May 19

[ARCHIVED] Lessons learned from disasters, part 2: Hurricane Harvey, COVID-19

The original item was published from May 19, 2020 11:41 AM to May 19, 2020 3:00 PM

In the second part of my interview with Chief Fox we cover Hurricane Harvey and COVID-19, both so impactful to Victoria in such different ways.

This blog post is the second in a two-part series about Fire Chief Robert Fox’s experiences with major disasters in Victoria. To read part one, click here.

Hurricane Harvey | Job title: Assistant Fire Chief

Q. At the point of Harvey you’ve been a firefighter and climbed the ranks over 21 years. Because of your position and experience with previous hurricanes, how did you go into Harvey?

Leading up to Harvey we had a couple of close calls; for instance, there was Hurricane Ike. Going into Harvey we knew that it was going to be exhausting in planning for the hurricane's arrival, but again, none of us had experienced a hurricane of this magnitude. It was challenging because we had to make sure our workforce was protected and we could provide services, appropriate staff and equipment. 

Q. You spent a lot of time in the Emergency Operations Center. What was that like?

It was extremely exhausting. During that time period, 5 to 6 days, I felt like I aged years. I have a daughter, too, so she was in the back of my mind. My family was not able to evacuate, so they are always in the back of your mind as a first responder. 

COVID-19 | Job title: Fire Chief

Q. How did you go into COVID-19, knowing that this was a whole new ballgame compared to floods and hurricanes?

I think the one big takeaway was that I knew this was going to be a long haul. It was not something that was going to be over in a short amount of time, and we needed to pace ourselves. This was an advantage coming off Harvey, where we literally drained ourselves in the EOC.

When looking at COVID-19, it has all been new. I heard someone on television say that “it’s like building a plane as we fly it,” and I truly feel that. We have to now consider what these types of disaster plans look like and how we respond.

PIO/Communications is a big part of every disaster and more so for COVID-19. This is a communication crisis, and communication is one of the most important things. With hurricanes it is logistics, and with COVID-19 logistics isn’t as necessary. So communications became our biggest strategy and tactic. 

Q. Now that you are the fire chief, what is your mindset regarding safety, leadership, etc. from a COVID-19 situation versus being “boots-on-the-ground” back in 1998?

I would say, in fact technology helps, but it would have been better to have more contact with leadership. It wasn’t possible in 1998 or with Harvey, but I think today keeping contact with your team members is critical. Your organization, department, team wants information and to be reassured, to know that there's a plan. I hope I have been able to connect and stay connected with the boots on the ground today. The other key thing is being transparent even if the information isn't good. It’s important to provide the facts about the situation.

Q. Which experience has been the most impactful on your career and what you do for the city? 

COVID-19 isn’t over yet, but I've learned a lot about the importance of staying connected; that's been key.

During Harvey I learned about networking and how to be effective in leading people who aren’t responsible to you. Situations like Harvey required making sure you get the most use out of every one and trusting that that person is the subject matter expert in their field in order to help  make the right decisions. A good example of this would be during Harvey, we set up a food and water pod, which we had no experience in, but we pulled together very smart people in the community and my role was to get these people in the room, get the good ideas flowing and make it happen.