By Leon Roberts
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Local, state and federal partners kicked off Silver Jackets today at the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Headquarters. Tennessee officially becomes the 40th state to join the program that provides a formal, consistent and unified approach to planning and implementing measures to reduce the risks associated with flooding and other natural hazards.
Silver Jackets programs are developed at the state level, but the collaboration with local, state and federal agencies facilitates flood risk reduction, coordinates programs, promotes cohesive solutions, synchronizes plans and policies, and ultimately provides integrated solutions.
Jim Bassham, TEMA director, opened up the state's first Silver Jackets meeting with a brief overview of TEMA operations and explained how the Tennessee State Emergency Operations Center is organized under FEMA's National Incident Management System structure with emergency support functions.
Lt. Col. John L. Hudson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander, then shared his excitement that Tennessee is now part of the Silver Jackets team because the program makes it possible for multiple federal, state and local government agencies to share in the responsibility of flood risk management with the state.
"I'm excited about this morning's meeting as we identify how we can better leverage information and resources to reduce flood risk here in Tennessee," Hudson said. "It is critical that we work together pooling our resources and funds to buy down flood risk in the region."
Participants in the room and via an online webinar received an extensive program overview, which included an explanation of the origin of the program name, Silver Jackets.
Nashville District officials said that traditionally, different agencies wear different colored shirts or jackets when responding to emergencies. FEMA personnel wear blue while Corps members wear red. The name Silver Jackets is used to underscore the common mission of diverse agencies involved, figuratively wearing silver jackets, indicating a commonality of purpose.
Russ Rote, Nashville District Project Planning Branch chief, said that Silver Jackets is a national program created in the early 2000s in the wake of several emergency responses including Hurricane Katrina.
"So the idea was born to better communicate internally to look at the various programs that we (the Corps of Engineers) had and refocus those programs on flood risk management," Rote said. "We also decided that it's probably a good idea for various agencies to meet more often than the event (follow-on response and recovery activities)."
The Silver Jackets meeting at TEMA included briefings on the 2011 lower Mississippi River flood response by Donald Davenport of the Memphis District, the Metro Nashville's Situational Awareness for Flooding Events (SAFE) Tool by Roger Lindsey of Metro Water Services Storm Water Division, inundation mapping of the Cumberland River by Barry Moran of the Nashville District, and an update on a pilot project in Chattanooga by Tom Herbert and Stephen Stello of the Nashville District.
Josh Wickham, hazard mitigation planner for TEMA, also highlighted key elements of the state's preparedness, which are prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery. He focused on mitigation and recovery because these two areas align closely with the primary goals of Silver Jackets.
Following the meeting, Wickham said the importance of Tennessee getting involved in Silver Jackets is it brings a lot of groups and technical experts to the table, which is huge for the state's preparedness. He said the coordination between agencies that the new program provides will help with products such as mapping based on forecasts and rain gauge estimates, and fills a gap in emergency response and management.
"What makes emergency management work is the collaboration that we have with different entities," Wickham said. "So the bigger we can make that net the better it's going to be. And I think this will help us work with groups that we haven't worked with as much in the past. I think it's going to foster some good relationships and I look forward to those outcomes."
Team focal areas vary, as state priorities vary. The intent is not to duplicate existing teams, but to supplement and strengthen current efforts, and establish collaborative relationships where they do not yet exist.
The participants in the Silver Jackets kick off represented TEMA, Metro Nashville, Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency, Memphis and Shelby County EMA, Knoxville EMA, Tennessee Wildlife and Resources Agency, City of Chattanooga, Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation, Tennessee Department of Transportation, Tennessee Economic and Community Development, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville and Memphis Districts, Tennessee Valley Authority, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.