WTO and Y2K – The Story I Was Never Asked To Tell – Part 2: Pre WTO & Y2K Environment

By Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

The Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management’s (OEM) organizational location in the City hierarchy is important in understanding the events that unfolded. From the beginning of my tenure as Director of OEM, it had been an ongoing struggle to maintain the full support of city leadership.

We had earned a measure of respect for our performance during several prior events that illustrated our value, both in the eyes of the city leadership as well as kudos from the media. (Note: More important was the absence of criticism of the Mayor’s response to said events in the media coverage of those events): among those events were a Seattle City Light vault fire that knocked out power in 30 plus blocks downtown for several days, the 1993 Inaugural Day Storm, and a major winter storm in1996 through early 1997. The latter two incidents were among 12 such events during my tenure that received Presidential Disaster Declarations.

In 1997, Seattle’s OEM transferred from the Department of Administrative Services to the Police Department (SPD). Transferring from a 100 % civilian agency to an agency dominated by sworn personnel was challenging. SPD’s civilian employees were expected to be seen and rarely, if ever, heard. OEM’s demeanor was different. We had become accustomed to speaking up when we felt it was necessary without regard to the consequences. Opinions we voiced that were not consistent with conventional SPD wisdom were often interpreted as defiance rather than helpful professional perspectives. Despite the resentment we encountered at times, we maintained a distinctively independent posture in our workload choices and budget management.

(Note: My condition for agreeing to our transfer into the Police Department included a guarantee that I would retain significant budgetary authority over federal grants specifically targeted to emergency management – a degree of leeway that exceeded that of many senior sworn supervisory personnel).

As Seattle’s World Trade Organization meetings approached some (not all), well – entrenched leaders in SPD viewed any input from OEM with suspicion, irritation, and not a little jealousy.

While efforts to contribute meaningfully to WTO planning were regarded by some as intrusive, our Emergency Management role in preparing for Y2K was unchallenged. Within SPD, there was limited awareness of the significance of the issues that Y2K presented, so no one felt usurped when tracking the City’s progress in preparing for Y2K became a priority for the City’s Disaster Management Committee, which I chaired.

Our Y2K strategy in Seattle was consistent with our comprehensive plan and our regular approach to any upcoming event: we allowed subject matter experts to guide us, and kept information channels open to all city departments and the public about what we were doing. We were constantly fixated on dealing with the unthinkable, with a view that what could be anticipated could be managed effectively. Issues, concerns, and even disagreements among participants were handled openly and without intrigue or deception.

It was not to be so with WTO planning.

Next Installment: September 12
WTO and Y2K: The Story I Was Never Asked to Tell – Part 3: WTO “Planning” vs “Seminars in Crisis and Consequence Management”

Now for Something Completely Different: The Story I was Never Asked to Tell
Blog Series

In 2015, The Center of Excellence – Homeland Security Emergency Management celebrated its ten-year anniversary with an Educators & Practitioners Summit at Pierce College Puyallup. One of our keynote speakers was former WA EMD Director Jim Mullen. Jim is a wonderful speaker who has the ability to connect with the audience through his storytelling. It was not long after the Summit where the Center’s Program Manager, Kellie Hale, asked Jim to provide his insights, knowledge, and experience into a monthly blog titled ‘Emergency Management Once Removed’. For the past four years, Jim has maintained a monthly blog for the Center from topics such as climate change, the aftermath of 9/11, the larger concept of emergency management and much more.

Jim has offered to do something a little different and tell about his experience when he was the Director for Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management during the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 1999 Ministerial Conference in Seattle and the frenetic preparations for the transition from 1999 to 2000 (aka Y2K). The new blog series is titled ‘Now for Something Completely Different: The Story I was Never Asked to Tell’ and will be a seven-part series. Each part will be posted every Thursday via the Center’s Constant Contact mailing list, its Website at www.coehsemcom, and other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

As the anniversary of WTO and Y2K get closer, Jim’s blog series will be recorded for a podcast. The podcast will provide a little more detail on Jim’s firsthand knowledge as Director for Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management, best practices learned, and takeaways from the experiences. Recording of podcast will be available in November (date TBA). We will keep everyone posted of when Jim’s podcast will be available to access.

August 15: Now for Something Completely Different: The Story I Was Never Asked to Tell
August 22: Background Information on WTO and Y2K
August 29: Part 1: WTO Planning
September 5: Part 2: Pre WTO/Y2K Environment
September 12: Part 3: WTO “Planning” vs “Seminars in Crisis and Consequence Management”
September 19: Part 4: Havoc in the Streets
September 26: Part 5: A Look Back

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Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.