Podcast & Show Notes - Emergency Manager Clay Rives

Show Notes

Thu, 7/7 10:18AM • 17:27

SUMMARY KEYWORDS disaster, emergency managers, tools, hurricane, extreme weather events, communication, Louisiana, information, clay, informed decisions, people, area, event, affect, department, homeland security, risk, FEMA, weather, subject matter expert

[00:00:03] Drew Hawkins: This podcast is a production of a research project at Louisiana State University funded by the Louisiana Sea Grant called Communicating Climate Tools to Coastal Stakeholders or CCTCS. Researchers from the Department of Communication Studies the Manship School of Mass Communication, and the Department of Geography and Anthropology examined communication challenges during extreme weather events.

[00:00:34] Drew Hawkins: Louisiana has 64 parishes, and each parish has a dedicated Emergency Manager–someone working behind the scenes to make sure residents are ready for any and all types of extreme weather events. One of those Emergency Managers is Clay Rives, who works as a director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. We sat down with Clay to get a better understanding of the tools Emergency Managers use to help disseminate critical weather information to the general public.

[00:01:18] Drew Hawkins: All right, we are joined today by Mr. Clay Rives. How are you, Clay?

[00:01:22] Clay Rives: I'm doing well. Thank you.

[00:01:23] Drew Hawkins: Great. Do you mind just starting off real basic and simple. Give us your name, your title, and a little bit of your work history.

[00:01:30] Clay Rives: Okay, so Clay Rives and I'm the director of East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. And my background is really criminal justice, Homeland Security, emergency management. I moved from Shreveport to Baton Rouge and was an intern for 4 years from 1989 to ’94. When I graduated in criminal justice, I went to work for Louisiana Department of Justice and was a Criminal Investigator there until 2008. While I was working, I attended school and got my Master's in Public Administration. And then from 2008 to 2017, I worked for the state, for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness and UL Lafayette where I ran a Homeland Security Emergency Management Research Center, but I was contracted through GOHSEP to come back to work there during disasters. And then from 2017 to present, I've been a local office Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness director. So, we have 64 in the state. So, I'm one of the 64.

[00:02:41] Drew Hawkins: Gotcha. Would you mind maybe just generally describing to us what your understanding of weather and climate information is, real cursory description of that?

[00:02:51] Clay Rives: Yeah, so I would say better than an average person, but certainly nowhere near subject matter expert. I've taken some FEMA online courses. I attended a week-long training at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. But again, I say, just above average, I suspect.

[00:03:15] Drew Hawkins: Can you maybe talk us through some of the extreme weather events that you've encountered in your role and maybe talk about some of the lessons that you learned from those events?

[00:03:24] Clay Rives: Yeah, so my first professional experience was Y2K. I spent the night in an EOC state police and 20 plus years later, I'm still working in emergency management some capacity. Obviously, Y2K was a non-event. But you know, as a teenager, growing up in Shreveport, my neighborhood was affected by tornadoes. That's the first time I've ever seen something, you know, a type of disaster. It wasn't bad, but there was some things that were damaged. It actually went over into Bossier City where two people were actually killed when their wall fell on them, which was tragic. And so that was my first real world experience of seeing something. And then when I moved here to Baton Rouge to attend college, my first hurricane experience was in 1992, with Hurricane Andrew. And I worked every disaster affecting Louisiana since 2005. As well as in 2012, I assisted FEMA with Superstorm Sandy.

[00:04:32] Drew Hawkins: And what would you say in your role as Emergency Manager who's your primary audience when you're communicating information?

[00:04:39] Clay Rives: So, we have internal and external communication that I deal with. So internally, we respond to, you know, for rescue and response operation, externally is for those really those people in harm's way. And I rely heavily on NOAA, National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center, and local media. And, you know, it's all about making informed decisions. So having those subject matter experts relay that information to me where I can send that out either within the EOC to our emergency support function representatives, or to the public.

[00:05:20] Drew Hawkins: And from your perspective, what's your assessment of the public's general understanding of weather information?

[00:05:29] Clay Rives: Well, you know, it varies, obviously; I think a lot of it's based on experience. Folks that have experienced a disaster, many times are more proactive than reactive. And then, you know, there's always the issue of, and I've heard it numerous times, “Oh, it’s only going to be a category 1 hurricane, you know, I'm going to ride it out.” Well, you know, category 1hurricane sustained winds 74 to 95 miles per hour, you know, it can be very dangerous as well. So, complacency is always a concern. 

[00:06:10] Drew Hawkins: And what would you say are some of the more frequent communication challenges that you face, from your perspective in your position? And, you know, what sort of ways or what are some of the ways you mitigate or try to meet those challenges?

[00:06:26] Clay Rives: Yeah. So, you know, sometimes it's as basic as someone not understanding what a watch or a warning is. So, we try to put out as much information in different media formats as we can to educate people there on blue sky days. Again, fear of complacency is always something that I'm worried about. You know, we try to get as much information out there, so internally and externally, like I said, to make informed decisions. No-notice events are the hardest, you know, with the hurricane coming, although we've had hurricanes sneak up on us, you know, within 36 hours. I think it's the shortest I've experienced. But normally, we start tracking a hurricane in120 hours. We start doing things within our procedures. But no-notice events are extremely difficult to communicate. Because as you learn what's going on, people are, you know, in the disaster. So, you know, an example of that would be the great floods of 2016, where, you know, you ramp up the EOC as fast as you can, but you're already responding at the same time.

[00:07:33] Drew Hawkins: So, you know, when you think about relaying weather information as maybe a meteorologist, somebody with more publicly interfacing with the general public, right? They've got to skate this line between hyperbole and conveying the actual risk, and I'm interested, from your perspective, as an Emergency Manager, you know, is that a challenge? Is that a fine line that you feel like you have to walk? And if so, how do you do that?

[00:07:57] Clay Rives: Yeah, you know, I talk to local meteorologists, they get beat up all the time, you know, they're saying, you know, and really it's extremely difficult, because I'm not the subject matter expert, but I work with those who are very knowledgeable, and using all the tools, you know, that they need to use to understand what the risks are. So, we, in emergency management, work on risk, so for example, school closures, school closures are always difficult, because, you know, we look at wind speeds, we look at when the buses are going to be on the road, and we try to make the best decision we can based on the risk. Many times, you know, it doesn't affect an area, it affects an area within the parish, but may not affect certain schools.

[00:08:50] And a lot of times, you get a lot of second guessing, you know, that maybe you shouldn't have closed the schools. And normally we look at schools, and we close government, and we do things like that, based on, you know, all those variables. And, you know, we'll get a lot of calls saying, “Hey, you really dropped the ball on that one,” which again, falls into the place where, you know, you lose a little bit of, I guess, credibility to some degree, which, you know, all the jokes about the weatherman. But in the viewing area, someone was affected, and someone had that risk, and someone actually received, you know, some sort of threat. So, you know, you got to look at it at risk management's perspective.

[00:09:38] Drew Hawkins: Sure. And so, switching gears just a little bit to talk about some of the tools that you use, in your position. What would you say are the ones that you primarily use and why do you use them over maybe other tools that emergency managers use?

[00:09:53] Clay Rives: Well, obviously, you know, subject matter experts that you've been talking to and that we have as a resource, you know, looking at their knowledge of what may happen. But here in our emergency operations center, we look at, you know, we're watching radar, we're watching the river gauges. But I really think that historical data of past events really comes into play, where we look at our problem areas within our local jurisdictions and start preparing for possibilities of issues in those areas. Whether they're, viewing the staging barricades, or we're putting units out in the area, you know, we're doing all the proactive measures, following our procedures. And each time we have a disaster, we do an after-action review and make an after-action report called an AAR, and we look at those as well. So, we try to learn from those, and then we try to mitigate our issues from past disasters. But every disaster is different. Every incident, you know, is incident specific, based on what it is. So, you have an event, you might be a hurricane, but then you have incidents within that that event, whether it be a house fire, whether it be flooding in an area. So, you know, we have to prepare for all hazards. But yet, we're you know, we're tracking the event so.

[00:11:24] Drew Hawkins: And based on the survey that was conducted by LSU’s Department of Communication, some of the more common tools that they found that were used, were the Convective Outlook, Cone of Uncertainty, and Drought Monitor. Are these any–do you use any of these tools? And if so, can you maybe evaluate the quality from your perspective?

[00:11:43] Clay Rives: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, all the tools that and we're getting more and more every year, and they're getting better and better. If you look over, you know, even 10 years ago, you know, 15 years ago, we weren't nearly as good as we are today. And, you know, technology is getting better. And we're using that technology, yeah, all the tools that you reference we use. We also use HURREVAC, which wasn’t referenced, HURREVAC is a system that the National Weather Service, and the Corps of Engineers and FEMA have put together that allows Emergency Managers to look real time at all the information kind of in a common operating picture. So, we use that tool as well. And we can go back at past disasters and look at some of the effects. So, it's really a very informative tool that I use personally. As well as watching, you know, all the different media sources that we commonly use, as well.

[00:12:52] Drew Hawkins: Is there anything that you would do to maybe improve the communication of these tools to the general public?

[00:12:59] Clay Rives: Yeah, so you know, I mentioned informed decisions earlier, and I rely heavily on the federal government, you know, with the alerts and things, we do have capability at the local level, and the state level, for that matter, to send out alerts as well, real time alerts. And so, what I normally do, with some of the tools that I have, is more preparedness type messaging, you know, before something happens to how you can be prepared and send that to people who opt in, and on our social media, we put a lot of things like that. But during the event itself, you know, again, we rely heavily on our local media to tell the folks whether that'd be radio or television, you know, to give people as much up-to-date information as possible. And you know, have your weather radio and all the things that you need to be prepared. 

[00:14:05] And then really the bigger issue, a lot of things that triggers our response and how we do things, is the loss of power. And geographically where we're located when a storm comes through. And that's one of the things that affects us. And really, if you look at statistically, the threats and the risk are after a disaster, you know, whether that be someone coming out to try to clean your yard and getting injured or just health matters. We have a lot of folks that, you know, have heart issues after a disaster. And so, some of our main concerns are clearing roadways to our hospitals, making sure our emergency medical services can get to areas they need to get to for 911 calls. So, a lot of what we're doing during a disaster if it’s a hurricane, you know, we shelter in place when it's coming through and then we respond. So, you know, the information, the tools before the event is extremely important. So, people can either get out of harm's way or shelter in place, depending on what the threat may be, risks may be. And then we go from there, but it's so important for, you know, individuals to understand what's going on, again, so they can make informed decisions.

[00:15:35] Drew Hawkins: Gotcha. And Clay as we're getting kind of towards the end of this conversation here, I kind of want to give you the last word, is there anything that we hadn't talked about that you wish more people knew about as it relates to Emergency Managers and how extreme weather information is conveyed to the public?

[00:15:53] Clay Rives: So, you know, I've mentioned informed decision probably, you know, 15 times in our short conversation, but really, the tougher part of disasters is not necessarily before or during the disaster, it's after the recovering and the mitigation piece because they take so long, I mean, if you look at the historical events that's happened in Louisiana from Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, Laura, Delta, you know, Hurricane Ida, Great Flood of 2016, you know, it affects the whole state in some way. Emergency Managers are being more and more proactive in getting communication out to folks trying to educate as much as possible, even ourselves, continuing education is extremely important. And all the tools we talked about, you know, are improving, and hopefully one day they'll be to a point where, you know, we'll have the system in place. It's pretty solid now, but it'll never be flawless, but we'll get better and better from experience.

[00:17:09] Drew Hawkins: Well, Clay, thanks for sitting down with us and talking with us today.

[00:17:12] Clay Rives: All right. Thank you for having me.




Clay Rives