Urban emergency plans shouldn’t be a secret downtown
Written by Michael Lewis on August 9, 2016
As reports of global urban attacks and emergencies echo, we’d taken it for granted that Miami, as one of the globe’s most visible beacons, is well prepared not only for hurricanes that sometimes threaten but for the unknown disasters that are becoming more frequent.
Whether it’s an epidemic or fire, flooding or tsunami, terrorism or plane crash, we were sure that plans had long since been drawn, all thoroughly checked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and disseminated to all key players in Miami.
We’re still sure that excellent plans exist. But now we’re also sure that not all the key players know what they say.
At a recent Miami Downtown Development Authority meeting, its chairman, Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, asked “What are our preparations?”
“We have been on the fringes of emergency management,” he was told by the authority’s executive director, Alyce Robertson. She told Mr. Russell that she had reached out to the city manager and police chief to “quickly come up to speed.”
That puts downtown Miami a long way behind in a world where anything can happen at any moment – and is in fact happening more frequently. The taxpayer-financed agency that runs downtown development and provides some public service help should long since have been up to speed and offering input in disaster plans. Who knows downtown better?
Everyone ought to know the plans, everyone from public agencies to major employers to elected officials. Yet in the Downtown Development Authority meeting a city commissioner was asking a public agency in a room full of business leaders and nobody knew downtown’s disaster plans.
On reflection, we shouldn’t be surprised that the obvious step of communicating plans hadn’t happened – or at least hadn’t reached these key players.
It wasn’t the first time that local government has overlooked the obvious. The county let sewer and water upgrades go undone for decades as it approved more and more development. Now we’re facing a consent decree with the federal government and more than $13 billion in work that should have been done but never was, work we will now pay for via spiraling water and sewer rates.
There was also the matter of rapid construction and population growth with few new roads and little added transit, resulting in the traffic congestion that has now taken on emergency proportions. It was so obvious that you couldn’t keep adding people and cars without adding ways to get around that most of us assumed, wrongly, that someone was paying attention.
So now we discover that with urban crises – mostly of a terrorist nature – growing more frequent, the folks who run downtown don’t know the game plan if something happens. We must also question whether whatever plans we have compiled took into account expertise from these guardians of downtown.
We are certain that a thorough and detailed master plan for urban disaster here does exist. We would hope that only the Downtown Development Authority and its members were incredibly skipped, and that everyone else involved was not only part of the planning but has the plan in hand, ready to use should it ever become necessary.
The problem is, while a plan is needed only after a disaster, it’s needed immediately, with no time to disseminate or study a plan. It must be in hand and ready to go, in hopes that it never will be used but with full knowledge that if need should arise, everyone will be involved immediately in vital steps that cannot wait.
Those doing the planning must make clear well in advance to everyone involved – from churches to schools to businesses to volunteers – what their roles would be. You can’t prepare for disaster afterward.
The gap that is now apparent is in communication. Either the Downtown Development Authority forgot to tell its directors that it has the disaster plan for downtown or it doesn’t have the plan.
In either case, emergency planners at the federal, state, county and city levels all need to make sure that everyone is reassured that a plan does in fact exist, that it is thorough, that it can and will work, that it has been updated to include every method of terrorism, and that everyone who might be involved after a disaster knows what the plan says well before anything ever occurs.
Thanks to Commissioner Russell and the Downtown Development Authority for making clear that we have at minimum a communication gap to close immediately.