Edited Version January 5, 2000
EIIP Classroom Online Presentation
"Y2K After Action"
Lacy E. Suiter
Executive Associate Director
FEMA Response and Recovery Directorate
Moderator, EIIP Coordinator
The original unedited transcript of the January 5, 2000 online Virtual Classroom presentation is available on the EIIP Virtual Forum (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussions, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenter to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.
Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Happy New Year to all!
Before we introduce our speaker for today, I would like to remind you that any URLs used in the discussion today are live links that you can open in your browser window just by clicking on them. For example, <http://www.fema.gov>. Please look at FEMA's homepage to see what occurred relative to the Millennium rollover. You can listen to Director James Lee Witt's comments as well.
Links related to FEMA's Web site can be accessed from the background page for today's session at <http://www.emforum.org/vclass/000105.htm>. You may wish to take some time after our discussion to read and listen.
Please do not send private messages to our speaker or moderator during the session. Too distracting.
After hearing from our speaker, we will have opportunity for Q&A with him. When we are ready for interaction, I will review the protocol for asking questions or making comments.
And now, it is my pleasure to introduce today's speaker. He is no stranger to the EIIP Virtual Forum or to many of us who are involved in the business of emergency management.
Lacy E. Suiter was appointed Executive Associate Director for Response and Recovery by FEMA Director James Lee Witt in October 1996, after spending two years as the agency's head of the Office of Policy and Assessment. In his current position, Lacy is responsible for the planning and execution of the federal government's response to major disasters and emergencies. He is also responsible for the multi-billion dollar Individual and Public Assistance Grant Programs authorized by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. Lacy also serves as special advisor to the Director Witt, and served as the Federal Coordinating Officer for the federal response to Hurricane Fran, in North Carolina.
Before joining FEMA, Lacy spent 30 years as a career employee of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency; he served the last 12 years as the agency's director. During his tenure in Tennessee, Lacy earned FEMA's Outstanding Public Service Award and the Tennessee Meritorious Service Award, as well as honors from the state's nuclear power industry.
He has headed or served on the board of directors of dozens of organizations in the emergency management field. For example, Lacy chaired the Central United States Earthquake Consortium from 1983 to 1994 and was president of the National Emergency Management Association from 1984 to 1985.
A native of Tennessee, Lacy earned a B.S. in general business from the Middle Tennessee State University.
It is a real honor to introduce my friend, Lacy Suiter, to talk about what happened or didn't happen as result of Y2K. I would like to note that Elizabeth Edge, FEMA, is with Lacy today. Lacy, I turn the floor to you now if you are ready. While we are waiting, we are pleased to have everyone here today. Great turnout for the first EIIP session of 2000!
Lacy Suiter: Good afternoon. I am pleased to report what you already know. There have been no major Y2K disruptions. At the Federal Emergency Management Agency, we were ready for any potential emergency, but thankfully we did not have to respond.
Why we were concerned
While no major national disruptions were anticipated, there was a possibility of smaller localized disruptions taking place at about the same time across the United States. The timeframe for potential Y2K problems was known which afforded the opportunity for extensive pre-event planning. It would have been negligent for FEMA not to activate our operations over the Y2K transition. Just like firehouses must be staffed in case there is a fire, FEMA and the emergency management network needed to be ready in case there was a Y2K problem of sufficient magnitude that federal assistance was needed.
What actions were taken beforehand
FEMA started planning for Y2K about 1 1/2 years ago. Planning was based on existing emergency management plans. The Federal Response Plan (FRP), which is the foundation for all federal disaster response, served as the basis for Y2K response planning at the federal level. A Y2K Operations Supplement was also developed.
FEMA chaired and coordinated the Y2K Council's Emergency Services Sector Working Group. The group included representatives from the US Departments of Interior, Transportation, Health and Human Services, Defense, Commerce, and Agriculture and the American Red Cross. The group worked to ensure that all segments of the nation's emergency services sector operated normally through the cross over period from 1999 to the year 2000 and beyond, and were ready to respond should there have been any.
Disruptions in the operations of critical systems
FEMA also worked with its partners at the state and local levels to heighten awareness of Y2K, assess progress in achieving Y2K compliance, and provide special assistance where needed to ensure a smooth transition to the year 2000. FEMA developed a course for local and state emergency managers to assist them in getting ready for Y2K.
In addition, FEMA conducted national and regional Y2K workshops in concert with its federal, state and local, business, and volunteer sector partners. The workshops examined emergency management decision-making capabilities and identified policy issues related to coping with technological emergencies.
The watch on New Years Eve
During December 28 through January 4, all 55 Emergency Operations Centers were activated in the 50 United States and 5 US territories and possessions, with FEMA personnel at each location. FEMA's 10 Regional Operations Centers and the Headquarters Emergency Support Team were also activated.
During the rollover, these centers were operating on a 24 hour a day basis
FEMA participated as one of many organizations submitting reports to the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion Information Coordination Center (ICC). FEMA was in touch with and gathered information on the Emergency Services Sector and from all state governments throughout the rollover period. The information was passed to the ICC as the central point of collection for the federal government. The ICC monitored and reported on the private sector, all federal agencies and the international situation.
In addition, to the federal agencies who are our Federal Response Plan partners, a "state mutual aid team", was working in our headquarters operations center. The team was in place to coordinate interstate emergency management assistance, if needed. This is assistance that states provide to each other and is designed to supplement local, state and federal response resources.
The Y2K rollover was very smooth
The Year 2000 Conversion posed a great challenge to communities across the world and the challenge was met successfully. Governments, business, industry and people across the world came together to take action to prevent a disaster.
Positive Opportunities Provided by Y2K Preparations
Preparing for Y2K gave FEMA the opportunity to raise awareness about the need to be prepared for any potential emergency. FEMA's Y2K activities meshed with the agency's ongoing efforts to encourage people to reduce their risks to disasters through Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities. Under this national initiative, communities work with FEMA, state officials, and private sector partners to assess their particular disaster risks and take pro-active steps to reduce potential damage in the future.
FEMA also found that Y2K:
Helped strengthen working relationships between the agency and state and local governments;
Enhanced the agency's outreach and relationships with the private sector; and,
Provided an opportunity to update emergency operations plans and procedures.
Y2K gave us the opportunity to emphasize the importance of self-sufficiency, personal responsibility and preparedness.
Thank you. Do you have any questions?
Avagene Moore: Thank you, Lacy, for a fine overview. For anyone new to the Virtual Forum, we keep order during our Q&A segment by requesting anyone with a question or comment to input a question mark (?) to the chat screen. After submitting your question mark to the screen, compose your question but hold it until recognized by the moderator. Questions will be taken in the order they are submitted. First question of Lacy, please.
Amy Sebring: Can you tell us something about the information collection system you used. Was it new?
Lacy Suiter: The system is called ICRS - Information Coordination Reporting System and it was specifically designed for Y2K since the peculiar requirements of this event meant that the president needed more than the normal reports of various organizations.
Libbi Rucker Reed: We participated in the online submission of information to TEMA to compile and send up to FEMA. Is this going to be developed further and utilized in future events to assist in gathering info? It was an excellent process!
Lacy Suiter: Libbi, good afternoon. It is currently under review and we will know more after Feb 29.
Aladin Awad: Was FEMA concerned by the technical problems that occurred in the Pentagon on the GMT rollover?
Lacy Suiter: No, not really. We had extensive pre-event exercises and we were all comfortable at that time and we were basically ready if the systems had not worked with work arounds.
Jan Nickerson: On your point about Y2K providing opportunity to emphasize the importance of self-sufficiency, personal responsibility and preparedness, what factors contributed to this, and what factors interfered with this? What would you like to see done differently next time?
Lacy Suiter: Well, I hope we do not have a next time. However, if we do, then I think we, FEMA, should use our mitigation advantages to help get this important point across to the public. Not too much interfered with the process that I recall. We had considerable attendance at our regional meetings and most folks were concerned but understood personal responsibility and they did.
Rick Tobin: Could ICRS be the initiating point to finally get a National Disaster Information Management System operational?
Lacy Suiter: Yes, and it may become just that.
Bob Goldhammer: I'm overhearing conversations already that the whole Y2K issue was dreamed up by companies that stood to gain financially from selling products and services. It's similar in nature (no pun intended) to the hurricane scares. Are there ANY examples where there were problems? Does FEMA have a plan to combat this potential attitude?
Lacy Suiter: I have heard similar or perhaps the same comments. I suppose we just have to listen, make our decisions on a course of action and the press on with the mission. In terms of hurricane scares, as you have worded it. Someone is responsible for providing us with the best information they can and to narrow the decision making as much as possible and then we have to take a course of action. That is what we did in this case. No one could say absolutely that nothing would happen. Just as we cannot precisely predict some info about hurricanes. So we take the best advice possible or available, make our decisions and do our jobs.
Steve Smith: Lacy, We are now seeing questions from the media regarding the amount of money spent on Y2K vs. other country's expenditures. Your thoughts on that subject?
Lacy Suiter: The money appropriated by the Congress and disbursed by the administration was essential to "fix" the problem as we understood it to be. A lessor amount of money was spent to prove that we, as a global power, understood the problem and it consequences of inaction or inappropriate action. Being a global power we had to know and prove that we knew what was going on, not only in the US, but around the world.
The ICC did just that. And with the responsibilities that it fulfilled we were able to get through this situation with stable markets and a peaceful world, less threats than we anticipated, and other than several thousand folks giving up their celebrations. We all did our jobs. I think we can take the criticisms and adjust and go on with life. I am not ready to take the Jonestown Koolaid as a result of any of the criticisms so far but I may mix some.
Richard Muth: Regarding the ICRS. Was this developed by FEMA? If so, can it be refined? i.e.: it would have been nice to be able to monitor the county's on our borders.
Lacy Suiter: The ICRS was developed by a General Pete Kind; retired, a great mind. He did, in a few weeks, an incredible programming job and it worked. If we further develop it you will be able to see the info you might deem essential.
Aladin Awad: What was your concrete program (means) to increase individual awareness and preparedness and how you managed to avoid over-reaction?
Lacy Suiter: By keeping the public informed through a very articulate spokesperson, John Koskinen, and working with the partners at the state and local government agencies across the country. And continuing to insure that everyone - in and out of government - fully realizes that individuals are responsible for their own well being and that local governments own disasters. The role of folks, like us at FEMA, are only a part of the whole, not the whole. The important work is that of local governments, individuals, small business and the states we supplement to do that, then the former has to take charge and do so. They did!!!
Steve Charvat: Hello, Lacy. Was ICRS really tested by this event? Since there were very few problems, how do you know if it would really work, if stressed?
Lacy Suiter: We did a stress test several times in advance but not to the point that all fifty states were reporting at the same time. The odds that that circumstance would happen were fairly slim. The safety stops at the state and FEMA regional level to intercept and intervene to prevent disasters or respond thereto, without having to get it here in DC, were built into the system by its designers. A fifty-state simultaneous report would have jammed it. We did not test to that extreme and it provides more information than the federal family normally requires. So by sorting all that out and responding at the appropriate level it prevents jams here.
Douglas Chandler: Will there be an opportunity for the private sector to connect to the FEMA system during a major regional disaster/crisis?
Lacy Suiter: I do not know for certain but I do not think so.
Amy Sebring: I am sure this was a piece of cake compared to the disasters you are used to dealing with Lacy, but beyond the info system, was there anything else out of this experience that you learned that might be useful in ordinary disasters?
Lacy Suiter: I may not understand your question. This event is really a once in a lifetime activity. It does reinforce that mitigation is the best and only way to prevent catastrophic events in the future.
Lois Clark: Lacy, it was a great job! If the ICRS can be a start of a national system it would be great! Would you be on your XII Steering Committee to help see this accomplished?
Lacy Suiter: Lois, this sounds like a bribe to me. Thanks Lois.
Russell Coile: The ICRS developers might look at the California OES disaster info system, Resource Information Management System (RIMS) on the Internet as NetRims.
Lacy Suiter: Good idea.
Bob Goldhammer: Has a decision been made to keep the ICRS active for future events? Will our User ID's and Passwords stay the same?
Lacy Suiter: ID's through the March 4, 2000 date will remain the same. The future is still under consideration and review.
Elizabeth Eddlemon: This is Elizabeth Eddlemon for Linda Bomberg. Yes, some of our programs were not updated for Y2K and have since rolled back to 1/04/80 - anyone else have this problem?
Lacy Suiter: FEMA had one system that we thought was Y2K ready but it was not as events worked out. Of course it made a lot of reservists happy since we could deploy them in 1999 but could not recall them. We fixed it.
Elizabeth Eddlemon: They were program applications we don't normally use, i.e., NetMeeting - it seems the programmers literally picked and chose what was upgraded and what was not. (We're working on it. No critical systems have been effected).
Steve Smith: Here in Rutherford County, we found the ICC concept to be the best catalyst for involving over 30 agencies, including utilities, municipalities and surrounding counties in a local version of this reporting system. We have received excellent response for the carryover to utilizing our system for other events in the future.
Lacy Suiter: Steve Smith sounds like one of my formerly adopted sons? But thanks for the reports and we will look forward to all user comments.
Jim Marquis: How is the "state mutual aid team" structured, and who would be the best contact for more info on its operation and use?
Lacy Suiter: Jim, the best contact will be Gary McConnell, State EM Director for Georgia. He currently heads up that operation. We provide operating space here in the EST at FEMA headquarters.
Jan Nickerson: Do you have any concerns that the public might disregard future disaster warnings, considering the widespread Y2K concerns and relatively few incidents, so far. How might we sustain credibility on warnings to prepare, when faced with potential crises?
Lacy Suiter: Of course. But we still have a responsibility to inform the public with the best info we have and the best advice we can offer. It happens annually in hurricane areas when storms do not turn out as bad as projected and then the next year they do and some people die because they did not listen to their governments or other experts. But we continue to tell - as responsibly as we can - what we believe to be the best info we can and then hope that we are very bored but, if it had, many lives would have been saved.
Lois Clark: Lacy, In addition to yourself, how many people were needed to staff the FEMA desk in the ICC?
Lacy Suiter: 27.
Jeff Basa: Is FEMA considering program benchmarks for "anticipatory activation" based on Y2K responses? If so, please provide an example.
Lacy Suiter: Yes, we have different levels of activation, level four being the least and one the most. This was a level 2.
Jeff Basa: Thank you, Lacy.
Avagene Moore: This has been a great session to start off the New Year, folks, but our time is about up for today. Lacy, I thank you for taking the time to participate in the Forum today. Elizabeth, thanks for your assistance as well. I hope we all see the very positive aspects of the technological challenge presented by the Millennium. We are all the better for it. Audience, thank you for being here and making the first session of the New Year 2000 a good one.
Libbi Rucker Reed: Ava and Amy, congratulations on an excellent program from an outstanding presenter! Very informative. Lacy, appreciate your time today and all your efforts in the EM field.
Avagene Moore: Amy, would you please tell us about next week's session?
Amy Sebring: Thanks, Avagene. Next Wednesday we will meet in the Virtual Library with Caroline Herzenberg, and some of the other co-authors from Argonne National Laboratory for a presentation of their paper, "Uses of the Internet in Emergency Response." Caroline has graciously provided us with a copy of the paper, and I will have it posted in the "User Docs" area of our Library later today.
A text transcript of today's session will also be available later this afternoon. You will be able to access via Transcripts link from our home page.
I also would like to mention that if you are not on our mailing list, a copy of this month's newsletter is now available via Quick Pick link.
Avagene Moore: Thank you, Amy. Lacy, any closing remarks?
Lacy Suiter: Thanks for the invitation. Come home soon and Happy New Year! Go Titans!!!
Avagene Moore: Thank you, Lacy and all! The EIIP Virtual Classroom is adjourned for Wednesday January 5.