Security Management interviews Kenny Shaw, director of the Office of Emergency Management for the city of Dallas.
Kenny Shaw is Director of the Office of Emergency Management for the City of Dallas. He came to Dallas in September 2004 from the same position in Little Rock, Arkansas. Shaw began his career in 1980 as the emergency management director and county fire coordinator in Benton County, Arkansas. He has held leadership positions with the Eureka Springs (Arkansas) Fire Department, the Arkansas Division of EMS, and the Little Rock Fire Department and Metropolitan EMS services. He is a nationally registered paramedic and a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. He served two terms as president of the Arkansas Emergency Management Association. Shaw also serves on the Dallas Regional Type III Incident Management Team. He is a member of the Exercises Subcommittee of the International Association of Fire Chief’s Emergency Management Committee and was recently appointed to the FEMA Region VI Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Arkansas and a master’s in Public Administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
What are the responsibilities of your office?
I’m the emergency management director for the Dallas. I report to the first assistant city manager who oversees the public safety departments: police, fire and emergency management. I’m considered a department head just like the police chief and the fire chief. We’re charged with building the emergency management plans for the city for a large-scale event or incidents like major flooding or tornadoes or major hazardous materials incidents or even terrorism incidents. So we have a rather sophisticated master emergency operations plan. We do a pretty sophisticated hazard analysis in which we determine which risks we are most exposed to and therefore should plan to respond to. In our case that’s severe weather more than anything else. We are in Tornado Alley and we have a lot of interesting weather in Dallas and we plan accordingly. We manage the emergency operations center (EOC) for the city when we do have the incidents or events like the Super Bowl, where we had a weeklong activation of the EOC so we could monitor all of the events. We do a lot of training and exercises including both with city employees whether they’re public safety or not, we do tabletop exercises once a month.
What assets and threats make your region unique?
We’re a big city. We’re the eighth-largest city in the country, and with Fort Worth and Arlington and other cities we’re the fourth-largest urban area in the country after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. So we have a lot of exposure. We have a major downtown buildings and facilities and that sort of thing. The biggest thing that we’re concerned about is lone-wolf terrorism like the Oklahoma City event, we’re concerned about special events and individuals who might be ticked off at the government, and like I said we’re concerned about severe weather. We have everything from tornadoes to pretty severe flooding to the last two years we’ve had the worst snow storms and ice storms in probably 30 years. We try to look at primary sectors like banking and chemicals and hazardous materials and make sure our drinking water stays safe.
What is the region’s method for planning and for administration of federal homeland security grants?
We have a really good regional governance structure in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In our federal Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant program region each of the constituent jurisdictions has a person designated to be the lead UASI person and they vote on which priorities will be funded. They do a pretty good job of spreading the money around in the urban area. It concentrates in Dallas and Fort Worth, but we’ll share with some of the smaller cities around if the thing is critical enough.
The other thing that we have in Texas is regional councils of government. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area is our organization is the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and our area includes the 16 counties that surround Dallas County and Tarrant County, which is the Fort Worth area. We meet regularly, and most grants go through the Council of Governments. We do a lot of training through that program and a lot of the transportation issues are decided through that system. It’s a pretty sophisticated regional planning group, and it brings us all together a lot more often than we would be otherwise. They’ll call a meeting, and their offices are in Arlington, which is centrally located, and so we get to see our counterparts a lot around the area and whether its police fire or other public service folks. It works pretty well.
Finally, right after Hurricane Katrina we realized we had to work together a lot more down the road on hurricanes and other issues, so we created the Regional Emergency Managers group through the Council that meets monthly, as we set up a listserv where we now have probably about 500 people on that listserv ranging from all of the emergency managers and their staffs to the nonprofit organizations and the occasional police and fire chief.
What is the greatest challenge in your office’s mission?
Unfortunately right now it’s budget issues. In the last couple years we’ve actually lost a couple of our staff and we’re maybe one of the smallest emergency management offices of the big cities around the country. We had nine, but we had a couple people retire and they asked us to not replace them at this time. Hopefully we’ll be able to down the road so we’re down to seven people right now. However, our UASI grant program is managed by another department. The City of Dallas has a department that manages all grants. Fortunately for us the guy who does the UASI stuff is very oriented to emergency management and public safety and he does a really good job. So technically we probably have a couple more from the grants division who work a whole lot with us.
But we have to take the brunt of the cuts just like everybody else, and police and fire are taking cuts this year, so that’s the main problem is budget issue. Other than that we’re trying to stay up with training and education and that sort of thing. But budgeting issues kind of limit that because you can’t go off somewhere where you might have been able to travel in the past. So we’ve taken advantage of the systems like the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland or its Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, where they pay for the travel and put you up. So we try to take advantage of that. And we also try to do a lot of training here in the City of Dallas if we can.
What would you say is the region’s greatest success?
Like I just talked about, I think it’s the regional collaboration. It is impressive in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. We all talk all the time. That’s the big thing. And the UASI program is a regional program also, so I’d say regional collaboration is the biggest area where our region has created success.
How would you characterize your office’s relationship with its federal partners, What would you change, if anything?
We work well with FEMA as a matter of fact the regional office Region VI is just about 30 miles away in Denton, Texas, so I often meet up with Tony Russell, who is the director up there, and several of the other staff up there. In fact I had people from the regional office participate in the Super Bowl planning process. So we get along great with our regional folks.
On the national level I participate in the Big City Emergency Managers group, which is composed of officials from the country’s 15 largest cities in population. We meet twice a year and every time we’ve met over the past three years we’ve had senior FEMA people come and speak to us and work with us on programs. In fact one of the things we suggested at the last meeting was that they consider having a FEMA staff person assigned to urban offices for three months or so on a temporary, rotating basis, and they started doing that. They actually assigned a person to the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department and to the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications temporarily, and so that will let them learn more about FEMA, and let FEMA learn more about large urban areas’ emergency management. And hopefully we’ll have one assigned to us next year.
Does your office engage the private sector in its mission? If so, how?
We do a lot with our nonprofit and business associations out there. Probably once a month we’re asked by a different company to come over and do a tabletop exercise and that sort of thing. So we do a lot of that. We work closely with the health and medical communities, that is the hospitals along with the county health department, and the state health department on everything from pandemic flu to biological defense programs. We have a concentrated effort on working with our nonprofit organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army and the North Texas Food Bank, plus we have a public-private partnership with our Downtown Emergency Response Team, or DERT, so we work closely with them on a lot of planning and information sharing.
What was the office’s experience with the Super Bowl and other major events, combined with weather events?
We’ve actually had three major sporting events in the region in the past year: We had the NBA All-Star Game last year, and it’s turned into the NBA’s version of the Super Bowl. It’s a really weeklong event. They have several major events, and interestingly a whole bunch of people come to town for that game and for those events and parties and things, so I’m not sure the NBA All-Star week wasn’t busier for us than the Super Bowl week was, because the American Airlines Center is here in Dallas, while Cowboys Stadium is in Arlington. It’s kind of interesting. Then we had the World Series, which you don’t get to plan too much for because you don’t know if you’re going to be in it until the last minute. We did use some of the lessons-learned from the All-Star game planning that we did—which was several months worth—for the World Series, and last year we sat down weekly and monthly in different teams and committees getting ready for the Super Bowl. So I think we were really ready for that and when it came, even though we had bad weather, we had extra equipment down here from the state that allowed us to clear the highways, and each city really went hard and strong on working their city streets as well, clearing those up as much as we could. It was a pretty severe storm. We had a lot of ice and all that before the snow hit, so it was kind of complicated, but the actual Super Bowl itself went very well. We didn’t have any terrorism incidents; we didn’t have any major catastrophic events or anything. It just kind of came and went and we were busy, but we got through it fine.
When I first came to Dallas I’d been to Houston many, many times and I thought it would be kind of like Houston where it’s pretty much warm all year long. But the Dallas/North Texas area is not that way. It has a full-blown winter every year and it gets cold here pretty much from December until March. It does not snow very much though. As a matter of fact last year during the NBA All-Star week and this year during Super Bowl week were the two biggest snow storms we’ve ever had and so last year it was about 8 inches and this year was about 2 inches but on top of sleet and ice so it was more complicated. But the winter weather is cold here but it’s not really that severe. It’s the spring and summer weather that we get a lot of rain and flooding and tornadoes. Almost every city up here has a citywide siren system where we can notify folks that there’s something bad going on, and we now all have things like reverse 911, which some jurisdictions call CodeRED. Plus, we’re making a concentrated effort to work more closely with the community on citizen preparedness. That’s one thing FEMA is pushing real hard, so we’re working with our local program called knowwhat2do.com, and we do a lot of public education. Finally, we have a pretty significant Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program and we’ve trained over 1,000 people in the last four years and they have individual neighborhood programs. A CERT team will work in that neighborhood if something happens and they work closely with our office and the police and fire departments.
What are your office’s major goals going forward?
Dealing with the budgets is a concern. It limits our ability to do some things, but we’re going to keep updating our emergency plans. We’re looking at a continuity of operations plan citywide that we’re ready to redevelop and work on closely so that all departments are able to deal with issues in case there’s a pandemic flu or some other catastrophic event hits the city. We’re looking at updating our technology. We have a pretty sophisticated technological ability now. We’ve got a lot of computerized stuff, but we want to be able to take advantage of things like social media. We have a Facebook page but we understand that a lot of cities now are using Twitter and that sort of thing to get out information. We’re going to continue to work hard and heavy with our community folks whether it’s the volunteers who do the CERT program—we have one our employees does it pretty much full time—and we’re really concerned that we work more closely with our business and industry folks on emergency plans and that sort of thing. So our public-private partnership is a high priority for us also. And then finally, I don’t want to leave out that we are always concerned about the health and medical aspect, so we always work closely with the health department and the hospitals and that sort of thing on health and medical issues.