No one wants a large-scale disaster. But the truth of the matter is, they do happen—and when one occurs, public safety and security is paramount.
Ensuring safety and security when people are emotionally, physically, and mentally overwhelmed during disaster is not achieved by simply completing tasks on a checklist. It is a delicate combination of preparation and readiness, real-life expertise, employment of lessons learned, an innate desire to be “boots on the ground” regardless of the terrain, and a solid commitment to caring about people.
For the last eight years, Aveshka has grown a team of dedicated personnel that exemplifies all of those characteristics. Aveshka provides invaluable support to the Emergency Support Function #13 (ESF) federal personnel to help fulfill public safety and security demands of the American people during times of disaster.
ESF #13 is coordinated by the Department of Justice / Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and is deployed to support other federal agencies requiring protection and state and local law enforcement when they are overwhelmed and/or cannot perform their normal duties.
Over the years, Aveshka’s ESF #13 team members have deployed to the scene of many disasters including hurricanes, typhoons, floods, earthquakes, and now, COVID-19.
WHO ARE AVESHKA ESF #13 PERSONNEL?
The vast majority of Aveshka ESF #13 personnel are career law enforcement or emergency management Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) with 20-40 years of experience. They are a group of men and women who have the proverbial, “been there, done that” T-shirt. These dedicated individuals work seamlessly alongside their federal employers in the day-to-day grind of planning and preparing for the worst-case scenario and executing those plans when it happens.
(The aftermath after one of the many hurricane disasters in 2017
Photo Credit: Aveshka)
Alongside their ESF #13 federal counterparts, Aveshka team members face numerous hardships during these deployments which can last approximately 30 days, sometimes longer. They may sleep in the back seat of vehicles, on the ground, on cots in a tent, or in a mobile bunkhouse. Their normal workday during deployment averages 12 hours but frequently during the early stages of a response that day can easily extend to 24+ hours. As for sustenance? Bottled water and Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) are a treat and the word on the street is, the beef ravioli in meat sauce is not too bad.
Despite the inconveniences the ESF #13/Aveshka team endures, it pales to the hardship and devastation experienced by the victims of the disasters. Helping victims and bringing order to the post-incident chaos is the challenge these men and women prepare for on a daily basis and live to take on when disaster strikes.
NAVIGATING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The ESF #13/Aveshka response to the novel Coronavirus was exactly that–novel. The COVID-19 pandemic was unique and presented challenges in areas where America’s first responders had little or no experience. The most significant impact was the unknown nature of this new enemy.
Aveshka ESF #13 Plans and Situation Awareness Officer, Paul Allen stated, “Initial deployments for COVID-19 was like navigating through a minefield. There were so many unknowns at the time, our main focus was to not get hit. For example, ‘How did COVID-19 pass from person to person? Exactly how deadly is it? Who are the vulnerable? What protective equipment is needed, and is it even effective?’”
“As ESF #13 support, we were operating on an unknown terrain–facing an extremely complex invisible threat made it extremely difficult to ensure the public’s health and safety, yet alone our own,” said Bob Gerber, Aveshka Region IX Field Coordinator supporting ESF #13. “We looked to medical and health professionals on-site. Additionally, at Aveshka, we are fortunate to be connected to a swath of public health professionals that could shed insight into proper use of PPE and hygiene.”
As retired law enforcement from various states, Aveshka ESF #13 personnel have the added benefit of contacts with numerous state and local law enforcement officials to promptly gain situational awareness. This enables ESF #13 to efficiently troubleshoot and mitigate issues that have surfaced during the COVID-19 response.
COVID-19 RESPONSE ACTIVITIES
Since March 2020, the ESF #13/Aveshka team reported to six separate locations to support the COVID-19 response without hesitation, leaving their families for prolonged periods. They faced a serious health risk as they frequently came in close contact with suspected infected individuals and worked side-by-side with medical professionals that were providing care and comfort to affected citizens.
Gerber served one of the first deployments and reported to Travis Air Force Base (AFB) where a mandated quarantine was in effect for over 1,000 passengers exposed to COVID-19 aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship. For approximately one month, Gerber provided support to Federal Law Enforcement Officers who enforced the federal quarantine on the passengers. After Travis AFB, Gerber reported to FEMA’s Regional Response Coordination Center (RRCC) in Oakland, California to represent ESF #13 at FEMA’s request to support a public safety and security task force.
To date, the team has been able to accomplish their missions and thankfully, have returned home without any infections.
“We learned to be self-sustaining in terms of PPE and how to closely adhere to strict parameters for adequate social distancing, ensure physical welfare on a daily basis, and monitor our own health. We applied all lessons learned on the fly,” said Gerber.
With an all-hazards approach, lessons learned, and in coordination with Aveshka public health SMEs, ESF #13 is currently undergoing preparation and response plans for hurricane season in a COVID-19 environment.
“FEMA has requested advice and counsel from ESF #13 as they prepare plans to respond to other types of disaster in a COVID-19 environment. It pays dividends to gain the advantage and prepare response activities for something like the inevitable upcoming hurricane season while COVID-19 is still a major threat,” said Gerber.
COVID-19 is living proof that the playing field never has optimal conditions, therefore complacency is not an option for Aveshka and the ESF #13 team. The Aveshka ESF #13 support team remains resolute in their commitment to public safety and security and stands ready to respond and assist America and its citizens whenever or wherever needed.
(Bob Gerber supporting the quarantine unit at Travis AFB
Photo Credit: Aveshka)
By: Carissa Nee, Director of Communications & Marketing
Contributor: Paul Allen, Aveshka ESF #13 Plans and Situation Awareness Officer