San Antonio District Fire Chief W. Nim Kidd was scheduled to take the reins of the Texas Division of Emergency Management on July 1. Hurricane Alex brought him to Austin nearly a week early. Chief Kidd has served as San Antonio’s Homeland Security Director and the city’s Emergency Manager. He has served San Antonio as a firefighter, fire apparatus operator, lieutenant, captain, and District Fire Chief. He has also served as a member of Texas Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team since 1997, responding to state and national disasters including the World Trade Center attack in September 2001. In this Question and Answer interview, Chief Kidd discusses some of his goals for emergency management in Texas.What is the most important message you have for the Texas emergency management community?
The Texas emergency management community has a long standing tradition of excellent service to the citizens of this great state. As I begin work as the Chief, my goals are simple: Prepare, Prevent, Respond, Recover and Mitigate. The plan to accomplish these goals are to: Listen to the people that are closest to the issues because they often have the best solution to the problem at hand; continue to build multi-jurisdictional, multi-disciplined collaborative teams to support our collective goals; and empower the dedicated professionals at all levels to make solid decisions that rely on expert education, training and competence.Looking back on your years of experience working with TDEM during disasters, which event posed the most significant challenge?
I have been a customer of TDEM for seven and a half years. Over the years, I have watched the system develop, mature, and professionalize into unarguably the most solid State Emergency Management Team in the nation. Challenges are opportunities to improve relationships, doctrine and process. Challenges over the years have always been about solving problems: challenges-to-opportunities-to-improvements. The most challenging event that comes to mind is the Katrina and Rita response. The coordination between states needed improvement and Chief Jack Colley led the nation in this effort.What is the key lesson you bring from your years as a firefighter?
My years serving as a firefighter and emergency medical technician have been some of the best times in my life. I’ve worked alongside the most dedicated men and women of the fire service. The single most important experience I bring from that chapter of my life is teamwork. We were individuals choosing to become a cohesive unit. Living together, working together, laughing together, crying together, and improving ourselves and the system…together.What is the biggest challenge you have faced as EMC in San Antonio?
I served as the EMC for San Antonio for more than six years, and prior to that I spent a year and a half as one of the Assistant EMCs. The biggest challenge over the years has been to keep the program and the process fresh. Our occupation is not always flashy, and it rarely gets the attention it deserves until the event occurs. We have built a professional, dedicated, solid, self-healing network of people in San Antonio that is ready to respond to any event. The challenge has always been maintaining visible interest during the slow times of the business. I have been blessed to work with great visionary leaders like Mayor Phil Hardberger, Mayor Julian Castro, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Assistant City Manager Erik Walsh, and a dedicated team of department heads that stayed focused on the mission. Through a 2003 General Obligation Bond Program, our community blessed us with a 36,000 square foot, state-of-the-art, emergency operations center. The facility fosters collaboration and teamwork. The staff that operates the EOC has a true sense of community and dedication to the mission.What do you bring from your San Antonio experience that might help other communities?
I don’t think the lessons I’ve learned differ much from any other Emergency Manager across the state. I’ve worked closely with many EMCs, and I usually call on them for their advice to unusual situations. All communities in Texas play a critical role in evacuation and sheltering coastal evacuees during major events, not just the City of San Antonio. The San Antonio community chooses to participate in the preparation for coastal events because they know working the issues of another community’s disaster strengthens our local capabilities and prepares us better for our next local event.
San Antonio is fortunate to have a great group of emergency management professionals from all disciplines in the community. James Mendoza leads our Monday Morning Meeting (“M3”) every Monday at 08:30 in our Policy Room. It is full of liaisons from every aspect of disaster planning, response and recovery. Chris Stokes built a Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) team that is second to none. Within minutes of notification, the GIS team provides life saving information to emergency managers and incident commanders. They truly are a great group that believes in, and understands, the mission.
Our medical professionals are second to none. Eric Epley, STRAC, and the Regional Medical Operations Center (RMOC) add a layer of integrity, community support and professionalism to our team that makes San Antonio shine. We wouldn’t be successful without them. Tom Polonis and the dedicated men and women of the Alamo Area Type III Incident Management Team are always ready to tackle any task. IMTs will save the world: our city is in safer hands because this team has trained together and operated together for over three years.What importance do you place on drills, training and exercises?
Education, training and exercise save lives. As a firefighter, EMT and Emergency Manager, I know the value of preparing for the routine task as well as the high risk/low occurrence events. Complacency kills. If we are not educated to the situation, cannot get it right in training and fail to exercise, we will never be successful. We should always use education, training and exercise to improve the system. Otherwise we end up recreating the same mistakes.What are the main three things you plan to do in your new job?
Listen, listen, and listen. Listen to the TDEM team, listen to our emergency management partners, and listen to our community. Leaders cannot make good decisions without knowing the issues. In order to know the issues, we need to listen to those who are closest to the problem. As we listen, we can begin to gain understanding and see the issues in solvable terms. The fourth thing we will work on is organizing the Division to address the issues we learn by listening to the team, partners and community.Anything else you’d like to say to the emergency management community?
We all know we are in the business of taking care of people, but I think we often forget to take care of ourselves and our families. Many of you know that my family is the most important aspect of my life. My wife, Emily, and I have three amazing children. Emily, Garrett, Abigail, and Parker are the inspiration and unsung heroes in my life. When Emily and I are gone, our most important and longest lasting legacy will be our children. I would be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to thank them for being my safe haven and support network.
In addition, I want to thank the TDEM staff and the emergency management community for the tremendous outpouring of support I have received since the announcement of my appointment.
Preparedness is not a destination, it is a journey, and I look forward to the trip with you. Thank you for allowing me to be part of the team.
Chief W. Nim Kidd emphasizes his belief that “to know the issues, we need to listen to those who are closest to the problem.” He started to work a week early for the Hurricane Alex activation.
(Photo by Rachel Jordan-Shuss)