Thank You for Being Prepared

Thank You for Being Prepared

Todd:     Hi and welcome to the EM Weekly show. I am your host, Todd DeVoe speaking.

This week we are talking to Mike Cantor, a retired emergency manager that has been using his time wisely, I’d say, and you wrote a book. And this book is going to be great for that volunteer or that friend or family member that you really want to encourage to prepare.

And the name of the book is, Thanks for Taking the Time to be Prepared.

Well, before we get into the interview, I’d like to invite you to join our Facebook group or take a look at what we’re doing on twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn. You know, those, uh, social media places are a great way to stay connected with members of the emergency management community. Ask questions and get involved.

Our Facebook group is a lot of fun, you know, we get on there and have conversations.

We had the book poll this year that’s out there. And we also have a good conversations back and forth, live videos and just conversations about emergency management in a space where we can talk freely. It is a closed group so you have to ask to join and that’s why I think is the kind of cool part about it.

Anyway, let’s talk to Mike.

So, I’m excited to have a good friend of mine who I’ve worked with a long time ago back when I was down in Dana Point and Mike was in an adjacent city to me and we worked on many projects together over the years and I’m excited to have Michael Cantor with me and he just wrote a book. We’re going to talk about his book. It’s called. Thanks for Taking the Time to be Prepared, The handbook for emergency preparedness tips.

It’s an easy read. You pick it up and there’s a lot of good information in there. I got it on Amazon. It’s about $15 or so, a, you know, so I think it’s well worth the investment.

So, Michael, welcome to EM Weekly.

Mike:     Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

So, Mike tell me, how did you get involved with emergency management?

Mike:     It was very fortunate. Sometimes you just have to be very lucky. I started working for the city of Beverly Hills back in 1991. I was a program manager there in the transportation department and that’s where I got my start in an actual public service. But I wasn’t working in emergency management at that time, but I did have opportunities to volunteer as a city employee, you know, to do evacuation drills and certain things for safety.

But then in 2000 my wife and my son, we decided that we were going to move. I was living in Santa Monica at the time and we moved to Orange County. We moved to San Juan Capistrano, and for about 15 months I was commuting from Orange County to Beverly Hills because I was looking for another management position and I wanted to stay in city government. And it’s not like you can just transfer. You have to sort of wait until or you have to keep looking until a, uh, a job shows up that, you know, might be a right fit.

I was looking for a management position. So finally in 2001 and Analyst position opened up in San Juan Capistrano with an emphasis on emergency management. At that time I got together with the emergency manager in Beverly Hills, you know, just went over a number of things on the basics and things that I needed to understand about emergency management to get through an interview. I did the interview and like I said, I was very fortunate. I got hired.

I had a lot to learn at that time. But my first responsibility with the city of San Juan Capistrano was to rewrite the city’s emergency operations plan. And that was a big project. But that’s how it started. I had a lot to learn from there.

Todd:     So you really got into the emergency management and really took to it, even picked up some leadership positions in the Orange County emergency management organization. It’s called a OCEMO, a really great organization that I’m proud to be a part of as well. And you really took that, the emergency manager portion and really grabbed onto it and sort of leading, including having a pretty decent volunteer program out of San Juan as well.

Tell me a little bit about your volunteer program?

Mike:     Well, absolutely, you know, that was an important part of what I was doing in San Juan. When I was working on the rewrite or updating the emergency plan, one of the things, one of the sections I came across was talking about the benefit of utilizing volunteers for emergency response and there was a section in the plan that talked about CERT, which is the community emergency response team. For those people that aren’t aware of that program. It’s a national program that was started by the Los Angeles Fire Department in about 1985 and then subsequently endorsed by FEMA and around 1993.

So, there was no CERT group in San Juan, and I think this is like 2001, 2002. I think Huntington Beach had a program and there may have been two or three in all of Orange County. So I started the CERT program by actually going to another city, getting the training and then getting additional training.  After that I go the support from my supervisors to start a program.

I started the program in San Juan Capistrano and the first class started I think in 2002, 2003.  We would conduct a training program for volunteers in the city every six months. After that I’m meeting a lot of people in the city, residents and business operators. And I got approached by an equestrian group.  They got involved in the CERT program and that’s how I got to know them.

There was, I believe, a wildfire in San Diego County in 2007. That wasn’t the only year there was a wildfire. But in 2007 there were approximately 700 horses or more that were evacuated out of San Diego county up to Orange County. And they used a facility that was later annexed into the city of San Juan Capistrano. It was a riding park, but at that time it was part of unincorporated Orange County.  It was about 40 acres, and they evacuated, sheltered and took care of horses on that particular property.

After that particular event, I got together with the equestrians and, actually, I think it’s in my book. There was a veterinarian who was crucial in starting the program for equestrian response and she came to me to talk about what she’d like to do. She’d like to have equestrians that were well trained and organized so that they could support things like flooding or wild fires in the event that horses needed to be rescued and taken care of.

So as an emergency manager, I was embracing these kinds of ideas because I thought, this is what I’m here to do. I’m here to figure out what I can do to improve the community, help the residents, help the business people and do things that will benefit the greater good for the greatest number of people. And so that particular group became known as the large animal response team, acronym LART.

I forget the exact year that LART got going, but now has over 200 or so equestrians that are trained in that particular program. And then I think, Todd, when you were at Dana Point, you know, the HAM operators RACES? We started a tri-cities, RACES group with HAM operators, which was with San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano. And that was another volunteer group that supported emergency response.

So those are the three main groups of volunteer groups that I actually started in San Juan Capistrano. And to this day they’re still there and doing very well.

Todd:     Exciting to see, those groups like that, that are still around from, from when you started, from the beginning, you know, I think with actually, because of, of San Juan, the pressure for the city of Dana Point to start their own program was there. And, and that’s why I got involved with CERT because Dana Point said that we needed to start one. And then the same thing with the RACES group when we started the Tri Cities RACES program. That’s how I got involved with, with RACES programs and, and both of those I’m still involved with today. And that was from 2000 we started, I started Dana Point 2005, so around that time frame and the after the, uh, after the fires and it’s amazing to see.

And that’s what I love about emergency management is the collaboration that we do and then the fact that we can lean on each other and learn from each other.

Mike:     Absolutely, I was just thinking about the RACES activities or groups, I don’t know if this will benefit some of your listeners. But when I first applied for my job with the city of San Juan Capistrano, one of the requirements was that I had to get my HAM radio license, believe it or not.

And I did, and they were very impressed in terms of my interview in my presentation because I went through the effort to do that before I did the interview for the job. And even though I’m not an active RACES operator, it was part of my background and part of my experience. So that when I was approached by real HAM Operators, I was able to understand where they were coming from or what the benefit was that they could offer to the community.

Todd:     I agree with you, but still talk a different language to me because even though I have my HAM license and same thing, I started talking to some words and I’m like, okay, I don’t really understand you but I get what you’re coming from.

So, let’s fast forward a little bit here. You decided to write a book. So to let everybody know, So you retired from San Juan and then you decided that you’re going to write a book. Talk about that process a little bit.

Mike:     Well you know, I had a very long and successful career in government. I did a lot of writing. I did a lot of writing for city council reports, and I also did a lot of writing of safety and emergency preparedness articles for the local newspapers and also posted a lot of things on the city’s website. So I had a certain amount of experience in writing. And then as a hobby, when I retired, I enjoy writing short stories. Some of them are memoirs but the majority of them are fiction. I write and I submit them for publication to magazines. However, I’m a year or so out of retirement and I’m thinking, wait a second. I’ve got a lot of experience here in terms of emergency management. I could write a book now and  make a lot of money.

No, I wasn’t thinking that. I was thinking I want to write a book about emergency preparedness tips. Very simple language and easy to understand so that anybody can follow these kind of points or tips or direction and be able to benefit people. And so I just thought, yes, I’m going to do it.

So, I wrote the book and it was just published earlier this year. And I think that for people that take the opportunity to read this book, they’ll see that from my point of view, I’m really just talking to the reader. I’m just telling them how important their life is.  If you can prepare, if you can look through this whole book and maybe you can’t do everything that’s in the book, but maybe you can prepare a little bit. If you can prepare just a little bit based on what you’re reading in this book, you’re going to be a lot better off than you would have been if you’re not doing anything.

That’s how I got into it. I just started doing it and just like in any writing assignment, there’s lots of, you know, drafts, second draft, third draft, rewrites and making sure that, you know, the points are clear and all that kind of stuff. And finally I had a book and I published it and I’m just very happy that it’s one of those, those stories about, you know, I’m retired now and look at the success I did after retirement. I actually wrote a book that I think could help people. So you know, if I get it to one more person and like you said, you posted it. It’s just getting to one more person and maybe they can read it and maybe they’ll have somebody in their family and then somebody else will help another person.

It’s that the more of us that are prepared, the better off we’re going to be as a community as we respond and take care of each other. So it’s like if one more person could be prepared, that’s going to help a lot more people because that was kind of one of my points in the book.

Todd:     That goes right back to the community emergency response team that you’re preparing those individuals. So I’m ready to go for the disaster and at least everybody is better off because of it. Because if those people are prepared, they’re going to be less of a burden on the on the system when a disaster does strike.

Mike:     That’s the way it works. That’s the way we want it to work.

Todd:     So you break it down in a couple, you know, basically part one, part two, part three, so forth. And each one of them. What I love about it is it’s broken down into easy to read short paragraphs. And what I mean by that is I was talking to somebody else about this, I always hesitate to talk to authors about this, but this is something that really you can put on the coffee table or put in the bathroom and when you’re just, you know, have a little bit extra time pick up and read a couple of paragraphs or a couple of little short chapters and keep continuously learning. It’s, you know, you don’t have to pick it up and read it all the way through in one sitting. And I love the way that you put this together, you know?

Did you do that on purpose of small paragraphs like that? Or is that just the out of the process of writing that came to that?

Mike:     I wanted it to be simple. I didn’t want it to be some two or 300 pages of technical information and nobody wants to, Well, I don’t want to say nobody likes to read that kind of stuff, but I didn’t want to read that kind of stuff. The book itself is less than 100 pages. It’s a handbook. I kept it very simple and all the sections are very brief.  I just make basic points so people can understand how to be prepared. And then at the end of the book I have resource lists of a number of websites. In the book it says if you want more detailed information you could go to any of these websites and look at stuff.

But in the bigger picture, you know, all the emergency management website have all this information listed. All of them have almost the same information, but very few people go to all these different websites and then look at it and then want to print it or anything like that. So this is like one little handbook. It’s got all the essentials in it.  So if somebody wants to sit down for 10 minutes and just get ideas for 10 minutes and then go from there, they can. And then, you know, a couple of days later read another 10 or 15 minutes, it could be done that way.

The most important thing is that somebody starts preparing and then somehow continues to prepare. And, every year maybe updates their emergency preparedness and sees where they stand as a person or with their family or their household. So I’m glad that you liked the style that I used, but it was a process.  I wanted to keep it simple, but I didn’t know how it was going to actually work out until I finally got into that second, third or fourth draft.

Todd:     One of the things I like to do when I’m reading through books, especially something like this, either a dog or I get those little sticky things you could put in there to, to, to highlight it and highlight and underline this book. And I can really see how this book can be that, that type of book where it’s going to be used a lot. It’s going to be crinkled pages. You’re going to have highlighting things that you think about as you, as you read through it. It’s going to make a difference in someone’s life. As an emergency manager, you know what I think we should do with this book as I would love to buy, I’m going to actually buy a couple of them a, give them out as prizes to your CERT program members. You know, uh, maybe even Christmas gifts. Christmas is coming around the corner, holidays, Hanukkah, whatever you celebrate. If you don’t celebrate anything just as a nice practical gift to somebody who you care about. I think this is a really, really well put together a book. And I’m not saying that just because I like Mike, I’m saying that because I read the book and I, I really do think it’s a good book.

I read this article and I keep harping on this and I feel like emergency management magazine is going to be mad at me because it’s their article, but they were saying how the collective wisdom of a burn. See managers are all retiring now and this new generation coming back has to reinvent the wheel. If there’s something that you could say to the new generation of emergency managers coming up, what would you like to say to them?

Mike:     Before I try to answer that question. The quote you have from the magazine was something to the effect that there’s a pool of managers that are retiring now and without a large enough group following them or something to that effect. What was the intent?

Todd:     Oh sure. The intent of the article is that emergency managers are retiring and there’s a knowledge vacuum now, because all the old knowledge is leaving with them. I don’t buy into that because I always think about firefighters and police officers. There’s a bunch of retired new ones coming up. I think there’s enough of us in the middle that are still here that can mentor the new ones up, but that was the gist of the conversation.

So as a retired emergency manager, what would you say to the new emergency managers coming up behind us?

Episode 91, EM Weekly Mike Cantor

Mike:     Well, first of all, I agree with you. I don’t think there’s a void. A lot of young people that are coming in or, or even middle-aged people that are starting, it doesn’t matter.

But I think that if I was to talk about, you know, what they should strive to do is that, on one hand, if they’re replacing somebody who’s retiring out of their organization, whether it’s in the public sector or the private sector, are they able to actually find that person and actually just chat with them about things to understand how they ran their particular operation or something like that. They’re not always available, you know, but it’s worth trying to talk to those people.

One of the worst things that takes place in some organizations is a person is leaving and then they’re hiring on a new person to replace that person, and then they want the person that is leaving to, uh, to come back and train the new person and, excuse me for saying this for free.

You know, it’s like, why don’t they think about getting the new person trained before the other person leaves?  You could have hired somebody earlier on, etc., etc. But I think that the emergency managers as a whole, and this is the way I feel about it, are a dedicated group.  They have a special skillset and are really concerned about helping people. And then of course that also includes the community they represent during an emergency or disaster. We’re there to help each other. And I think that one of the things that really helped me that I talked about this earlier. One of my first assignments was to rewrite the emergency operations plan. I couldn’t have done that without the help of other emergency managers that were in Orange County.

And you mentioned OCEMO, the Orange County emergency management Organization. That’s where I met people that helped me. Actually, I was fortunate, again, as a committee was formed to help people rewrite their emergency plans in the same year that I was doing it.

So, to new people that are coming in, relationships with other emergency managers in the county or the area that you are going in is important.  In Orange County, one very good group is the Orange County emergency management organization. Once you join that group or attend those meetings, you’re going to be meeting a lot of people where they are going to help you in a lot of areas. So reaching out to people for help is very important. Don’t be shy about that. That’s an important point.  Try and remember it.  Keep in mind people are going to want to help you.  Don’t be surprised.

Then I think that a couple of key things are important. You’ve got to be very patient about what you’re trying to do and what you’re trying to learn and you want to have a lot of appreciation and respect. Appreciation for the job that you got, the appreciation for whatever the challenges are in the job and then respect for the people that you’re working with, and that includes volunteers and all your other peers.

I think those are really important key things for new people that are coming in. You’re not working by yourself in a sense, you’re working with a lot of different people. Every time there was a sort of a real world event that went down in Orange County. Everybody was working together to help. Even if it wasn’t their city. Every day there would be calls, do you need my help? If you need us, we’re here to help you. It was just the way it works. So that’s a very important thing to keep in mind.  Does that kind of answer that question a little bit.

Todd:     Oh yeah, for sure.

What do you think your biggest challenges were when you were working as an emergency manager?

Mike:     Well, for me, everything is relative to the time period. You know, maybe things go in cycles or that kind of thing. For me, the decision makers weren’t opposed to being prepared, but it was not high on their priority.  So keep in mind I was hired as an analyst with an emphasis on emergency management because they figured we don’t need somebody to work full time as an emergency manager. So I was working and I had  responsibilities in a lot of areas, emergency management being one of them. But as the years went on and I gained the trust of the decision makers, etc., etc., little by little, my job was really all about emergency management, but that took time.

One of the challenges is that all public employees, because of the oath that they take, you know, in a time of need, emergency or a disaster, they have to put on another hat and that’s called the disaster service workers.

And when I came in 2001, one of the challenges was that they weren’t doing anything about disaster service workers. They weren’t being trained. They weren’t being prepared. They were just doing whatever their regular jobs were. And so one of the challenges was I had to take the time to explain to them that if there was a real emergency, you might be asked to do certain things different from their regular duties.  There was a lot of pushing and pulling, you know, in that particular area. But that, once again, that took patience and appreciation of who they were and respect for who they were. And with the support of decision makers, little by little people started to realize that.  Oh, we understand, thank you for reminding us of that oath we took five years ago or 10 years ago or 15 years ago that mentioned that we also have to wear the hat of disaster service workers.

And so that was one of the main challenges when I started because there wasn’t any ongoing training being done.  If called upon, staff didn’t know what their role would be during an emergency as nobody was taking on that responsibility. I was the first person hired by the city of San Juan to, to focus on emergency preparedness. So with that in mind, I had  to work towards educating and training the staff, you know, how to take on responsibility outside of their standard job description. And that took time and patience.

Another challenge that I had was that there was no dedicated emergency operation center EOC.  I think maybe there’s a lot of emergency managers that had to deal with this. My first task was to create what is called an EOC in a box.

In other words, all the supplies and equipment needed to stand up an EOC was kept in a storage area. When the EOC was needed for training or real world event, we had to take everything out of storage and set it up. And of course that took a lot of practice. It took me about seven or eight years to put the resources together to identify and establish a dedicated EOC. And in San Juan, eventually it became part of the police services building. And that facility had offices for police staff that also included a great space for the EOC.

So, you know, training employees to become aware of their other responsibilities besides what their specific job description indicated and then also establishing a center where we could manage an emergency, you know, took a while, but those were the, those were the initial things that I had to deal with when I started out.

Todd:     That’s great stuff right there, For the students that are coming up behind those that are new. Those are definitely some of the challenges that we’ve had. And the cool part about it is that there are guys and gals like Mike, who, who were, they’re dedicated enough to get these up and running and you guys are the new students and the new employees get behind us are, uh, are beneficiaries of that hard work.

Mike, what book, can’t recommend your own because I’ve already recommended that. What book or books do you recommend to somebody who wants to get into leadership or emergency management?

Mike:     I apologize to you because I’m really not able to recommend a specific book or books for your listeners. You know, maybe this is a little redundant of what I’ve sort of mentioned a little earlier, but maybe I can answer the question this way or a different way. I’m assuming that there’s a lot of, based on what you’re saying, a lot of students listen to your podcast and that being said, I’m sure they’ve got an abundance of required reading. They also probably have lists of recommended articles or books that  they would like to read based on what’s being recommended on class lists.  The way that I would like to answer that question is that I.

I would say that whatever you’re reading, try to always find the diamonds in that material that will make you better at what you do or what you’re trying to do.

You know, if it’s emergency management, regardless of whatever the title of the book is about, how will that said book improve your skills? And you mentioned leadership here just a minute or so ago.  Emergency managers, regardless of how many supervisors are above you, you’re a leader. Once you establish your particular program, you’re going to be leading a lot of people.   I had over 300 people in my CERT program, over 200 people in the equestrian program and about 40 in the RACES program. I was leading all those people, but not specifically directly every day.  When you talk about a manager that has two or three employees that he or she supervises, or 10 or something like that, or director of a department that maybe has 20 employees, I had 500 or more people that I was responsible for.

So, whatever you’re reading, try and look for those things that are going to make you a better leader, a better person. So in emergency management, we’re trying to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. So whenever you’re reading, look for those things in your books in your reading material. What can make you a better person or a person that people can follow, a person that people can listen to. And then I kind of reiterate, that appreciation, respect, and patience are important.  If you can work towards those particular things, no matter what you’re reading about, bringing out that in your particular life is going to play very well in your career.

So, I’m sorry about not giving you a title.

Todd:     That’s a great answer. Before we let you go get a couple more questions for you, how do people find you and Thanks for Taking the Time to be Prepared.

Mike:     Well, the book is available at Barnes & Noble, you know, online and online.  So you either type in just my name or the title of the book and it’ll pop right up and it’s available in eBook or in paperback. So it’s, you know, whatever works best for you.

As far as contacting me, I have no problem giving out of my email. But being that I’m a retired guy, I have no professional website or anything like that available at this time. My email is

Todd:     I’m going to have all this stuff in the show notes so you can come back later to or to the show notes and whatever listening device you’re listening to you and you can click onto that and get a hold of Mike and also a go to both the links where you can purchase his book as well.

All right Michael, what would you like to say to the emergency managers that are currently out there right now?

Mike:     Well, I’m saying this to you folks now — the next generation of emergency managers that are coming on and the ones that are actually still in the field. I really appreciate what you do and I really respect what you do. It’s not an easy job. You know, every time there is a real world event emergency managers are trying to coordinate the response with all the professional first responders, which is, you know, fire and police, etc. Sometimes it’s a thankless job because no matter how well you do in that response, there’s always going to be injuries, destruction of property, and I hate to say it, but there are fatalities that will happened.   And as great a job as you might be doing, it’s a very difficult position to be in because the public might be so critical of the emergency response even though you know most of the time it’s a natural disaster. It’s not man-made. It just means it happens.

So I’m just saying to you folks out there is that I’m somebody who really appreciates and respects what you do or what you’re going to be doing.  It’s a great career.  And even though I’m saying that there’s going to be many times where it’s going to be difficult to please the public, you’re still going to have a lot of people that are going to be extremely thankful for what you do.

Todd:     Well, mike, I want to say thank you for spending some time here today with EM Weekly and was great talking to you again and I’d like to see you again sometime.

Mike:     Well, thank you. I appreciate the time. Todd.

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