Eric Holderman, Emergency Management, Under Construction

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Welcome to EM Weekly, I am your host, Todd DeVoe, and I have a very special guest with us today, all the way from Washington State, and he’s a big hitter here in emergency management world, so, Eric sir, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, and how did you get into emergency management, and what’s your role now?

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] Well, Hi, Todd. This is Eric Holdeman, and to make this as short as possible, I had a military career, and as I was… I’m articulating… I actually started early, and I looked at the three different career fields, emergency management, construction management, and non-profit fundraising, and it ended up that the one that worked out was emergency management, and when I was in the military I started… I had one assignment in the mid-west, where I did military sport civil authority planning, as we called it back them, and spent five years in Washington state emergency management, doing training planning, exercises, public education, and operations, and then 11 years as a director for emergency management for King County, in Washington state, which is the Metro Seattle area, with about 2 million population. And then, a couple of years of private consulting, four years as the Portland director of security, and now four years as the director of the Center for Regional Disasters, which is part of the Pacific Northwest economic reach, and that’s a statutory non-profitable.

[TODD] That’s awesome. A little bit here, we’re gonna talk about some regional coalitions and type stuff, but… I kinda wanted to really kinda chew your brain here for a little bit, and kinda talk about the future of emergency management. There’s so much that’s going on right now, and in your piece of emergency management under construction, you stated that we still have ways to go. What did you mean by “we still have ways to go”?

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] Well, I see emergency management as being still in our twins, and that we’re not a mature profession yet. Yeah, emergency management came out as civil defense, and back then, it was prepared for a nuclear holocaust type of thing, and civil defense shelters, and civil defense supplies. And the emphasis went all the way up into the 90’s, 1990s until the Berlin wall fell, and it has overtime become more focused on national hazards, but 9/11 changed that. There’s been a lot of hard torrents, we swim back and forth a number of times, but it’s only now, after 2001 terrorist attacks that we have degrees of higher education. Colleges, universities, and online there is some curriculum being taught, and as you mentioned, homeland security, but the stardardization of that is pretty kind of all over the place. If you graduate from a degree program, you don’t know what the emphasis was on that program.

[TODD] Yeah, there’s a lot of that going on for sure. I teach at a community college, and we have a pretty big academic rigor to get the programs up and running, so I understand the differences between all the different programs I do, we do have some standardization. So, we talked… you’re saying, like, we’ve had some hard turns. I know hurricane Andrew is one of them, and then even before that, do you think emergency management started coming into its own with the formation of FEMA under President Carter, or before that?

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] I would say that… I have a 3-star general, he was the first FEMA director, and the idea there was pulling the other… these disaster functions under one coordinating agency. Most citizens don’t realize how small FEMA actually is in staffing, you know, you’ll hear people say: “where is FEMA?”, well there’s not that many. I don’t know what the current count is, but back early in the days, it was a couple thousand people, total. So, they’re not the boots on the ground delivering direct services from that standpoint. So, really, I’d say the modern emergency management, I would date to about 1993 or so, when James Lee came on board, it was the first professional emergency manager hired in the county and state, and the state of Arkansas. An emergency manager come into position and move FEMA out of the majority focus of planning for nuclear attack, and continuity government for the national command authorities and that type of thing. To have a natural hazard focus, in fact, a mitigation focus with the program back with those called project impact, back then. What I said at the time, most emergency managers couldn’t say… spell the word mitigation, and a lot of times, people heard the word and thought you said “litigation”, so that’s… you know, a lot has changed overtime, and we’ve made some progress. But… the 9/11 attacks and the establishment of the department of homeland security, with FEMA under that, was really a huge setback in all hazards approach, and have more of a comprehensive look at emergency management, not having one particular hazard be the tail.

[TODD] I was actually gonna ask you that. My personal opinion is… this is again my personal opinion, is that I think FEMA should be out from underneath the Homeland Security umbrella. What do you think about that? And do you think… do you think we can ever get back from underneath that umbrella?

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] Well, it’s not gonna happen until there’s another Katrina-like failure, that would cause people to say: ok, what needs to happen to have a reorganization and get FEMA out? So, that discussion, among professional emergency managers is pretty well dead. I mean, it happened after Katrina, the talk of moving it out, but it did not happen. Then, it’s not gonna happen until there will be some comprehensive failure of the agency in being part of the Department of Homeland Security. And the book answer is always that the closer you are to the political leader, the better off you are. Whether you’re in a city, county, state, or the national program, reporting directly to the governors is a lot better than being buried in another agency; but, having said that, there are many successful emergency management programs that enjoy executive-level support without being a direct report to the executives. And really what determines that is the interest level of the executive in the functions of emergency management.

[TODD] That was a conversation that I was having with a university manager down here by me. We were having lunch, and she did this paper back in the 90’s, I guess, maybe before that. She’s one of these emergency managers that have been around for a long, long time, and her opinion was that the emergency manager should always been working for… in the city level, we’re talking here, at least the city manager, and what I noticed is like… in California, I can’t speak for the other states, emergency managers are all over the place. You got people working for the police department, you’ve got guys in the fire department, we have some in communications, there’s really no standardization of where the EM sits in the city. Is that something that you think we should work as a standard nationally? The position of the EM, or is that just gonna be left up to the…

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] It’s always gonna be left up to the local government. It depends on the will, and what the history is, of each different geopolitical entity that exists out there. And how much money they have. You know, the majority of EM positions still remain part time. There’s the emergency manager and the police chief, and he’s an emergency manager, or the director, or the public works director would have this responsibility. And because of that, there’s this natural tendency to have it farmed out separately, because you don’t have a dedicated person. I think one of the things that will help on this transition, perhaps, is the establishment of chief resilience officers at various levels of government. I know that the state organ has a state resilience officer that’s part of the organ governor’s policy. It’s not a cabinet-level position, but it works as a direct report within the policy section. So, somebody dedicated to that here in Washington space. Someone has that role, but they’ve got 10 other duties in addition to it. And I think prioritizing like that helps provide emphasis, because what happens is, emergency management, when it’s an additional duty, wherever it is, it’s never gonna be in the top priority, because everyday duties… you know, the crisis of the moment will overcome the needs of longer range planning, and preparedness… get you ready, and others, so that’s a challenge. What I tell people and organizations the best thing to do is… if you only have enough money for a half-time position, hire a half-time person, and that person will be dedicated to it. Don’t make it an additional duty for someone else, always try to balance it, and emergency management typically gets the short end of the stick.

[TODD] Yes, that’s for sure. You were talking about the resilience officer, I know that LA City… I don’t know if that’s their title, but that’s pretty much their duty. I know the mayor went really big into looking for somebody for that role, and he was working with Dr. Lucy Jones from Caltech, specifically, about the earthquakes. Obviously, in California, there’s earthquakes, but that’s kinda what they’re focusing on, so they brought her out there. I thought that was a really good stuff for LA, I wish that we could see that in the rest of the county, and also in Orange County .

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] Right, right. I wouldn’t disagree.

[TODD] So, where do you see EM in 10 years?

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] You know, there’s been radical transformations. What drives change in emergency management are big events. So, that… if you can predict what the next big event is, then you can try to determine… if there’s gonna be a hard right, hard left turn in the future. One way or the other. But it’s the event that drives you significant things. Whether… you know, you mentioned hurricane Andrew and the failure there. Hurricane Katrina, Super-storm Sandy… those types of things drive significant change. Without that happening, certainly, what I’m seeing is more catastrophic planning. We’ve had big events that we haven’t done a lot of planning for. Let’s go back 20 years, pandemic flu was not being talked about. We just did not have a significant terrorism threat. We did not have any approach to an asteroid hitting Earth. We did not have, of course, anything on cyber-security then. And solar flares and the potential for totally disruption of our electrical grid, all our digital equipment. So, I like to say that the ideas is we’re trying to build resilience, that’s even in my title, but to a degree, I feel like we’re becoming more fragile because of the advances of technology. I offer technology in integration of emergency management, but in order to save a buck, which Internet has allowed business and governments to be able to do. We run a lot of redundancy out of our communities and states by eliminating… people said we’re eliminating duplication, but really we eliminate the redundancy. So, so far it provided us the type of thing that… the supply chain, that’s just in time, the whole server, the cloud-based thing, there is some redundancy to that, but again, you’re gonna have to have telecommunications in place to make that happen, so… the inter-dependencies in our modern society… we don’t stand alone, we’re very dependent on others, all performing their mission, and the fuel, the gasoline, the electricity… everything is coming just in time to meet the things. So, any hitch in that supply chain, no matter whether is a shortage in fuel or toilet paper, I guess, we’re thrown off very quickly. People don’t realize how fragile that thread is that keeps us going.

[TODD] They say that the grocery markets only have like, two or three days’ worth of food in them. So, if we had a supply chain issue, people would be without food quickly, right?

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] That’s absolutely right. The story there is… Safeway, which is… has about 40% of the market here in Metro Seattle area, after 9/11, they pushed all their bread and water forward, because they’ve seen people after an event like that go buy extra. And all that was going on within 24h, and nothing had happened here, and their 7 days’ supply was gone. So… and you know, so we talked about 3 days, certainly, Washington State, Oregon, many communities have now gone to two weeks anywhere where there’s a regional-style threat. I mean, it just has… a flooding, a big tornado a mile wide, I mean, that’s certainly a huge… a 5 tornado. But there’s a lot of help still available, we’re in these mega regional disasters, we have multiple states, we have the earthquake falls out there, there’s not gonna be any mutual aid, period. So, you are gonna be on your own for… not hours, not days, but weeks. There was an earthquake exercise held on June 2016, they had about 20,000 people actually participating there. The DOD elements played significantly in that, and… you know, a lot of people think: well, the military is our last resource, they’ll come in and save the day, but… the fastest they can get boots on the ground in a significant amount is 8 days. So, people are gonna be very hungry, thirsty, needing help after one day, let alone 8 days.

[TODD] Yeah, I’ve actually witnessed humanitarian aid being given out overseas, and it’s not ever really fun to organize and manage, I couldn’t even imagine that over here, people were just in a panic state, you know? It’s interesting, I really wanna kinda tap into one of your hobbies here, but… I was looking through, I think it was Facebook or something like that, and a little picture came up, and it was an ad from back in the 1930’s or 40’s, and it says that the department of Agriculture says that everybody should have two chickens for every person who lives at your house. And I was like: wow, so you have fresh eggs every day. There’s nobody… I shouldn’t say nobody, but there’s very few victory gardens, if you will, around,  And if you have a garden, that’s why…, we just don’t see it anymore. I remember as a kid, my dad always had a small garden, with corn, pumpkins and stuff like that, and we would can it and do that kind of stuff, and nobody does that around here. I don’t even do it, so I’m as guilty as everybody else…

Eric Holdeman

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] Yeah, and to say one more thing about what’s in the future, well, global warming. And whether it’s politically correct or not wherever you are to say global warming… in the last few years, people are saying yes, it’s absolutely getting warmer, it’s not worth the attribution, but climate variability is another way to talk about, but… that’s gonna cause much more significant natural hazards frequency. We’ve seen it in the past couple of years, these flooding events, where the flow of water and rain… we reach 12 inches of rain, 18 inches of rain, in 24 or 26 hours, that’s unprecedented. Could be snow and it could be heatwaves also coming in our future.

[TODD] We just went through that here in Southern California. As a matter of fact, we had torrential rain today. But we had rain… for 5 or 6 days straight, and the city of Long Beach was split out on the 7-10, the freeways were flooded, the roadways were flooded, and it made us do some rescues and stuff like that. But still, that was just for a few days, I couldn’t imagine if we got more days than this. You’re right, things like that… I remember as a kid, when we had snow storms we would get the house all packed up, because we knew we might be without help for a couple of days. So we had enough food and stuff like that. But people in California always think they can just drive down to the grocery market, and they’re surprised when there’s less food in the market. So yeah, I think that’s gonna be one of those issues that we’re gonna have to really be planning for.


[TODD] What do you think… and this is something new, I don’t know if it’s happened out there in Seattle area, but it has here in South Cal. I kind of agree with it. Do you think the use of emergency managers to help with the homeless crisis, is that a proper use of our skills?

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] Oh boy, that’s a… it has happened out here. In fact, the mayor of Seattle and the mayor of Portland both proclaimed an emergency for homelessness. And you know, I don’t know the details there, I think in order to have emergency authorities for spending money and reallocating funds, that’s a primary thing, but I have observed for Seattle emergency management, people come to realize… well, if we have a crisis, something that needs to be handled, who’s good at coordinating a multi-agency response? And that’s what’s drawn the emergency management into this thing. But it’s a two-head sword though, because a) it’s great you’re being recognized for what you’re doing there, but who’s doing that emergency management we were supposed to be working on? So, if we’re continuously operation-wise doing these other things, the piece of the preparedness cycle, where you’re planning, training and exercising for the disaster of natural disasters, technological, human cause… that’s not happening. So it can be a significant distractor also, but that is something I’ve observed up here in Washington and the Portland area.

[TODD] That’s true. I didn’t think about the fact of… you know, taking the mission away as well. I know that we have the issue just here in Orange County, there’s a significant homeless population on the Santa Ana river, over by the Anaheim stadium, and their concerns are… because they’re on the flood control channel, and when the rains do come, we’re gonna have people washed away. So, you know, that was kind of where I was thinking about this. But yeah, it’s true, you could be side trapped for sure. Well, kind of switching gears a little bit, but not too much. So, I was involved in creating a couple original coalitions here in Orange County, specifically with… part of the UACE team, when we set up our urbanary working group, and also, I was part of creating what we called the CERT Mutual Aid Program, or CMAP, and the idea there was getting all the CERT teams, from all the cities, because we have… in Orange County there’s 34 jurisdictions, I think… I could be wrong. It’s 34, yeah. Getting all 34 cities to work together with their CERT programs and make sure everybody has the same training and what not. And so, that’s the kind of stuff that I worked on, and I know that you talked about regional coalitions in your training, and some of the consulting that you do. Do you think that ties in to where we’re going, or is this just something that you think it’s just kind of… what should be done in emergency management?

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] Well, you kinda have someone with vision that goes beyond their jurisdictional boundaries, that believes in regional… and that’s the entire focus of my work when I was in King County. King County, Washington State, has 39 cities, but they have another 126 governments, these are the water district, sewer district, school district, the cemetery district, the household district… so we concentrated on, who’s gonna pull this and say: how do we work selectively? And that is… you don’t snap your fingers, I call it missionary work. Winning one person at a time, establishing the relationships for that, and it’s a constant process, because the people are always turning over. And absolutely, regional is the way to go, because no one has enough resources in themselves to respond to larger events. Small things everybody can get by, but if it’s really the big one, you’re gonna be very dependent on neighboring jurisdictions, and so these coalitions would help in the immediate area until national help can arrive. And they are gonna come in and save the day, but then they’re gonna leave, and you’re gonna be left with everything to start over with also, so… they need to learn how to work together.

[TODD] What do you think of the non-profit disaster groups? Like, the Red Cross has been around for a long time, but teams like Team Rubicon, the veteran organization that goes out and helps out with recovery.


[TODD] Do you think of having… cause I know they’re involved with the COADs and the VOADs, but do you think of adding them into the original concept before?

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] The need is gonna be so great, that this is not a time to be arguing over turf and responsibility, and feel like somebody is going in on your territory. Emergency managers need to take a very big approach to all of this, and if someone’s got something they wanna bring to the party, and… whether it’s fruit salad, or… whatever it is, take it and throw it into the mix. I’ve got… a quote I use is, be willing to give up some control in order to become more effective. So, you can’t control everything.

[TODD] Right.

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] You’re just gonna point folks, to include organizations in the same… in a single direction, they’re all pulling the rope in the same way, and not conflicting with one another, then you will do a lot better than a single point, you know, being an emergency manager dictator, which you’re not. I like the term “emergency coordination center”, over “emergency operation center”, it’s an old military term. Not much operation stuff happens at the EOC, but a lot of coordination, information sharing, happens.

[TODD] Right. So, do you think organizations should be brought in directly into the EM role, or do you think it’s more relevant… or should they be in the COAD area,VOAD area?

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] I think… you know, I’m not a big believer in national frameworks, I mean, here’s a template, this is what works for you; I think every metropolitan area has its own personality, and so, if you got a really strong coed group, maybe that’s the place for them to plug into. I think… again, it’s not for folks to say: this is the only way to do it. There’s a lot of flexibility for what can work.

[TODD] True, that is very true. All right, I’m coming up to the hardest question of the day.

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] I’ve got three answers.

[TODD] Ok. So, what is the number one book that you’d give to the new emergency manager?

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] So, I’ve got three of them here. What is a fairly new book, called “American Dunkirk”, talks about the waterborne evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11. And I say that because everybody thinks: ok, I’ve got this program, I gotta make it work, etc. That was a… the coast guard put out a call, and they had all these private vessel owners and operators, and ferries, and they all responded, and they got through it. They did a great job. It’s not just the organizations, but actually the individual neighborhoods to pull together. That’s a great example of what can happen. And then, there’s “Global Warming, National Hazards, Emergency Management”, by Jane Bullock, George Haddow, and Kim Haddow. I actually have a chapter in there, gotta get ahead on the power of global warming, because even for Millennials just coming in the business, disasters are gonna get bigger, and they gotta understand that. And then, another one that I like is “A Futurist’s Guide to Emergency Management”, by Adam Crowe. He’s trying to get ahead in where are we going with all of those issues. Politics, response and recovery, to the technology side effects. And what I’d say is, from the technology side, that death and retirement are gonna solve a lot of issues, because I think people don’t wanna do it, because they don’t know how to do it, or afraid of taking chances. We can talk about technology in the entire podcast, probably, but technology is gonna be in every part of emergency management going into the future, so anything you can read on technology and become smarter on it, it’s good for you and good for the profession.

[TODD] That’s awesome. We actually are gonna be doing some technology casts here on EM Weekly, so I think I’ll bring you back for one of those, because I agree with you there for sure. Well sir, I’ve used a lot of your time, and I do appreciate it, I appreciate you being here. Is there anything else that you’d like to add, and maybe tell us a little about your consulting firm, and how people can get a hold of you… and yeah.

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] Well, I’ll just… talk about my blog. And that is, and I’ve blogged on the Emergency Management Magazine platform, the column I write for the magazine is called disaster zone, I actually host a government TV show up here in Washington state called… you guessed it! Disaster Zone, so disaster zone is the number one blog of this type on emergency management on the United States. I had 283,000 hits last year, all it’s interested in having people sharing information with me, so that I can share with others. So people see things, think that it’s really interesting, send it to me, and I can’t post documents, I only post web links, so send it to me, I always try to give credit to whoever sent the piece of information along. And I believe you can achieve immortality… how about that? By sharing everything. So it doesn’t die with you, pass it on to the next generation. It’s the great thing about the culture of emergency management, we are a sharing profession. So, keep that up and don’t hold what you know, share with everybody else.

[TODD] I love that, that’s awesome. “You can achieve immortality by sharing”, that is a really good piece of wisdom right there, especially for our field, and the people that are coming up.

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] Specially as you get older like me, I’m gonna be dead soon, so…

[TODD] Well sir, thank you so much for being here. Everybody, thank you so much for listening to this podcast today. The books that really want here are “American Dunkirk”, “Global Warming”, and the “Futurist’s Guide to Emergency Management”.


[TODD] By Adam Crowe, right? Awesome.


[TODD] I’m gonna leave you with that, that to achieve immortality, you can do so by sharing your wisdom. So thank you sir, for that, and have a wonderful day.

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] Ok. I’ll give you one more thing.

[TODD] Sure.

[ERIC HOLDEMAN] Since you said wisdom… wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from making mistakes, so I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Here you go. All right, have a great one!

[TODD] You too.


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