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Commander's Corner

David Lipin - Unit Commander

Welcome to November, and I hope everyone had a fun Halloween last night! We've been so busy these past few months, that this is the first newsletter since August. And because we continue to be busy, this will be a short newsletter as well.

Thank You!

I'd like to start by saying thank you to everyone -- and I mean everyone: members who deployed, members who didn't but wish they could've, members who provided crucial help on the home front, members who provided moral support and those who kept an eye on us, members who signed up for the potential CAL-MAT mission in the middle of all of our hurricane deployments, members who supported Urban Shield (yes, "normal business" continued!), all of those who didn't get to deploy to Anniston for training (remember that?), our families and friends who put up with so much over these past couple months, employers and co-workers who supported the work that we do, and the extended Bay Area community that reached out and provided support to us in so many small ways that added up (SFO, TSA, our US&R friends, EMS agencies across the Bay Area), and I'm sure others that helped out in ways that I'm not even aware of!

December On-Call Sign-ups

For the past few months, NDMS has abandoned the normal on-call schedule since we have been continuously rotating teams into the responses for Harvey, Irma and Maria. As of now, NDMS plans on resuming a "limited standard" on-call schedule starting in Dec. Basically, a subset of the Dec on-call teams will be on-call, with the rest of the teams participating in a system-wide stand-down to recover from the hurricane responses. Whether the stand-down takes place or not will depend on whether the Puerto Rico response is still underway, so the number of on-call teams is still to be determined.

So, in anticipation of that, we are collecting our usual on-call availability via the website. As usual, we need all federal members to leave their Dec availability by Nov 5th, so that we can start to work on backfilling or roster for submission by Nov 15th. Note that if the Puerto Rico response is still ongoing in Dec, we may be activated for another mission to Puerto Rico. And if the response is over, we might participate in the stand-down rather than our regularly-scheduled on-call. But the mission comes first, so this decision will not likely be made until the last minute. We appreciate everyone's flexibility on this, as we continue to prioritize support to Puerto Rico's recovery.

Nov Team Meeting

Our next team meeting will be this coming Sat, 04 Nov at the usual time and place (details on the left side of our home page). However, the meeting will be shortened, and will focus on an overview of the various deployments. We'll start with team business (of which there is some significant news), then spend a couple hours with a variety of speakers reviewing the many missions that we participated in for Harvey, Irma and Maria. This meeting is open to the public as usual, and all members and prospective members are encouraged to attend. The meeting will end at 1300 hrs, where we'll break for lunch. Future meetings will take deeper dives into specific aspects of lessons learned over the past few months, and we've got a long list of topics and plenty of new material to keep us going for quite some time!

After lunch, we will conduct a debrief session for those members who deployed. We have also invited the members of the other teams that backfilled CA-6 on our primary mission, so a few of those members will attend as well. This session will be limited to the invited members, to provide a more comfortable setting where the deployed members can discuss the missions in more detail, issues that arose, and whatever else is on their minds. Deploying and returning from deployment are sometimes challenging, and we encourage the members who deployed to attend this session, so we can be supportive of each other as we work through these challenges.

2018 Schedule

HQ is way behind in "regular business" items, including establishing the 2018 on-call schedule. If they stick to the traditional pattern, then our 2018 on-call months will be Feb, May, Aug and Nov. However, I would not be surprised if there are changes related to the restructuring, and also a reduced number of on-call teams for the first few months of 2018 as part of the anticipated "stand down". We'll let everyone know as soon as we find out.

Next month we'll establish our 2018 meeting schedule, and let everyone know that as well.

NDMS Restructuring

The recent deployments have temporarily interrupted our restructuring plans, but we will be resuming that plan in a modified way over the coming weeks. For the people who need to re-apply for their current positions, that portion of the plan will move forward as previously described (but delayed). For the positions that were set to be eliminated, NDMS is going to review those positions in light of the recent deployments before deciding how to proceed with those positions. For now, the next positions that will be posted will be Unit Commander and Deputy Unit Commander positions, currently scheduled to be posted before the end of this year. Other postings have not yet been scheduled, due to the Emergency Hire program (see next).

Emergency Hire Program

In light of the recent deployments, Congress has authorized certain agencies of the federal government to hire critical positions on an emergency hire basis. NDMS will be participating in this emergency hire process. It is complicated, and we'll discuss it in detail at the upcoming team meeting.

In short, an emergency hire employee does not need to go through the "normal" hiring process, and instead goes through a fast-track hiring process that selects and on-boards employees through an expedited process that takes weeks rather than months (or years, as has been the case in the past). NDMS employees hired under this process will be hired under the same revised Position Descriptions as will be used for the NDMS Restructuring process. Current NDMS members are eligible to apply for these emergency hire positions as well (e.g., if you're one of the people who will need to re-appy because the GS level for your position will be increasing). NDMS will hire up to 80% of its current openings under this process.

In exchange for the expedited hiring process, these emergency hires will be term (temporary) employees, with a 2-year term. At the end of 2 years, these term positions will be eliminated and the employees released from NDMS. The intent is to combine the emergency hire program with the restructuring program, so that we can use the emergency hire program to quickly hire people into NDMS to relieve the current strain on the system, and then progress with the restructuring program to fill the permanent vacancies. The emergency-hire employees will be eligible to apply for the permanent vacancies, so in theory many or most of the emergency hire employees will apply for and be hired as permanent employees before their 2-year term expires. If emergency-hire employees apply for one of the permanent positions, they will be able to include their NDMS experience as part of their qualifications, so they might gain some disaster experience that they otherwise would not have -- thus giving them an advantage over people who don't have disaster experience, or people who have disaster experience but at a lower GS level or in a different position (i.e., current members who choose to not apply for these emergency hire positions).

Current members (permanent employees) can apply for these emergency-hire positions. If they qualify and are hired, then they'll be moved from their current positions and GS levels to the new positions and GS levels, and have the same "advantages" as the rest of the emergency-hire employees when applying for the permanent positions. (Note that if you're one of the people impacted by the restructuring then you'll have to apply for one of these permanent positions if you want to stay with NDMS -- but we've already informed all of you who are affected by this.) If you choose to not apply for the emergency-hire position, then you'll remain at your current position and GS. This could pose a risk for you if NDMS decides that there are enough employees (permanent and/or term) at the new position and they decide to move forward with eliminating the old positions. This could also pose a risk for you when it comes time to apply for the permanent positions, because there could potentially be a lot of emergency-hire employees already qualified for the new position (because they'd already have been vetted for the new positions as part of the emergency hire program) and they'd have an advantage over you because you haven't yet been qualified for the new position (having chosen to not apply for the position under the emergency hire program).

However, current (permanent) employees who succeed at getting hired under the emergency hire program also have some risk, because they will have converted from permanent positions to term (temporary) positions, and it's possible that the restructuring program might reduce the overall size of the system or number of people in a given position simply by allowing the term positions to expire at the end of two years. This is not currently the intention, but we don't know what the future may hold.

So the pros and cons are something to seriously consider if you're a current NDMS member who has to re-apply under the restructuring program. If you're not currently an NDMS member and are looking to join, this is a great way to potentially get in quickly, so almost no downside for you! We'll discuss this in more detail at the Nov meeting, with some time for q&a to help clarify.

Holiday Party

We will be holding this year's holiday party on Dec 2nd at Spenger's Fish Grotto in Berkeley from 6pm to 10pm, in honor of our 20th anniversary as a team! We are still playing a lot of catch-up from all of the recent (and ongoing) deployments, so look for a party invitation in your email soon. Please save the date to come help us celebrate this milestone, and to say "thank you" to all of our members and our supportive families and friends of the team!

That's it for me for this month. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone next Saturday!

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