 failure during any disaster is usually communications. To me, your family communications plan (see my blog from May 27, 2009), communications between first resonders, and communications between government officials and the public are all critical during any type of disaster.
The panel was moderated by John Yearwood, the World Editor for the Miami Herald.