Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Road to MEP

In early 2013 two of our members started down the difficult road of FEMA’s Master Exercise Practitioner Program (MEPP). The Master Exercise Practitioner Program is designed to improve the capabilities of emergency management exercise personnel in every phase of the exercise process and in accordance with the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP).

The HSEEP Cycle

The Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program is an ongoing cycle of planning, development, conduction and measurement of training.

MEPP is composed of three week long courses that focus on developing exercises and measuring the results of the performance of exercise participants. There are stringent requirements to apply to the MEPP course and many classes need to be taken in advance of the application, including FEMA’s three day HSEEP boot camp. Successful applicants must also posses a good background in exercises, both as participants and as exercise staff.

The MEPP series is time intensive and challenging. Homework assignments requiring 40 to 80 hours of work are assigned between the three classroom sessions and failure to complete any portion results in dismissal from the program. The failure rate for students is as high as 50%. Only about two thousand individuals, mostly emergency response professionals, have successfully completed the training.

OMEGA’s goal in having members attend this training is to develop a better understanding of the HSEEP methodology and become more skilled at creating and executing exercises, while capturing results and data for future exercise development.  OMEGA is the primary agency in Colorado’s North Central All-Hazards Emergency Management Region (NCR) for leading full scale simulations for Citizen Corps programs and volunteers, as well as supporting NCR’s professional responders with execution of training.

After state and regional sponsorship into the class and an arduous application process, both of our members were admitted into the class. This MEPP series was to be hosted by FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute in Colorado. The course is rarely taken on the road due to logistical requirements and this was one of those lucky opportunities where students did not have to travel to the east coast for the training. The class was to be held starting October 2013 at the Colorado State Emergency Operations Center in Centennial, but the start of the training was postponed until January 2014 due to the October government shutdown.

Volunteer!

Chickens. You tend not to think about chickens in a flood. The initial thoughts include washed out roads, neighborhoods under water, deep rushing streams, flash flooding canyons. Those were our impressions of floods when we were deployed to support the flooding across northeastern Colorado. What we didn’t see coming were a pair of chickens.

We talked about our deployment in our Mission Briefing and made mention of the famous chickens. But in the real truth is that the chickens had managed to ascend from fame to infamy.

OMEGA has to follow privacy rules and that means we can’t release people information (although we do share it as needed with other deployed agencies, in this case including the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management, the Boulder Sheriff’s Office, the St. Vrain Valley School District and the American Red Cross). But we can tell the public about what we do and since there are no rules about privacy for animals, we can use them as a story proxy.

The two chickens that were recovered in the field and brought to Niwot made it to our Facebook page and we immediately started getting shares and likes. The Colorado Division of Emergency Management shared that status and so did Denver 7 KMGH and a multitude of charities and businesses and a sea of individuals followed, adding up to over 200 first degree shares, before others shared the status from the pages of their friends and businesses that they followed. The reach from our page alone exceeded 43,000 and there’s no telling what the actual reach was after all the shares and shares of shares and …

We received a lot of feedback and praise, both in public and in private and two unsuspecting chickens became rock stars overnight. A lot of people asked about donating goods or volunteering to help and those questions are appreciated more than anything else by those on the front lines, but managing donations and volunteers in the middle of a disaster is a disaster in itself.

When the world is running down and everything is critical, integrating spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers is simply not possible. Background checks can’t be performed in the middle of a disaster and training can not be provided to well meaning individuals. Likewise, there are no resources to process and distribute donations. Everything that happens has to happen quickly. You’ve probably noticed in the news that in a disaster, agencies taking donations primarily ask for cash. Cash can be used to purchase materials to fill the gaps in the response.

If you want to donate non-perishable goods, please take an opportunity to do so when no disaster looms. Take these items to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, United Way or another locally designated donation center. Or even to your church. Given the time, donated goods can be sorted and organized, packaged and prepared for distribution in the event of a disaster.

And if you want to volunteer during a disaster, your best bet is to volunteer before the disaster strikes so that you can be trained and vetted and be ready to hit the ground running. Consider what you want to do. Would you be happy just doing donation deliveries and welfare checks with your church or a community organization? Or do you want to work in a disaster area with organizations like the Red Cross or the Salvation Army? Or perhaps volunteer for office duties with your local government or the United Way or even be a rescuer with a search and rescue team or as a reserve police officer or a volunteer fire fighter? There are a lot of opportunities out there, but the vast majority require at least some training ahead of a deployment and most opportunities will require a background check.

We encourage volunteerism, but not just during a disaster. Engage your community! Don’t wait for something bad to happen before you stand up to help. Make a difference today. If two chickens can shake up a community this much, think of what you can do if you volunteer!