A few weeks ago, News 3 sent out surveys to two dozen key figures in the Emergency Operations Center during the hurricane season. We got back the anonymous responses of roughly half, whose candid comments give us a clue as to what things were like during those busy few weeks.
We asked that they grade a few different aspects of their day-to-day goings-on on a scale of 1 to 10, and also provide comments to go along with those grades.
For any organization, internal communication is essential. The comments from EOC members speak of constant miscommunication, and some members being left in the dark when it came to actions. Respondents graded communication in the EOC as a 4.7 out of 10 for the Katrina effort, but said things got slightly better for Rita, graded at a 5.5. One person wrote: "There was a learning curve as the incident progressed. Communication can always be better, but was effective to accomplish the mission of sheltering a feeding."
More evacuees arrived in the area for Hurricane Rita, and with more shelters opened as a result, communication to them declined according to those who responded to the survey. Shelter communication for Katrina received a 5.6 grade out of 10, but dropped nearly half a point for Rita. One person with a positive comment wrote, "I'm sure the shelters wish there was more communication, but that's always going to be the case. From what I witnessed, whenever a request was made, it was handled promptly."
Community knowledge of what was happening during the events also seemed to improve in the eyes of those working the situation, although neither hurricane got a sparkling grade. Katrina garnered a 5.3 rating, but jumped to 5.9 a few weeks later for Rita. Wrote one official, "We did not organize our Donation Center quickly enough. Therefore, the community started its response. And then, everyone was collecting donations." This respondent also said donations were collected for too long, and with no distribution plan.
The focus shifts to internal matters of the EOC, where organization did not appear to be as good as it should have been. Our respondents graded the organization in Katrina at a 3.9, but said it improved to a 4.9 out of 10 for Rita. One person wrote, "Our agency was tasked by anyone and everyone -- by shelters directly, the donations center, other agencies, etc. -- and being approached by evacuees in need directly. No task ever came directly from the EOC."
Leadership also did not appear to be at a premium. The lowest grade for anything asked in our survey went to leadership in Katrina, which achieved just a 3 out of 10 from respondents. This question also garnered the largest change from one storm response to another, with the Rita grade going up nearly a point and a half. But obviously, neither grade was high. Wrote one official: "Emergency Management Coordinators did not keep elected officials briefed on developments in a timely manner, and made decisions without consulting these key decision makers."
Finally, overall performance was also scored near the middle of our scale. Katrina's response from the EOC came in at 4.9, with Rita's score at 5.6. Two comments to show you here. "Chaos prevailed in the EOC," wrote one person. "Different people often performed the same task unaware of what each other was doing." Another responded, "You will hear many comments that things did not go right. It was noisy -- welcome to EOC management. You do the best you can with the resources you have, or more importantly, don't have."