Finding Local Hazard Information

Among all the information shared across the internet, something that would be of great assistance to many stakeholders is local hazard information.  It surprises me how inaccessible this information is.  Typically, in most places around the US, ‘local’ will mean a city, village, or town, and depending on the structure of government in the state, counties (or other similar governmental units) may also be considered local.  Specific to this discussion, I’m referencing the most local level of government which has an emergency management function.

So often, we advise businesses and organizations to work with their local emergency managers on preparedness initiatives, yet necessary information lacks in availability or accessibility.  One of the foundational elements of information for all emergency management activities is a hazard analysis.  While every organization should conduct their own to ensure that their own hazards are identified and analyzed, an informed hazard analysis will consider information from other sources.  What better source, we would assume, than the hazard analysis conducted at the most local level of government possible?  Sadly, this information is not often regularly available.

Many governments who conduct comprehensive emergency management activities post plans on their websites, which is a good start.  Often these are hazard mitigation plans and sometimes even emergency operations plans (EOPs).  Both of these plans, if well written, should include hazard analysis information.  Typically, if EOPs include this information, it’s a very brief summary, perhaps only a small chart or table.  Hazard mitigation plans are really centered on a comprehensive hazard analysis, but as I’ve written before, most hazard mitigation plans are not truly ‘all hazard’.  Most commonly, hazard mitigation plans only address and examine natural hazards and some human-caused incidents such as dam failures or hazardous materials incidents.  Because so much effort goes into the hazard analysis conducted for a hazard mitigation plan, many jurisdictions will then only reference this hazard analysis in their preparedness activities, such as developing EOPs.  Fundamentally, this then means that many jurisdictions are not properly preparing for other threats, such as an active shooter/hostile event response (ASHER) incident.

So there are really two issues here, one being that of making information readily available, the other is ensuring quality of information.  Ideally, I’d like to see jurisdictions post hazard analysis information on their websites.  People working for organizations or businesses who are less familiar with emergency management aren’t likely to read through a hazard mitigation plan to find this information.  A stand-alone document with a reasonable summary of this information can easily be provided.  Aside from organizations and businesses, such a practice would also make this information more accessible to the general public.  With so much time and effort spent on telling people they need to prepare, perhaps we should make the information more accessible which tells them what they need to prepare for?

What are you doing to make hazard information more accessible?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠

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A Discussion on Training Needs for the EOC Incident Support Model

Last week I wrote a piece on the Incident Support Model for Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs).  The article got a good amount of attention which prompted some dialogue both on and off line with a variety of practitioners.  So for those who might be integrating this model into their plans, let’s consider what training might be needed to support implementation.

First, I’ll say that I feel foundational ICS training (hopefully we’ll eventually have something better than what we have now since ICS training still sucks) is still necessary, even though the Incident Support Model deviates significantly from the traditional ICS model.  A couple of reasons… first, others are still using ICS, be it in EOCs or in the field.  Second, the principles and concepts of ICS still largely apply to the Incident Support Structure, regardless of the differences in organizational composition.  Perhaps only to the ICS 200 level is necessary since those functioning in an Incident Support Model organization only need be aware of it.

Next, I think we then need an overall Incident Support Model course.  I would envision this similar to an ICS-300 course, which has a more in-depth exploration of the entire organizational structure of the Incident Support Model and discusses the processes inherent in the system, such as the planning process, which would see some revisions to at least the positions involved under this model as compared to that for ICS.

Position-specific training is important, be it for an in-house EOC team(s) or for incident management teams which may be deployed to EOCs using this model.  While many of the position-specific courses in existence for a traditional ICS model are analogous to what we see in the Incident Support Model, there are significant enough changes, I think, to require different training specific for this model if we expect a professionally functioning organization (and we do).

One thing currently missing in the position specific courses is an EOC manager course.  While there is an Incident Commander course, which provides a lot of great information, there are significant enough differences between running an EOC and running an incident command post.  That said, I’m not so sure we need an entirely different course.  Given the propensity for incident management teams (IMTs) to work in EOCs, I think an additional module in the IC training may suffice to ensure that ICs are equipped to work in all environments.

Looking at the composition of the general staff of the Incident Support Model, we can first start with the Situational Awareness Section Chief.  From the ICS IMT model, we have great training for Situation Unit Leaders, which can largely apply to this position in the Incident Support Model with just a few changes, mostly addressing the expansion and elevation of the role.

The new Planning Support Section Chief would require very different training from what current exists for the IMTs. While in-depth training on the planning process is still relevant (with changes to make it specific to this model), as is training on demobilization planning, new training is required to address future planning, which doesn’t have as much content in the current Planning Section Chief course as needed.

Center and Staff Support Section Chief training is largely internal logistics, so really just requires a course that is narrowed in scope from the traditional Logistics Section Chief course, with perhaps some additional content on occupational and facility support matters.

Lastly, the Resource Support Section Chief.  This one is a monster.  It’s really an amalgamation of the Operations Section Chief, the Logistics Section Chief, and the Resource Unit Leader, along with Finance/Admin (if you subscribe to putting it in this section).  There is clearly a lot going on here.  Very little of the traditional ICS IMT courses really apply to this in an EOC environment given the difference in scope and mission for an EOC.  This largely requires completely new training based on functional coordination, mission assignments, and support to deployed resources.  This is a course that will require a lot of work to ground it in reality while also providing enough flexibility to allow for how each EOC may organize within this section.  Similar to the Operations Section in a traditional ICS model, this section may have the most variety from facility to facility and incident to incident.

Certainly other training may be needed, but the command and general staff positions are probably the most urgent to address.  In lieu of FEMA providing this training, some are developing their own training to support implementation of this model.  I’d love to hear about what has been done, the challenges faced, and the successes had.  Given my own passion and interest, I’d certainly love an opportunity to develop training for the Incident Support Model.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

The EOC Incident Support Model

Since the release of the NIMS Refresh in October 2017, a number of jurisdictions have made changes to the organizational structure of their emergency operations center.  While many jurisdictions use a traditional Incident Command System (ICS)-based structure, a structure aligned to the emergency support functions (ESFs), or a hybrid thereof, the NIMS Refresh seems to have popularized an alternative structure called the Incident Support Model.  I’ve been working with some clients who recently have, or are currently making a change to the Incident Support Model.  The general model of that structure can be found below.

ISM

The intent of this model is to provide an EOC with an organizational model that better fits what an EOC does… information management, planning, and resource support.  This model, unlike the more traditional ICS-based model or the ESF-based model really focuses on what EOCs do instead of potentially utilizing an organization and mission that are mis-matched.  As stated by the NIMS Refresh document, this model puts the EOC manager in direct contact with those doing situational awareness/information management, and streamlines resource sourcing, ordering, and tracking.

As someone who has worked in and long advocated for an ICS-based model for EOCs, I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with the Incident Support Model over time.  It certainly makes sense.  Appendix B of the NIMS Refresh document provides some additional detail on this model, but not much.

The Incident Support Model, most prominently, reorganizes some of the major ICS-centered functions we are used to seeing.  It pulls two key functions from the Planning Section, those being situational awareness and resource tracking.  Situational awareness in this model is established as a section.  Those who have managed large and fully staffed Situation Units in an ICS-based model know that the various responsibilities such as information tracking, developing situation reports, addressing requests for information, and information analysis and display can be significant.  Technical specialists, such as meteorologists and other sciences come into the fold of this section, as does Geographic Information Services (GIS).

The function of resource tracking, traditionally from the Resources Unit in the ICS model, is pulled together with all other resource-centered activities in the EOC under the Incident Support Model.  This includes the tasking and assignment of resources, as well as the support of those resources, which functionally has been handled by a combination of Operations and Logistics in the ICS-based model.  Reflecting on how many EOCs have grown comfortable organizing these functions previously, this section may be organized by ESF or other workable function.  The Resource Support Section is also to include Finance/Administration, which I’m not necessarily as keen on.  While I understand it from a contracting and procurement perspective, Finance/Administration is a function that may be best retained as their own section.

Separate from the Resource Support Section is the Center Support Section, which is focused on supporting the EOC itself with IT, admin staff, food, and other needs.  The Center Support Section may also be tasked with providing similar services to other defined facilities, such as a Joint Information Center (JIC) or Family Assistance Center (FAC).  I see this as a smart move as Logistics in the traditional ICS model had to juggle needs internal and external to the EOC.

Lastly is the Planning Support Section.  With information management resource tracking gutted from the Planning Section, you may be left wondering what is left for the Planning Section to do.  The Planning Support Section is still responsible for managing the planning process, which needs a bit of realignment under the Incident Support Model.  With this is overall responsibility to develop the Incident Action Plan (IAP), but there is more.  An astute planning function in an EOC in any sizeable incident should not only be managing the planning process for the next operational period, they should also looking ahead.  They may be pulling together a plan for something like debris management or utility restoration which is expected to be an operational focus in a few days, or perhaps planning for the transition to recovery operations, or even for demobilization.  As such, the Incident Support Model calls for the Planning Support Section to be divided between Current (and next operational period) Planning and Future Planning.  With an organization model underscoring this, we will hopefully see Planning Sections focused on future outcomes as much as they are focused on short-term processes.

The Incident Support Model is certainly a workable structure, which seems to remove some of the awkwardness of the tactically-built ICS-based structure from the EOC.  While we’ve certainly evolved the ICS-based structure to meet our needs in an EOC, I think many, myself included, were reluctant to make the changes needed to make it more functional in an EOC environment and still have it reflect ICS.

Now that jurisdictions are retooling and building this new model into their plans, however, we are in a bit of an awkward position in regard to training and utilization of staff. In the absence of national training program to support this model, jurisdictions are left on their own to train staff how to function in this structure.  Many jurisdictions have invested a great deal of time to have staff trained in the NIMS Position-specific courses.  While I don’t see that training as being wholly wasteful in light of a change to this model, there are obviously some adaptations to be made for those looking to utilize that training in an EOC using the Incident Support Model.  Even established Incident Management Teams (IMTs), which follow the ICS model, will need to determine how they will adjust their deployment to fit EOCs which may use the Incident Support Model.  The functions of this model certainly aren’t foreign, but may require a crosswalk of sorts for personnel who are otherwise trained or qualified to work in an ICS-based environment.

Working with clients who are adopting this model, I’m looking forward to seeing it in action and further identifying pros and cons.  Knowing that some have been using this model for some time, I’m also interested in reviewing their lessons learned, particularly things like operational flow, adaptations to the Planning P, job action sheets, and other things.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

 

EOC Skillsets and Position Task Books Finalized

Back in April, FEMA released the drafts of EOC skillset documents and position task books for public comment.  A few days ago, the final versions of these documents were released on FEMA’s National Qualification System (NQS) website: www.fema.gov/national-qualification-system.

While the hub of emergency response is the incident command post, the hub of emergency coordination is the Emergency Operations Center.  While life saving tactics, directed from the ICP, are absolutely essential, a comprehensive and long-term response can’t be sustained without the activities of an EOC.  We have gone far too long in emergency management without having good national guidance on the organization and qualification of personnel in the EOC.

When you crack into the website you may be a bit overwhelmed by all the documents you find.  Don’t look to this as something that must be implemented 100% right away.  Take a deep breath and remember that most things done well in emergency management, ironically enough, are an evolution and take time.  Also remember that while this has been established as guidance, it’s not a requirement.  Implement what you can, when you can.  Focus on establishing a foundation you can build from and do what makes sense for your jurisdiction or organization.

The foundation of everything in emergency management is planning, so whatever you do decide to implement should find its way into plans, which may need to be supported by policy.  While implementing a qualification system with task books can be cumbersome, it can also solve some problems when it comes to having less than qualified personnel working in your EOC.  The position task books are a great way for individuals to see what standards they are being held to and allows them to track progress.  If you don’t feel that the use of position task books will work for your jurisdiction or you are on a slower track to implementation, it’s still worthwhile to examine the skillset documents for each position you have identified in your EOC.  These can support your own developed standards, expectations, and plans; serve as a foundation for training course development; and support exercise evaluation.

Lastly, talk about these with your committees and your peers.  It’s easy to forget about them so keep these visible.  These documents offer an abundance of solid guidance which can strongly support your operational coordination.

What are your thoughts on the EOC skillsets? Do you plan on implementing them in your system?  If so, how?  If not, why not?

Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠

How to Categorize a Hurricane?

There has been a lot of discussion lately on rethinking how we categorize hurricanes.  At present, we use the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which provides a category (numbered 1-5) based on the hurricane’s present sustained wind speed.  While this scale has served as the standard for several decades, it is based only upon one impact of hurricanes – wind.  As such, the Saffir-Simpson scale is not a good universal predictor of potential hurricane impacts.

To better consider how we can categorize hurricanes, we should understand those impacts.

  • Wind is an ever-present threat from hurricanes. The highest reaches of these winds can be utterly devastating, practically leveling an area of built infrastructure and foliage. Wind speeds can be measured throughout the entire life of the hurricane, and wind speeds can be predicted with reasonable accuracy.  While tornadoes are generally expected with hurricanes, their intensity is difficult to predict.
  • Storm Surge is the greatest threat to coastal areas from a hurricane. Storm surge is defined as the rising of the sea as a result of atmospheric pressure changes and wind associated with a storm.  Essentially, the winds of the hurricane push water up on to land creating sudden inundation.  The height and degree of inundation of storm surge is dependent upon several factors including wind speed, tide, natural and built barriers, and distance inland.
  • Rain, like wind, is a sustained threat from hurricanes, potentially causing flooding well inland. The geographic size of hurricanes tends to result in saturation from rain across a wide area, making the management of runoff incredibly difficult.  In coastal areas, rain will obviously contribute to the flooding conditions caused by storm surge.

In recognition of the hazards, there have been proposals for categorizing hurricanes based upon hazards other than wind.  While I’m no meteorologist, I can certain identify that these will provide even less valuable data than wind alone.  While it’s true that storm surge is often the most impactful hazard of hurricanes, the extent of potential damage from storm surge varies so wildly based upon a variety of factors, there are few general statements that can be made about it to establish any kind of categorization.  Further, how will the storm threat be categorized to those too far inland to be impacted by storm surge?  Rating a hurricane based upon rain is even less of a full picture than those who argue against wind.

The Saffir-Simpson scale begins to approach the problem by also defining the types of damage that can be caused by hurricanes of different intensities.  These defined impacts, however, are limited to wind damages.  Certainly the ideal model provides categories which define expected levels of damage from wind, rain, and storm surge combined.  Such models may be more informative to the public, elected officials, first responders, and emergency managers.  There are efforts under way to examine some potential new models.  Be alert to what gets proposed and be sure to provide feedback.

Have I missed anything here?  Are there any other considerations for how we should be categorizing hurricanes?

Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠

 

The Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018

It’s challenging at times to keep track of legislation relevant to any industry, especially when unrelated items are included in bills.  HR 302 is titled the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, so logically it starts off with a section on sports medicine licensure.  Luckily, the bulk of the bill is centered on aviation, but also happens to include substantial content on emergency management, titled the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018.

Sticking to the aviation side for a moment but also relevant to emergency management folks within that industry, there are a variety of provisions on both airport and airline safety.  There is also a small section on UAS/UAV.  Most notably a provision related to FAA emergency authorizations for drone use as well as one ordering the FAA to conduct a study on fire department and emergency service agency use of drones (§359).  The term for the study, as noted in the bill, is only 180 days, which isn’t a whole lot of time for government, directly or through a contract, to cover every one of the areas they are looking for in this study.  Hopefully the final time frame of this, if it passes, will be extended.

Most applicable to the emergency management community is Division D of this bill (§1201), titled the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018.  This is an important piece of legislation as it is actually an amendment to the Stafford Act.  The Stafford Act has, of course, been amended many times, but it’s worth while for all of use to keep a keen eye on these planned changes to ensure that the writings of political staffers are grounded in reality.  A few of the key points:

  • Authorization for 404 mitigation funding absent a disaster declaration for wildfire mitigation efforts
  • Providing building code and floodplain ordinance support following a disaster (402). This seems to dovetail in with 1241 on post-disaster building safety assessments.  1241 also includes a provision for having NIMS typed resources for these activities.
  • Public and non-profit facilities receiving a contribution fully equal to the federal share of the federal estimate of repair/replacement costs (406)
  • Various provisions related to flood insurance (406)
  • (1208) An interesting provision on providing guidance and annual training to governments and first responders on ‘the need to prioritize assistance to hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities…’ as a matter of what is essentially continuity of operations. This also includes guidance and training to these facilities on how they can prepare for their own continuity of operations, as well as a need to coordinate response plans across stakeholder organizations for same.
    • This seems partially to step on the toes of health care preparedness regulations from CMS, but also helps connect the dots necessarily to the whole community. I’m not sure about the need for ‘annual training’, as the administration and tracking of such is a nightmare (and likely unnecessary), but guidance would certainly be welcome.  Perhaps we will see a new Comprehensive Preparedness Guide come from this?
  • (1209) Guidance on evacuation routes in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration. The bill stresses consideration for resiliency of identified routes, special needs populations, public notification regarding these routes, and access to sheltering locations from the evacuation routes.
  • (1218) Establishes National Veterinary Emergency Teams based out of accredited veterinary colleges. Specifically, they are to deploy with USAR resources to provide care for canine search teams as well as animals impacted by the disaster.
  • (1228) Guidance to be issued in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration on the repair, restoration, and replacement of inundated and submerged roads.
  • (1236) A training requirement for governments, first responders, and facilities that store hazardous materials on the coordination of emergency response plans in the event of a local disaster.
    • This is an interesting requirement that is also, perhaps intentionally vague. It seems this would be directed at regulated SARA Title III facilities, but doesn’t specify them.  Is this intended to include community locations like pool supply, auto part, and painting stores?  Hopefully this gets fleshed out more to better communicate who it is intended to apply to. 
  • Increasing efficiency and reducing duplication of grant programs
  • (1244) A relevant provision directing FEMA to contract with the National Academy of Medicine to conduct a study and submit a report regarding best practices in mortality counts as a result of major disasters.
  • There were also a variety of other provisions making adjustments to IA, PA, and Hazard Mitigation programs in addition to what I had already listed.

While a great many bills die on the vine, HR 302 is certainly expected to move forward as it contains some pretty critical legislation.  Modifications, of course, are expected as this bill moves through the House, its sister piece of legislation moves through the Senate, the two versions are resolved, then eventually signed by the President.  The DRRA is something to keep an eye on, though, as it seems to impact all facets of emergency management as well as our relationships with stakeholders.

What are your thoughts on this bill?

Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠

Airport Emergency Planning

Through my career I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of airports on preparedness efforts.  In the past couple of years, that interaction has been greatly amplified through a contract my company successfully completed involving the development of exercises for airports.  As part of this effort, we designed, conducted, and evaluated exercises at ten airports of varying sizes across the nation, from Georgia to Alaska, Massachusetts to California.  Since the primary intent of exercises is to validate plans, we of course requested and reviewed airport emergency plans (AEPs) from each location as part of our preparation for each exercise.

For those not in the know, the requirement for AEPs originates with Federal Aviation Regulation 14 CFR Part 139, which wholly establishes the standards for the certification of airports.  The requirements for AEPs are further refined in DOT/FAA Advisory Circular 150-5200-31C published in May of 2010.   The Advisory Circular is largely implementation guidance.  It’s quite comprehensive and outlines a planning structure, references emergency management doctrine and standards of practice such as NIMS and the National Response Framework, and models a planning process, which mirrors that of CPG-101.  The NFPA also provides guidance in NFPA 424: Guide for Airport/Community Emergency Planning, which reflects on all these as well.

Just like any community emergency operations plan (EOP), AEPs I’ve reviewed run the full spectrum of quality.  Some plans are thorough and comprehensive, while other plans are so focused on meeting the letter of the regulation that they fall short of meeting real needs and being implementation-ready, even though they technically meet the requirements set forth in §139.325.  Regulated industries, which airports largely are, often have a challenge when it comes to emergency planning.  We see this same challenge in radiological emergency plans as well.  The laws and regulations seem to provide so much structure that it is perceived that local variables and subjective analysis aren’t allowed.  As an example, §139.325 states:

“the plan must contain instructions for response to:

  1. Aircraft incident and accidents
  2. Bomb incidents, including designation of parking areas for the aircraft involved
  3. Structural fires
  4. Fires at fuel farms or fuel storage areas
  5. Natural disaster
  6. Hazardous materials/dangerous goods incidents
  7. Sabotage, hijack, or other unlawful interference with operations
  8. Failure of power for movement area lighting
  9. Water rescue situations (as appropriate)”

While the planning process isn’t prescribed in §139.325, nor does it specify if other hazards can be included in the AEP, the Advisory Circular (AC) does expound on this and prescribes a planning process, including a hazard analysis.  The AC states “Through the hazards analysis program, guidance has been provided to assist in the identification of those hazards and disasters specific to an airport that warrant planning attention”.  That phrasing indicates that airports should be planning for hazards beyond what is required by §139.325, yet I’ve seen many that do not.

Obviously ‘natural disaster’ covers a considerable amount of proverbial territory.  Jurisdictions undergo extensive hazard analysis and hazard mitigation planning to identify the breadth and scope of these hazards (which should include all hazards, not just natural disasters).   Many jurisdictions develop very comprehensive EOPs and annexes to address the response needs of each of their primary hazards.  I saw this as a significantly missing component in many AEPs, which treated ‘natural disasters’ as a single hazard.  Further, as many airports stick to the minimum requirement for planning, they fail to address other hazards which could impact them, ranging from dam failure, and nuclear power facility incidents, to currently hot topics such as active shooter/hostile event response (ASHER) and communicable diseases.

Some airports have thankfully recognized the need for expanding beyond the required hazards and have developed plans that better address all of their needs.  On the unfortunate side, again as a regulated industry, I’ve also seen some airports having two sets of plans… one that meets regulation and the other that they feel is more practical for implementation.  Clearly this isn’t the way to go either.  A single, consolidated plan can be developed that meets all needs.

Airports are an interesting animal.  Regardless of governance structure, they are part of the communities which surround them.  Larger airports are also communities of their own, having significant capability, sometimes more than the surrounding jurisdictions.  Airport emergency planning should acknowledge and involve their community relationships and must address all hazards, not just the ones required by Part 139.  Just as with any other type of emergency plan, they must be implementation-ready.  To do so typically requires the added development of standard operating guidelines (SOGs) and job aids, such as check lists and forms.  Plans should also be developed to address recovery issues and business continuity, not just response.  An airport, regardless of governance structure, operates like a business, with many other stakeholders dependent upon their stability and ability to address and rapidly recover from incidents.  They are also obviously transportation hubs, dealing with large volumes of people and significant dollar figures in freight and commerce.

Airport emergency managers have many of the same challenges as the emergency managers of any other community.  Staffing and funding rarely line up with requirements and other priority matters.  I encourage community emergency managers to reach out to their local airports and coordinate, as many hands make easier work for everyone.  Of course, if any airports are seeking assistance in enhancing their preparedness, please contact us as we would love to work with you!

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC™