Tuesday
Dec012015

Election Season Rules Review

Published by HHS HQ to all employees:

As we are in the midst of the 2015-2016 election season, it is important that each of you take some time to review what partisan political activities you may, and may not, engage in as a federal employee. This month, the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) issued new guidance materials, linked below, that help clarify how the Hatch Act applies to your use of social media and email.

For those of you who may be new to federal service, the Hatch Act restricts the partisan political activity of federal employees at the national, state, or local levels that are directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate, or partisan political group.

In general, federal employees may never:

  • Engage in political activity while on duty, while in a government office, or while using a government vehicle.
  • Solicit, accept or receive political contributions at any time.
  • Engage in political activity in an official capacity at any time.
  • Use an official HHS title in connection with any political activity.
  • Solicit or discourage the political activity of anyone having business before the Department.
  • Use official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election.

Changes to the political activity restriction for federal employees that have been implemented since the last Presidential election season are highlighted below. Additional information links are also provided for your reference.

Social Media and the Hatch Act

On November 12, 2015, the OSC updated its 2012 guidance on federal employees' use of social media and email. The OSC issuance includes some notable changes. For example, OSC explains that federal employees may display campaign logos or candidate photographs as their cover or header photos situated at the top of their social media profiles on their personal Facebook or Twitter accounts. OSC also added guidance about permissible emails at work that address current events or matters of public concern that are not partisan political activity.

Running as an Independent Candidate in Local Partisan Elections in Designated Areas

While there is a general prohibition against running as a candidate in a partisan election, there are certain areas of the country wherein most (but not all) federal employees may run as an independent candidate in a local election for partisan political office. The official list of all of the localities across the country is found here under 5 CFR Part 733.

Employees are strongly advised to seek guidance from their division's ethics official Deputy Ethics Counselors and Ethics Coordinators or the OSC prior to initiating action as an independent candidate. (Contact the Team Commander if you need to talk with these individuals.) Being a candidate is NOT subject to the prior approval HHS 520 process.

Additional Guidance is available at A Guide to the Hatch Act for Federal Employees 

Sunday
Nov012015

VOL. 15, NO. 10 - NOVEMBER, 2015

Mark Your Calendar

  • Nov 01-30: On-Call
  • Dec 05: Holiday Party
  •           2016
  • Jan 01-31: On-Call
  • Feb 20: Team Meeting
  • Apr 01-30: On-Call
  • May 14: Team Meeting
  • Jul 01-31: On-Call
  • Aug 13: Team Meeting
  • Oct 01-31: On-Call
  • Nov 05: Team Meeting
  • Dec 03: Holiday Party

Monthly Recap

Commander's Corner - The latest news from the Commander
Holiday Party - Dec 5th, sooner than you think!
In My Gear Bag - Staying charged up

Sunday
Nov012015

Commander's Corner

David Lipin - Unit Commander

Welcome to the November issue of The CA-6 Chronicles. I hope everyone had a safe and fun Halloween! And of course it was great to see everyone at our meeting last weekend. I've got a decent list of items to report on for this month, so I'm just going to jump right in.

2016 Calendar

If you look above, you'll see the 2016 dates for our team meetings and on-call months. These have also been added to the team's Google Calendar (click on the Calendar link on the team website), which you can subscribe to -- by the way -- so that they're automatically added to your calendar.

Of particular note, we are on-call for January. Each team is on-call once per quarter, and for a given year it's always the same month of that quarter (e.g., for 2015 it was the 2nd month of each quarter for us). At the start of each new year that month "moves up by one" so that the teams aren't always on the same on-call months each year. So yes, we're on-call now in Nov and again in Jan, so it's a bit cramped. On the bright side, next year we'll get a nice "break" between our Oct 2016 and Mar 2017 on-call months -- so plan your big trips for then!

On-Call Discussion

We've just begun our final on-call month of 2015, so hopefully your gear is packed and you're ready to go! We did a decent job of signing up for this month, and eventually got more than enough people who are available for the month. However, we didn't get a timely enough response to avoid having to ask for backfill. This is becoming an increasing problem across NDMS, as hiring has been frozen and teams struggle to fill their rosters, so we're going to make a few changes to help us with this challenge.

First, we're going to move up the on-call sign-up period. It used to be that we'd post sign-ups from the 1st to the 10th of the month prior to our on-call, but we're going to move that up and go from the 25th to the 5th. That way we'll have an earlier idea of where our shortfalls might be so we can ask for assistance from other teams sooner.

Second, we're going to dial up our notification process a bit, because some people find the reminders helpful. You can expect an email notification when sign-ups open on the 25th, and of course an announcement in the monthly newsletter that comes out on the 1st. If you haven't provided your availability by the 1st, you'll get an email reminder, and if you haven't signed up by the 3rd you'll get a "full-blown" reminder using our full notification system (email, SMS, phone calls to home and work).

Third, for people who don't sign up by the 5th, your availability for that month won't count towards your tier status. You can still sign up, and we would consider rostering you if we have a shortfall, so you should still sign up if you can. But since we must have a complete roster submitted by the 15th of the month (and it takes several days to find backfill and iterate through the submission process), if you sign up late then you're not helping the team's readiness posture so we're not going to credit you if you happen to be available. But hopefully the reminders will mean that it won't come to that!

On a related note, since it's getting increasingly challenging for the system to roster, the teams are finding themselves doing increasingly complicated "swaps" to cover all of their positions. So it's not unusual these days to see a "we'll swap you a nurse for a paramedic" arrangement, or even a three-way trade amongst several teams. So don't be too surprised if you find yourself on another team's roster for the month; sometimes this is a "done deal" (usually arranged in advance) and sometimes it's a placeholder (you might or might not be the actual person that goes with the other team, depending on our team's changing availability during the month). We try our best to give people a heads-up when this happens, and thankfully it doesn't happen too often (yet).

We're hiring!

You may recall that we posted for MD and RN openings back in August. We've just received word that HQ HR has processed the many applicants (across all of the teams), and will be releasing the list of candidates to us next week. From that list, we'll do our usual vetting and interviewing over the coming weeks, and will soon have a new batch of applicants working their way through the hiring process.

We also hope that HQ will continue the posting process so that we can begin to fill other critical positions on the team, but we haven't received specific dates on that process yet. When we do, we'll post it on our Join Us link, announce it in Hot News so members can help spread the news, and we'll send email out to everyone on our mailing list for those positions.

New OPM Notice

All current and former team members likely have received, or will soon be receiving, a notice via regular mail from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regarding the data breach that they've previously informed everyone about. This new notice is to report that additional personal information was compromised during this cyber attack, and offers an additional protection service to government employees. This is a legitimate, official notification; they have converted to regular mail notices to help prevent further phishing or other online compromises.

You will need to register using the information provided in the mail notice, plus some additional personal information. After you create your account, you can add additional personal information for them to monitor, such as bank accounts, passport, driver's license, etc.

Having personally been a victim of identity theft, and knowing that all of this information was potentially compromised during the cyber attack on OPM, I would strongly recommend taking advantage of this additional protection service and monitoring of additional information. Please take the time to enroll and properly configure your profile to get the most benefit from this free service, and act promptly if you receive a notification of a potential problem.

EMT Renewal?

If you're looking to renew your EMT license soon, we're thinking about doing a refresher course at the Feb 20th meeting. Please let me know if you're interested, so we can plan ahead for how many people might attend.

Physical Fitness

We had a really good turn-out for our "walk before lunch" at last week's team meeting. This is our way of ramping up into formal fitness testing, being implemented system-wide next year. For the next meeting (Feb 20), please bring your ready bag (carry-on daypack), packed as you would for a deployment. We'll do our walk with those, and we'll have a scale so you can see how much yours weighs. The eventual goal is to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes with a 25-lb pack, so we'll slowly crank up the dial by increasing the length of the walk and adding weight where we need to. As a group, so we can support each other! Of course we'd like everyone to participate, but for now it's optional -- if you can't do it or choose not to, we'll simply mark you as "conditional" for deployment, meaning that we may conditionally deploy you depending on how strenuous we think the mission might be, or perhaps we'll be able to find another way for you to support a mission (e.g., home team, or in-theater mobilization center, or EOC desk, or HQ support, etc). The formal testing isn't coming until near the end of next year, so there's still plenty of time to start a mild exercise routine and work towards this goal.

Haiti 2016

We're still looking for a couple more providers for the 2nd Haiti mission in Feb 2016, and there's still room in the 3rd and 4th missions in May and June. If you're interested, details are in Hot News. But these last few slots may go quickly!

That's it for this month. Hope to see you at the holiday party (info below)!

Sunday
Nov012015

Holiday Party!

Our annual Holiday Party is Saturday, Dec 05, 6p-10p at Spenger's Fish Grotto in Berkeley. There will be a good selection of dishes, and a no-host bar. We'll put out an RSVP sign-up as soon as we have the menu set (in another week or so); look for an updated version of this article, plus a Hot News posting. Please plan to come and bring your family! It will be an informal social gathering for CA-6 and CDMSA members past and present, their families, and all of our friends and collegues in the disaster community. So spread the word!

Spenger's is located at 1919 4th St in Berkeley, CA, just off of I-80 at University. There are also several hotels on University Ave if you're looking to spend the night.

Sunday
Nov012015

In My Gear Bag

[From the editor: if you have a trick or lesson-learned about your gear, please send it to us so we can share with the team. Pics are helpful too!]

For many of us electricity is either critical to our disaster role, or a "really, really like to have" for taking photos, making phone calls home, music to relax to, shavers, and other electronics that we bring with us on deployments.

Over the years and many places that I've either deployed or traveled, I've had my share of frustration at running down a battery and not being able to recharge it for a variety of reasons, so I've developed a little "power kit" that I take with me when I travel. There's a pic here of what's in it, and I'll describe each item.

Starting in the upper left, there's a 3-foot extension cord with 3 outlets on the end, to handle those situations where the plug is just out of reach of where I need it to be.

To the right of that, there's a battery "brick". There's a huge variety of these on the market these days, but basically you can recharge a device by plugging it into the brick via USB cable. Mine comes with a flashlight, several USB ports, and indicators to show how much power is left. I can recharge my cell phone about 10 times off of this, or my tablet twice.

To the right of the brick are the all-important USB cables themselves. Some of my devices use a mini-USB connector and some use a micro-USB connector, so I carry an adapter to convert one to the other. I also carry a USB that has two ends for charging two devices at the same time.

Next is a "stack" of three similar-looking boxes with plugs. The top one is a multi-outlet adapter, so I can plug into a wall and then plug three devices into it (great for sharing an outlet at the airport!). Below that is a USB charger with several USB plugs. The black widget below that is an AC ground adapter, which enables me to plug into older-style two-prong outlets (we find billeting in really old buildings!) as well as to fit into those recessed floor outlets that your adapter can never quite fit into.

Several times I've been in places where there's just a light bulb socket but no electrical outlet, so I carry an adapter that screws into a bulb socket and then let's me plug my chargers into that (as well as screwing back in the light bulb so I can still see).

And below those are the three most common plug adapters for international travel.

In the bottom left is an inverter; it converts 12-volt DC power (i.e., a car lighter) into AC power, so I can charge devices while I'm in a vehicle. This particular device also has some USB ports on it as well.

Next to that is a 12-volt DC splitter, so I can share those scarce DC outlets in the car!

And finally, the little 3" x 6" x 2" bag that all of this stuff fits into. The whole kit weighs about 1.5 lbs. The battery "brick" is the costliest of these items, with the DC inverter next. The little items are only a few dollars each at most, and if you shop around you can assemble all of this for about $75.

Thursday
Oct012015

VOL. 15, NO. 9 - OCTOBER, 2015

Mark Your Calendar

  • Oct 22: Logs Meeting
  • Oct 24: Team Meeting
  • Nov 01-30: On-Call
  • Dec 05: Holiday Party

Monthly Recap

Commander's Corner - The year is flying by
Training News - Oct meeting, and other training opportunities
Perspectives on Hurricane Katrina - More thoughts from fellow team members
In My Gear Bag - Keeping your clothes sorted on a deployment

Thursday
Oct012015

Commander's Corner

David Lipin - Unit Commander

My how the year is flying by. As September goes into the books, it was actually more eventful than I had anticipated. The Papal Visit and UN General Assembly had quite a few teams scrambling around the East Coast (we can ask Jim Duarte to brief us at the October meeting; he deployed in a Logs/Comms support role), we had a brief off-call Advisory for a Pacific hurricane (which one was that? I've lost count now), and now NDMS is preparing to go into motion for the first significant Atlantic hurricane (Joaquin) that looks like it might make CONUS landfall, potentially as a major storm. Good thing a government shutdown was averted at the last minute!

November On-Call

Our final on-call month of the year is coming up. We're collecting availability now, and need everyone to sign up by Oct 10 so we can flesh out the roster and submit it by Oct 15. We'll be keeping an eye on the storms as the end of October approaches. (If that's not enough action for you, we encourage our members to sign up for backfill to help cover other teams; we certainly use our share of backfill so it's nice to give back as well.)

Holiday Party

Speaking of the year going by quickly, our annual team holiday party will be a team dinner at Spenger's Fish Grotto in Berkeley on Sat, Dec 5th, 6p-10p. We'll put out more details as the date approaches, but please put us down in your calendar!

That's it for this month. Looking forward to seeing everyone at the Oct 24 meeting.

Thursday
Oct012015

Training News

Our October team meeting will be the final team meeting of the year, and have a bit of a different format. We won't be offering the New Member tract since all of our "new" members have completed those courses. We're also encouraging everyone to join in on the lunch walk, as this is a precursor to the new physical fitness standards that NDMS is rolling out (by the end of the year). In addition to our EMR and Equipment Lab classes, the General Member tract will include Wound Care, Safety (focusing this time on issues in and around the BoO), and a Katrina Revisited mission brief. Hope to see everyone there!

In addition, various Bay Area agencies have recently published or updated their training calendars or announced specific trainings, for those of you looking for additional training opportunities.

San Francisco
The Department of Emergency Management has updated their training calendar with Sep and Oct courses covering EOC operations and ICS 300/400, as well as a TEEX course next May in Pediatric Disaster Response (in Menlo Park). They are also offering a specific Admin/Finance course in Sep.

The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is conducting its annual drill on Wed, Sep 23, and they're looking for volunteer participants to help add realism. For more information, check out the exercise flyer here.

Santa Clara
Santa Clara County Office of Emergency Services has published their Sep/Oct training calendar, including EOC and Social Media courses.

UASI
The Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) is offering an Admin/Finance course on disaster recovery in Sep (in Oakland).

CalOES
The Governor's Office of Emergency Services has updated their training schedule as well, including some Safety courses. A flyer for the Oct Safety Officer (SOFR) course in Mather is here.

American Military University
AMU is offering a Medical CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosives) webinar that includes threat-recognition, PPE, and medical response preparation and challenges. Additional information available here. Taught by a fellow DMATer!

Thursday
Oct012015

More Perspectives on Hurricane Katrina

Here are a couple more member's perspectives from Katrina, as the tenth anniversary of our second Katrina mission falls behind and we approach the tenth anniversary of our third...

Forever Grateful and Humbled
Ron Lopez, RN, Supervisory Nurse Specialist

It has taken some time for my thoughts to simmer on the exciting, incredible, devastating, terrible, sometimes wonderful, and utterly exceptional experience that was my experience as a CA-6 responder on the Hurricane Katrina mission. Here is one of the thoughts that I haven't had the opportunity to relate:

As we drove the SUVs across the access bridge on the final approach to the Superdome, the pace crawled to 5 m.p.h. or less and hundreds of local survivors came up to the windows of our vehicles crying, yelling, and pleading for help. We knew that we were trying to reach the Superdome where people needed us even more, so I instructed all four members of my squad to keep the windows up, doors locked, and a close vigil on assigned visual sectors for each person in the vehicle. In this way, we could keep a coordinated watch in a 360-degree arc all around our vehicle. As one might expect, danger usually comes from behind you, so the two people in the back seat had the huge responsibility of keeping an eye on things. Jodi Grim, our team pharmacist, was in the right-rear passenger seat and therefore monitoring her sector from "3 to 6 o'clock" and Roger Harper, RN, was right behind me in the left-rear passenger seat keeping watch on "6 to 9 o'clock." People were yelling at us and banging on our our SUV, and at one point we could hear gunfire as we slowly inched our way towards our debarkation point.

As our SUV got closer and closer to the Superdome, Jodi and Roger kept me constantly informed of what was behind us which allowed me to concentrate on my driving and anticipating any possible danger all around our vehicle. This close dependency on each other set the tone for the entire rest of the mission. And I've got to tell you, I never in my life felt so tight and secure among these folks with whom up to now I had only trained with. I remember the tension inside the vehicle broken with small jokes and humorous innuendos coming from the back seat in a way only Jodi and Roger could perform. In keeping with the tradition among people who make their living dealing with critical, life-threatening situations, these folks earned my trust and respect (and smiles) - in a big way.

So as I look back and think about all my DMAT brothers and sisters, I will repeat what I said then - I will go on a dangerous mission anywhere, anytime, any place with you guys - especially folks like Jodi and Roger, Tom Cromwell, Annie Bustin, and so many others (too many to list here) - if I can have you guys on my squad. Thank you for covering my six, and know that if you call, I'll come running.

Honoring DMATers
Iris Tam, Pharmacist

On this 10th Year Anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina Disaster, I want to honor the people who left the comfort of home to serve in the rescue and recovery efforts. Specifically, I honor my fellow colleagues in the many Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) from many states who provided healthcare to the people of Louisiana in the very, very long post-disaster recovery mission.

I did not deploy with CA-6 on Aug 28 because I was on vacation with my two young boys (my boys came first, of course). I sooo wanted to go with my team though! I got my chance later when I was deployed as a ‘single asset’ to backfill pharmacists in short supply.

So, 10 years ago, on Sep 20, 2005 at 5:00am, I left my sleeping boys and deployed to Louisiana for 2 weeks. The first few days were spent in Baton Rouge headquarters helping to set up a pharmacy warehouse to support field operations. During this time, Hurricane Rita rolled through on Sep 23-24 and we were on lockdown! On Sep 25, I was sent to the field operations at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, across the river from New Orleans (where the team would later deploy). I spent the remaining days working as the night/graveyard pharmacist with DMATers from Florida, Massachusetts, Oregon, Tennessee, and others.
We provided medical care to local residents in tents, worked in hot and humid climate, slept on uncomfortable cots, and ate less-than-desirable food. But all of us did it because something in us wanted to help others, even if it meant putting ourselves in unpleasant austere environments.

Here’s to all disaster volunteers whether you went to Katrina or not, including the many members of our team and those from other teams that I worked with. Especially thank you to my sons Nathan and Mitchell who helped others by letting their mommy go away for 2 weeks. I love you both!

Thursday
Oct012015

In My Gear Bag

[From the editor: if you have a trick or lesson-learned about your gear, please send it to us so we can share with the team. Pics are helpful too!]

Keeping all those uniforms and clothes sorted, accessible and looking sharp in your gear bag is quite challenging in the midst of a deployment: what's dirty and what's clean (and how to keep them separate!), changing clothes in the dark without waking your teammates by rummaging through your gear bag, having stuff handy when you have only 10 minutes for your turn in the shower, and so on.

I like to use clothes "envelopes" (they go by various names). There are many different types, depending on what you want: zippered vs flaps, expandable to fit extra stuff, compressable to take the air out and pack tighter, and so on. I use about 5 of them to sort my clothes into what I've found to be useful organization. One is a "complete uniform change" including underwear and socks, so that if I need to I can grab just one to change clothes; if I use it, I always repack it so it's ready to go again during the mission. Another is dedicated to BDU spares -- pants and blouses, ironed and starched, of course! A third is for underwear and socks. A fourth holds my civilian clothes. And the fifth contains my night wear (scrubs) and spare team t-shirts -- because usually when I'm taking one off I'm putting the other on!

I didn't think about it at the time, but these things come in multiple colors as well, which I would do next time to make it easier to remember what's what. (Mine are all black, of course. Not helpful in the dark!)

To keep my clothes smelling fresh, I layer in a fabric softener sheet into each clothing envelope. I carry a mesh bag for dirty clothes (easy to send off to to the laundromat, if one is available), and of course soon enough one of my clothing envelopes can get converted to dirty laundry as well.

Tuesday
Sep012015

VOL. 15, NO. 8 - SEPTEMBER, 2015

Mark Your Calendar

  • Oct 22: Logs Meeting
  • Oct 24: Team Meeting
  • Nov 01-30: On-Call
  • Dec 05: Holiday Party

Monthly Recap

Commander's Corner - Katrina remembrance and various updates
Perspectives on Hurricane Katrina - Thoughts from fellow team members
In My Gear Bag - A new periodic article about personal gear items

Tuesday
Sep012015

Commander's Corner

David Lipin - Unit Commander

Well, we managed to wrap up another on-call month. I lost count of the number of storms that we tracked (more than a half-dozen), including two Advisories for Hurricanes Danny and Erika (which still poses a threat to Florida, although diminished from earlier predictions). It seemed like the Western Pacific was getting all the action until late August when activity in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific started to pick up.

And so we move on to a couple of "down" months where we might respond as a second-in team but likely not as primary. If you're interested in backfilling another team, the October on-call teams will be rostering soon so sign up via our website.

Hurricane Katrina

Ten years ago this week, our team was embroiled in the thick of the initial response to Hurricane Katrina. We launched on 28 Aug, weathered out the storm in a hotel in Houston and then drove to Baton Rouge on 29 Aug where we began treating patients in the medical shelter at Pete Maravich Assembly Center at LSU Baton Rouge, establishing the footprint for NDMS's LA command center (MST), and doing recon on damaged healthcare infrastructure. On 31 Aug we deployed to the Superdome for an intense medical treatment and aeromedical evacuation mission, and on 01 Sep we evacuated and returned to Baton Rouge. (Meanwhile, our Logs crew was driving our cache across the country, got stranded in the AZ desert, and flew on to eventually join us in the Superdome; our cache was later driven by AZ-1 DMAT into the Gulf where it saw action with other teams in another state.) On 03 Sep we deployed to Louis Armstrong International Airport and assisted with the largest patient movement mission in US history, treating and evacuating thousands of patients to other states, and we deployed a strike team to San Gabriel to support the huge DMORT mortuary operation there. The main body of the team returned home late on 09 Sep.

This edition of the CA-6 Chronicles is a remembrance to our multiple Hurricane Katrina missions. We should step back for a moment and understand how deeply it impacted our team, our members, and our families. It created an indelible mark on people, forming bonds between those that experienced it, and also schisms from those that didn't share those same experiences. It produced strong and enduring emotions in both those that deployed and those that didn't. And we should also remember how it impacted the residents of the Gulf, many of whom are still struggling to recover even now.

ASPR created a public photo blog, which includes a photo of CA-6 in action at the Superdome, and photos of other locations where we worked alongside other DMATs. There is a more in-depth version of this presentation available in the September Newsletter announcement in Hot News, and it includes more photos of CA-6 in action. ASPR has also published a Progress and Challenges article reflecting back on Katrina from a system-level perspective.

Several members sent in their thoughts and memories of their Katrina experience, and are included below. A special thanks to Katie Amatruda for collecting and editing these submissions!

Hiring

We recently closed a round of hiring for physicians and nurses, and hope to receive a list of applicants from that round soon. We also expect to post some pharmacist positions in the near future, so please spread the word to pharmacists at your facilities that may be interested in joining the team. They can check the Join Us link at the top of our website home page for the latest information. And they can learn a bit about NDMS in this Haiti Earthquake response video.

In My Gear Bag

We're starting a new periodic article called In My Gear Bag, because we get plenty of questions from new members asking for tricks and tips about how to handle their gear. This is intended to be a community-contribution series, so if you've got an idea please send it in. Brandon is kicking off the series with the first article below, in keeping with the Katrina theme for this newsletter. But we don't need as in-depth as this; even something simple will be great.

Status Reports Resuming  

I'm finally catching up with my huge backlog of paperwork and email from the past couple of months, so expect to see your September status report in your inbox later this week.

Chip and Pin Credit Cards Coming  

You may have noticed that your new credit cards have new embedded chips in them, to improve anti-fraud technology. Those same chips are coming to federal travel cards as well, first to new employees who are applying for a card for the first time and to employees whose cards are expiring and being renewed, but eventually to all those with these cards. So keep an eye out for it, and don't throw it away as junk mail by mistake!

Tuesday
Sep012015

Perspectives on Hurricane Katrina

 

Ten years ago DMAT CA-6 was deployed to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina. The first wave went to the Superdome, to conditions beyond imagining - raw sewage, no electricity, overwhelming numbers of patients, and then anger and violence. While the vast majority of evacuees there were frustrated but peaceful, a handful pushed beyond reasonable boundaries and committed assault and other crimes. Team members were physically threatened, shot at, and fought with patients. People lit fires in trash cans inside the Dome. Rumors of violence and a "takeover" were circulating amongst the population. A National Guardsman's accidentally shot himself in a struggle over his weapon; the helicopter evacuating him took evasive action to avoid gunfire. The small force protecting our team at its makeshift clinic pulled away to protect the patients from the gathering crowd.

"The crowds, they were frustrated. Some patients were crashing. We lost all our protection. The only protection we had was our own folks watching out for each other," said Darrell Lee, a Moraga-Orinda fire captain and paramedic who served on the team.

"There were just numerous incidents involving guns and snipers and assaults, people lighting fires inside the facility," said David Lipin, Team Commander.

The National Guard could no longer guarantee the team's safety, so the team had to leave. (The Army arrived in force the following day to restore order, and another DMAT returned the day after that to resume the medical mission.)

Meanwhile, CA-6 returned to Baton Rouge to regroup, and then re-deployed to the Louis Armstrong International Airport outside New Orleans, which served as a temporary field hospital for hurricane victims as they were evacuated from the city, and to the temporary morgue in San Gabriel. At the airport, evacuees were arriving at a tremendous rate, over 1,000/hr at times. All needed to be medically screened, and many needed medical care before being evacuated on flights out of the state.

The team was pushed to its limit, but came back strong and would return multiple times in the coming weeks for missions to Oschner Hospital for an immunization clinic, to West Jefferson Hospital where the DMAT base in the parking lot served as the Emergency Department, and to Cameron to operate a remote medical clinic in a community without healthcare.

Here are some thoughts from team members as they reflect back on the 10th anniversary of Katrina:

My Evolving Katrina Philosophy
Dave Lipin, Team Commander

When I think back 10 years, I have very conflicted thoughts and emotions about our Katrina experiences. I have a lot of pride in what the team was able to accomplish, both in the initial deployment and in the months and missions that followed. I also still have the stomach-churning frustration that I felt at the time, at the plight of the poor and fragile community members left behind as the population evacuated ahead of the storm, at how much more the government could have done to help them, at how some in the community treated others, at the ongoing issues of race and racism, and many other aspects of the aftermath of this catastrophe.

But I have come to accept some facts about our society. We have very short attention spans, we value miminalistic government, and budgets are always constrained. These certainly make it challenging to accomplish long-term objectives such as planning for disasters, and they create some fundamental conflicts. Something always seems like a higher priority in the moment. We expect the utmost privacy and non-involvement from our government, until the moment we call for help when we expect it to come to our aid regardless of the circumstances. As disaster responders we exist in this middle ground, struggling to train and prepare when few others are interested, then jumping into the fray when called into action.

That's what we did during Katrina. We came with substantially less than we should have, forcing us to make tough and imperfect choices, and not able to provide help to everyone that needed it. But even so, we did a tremendous amount of good, making a difference for thousands of people. I have come to realize that this is enough, even more than enough. We will never attain the standard that we measure ourselves against, but if we could then it wouldn't be a disaster.

So as I look back ten years, I feel less frustrated and more reconciled with the events that transpired. I look at all that we accomplished at Katrina and all that we have changed since, and I believe that we will do even better next time but accept that we still won't be perfect. I will never forget the sights and sounds and smells, the sheer exhaustion, the painful decisions and mistakes, or the grief and sorrow that was everywhere, and yet I'll also never forget the satisfaction of being there to help, the spontaneous outbursts of hope, relief and gratefulness of those that we helped, and the dedication and sacrifice of NDMS members and their families and supporting crew. My biggest worry is for future generations; the lessons of an event like Katrina are very hard to pass on to people who did not share those experiences.

Katrina Memories – Ten Years later
John Brown, MD

I was stationed at West Jefferson Hospital for the team's third Katrina deployment. My most cherished memory was the relief I felt when I saw the "whites of CA-6 team members' eyes" when the team arrived to take over from the outgoing team, with whom I'd been forward-deployed for a couple of days (along with a few of our CA-6 and OR-2 team members, affectionately called "ORCA-26"). The level of organization and support felt by the clinical team and patients was amazing, and made every single team meeting, field exercise, tent setup and MRE consumption prior to deployment worth it!

Two other fond memories were some of the team members doing a Costco run to pick up some tofu for me (we were fortunate that the hospital cafeteria was up and running, but other than the salad bar and oatmeal pot in the mornings, there was not much in the way of veggie options in deep Louisiana), and our last clinical day when the safety cadre formed a human-powered lights-no-siren gurney transport to bring our last patient from our treatment facility back to the skilled nursing facility about a kilometer away when no ambulances were available. A final shout-out to the pharmacy team on site who kept us treating people effectively and the consultants at SFGH and other facilities who we were able to contact by phone to help us reconstruct HIV and other complex treatment regimens in a setting where only about 30% of the medical system was functional. Kudos to the team for operating a high-level emergency care facility in a community just starting to get back on its feet. It was an honor and a privilege to be a team member of that mission.

A Red Dress for the Morning
Mary Clare Bennett

There are several special New Orleans women I think of when I recall the team's first deployment to Hurricane Katrina. I only know them from our brief encounters in the Arena at the Superdome. But I remember each of them clearly. Maybe because, to me, they so strongly personify the qualities of strength and dignity. And maybe, because this was in such contrast to the situation and environment. I know there were many, many more women. These were just the ones I had the opportunity to meet on my path. I do not know their names. In my memories I guess I have come to think of them as Faith, Hope, and Love.

Bonnie and I had taken report from the departing team and had taken our places at the triage desk, when a middle age woman rushed up to the desk. She was dressed in a pretty print dress and was still dry and fresh, which was an indication she had not been inside the stifling Arena long. She said she had been told that her mother had been taken to the Arena, and that she had brought her mother's medication. She held up a small, shiny, white plastic bag. We did not find her mother's name on the handwritten patient list from the previous team. The paper sheets, while still somewhat readable, had expanded from the moisture in the air. And now the pages were very difficult to turn. We told the woman to "look everywhere" because people were continuing to arrive from many different areas. And she immediately took off into the crowd.

The hours passed, and another woman, a nurse in uniform from the Louisiana National Guard, was increasingly present. She was helping the elderly, chair-bound people in the front just outside of our treatment area. She moved quickly and kindly and patiently among the ever-increasing number of ill and elderly. She was, literally, like a breath of fresh air. She seemed so cool, calm, sharp and efficient. She said this was her first deployment, that she lived in New Orleans, and that these were her people.

As I was returning to the desk, a very elderly woman in an ancient wheelchair grabbed at my wrist as I went by her. She held on tight. She asked if I would take her to the back area, to our holding area beyond the treatment area. She said it was because her cousin was taken back there and would be "putting on a red dress for the morning." She was very determined. Her hair was combed, but by now her dress was very limp from the moisture in the air and from sitting. She had a full bottle of water next to her in the chair that she proudly showed me. And when we asked one of the young medics to wheel her to that back area, they exchanged big smiles. She was so happy to be joining her cousin.

Hours later, as we were leaving, I was turning toward the exit to go downstairs. The woman in the pretty print dress, still holding the small, shiny, white bag of her mother's medication, appeared right in front of me. She told me that she had looked everywhere. And then, just as she looked past me for a moment, she shouted, "There she is!"

In addition to my clear recollection of these women and their stories, I also have a deep sadness. And I rewrite one part in my mind. I can still see and hear the very elderly woman, but her words are always now written in my thoughts as "a red dress for the mourning." 

Katrina Cameos
Gary Zoellner, MD

Katrina. Not enough adjectives, adverbs or clichés to describe the experience named Katrina.

Imagine, if you will, standing in your ER on its busiest day ever, then turn off the electricity, lights, and air conditioner, shut off the plumbing, shut off the water, dump a couple of full garbage truck loads inside the building, turn on the fire alarm strobe lights and sirens and have a couple hundred more people waiting to be seen outside (all thinking that their problem is greater than those ahead of them in line). Then you would come close to what the Superdome was like. Oh, did I mention that the temperature was close to 100 degrees?

As a trauma orthopedic surgeon, I am quite used to the fast pace, the long hours, no breaks and non-stop evaluations, treatments and yes, some life and death decisions. Even ten years later, I can replay Katrina in my mind minute by minute without missing a beat.

Thank God for all my teammates and for everybody who came together to help.
The following are some of my personal remembrances (not necessarily in any order):

  • I was living in Yuma, AZ at the time and therefore deployed alone from Yuma. I met up with other team members in Houston, TX. I got to Houston but my luggage didn’t. I hadn’t even gotten to New Orleans and I was starting to feel like a “refugee,” with only the clothes on my back and my carry-on bag. My bags finally caught up to me at the LSU Baton Rouge campus several days later.
  • I remember driving in an SUV at nearly 100+ mph with a lights and siren escort so that we could get there ASAP and start helping.
  • I remember the newly made-up lyrics to The Battle of New Orleans song.
  • I remember helping a lady during her first labor and delivery. The healthy newborn was appropriately named “Baby Katrina.”
  • All my knot-tying experience from rock climbing, rappelling and rescue came in handy when we needed to secure patients on back boards to the seat back rests on the school buses for transport.
  • I remember taking care of several “non gunshot” gunshot victims.
  • I made a woman a pair of shoes out of cardboard and duct tape. She had nothing on her feet.
  • I remember re-evaluating patients every hour to see who was the sickest and therefore moved to the head of the line and became the next ones transported out.
  • As if the medical issues weren’t severe enough - the emotional issues were even harder to deal with. People lost family members, couldn’t find surviving family members and had just lost every thing they owned. There was despair. I remembered a line of Al Pacino in the movie Scent of a Woman: “There is nothing worse than an amputated soul.” 
  • When we got to the airport to help with transport and further triage, I remember a scene at the makeshift pharmacy where we took medicine cups and filled them with blue Gatorade (thinking it looked like Bombay Sapphire gin) and toasted to continued success in treating the disaster victims. 

I could probably go on and on, but these are just a few of the many cameo shots of the entire event.

I am truly blessed to be a part of the DMAT CA-6 Team. I am proud of the work we did and I know that we saved hundreds of lives. My biggest take away would be to prepare as much as possible for the inevitable emotional stress that will appear. For myself, the biggest stressor was a result of leaving New Orleans after my scheduled shift was over and returning to my regular civilian job. I felt guilty for some time - leaving while some of you were still there working.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the event called Katrina, and to those who supported us from home. CA-6, keep doing what you do best!

Katrina from Home
Kathy Burgardt

The day that DMAT CA-6 took off for Katrina is still vividly etched in my mind. I was Mobilization Unit Leader and very involved in getting the team ready to board the buses for the airport. In those days, we had a policy that all you needed to deploy were boots and underwear and we would provide the rest, and although our veterans had their own gear, we did not have regular pre-mission inspections as we do now. So we had just-in-time gear and uniform inspection as well as last-minute fitness-for-duty checks. You can imagine that getting thirty-five people equipped, inspected, and briefed at the relatively small US&R warehouse in Menlo Park was quite a task.

My job as a high school administrator made it very difficult for me to deploy, so my job was to take care of the Home Team aspects of the mission. Nevertheless, I was a little surprised as I walked to the buses with the team to be handed the keys to the warehouse. The Command Staff was either on the deployment or out of the state, so the next few days were a test of my ability to identify and use resources. As an educator, I had the philosophy that education is not about knowing all the facts, but about knowing how to get the information you need, and that training served me well. I immediately called on Chris Burgardt and Steve LaPlante, both of whom were on vacation, to point me to the resources I needed. I also told my employer that I would be at work every day, but that communications with CA-6 had to take precedence over other activities.

The concerns of the dangers to New Orleans and its citizens struck a chord with many people in the Bay Area and the nation. When I told company representatives that I was working with medical personnel in the aftermath of Katrina, every response I got was positive and immediate, beginning with the cellphone company that extended my service (remember this was in pre-smart phone days), to shippers who sent supplies to team mates who no longer had access to their belongings, to Samtrans who arranged to have buses ready to pick up returning members at two different airports.

I remember being grateful that I had participated in so many aspects of DMAT steady-state readiness. I knew where uniforms were stored when we needed them, I knew where to find the MOUs, I had saved the alarm code to the warehouse, and I knew how to access our homepage so I could update the families on team activities. I had organized my files so I could easily find the addresses and phone numbers of members who did not deploy so I could enlist their help in the demobilization process. I knew from talking to teammates who had responded to the World Trade Center that this might be a very difficult mission both logistically and emotionally.

From the beginning of the deployment, I was in contact with our Commander, Dave Lipin. At first it was cellphone conversations and postings on the Members section of the webpage. After the storm hit and the team headed for the Superdome, it was text messages. I think that Dave had a Blackberry, but my cellphone was one of those flip phones so when the cell service was reduced to text messaging, I spent some frustrated time standing in high school hallways trying to adjust to the one click/two click/three click way of spelling out a text message. However, even with the impaired communication, I could sense that this was a very stressful situation for the team. Only later did I begin to understand just how stressful it was.

The beginning of my understanding of the difficulties the team must have faced occurred when they returned. Our procedure was to have everyone return to the warehouse because (1) we wanted our equipment back, and (2) many members had left their cars at our secure parking area. One of the Home Team members met the Samtrans bus at SFO and I met the bus at the Oakland Airport. It was very late at night when the plane landed, so I expected everyone to be tired. But looking at our experienced, stalwart, never-say-die Commander shocked me. What I saw was sheer exhaustion on his face and that of team members; it was unlike anything I had personally witnessed before. I later learned of the truly traumatic events that CA-6 and other responders witnessed and experienced in New Orleans. I have a deep and abiding respect for those who served on any of our Katrina missions; they were all truly heroic in their efforts to serve others.

Tuesday
Sep012015

In My Gear Bag

Brandon Bond - Safety Officer

[From the editor: if you have a trick or lesson-learned about your gear, please send it to us so we can share with the team. Pics are helpful too!]

I’ll never forget that phone call from Steve LePlante. "Are your bags packed? We're going!" Hurricane Katrina was my first deployment and it was a memorable one. I learned many lessons on that first deployment, some of which related to gear.

First, some don'ts:

  • Don't bring an air mattress with a power inflator! Your teammates won't appreciate you making all of that noise when you are trying to inflate your mattress at 4:00 AM in the lounge of a stadium after being up for 36 hours. In fact, you may be subjected to some spirited remarks.
  • Don't get blisters! Take care of your feet; staying operational with blisters on the bottoms of both little toes is miserable. Once they are there, prepare to suffer. Make sure that you have that pair of black sneakers and hope that we are in an environment where the Commander will grant permission to wear them!
  • Don't bring chocolate to the South in the heat of summer! I thought having some chocolate to hand out would be great for morale of the kids. I had this idealistic picture in my mind from the WW II movies where soldiers hand out chocolate. Come to find out, it melts.

And now to the Glad I Had That (G.I.H.T.) items:

  • Phone charger: maintaining communications will provide peace of mind as well as possibly help in emergency communications. Here are a few of my thoughts on personal communication devices. When the Logistics crew first arrived in Baton Rouge, the main body of the team was already in the Superdome. Due to our separation, we were cut off from communications. We started texting every number on the roster and one finally got through to Darrell Lee (our Communications Officer who periodically went up to the roof to get cell service) and we were back in business. While we were in the Arena, I did have "bars", however nothing was getting out. It was a relief to finally be able to call home as we were rushing back to Baton Rouge. Certainly technology has advanced in the last 10 years. I learned in Haiti that the solar charger I'd had for three years was no longer powerful enough to charge the new iPhones.
  • Comfort food: for the pick-me-up effect, as well as for morale-building by sharing with victims. A note of caution; at one point at the Louis Armstrong International Airport, a substantial donation of donuts arrived from Krispy Kreme. First, we had to ward of our hungry Law Enforcement team members before we could begin distributing them to the victims. That being said, children who haven't eaten for several days do not respond well to the sugar rush of a box of donuts! Distribution posed a challenge, because while we were trying to do the right thing, the initial idea of "one donut per person" did not work well as families and others began asking for their own box. In the end they did serve a purpose of bringing some comfort; and yes, we had enough to go around to feed the Air Marshals as well.
  • Photos (family, loved one, pet): it's important to have that piece of home and grounding. Keep in mind that cell phone batteries die, so bring an actual photo!
  • Bandana: very good multi-purpose article of clothing.
  • Foot care: if you're going to be on them for days, take care of them: foot powder, moleskin, and antifungal cream. While my boots where well worn in, I found out that steel toes in the Southern heat and humidity, when combined with 36 hours of activity, don't mix!! Take care of your feet! Remember to take time to dry, clean and change your socks.

Saturday
Aug012015

VOL. 15, NO. 7 - AUGUST, 2015

Mark Your Calendar

  • Aug 01-31: On-Call
  • Oct 22: Logs Meeting
  • Oct 24: Team Meeting 
  • Nov 01-30: On-Call
  • Dec 05: Holiday Party 

Monthly Recap

Commander's Corner - A lite month, we're hiring soon, Dolphin wrap-up
App Review - Yet more disaster apps


 

Saturday
Aug012015

Commander's Corner

David Lipin - Unit Commander

Hello and welcome to August! Since we recently had our team meeting, I actually don't have much to report this time around so this newsletter is going to be brief -- so you can get back to enjoying your summer!

August On-Call

Well, maybe not enjoying your summer too much just yet. We are up for August, which means we need to keep an eye on hurricanes and such. Remember to pack your gear bag and otherwise prepare, before you take that road trip for a long weekend. If your availability changes mid-month, let us know by submitting an updated availability form.

Hiring

HQ thinks they are getting close to resuming the hiring process, in a limited manner due to budget constraints as we approach the end of the current fiscal year (Sep 30). They are focusing on the biggest shortfalls in the system (key medical positions) for now. From these choices, we've asked them to post for physician, nurse and pharmacist slots.

The postings should appear on the USAJobs website in the coming weeks. Interested applicants should read the Join Us page on our website, and follow the preparatory recommendations there.

When hiring resumes again next fiscal year, we anticipate substantially higher numbers. At that point, current members who have been at tier 3 or 4 status for 9+ months are at risk of being removed from the team, to make room for a rather large backlog of interested potential applicants. So make sure you work on that between now and then!

Web Team

We're looking for some help, expanding our volunteer pool that helps with the many background tasks that keep the team going! To start with, if you're interested in writing newsletter articles (or perhaps editing?) or have the IT skills to help maintain the website, please let me know.

HIPAA Often Misinterpreted

The New York Times recently published an article HIPAA's Use as Code of Silence Often Misinterprets the Law, which is particularly relevant to the work that we do in disaster response, and also to most of us in our routine healthcare settings. Check it out! (Thanks to Kathy Burgardt for submitting this recommendation.)

No August Status Reports  

We won't send out the monthly status reports for August, because the July reports came out so recently and we're still behind in data entry from the July meeting. So look for them to go out again in early September.

Wrapping Up on Typhoon Dolphin

This will be the final article addressing Typhoon Dolphin issues, covering some additional questions and feedback that are geared towards new members.

Teamwork: when we deploy, we divide into small units that we call squads. One squad per vehicle when traveling by ground (so 4-6 people). The squad make-up is usually mixed, so that each squad has a variety of skills available to it. In addition, we designate one person as the Squad Leader, and we make sure that there's at least one person who's comfortable driving a large SUV or van, one person comfortable with navigating, etc. Depending on mission requirements, we may break off squads for certain tasks, or even reconfigure squads if needed. Regardless, when you're operating in a squad, then you'll do everything together as a squad (e.g., dining together while in staging). We usually stop the squad process once we've established a mission site, because then people are assigned to various work functions (e.g., yellow tent). We also assign buddy pairs, so members can keep an eye on each other; you'll report everything you do to your buddy, and you'll check in on your buddy regularly during the mission. When we're sharing rooms at a hotel (e.g., a staging area), we try to assign buddies to the same room.

Team Gear: Each individual has their own personal gear bag and go bag, but the team also takes some basic gear with it as well, mostly related to health and safety. Of course, which pieces of gear we decide to take is mission dependent, but for a first-in response we tend to take it all:

  • Squad bags: each squad has a small daypack with some "essentials" in it for traveling by ground. This includes things like a power inverter, toilet paper, minor first aid kit, vehicle log, maps, reflective belts, and a bubble light for the rental vehicle.
  • Helmets: we have a set of helmets that get issued out when the team comes together at the staging area (after air travel). If it's a cold-weather deployment, we have helmet liners as well.
  • Reflective vests: we have a set of high-visibility reflective vests for people who need more than just the reflective belt (e.g., people working on a flightline or near vehicle traffic).
  • Command Kit: t-card system, administrative paperwork, etc.
  • Logistics Kit: a few radios (until we can access the primary cache), power strips, duct and flagging tape, etc.
  • Respiratory Protection Kit: half-face respirators and cartridges, N-95 masks, and a fit-test kit.
  • LZ kit: we carry an LZ setup kit (LED flashers)
  • Medical kit: we travel with a 4-bag medical kit: ACLS, surgical, airway and pharmacy. This enables the team to take care of itself in-transit, at staging, and other areas where we don't have the main cache or it's too difficult to access it.

These are all divided into small cases, and we issue them out to individuals to travel with. There are quite a few of these, so it's likely that you'll be asked to carry one (many of you experienced that for the Dolphin activation). Some must be checked (due to size), but others must be carried on (due to fragility). If you've got a carry-on, then your go bag must fit under the seat so the team kit can go overhead. If you've taken responsibility for someone else's gear bag (because they're traveling), then please let us know; we may be able to assign the team bag to someone else in that case.

Home Team: When we deploy, we also use quite a few team members who are not deploying. These individuals help shuttle team gear (above), retrieve cars from airports or drive people to the airport if needed, and other "launch and recovery" activities. While the team is deployed, we have people available to support families, and to manage communication between the deployed team, their families, and members who didn't deploy. This includes updating the website with overall information, passing messages back-and-forth in the event there is limited cell phone service, and so on. When you sign up for on-call, checking the "available for Home Team" box means that you'd be willing to help accomplish these tasks. Sometimes we only need a couple people, but other times we need a lot.

That's all I've got for this month. Have a safe month, and talk to everyone in September.

Saturday
Aug012015

App Review

[From the editor: this is a periodic article on apps that might be useful to DMATers or disaster responders in general. If you have some suggestions for apps to review, please submit them!]

Lantern Live

The Department of Energy launched a mobile app called Lantern Live that helps consumers quickly find and share critical information about nearby gas stations and power outages during energy emergencies. The app builds on the government's commitment to improve national energy preparedness in the face of extreme weather and other events that can result in power disruptions. It relies on crowd-sourcing, so that people in an affected area can report disruptions, gas stations that are open, etc.

 

emPOWER

This is a web tool rather than an app, but it's worth mentioning because it's useful in disaster planning (especially if you're involved in local disaster planning). emPOWER was actually developed by ASPR, our "parent" organization within HHS. The tool integrates various data sources to enable privacy-compliant searching of the special needs population who live within a specified area (e.g., a zip code or county) and are dependent upon electricity at home (e.g., ventilator, CPAP, oxygen concentrator). People don't register themselves into this database; the data comes from existing sources (like Medicare/Medicaid). You can to a search to find the number of electricity-dependent individuals within a specific area. Authorized entities can then submit a request for specific names and addresses, so they can reach out to those individuals.

Wednesday
Jul012015

VOL. 15, NO. 6 - JULY, 2015

Mark Your Calendar

  • Jul 16: Logs Meeting
  • Jul 18: Team Meeting
  • Aug 01-31: On-Call
  • Oct 22: Logs Meeting
  • Oct 24: Team Meeting 
  • Nov 01-30: On-Call
  • Dec 05: Holiday Party 

Monthly Recap

Commander's Corner - Lots of miscellaneous updates, plus more on Guam
Training News - Upcoming meeting, subscribing to web pages, and more
App Review - Yet more disaster apps
OPM Data Breach - Federal info regarding the recent OPM data breach



 

Wednesday
Jul012015

Commander's Corner

David Lipin - Unit Commander

Hello everyone, and welcome to the July issue of The CA-6 Chronicles. We started off last month pretty busy at the Moffett FTX, but then caught a much-needed break and are starting to catch our breath. Now we enter this month starting with a heat wave and red flag fire warnings. However, the Atlantic hurricane predictions (US landfalls) have been revised downwards a bit, so that's some good news.

August On-Call

As requested at our last meeting, we opened up August on-call sign-ups a few days ago. If you haven't signed up yet, you have until July 10th to sign up. As a reminder, all federal members must sign up, without exception; even if you're not available or are on leave, we need to hear from everyone.

And, just to be clear, we really need as many people as possible to make themselves available for on-call. August is when the Gulf waters start to heat up and the hurricane potential starts to rise. Hiring has been frozen for a long time, we are now down below 100 members, and the roster has 48 positions so we don't have the depth that we used to. Most teams in the system struggle to roster physicians and pharmacists; we're no different. But over the years we've fared better than most in rostering other areas because of our larger size, but this year we've begun to see the same stresses that most other teams have been experiencing for a while now, with nurses, paramedics, and other foundational positions.

So if you're one of our newer members and haven't found your way to the on-call list yet, this would be a great time to jump in! And if you've got vacation plans that would allow you to deploy from elsewhere, it would be helpful if you could plan for that (great job back in May, for those of you that did that -- very useful!)

If your NDMS ID expires before mid-September, please get us a replacement request form ASAP. Ditto for sending in renewed medical licenses, DEA licenses, driver's licenses, passports, and other certs. All of those items can knock you off the roster, even if you're otherwise available.

After July 10th, we start building the day-by-day roster for the entire month of August. That takes us a day or so. Then, if we're short any positions, we have to ask other teams for backfill help. That takes a couple of days as well. The completed August roster must be submitted by July 15th. If your availability changes after you sign up, you can of course submit revised information.

Moffett FTX

We had about 25 members from CA-6 or CDMSA SF attend the Moffett Field 2015 FTX in early June. Another 30 or so came from CA-11 or CDMSA Sacramento, and a couple from other DMATs. About 25 came from VA facilities around the Bay Area, and 50+ from FEMA US&R teams across the country. The 95th CST (National Guard) sent a communications resource that networked us all together. The VA successfully got JPATS up and running with their mobile communications van, and moved patients with their Dual Use Vehicles. CA EMSA provided the BoO equipment and support staff. We accomplished a lot of first-time objectives, and overall had a relatively smooth experience. We received lots of great feedback (we always need things to work on!), and overall everyone reported a very positive experience.

OPM Data Breach

Several team members have reported receiving email or written notices from CSID regarding the recent OPM data breach, so it's probably safe to say that all CA-6 members were included in this government-wide data breach. In fact, OPM has asked for additional time in sending out the notifications because the breach was so large (it appears that even federal job applicants had their data compromised), so if you haven't received your notification yet give them a couple more weeks.

Check Responder eLearn for the latest news; it's there on the home page right after you log in. They've been providing updates on a fairly regular basis, but everything of substance is probably already posted. If you haven't received your official notification, there are instructions for how to check on your status.

As a personal update, I received my notification, followed the CSID instructions for logging in and signing up, and found the process to be relatively straight-forward and pretty convenient. As a former victim of identity theft, I encourage all members to follow up with this as soon as they can.

Updated PPE Standards

NDMS has issued updated PPE standards for boots and work gloves. It's not an update really, as they have never had standards before. We've been following team-designed standards until now, but now that NDMS has issued standards we'll follow theirs (supplemented by our enhancements). You can read the NDMS standards here, and they are linked in on the Personal Gear and Uniforms page under Forms & Instructions as well. They are quite technical; however, we are fairly comfortable that everyone is in compliance with the NDMS standards as long as you have been following the team's standards.

Delayed Status Reports  

Yes, we know that we're lagging on the monthly status reports. Neither May nor June reports were sent. We're hoping to catch up this month though! Along with the handful of you who requested CE certificates, or receive other periodic reports from our database. 

July 18 Training

Planning is already well underway for our next team training day, July 18. We will have a guest lecturer, Dr. Dafarty Rajesh from UCSF, talking on measles and pediatric infectious diseases in refugee disaster settings. We'll also spend time going into some of the behind-the-scenes details on the Guam mission, and a q&a session to help people better understand how this particular mission evolved in the way that it did.

Management Working Group

The Management Working Group (MWG) rotates personnel on an annual basis, and is now open to all NDMS intermittent employees. The MWG spends a significant amount of additional time working on system-level issues (approx 10 hrs/wk), and frequently travels to DC to meet with HQ personnel (approx 8-10 wks/yr in DC). If you would like to learn more about the MWG, you can log into Responder eLearn and then click here to read the MWG Charter. If you are an experienced NDMS member, have the time to invest, and are interested in working on the complex side of NDMS issues, send me your resume and I will submit it for consideration.

More on the Typhoon Dolphin Mission

This is a continuation of the discussion that I started in last month's article, so if you haven't read that one yet or don't remember it well, then I encourage you to start there. For this segment, I'd like to answer a few specific questions that people asked or comments that they made on our feedback form.

Can we get email updates so we don't have to check the website so often?

Yes, of course. Please read the Training News article below. Kate Amatruda has thoughtfully provided some screenshots to guide you through the process of "signing up" for email delivery of Hot News or other changes to the team website. I strongly encourage everyone to subscribe. There's no need to sit by your computer and "hit the refresh button" every few minutes while we are in a lean-forward posture.

Further, if there are significant updates, like a change in the Team Status or estimates of departure, then we will use the team notification system. All team members should have received multiple notifications from this system during the Typhoon Dolphin period, not only via email but also by phone. It's important that you receive those notifications. If you didn't receive those, or want to add or change a contact point (email address or phone number), contact our Administrative Officer. As a test point (for email anyway), we use the notification system monthly to let people know that the newsletter is published.

What is the process for selecting who gets rostered?

This is a tricky question, because there's no easy answer. There are a lot of variables that come into play. I'll address the most significant ones here:

  • Tier Status: when all else is equal, we use the person with a higher Tier status.
  • Balanced skills: we need to deploy with the right set of skills for the mission. Our providers are privileged as Emergency, Acute and Basic. Sometimes a mission means Emergency-heavy rostering, other times it calls for a more balanced approach. This balance crosses license boundaries; for example, if we take more PAs and NPs and fewer MDs, then we might choose to balance the roster with more experienced or higher-privileged RNs.
  • Balanced experience: unlike fire departments or hospitals, there is no "seniority system" that allows for more experienced members to deploy ahead of newer ones. We don't deploy often enough to have that luxury, and must find ways to get our junior members the experience that they need. So we try to roster people with less experience, providing we are comfortable that we have enough experience to accomplish the mission.
  • Availability: we roster for every day of the month, and any day that the roster changes triggers a lot of work both within the team and at HQ. So we are likely to use people who are available for longer periods of time. When someone is available unconditionally for the entire month, rostering them is easy. When someone is available for fewer days, or from different locations, that takes more work to roster that individual.
  • Responsiveness: ultimately, when we're trying to move quickly (even during the hurry-up part of hurry-up-and-wait), the people that are more responsive to us get selected ahead of the people that are less responsive. To maximize your chances here, you should carry a smart phone with email capability, and possibly even web access (unless you have ready access to computers). You should also educate your family and employer about the notification system, so that they can reach out to you if they're the (un)lucky ones to pick up the phone when it rings!

My employer was sensitive to this and didn't know how to handle my Activation

To start this subject, please read the Employer Information link on the Forms & Instructions page.

We received multiple requests for USERRA letters to give to employers. Fortunately, this was a "slow moving" activation so we were able to meet most of these requests. However, it is critically important that you know that USERRA letters are not required prior to deployment (this is clearly stated in the USERRA law), and we typically do not provide them prior to deployment. You must notify your employer of your activation, but that is the only requirement; you can do that by email, voicemail or in writing, and it does not need to be acknowledged or approved by your employer. We will follow up after-the-fact with USERRA letters, with the specific dates and details of your mission.

Your employer should treat you essentially the same as they treat someone who gets activated by the National Guard. They cannot require that you use vacation or personal leave time (it should be leave-without-pay), they cannot require that you find shift coverage before you leave (or even that you make up the shifts when you return), although it's nice if you have the time to help your employer with this challenge. They cannot suspend your insurance coverage or other benefits. Your employer is not required to pay you (even if they choose to pay National Guardsmen).

The bottom line is that this is an unusual occurrence for most employers, and the best way to address it is to deal with it before an Activation occurs. Talk with your supervisor and your HR department. Go find the USERRA poster that's required to be posted in some employee area of your workplace -- it specifically mentions NDMS, so you can show that to your supervisor or HR department. Ask our Administrative Officer for a USERRA confirmation letter, which explains in general that you're an NDMS member and covered by USERRA; you can give this to your employer ahead of time. Remind your supervisor during on-call months.

If you have a particular challenge, let me know; usually a simple, easy conversation sorts it out, and if they have further questions then we have HQ staff that can help as well. If you prefer to handle it on your own, try referring them to the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) website. But be careful here. The law protects you from your employer, but people are still people and it's understandable that they will be unhappy if they have to scramble to cover your shifts. So don't use USERRA as a stick; it's much better to be proactive and make it a positive experience for your employer -- talk to them about the skills that you'll bring back, offer to give a lecture or write an article for their newsletter, tell them how infrequent deployments actually are, ask us to send them an appreciation letter, etc.

That's it for this month. See everyone on July 18th!

Wednesday
Jul012015

Training News

July 18 Meeting
Don't forget to start looking for the agenda and documents related to the upcoming July 18 meeting. They'll be under the Training Documents link on the right side. Download or print what you need a few days before the meeting.

SPHERE Project
Back in December we reported on the Sphere Project to assist response entities with international disaster response. For an update, you can read about their efforts in Nepal. You can also sign up for a free, intensive 6-8 hour course in disaster response.

Subscribing to Website Pages
Ever wish that you could just get an email whenever a certain page on the team website changes, so that you don't have to log in each time (or worse, stay logged in and hit refresh every few minutes)? We've published this information before, but Kate Amatruda took the time to take some screenshots to help show you step-by-step how to do it!

First you should to navigate to the page that you want to "subscribe" to, so that you'll receive email updates when that page changes. We recommend the Home Page (so that you can see when the Team Status changes, or the next meeting gets posted), the Hot News page (for those updates about a pending event or deployment), and if you're interested in member talk then perhaps also the Chatter Forum page.

  Once you are at te desired page, step 1 is to click on your name, which appears in black at the top of the screen after you log in.

Step 2 is to click on the Subscribe to Page Updates link. That will subscribe you to the page that you are currently on.

Do you want to know what pages you're subscribed to, or perhaps unsubscribe from some? That's easy too. Start by clicking on your name, as above. Then click on Edit Profile. A page like the one below will appear.

Now all you need to is click on the Subscriptions button, which will bring up a page that shows you all the pages you've subscribed to. From there, you can just click the Remove link next to any page that you no longer wish to receive email updates for.

 

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