WITH RAIN COMING DOWN AND STREETS around UTMB’s Galveston Campus beginning to flood, Charles “Fritz” Kuebler, assistant director for Institutional Preparedness and Facilities Risk Management, is busy fielding calls, arranging incident command team meetings and sending updates to stakeholders across the institution.
The morning’s showers are the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda, and they’re lingering over the already saturated Gulf Coast much longer than originally projected, so individuals are finding themselves stranded at work and school after beginning their day thinking it would be business as usual.
Kuebler’s priorities and tasks are changing by the minute as the situation evolves, but he started his day just like he starts every day at work—by checking the hospital occupancy report so he’s aware of how many people are in beds at UTMB.
“Regardless of what’s going on—good conditions, bad conditions, business as usual—I check the occupancy report every morning to see how many people we’d need to account for and potentially move should an unexpected emergency unfold,” says Kuebler.
In Kuebler’s world, the term for an “unexpected emergency” is a no-notice incident.That typically refers to situations like active-shooter events, fires and other situations where no prior warning was issued.
With the way the current day’s situation is unexpectedly unfolding, one might argue that it would qualify as a “no-notice” event, since the storm’s projections and forecasts leading up to now have changed significantly. But despite all of that, Kuebler calmly stays focused on the task at hand, as he checks the radar and works to keep key contacts across the institution informed of conditions.
“UTMB’s institutional emergency operations plan is the guide we follow during situations like this,” says Kuebler, referring to Tropical Storm Imelda. “It outlines who needs to be informed of what and when, and from there we work to share the necessary information and make decisions about what needs to happen to keep everyone safe.”
The plan that Kuebler is following is one that he and Mike Mastrangelo, program director for Institutional Preparedness and Emergency Management, work to develop and manage with stakeholders and leaders across UTMB. It outlines processes and protocols to follow, including the chains of command to work through to get decisions made quickly and efficiently during times of crisis.
Formally shared with the UTMB community each year ahead of the start of hurricane season, the plan is continuously evaluated and assessed year-round to ensure it’s as effective and streamlined as possible.
“There’s always a post-event period every time we activate the plan, to ensure the guide reflects the most up-to-date protocols and processes,” says Kuebler. “We do a lot of reflecting and asking ‘how can we do this better next time?’”
With the storms of the day continuing and water around several UTMB locations rising, the incident command team and UTMB leadership decide it’s time to send an update to the campus, a process in which Kuebler stays involved to ensure the information that’s shared is accurate and up-to-date.
While the day’s events are large-scale and catching everyone’s attention, Kuebler discusses how that’s usually not the case.
“Smaller events or close calls that impact just a portion of the UTMB community can happen at any time but they won’t warrant the same kind of public attention as something like this storm,” he says. “Regardless, we’ll still be involved trying to determine why something happened and what the response needs to be.”
Knowing that anything can happen anytime and anywhere, Kuebler regularly conducts tabletop exercises of worst-case scenario situations so that key UTMB employees and first responders from the local community, including firefighters, police officers and employees with the Galveston County Health District, have a chance to practice how they would respond during certain events.
“During these scenarios, we’re able to practice and discuss how the hospital would communicate and work with these folks, plus it gives us a chance to network and build relationships at the same time, which is always beneficial,” he says.
The constant planning, practicing and preparation Kuebler does undoubtedly help ensure he can respond with a level head in any situation, but he had more than 20 years of practice honing that skill during his service with the U.S. Coast Guard.
At one time, the father of two who earned a master’s degree in public policy from Princeton University, was tasked with leading the 80-person crew of the Dauntless, a ship that has conducted several patrols dedicated to enhancing maritime security in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and Eastern Pacific Ocean.
As commanding officer of that vessel, Kuebler navigated his crew through stressful missions and situations that taught him the importance of teamwork and maintaining a calm demeanor, and he’s carried that mentality with him ever since.
A member of the UTMB community for just over a year, Kuebler’s skills and experience are welcomed by his new colleagues.
“Fritz brings to the table years of leadership, knowledge and an excellent work ethic,” says Diana Kneupper, a senior business coordinator within UTMB’s Business Operations and Facilities group. “Plus, he’s very easygoing, which makes him relatable to all.”
With the day’s forecasts starting to look a bit more optimistic as a break in the storm approaches, many people begin to breathe sighs of relief. But Kuebler’s work is not yet done, especially considering that significant flooding is impacting certain clinics in Beaumont, Vidor, Conroe and other locations.
Maintaining constant contact with the incident command team, as well as Jason Foster, a senior environmental project manager for UTMB’s satellite clinics, Kuebler will continue to manage the flow of information about the situation, so that the right decisions can be made.
While some might find the work he does stressful, Kuebler says he loves it, especially being able to do it at UTMB, an institution whose mission he admires.
“I love getting out around campus and meeting people,” says Kuebler. “This is a great place filled with smart people who care about the mission and doing things the right way. I love being a part of that.”