October 6th, 2022
Commentary From Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Bestselling Author of the Award-Winning Book “Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies” (Nicholas Brealey)
Corporate executives could learn a thing or two about leadership and crisis management from how the federal government and local authorities prepared for and responded to Hurricane Fiona.
The hurricane delivered a knock-out punch to a U.S. territory that was trying to recover from Hurricane Maria five years ago. This will make a comeback from Hurricane Fiona even more challenging—and underscores the importance of the lessons others can learn from the situation.
Don’t Wait To Prepare
As soon as you know that a crisis is brewing, don’t wait to do something—anything—about it.
“FEMA has been tracking the potential impacts of this severe weather event well-ahead of the storm’s landfall,” Region 2 Administrator David Warrington said in a press release.
A day before Hurricane Fiona struck the island, FEMA announced that federal emergency aid was made available to Puerto Rico to help assist with their response to the storm.
Once you see that trouble is on the horizon, do what you can to help mitigate the impact of the crisis.
That’s what the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority did when it shut down electricity on the island in an effort to help lessen damage to the power grid, Clifford Oliver, a former assistant administrator of FEMA, said via email. He is a principal with Nanticoke Global Strategies and served as an advisor during the early stages of LUMA’s taking over of the the island’s grid.
“Best practices during hurricanes, with respect to managing electrical grids, is to take proactive actions to protect the grid (that consists of electrical generation, transmission, and distribution) from an uncontrolled cascading failure,” Oliver observed.
“Such [weather] events often lead to damage to sensitive components of the grid that were not directly damaged by the hurricane,” he noted. This additional damage results in further delay in restoring power [to] the grid once the storm threat passes and the electrical transmission and distribution portions of the grid are restored.
“Since LUMA has only had control of the electrical transmission and distribution portions of the grid for about two and a half years, they have only made limited progress in modernizing and improving the resilience of the electrical transmission and distribution portions of the grid,” Oliver commented.
Equipment, Facilities, And Supplies
FEMA said it had prepositioned supplies on the island including:
- Four strategically located warehouses throughout the island
- More than seven million liters of water
- More than four million ready-to-eat meals
- More than 215 generators
- More 100,000 tarps
- More than 28,000 plastic covers and more than 10,300 cots and other emergency supplies
Put Someone In Charge
Any response to a crisis—especially one as large as the impact of Hurricane Fiona—requires that someone is in charge to provide guidance, direction and make critical decisions in a timely manner.
“Robert Little III has been named as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area. Additional designations may be made at a later date,” FEMA said when President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the island.
Give People The Authority And Power They Need
FEMA said that the declaration authorized them “to identify, mobilize and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75% federal funding.”
Tell People What You Are Going To Do
In a press release, FEMA Region 2 Administrator Warrington said, “It is our mission to help people before, during and after disasters, and we remain committed to supporting the Government of Puerto Rico for as long as we are needed.”
Monitor The Situation
Pay very close attention to how the crisis is affecting people.
“I have been continuously monitoring the developments of Hurricane Fiona and its impact on the people of Puerto Rico,” SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said in a statement.
Respond as soon as possible to the impact of the crisis.
“Following President Biden’s swift action to issue an Emergency Disaster Declaration for Puerto Rico, the SBA quickly mobilized and positioned disaster assistance staff and resources on the ground to help communities and businesses impacted,” Guzman said in a press release.
Visit The Site Of the Crisis
Depending on the nature and location of a crisis, it may be appropriate for officials to go to the site of the emergency.
FEMA said yesterday that Administrator Deanne Criswell plans to do just that. She will “travel to Puerto Rico to assess the devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona and determine the additional resources needed to support the island’s recovery,” the agency said in a press release.
Provide All The Help That’s Needed
Ensuring that those who are on the front lines of the situation have what they need to respond effectively, efficiently and strategically should always be a top priority.
“Our partnership with the Government of Puerto Rico has never been stronger, and we remain committed to helping them respond to and recover from Hurricane Fiona,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a press release. “We’re sending hundreds of additional staff in the next few days to place staff in each of the impacted communities to supplement our already vast footprint.”
FEMA said in a press release that it had “deployed one national and four regional Incident Management Teams and two Urban Search and Rescue teams to augment the hundreds of FEMA personnel on the ground. The additional staff will help bolster the Government of Puerto Rico’s response efforts.”
“One of the ways FEMA is providing additional resources is by increasing the number of field operations resources, including staff,” it said in a press release.
Learn From Your Mistakes
Lessons From Hurricane Maria
“By most accounts, improved preparatory measures were taken in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, relying upon lessons learned during that catastrophe,” said Rebecca “Becky” Rouse, an associate professor of practice and associate director of emergency and security studies at Tulane University’s School of Professional Advancement, in a statement.
Before Fiona struck the island, “FEMA reportedly maintained multiple (versus a single) warehouses for supplies and exponentially greater stocks of food, water and power generators and deployed hundreds of specially trained FEMA responders,” she noted.
“Such preparations should certainly improve responders,’ and residents’ capacity to ‘ bounce back’ after need assessments are complete post-Fiona, yet early damage reports indicate many of the same failures in power supply, transportation assets, supply chain reliability and resource distribution experienced after Maria is occurring during the recovery from Fiona,” Rouse observed.
“Perhaps the most significant lesson from Hurricanes Maria and Fiona—much like that extracted from most disasters in the U.S.—is that resilience can be pursued and achieved at the smallest or most complex levels. The success and survival of each part improve the strength and adaptability of the whole,” she concluded.
Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and the bestselling author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Click here to Order the book.
Segal is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Click here to read his recent articles.