Incorporating Social Media Into Your Exercises

Incorporating Social Media Into Your Exercises, a post within the idisaster.wordpress.com blog.

This blog was first brought to my attention through the most recent DHS Capacity Building Webinar Series episode called Innovating with Disaster Drills and Exercises (also available on iTunes, which is how I usually listen to them).  The blog’s primary writer, Kim Stephens, is very well spoken and well versed in using social media in emergency management (#smem).  Claire Rubin, who I’ve referenced several times before, also guest posts on the idisaster blog.  I’ve spent some time looking through the blog and find it to be well written and very informative – they certainly gained a new follower!

Be sure to check out both idisaster.wordpress.com and the DHS Capacity Building Webinar Series.

– TR

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Fixing our Infrastructure

Earlier this morning I came across a post on Twitter which forwarded this blog post by Steve McEllistrem.  Mr. McEllistrem is an author of both science fiction and legal books.  His perspective on fixing our infrastructure is pretty straight forward.  Link below.

Fixing Our Infrastructure | Steve McEllistrem

– TR

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Effectiveness and Efficiency in Incident Management – Resource Tracking

Incident Check In

Incident Check In

I recently took part in the management of an exercise in which a Type 3 incident management team (IMT) was among the players.  As part of their initial set up they immediately recognized the importance of checking in and tracking resources.  This is an activity which is often overlooked at the onset of an incident and is a royal pain to catch up on once the need is realized.  There were a few things which they could have improved upon, though, which seriously impacted their effectiveness and efficiency.

  1. They spent time checking in each vehicle as equipment. Not every vehicle needs to be tracked in an incident.  Generally, the sedan, pick up, or SUV you come in on isn’t special enough that it requires tracking.  Huge waste of time, people, and effort.  Consider the nature and capability of the equipment that is coming through your access point.  Is it a specialized resource?  Will it be applied tactically?  Will it be supporting logistical needs?  Is it rented or leased?  These are the conditions that should be considered when deciding what equipment to track.
  2. They marked equipment using bottled shoe polish. Not a bad idea, except it rained all week, and within hours of application most of the markings couldn’t be read.  Windshield markers, similar to what car dealerships use, are cost effective, waterproof, and clean off easily with mild window cleaners.
  3. Equipment that was checked in was never logged in detail. What’s the difference between E-01234 and E-01235?  We will never know as no descriptions were entered into their tracking system.
  4. As vehicles flowed in to the staging area, people will directed to check in at the command post. This is obviously excellent, except to get to the command post people had to pass by the main access to the incident site.  This meant that many people did not check in as directed.  They got distracted by the incident and associated response activity and never made it to the command post to check in.  This severely impacted the effectiveness of accountability.

Sometimes people would try to explain these things away by saying “It’s just an exercise”, but exercises are an opportunity to do things the right way, not skimp and cut corners.  While their intent was good, their process and results were quite poor.  If we are supposed to train the way we fight, as they say, this team has a ways to go to be more effective with resource accountability.  On the surface resource tracking looks easy… but it’s not.  There is a lot of complexity, variables, and attention to detail that must all work together well in order to be successful.  The Resource Unit Leader has one of the hardest jobs in the Incident Command System.

Being who I am, I’m left wondering why this all happened.  I have little choice but to blame poor planning and training.  Planning is to blame for a lack of clear procedures, guidance, and decision models.  The training which people receive tends to be just as vague.  By now, most, if not all of you are familiar with my opinions on the current ICS training.  While the referenced article does not go into the IMT/position training curricula, from what I recall of the courses I’ve taken, there are certain things taken for granted.  It’s easy to put an item on a checklist that says ‘Establish check in’.  OK… how?  Where?  When?  What?  Why?  The answer to those questions, or guidance to help answer those questions, should be provided through training.  Let’s tell people not only why check in is important, but what people and resources should be checked in, where to establish check in (what to look for and what to avoid), etc.  Once we’ve trained people on it, let’s provide job aids… not just the ICS forms, but job aids that will actually help people do their jobs.  While it may seem like minutia and unnecessary detail, keep in mind that we are training people to operate in austere and chaotic environments which they are trying to establish order over and only do these activities on rare occasion.  Those conditions signal the need for detailed training and job aids to support sustained performance and limit the degradation of the training they received.

Bottom line – let’s take a step back, fix what we have to based upon what we’ve learned, and proceed forward so we can operate more effectively and efficiently.

Thoughts and comments are always appreciated.  What have you learned or observed from incidents or exercises that needs to be addressed foundationally?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

WWW.EPSLLC.BIZ

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What is Your Emergency Management Agenda?

We often hear, usually through the media, the term ‘agenda’ thrown around, usually in relation to political parties, corporations, and the like.  I think it’s time that we each have an emergency management agenda.

First of all, this isn’t exclusive.  Everyone can have their own – local, county, state, and federal emergency management agencies, and emergency managers with private and not for profit entities.  I’d also argue that we need a national emergency management agenda – every nation should.  And perhaps even a global emergency management agenda.  Why?  We need deliberate, purpose driven direction.  Too often we are scattered, doing some recovery from the past few disasters, and some mitigation and preparedness projects then WHAM! we get hit with another disaster.  After the disruption from that disaster, we usually fall back into the same groove or make up a bunch of new things we think will solve all of our problems.  So much of what we do is knee-jerk, despite the planning efforts we spend so much time on.  I really think we can do much better.

Part of doing better is having some longer-term goals and implementations to achieve those goals.  That’s really what a programmatic agenda is all about.  Much of this parallels a strategic plan, but people often roll their eyes at strategic planning, either because they have no time for a complex process or they have been through enough cheesy group think strategic planning sessions in their careers.  Strategic planning may also not be practical for many emergency management shops which are one or two person entities, especially at a local or county level or within a small corporation or not for profit.  I’m not knocking strategic planning, it has a lot of value (if followed through), but formulating an agenda is generally simpler by necessity.

Let’s consider components of an agenda:

  • Purpose/goal – what is the big picture of what you want to accomplish? This is also your elevator pitch.  It should simply state what you want to accomplish, in realistic terms.  This is not lofty like your corporate mission or vision statement, this is a programmatic goal.
  • Who will participate – who are your internal and external stakeholders and partners? Consider all the people and entities you need cooperation from to make this happen.
  • Expected outcomes – what benchmarks do we want to achieve? Write these like objectives – remember SMART: Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
  • Timeline – what is the timeline for each expected outcome and the goal itself? Set realistic timeframes.
  • Obstacles – what stands in our way of success internally and externally? Things like funding and personnel issues are obvious, but reach further while still being realistic.  Recognize that local disasters can be setbacks but can also create opportunity; and that many national-level disasters tend to result in politicians hitting a giant national reset button, changing the way we have been doing things (for better or worse) and stalling our momentum.

Of course this can all be revisited and adjusted as needed, but this agenda will help you lay the groundwork for future activities, giving you a path to follow instead of a series of ad-hoc activities.  Get it on paper and post it on the wall in your office where you will see it every day and can easily reflect on it, what it contains, and your progress in moving through it.

With that all said, I’m curious to know what the emergency management agenda is for the US (and every nation).  Yes, FEMA has a strategic plan, and while they are at the pointy end of the emergency management stick, they do not embody all that is emergency management.  Where do we, as professionals, see emergency management in this nation evolving to?  What do we (broadly) need to accomplish?  We tend to know the agendas of political parties and the politicians that are part of them, yet we don’t have a solid grasp on the direction of the emergency management enterprise.  Does this give you reason for concern?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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FEMA Releases a Consolidated Online Training Course Catalog for First Responder Training

This is a great resource I discovered last week that has just been officially announced this week. It is comprehensive and easy to use. Check it out and see what’s out there! – TR 

(Official release follows)

FEMA released a consolidated online training catalog for the First Responder Training System, including courses available through the Emergency Management Institute (EMI), the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium (NDPC) and the Continuing Training Grant (CTG) program. The site was developed in response to customer requests and is known as the “National Training & Education Online Course Catalog.” It allows users to search for all FEMA preparedness training initiatives in one location.  

The main entry page of the combined catalog briefly describes each training organization—EMI, CDP, and the National Training and Education Division—while providing a list of training courses in each catalog, along with links for scheduling and individual websites for each training organization. First responders can access the consolidated course catalog by clicking directly at www.firstrespondertraining.gov/NTE

The catalog itself is searchable and can be viewed in full or by the individual NTE training entities. Users are able to filter by organization and/or training provider, delivery type, discipline, core capability and mission area at www.firstrespondertraining.gov/ntecatalog.

Course catalog feedback can be sent to firstrespondertraining@fema.dhs.gov.

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Course Review: AWR-147 Rail Car Incident Response

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend AWR-147 Rail Car Incident Response conducted by the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium (RDPC) and Findlay University.  This is a one day awareness level course that focused on response to incidents involving freight rail cars and hazardous materials.

AWR-147 Participant Manual

AWR-147 Participant Manual

All in all this was a good course which I recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to attend it.  For those not familiar with the RDPC you can find their website at https://www.ruraltraining.org/.  Although only an awareness level course, it is suitable for any responder or emergency manager who has a jurisdiction with freight rail lines.  It’s also quite suitable as additional training for HazMat teams, as the information provided relative to the identification of the different types of rail cars and potential hazards associated with them is excellent.

The course construction follows the usual DHS format, including a pre and post test, plenty of student materials, and a mix of instruction, videos, and participant interaction and discussion.  Given the variety of rail cars which can be encountered and rail incidents do dissect, there are plenty of visuals and case studies to drive the program.

I would have liked to have seen the inclusion of a unit to discuss current topics, particularly Bakken crude and even a bit on HazMat associated with passenger train incidents.  Also, while the course focused on response, there was little mention of community preparedness measures which can/should be taken.  Of course I had a small ulcer form with one of the final units which was on NIMS/ICS.  I see little value in rehashing the primary components of NIMS and showing an ICS org chart, particularly when there is little/no discussion on the nuances of applicability relative to a rail incident.  It was all rather gratuitous.

There were some great activities which reinforced use of the DOT Emergency Response Guidebook as well as other sources of information which can be referenced during a rail response, including a worksheet which could easily be used as a job aid for real life application.  Along with the participant manual, all students received a copy of the current DOT Guidebook as well as the Association of American Railroads Field Guide to Tank Cars, which is a handy reference to help you identify the specific type of tank car you are dealing with and where key infrastructure on each (brakes, vents, valves, etc.) can be located.

This was the first course I had taken from the RDPC, although I have been aware of their course selection for quite some time and have referred others to their great array of courses.  Don’t let the term ‘rural’ fool you – the material they teach is relevant to rural, suburban, and urban responders alike.  I had taken CSX’s rail response course several years ago and this course blows it away.  Overall well done and highly recommended.

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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Incident Command System Training Sucks

There it is.  I said it.  Before you unleash the hounds, hear me out.

A bit of background:

As another grad course at American Military University was coming to a close last month I was racking my brain over the theme of my term paper.  In one of our final assignments I was dissecting NIMS – and that’s where it struck me.  ICS training is all wrong.  Now that my paper is all wrapped up and submitted, I wanted to get some discussion on my blog.  So, since I don’t want to bore everyone with the paper itself, what follows is a much less academic and more conversational version of my term paper.

For those of you who read my blog, you will be familiar with a few fairly recent posts that involve ICS:  The Human Aspect of ICS and Overcoming Transitional Incidents, Preparedness – ICS is Not EnoughTraining EOC Personnel – ICS is not Enough, and finally The Need for Practical Incident Command Training.  In that last one I feel I was headed in the right direction but not yet on the right road.

Before we go any further, here is my disclaimer.  I am a big believer in ICS.  If you take a look at the aforementioned posts, you’ll see that.  It’s a system that has been in use for a long time and has a proven track record of working well when properly applied.  Along with that, I’ve been an ICS practitioner, instructor, and instructor trainer – since before NIMS, in fact.  I’ve also been in positions influencing NIMS-related policy at both the state and national level.  So I have a fair amount of familiarity with the system, how it is used, and how it is taught.

Defining the need:

A great many after action reports (AARs) reflect on Operational Coordination (the current core capability which most heavily features ICS), On-Scene Incident Management (the previous iteration under the target capabilities), and just ICS in general.  These AARs often go on to recommend that responders need more ICS training.  How can they say that, though?  Following NIMS compliance requirements, darn near everyone who has been required to take ICS training has done so over the past 10 years.  So how could we be so off base?

The reality is summed up in this simple statement from John Morton: “With respect to using ICS from NIMS… training incorporated in the NIMS doctrine largely does not provide any actual skills training or development.”  If you aren’t yet familiar with John Morton’s work, I suggest you take a look here: Book Review – Next-Generation Homeland Security.  Brilliant guy.

Looking at the substance of Mr. Morton’s quote, it’s true that the foundational ICS courses (ICS-100 through ICS-400) don’t provide any skills training.  However, there is a significant expectation that taking these courses is somehow a magic bullet.

Much of my paper focuses on the ICS-300 and ICS-400 courses.  The ICS-100 and ICS-200 courses are probably not far off from where they actually need to be.  There exists, however, a higher expectation from people to have learned something from the ICS-300 and ICS-400 courses which can be readily applied in the field.  One of the foundations for my paper was an analysis of the course objectives from the current ICS-300 and ICS-400 courses through the lens of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Bloom’s is a learning hierarchy which helps identify the depth of instruction and thus learning.  The revised version of Bloom’s is a scale of six levels, ranging from ‘Remembering’ to ‘Creating’, with remembering being pretty basic and creating being quite advanced.  The expectation of ICS training, obtained from a few sources as well as our perception, is that it falls somewhere in the middle under the taxonomy level of ‘Applying’.   The reality is that most of the objectives from these two courses fall short of that expectation.

How is it possible that we have been expecting more from people when we haven’t been giving them the proper training to do so?  In essence, all we have been training people in is theory.  Sorry, but theory doesn’t save lives, application does.  Why does the fire chief of even the small city (population ~62k) closest to me care what an incident complex or branch-level planning is?  It’s not something he can use.  He and his officers require proficiency in the system for not only the day to day type 4 and 5 incidents they deal with (which they generally have), but also enough for the type 3 incidents which occasionally occur from storms, hazmat incidents, and the like.

Yes, we do have position-specific courses for those who are members of incident management teams (IMTs).  Those courses presumably identify at a higher taxonomy level (I haven’t had a chance to do an analysis on them).  IMTs are great assets, but let’s have another brief shot of reality … not every jurisdiction is suited for an IMT.  Identifying potential members, getting them trained and experienced, and maintaining their skills is an investment that most jurisdictions simply aren’t willing or able to make.  The result is a huge gap between those who have only the core ICS training, which we have already identified does not meet the real need, and an IMT from a larger jurisdiction or region.  Jurisdictions need to be able to function for at least two days, if not longer, on their own.  Most incidents will be resolved at that point or ready for transition to an IMT.  If appropriate, the IMT can then apply things like branch-level planning.  That is the level of application expected from IMTs.

What can we do about it:

So what is needed?  Here are my rough ideas.  First off, at a micro level, we need a full rewrite of the ICS-300 and 400 courses.  Let’s make them more meaningful and focus on application.  Pull out all the theory and structure them around practical learning practices.  Second, we need refresher training.  Let’s stop the argument about that.  Knowledge and skills deteriorate over time, we all know that.  So let’s go with annual refresher training.  Not a day of being lectured, to, either.  Something more involved which reflects the identified need for applicable learning.  Third, continued reinforcement through exercises.  If you don’t use it you lose it.  The last ten years or so have seen a strong emphasis on exercises which we should certainly continue.  Lastly, all of this culminates at the macro level as a restructuring of the whole training program.  Why is that needed?  Well, aside from the current one being ineffective, we need to logically identify what training is needed for certain audiences based upon their roles and responsibilities and support it through accessible training programs.

In regard to restructuring the whole training program, I would suggest adoption of the Awareness, Management and Planning, and Performance course structure (AWR, MGT, PER).  ICS-100 is certainly awareness.  Awareness level training is appropriate for most responders and staff of assisting and supporting agencies who don’t have any leadership or decision-making roles and don’t need to have a high degree of interaction with larger system.  ICS-200 has some operational application for first line supervisors, so it’s probably a suitable introductory MGT course.  The ICS-300 should continue with a focus on the planning process but obviously needs to be bolstered with more application-level content and instruction.  With that, the target here is probably higher level management and planning.  The ICS-400, still needing a rewrite, is best left for those functioning at higher levels of incident management, such as EOC management and IMTs.  It will probably serve as a good foundational performance level course.  Now, just don’t leave it at that.  Let’s pull other courses in line to support this.  Many of those courses already exist, particularly those that have a strong ICS relationship, like the FEMA EOC and ICS/EOC courses (which are also in desperate need of rewrites to focus on application), the TEEX Enhanced Incident Management course (which is excellent), and others.  Let’s build a real, viable program for incident management as we have for other technical areas.  Without incident management we remain in chaos and the impacts of other activities are greatly minimized.  Let’s give it the respect it deserves.

Now that I’ve put all that out there, I’m absolutely prepared for your thoughts, ideas, and feedback.  I’m also hoping that someone forwards this on to Doc Lumpkins at the NIC.  Doc – let’s talk!  I might have an idea or two…

Unleash the hounds!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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