Fresh on The mind of IAEM Canada’s President
[GREG SOLECKI] After being through, you know, that process of becoming certified and gaining some skills and experience, it’s now, I’d say, almost giving back. So, being able to be president of IAEM Canada combines that leadership opportunity and also the ability to almost go after some things that you think can help, whether it’s the local level, provincial level, and national level, and even internationally now.
[TODD DEVOE] Hi, and welcome to EM Weekly, and this is your host, Todd DeVoe. Today, I’m really stocked to have Greg Solecki from IAEM Canada. He is the president of the IAEM Canada Chapter, and they are doing some really, really cool stuff up there. They’re really young, 15 years old, but yet, they’re really dedicated to the emergency management field and to really spreading what emergency management really is and can be and promoting the profession. So I’m really excited to have Greg here on the show, today.
Before we get into the interview, I just want to talk a little bit about developing the community that we’re talking about at the forums.emweekly.com. And I want you guys to get in there and really play with that and enjoy the conversations that we could have at the forums.emweekly.com, because it’s more than just like, Facebook and these other social media outlets. This is built specifically for emergency managers to discuss emergency management issues, without any other of the political and (inaudible) type of stuff that’s going on with Facebook and the other social media outlets. So just give it a try and tell me what you think about it. You know, I’d really like to hear your feedback on those programs and what we’re doing over at the forums.emweekly.com.
Also, that being said, we’re having a really cool conversation about the– well, the proverbial duty bag, right? Your deployment bag, if you will. The bag that you need to have packed prior to going into the disaster zone before you get called out for a week or two of working, depending on what level of emergency management that you are, you could be gone for weeks. And I talked in the EM Student episode about Randy Steiner, I mentioned him again. Number one, he’s a friend of mine, so I like to talk about it, he’s a really cool guy. But I always loved the story that he shows up for work in his first day and then he gets deployed out for four months, if not more, straight, for the fires that were happening at the time in Northern California, and then into Santa Barbara. So you too may have that deployment schedule going on. So have that bag packed and ready to go.
And so, the question I’m going to ask you guys, and if you guys could go over to the forums.emweekly.com, and answer this question: what do you take in your deployment bag? Now, I don’t care about the new clean socks, clean underwear, T-shirts, and pants, ok? We get that. You’re going to bring uniforms; you’re going to bring your daily clothes, ok? You’re going to bring deodorant, I understand. You know, stuff you’re going to wash your stuff with, I get that. I’m talking about the cool stuff that you bring that other people don’t. You bring HAM radio, for instance, or electronics, or what kind of snacks do you like to bring? That’s the conversation. I want to know what you guys bring in your deployment bag, and I want to hear it from you. So go on over to forums.emweekly.com and tell me what you are bringing in your deployment bag. Let’s talk to Greg.
[TODD DEVOE] We have Greg Solecki, from IAEM Canada here with us today, and I’m really excited about this. So Greg, welcome to EM Weekly. How are you doing today?
[GREG SOLECKI] Pretty good, how are you?
[TODD DEVOE] I’m doing well. It’s great to have you here on the show. So Greg, tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in emergency management.
[GREG SOLECKI] Yeah. Well, I guess for me, I was in the firefighting service in 1986 and stayed that way for about 15 years, until 9/11 happened, believe it or not. And like a lot of other people, I had a whole bunch of questions as to how and why that might have occurred, and it was around that time I started looking at emergency management and the disasters that were occurring, whether they were intentional, man-made, natural, that type of thing. And my fire chief at the time, along with a lot of other folks, had kind of heard about the possibility of water utilities that were going to be impacted or were targeted by a few of the bad folks out there.
So, I was told by my chief at the time to get over to our water services, utilities area within the city of Calgary, and look at getting them along as far as being more prepared from a command perspective, an incident management perspective. How they would integrate into falling into, I guess, a little bit of the response procedures that most of the emergency services were used to. So, a huge learning for me at that time, to get into a different side of business and start learning about emergency management, and try to apply what I knew from coordination, command, and control, or leadership perspective for that area, and then integrate it into the whole city.
Calgary is about 1.2 million people, so we’ve got a lot of big issues as well when we think about response. And that was my first (inaudible) in about 2001/2002, getting into emergency management.
[TODD DEVOE] So like a lot of us, you really kind of fell into it because it was a collateral duty. It seems to be the (inaudible) way to get into emergency management. So, you moved and did your stuff. And now you are part of the International Association of Emergency Management, and you are the president out there for the Canadian Chapter – I guess Chapter would be the word to use. So tell me, how did you get involved with IAEM and how is it up in Canada, compared to other parts of the world?
[GREG SOLECKI] Yeah, it was about the same time, as soon as I moved over into that area, leaving the kind of nice little comfort of what I knew in the fire service, and having to learn a bit more about business and emergency management. I started reaching out to folks that I knew, and they guided me towards the IAEM, so International Association of Emergency Managers. And at that time, I mean, I needed resources, I needed tools, I needed to learn a lot more.
I wanted to have some sort of education or certification, and that’s obviously what IAEM offered at that time for me. From a Canadian perspective, there are nine councils worldwide, of course, the US being one, and now Canada being a council. But at that time, there was only IAEM, really, which was USA and US-based, and that was prior to it going global, even though there were members all over the world. So it took some– the Canadian Chapter at the time working towards becoming its own council, as a few other councils worldwide have.
And now, 15 years into it, it’s a bit different compared to the US where IAEM really came out of a FEMA initiative 65 years ago, but now IAEM Canada is about 15 years old only, and we’re trying to make a lot of inroads with Public Safety Canada, which is the equivalent to FEMA in the United States. Work with them to develop policies and perhaps do a bunch of research, what’s available to us and our members, but also to almost be a voice for a lot of the different associations across Canada, the different provinces, and territories that we have, have a lot of emergency managers and IAEM members. We want to provide them an opportunity to work with Public Safety Canada, work more globally, work with folks in the States. We know that disasters know no borders.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[GREG SOLECKI] So if we can kind of make those bridges with those folks, we’d like to do that a bit more as well.
[TODD DEVOE] So, what are some of the challenges that you are having up in Canada with kind of bridging those gaps with emergency management and the other public safety agencies?
[GREG SOLECKI] Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s almost the biggest thing right there, is we’re newer. I mean, in a few respects. It’s not that profession of emergency management is new, but even saying, that right there, what’s interesting is, emergency managers are not a recognized profession in Canada right now. So that’s a huge gap that we’re trying to fill.
In the 70’s even, there were citizen teachers up here, weren’t recognized as a profession, officially. So right now, you’ve got emergency managers, legislated nationally, provincially, to be in place and have directors of emergency management in every municipality across this country. Like, you don’t have the profession recognized at all. So, that’s one of the biggest gaps we have. And I think the other one is really seeing that shift from emergency management being on the side of the emergency services desk, whether that’d be police or fire, which is the norm, and then moving away from that now because it’s much bigger than the emergency services, as we, emergency managers know, that we are crossing into all the different critical infrastructure sectors, and all the different areas that really have interdependency upon each other, that aren’t just about firefighting, or policing, or security.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, it seems to be that’s the problem down here as well in some jurisdictions, so I guess we’re not alone in that battle.
[GREG SOLECKI] That’s great, that’s great.
[TODD DEVOE] So, realistically, I mean, Canada and the United States, we do a lot of things similar, when it comes specifically to public safety in general. And I know that we’re working really hand-in-hand in some aspects as far as Homeland Security goes. Do you see that same collaboration in the emergency management fields, as the other ones as well?
[GREG SOLECKI] Yeah, for sure. As far as the fields go and looking at the cross-border relationships and how we can work together much more easily, I think. I think about the Northwestern United States and Canada, when they do the cascading exercises based upon earthquakes every year and get together, and making sure that the public are aware of that. Looking on the East Coast, I know– I’ve been involved with one of the boss networks. So, we have one across Canada, the virtual operations support team set it out there, and I think almost every state in the US has those teams available.
There was a massive virtual exercise, an experiment that goes on, they call about 5 or six times now, annually. So the Canadian-USA network experiments, where they have virtual operations and boss networks getting together to work on these big exercises on the Northeast. So yeah, there’s lots of opportunity, and definitely across borders as well.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, I mean, a lot of our cities, you know, like Vancouver, for instance, or Toronto, Montreal, for instance, they’re really right there on the border, so there’s a lot of– you can see how if we have a major event in any of those cities, where it could impact everybody else. I mean, think about the power outage that we had a few years ago over at Northeast, you know?
[GREG SOLECKI] That’s right. Exactly, yeah, we were just talking about that here today, I just happened to be in Montreal this week, and we were having the conversation about that power outage that hit the East Coast, and specifically, the Toronto area, which was just massive.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah. And that just shows how our systems are all intertwined, you know? In that way. So it definitely is something that we need to keep in mind as we’re making our plans. Especially for those of you guys that are on the border and also in the Northeast where it’s so close to– really having to reach out. I mean, I could see, if there’s a major event, like an earthquake or something like that, up in the Cascadia, like you were talking about, where it’s going to definitely affect Vancouver, we’re going to have to share some resources. And do we have those international agreements to be able to share resources like that, across the border? Or would it really be harder in that time?
[GREG SOLECKI] I think it’s going to be tough. I know that’s one of the pushes within that Cascadia region, in Vancouver, Washington State, and British Columbia, to ensure that we do have that ability. On the other hand, though, it’s even tough right now, from a firefighting and emergency service perspective, looking at Ontario and New York, where they can’t even cross the border in some of the smaller areas if there’s a fire going on. So, we’d like to– I think we’d like to think that we’re going to be able to help each other right away all the time, but it’s tougher than it sounds, when you’re even fighting between paramedics and ambulance services to transport folks across the border, and we can’t agree upon that, and how that should be just so seamlessly easy.
[TODD DEVOE] Right. Right. It’s true. And you know, it’s funny because, I mean, obviously, in the Southern border, we have some towns that are really close to each other, but there seems to be more of a divide. I mean, we have some physical barriers on the Southern border as well. But there’s parts of the Northern border, especially up in Maine, and New Hampshire, and Vermont, that a couple of towns– I forget which ones they are, actually, I think it’s up in Maine, where the town is split in half. Where there’s people that– you know, half of it is Canada and half of it it’s the United States.
[GREG SOLECKI] That’s right.
[TODD DEVOE] So that relationship has been there since we became nations, I guess, back in the 1700’s. So it seems like it should be a no-brainer, but of course, politics get in the way of everything.
[GREG SOLECKI] Well, yeah. You know, we do have such a rich history with the relationship– and you’re probably aware, it was just the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Harbor explosion, which is still one of the larges explosions the world has ever seen, and it wiped out much of Halifax and killed hundreds of people. But Boston was one of the first to respond with nurses, and resources, an equipment, and that was way back when I don’t think we worried too much about borders, it was just about helping people out.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[GREG SOLECKI] Each year, actually, there’s a huge Christmas tree somewhere in Boston that’s donated by Halifax. Every year, to this day.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, that’s kind of the way it should be, but that’s us talking, it’s not the policymakers, I suppose. So, let’s kind of move into what we can do as far as emergency managers. What can we do internationally to really bolster our profession? Like, is there anything that you can think of that would really push the profession forward?
[GREG SOLECKI] Yeah, I think there’s a couple of areas, and we talked about it a little bit already where, I think, we could use some cross-border exercises still. Because you’re right, whether it’s a big earthquake, or we’re going to get hit with some sort of electrical grid, or some technology issue, it’s going to be both of us anyway. So, if we can continue to kind of reach out to our peers, which I try to do a lot with the USA (inaudible) as far as the IAEM is concerned.
I try to work as much as possible with them and share what’s going on between Canada and the US as far as some of the different initiatives that are out there. I think that’s great. I think another one is the educational portion of it. So, if we could get academics together on both sides on the border to show their different ideas and what’s occurring there, I’d really like to see that. One initiative, specifically, that I’m trying to push with IAEM globally, and the US and Canada are kind of the leaders in this, is to support having academics and emergency managers, certified emergency managers, through IAEM, be available to be deployed to some of these disaster areas, whether it’s continentally, like the Texas hurricanes, or the ice storms in Canada, or Mexico, Puerto Rico, where you have a small team go in as academics and practitioners as soon as possible, to almost do a windshield assessment at a very high level, bring that information back as a white paper, and then provide it out to whoever may need it, whether it’s governments or other responders that may be going in. But at least you’ve got that combination of academia and practitioners to perhaps come out with a really good product that could be shared right away.
[TODD DEVOE] That’s a really great idea. We’re talking about the idea of sending EM practitioners and EM academics into some of the disaster areas to do some first-hand research, and also to learn more about how we can respond in a better way. How would that look in your mind? I mean, I like the idea, but how exactly would that look like, going forth?
[GREG SOLECKI] Yeah, it’s really about getting that (inaudible) of emergency management colleges and universities, the folks out there, or the institutions, whether it’s in the United States or Canada, that actually have either diplomas or a master’s degree out there, PhDs, have those programs that want to partner with the practitioners. And I bring up IAEM because you know, we have a good certification in place. I know there’s others out there, but as a not-for-profit and a non-profit in Canada and the United States, we’re really looking at the development of practitioners. So, you have to have certain education anyway. You have to have the skills. You’ve got to have certain behaviors as well. But above all else, you’ve got to have experience.
So we’re not just saying, you know, take a few courses somewhere and we’ll give you the certificate. You actually have to have probably close to 10 years in the profession before actually being certified. So, that combined with academia and folks that would be interested in partnering to go into some of these disasters areas, of course, there would have to be sponsors.
But I think there are mechanisms in place, especially in the United States already, where there would be funding available to do something like this. So, it’s a matter of bringing these two entities together. I’m not sure if there is actually a conglomerate of post-secondary institutions that offer emergency management, that speak to each other on a regular basis, working with IAEM to identify where they could go, and when they could go, and then developing some of this information in these disaster areas that would be able to be shared with everybody who needs it.
[TODD DEVOE] So, EMI, Emergency Management Institute, run by FEMA, they actually have a list of all the schools that offer emergency management degrees and programs throughout the country. And I know in the United States, we’re close to 500 and something schools that offer secondary degrees. So that being said, does Canada– are there any schools in Canada that offer emergency management higher education degrees?
[TODD DEVOE] Are there any schools in Canada that offer emergency management higher education degrees?
[GREG SOLECKI] Yeah, there are, and it’s interesting. Once I get a little older, maybe, and get a little more experience, especially in the emergency management world. You know, you’ve got 330 million– about 350 million people in the US, but we’re a tenth of that. We’re a country that’s larger in size, as far as the area is, but we’re a tenth of the size, as far as population. So, almost everything is kind of on that basis, I noticed. So, you say you’ve got close to– did you say 500 institutions?
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, I think a little over 500, yeah.
[GREG SOLECKI] Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So, we’ve got, you know, maybe a tenth of that, and probably less. But we do have diploma– so we’ve got, what would be your colleges that have diplomas. We’ve got universities that have degrees, and then we’ve even got PhD programs and master’s programs throughout the country as well, right from East to West. So, from British Columbia out to Nova Scotia, there are schools that are offering programs.
[TODD DEVOE] That’s awesome. In the United States, we have a bunch of– what we call associates degrees, which is your two-year degree. And then we’re getting more that are offering the bachelor’s degrees. But we have a lot of master’s degrees out here, which is weird, but we don’t have a pure PhD program in emergency management, really. So, I think we have one or two. So you know, it’s growing for sure, and I just got to speak at the University of Albany a couple of weeks ago, to their program, and they have 1,500 undergrad students in that program out there. So I know that–
[GREG SOLECKI] Wow.
[TODD DEVOE] Emergency management education is growing, for sure. And the interest in the youth is growing as well.
[GREG SOLECKI] No, no kidding, that is incredible. That’s a huge amount. And we’re noticing it up here as well, not, again, to that amount. But again, I’d say almost a tenth or a little bit less when we’re looking at our schools and how many folks are in there. But we’re definitely seeing a lot more coming out of the academic world.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, I’m kind of excited about that, for two reasons. One, obviously, I teach. So that makes me happy, in general, that we have more people that are interested. But two, I was talking about this, there was a question that was asked on a poll somebody was doing for an IEM course, and the question was like, “What do you think of the fact that emergency managers are aging now?”
And I was kind of taken aback by that. And I’m like, well, yeah, but would you ask that question like, “What do you think of police officers or firefighters that are aging now?” Because there’s enough people coming out from behind. And I think that’s one thing that we have to do as a profession, is really encourage more youth, you know, younger adults, to get into the emergency management field because it is definitely a rewarding field. Although it’s not– you know, they don’t make TV shows about it, but it’s definitely a rewarding field for sure.
What do you think IAEM could do, on that note, to encourage people to go into the field of emergency management?
[GREG SOLECKI] Yeah, you know what I really have found with IAEM, what is the– as I mentioned, early in my career, specifically, I guess 15 years ago, maybe a little bit more now. But when I was (inaudible), it was a matter of finding that resource, and that– those tools and just learning more about what I needed to become a better emergency manager. Then midway through my career, it was a lot about the networks.
Being able to meet a lot of co-workers, whether it was in Canada, in the United States, or even worldwide, and to kind of lean on them and find out what to do in certain situations, which I’ve done many times before. Just, you know, hundreds of EOC activations, and some of the biggest disasters in Canadian history. It was good to be able to know that I had some folks that I could always lean on and get some information from.
But then, another stage, which is where I’m at now is, after being through that process of becoming certified and gaining some skills and experience, it’s now, I’d say, almost giving back. So, being able to be president of IAEM Canada provides that leadership opportunity, and also the ability to almost go after some things that you think can help, whether it’s the local level, provincial level, national level, or even internationally now, because some of the things we do is sit at the roundtable for Disaster Risk Reduction nationally and also internationally. So, all three stages of my career, whether it’s the intermediate, or near the end of the career, I guess, or the pinnacle of the career, is it offers something for everybody at each level.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, that’s exciting. That’s for sure. And it is nice to look back in your career and go, “Yeah, this is where I knew, I knew nothing and now I kind of know a little bit more, and I’d like to share that with everybody else.
[GREG SOLECKI] Yeah, that’s right, yeah. It’s pretty cool to be able to do that, I think.
[TODD DEVOE] One of the things that I really strive for in my personal career is I try to never stop learning. I constantly read books and study our field, to really know what’s going on. And it’s nice to be able to talk to people that have the same passion and share this, and this is one of the reasons why we’re doing this podcast, to grow this community of emergency managers, you know, whether internationally or nationally. You know, trying to get everybody to kind of listen to it and get in the same page.
And really, again, encourage everybody to do– to be a good practitioner of emergency management. And I think the IAEM program is a really great way to do it. I’m excited that there’s more Chapters out there. And I’m really excited to see Canada up and going, and growing, and taking some really cool leadership and initiative out there. Because I’ve been reading a lot about what they’re doing up in Canada with a few of the people that are writing, specifically, on LinkedIn and what not. But what are some of the specific challenges that you think that Canada faces that might be a little different than say, the rest of the United States or the rest of the world?
[GREG SOLECKI] I think we’ve got– being a bit new as a profession, and I know I keep falling back on that, but we don’t work exactly the same way as the US does. And the way we have our constitution, the way it’s set up, and how the federal government works, how they might have a mandate or a framework in place, but it’s downloaded to the provinces. So the provinces have a huge response from the emergency management perspective, and we don’t even really have a national response framework in place, like you do with NIMS, like you do with ICS in some areas.
And I know ICS isn’t the answer to absolutely everything. I’m an instructor, you know, FEMA certified, and ICS Canada certified as well, so I’m pretty familiar with it, and I don’t think it’s the answer to absolutely everything. In fact, before ICS in the 70’s, there was a system called incident management in Canada, which was around 10 or 15 years before. It has the same processes and methodologies in place that you would use within ICS. It doesn’t necessarily have the same boxes split up.
So, that is a Canadian version of disaster response that had been taught for over 60 years, that just happened to be cut, at one time, during this decade by the federal government. And I think that’s a huge loss, and that’s something that we’re missing right now, is that– that leadership, I think, and that coordination of the provincial entities by the federal government and public safety Canada.
[TODD DEVOE] Is there a push in Canada for the individual preparedness, and programs such as like, the Community Emergency Response Team up there?
[GREG SOLECKI] Yeah, there is. And we even modeled certain programs, you know, instead of totally reinventing the wheel all the time, we have CERT teams up here. They’re not necessarily called that, but there is a big course right now to try to really engage communities, having folks understand, you know, sending out preparedness kits. Having them understand that they’re going to be the first responders during any major disaster.
There’s been quite a bit of work done, and a push as well to look at some other groups that have been effective over the years from a community perspective. Yes, you have the CERT groups in the US, but there’s also European groups that have been around for quite a while that basically, they have really strong community groups in place, but they’re almost a cadet program, where they’re disaster cadets. So, the youth get together with community leaders that have equipment, that is basically donated, and they train on that, much like you would have scouting or (inaudible) groups that are doing this community work, but they’re training on disaster response. And it’s ingrained within that society.
Germany is a big one, where they have these group all the time, and the training lasts all the time. So in case something would occur, the responses from the community, and they have the proper equipment to do that. So, we’ve been talking about that up here, working with some with the CERT and community groups, trying to develop more of a (inaudible) and larger community association. Because you really want that public-private partnership to work out as best as possible.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, so true. And that is cool to see them moving, going forward, and to be able to take a look at the best practices around the world an implement those, I like that. I’m going to take a look at that disaster cadets thing, that’s kind of a cool concept. Ok, so we’re getting close to the end here of your time, so a couple of more questions. One is, if somebody wanted to get a hold of you, how could they find you?
[GREG SOLECKI] Probably the best way is IAEM.com at Canada. Anybody who wants to get a hold of me, it’s CanadaPresident@IAEM.com, that’s my email address.
[TODD DEVOE] Perfect. Alright, here comes the toughest question of the day. By the way, if you guys are driving, we’ll make sure that the information is down at the show notes. So if you don’t have a pencil ready to go, go ahead and take a look at the show notes, and get that information there. Ok, so here, ready for the toughest question of the day? What book or books, or publication, do you recommend to anybody who is in the emergency management field or leadership?
[GREG SOLECKI] Well, you got me with a good one there, because leadership is one of the big things that I’m really working on right now, and I’m always learning, as you mentioned already, and that’s one area that I’m trying to develop more as I move along in my career here. In fact, we have a conference in Calgary in June, and a lot of it is based on innovation and leadership. But one book that I really enjoy is called, “Seeing What Others Don’t.” And it’s more about, I’d say, black swans. And it’s not specific to disasters, it’s not specific to leadership, but what you find in it is definitely some leadership lessons, and how that applies to some of the disasters that have occurred.
Things like the mortgage crisis in the US that occurred. It’s looking back almost on things that shouldn’t have been such a surprise, and why didn’t other people notice them? Because some people did for sure, but they just didn’t get the backing or the support. 9/11, the report that was done, you know, I think by some folks, Al Gore, who was involved, about what could happen, and could we use airplanes as missiles to take out certain areas? Ok, so that was recorded, recorded, but it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise when it happened, because some people actually thought about it and knew about it. So, it’s those types of things that are identified in the book, and it’s a really good read, I found.
[TODD DEVOE] That’s awesome. So, is there anything that you’d like to say to emergency managers around the world before we let you go?
[GREG SOLECKI] Well, I think one of the biggest things is never stop learning, and really take that leadership opportunity to heart because, if there’s one thing, I think whether we’re talking about incident management or working within an EOC, or having an opportunity to lead certain groups, certain boards, or associations, it has a lot to do with leadership. So if you can get specific leadership training and experience, that’s the one area that’s really going to help us all out.
[TODD DEVOE] Well, thank you so much for your time today, and I’m looking forward to maybe doing this again sometime.
[GREG SOLECKI] I really appreciate it, and I’d love to. Thank you.
[TODD DEVOE] Awesome.
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