A few months have passed since Typhoon Mawar, a Category 4 typhoon, paid Guam a disastrous visit. The last time such a visitor came through and wreaked the same damage was 20 plus years ago.
In the aftermath of Mawar, the opinion of some residents described the overall response and recovery, especially from the local government, as lacking and deficient.
Whatever your verdict is on how well or how badly the response and recovery was executed should now be reserved for the next event(s). The reason is that we have been offered, perhaps blessed, with both hindsight and foresight from this experience. It now provides us with a baseline and an opportunity to improve.
Hopefully those types of events never visit upon us. But should they do, we need to learn from the Mawar experience. By using our hind- and foresight, we can best improve and position our systems to respond better and recover quicker.
There is a saying that the hardest lessons we learn are forgotten the easiest. With the logistics difficulties that our geographic and insular location bestow on us, we cannot afford to relearn any of those lessons.
With the benefit of experience and the hindsight mentioned earlier, I offer my recommendations to assist us to be better prepared, respond and recover quicker, and become more durable, even if we do forget again.
Here are some facts that inform and influence any public verdict and my overall recommendations:
- By the grace of God, no fatalities were caused directly by the event.
- A major water outage occurred island wide immediately after the storm passed. For some, this outage lasted several days and even weeks.
- A major power outage occurred island wide during and immediately after the storm passed. For some, this outage lasted several days and even weeks.
- A major telecommunications (cell, internet, radio, and landline) outage occurred island wide during and immediately after the storm passed. For some, this outage lasted several days and even weeks.
- A major fuel distribution system failure occurred island wide after the storm passed. This caused panic and rushing to local gas stations for fuel. This lasted several days.
- Some critical parts required for traffic safety and control were not readily available.
These are but some of the incidents, nevertheless they were the ones that most affected the island and its residents.
What follows are recommendations that, in my professional opinion and experience, need to be seriously considered and implemented to reduce our response and recovery timelines for a typhoon. With some applicable modifications, they can be used for any all-hazards event, either natural (earthquake, tsunami, etc.) or man-made (terrorist attack, cyber-attack, etc.).
These need to be employed so that our preparation for and subsequent recovery from those types of hazards and disasters provides a level of comfort that residents deserve with respect to their safety, security, and health and the security of our nation.
Primarily, this comfort level requires standards to be agreed upon and enforced with respect to a recovery timeline. This standard is flexible and needs to be, first and foremost, adjusted based on the security, safety, and health of the island’s residents.
Secondly, it needs to be coordinated and integrated with the security of our nation and our close-in regional neighbors such as the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) and the Freely Associated States (FAS). Until we no longer have Great Power Competition (GPC) and the threat of hostilities between nation states, this issue needs to be addressed, coordinated, and agreed upon.
The bottom line for recovery from any disaster is that people just want and deserve to return to normal life as quickly as possible. This is the main goal in implementing such standards.
I recommend the following general standards for those functions essential to our daily life and economy:
- Water: no major outages. If there is one, less than two days to recover and get the entire system back online.
- Power: no major outages. If there is one, less than five days to recover and get the entire system back online.
- Transportation (roads, air- and seaports): no major outages. If there is one, less than two days to recover and get the entire system back online.
- Emergency Services (Medical, Fire, Rescue): no major outages. If there is one, no less than a day to recover and get the entire system back online.
- Telecommunications (land mobile radio, cell, land line): no major outages. If there is one, less than two days to recover and get the entire system back online.
Here are the major recommendations to assist and enable in meeting or, better yet, exceeding those standards:
- Replace the present Condition of Readiness (COR) system with a time-based Warning System. Utilize COR instead as a Readiness Posture tool: attainmentbased preparedness versus time-based warning. Apply and utilize these systems to ensure proper transition between Crisis Management and Consequence Management.
- Review, revise, and renovate/innovate disaster and emergency response and recovery policies, procedures, and techniques. Utilize new and emerging technology for these updates. Exercise these at least annually at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels to refresh and train key personnel and systems at those levels. Consider implementing legislation to enforce this.
- Harden our critical systems. Focus on removing or improving single points of failure in those systems. Consider implementing legislation to enforce this. The acronym for these priority systems is WEST3-MASO:
- Safety and Emergency Services
- Transportation (roads and ports)
- Other: Fuel, Tourists, Recreation, etc.
Finally, the organizational structure, operations, and policies that govern the Guam Homeland Security (GHS) organization (which includes the Office of Civil Defense) need to be reviewed and, if necessary, revised to adapt it to be more proficient and adept in managing all-hazards events. As the lead agency in disaster response and recovery, GHS/OCD needs to be supported through a concerted team effort from all government agencies, local and federal, and business and civic partners.
At the very least, ensure that the head of that organization not only reports to the governor during emergencies and disasters but also to the island’s residents. Consider making the Homeland Security Advisor (HSA) an elected position (much like the Public Auditor) or, if appointed, confirmed by the legislature. Finally, the position should require professional credentials and experience in Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
I will provide further discussion and details on the recommendations outlined in this first part in the next two parts.
George L. Charfauros Jr. is a former Homeland Security Advisor to Governor Eddie Calvo. He retired as a Colonel from the US Army and served as the Director of Operations for the Guam National Guard for several years. During his career in the Guard, he responded to several major local disasters: Typhoons Paka, Chataan, and Pongsona, the KAL 801 crash, and the island’s security response to the 9/11 attacks.