Tuesday, December 19, 2017

“Good Morning”: Some of my Hurricane Irma & Maria recovery musings (Virgin Islands NP)

Reef Bay

Good Morning (Afternoon, Evening, or Night- whenever you’re reading this)!
I spent most of the month of November away from home (11/1-29) on Hurricane recovery assignment- St. John Island, U.S. Virgin Islands (Virgin Islands National Park). It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience (really!). The Islands had experienced two Category 5 Hurricanes within 2-weeks, leaving them in many cases without adequate water, food, shelter, fuel, electricity, etc. The residents maintained their incredible positive nature through continued greetings of “Good Morning” (or whatever the appropriate time or “Good Day” would be). The people are what made the sojourn fantastic. I’d like to share a few of my experiences there with the phenomenal people and places of St. John. First however, I’d like you to please read this as a preface: https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/2017/12/hurricanes-recovery-and-resiliency-caribbeans-national-parks

“The Good”… (and there was plenty of that)
An amazing amount of recovery work was accomplished during my brief stay on St. John. BBC Electric (from Missouri) seemed busy day & night bringing electrical power back to sections of the 4 x 8-mile island. The NPS Incident Management Team (IMT) I was the Safety Officer for was a composite IMT (personnel were from all across the country- Puerto Rico & V.I. to Alaska). Of course we weren’t alone in our recovery efforts:  Global NGO D.I.R.T (Disaster Immediate Response Team) was present, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), US Coast Guard, Army Corp of Engineers, Bloomberg L.P., Kenny Chesney’s Love For Love City Foundation, The American Red Cross, The Small Business Administration, and many, MANY others. More about these organizations, and how to donate, is addressed below.
Our IMT Vets working 11-11-17
It is oft noted that there is no “I” in “team”. In this case there were a lot of I’s (and “eyes”) with this IM Team. To say folks were proactive in helping us all achieve our incident objectives (#1 being safety) would be a gross understatement. The daily efforts of the NPS IMT centered around the areas of facility stabilization (roof, building  & electrical repairs, mold mitigations & removal), roads & beaches (debris removal & emergency repairs for access/use), marine operations (replacing & repositioning navigational, commercial and public buoys; removing terrestrial debris, like house roofs, from park waters & reefs), displaced vessels (close to 100 of those damaged were in park waters, many on sensitive reefs), cultural & natural resource assessments and emergency stabilization (hundreds of sites, historic structures & artifacts), and facility operations, trying to get the park back to a semblance of normal activity.
Displaced boats 
Many of the park’s staff had been displaced too: some from their homes, others from their jobs and positions. Some found temporary or permanent reassignments at other NPS locations (more about that under “The Bad”). Remaining employees included 22 that needed daily assistance from the Red Cross to provide food for their family. Many employees returned to work, and they were some of the many “good things” I experienced while there. Regional NPS management also designated our IMT Liaison Officer as the “Acting Superintendent.” He was from the RO in Atlanta and a good choice!
Hawksnest Beach pile
A great amount of effort was expended opening roads, trails & beaches. We heard that 90% of the local economy was beach driven: so as the beaches are, so shall businesses be. The Westin Resort was shut down due to storm damages, and expected to be closed for six-months. The world famous Caneel Resort (developed by the Rockefeller family: they were “players” in creating this park too), is “a total loss”. Situated on an isthmus of white sandy beaches it attracted visitors from afar. The property abutted Honeymoon Beach (which also brought young & older lovers alike). 
Los Diablos (Big Bend NP)
During my 28-day tenure we opened three beaches (Honeymoon, Hawksnest, and Trunk Bay) and got another (Cinnamon Bay) ready to open (strategic timing). GRTE Trail Crew members were also working on safety features at prime heritage areas, foremost Annaberg Mill.
“The Bad” (not so much: "we-be-bad" = good, right?)
Storm destruction and devastation, certainly: the east end of St. John has a community at Coral Bay where a wind gauge reportedly broke at over 225 miles per hour (hit by one of more than 25 tornadoes within the storm). Lives and dreams were shattered and ripped apart. A place where mariners normally went to shelter from the “Big Winds”, called “Hurricane Hole”, became a graveyard of sunken memories.
In addition to the storms, there were also some actions by a couple of NPS employees that were less than stellar. The positive ones overwhelmingly outweigh the bad behaviors. So, let us remember those.
There was a long list of hazards and potential health & safety issues that faced everyone. We really couldn’t fit in all of the mitigations into a one-page risk analysis (215a form), so developed a packet of safety information that was handed to arriving resources at check-in. Information about Zika and other blood borne diseases was also sent out to potential responders by the Emergency Incident Coordination Center. Unfortunately, that happened after some of us arrived, but as the old adage goes: “better late, than never…”

Back to “The Good” (or even “The Great”)
An enormous amount of trees and vegetative debris needed to be cut and removed from homes, roads, trails, and beaches. The NPS’ Arrowhead Interagency Hotshot Crew (Sequoia Kings Canyon NP or SEKI as the park’s 4-letter designator goes) was first on scene at VIIS, followed by Los Diablos (Big Bend NP), and a Type 2 Initial Attack (IA) fire crew from Puerto Rico that had five fire-rolls out west this year (one was 48 days). You can literally say of them: have saws, will travel. Superb works performed by these crews: cutting & stacking, then removing and opening areas. Hundreds of cubic yards of vegetation were treated (and tons of materials), including the Manchineel tree (aka “death apple”) considered the deadliest tree in the world. FEMA actually contacted us, asking for safety briefing materials on this. Trails crews from SEKI and Grand Teton NP (GRTE) also helped open access to sites and beaches. Some amazing crafts-person-ship was performed.

The Lind Point housing area and other residences and structures became projects for facility crews and specialists from Great Smoky Mountains (GRSM), Gettysburg (GETT), and Yellowstone (YELL)… to name a few. They worked to provide emergency roof repairs, applying Tough Coat treatments, mold mitigations & removal, and repairs to electrical & water systems: starting the long road back to inhabitability.

Our Special Marine Operations Group (SMOG) was assisted by the presence of Marine Vessel (MV) Fort Jefferson. It is the 2nd largest MV in the NPS fleet. Normally making runs from Key West, FL to Dry Tortugas NP, it was a valuable resource for our hurricanes recovery efforts in the Caribbean. They brought 22-tons of relief equipment and supplies to Puerto Rico (PR), and made regular runs between PR and the V.I. (imagine our surprise when 2-months later we received a bill from the authorities in PR for $37k, in docking fees: no joke). The Ft. Jeff was an integral part of our relief efforts. Its support of the diving operations was also significant.
Ed Henson (IT) & JD Swed (Deputy IC)
at Honeymoon Beach stairs
IT Specialists from Lake Mead (LAME) helped restore WiFi systems for the IMT and the public to communicate with. They also brought the Virgin Island NP telephone system back to usable status.

Archeology Lab-Heritage Educ. Ctr.
(Remains- Cinnamon Bay)
The CRM Specialists made great progress assessing damages to our heritage resources and developed stabilization plans. The park lost the oldest structure from wind and storm surge: it had served as the Archeology Laboratory & Heritage Education Center, located at Cinnamon Bay beach. Annaberg Plantation and Mill was also the site of stabilization efforts in order to get the area back safely accessible to the public. Some of CRM's many efforts were documented at: https://www.facebook.com/virginislandsNPS/videos/2000968853265554/ and https://www.facebook.com/virginislandsNPS/videos/2008947435801029/
Whatever I say about BBC electric, it won’t be enough. Their crews kept working on the restoration of electrical power day-after-day. Their deployment schedules long exceeded ours (like the Army Corp: 45-90 days at a time). When it was noticed that the parks radio system (which had not been operational for two years) HQ antenna was dangling by a cable, a Liaison Officer contacted them and they not only mitigated a very dangerous safety issue at a public entrance, but they came back and hoisted our Communications Unit Leader up to make longer-term repairs (way-to-go BBC!). When I asked a BBC crew one day at Trunk Bay what their most unexpected hazard was they stated: “the steepness of the terrain… and the many centipedes and scorpions.” I felt like I hadn’t left home. Good works everyone…
The hospitality and support provided by V-Islanders “blew my mind”. Truly warm & welcoming. Local markets donated fifty turkeys for a community Thanksgiving potluck in St. John’s Cruz Bay public-park. The challenge was finding 50 ovens, but they pulled it off and good times were delicious and plentiful. Most Sunday evenings found local musicians playing in the same space: magic times. Yes, I did leave a couple of Divine Dog Wisdom card decks behind…

JD Swed photo
NOTE: I didn’t use individual’s names because there were so many to acknowledge. I didn’t want to forget anyone (my bad), but one individual I need to mention is JD Swed. Not just because we go back 40-years (and times in between), but because he reached out and checked on my availability to be part of this incredible IMT that was put together (much like in prep for Katrina), In addition, his tireless efforts for 60+ days as Operations Section Chief (OSC), then Deputy Incident Commander and back again to OSC across 3 IMT’s was amazing, and certainly worthy of a “Safety Dude Doo Dah Award” (the check and award are in the mail amigo). I also didn’t include an “Ugly” category, reserving that for me: remembering my nickname from Frosh year of college (Glendale CC): “Big Ugly” or “Ug” for short.  

Grand Teton Trail Crew
About organizations and where you can donate (if you wish):

Global D.I.R.T- http://globaldirt.org

Friends of Virgin Islands NP- https://www.friendsvinp.org

Employees & Alumni Association of the National Park Service- www.eandaa.org  to donate, select  “Disaster Relief Fund” bar.

My heart remains with ALL of the employees of Virgin Islands NP & the residents of St. John Island. HAPPY HOLI-days! Safety Dude will never forget y’all…
Trunk Bay beach
Intermountain Region IMT in Dec.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Only the Brave: The Movie - My View

Last Saturday, Meme & I viewed the movie “Only the Brave” (Brave) about the Granite Mountain IHC (Interagency Hotshot Crew). I’m glad we did, as it was better than I expected it to be. Months before, after seeing the trailer (coming attractions) I remember saying I wouldn’t want to see it, as my experience with films about wildland firefighters ranged from disappointing to hokey. However, during the course of 2017’s very long fire season I moderated my expectations of the film. I discussed the movie’s potential with folks, including a line medic from Prescott, AZ while we were on fire assignment in western Montana. As it turned out, the trailer didn't really do Brave justice. It was an entertaining film, but don’t go thinking it is a fact-filled documentary. As the beginning disclaimer states: it is “based on actual events.” There are “fudge factors” used; I’m sure to make it more entertaining to the general public.

Tres Lagunas fire 2013 with Smokey Bear HS
Less than 48-hours after seeing Brave, I was asked by my physical therapist what I thought of “The movie” (her words). Her husband is a firefighter/paramedic with a local department and they’d gone the night before. I told her that we liked it, along with some factual observations:
·        Yours truly (“Safety Dude”) worked three fires (that I know of) with the crew that became the Granite Mountain IHC (GMIHC).

Los Padres HS at Cave Creek Complex
o   1) The Cave Creek Complex in 2005 was the first (Tonto National Forest, north of Phoenix). This might have been the incident that prompted Prescott fire leaders towards getting their crew IHC certification. I’m not sure, but it was a long 6-year effort. The film correctly portrayed the loss of some structures due to the Cave Creek Complex fire, but certainly not in what you’d think as downtown Cave Creek, AZ or even its fringes. 
      The fuels involved were also not timber as depicted, but primarily Sonoran Desert. The movie also made it seem that by this time they’d been waiting for IHC certification. Not so. Anyway, those are the types of facts that often get changed for story-line flow. No complaints or worries from me, as folks like a good tale (as an undergraduate history major and Park Ranger interpreter I learned what sheer facts could do to interest levels).     

o   2nd was the Horseshoe 2 fire, which was in the Chiricahua Mountains (southeast Arizona), in June of 2011 (about a month after my return from working in Jordan at Petra). Brave shows them being evaluated for IHC status, and it might have been the case. I spent most of my time & efforts near/around Chiricahua National Monument. What seemed could’ve ringed true was Marsh’s “’Tude” (attitude) with the evaluator. I hardly knew him, but fire personnel closer to him have told me that he could be… well, quite stubborn (and “that hits close to home”).
Doce fire from Prescott, AZ
o   3rd  the GMIHC and many others worked the Doce fire (Prescott, AZ) in mid-June 2013. I was with the Structural Protection Group on the northeast flank of the fire, while they were assigned on the other side of the incident (close to point-of-origin). I recall talking to some of the crewmembers after briefing & Division/Group breakouts re: some of the structural protection efforts. After a few days I was re-assigned to the Silver fire, on the Gila National Forest is southwest New Mexico. This was one week before Yarnell Hill.

To this day, I remember where I was, and my reaction upon hearing that 19 of 20 GMIHC had been lost that June afternoon. I immediately went into denial: “No it can’t be… we don’t lose crews” I told myself.  I knew wildland firefighting was a very dangerous business: I’d been a Safety Officer for 25-years and a Type I for 20-fire seasons. I also knew we’d lost too many people over those decades. However, what was really perplexing to me was losing an entire crew. That hadn’t happened since the early 1930’s, the Griffith Park fire next to my hometown (Burbank, CA). Hadn’t we come a long ways since then? Wasn’t our technology and safety training far superior? As it turned out the human factors hadn’t: after decades we still saw (and see to the present) that simple required principles like L-C-E-S (Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, Safety Zones) are abandoned and we sometimes leave risk assessment & management behind, allowing the holes in the Swiss cheese of disaster to align.

GMIHC was the first, and as far as I know only municipal department crew to attain IHC status from NWCG (National Wildfire Coordinating Group). Hope they won’t be the last.
If there is one thing we should take away from this incident & tragedy, it should be that risk management must be a continuous and ongoing process. We’ve learned that lesson too many times to keep repeating it. In addition, nobody’s property & possessions are worth a human life. If you choose to live in the “woods” or wildland-urban interface you live with that risk. You need to be fire-wise in materials used and create “defensible space” -  don’t be negligent and count on others to save your stuff.

I certainly enjoyed the many scenes that were filmed around Santa Fe and the Galisteo Basin. Plus, they mentioned the strong financial incentive by city managers to have the crew certified as an IHC: that was really a non-factor at Yarnell Hill though. The Wall Street Journal review I saw liked the movie too, but felt it could have done more to explain line tactics: I think that might have put afternoon & evening viewers into doze mode. As I often remind myself, and others (especially professionals), these are meant to tell a story and be entertaining for a couple of hours. I think Brave hit-that-mark for me. If you go to see it, I hope you enjoy…
Massai Point - Horseshoe 2 fire 2011

Sunday, July 30, 2017

upon reading Legacy of the YOSEMITE MAFIA

This past Spring, with great anticipation, I read the Legacy of the YOSEMITE MAFIA – The Ranger Image and Noble Cause Corruption in the National Park Service by Paul D. Berkowitz with Foreword by J.T. Reynolds  (published by Trine Day LLC, 2017).  I’ve known the author for over 30-years, and know of his capacity for research and scholarship pertaining to law enforcement issues related to the National Park Service (NPS). I also have great respect for J.T. Reynolds, who wrote the foreword.  
I remember when the FBI’s Resident Agent-in-Charge of the Santa Fe Office told me when he worked at the Flagstaff Office that Berkowitz had convinced him (and the FBI) to pursue the Robert Spangler investigation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Spangler ) regarding a homicide at Grand Canyon. It became a semi-famous case amongst investigators ("A Grand Canyon Divorce"). After reading Paul’s The Case of the Indian Trader, which was very well documented and presented, I was expecting an in-depth & well-rounded coverage of the entire “Legacy” that came out of Yosemite. Which was, in my view, extremely positive. However, this work centers on further expounding the shortcomings of Yosemite National Park’s  (YOSE) Law Enforcement Office during and around the mid-1980’s, a decade after what I perceived to be the primary Yosemite Mafia’s tenure. However, that is just my perspective.
Stoneman Meadows riot (04 July 1970)
One of the reasons I was hoping for an all encompassing treatment of the subject: my career was spent in-the-wake of some of the NPS’ leaders and Rangers associated with that nickname: “Yosemite Mafia.” To me it meant the elite cadre of Park Rangers that came to work in Yosemite after the Stoneman Meadows riots (4th of July 1970): Jim Brady, Dan Sholly, Tim Setnicka, Roger Rudolph, Jack Morehead, Walt Dabney Mike Finley, Rick Smith & Butch Farabee being the core of the Corp. I know exactly where I was that Saturday (04 July 70): this recently discharged Vietnam Veteran was working as a Lineman for Pacific Bell Telephone and camped for the weekend nearby in a tent site, with several friends. I actually watched the “riots” begin from above, perched at Glacier Point at the beginning of the evening. The incident is sometimes referred to as the “Hippie” riots, but as an observer with a historian & anthropologist’s eye I don’t think that term captured or accurately described the diversity of young people present. I know there were many high school and college students, young professionals, and at least one musician with a gold record in his portfolio (Lee Freeman, from the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and my compadre & “roomie” at the time).
John E. Cook, self & USPP Capt. Jim Radney
Years later I recall Southwest Regional Director John E. Cook telling me that I’d never be part of that circle (Yosemite Mafia). I knew that, even before hearing it: due to time, place, experiences and worldviews. My career had included some brief  “seasonal” stints at large National Park areas (Death Valley & Denali), but mostly I’d worked at smaller and medium sized parks (Little Bighorn, Tonto, Jean Lafitte, Fort Laramie, & Santa Monica Mountains). Areas like these make up the vast majority of the 400+ NPS units. Many of us that worked at these type of NPS areas looked up to many of the “Yosemite Mafia” cadre: counting some as friends, including a mentor. However, change does not usually come easy – especially to a bureaucracy mandated and dedicated to conserving things. Talk about heritage…
Paul Berkowitz
Anyway, I digress: back to Berkowitz’ book: In the mid-80’s there was a major undercover operation investigating drug distribution and use. Paul chronicles some law enforcement and employee issues that took place during that timeframe. As noted above, when I think “Yosemite Mafia” I default to early & mid-1970’s (a decade before the investigation being chronicled in this book). There were certainly some Renaissance-like Rangers working in YOSE during both those decades (and now).  The individuals that I knew affiliated with the title group were top-notch. Some were certainly leaders in “resource protection” with a great love of parks & open spaces. Paul Berkowitz professes his love for parks as well, and I believe that is necessary to pull yourself through a 30-plus year career. From my perspective, both of us also shared our admiration for parks and the absolute need for integrity in what we did as representatives of the NPS. Paul was an outstanding investigator that put his best efforts into his work. Remembering back to when I first met him I recall thinking “he sees a lot of black & white, while I’m overwhelmed with ‘green & gray’” (the color of our uniform shirt).
Half Dome
I first met Paul in 1985, and almost immediately heard he had was a serious Ranger working to professionalize law enforcement in the NPS. He had his critics, including some that were close to me personally & professionally, but I didn’t pay much attention to the NPS grapevine about him over the next decade. I was usually trying to learn new positions and skills as a District Ranger at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (plus park’s L.E. Specialist & Fire Management Officer as collateral duties [as if I didn’t have enough to do]), the Southwest Region Ranger Activities Specialist, or Regional Special Agent with the ARPA Task Force.  
Nixon Birthplace
When Paul mentions investigator positions at YOSE being eliminated (page 185), including his, I flashed back to a time when I was the designated driver for the park superintendent (Santa Monica Mountains) and Director William Penn Mott: we were going to visit Richard M. Nixon’s birthplace & boyhood home  (Yorba Linda, CA- now the site of Nixon’s Presidential Library).  Director Mott had flown down from northern California, and he was vocal about his misgivings regarding the NPS having Criminal Investigator (CI)/Special Agent positions at YOSE; he mentioned that “spreading around” the investigative duties could potentially have positive effects. Instead of three full-time investigators, have twelve Rangers spending 25% of their time working in-depth . It made sense to me at the time, thinking it’d be good to be one of that dozen. It seems somewhat ironic that Paul & I would later both be fulltime 1811 Special Agents for the NPS. He was good, very good; excellent really using sound criminalistics practices (remember the high praise about him from the FBI RAC). I, on the other hand, often utilized the “Colombo” method: what doesn’t add up and “wait a minute, I almost forgot, one last thing…oh, that explains that then [not really]…”
In several parts of his work Paul talks about the evolution of the Ranger being generalists or “multi-specialists” and some being grand-fathered in with a law enforcement commission. I don’t know if Paul knew it, but he was talking about me (and others): I’d publically stated (in the 80’s) that Rangers needed to be “multi-specialists” with professional backgrounds in law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical service, search-and-rescue, and education/interpretation. As far as being a “magic wand” law enforcement officer: it was the un-luck of the draw. I had applied at various levels to get to FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center) for either the Basic Academy or CI School, but was never high enough a priority. So, I stayed put and did the best I could with what I had in hand (in this case a NPS L.E. Commission). One thing that Supervisory Special Agent (Ret.) Berkowitz and I have always agreed upon is there are two forms of law enforcement for both large, small and medium size parks: professional and unprofessional. We’ve aspired for the former. My experiences showed me that the NPS does too (again note: change is usually difficult), and has made great strides the last 25-years.
As to Legacy’s allegations of improper behavior by a handful of folks in the mid-80’s: most of the principals I never worked with, and two I did. My professional and personal experiences were extremely positive with the latter two. My initial reaction after completing the book was: “I hope someone will still research and write the complete legacy of the Yosemite Mafia… they performed some great works.”