This isn’t my Red Cross

The National Red Cross announced last month another restructuring effort taking place across the country.  It seems every few years the Red Cross attempts to streamline their operations through a similar effort.  What is missing with every restructuring activity is a local perspective, which I think hurts them greatly.  Consider that the Red Cross’ service delivery is mostly local.  Their volunteer base is local.  Their fundraising requests are local.  Yet with each reorganization they draw back further and further from those local roots.

I heard a rather compelling example just this past week of how the Red Cross’ organization has changed in the state of Vermont.  From what I was told, Vermont used to be covered by three chapters.  Reorganization several years ago consolidated those three chapters to one.  This current reorganization effort is now consolidating the Red Cross into one chapter which has responsibility for both Vermont and New Hampshire!  Additionally, they have sold their mobile canteens and have contracted to a restaurant food provider to handle emergency food services.  While this contract does provide for a more sustainable and large scale operation, all these efforts continue to draw the Red Cross out of the community.

I first heard of this most recent reorganization through the blog Disaster Gestalt, written by Joseph Martin who has a long history serving as a Red Cross volunteer.  I shared some of my insights in his blog as I reacted initially to the news he brought me.  Upon hearing more and more about this reorganization and its impacts across the country, I’m really left wondering what happened to my Red Cross.

My involvement with the Red Cross started in high school where our government class required some measure of civic service.  My best friend had gotten some info on the Red Cross and they took us in as volunteer Health and Safety Instructors.  They trained us to teach courses in First Aid and CPR to the community.  We both took to it quickly, finding quite a passion for teaching.  In many ways it began both our careers as instructors and in emergency services.  With this passion, we continued volunteering for our local chapter well beyond our high school requirement.

The staff at the chapter was wonderful and not only helped us grow, but encouraged us to further our involvement.  While we continued to do mostly volunteer work, we also became paid instructors, helping the chapter serve corporate clients and eventually instructor trainers conducting train-the-trainer courses.  I attended community college locally after high school so was able to continue my work for the chapter while also working nearly full time, taking classes full time, and receiving my initial training as a firefighter, EMT, and diver.  I honestly have no idea where that energy came from!

When I left the area to complete my bachelor’s degree and subsequently moved around a bit, I continued teaching for Red Cross chapters around the northeast.  My experience with each of those chapters was very similar to that of my home chapter.  They were all welcoming and thrilled to have help.  Eventually, once I settled into my career I became a board member.  Despite the three hour round trip drive, I served on the board of my home town, where my Red Cross service started.  It was a rewarding experience.  My work and family obligations eventually pulled me away, but I continued to donate and always had a place in my heart for the Red Cross.

In the years since my board service there have been several reorganizations nationally.  Each of these reorganizations worked to centralize chapter activities to regional offices, resulting in layoffs at the chapter level.  While I understand that consolidation can be a cost savings, it decreases the local reach of the chapter.  Additionally, the responsibilities of the chapter executive continued to decrease.  With true management and direction coming from regional offices, there is little left to manage at the chapter level.  Job postings for chapter executives seem to stress fund development more than anything else.  The footprints of chapters continue to expand as chapter consolidations occur.  No longer are chapters community-based as their territories cover many jurisdictions.  It’s all rather impersonal.

In researching this article I was not able to find anything that discussed the national picture of this reorganization.  I found quite a number of stories from local media talking about the impacts of the reorganization on their local chapters, though.  Nearly every article mentioned expanded territory and staff layoffs.  Many also, interestingly enough, mentioned new chapter executives coming on board.  I reached out to the Red Cross to find out more about their current reorganization effort and sent an email through their Public Inquiry function on their website.  I did receive a response back within a few hours.  What they wrote back provided some high level goals but little data on the impacts of the reorganization, which I did request.  Here are some snippets:

The American Red Cross is transforming its operations to meet the growing demand for our services while making the best use of donor dollars.

 

  • In the past few years, the demand for our services has grown. To meet this demand, we continue to look for ways to touch more lives while keeping our costs low.

 

  • We have outlined a three year plan to lower the cost of operations by finding more efficient ways to do our work and expanding volunteers in every community.

 

  • Our goal is to help more people at less cost. We will be even better stewards of our donor dollars because we are an even more cost-conscious organization.

 Guided by recommendations from representatives of local paid and volunteer leadership, we are consolidating Red Cross chapters and putting these savings into serving more people in need.

 

  • With a consolidated regional structure, we can provide more robust and consistent services across a wider geography. These consolidations enable us to shift donor dollars from costs associated with delivering service to the actual services themselves, enabling us to serve more clients with more direct assistance.

 

  • We aim to increase both the number of clients served and the resources made available to them – not through the addition of more paid staff – but by adding more volunteer leaders and involving them in more ways.

 

  • Volunteers have always been and continue to be the backbone of the Red Cross. Their importance will increase as we look to deliver services in more communities across the country. We want to make Red Cross the best place in America to work and volunteer.

 The public can continue to count on the Red Cross to be there to serve the needs of their communities.

 Our goal is to:

  • Increase the number of home fires we respond to. Home fires impact more people across the county each year than all other natural disasters combined.
  • Increase by 10 percent the financial support we give to individual disaster clients. The average amount we give to families affected by home fires has not changed in 10 years.
  • Develop a local structure that allows us to deliver services more efficiently and be in even more local communities. Currently, Red Cross is present in more than 2,000 U.S. communities and military facilities worldwide.

I am still left with many questions about their implementation.  It doesn’t seem to make much sense to expect higher donations and increased service delivery when their physical presence in communities has decreased.  They want to do more with less by increasing chapter territories but decreasing staff.  They say they can fill the gap cost effectively through volunteers.  While the Red Cross has a long history of service delivery through volunteers, the foundation of that is staff who manages and coordinates the activities of volunteers.  While volunteer leaders can certainly help meet needs, paid staff are still the ones ultimately accountable.  Volunteers also like to have connections to paid staff and with the decrease in paid staff and the larger territories it feels more and more impersonal.  Given the operations of the Red Cross, while volunteers are important and certainly critical to the success of the organization, the important role of paid staff and a physical presence in the communities they serve is extremely important.

I’m sure that many folks at national headquarters work very hard on trying to determine how to maximize their funding and the services they provide.  Nearly every organization, be it non-profit, for profit, or government, strives to strike the right balance.  In my opinion, however, this continued trend of regionalization will only continue to hurt the Red Cross.  Their community presence decreases more and more.  When community members don’t see and feel that presence they are less compelled to donate much less volunteer.

To be clear, I still support the mission of the Red Cross.  I am very much a proponent of the Red Cross and the services they provide.  They provide important services to communities and are a critical partner in preparedness and emergency management.  While there is always room for improvement, however, their serial reorganization efforts through the last 15 years or so have achieved a level that is sadly comical.  There must be a better way.  The organization has become so impersonal I no longer feel that they are my Red Cross.

I’m very interested in the opinions of others on this matter.  Do you feel the Red Cross is improving through these reorganization efforts?  If so, how?  Do you feel more or less compelled to donate or volunteer?  Am I missing something?

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

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Change your batteries and clocks + rotate preparedness stocks this weekend

Originally posted on ITS A DISASTER blog:

Most people will gain an hour this weekend when they “fall back” early Sunday morning. While you are changing your clocks, it’s also a great time to change the batteries in detectors … and check and rotate items in disaster supplies kits since cooler weather is coming.

Use the following tips to make this a family project and include the kids so they can help choose items for kits and learn where things are, and it’s a good opportunity to discuss your Family Plan.

  • Change the batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors around your home. Officials suggest you test them at least once a month and completely replace detectors every 10 years.
  • Pull out your home and vehicle kits and rotate stored water, food, medications and other items, and test and/or replace batteries if you stashed some in kits. Remember to pack items for all your pets…

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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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