Big City Emergency Management

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Mona Curry:       If an emergency management agency is tucked away under, you know, either fire or, law, then you’re right. The focus becomes those two things. Moreover, so if the emergency management department is a standalone, separate, they are more objective.

Todd DeVoe:     Hi, welcome to EM Weekly, your emergency management podcast. Moreover, this is your host Todd DeVoe speaking. Moreover, today we are talking to Mona Curry from L.A. City emergency management. Moreover, one of the reasons why I wanted to bring Mona in is because big city EM is challenging in many different ways compared to say a small city. Right? It just sounds that just between, small and big, right? However, there is also the diversity in the people, the population and diversity, and the types of emergencies that you are going to face. L.A. city is the second-largest city in the nation, right behind New York City.

Moreover, some of the challenges that the Los Angeles city has is not just the urbanization population specifically. It is also a wildland interface, wildland fires. That it is a sprawled out city. There is a mountain range in between one side of the city and the other. So there are many challenges associated with L.A., and I think you are going to have a new appreciation and a new outlook into what it is to be an EM in a large city.

Todd DeVoe:     Mona, welcome to IOM weekly.

Mona Curry:       Thank you, Todd. I’m happy to be speaking with you today.

Todd DeVoe:     So Mona, you’re an emergency manager at one of the largest cities in the, in the country. How did you get involved in emergency management, and how did you end up in Los Angeles?

Mona Curry:       My story is probably similar to other emergency managers stories in that I didn’t plan to be an emergency manager. No, I fell into it, my, my degree is in political science. So, I had the idea that I would be working for the government. I just didn’t know it would be in this capacity. So I started out in 1993, working for the department of recreation and parks.

Mona Curry:       And my first assignment was at the Northridge recreation center, and as you know, 1994, we have the Northridge earthquake. So I’m a brand new city employee, and I’m experiencing sheltering, a nontraditional sheltering, sheltering outside not in a facility. And that was kind of an eye-opener. And that I think they put me on the path to where I am today.

Mona Curry:       One of the great things about working for a city the size of L.A. Is that there’s a lot of flexibility and being able to move around to different departments. So fast forward from 1993 to now, I’ve been in this, this department, the emergency management department for the city of L.A. For the last 12 years. And I’m in L.A. Because, this is the, second largest city in the nation. And you know, we do have a lot of resources. We’re resource-rich. Of course, we don’t have all the answers as you can tell from our homelessness problem. We really don’t have all the answers. I think the city actually, emergency preparedness wise, we’ve come a long way.

Todd DeVoe:     I would love to find the city that has all the right answers because I’d like to copy those, you know?

Mona Curry:       Yes, everyone around the country would, but we’re all in process, We’re constantly striving to get better.

Todd DeVoe:     So, L.A. The city is, you know, has Tommy Lee Jones. Right. And you get to go out and do whatever you want to do as an emergency manager.

Mona Curry:       Well, I don’t know about that.

Todd DeVoe:     There’s a couple of things I think is interesting with L.A. One of is the resiliency project that you guys are working on. And the second thing is, is just the pure, demographic size and the physical size of L.A. And the demographics of L.A. And, and trying to reach, different subsets or groups of people. So what are some of the biggest challenges of working in the big city and the big geographical size city and the big diversity as, L.A.?

Mona Curry\:     You hit it on the nail. So L.A. Is very sprawled out. We’re completely opposite from New York City. Wonderful folks over there. They’re in this compressed area. They have more people than we do, but we’re spread out. So what we’ve done is we’ve divided the city into four bureaus with the valley bureau being the largest of the four because it’s separated by those mountains. And I think, that side of it, Scott, probably about half of the population in L.A., The total population is somewhere around 4 million. You know, surging up during the workday when people come into work, maybe up to 7 million, but then on the west side, and then you have this central bureau and then have the south bureau. So we’ve kind of divided it up to make it a little bit more manageable.

Mona Curry:       But there’s no doubt that we are a melting pot and we have some wonderful communities in L.A. With a bunch of different ethnic flavors. I mean, we’ve got it all here. L.A. Is just a wonderful city, but it is a challenge because of the size, because of the number of people. And of course, the city of L.A. Emergency Management Department is very tiny. A few compare that to the New York City office of emergency management. I’m not exactly sure how many people they have there, but I think they’ve got two or 300. They’re definitely a far more advanced as they should be because you know, they’re leaders in the country.

Todd DeVoe:     One of the things I find interesting specifically about L.A City is that, and everybody always thinks about L.A. City as being what they see on TV of the urban setting. The south-central, or excuse me, south L.A., type of setting you to have wildland-urban interface area. So wildland fires are still concerned for the city of Los Angeles. Obviously the earthquake issues are concerned for the city of Los Angeles. The diversity in what you can respond to is a lot different than say, DC or New York City or Philadelphia. What are those challenges for you there to really be that diverse in your planning?

Mona Curry:       We take the all-hazards approach because we have to, for example, I live up in that urban interface, wildland interface, and I have had to evacuate twice myself. So I have actually firsthand knowledge of what that’s all about. So that’s up in the area that I am in kind of in the mountainous area, but yet you’re right. We have flooding; we have debris flows; we have fires. You know, the Northridge earthquake was the last largest, earthquake we’ve had in the city of L.A. Those two recent earthquakes on July 4th and July 5th. Those were 150 miles away from us. But we felt them; we didn’t really have any impact. I think LAX lost the control tower for, I don’t know, some very small period of time, but that was really about it.

Mona Curry:       So we’re, we’re facing it all. And another thing that we have that a lot of cities, you know, a lot of other jurisdictions may not have to the extent that we do is these pre-planned events. Whether they’re protesting or whether they’re championship parades. You know, we have a lot of sports teams here in L.A. With the Dodgers, the Lakers, the Clippers or Kings. So one other thing, that works in our favor is that you know, we’re active, so our skills are kept sharp. You know, we may not activate our EOC at the highest level for these incidents, but we do activate at the lower level. So we’re always, you know, getting our practice in. And you would be surprised how many jurisdictions around the country have the facilities, but, they, you know, of course, they activate when they need to, but we’re activating all the time. Right.

Todd DeVoe:     And that’s important. I think one of the things that I really stress to people is that activate your EOC, for any event that you have come on, talk about the Rose parade up in Pasadena. You know, they activate the county EOC for that because it’s such a worldwide event, the city of Pasadena activates their EOC. So those examples, right there are, really important to do. And I know that you guys do them as well specifically for, you know, the playoffs with the Lakers and now the Rams and, then obviously the Dodgers, right?

Mona Curry:       It’s all true. And you know what, I’m right there with you. I say to jurisdictions to activate, activate, activate, practice, you know, any chance you can get. Now, sometimes there are budget constraints, you know because these events might be in the evenings or the weekends and those jurisdictions may not have the ability to, provide overtime for their employees. But if at all possible, you know, get ready so that things come naturally to you.

Todd DeVoe:     Well, how do you think we can get more, women and recognize more women in emergency management?

Mona Curry:       Well, my job is, I’m one of, we’ll say 10 emergency managers. Okay. There is a head of our department, but if there is a lot of, unevenness within the field, so the field is still heavily male-dominated. And I think what all that we can do is encourage folks. We do have a local chapter of women in Homeland Security. I think they just had a big event this week. So we’re rising up in my field, but we’re still not where we need to be.

Todd DeVoe:     So for emergency management, a lot of times it has been heavy response, orientated, professionals that are moving into emergency management. And now we’re starting to see, again, the rise of the professional emergency manager where they’re trained, at the college or, like you, who came up through the ranks through other city government agencies, other than police and fire and the coordination efforts to take a global look at what we do as emergency managers I think is very important because I sometimes think when you’re coming from the lights and sirens, we get stuck in the idea of only response and or that specific agency, fire or police. So I just like the idea , of globalizing, people from all over the place. I think that we needed to do more, not just, diversity such as gender and or race in emergency management. We also need more diversity as in where people are coming from, in their roles in government. What do you think of that?

Mona Curry:       Oh, I’m with you there. Because what happens is if an emergency management agency is tucked away under, you know, either fire or, law, then you’re right. The focus becomes those two things. And so if the emergency management department is actually a standalone separate, they’re more objective, you know, that the power to convene is, is what’s important about the emergency management department and convening, you know, all three, sectors are important and not focusing just on one because you, you want to make sure that when you are responding to an incident, you’re not biased, you’re not stovepipe in your thinking, you know, and that can happen. I’ve seen it happen a lot and occasionally I’ve seen, um, emergency management, uh, functions tucked away under public works too. And that’s interesting as well.

Todd DeVoe:     Yeah. There’s a; there’s one agency or one city in Los Angeles County that has their emergency manager in their human resources department. So I just thought that was kind of interesting for sure.

Mona Curry:       Right, And I think that that was the case in the Sacramento. I think that that position was under the city manager’s purview, which is also quite interesting.

Todd DeVoe:     You know, basketball champions, NBA and along with that came back to back to back to back celebrations in the streets, not just the planned events, the spontaneous people running out and flip police cars and whatnot. How do you plan for an event like that?

Mona Curry:       Well, you know, we planned months in advance. And going back to what you said about the Lakers, the championship parades, we haven’t obviously had one of those in a long time, and that just breaks my heart. But I remember those used to be glorious parades. They were just wonderful seeing Kobe and shack. Going back to the planning part, we planned for months and were actually gotten really good at it. So we know all the players. We predetermined everything. We have anticipated that you know, sometimes when teams win, people get overzealous in there, celebrating them and they do crazy things and then when they lose, they’re upset. So then they also do crazy things. So either way, you’ve got to have those contingency plans. Now, most recently, we had a planned event, which was a funeral, for a Nipsey Hussle. He was a beloved figure in Los Angeles. And, that was, we were doing our best to try to keep that event peaceful. I’m not sure if you know about it or not. And the city of L.A. Actually did a wonderful job with the whole approach to that because it could have gone sideways. But it’s all about, getting a feel for your community and having your finger on the pulse and really understanding, trying to understand the sentiment of the crowd. And I’m actually really proud of how our city handled that one.

Todd DeVoe:     Yeah, and of course, being in a major media, market, anything that happens in Los Angeles, pretty much gets covered, nationwide. What’s your relationship with the press?

Mona Curry:       we do have two people that act as PIOs in our department, and we actually don’t have an official position of PIO within the emergency management department. But we have two people who do a really good job at that function, and they convene these meetings, I believe they are quarterly with the media. So there’s always a lot of planning. You know, our relationship with the media I think is very good. They do a lot of, uh, events together in partnership. So whenever we’re activating or, having an exercise, they’re welcome to come and, you know, be escorted around and, but it’s, it’s a good relationship. So we’re, you know, we’re not adversaries with the media. We’re actually great partners, especially one of the networks.

Todd DeVoe:     That’s great. Yeah. I always, you know, the idea of media and, being able to use them definitely as a partner instead of the adversary is always important. So a couple of years ago, Lucy Jones, you know, writes about the idea of having, resiliency within the large metropolitan areas and specifically, Los Angeles City and County. And, so now there’s the mayor’s office of resiliency. How does emergency management integrate and, or work with, that office?

Mona Curry:       Well, we support their efforts. You know, resiliency is important to Los Angeles. helping people to understand that they are to take care of their selves too at least for the first, you know, couple days after a catastrophic, event is important. as a matter of fact, I just posted something in the online format called city watch. And that whole article that I wrote was really about getting people to understand that while the government does want to come in and help you as quickly as possible in that catastrophic event, which L.A. Has never had yet, Northridge was the biggest thing we’ve experienced. that was over 20 years ago, but in the case of a catastrophic event, I’m really trying to hit home. People have to be able to take care of themselves. And so the concept around resiliency is really a priority in L.A.

Todd DeVoe:     And it’s, I hate to use it as a buzzword right now. it is a buzzword in emergency management. But it really is, it’s been around for…the concepts have been around for since 1970 realistically. And what it is to, to be resilient, to bounce back from, from that large scale event of it and to get ahead of it by having the office of resiliency I think is a great move on this part of Los Angeles city.

Mona Curry:       Yeah, exactly. And then there’s one thing though that I wanted to make sure that, I mentioned to you is, you know, L.A. Is a big city, and we’ve been able to really kind of avoid huge large scale, acts of terrorism, including incidents of, mass shootings. Well, I’m bringing all that up because I want to share with you that the city has just developed and should be rolling out within the next day or two. This run hide, fight website where people can sign up to get run, hide, fight training. So that program started, I think it was in 2014 and since then we’ve trained over 200 people to go out and be trainers, and they have intern trained over 40,000 people on how to survive an active shooter. And that’s, that’s a huge number because we have been working really hard. If you compare that to the overall number of 4 million people in L.A., That’s just a huge accomplishment. So the way we’ve done it though is not typical of the way it’s done around the country. So not only do we have our sworn folks trained to deliver this training, so, and with the combination of the two, you know, we’ve been able to reach that 40,000 goals.

Todd DeVoe:     Do you guys add a treat component to that?

Mona Curry:       well, we do. We have incorporated stop the bleed. And that was something that was led by our, fire department. LAFD you know, they said, you know what, it’s a perfect partnership with the training you have. If you add the component of stopping the bleed of course because we all remember what happened in the Boston Marathon, right? No, people were able to save lives just by stopping the bleeding out. So we have incorporated that, and we teach that as a part. We’re very proud to have that as a part of our training.

Todd DeVoe:     That’s awesome. Yeah. I think that the Stop the Bleed program is going to make a difference and save lives for sure. and it’s pretty easy to go through to do it. So if you guys have not gone through or seen the Stop the bleed program, you should, you should check it out for sure because it’s definitely a program that you should integrate as Mona has done with the L.A. City into your, training programs specifically with the active shooter type training. What are, what are like say your three biggest challenges working in L.A. City?

Mona Curry:       For me, in my view, the three biggest challenges, one would be working in a city this size. So our department is, you know, small, if you compare it with the number of people that we are to, try to prepare and coordinate, you know, response to disasters for, I think the department could be a little bit bigger. And then, of course, there’s the issue of, you know, the number of languages spoken in L.A. Is always hard to properly prepare for, you know, folks in, I don’t know, 30 different languages. Wow.

Todd DeVoe:     Wow. I was about to ask you, how many languages are spoken? 30 different languages?

Mona Curry:       there’s, yeah, more than 30. I can’t recall the exact

Todd DeVoe:     Number off the top of my head, but that was just to give you an example of it being a huge challenge, right? I’m sure there’s more than 30, but there’s probably like around those majors, right. Because I know it’s funny because people don’t realize that. How many people speak Russian? I’m in, in La city. How many people are Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Tagalog, uh, Farsi, all the different types of different Chinese dialects that are out there, you know? So, yeah, I mean, so think about trying to put, talk about mass communication. How do you, how do you do that? How do you push that message out like that?

Mona Curry:       Well, that’s the thing right now, the messages don’t go out in every single language. And of course, those things are voluntary. So first of all, you have to break into that communion community, and you have to get them to buy into, you know, the preparedness part or the signing up for notifications. And then you have to make sure that you do that in return in their own languages. And so it’s definitely not an easy feat. Not In la. I really envy jurisdictions that are, you know, that don’t have these complexities. You know, I have no idea what it would be like to work in one of those jurisdictions. But, you know, these are the challenges that we face in la every day.

Todd DeVoe:     Right. Titan HST, which is one of our, is our sponsor. They actually have technology in there, mass notification that will do the real-time translation. And I think that’s a really cool, part of it because that way you just type it in, you know, one language and then once it goes out it goes to the preferred language of the phone that the person is getting. I think technology like that is very important, especially with like the 5G stuff that’s coming up where we’re just going to be so fast that people are going to be able to get this information quickly and accurately.

Mona Curry:       Well, you do remind me that that new, website that we’re going to be rolling out any day now, the actually, once that rolls out, there’ll be a little button on the top right corner where you can pick the language. So we’re getting there, you know, we’re making strides in making sure that we provide for all the diversity in L.A. And that website. I’m very proud of it because it does reach out in different languages.

Todd DeVoe:     All right, Mona, he comes one of the toughest questions today. What book, books, or publications do you recommend to somebody in the field of emergency management?

Mona Curry:       I’m going to go with the book that turns everyone into a prepper. And I think you know what book that is that’s going to be One Second After. Because even if you’re in this field after you read that book, I think that most people take it up a level. If you’re not in the field and you read that book, I think that most people, you know, start turning in the direction of becoming preppers. Being a prepper is not a bad thing. It used to be kind of Geeky to be a prepper, but now it’s cool. Now it’s a cool thing. And I’ve actually read a one year after and I’m in the middle of the final day. Oh cool. So, you know, one second after I think is probably the best, you know, of the series, but that look, you know, once anyone reads it, and I’ve recommended it to, I know, at least 10 people after they read that book, you know, the way it’s written, it’s like the light bulb goes off in their head or all of a sudden they’re stocking up on supplies, you know, and it’s just amazing to watch.

Todd DeVoe:     My favorite part about that book one second after, especially for all of the emergency managers out here, that he goes through the process of, of convening basically it’s a small town, and if you haven’t read the book yet, it’s a small town that, is involved with, basically an EMP. They convene the merge operation center there. They had the policy group making decisions, and they go through that whole process of organizing and responding to this event. And I just liked that process. I think it was really a lot of research on that to make it as, as close to truthful as he could. Right.

Mona Curry:       Oh, he’s totally dead on. And you know, I also think just the topic of the EMP, you know, there are a lot of people who still have no idea what that is. once you start figuring out the implications of, you know, in EMP on, in your area, you know, what does that mean? And you know, people may not see immediate, fatalities, but then they, start to, they start to pile up. Right. So, yeah, it is just a great book. I love books that are written this way. You know, they’re fiction, but they’re based with the reality. They’re just the best type of books to read,

Todd DeVoe:     I agree with You. All right, Mona, if you could say one thing or a couple of things to all the emergency managers in the world at one time, what would it be?

Mona Curry:       I think it would be, don’t be envious of L.A. Because I know where the second-largest city in the nation and it appears that we have all the bells and whistles and the resources. But in actuality, while we are advanced, we are we don’t have it all together. So in your jurisdictions, in your cities, wherever you are, keep plugging away, keep pushing forward and like everybody else would tell you to take every opportunity to continue to exercise. You know, your processes and because that’s really what gets you there is that practice. So when it, when the real thing happens, and you go to activate, your anxiety is going to be lower because you’re going to have a better idea of what’s going on and what you should be doing. And that’s really just the key. You know, it, we’re all in the same boat, really. None. No one has enough resources to take care of everything. It just doesn’t work that way. Well Mona, thank you so much for your time this morning and thank you, Todd. I really appreciate it, and talking to you as well.








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