Friday, May 31, 2013

MAM Class

Ah, a short week finally.  After returning from break, we were originally scheduled to have our intermediate management class including hiring staff at a JFO, a skill we actually need.  Next, they told us that was replaced with ICS 300, a class most of us had already taken.  And so when we get back, guess what, it changed again.  On Wednesday we had a half day Virtual Table Top Exercise (VTTX).  On Thursday, we found out we would be taking the MAM Class.  MAM stands for the Mission Assignment Manager.  Mission assignments are the way we task other federal agencies to do work (and get paid for that work).  It seems like they took one day of material and stretched it out to two days.  On the plus side, we get a lot of breaks and free time.  And as of now, Friday Morning, they are still not sure if we have the weekend off or not yet.  Here's hoping to a couple days rest!

Monday, May 27, 2013


FREEDOM!!!  Well, for three days anyway.  As I wrap up my mini-break at home, I get set to return to the final seven weeks of training.  As expected, this past week was very helpful to me.  Once we got to New York, we spent the first day and a half at the JFO covering more program related stuff.  I thought this was sort of strange to do this like this.  These sessions were speakers standing up and talking to us as we sat in a classroom.  And many of these speakers themselves flew into NY to present.  I am not sure why they did not just bring the speakers to Anniston and have them teach us there like they have for the past five weeks.

However, once this was past, the afternoon of the second day was GREAT!  I finally got to meet someone that is doing the job I will be doing.  Five weeks in seems like a good time to start actually learning what my job is.  My California counterpart and I spent the whole afternoon with the gentleman and even went out to dinner together afterwards with him.  Those six hours spent with my peer were more valuable than anything else we had done so far.  I wish that since they brought us to New York that we would have had the entire time with our counterparts to see the real day to day operations required in our positions.

But alas, all good things must come to an end.  As rumored, Thursday was an all-day exercise.  This was similar to the prior week’s events, focused mainly on the program areas.  The cool part about it was that our team got to do it at the New York City Office of Emergency Management’s Emergency Operations Center.  This setting was an amazing facility to work in.  Friday morning they had us write a brief paper about our experiences in NYC and then it was off to Rochester.  A quick three days home to see some friends and then back to Anniston to keep on keepin’ on.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Wow, what a busy week this past week was.  You can tell because I missed my weekly blog post this past weekend.  As I am writing this post today, I am sitting in Union Station in Washington, D.C.  This is a flashback for me to high school.  We took a class trip to DC and it included a stop here at Union Station.  So since my last post, we have been going non-stop.  That weekend was the Incident Action Planning (IAP) class (ominous foreshadowing for later in this post ;).  On Monday, we had classes on both the WebEOC online management tool and the general use of Geospatial Information Systems (GIS).  After Sandy hit, they flew plans and took over 60,000 geo-tagged pictures and then placed them on a map.  Each green dot is one or more pictures.  This allowed survivors to virtually check out their house.

On Tuesday, we started the Incident Management III course.  This is the course that was a combination of classroom learning and a functional exercise that would help certify us as a type III team (see my first post for type info).  Before the class even started on Tuesday, we had to write a one page essay on one of the 20 key FEMA items and relate it to the events of Katrina in Alabama.  Tuesday was a leadership class all day.  Wednesday was five classes that covered the various programs FEMA offers such as Individual Assistance, Public Assistance, and internal spent plan processing (government budgeting).  These five classes would be the basis for our final exam.  Thursday was spent covering what happened in Katrina and some of the lessons learned from that disaster.

And then we get to the exercise.  This was designed to simulate the first response to a type III event.  It started Thursday night at 7 PM with the disaster briefing.  This event was taken directly from the Nashville/Tennessee flooding of 2010.  After that we immediately started our “pre-departure” work of preparing for the event.  The night was meant to simulate travel so we “arrived” on site Friday morning at 8 AM.  We had until 4 PM to complete all of our work.  Each of us preformed our specific roles.  For me, that meant ordering staff, equipment, and services for the various FEMA field locations at a disaster: the Joint Field Office (JFO), Area Field Offices (AFO’s), and Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC’s).  I was also responsible for creating the radio usage plan for all federal employees sent to the disaster.

The major thing that we had to complete by 4 PM was the IAP.  This team document was 30% of every team member’s overall score.  Since the course required at least 75% to pass, this one document allow could cause everyone to fail even if they did perfect on everything else.  As we got to about 2 PM, it was clear our planning division, the main area responsible for creating the IAP, was in trouble.  Using our team approach, I went over and asked what I could do to help out.  They gave me a bunch of the raw, hand written data.  I took these forms and translated them into the correct FEMA 215 and 204 forms.  We also had issues with the network that prevented shared printing.  But I got a cable and was able hook up a local system.  By completing several of the 215’s and 204’s, we ended up printing out our 22 page IAP at 3:58 PM, got it signed, and turned in right at 4 PM.

Saturday we had our final written exam based on Wednesday’s classes.  Finally, after the test we got a chance to get our grades from all week long.  Our pre-class essay was up to 14 points, 20 points for class participation on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 30 points for the IAP, 16 points for our individual work during the exercise, and 20 points for the final exam.  I ended up getting all 14 points on the paper (which I was told was rare), 20 for class, our IAP earned 27 points (90%), 12 for the exercise (which was the default score), and 19 on my final exam, totaling 92 points (second highest score for the class).

On Sunday, we left Alabama at 8 AM to head to the Atlanta airport.  After sitting on the runway for 2 hours because of a storm, we had a quick flight up to DC.  My parents picked me up at the airport.  It was great to see them.  We went over to see where my new office is in Herndon and check out the surrounding cities.  I think I found the area I want to move to, so now the hunt intensifies.

Monday, today, we spent at FEMA Headquarters at 500 C Street in the heart of DC.  We got to spend some quality time with the CIO again today so we could get a better understanding of how he wants us to fit into the overall picture.  And now I sit here at Union Station waiting to catch a train to New York’s Penn Station.  Tomorrow morning we need to report to the JFO (see above;) bright and early at 7:30 AM, keeping in mind it will take an hour to get there on the subway.  We had hear rumors they are planning another real world exercise for us here on Thursday.  We will see!  And Friday afternoon, I get to fly home to Rochester.  We get three whole days off before having to return back to Alabama.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

And the classes beat on

This week continued with our classroom training. And still continues now! In order to prepare us for the rigors of working in a disaster, they are running our training contiguously, every day and night, including weekends. So today, Mother’s Day, I am sitting in a class on how to write Incident Action Plans (IAPs). IAPs provide all the work direction for the federal and state response to a disaster. For Hurricane Sandy, these documents range in size upwards of 100 pages long. And a new one is produced each day for the next day’s work.

In addition to the IAP class, we spent the main part of the week in a management class. This covered everything a good federal supervisor needs to know – rules on promotions, training, feedback, reviews, working with unions, and general covering your ass tactics. All of these things are the drivers of why I never wanted to go into the management chain at IBM and choose to remain technical. Here in my position, I get to straddle the line of needing technical skills while also being a middle manager. When deployed in the field, I will have three managers under me each with their own team. The three teams will cover IT and networking, telephone and radio communications, and customer service and help desk. Also scrambled somewhere in there is TV and cable service as well.

Besides classes during the day, we have homework to do at night. This includes a list of over 50 online classes we need to complete by the end of the academy. To complement our classes, we also have three books to read. And finally, we had a paper to write for this week’s activities. This upcoming week should be interesting, fun, and partly terrifying. Monday starts with two classes on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and WebEOC, a web-based system for tracking and managing incidents. That is not the hard part. Tuesday through Saturday will be our Incident Management III course. If you remember my first post, I talked about levels from the lowest of 5 to the highest of 1. This is our level 3 test on the way to level 1 certification. Normally, teams work together for a couple years before taking the level 3 certification. We are taking it only 3 weeks in. That is the level they expect us to be at coming into this. As we take this test, we can pass or fail as a team, pass or fail as an individual, or a combination thereof. After this concludes next Saturday, we will be traveling to Washington, DC on Sunday with another full week ahead. So full speed ahead with classes and testing!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

It's not that I don't want to, it's that I can't

After a week of IT specific training, we were drummed with a new mantra (see title).  If people thought that IBM was picky with their rules, it is nothing like the nest that I have to deal with here.  FEMA is a part of the Department of Homeland Security.  So not only do we have all of FEMA's rules, but also DHS's as well.  This leads to a ton of overhead and security measures.  All software and hardware must be pre-approved before use.  All hardware must be made in the USA (no Lenovo's allowed!).  If it is an All In One that has both network print and fax, you cannot have both the fax and network cable connected at the same time (they are afraid someone could dial into the fax line and then hack the software to bridge over the network and access it from the outside).  And on and on and on.....

They also made it clear that now that we are federal employees with security clearances, when we break the rules (ie. install software), it is not just that you lose your job.  You go to jail.  Heavy stuff.  And just to make sure you are following the rules, your PC and all attached items are scanned at least every three hours, if not more often.  Anything found that is outside of the standards is immediately removed from the network and your account suspended.  They are not playing around here.  And that covers anything down to a thumb drive - not allowed unless it is a government issued IronKey with remote self destruct hardware - you actually hear it pop when it blows its self up.  We expected to see smoke, but there was none, just the noise.  And the best part, if we see people using their own non-IronKeys, we are suppose to remove them and snap them in half in front of them to prove they are destroyed, just in case they moved any sensitive information on to them.

As this weekend wraps up, we go into a long couple of weeks.  Next week starting Monday we have a 5 day leadership class, then a 2 day class all weekend on document writing, then another 5 days of tool training during the second week.  That weekend we travel to DC.  The following Monday we are spending at headquarters and then going via train to New York.  4 days in New York and then home for Memorial Day Weekend.  A couple days of time home and then back at.