Training EOC Personnel – ICS is not Enough!

A consistent misconception is that if an emergency operations plan calls for an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to utilize the Incident Command System (ICS), then EOC personnel only require ICS training to be successful in their jobs.  ICS training, however, only gets personnel part way to success.

Regular readers of my blog know that I am a big advocate of conducting needs assessments.  Often times, agencies don’t know how to conduct a needs assessment, don’t think it’s important enough to conduct one, don’t think that conducting one is necessary, or simply don’t even consider conducting a needs assessment.  The result is creating training or using existing training that does not meet the real needs.  Certainly if an EOC is using the foundations of ICS to define its organizational structure and processes, then ICS training is absolutely important.  Consider, however, the multitude of other processes that take place in an operational EOC that are not included (in whole or in part) in ICS training.  Processes including financial management and procurement, situation reporting, and use of EOC management and resource tracking software are so diverse and can very from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

The unique application of Multi-Agency Coordination Systems (MACS), an element of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), just like ICS, by each jurisdiction also has to be considered.  While there are numerous best practices in MACS, their interface with ICS – often implemented through an EOC – is influenced significantly by governmental structure, statutory responsibilities, and politics more than can be addressed by any training curriculum. Consider simply the differences between a state EOC, a county EOC, and a local government EOC and their unique roles and needs. For as much standardization NIMS encourages, there will still be different ways of implementing these systems.  In the end, the challenge remains the same – how do we train people to function in EOCs?

First, do conduct that needs assessment.  What do people have to know and what skills must they have to be successful in an EOC?  At this point, I speak foundationally, as additional and more in-depth training can be explored based on position and responsibility.  Certainly ICS – with sufficient detail in positions of the organization and the planning process.    What else do they need to know?  ICS training does not address in detail what an EOC is or does – an important understand for people to have.  What processes must they be familiar with?  What tools or methodologies does the EOC use that must be trained on?  Are there specific organizational elements that require unique interactions with the greater organization (such as emergency support functions <ESFs>)?  Look through your jurisdiction’s EOC Standard Operating Procedures/Guidelines (you do have one, right?) to help you identify some of these needs.

Second, identify how to address these training needs.  ICS organization and the planning process are covered in the ICS-300 course, so that will meet some of your needs.  Unfortunately, since so many of the other needs are unique to your jurisdiction, you will have to build custom training to meet these needs.  Yes, FEMA does have available a course called EOC Management and Operations (IS/G – 775).  While some material in this course may or may help meet your training needs, chances are the course in its entirety will not.  First, it dedicates time discussing ideal facilities for an EOC (not really necessary if you already have such a facility), and second, while it provides an outline for general EOC operations it still won’t address all of your specific needs, although course materials can be used as a resource to inform your instructional design.

Third, build staying power into your training.  Much of what is learned is quickly forgotten, especially when people don’t practice it often.  There are a few strategies to combat this knowledge loss… 1) offer refresher training, 2) conduct regular exercises, 3) create job aids.  ICS is big on job aids – that’s very simply what the ICS forms are.  There are a multitude of additional job aids that you can create for your EOC.  Practically every position and process can have checklists and flow charts which help remind staff of what they need to do and in what order to do it in.

This can all be a lot of work, but it will pay off next time you have to activate your EOC.  Remember, there is always help available.  My consulting firm, Emergency Preparedness Solutions, has a great deal of experience working in a variety of EOCs across the country.  We have developed plans, procedures, job aids, training, and exercises unique to each EOC.  We can help you!  Check out our website at www.epsllc.biz or contact us at consultants@epsllc.biz.  Be Proactive, Be Prepared!™

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

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Emergency Management Manuals from Australia

One of the greatest aspects about the field of emergency management is the community of practice we share.  It’s recognized throughout the entire profession that we improve as a practice not only through our own lessons learned buy by sharing and learning from everyone.

The following website provides links to a multitude of manuals on various emergency management related topics from Australia.  http://www.em.gov.au/Publications/Australianemergencymanualseries/Pages/default.aspx  The Aussies deal with all the same hazards we do – with wild fire, flood, and typhoon topping off the list for much of the continent.  Take a few minutes to look through what they have shared – you just might learn something, I know I did!

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

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Thanks to my followers and regular readers!

I just wanted to take a moment to thank my followers.  I’ve had some with me for quite a while and others who have recently joined.  I know there are a ton of blogs and other information sources out there and I’m quite honored that each of you take the time to look my posts over when you have the chance.

My goal is to share ideas through informative and (usually) well thought blog posts.  Some ideas are inspired by others (which I make a serious effort to cite), others are inspired by my own experiences or just ideas that happen to strike me.  This will be my 177th post and at the time of publishing this I’ve had over 15,000 views.

If you enjoy my blog please share it with others.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts and perspectives on posts, so feel free to comment.

Thanks again!

- Tim Riecker

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Capability Prioritization

The THIRA (Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment) process is the most comprehensive hazard analysis in emergency management and homeland security.  It provides more information than the traditional hazard analysis by examining each hazard through the lens of each of the 31 Core Capabilities which have been specifically defined by the stakeholders of the jurisdiction.  The end result of the THIRA is a snapshot of the hazards a jurisdiction faces and the identification of what is needed to handle that hazard within each of the five mission areas (Prevention, Protection, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation).  It can be a complex process, but well worth the investment of time for a jurisdiction.  More, however, can be learned and the THIRA should inform more than just your plans.

For states and UASIs (Urban Area Security Initiative jurisdictions), the process continues in the form of the SPR (State Preparedness Report).  The SPR uses the THIRA data and applies a POETE (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising) analysis to each capability.  The POETE analysis drills deeper into each capability, allowing the jurisdiction to better understand their strengths and weaknesses within each capability.  This is extremely valuable information and clearly there are benefits to more than just states and UASIs conducting a POETE analysis.  The SPR process also prompts jurisdictions to assign a priority to each capability – High, Medium, or Low.  All in all, this provides a depth of data, but what does it all mean?

While the SPR process expands on the THIRA foundation by prompting a more in-depth analysis of each capability, the end result is a multitude of data points.  Taken individually, a jurisdiction can examine details of a specific capability, but further analysis needs to be undertaken to see the big picture.  Many jurisdictions rate quite a few of the 31 Core Capabilities as a High priority.  So what do you focus on?  If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority!

In response to this, Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC has developed a proprietary Capability Prioritization which incorporates stakeholder-assigned priorities while also considering the ratings provided in the POETE analysis.  The results of the Capability Prioritization provide a relative priority ranking of the Core Capabilities for the jurisdiction which can give the jurisdiction a better view of the overall priorities for continued development of preparedness strategies across the POETE spectrum, policy issues, investment justification, and resource allocation.

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC is skilled and experienced in conducting THIRAs and POETE Analysis – plus we equip your jurisdiction with usable data and recommendations based on our findings.  Contact us today to jumpstart and focus your preparedness efforts.  The investment will pay off!  Be Proactive, Be Prepared! ™

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© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

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Preparing for Ebola – and Whatever Else May Come

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you should be quite aware of the headlining threat in public health and public safety – Ebola hemorrhagic fever.  Ebola has been in existence for quite a while, but the current outbreak of this deadly virus in western Africa has garnered much attention.  Thus far, beyond western Africa, infected persons have been identified in Spain and the United States.  The ease and frequency of air travel, combined with the virulence of Ebola have led to a frenzied reaction by politicians, the media, and our health care system.  While we are at a stage in the US where only a handful of infected persons have been identified, this virus is quite dangerous and could easily and rapidly spread.

While I’m not a public health expert, preparedness is universal.  Public health is at the tip of the spear for this fight and must be supported by other professions within public safety and beyond – that’s what emergency management is all about.  That said, this is proving to be quite a test for our public health partners.  The consequences of failure could be devastating.

Considering the five mission areas, we are most strongly functioning within Prevention, Protection, and Response for Ebola.  Certainly the three common Core Capabilities of Planning, Operational Coordination, and Public Information and Warning are all fully engaged across the three mission areas.  Additionally, we are seeing a great deal of work within in the Intelligence and Information Sharing; Screening, Search, and Detection; Public Health and Medical; and Situational Assessment Core Capabilities; along with some work in other capabilities to a lesser degree.  Why is it important to recognize the mission areas and Core Capabilities?  It helps to keep us focused and prompts us to examine the critical activities for each.

In which mission areas and Core Capabilities does your agency fit in?

What are you responsible for?

Are you doing it?

Do you have all the information you need to do it safely and effectively or are you waiting for public health to call and tell you what to do?  I’m betting you haven’t gotten that phone call.

In a situation like this, we are seeing a lot of activity and emphasis at the Federal level through US Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control.  Their focus is on solving the problem in front of them.  While they have people engaged in getting messages out and engaging partners, they have a lot to accomplish and likely haven’t gotten to all the stakeholders.  We will hopefully see some more aggressive messaging given the circumstances that have been described at the Texas hospital where Ebola patients have been treated.  So what should you do?  Hopefully your agency is already in contact with your local health department to discuss both your role in the public safety system and the potential exposures and vulnerabilities you may have to Ebola.  If your local health department doesn’t seem to have much information, reach up to your state health department.  Don’t wait to get a call… by then it could be too late.

Very simply, we are looking at preparations for your agency’s role.  These preparations, although slightly different based on the agency, apply to all agencies; from first responder agencies, to local government, K-12 and higher education schools, hospitals, private sector, and not for profits.  Let’s break this down with the Preparedness Cycle:

The Preparedness Cycle - FEMA

The Preparedness Cycle – FEMA

Plans, policies, procedures – do you have them in place and up to date?  Depending on the role and function of your agency you can have several of the following – emergency operations plan, emergency procedures, infection control plan and procedures, public health plan, communicable disease or pandemic influenza plan.  You should engage with public health experts to ensure that your plans, policies, and procedures address everything known about Ebola.  You may need to create some procedures specifically addressing issues pertaining to Ebola and your agency’s role.  Do your plans, policies, and procedures link up to your agency’s critical activities for each Core Capability you are engaged in?  What agencies do you need to coordinate with to be effective?

Organizing – depending on your agency’s role, you may need to make some internal changes or designations within your organization to better streamline your activities.

Training – train everyone who has anything to do with any component of the plan in what they need to do.  This is a great opportunity to ensure that everyone is trained up in their role of the emergency operations plan.  If your agency has physical contact with the public, training in personal protective equipment (PPE), identification of signs and symptoms, and patient care are extremely important.  Given the detail of the activities and the just-in-time training, job aids will be a great help to your staff to ensure that they follow the procedures you provide for them.  Don’t get caught short… communicate to your staff in what is going on, what your agency is or may be responsible for, and what they will be called upon to do.

Equipping – your staff need the right equipment for the job.  Not only PPE, but the forms and databases used to record information, decontamination equipment, etc.  It is extremely important that staff are trained not only in how to use equipment but to prevent contamination of equipment and prevention of cross contamination.  Do you have all the equipment you need?  If not, who does?

Exercising – Conduct table top exercises to talk through policies and higher levels plans to validate and become familiar with them.  Identify shortfalls and correct them immediately.  Conduct drills to test the skills of staff for specific activities and larger exercises – functional or full scale – to test multiple functions and plans.

Evaluating – Evaluation is a constant throughout all of the preparedness cycle.  We need to evaluate every step within the preparedness cycle and make adjustments and improvements as needed.  Embrace best practices and fix shortfalls.  This leads directly to the next step…

Taking Corrective Action – Some corrective actions are quick and easy fixes while others can take a while or cost money above budget to address.  A corrective action plan (aka improvement plan) will help you keep track of what needs to be fixed, the priority it holds, who is responsible for making it happen, and a strategy to make it happen – it’s a living document.

The preparedness cycle can be applied to any hazard, be it Ebola or a flood.  With all this attention on Ebola, it’s a great opportunity to pull plans off the shelf and have discussions with internal and external stakeholders on these preparedness steps.

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

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Exercising Foundational Skills with Unorthodox Scenarios

Does the scenario of an exercise activity really matter?  Can we use a zombie scenario to exercise evacuation and sheltering?  Can we use a holiday food distribution to the needy to practice our POD (point of distribution) plan?  Do scenarios always have to be realistic or related to our jurisdiction’s hazards?

I’m a foodie.  As such I find myself occasionally watching shows like Cutthroat Kitchen and Chopped.  These are fun shows that strike a balance of cooking with game shows, including the cash prize in the end.  The competitors are legitimate cooks, some trained in culinary schools, some successful in their careers and earning the title of ‘chef’.  The competitors are given, on the spot, either a dish to create (Cutthroat Kitchen) or a box full of ingredients which must all be incorporated into a dish (Chopped), using a kitchen and pantry generally unfamiliar to them, within a relatively short amount of time – and make it better than their competitors.  Is competing on these shows anything like running a professional kitchen?  Hell no.  Does it make them better cooks?  From interviews I’ve heard, the answer is yes.

Can we recreate this in emergency management?  Of course we can, and we should.  How would this help emergency managers and other public safety professionals?  Recall that within the exercise design component of the HSEEP process the Core Capabilities to be focused on and the objectives to be tested are selected prior to determining the scenario.  This tells us that the activities to be performed are more important than the scenario in which they will be performed.  In these cooking competitions, the participants must fall back on their foundational skills to be successful.  It’s those foundational skills and the activities which they foster that we evaluate in our exercises.

Certainly a scenario has some importance.  It provides context, allowing the participants to get their head into what they are doing.  A scenario can be different, even a bit silly or fantastical (alien invasion, anyone?), but it still has to correlate to the objectives of the exercise; i.e. there must be a compelling reason to perform mass prophylaxis or to evacuate an area.  That said, the scenario is simply a vehicle to get our participants to perform what we intend to test.  Don’t we always tell our participants to not fight the scenario?  Well if it’s something they’ve never before experienced, they have little ground to stand on.

Another benefit to using an unfamiliar or alternate scenario is getting participants to break from the routine and face unexpected and new challenges.  What if digital communications fail?  What if they have to relocate to an alternate EOC? What if that alternate facility is likewise compromised?  Consider using the scenario to remove a critical resource from use.  How will the participants overcome this new problem?  In Cutthroat Kitchen, participants are faced with unseemly injects to their food preparation, such as replacing all cooking utensils with a Swiss Army knife or only being able to cook using a microwave.  Some of your participants may balk at such occurrences, but emergency management is about managing the unknown, the unfortunate, and the unexpected.

Regardless of the measure of reality we choose to base our exercises on, the scenarios we develop are really another level of fiction to help facilitate exercise participation.  Yes, often times we want to test hazard specific plans (a zombie apocalypse exercise can not replace the need of a hurricane exercise), but if the scenario itself doesn’t matter, consider using something ‘outside the box’.  Routine makes us complacent and complacency is very dangerous in emergency management.  We must always expect the unexpected and continually have the mindset to improvise, adapt, and overcome.

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

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Deliberate Planning – Strategic Planning and Business Continuity

Many organizations put forth extraordinary effort to develop strategic plans to give concerted organization-wide direction to the organization for the coming 3-5 years.  Like many of my readers, I have been part of several strategic planning efforts in different organizations, sometimes helping to lead the way.  There is a great deal of value to strategic planning as it helps not only refine the organization’s vision, but also develops objectives to help it get there while (ideally) bringing the entire organization on board – from finance, to HR, to operations, and facilities – everyone is facing in the same direction and striving to accomplish the same goals.  Just as strategic planning should not be performed in a vacuum, business continuity planning should not either.  Just as strategic planning engaged the whole organization, as should business continuity planning.

If the efforts of strategic planning and business continuity planning have such foundational similarities, why not bring the two together?  As the goals of these two efforts are distinctly different we certainly can’t merge the efforts, but the overlaps provide for easily exploitable opportunities within the organization.  How?

First, make business continuity and resilience a goal of your strategic plan.  What does this do for the organization?  Just like the other goals identified in strategic planning, it provides a documented leadership-driven purpose which will engage the whole organization.  Every business unit in an organization has a stake in business continuity.  Just with other goals within your strategic plan, the specific actions will be identified through objectives – be it a start to your business continuity program or a continuation and improvement thereof.  As mentioned in previous posts, business owners and managers put forth a great deal of effort to build and expand their businesses, but we also need plans to stay in business in the event of a disaster.

Second, once the strategic plan is completed, you now have a group of people from across the organization who now hopefully work well together – engage them!  Turn your strategic planning committee into your business continuity committee.  Good strategic planning provides for someone (ideally the planning group) to monitor the implementation of the strategic plan.  This takes minimal time compared to developing the strategic plan, allowing for this group – who has already worked together for some time and has gone through the group dynamics of forming, storming, norming, and performing – to focus on another task.  Why pull together another group of different people?  It’s a waste of time and the team will lag in performance.  Simply reengage them and change their focus.  This group is a great asset who has already proven they can represent their business units while still having an organization-wide perspective.

Third, mine data from the strategic planning process to support business continuity.  A thorough strategic planning process has examined the organization from many angles and perspective – particularly through a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).  While a SWOT analysis is performed from a business standpoint, much of the data obtained and derived from this analysis can inform both your hazard analysis and the identification of mission essential functions – these are the things which you MUST DO to stay in business and to minimize the greatest losses.

Lastly, continue the relationship between strategic planning and business continuity.  Both work in a cycle of continuous improvement and those cycles obviously intersect – not just at one point but potentially at multiple junctures; an important consideration of a business continuity program is the impact which disasters may have not only on current business operations but also on planned business initiatives.  This shared knowledge and insight between two planning efforts conducted within one group is invaluable.  As strategic planning continues, new objectives for the business continuity program should be included while resiliency opportunities identified through the business continuity program should inform the strategic plan helping the organization overall to become more resilient and sustainable.

What are your thoughts on the synergy between strategic planning and business continuity?  What other opportunities do you see?

As always, if you need help starting, growing, or rebuilding your business continuity or emergency management program, Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC can help.  Contact us through www.epsllc.biz or directly at consultants@epsllc.biz.

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

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