It is always a good time to practice preparedness by taking precautionary measures to plan for possible emergencies. September is National Preparedness Month, a time for us all to rededicate ourselves to this important principle. It is also an opportunity to highlight a few of the many dedicated, highly-trained members of the Department of Energy (DOE) and NNSA who make their living expecting the unexpected.
Meet Alex Breckel, Policy Analyst for the Department of Energy’s Office of Policy, on detail to the Office of Electricity Advanced Grid Research and Development office.
What do your day-to-day duties entail?
With the help of our National Labs, DOE is providing analysis and technical expertise to support the long-term recovery and resilience of Puerto Rico’s energy system. My current responsibilities include coordinating our work with our partners’ needs. On any given day, I may meet with Puerto Rican government officials, represent DOE in interagency discussions, or work with my office colleagues to shape our analysis related to the island’s recovery.
I also work closely with the Puerto Rico State Program for Energy Public Policy as they review and update their Energy Assurance Plan. These plans are what states use to prepare for and respond to energy emergencies, including natural disasters.
How do you support DOE/NNSA emergency operations?
From January to August of this year, I was deployed to Puerto Rico to coordinate Federal recovery as the energy infrastructure is rebuilt in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria of 2017.
DOE is the lead agency for Federal interagency coordination for energy infrastructure recovery under the National Disaster Recovery Framework. The framework outlines each agency’s role in coordinating Federal and non-governmental support; identifying needs; and solving problems facing state, tribal, territorial, and local governments recovering from disasters. My main duty station was in the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Joint Field Office in San Juan – the hub of the disaster response and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
My deployment to Puerto Rico was my first experience supporting DOE emergency operations. While in San Juan, I worked closely with the Emergency Support Function (ESF-12) responders as they aided the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers restore power to Puerto Rico. The week after I completed my deployment I trained as an ESF-12 responder. I look forward to supporting DOE’s role in Federal emergency response in the coming years.
What is a common mistake or misperception people have about emergency preparedness?
A misperception that I had was the notion that emergency response is an ad hoc and chaotic process. While chaos may be unavoidable to some extent, I learned that emergency response is well planned, highly-coordinated, and regularly practiced. There are thousands of trained responders in all levels of government that rely upon well-established frameworks that are updated often to incorporate lessons learned from past emergencies.
What is one key item would you advise the public to keep in mind when it comes to emergency preparedness?
Preparation is just as important for individuals and communities as it is for professional emergency responders. Think about how to respond under a variety of emergency circumstances relevant to where you live and work. Ensure that any necessary supplies are readily available and have evacuation routes planned. Know how to communicate with emergency responders, and consider rendezvous points for friends and family.