The emergency manager at West Point is responsible for making sure all organizations on the installation are ready to respond to an emergency. These types of emergencies include terrorist threats like an active shooter situation or a natural disaster.
When George Gilbert started his job as West Point’s new emergency manager May 23, he was immediately thrown into an emergency situation as the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the world. The pandemic is what they call a “black swan situation” in the emergency management world, Gilbert said, because it is a low frequency, high impact event.
Gilbert was ready to be thrown into the fire, though, as he had spent the months previous to starting at West Point working in Queens helping to set up contingency hospitals in case the pandemic overwhelmed the medical system. He also had the added experience of having spent 22 years as a Medical Service Corps officer in the Army.
“My experiences down in Queens and working with putting hospitals together and speaking with all the physicians and the infectious disease doctors, you learn a lot about COVID-19. So, I had a background in COVID-19,” Gilbert said.
Along with helping West Point respond to the pandemic, Gilbert’s role will be to focus on “comprehensive emergency management,” he said. That means working with partners on West Point such as Keller Army Community Hospital as well as federal and state agencies to make sure the installation is ready for any emergency.
“One of the things that is key in this role is developing relationships,” Gilbert said. “You would not be successful being a good emergency manager unless you’re able to build those relationships and be able to articulate the need to have these types of exercises. You’re in a resource constrained environment, but also in a very tight training schedule. You’ve got to be able to convince those leaders of the importance of these exercises and the importance of resourcing them.”
Through those partnerships, he will develop emergency action plans that will enable West Point to effectively respond to any occurrence, whether that is an active shooter on post, a snowstorm or a pandemic. Gilbert will also be involved in planning training events such as the daylong active shooter drill that took place last year that brought together internal and external agencies for a full-scale simulation.
“Probably prior to 9/11, (emergency management) was kind of an additional duty. It didn’t get the necessary attention that it deserves and needs,” Gilbert said. “You need somebody focused on not only those high impact, low frequency type events, but you also need somebody focused on the things that happen more frequently and are maybe lower impact. You need somebody focused on those activities and making sure that you have a comprehensive emergency operations plan to address all those different areas.”