Episode 5

TRANSCRIPT

Announcer:

Welcome to the Disaster Management Podcast Series. Each episode features
subject matter professionals, discussing strategies, and techniques for emergency
managers and policymakers to consider as they prepare for, respond to, and
recover from disasters.

This series is brought to you by Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service and the National Emergency Response and Recovery Training Center.

Heather Crites:
Howdy, and welcome to the next podcast in our COVID-19 response series. Today’s podcast is hosted by Kris Murphy and Heather Crites.

My name is Heather Crites. I am a Training Specialist with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. And I am primarily responsible for our Enhanced All-Hazards Incident Management Unified Command Course, also known as MGT-314. For those of you listening who are not familiar with MGT-314, this course centers on applying the essential incident command processes required for managing a large-scale all-hazards incident. Participants exercise as part of an incident management team using the all-hazards planning process to manage the response to four different simulation-based scenarios.

Kris Murphy:
And I am Kris Murphy, many of you will recognize me from the MGT-314 program as well. I have been a Project Coordinator with TEEX for about eight years now, and have interacted with many of you listening during your week here in College Station. Also joining us today is Neil Bregman the Emergency Management Coordinator with the Santa Rosa Fire Department in the great state of California. And Sergeant Josh Ludtke, with the Santa Rosa Police Department. Welcome gentlemen.

Before you introduce yourselves, I want to give a quick overview of what we are going to talk about today. We first want to hear about how your respective agencies are handling the COVID-19 response and talk about how you have had to adapt to this unique crisis. We then will dive into how you are facing the prospect of your cities opening back up. And finally, we’ll talk about the MGT-314 training which you both have attended and seen how it has played a role in preparing you for this. Ok, gentlemen why don’t we start with you, Neil.

Neil Bregman:
Hi my name is your Neil Bregman, I’m the Emergency Manager for the City of Santa Rosa in Santa Rosa Fire Department. I have been the Emergency Manager since September 2014. Before that, I was an Emergency Manager in New York City with the Office of Emergency Management and some
hospitals, and way before that I used to practice law.

Josh Ludtke:
Hey my name is Josh Ludtke I’m a sergeant with the Santa Rosa Police Department. I’m currently in our Traffic Bureau and I am a sergeant for the incident management team. I’ve been here for about 22 years.

Kris Murphy:
Neil, we’re gonna start with you and I actually want to go back in time a little bit before we start digging into the COVID-19 response.
I want you to share your story with everyone. I think everybody will find it somewhat interesting and very much probably what some people are going through right now with this COVID response. Now you attended the MGT-314 class back in September of 2017. After being here a week you flew home on Friday and within the next two to three weeks well why don’t you go ahead and fill in after that.

Neil Bregman:
Sure I was already raving about it the week I got back that it was the best live ICS course I’d ever taken. I really felt that I’ve gotten a lot of benefit out of it. I’d taken it with Lieutenant Eric Litchfield, we started talking to our police and fire management saying “hey, you got to get everyone on this course it’s really great. Gets you through a lot of positions and ICS structure, helps you understand from September, when we took that course to October 9th, when Santa Rosa and Sonoma County experienced what at the time was the largest and most catastrophic wildfire in California history.” And I got called in the middle of the night to our Emergency Operations Center with the fire already raging. You know I certainly had experience with the incidents before, but nothing to that magnitude. It took a lot to remain poised and deal with something of that size, but very frankly I really felt like the training I got in a few weeks before, and the experience in 314, helped me to lead the city in the way I did. I don’t know if I would’ve able to do it without it. It was the best preparation you can have for something like that. I don’t think you could ever be prepared, but it really set the mark for understanding how to run our EOC and interface with incident command posts. And I am teased from there on out.

Kris Murphy:
Yes, Neil, I do remember corresponding with you during that time and if I remember correctly we put you in touch with a couple of the instructors that were in the class with you so they can assist you with some plans etc.. Sergeant Luckey was the police department prepared for something of this magnitude?

Josh Ludtke:
Our Police Department started getting involved in ICS and training early back in 2012-2013, in response to some civil disobedience, and other issues that we were going through. And we assembled an incident management team, which essentially was a department Operations Center to deal with police-related incidents. After a while, that training went away as we were encountering less and less of those incidents. And then as Neil said in 2017, we had the fire, and we quickly realized that we were ill-equipped training wise to deal with some of the incidents that and the scale magnitude of the incidents that happened such as a wildfire. Since that happened, we started really dedicating ourselves to training and getting involved in the ICS system so, luckily for us, we have been sending all of our sergeants and many of our staff through ICS courses, including TEEX, and of course, that’s been really helpful because now we apply the ICS system to pretty much any incident that we have here including community events, like concerts, or things like that as well as critical incidents, and large-scale incidents, like fires, and now of course this pandemic.

Heather Crites:
Walk us through how your city and your agency’s response is going and how is managing this crisis different than those which you have previously dealt with.

Josh Ludtke:
This incident certainly is very different than anything that we’ve ever experienced. Some of the things that we did immediately, we activated our incident management team within the police department and we started identifying roles and responsibilities and also identified essential services that the police department was going to need to provide and start identifying how we were going you do that. For us, this incident was really heavy on planning and logistics preparing for personal protective equipment and disinfecting equipment and preparing officers for what they were going to encounter. In addition to that we’ve changed our staffing model. Essentially we split our staffing model into two teams, and the goal of that was to have a team that was able to deal with our essential services and at the same time have a team in quarantine so that in the event of a widespread exposure we had a workforce to be able to return to work and carry on the duties and activities that were required. We began a plan really early for safety measures for our staff and employees. Basically compartmentalized parts of our department and divisions so that field personnel weren’t interacting with people inside the building to mitigate any kind of exposure. We also started making procedures and processes for disinfecting personal protection equipment disinfecting vehicles and things along that way. In addition to that, we also had to come up with plans and procedures to define what exposure was to deal with quarantining officers when they had exposures, not only protecting officers from the public but from each other. And also creating policies and procedures to prevent exposed officers or field personnel to infecting their own families. So those were all a lot of the procedures that we have put in place and are still in place in order to deal with this unique incident.

Heather Crites:
And what do you feel your greatest success has been?

Josh Ludtke:
We’ve had a lot of success in buy-in to these procedures because there’s a lot of changes obviously and in our roles and responsibilities as a police department our services that we provide to the community are essentially less in order to mitigate the threat of exposure to officers and the community and public in generals. I think that a lot of our policies and procedures to protect officers, field personnel, and our staff have been successful. Early in the incident, obviously, we struggled with a number of exposures and COVID-19 positive tests. We had a lot of officers and staff that were diagnosed with COVID-19. We also lost an officer due to COVID-19 complications. Those were a lot of challenges that we faced. Just the overall feeling of losing an officer, the feeling of not feeling safe, also the stress of families, field personnel, and staff, not only putting themselves in danger but also the threat of exposing their own families. Those were a lot of difficulties and challenges. Since we started putting all those safety procedures in place we hadn’t had any other COVID-19 positive tests. The things that we’ve done, the safety measures and protocols that we’ve put in place, have protected our staff and also given a sense of security that people can come to work and feel safe and be able to accomplish our mission.

Heather Crites:
I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your fellow officer Josh.

Josh Ludtke:
Thank you, yeah it’s uh it’s been very difficult for organization and City you know something that we’re still all struggling with.

Heather Crites:
Neil the same question to you how has this been different than previous incidents and things that you have dealt with? And then what have been your greatest successes and challenges?

Neil Bregman:
Clearly, it’s different in that most incidents whether it’s our wildfires, our power shut off, or whatever else we deal with you know even if there are two-three weeks or something bigger even a month the maximum extreme frankly most things where we’re in an incident command post or an EOC for a week, ten days max, and then you’re into recovery. And so there’s sprints, they’re not marathons. You know a pandemic is a marathon. This is different as far as from a safety perspective, running a government, running an EOC we’ve gone overtime now 100% virtual. I have more zoom meetings and conference calls than I would like to. That’s the way we’re taking care of business and keeping everyone safe. Our biggest accomplishment is the ability to overcome and adapt and fortunately, Santa Rosa has had since 2017, we had that major wildfire in uh in 2018, we had a little bit of a break in 2019 our local utility operator shut off the power six times, sometimes to over two hundred thousand people in the county. And then we had the Kincaid Fire, so, unfortunately, we’re very good at dealing with whatever hits us on the fly. And so when this hit us adapting to how to use ICS for a pandemic? How do you keep the continuity of operations and your city going? How do you go virtual? Those are all they really all have been really big successes for us as far as how we’ve been able to adapt and overcome and deal with this new challenge.

Josh Ludtke:
The other thing, Neal, that you touched on I think it was right on spot was the uniqueness of this incident. Also is that for the competition of resources we are facing it’s not just a regional or local thing that we’re trying to get resources for. Things that usually go through EOC and that are maybe a little bit more easily attainable have been really difficult to do. And that’s been a challenge but working, even having a virtual EOC and working together through the EOC and through our Department Operations Center we’ve been able to work through a lot of those things and get our staff in the city and in the police department the equipment that they need. So I think that’s been a big success as well.

Neil Bregman:
Actually reminding me of two other things. Is with any of those other incidents that the city and county have been through, even if they’re large, they are regional in nature and so at the most, it’s affecting the Bay area. And so when we need mutual aid the cavalry eventually shows up. Because this is a national and international situation there’s no cavalry coming to help us when people get tired and exhausted and so how to figure out how to keep people fresh is a real challenge. We already had a continuity of operations plan prior to this year, but we were in the middle of refreshing it, and I want to say in the middle of February when COVID-19 was still not being talked about too much, we anticipated that it could get ugly and really ramped up our continuity of operations planning so that we could keep those essential government services going and plan for how we would run things if things got ugly, and so I think we’ve struggled a little less than some other jurisdictions. It hasn’t been easy for any of us, but we definitely maybe had a couple more weeks or start a couple weeks earlier to plan around this stuff and some other places might have.

Kris Murphy:
So you mention your continuity of ops Neil, how have you had to adapt that as this thing is going on for weeks and weeks and weeks? Is it proving to be effective?

Neil Bregman:
The continuity operations plan is usually based upon, you know, we’re gonna shut down government services and essential services to the bare bones for a couple days and then resume. Here again, that’s hard to do because of the shelter in place, but then sometimes you have these shelter in place orders in California that start pretty drastic and so to mirror that we kind of go-to bare-bones essential services. But then, they won’t list the order completely, but they’ll ease up on it and so we’re kind of reversing our continuity of operations and resuming certain services. That’s been a significant challenge. But we really set up mirroring ICS a daily planning cycle and group of meetings and we’re not the reaction plans every day we’re doing sitreps, and situation reports, in sound waves of communicating, using that ICS and planning P, to make sure that any time something new comes up we are able to adapt whether it’s to day-to-day operations, or that continuity of operations plan. Josh, have you kind of seeing the same thing on your end, where the department was able to adapt because we’re kind of trained using these systems?

Josh Ludtke:
I’d agree with that. In our, Department Operations Center is some of those paths that we’ve taken on that have to do with enforcing the order, both for business compliance and for other parts of the order. We have an Operations team that does do the ICS form we do an after-action plan basically do the planning P, set goals, and then move forward with the plan on almost a daily basis. So we’ve translated a lot of that system into just even our day-to-day operations for for that it’s been really successful.

Heather Crites:
You mentioned ICS, and both of you have attended many trainings on the incident command system. I would imagine a lot of those focus on fire, earthquake, active shooter, things along those lines. How is the incident command system holding up when it comes to a pandemic? Is it working well for you guys?

Josh Ludtke:
Well for us at the police department I think it’s working extremely well. I think that the benefit are one of the many benefits of using ICS system is people understand and the identified roles and responsibilities. What the task at hand is. This particular incident again is unique, in that the things that we employ in a plan or in an operation sometimes the successes or failures of those things aren’t recognized for days or even weeks. So an example is when we start doing some of these disinfecting procedures, and safety measures, we don’t know how well that they’re working. Because we don’t know that result workday on end. Also usually incidents are very visual. During an incident, you say that you know there it is there’s a barricade person there, or there’s the fire over there. In this, the incident or the enemy is invisible, and it’s very difficult to plan and create operations around that. So that’s been a very different type of incident for us in that way.

Neil Bregman:
ICS is holding up okay, you know, we were in unified command of a sort, at the highest level so the city manager and I run a command staff meeting every morning with all the OPS chiefs, from what you think of as branches so, police, fire, water, Public Works, and then we have some other operational areas. We’re all in unified command and making decisions about what the city needs to do. We have an afternoon meeting three times a week, where we have command and General Staff, and a bunch of people who are, you know deputy director, or kind of level in the city, making sure they’re on point and accomplishing what we need to accomplish. And we’re, especially on the logistic side, we’re adhering pretty hard within the city to an ICS structure. We need ICS to keep people from going crazy. We’re trying to order PPE, and then all those types of things. It’s the way we’re able to control it. The area where it’s not working with ICS a little bit more of NIMS, the National Incident Management System, is this particular crisis, especially on whether it’s inter-agency coordination, or different levels, of government, communicating are not lining up the way they do in a traditional incident. You can be very hierarchical and you know the city calls the county, the county calls the state, that state calls the federal government in a wildfire type incident. You obey that chain of command. Here, there’s just so many moving pieces and players that once we get outside the walls of the city, whether it’s dealing with things going on within our county or state or even dealing with the federal government kind of where you jump to does not look like ICS or a normal chain of command. So we just had to adapt. I think that’s a new way of doing things for everyone.

Kris Murphy:
In that process how are you finding working with your mutual aid partners? Are those relationships still in place, or have you had to kind of wipe the system and start fresh?

Neil Bregman:
It is a bit of starting fresh. You know here in California we have the Standardized Emergency Management System SIMS, which is essentially just a version of ICS especially for logistical support. You know how you’re supposed to order things and do that, and that’s really come under strain. In this incident. We’ve tried to obey it or use it and when it’s failed when the county level and your agency partnerships just haven’t worked. We’ve had to kind of one-off it or go off on solo missions rather than obeying the system. Just you know because our primary purpose is to protect the citizens, residents, and visitors of the city of Santa Rosa and all of our employees, and if systems not working we’re gonna find a way to get people what they need to keep them safe.

Heather Crites:
Speaking of wildfire season coming up. What is your greatest concern with that? I imagine that some thoughts going into multiple jurisdictions responding, and how are we going to house those, historically you would establish base camps that’s all going to look different I imagine this season.

Neil Bregman:
It is, I’ll start then turn to Josh. I know CAL FIRE, the State Fire Agency out here and Federal Fire Service have already been having talks about exactly that. You’re right these larger canteen-style wildfires that bring in resources from all over the region, state, and country. Those base camps could create a real problem as far as spreading the virus. I think they’re gonna do as much temperature check questionnaire type things for and health and safety around that as they can. I think they’ll try and social distance I think those plans are still being built. Here in the city I’ve already started planning out in my Emergency Operations Center which normally has 40-50 people in a wildfire activation how I can get that down to 20 and socially distance them. Similarly every fire we have we wind up evacuating people and having to open up an evacuation shelter. Being able to do that in a situation where we might still be under a social distancing situation which we’d like to try and maintain is very difficult. Instead of normal conditions how many people could you, in a socially existent situation, keep in a primary shelter if not, where the overflow shelter is gonna be. And back to the supply piece you know when those people show up I do not expect that if they ran out of their house they had time to grab a ninety-five or a cloth mask. Making sure that we have enough supplies personal protective supplies, cleaning supplies, and things like that. That if we’re opening an evacuation shelter or multiple shelters we pre-staged those resources to be able to take care of anyone who shows up. What about you guys, Josh?

Josh Ludtke:
This definitely is a wild card in some of these new operations and as we are starting to plan for getting back to normal operations, eventually, all these other plans that we have in place as far as personal protective equipment, sanitizing, and all the other safety measures that we have in place, we expect to keep those in place for the foreseeable future. And so any of these other operations including Fire season and Public Safety power shutoffs, we’re already incorporating those into our plan to implement these other safety measures into that as well, as if it wasn’t hard enough already.

Kris Murphy:
So Josh, what would you say is one of your biggest surprises in this event? And the 314 the instructors always talk about the red slice, you don’t know what you don’t know until you don’t know. Right? Has something really caught you by surprise? I know one of the other jurisdictions we’ve spoken with, emergency call numbers were way down which surprised them.

Josh Ludtke:
We were experiencing similar things. As far as calls for service they were greatly reduced for a period of time. Going into it and a lot of our emphasis was on the order, and safety, and the other things. And now as the summer months are here those calls are increasing and we’re having to deal with a lot of other things that regular calls for service and the other services that we usually provide that are starting catching up with us. As far as investigations and other things that we have redirected a lot of our resources into other areas. Again, one of the bigger surprises that we’ve experienced was the inability to get resources and how widespread and also how long this incident was gonna last. Usually, with Police Department type incidents they’re short comparatively as an amount of operation periods that happen with this incident as Neil said, it’s a marathon and we’re preparing for long into the future all these things, and having to support that plan has been challenge.

Kris Murphy:
How about you Neil, any surprises?

Neil Bregman:
Yeah, a lot of surprises. I think as the government shut down, and we went to essential services I thought the day we kind of closed off shop in the city and got to the central services model. There’s a whole hour my boy my job is done I can put my feet up and you know I’m working from home now it’s gonna be easy. It’s been anything but easy. It’s what all things you don’t see coming that the government’s gonna need to help with. So for us, whether it’s feeding people, and supporting the food bank whether it’s trying to engage the business community and the impacts that have come from their business being data shut down and how we can engage with them and try and help them. And then you know another one, which I don’t usually spend too much time thinking about, but it’s become one that I’ve had to deal with a lot is we, unfortunately, have a pretty significant population of people experiencing homelessness here in Sonoma County and Santa Rosa. From a public health standpoint, we wanted to help them to prevent the disease from spreading amongst that community. But then you know to our larger community so the one that I didn’t see coming at all is how much time we would be spending working with that population to make sure that they are properly protected are getting the health care they need as part of a greater public health mission. That was not on my to-do list until it popped up.

Kris Murphy:
You mentioned public health. How are both your agencies working with Public Health? Are they running the Unified Command structure? Or how is it being handled in your area?

Neil Bregman:
The city of Santa Rosa is not large enough to have its own Health Department. So the County Health Department and that County Health Department is in Unified Command with our County Department of Emergency Management. They are leading the Public Health Mission other than sheltering in place and face-covering orders need to be put out there. They’re the ones who lead on testing and we have set up what we call an alternate care site. So if the hospitals ever do overflow we have another place to put people. Those are all how many Health Department missions. We interact with them for clarification on any of the issues around orders that they bring out and we also offer significant support. We have a staff to help them with anything they might need.

Josh Ludtke:
That’s right Neal, in addition to dealing with the order and translating the order and preparing for changes in the order we’ve had to be reactionary to some of those things. We’ve also worked with the Health Department a lot at the police department. They’ve been very helpful in the sense that guidelines and advice for us for shaping our policies and procedures for safety, they’ve provided for us. Also, due to the early number of exposures and positive tests of employees at the police department, they assisted us with department-wide testing. Where they were able to facilitate drive-up testing of over 85 Police Department personnel so we’ve worked with them on some of those small operations, and we continue to have a good relationship with them.

Heather Crites:
As your cities and your state begin the process of reopening. What does that look like for you guys?

Josh Ludtke:
I’ll go ahead and start Kris, if that’s okay. I touched on it a little bit earlier. As we’re starting to transition back or talk about normal operations and returning back to what the new normal is. A lot of these procedures and policies that we have in place aren’t going to go away. What we hope to do is a slow transition of starting to add back some of our services, at the same time maintaining that same level of safety. Some of the challenges that we have obviously in doing that is that all the safety measures, procedures, and equipment those all are additional time and money. Having to incorporate those into daily operation or additional things that we’re going to be doing. We’re working on plans to safely institute those back into normal operation and expect those to just be part of everyday operations. That’s our plan and that’s what we’re working on currently.

Neil Bregman:
Here in California. Where we go next is whatever the governor says we’re allowed to do and however our health department then interprets that. I do think we’ll foresee in the next month or two more resumptions of business and government activities. Probably with continued social distancing. I’m buying a heck of a lot of face coverings. And then you know I’m certainly not an epidemiologist, but when I look at models it appears we might no matter which model you look at we may have a kind of a dip or whatever the reason might be a second wave of some point is probably coming where we’re going to be doing this again. Where we see a big jump and infection rate and some sort of mitigation strategy necessary to deal with that. Like Josh is saying we’re just incorporating this into all of our plans as far as dealing with other incidents. I’m on a task force within the city planning for the future, and so I’m not only planning for what my supplies and plans need to look like for the next two to three months, but what does the world look like in December on, and what supplies do I need if we’re doing this again for 3-4 months. Getting my orders in now to the suppliers so that maybe those are here in time is a big part of the work that we’re doing.

Kris Murphy:
You see some of these steps that you’re taking in preparation for that. Do you see that becoming the new norm?

Josh Ludtke:
I do. At least for a little while. With this incident and in other incidents, I feel like we keep getting better and better. With the fires from 2017 to now with the things that we’ve learned and accomplished and trained for we’re so much better off and every incident that we have we seem to get better. Even the power outages, the power shut-offs, they almost serve as like a tabletop exercise to prepare us for what happens next with some of those things that we’ve learned. We’ve been able to incorporate into this pandemic as well. And so I think that we’re going to continue to do that we’re going to build on what we’ve learned so far and we’re gonna prepare for the next thing.

Neil Bregman:
I would agree with Josh, planning for the worst and pre-planning is always the way to go. And really spending time within your jurisdiction trying to nail those plans down and even again what we’ve seen with supply chains. Supply chains fail, clearly, if you know what the supplies you’re gonna need are the most in that disaster as much as you can stockpile those and have the budget to do things like that I think that’s gonna become the new normal. So maybe it’s not masks, but if you live in blizzard country maybe you’re stockpiling more salt, and sand than you used to. Or maybe you just need to make sure you have a way more fuel on hand. Another big one for us which I was concerned about was supply chain resiliency in the grocery and food supply. Clearly, we’ve seen from this pandemic that that supply chain the food supply chain is a weak link that I think all emergency managers and governments need to engage partnership with their food industry partners on for the safety of everyone. With a pandemic even though we’ve never dealt with it before we have a crew of people that just really learns to adapt using ICS using our 314 training to whatever the situation is. And dealing with it, however, we can. I want to say make the best of it but, just making it work with what you have, and being flexible, and having courage under pressure, and not getting stressed out, and coming up with a plan and executing.

Kris Murphy:
That’s a good segue, Neal. I was just gonna ask you a question. Both of you, along with quite a few people from your jurisdiction have come to the MGT-314 class here in Texas. How do you think this training has prepared you, as individuals, or your departments, your agency for this moment? How has it impacted your response?

Josh Ludtke:
I can tell you 314 was one of the best ICS courses I have ever been to and it is most helpful. And one of the things that I liked about it the most is that it translated all the issues to a law enforcement perspective as well. And once people start understanding how they fit into the ICS system and how it works all together and not just within one department it’s eye-opening and that people understand where they fit in. It’s been very helpful to all of us at the police department.

Neil Bregman:
I think the two pieces that have really helped me, the way the course is structured in 314 you get rotated through every single section and wear lots of different hats and I think that gives you a better understanding of how the sections work with each other and kind of how they depend and can work together you know you start us with baby steps on the first day and by the last day we have a super complex incident the building block effect I think really helps for real-world incidents and being ready to deal with whatever is gonna hit you in the face. Because it does hit you in the face. Right?

Kris Murphy:
One last question what final words of wisdom do you each have for the folks that are in this response for their cities and states. And Neil, let’s go ahead and start with you.

Neil Bregman:
Have faith in your people if you’re a manager. Give them a clear direction. Give them a job to do, but then let them go do it. Show your people you have faith in them and they will rise to the occasion and you will be amazed at what they can do and how they will perform for you and the residents of your city, county, and state.

Josh Ludtke:
Plan for the worst and hope for the best, and that’s what we continue to do. I would just add that people are our most valuable resources and take care of them. And how we respond to critical incidents, will will define the public’s trust in us. How we deal with these critical incidents have very long-lasting effects on our organization’s, credibility both internally and externally. And just to think of that through all the planning and operation processes that go on throughout the incident.

Kris Murphy:
We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us regarding this pandemic and the response and thank you to all of your first responders for their dedication and countless hours during this time.

Announcer:
Thank you for listening
to the Disaster Management Podcast series. Brought to you by Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service and the National Emergency Response and Recovery Training Center. If you have any questions or ideas for future episodes Please contact NERRTC@TEEX.tamu.edu. or visit www.teex.org for information about training near you.