Oklahoma: My Firsthand Experience
This past week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Oklahoma tornado response at FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center. During my time there, I witnessed firsthand the dedication, hard work and seriousness of our federal emergency management agencies. This includes not only the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but also the National Response Framework Emergency Support Functions Annexes of more than 15 federal agencies. The cooperation I witnessed among these agencies showed true boundless collaboration.
I was initially brought to the response center to provide onsite support for the National Level Exercise Ardent Sentry, an emergency preparedness exercise that equips the military in preparation for defense support to civil authorities. As I arrived, I planned and prepared to test new business processes and WebEOC boards relating to the exercise, but things drastically changed within 24 hours.
As we gained knowledge about the tornadoes, the exercise was canceled and FEMA went into a level II activation. FEMA Region VI Watch and FEMA’s National Watch Center immediately began creating incidents in WebEOC and we were fully operational within minutes.
I was impressed by the level of coordination and information sharing among FEMA Headquarters, FEMA Region VI, Oklahoma State Emergency Operation Center and other federal agencies, as well as the volunteer organizations. It truly was a commendable level of inter-agency cooperation. One of the most gratifying parts of supporting these agencies is knowing the importance of WebEOC in aiding the rapid and successful response to the incidents. Some of the WebEOC features used included the Sign-In/Out Roster, Activity Log, Significant Events, Requests for Information, Ops Tempo, National Situation Report, National Support Plan Tracker and Resource Tracking.
Since I have been deployed to many major tragic events, such as Superstorm Sandy, the Haiti earthquakes, Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Isaac, I truly believed I had seen it all. However, witnessing the devastation and loss of life that occurred after one of the most powerful tornadoes that ripped through the Oklahoma area was just as heart-wrenching. My heart and prayers continue to go out to the families and communities impacted.