Coordinating the emergency response: a week-long effort

    Emergency workers who helped coordinate Delaware’s response to two snow storms this week spent most of the week working, eating, and sleeping at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Smyrna.

    They slept on sleeping bags.  Some on the floor, others on air mattresses or cots while the state was being buried by several feet of snow.  They are state employees from a variety of agencies tasked with the job of coordinating Delaware’s response to the storms.

    Roseanne Pack with the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) says the double dose of pounding snowstorms won’t soon be forgotten by the men and women who spent the last week working at the Emergency Operations Center in Smyrna.    “We had to make sure we had enough clothing, and toothpaste, and the whole bit for us to camp out here.”

    web-xclusive-audio

    The team at the Smyrna bunker includes workers from DEMA, DelDOT, the Delaware National Guard, the Office of Highway Safety, and the State Police.  Pack says coordinating the various aspects of storm response requires the team to communicate effectively with each other.  “We were on the phones and looking at things online all the time to take information from other agencies that weren’t actually represented with us in the room.”.

    Pack says she was at operation center from last Friday (2/5) through Monday afternoon, got a bit of rest at home Monday night, and then was back at the bunker Tuesday afternoon through Friday.  She says with a group of people working, eating, and sleeping at the center, it took a lot of planning.  “It takes  a spirit of willingness to camp out because we literally have been in sleeping bags,” Pack says.

    In addition to traditional media outlets, the emergency management team also used Twitter to spread information about the storm.  The Twitter account (twitter.com/destorminfo) told more than 1,000 followers about the state’s decision to ban non-emergency travel and provided reports about the damage the storm was causing.

    Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D),  who was on an economic development mission to Europe while the state was being buried by snow, acknowledged the team of workers who helped the state respond a pair of major storms.  “We’ve got a great team of emergency response personnel,” said Governor Markell in a phone interview from England.  “We’ve had 500 people from the Department of Transportation, 300 people from the National Guard, State Police, DNREC people, other emergency management personnel from different levels of government.”

    Pack says, as always, the emergency management team will gather to evaluate the response effort, and determine what worked well and what could be improved for next time.  It’s a retrospective meeting called a “hot wash.”  Pack says, “You do use those lessons learned to plan for the next event, and guess what, the next event comes along, and there’s something else that you didn’t plan for.”

    And just like state residents, emergency planners are hoping for a break before the next storm.  “We’re going to hope that we get some respite, and we can talk about this one for a long time before the next event comes along of this magnitude.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.