Must Read – Evaluating Preparedness at Different Levels of Analysis by Brandon Greenberg

In the past I’ve made references to the DisasterNet blog written by Brandon Greenberg.  If you aren’t reading his blog, you certainly should be, as he routinely posts great material.  Yesterday’s post was no exception.

Brandon has been doing some research on evaluating preparedness, which is a topic I’ve also written about in the past and I feel is of great importance to continued improvements in emergency management.  His article, Evaluating Preparedness at Different Levels of Analysis provides a number of insightful thoughts and information which are certainly going down the right path.  With all hope, Brandon’s continued work may help us find better ways to evaluate preparedness.

-TR

 

 

 

Planning for Preparedness

Yes, planning is part of preparedness, but organizations must also have a plan for preparedness.  Why?  Preparedness breaks down into five key elements  – remember the POETE mnemonic – Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising.  I’m also in favor of including assessment as a preparedness element.  Needless to say, we do a lot when it comes to preparedness.  Each of these elements alone involves significant activity, and together there are opportunities for activities to be synchronized for maximum benefit.  In smaller organizations, these elements may be addressed by one or two people, which itself can be challenging as these are the same people running the organization and addressing myriad other tasks.  In larger organizations each element alone may be addressed by a number of people, which also provides a complication of synchronizing tasks for maximum benefit.  Either way, as with all project and program management, without a plan of action, we may forget critical tasks or do things out of order.

By establishing a preparedness plan, we can address many of these issues.  The plan can be as detailed as necessary, but should at least identify and address requirements (internally and externally imposed) as well as benchmarks to success.  But what do we plan for?

Assessment – Yes, I’m including this as an element.  Assessment is something we should constantly be doing.  Just as we strive to maintain situational awareness throughout an incident, we have to be aware of and assess factors that influence our state of readiness.  There are a variety of assessments that we do already and others that can be done as they relate to the other five elements.  In fact, assessments will inform our preparedness plan, helping us to identify where we are and where we need to be.  We can review after action reports from incidents, events, and exercises to determine what improvements must be made.  We can research best practices and examine funding requirements, legal requirements, and standards such as EMAP or NFPA 1600 which can broadly influence our programs.  We assess current plans to identify what our gaps are and what plans need to be revisited.  We can assess our organization to determine if staffing is maximized and that policy, procedure, and protocol support an agile organization.  The status of equipment can be assessed to determine what is operational and ready to deploy.  We can conduct a training needs assessment to identify what training is needed; and lastly, we can assess opportunities to exercise.  Not only should our assessments inform what needs to be accomplished for each of the POETE elements, but regular assessment check ins and activities should be identified, nay planned for, within our preparedness plan.  Consider what else can inform our preparedness plan.  A recent hazard analysis, THIRA, or state preparedness report (SPR) can feed a lot of information into a preparedness plan – especially the state preparedness report, as it is specifically structured to identify POETE gaps.

Planning – We should always examine what we have.  If plan reviews aren’t scheduled, they often fall to the wayside.  Plan review teams should be identified for each plan, and a review schedule or cycle established.  Benchmark activities for plan review activities should also be identified.  The need for new plans should also be highlighted.  Based on standards, requirements, best practices, or other need, what plans do you organization need to assemble in the next year or two?  Again, identify benchmarks for these.

Organization – Assessments of your organization, either as direct efforts or as part of after action reports or strategic plans can identify what needs to be accomplished organizationally.  Maybe it’s a reorganization, an increase in staffing levels, an impending change in administration, expected attrition, union matters, or something else that needs to be addressed.  As with many other things, some matters or organization are simple, while others are very difficult to navigate.  Without a plan of action, it’s easy to allow things to fall to the wayside.  What changes need to be made?  Who is responsible for implementing them?  Who else needs to be involved? What’s a reasonable timeline for making these changes happen?

Equipping – Many logisticians are great at keeping accurate records and maintenance plans.  This measure of detail isn’t likely needed for your preparedness plan, but you still should be documenting the big picture.  What benchmarks need to be established and followed?  Are there any large expenditures expected for equipment such as a communications vehicle?  Is there an impending conversion of equipment to comply with a new standard?  Are there any gaps in resource management that need to be addressed?

Training – Informed by a training needs assessment, a training plan can be developed.  A training plan should identify foundational training that everyone needs as well as training needed for people functioning at certain levels or positions.  Ideally, you are addressing needs through training programs that already exist, either internally or externally, but there may be a need to develop new training programs.  A training plan should identify what training is needed, for who, and to what level (i.e. to steal from the hazmat world – Awareness? Operations? Technician?).  The plan should identify who will coordinate the training, how often the training will be made available, and how new training will be developed.

Exercises – We have a standard of practice for identifying exercises into the future – it’s called the multi-year training and exercise plan (MYTEP).  While it’s supposed to include training (or at least training related to the identified exercises), training often falls to the wayside during the training and exercise planning workshop (TEPW).  The outcomes of the TEPW can be integrated into your preparedness plan, allowing for an opportunity to synchronize needs and activities across each element.

Just as we do with most of our planning efforts, I would suggest forming a planning team to shepherd your preparedness plan, comprised of stakeholders of each of the elements.  I envision this as a group that should be in regular communication about preparedness efforts, with periodic check-ins on the preparedness plan.  This engagement should lead to synchronization of efforts.  Identify what activities are related and how.  Has a new plan been developed?  Then people need to be trained on it and the plan should be exercised.  Has new equipment been procured?  Then people should be trained in its use and plans should account for the new or increased capability.

Like any effort, endorsement from leadership is necessary, especially when multiple stakeholders need to be brought together and working together.  Many emergency management and homeland security organizations have positions responsible for preparedness, often at the deputy director level.  The formation and maintenance of a comprehensive preparedness plan should be a foundation of their efforts to manage preparedness and forecast and synchronize efforts.

Does your organization have a plan for preparedness beyond just a multi-year training and exercise plan?  What elements do you tie in?  Do you find it to be a successful endeavor?

Do you need assistance in developing a preparedness plan?  Contact us!

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

Webinar – What is Interoperability and Why Should I Care?

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Click here to register!

I’m pleased to be taking part in this webinar, hosted by BaseCamp Connect.  I’ll be joining Damien Coakeley, retired from the Ottawa Police Service and currently Chair of the Board of Directors of the Ottawa Safety Council and owner of Veritas Emergency Management Consultants.

What we’re talking about:

With the ever-increasing complexity, frequency and breadth of emergencies, crises and disasters, the notion of interoperability between responding agencies and emergency managers is becoming exponentially more important than ever before.

WHEN: October 4 at 12:00pm EST

Together, Damien Coakeley and Timothy Riecker have more than 50 years experience in emergency management ! Join us to learn:

  • What does interoperability really mean to them
  • Different types of interoperability: communication, equipment, law, etc.
  • Interoperability problems encountered in the field
  • Tips and advice
  • And much more !

Click here to register!

Emergency Management: Why Failure is Necessary

One of the many podcasts I listen to is the TED Radio Hour from NPR.  For the uninitiated, the TED Radio Hour is a compilation of highlights from several TED Talks (you know what these are, right?) arranged around certain topics.  I like the topical arrangement and the sampling they do of the presentations, as well as the inclusion of interviews with many of the presenters.  Yesterday I listed to one from July 29, 2016 titled Failure is an Option.  In it, I was most drawn to the points made by Tim Hartford, an economist, and began to think that this guy needs to speak at some emergency management conferences.  What can an economist tell emergency managers?  His TED Talk is titled Trial, Error, and the God ComplexIt’s worth checking out.

How often do you hear someone in public safety proclaim that they don’t know about a certain topic or how to handle a certain situation.  Not very often.  Certainly we have a lot of confident, Type A people (myself included) who will not be stopped by a problem, even if we don’t know right off how we will solve it.  At the extreme end of this are those who refuse to plan.  Why?  Maybe they don’t want to be constrained by a plan, or maybe they don’t want something put in writing.  Maybe they simply don’t know right now what they will do, either a) hoping that it never happens, or b) assuming they will figure it out when it does.  Determination and persistence is good, but we can’t become ignorant despite it.  As I often mention in my posts, this is public safety, not a pick-up game of kick ball.  To me, there is nothing more serious.

Our egos drive us to feel that everything is on the line all the time.  While some may refuse to plan, others do plan, but the approach may not be realistic.  We’ve all seen plans that begin with one, two, maybe even three pages of assumptions.  That’s a lot of assuming for an emergency or disaster situation, which we all know is uncertain and dynamic.  Those long lists make me uncomfortable, as they should you.  Why do we do it?  Sure there are some things we can expect, but otherwise we are trying to dictate terms to the disaster.  Trust me, the disaster doesn’t give a damn about the plan you wrote or the terms and conditions you try to lay out for it.  But it makes us feel better by putting the disaster in a very defined box.  I know I’ve been guilty of this.

Let’s remove the ego.  Let’s proclaim that maybe we have no idea, or we have a few ideas but we aren’t sure which one is best.  Preparedness should be collaborative.  Get lots of ideas from people.  Talk though them and figure out which ones are the most viable.  Get these ideas down on paper, even loosely, and try them out.  We need to take advantage of our preparedness work to figure out the things we don’t know.

A number of years ago, it was identified through feedback and after action reports of incidents that the flow of information and resource requests in a certain EOC simply wasn’t working the way it was intended.  While I’m a big fan of the application of ICS in an EOC, the specific role an EOC plays as a multi-agency coordination center, the cross functions of some staff, and the politics involved aren’t really accounted for in ICS, so the strictest applications of ICS sometimes don’t apply well.  A small group of us were tasked to fix it.  While we each had some theories, none of really knew why the current processes weren’t working.  So we set up a small exercise solely for this purpose.  Our observations helped us identify the root cause of the problem.  The members of our group, all experienced EOC personnel, had different theories on how to solve the problem.  We went again to exercises, this time a series of small ones.  We ushered some people into the EOC, each time giving them a flow chart and some narrative on what each person should be doing relative to the processes we devised.  The injects flowed and we observed the outcomes.  We saw what worked and what didn’t.  We then assembled an amalgamation of the best traits of each methodology into a new process.  Then guess what we did – we exercised that – and it worked.  Not only did we have a great scientific and structured approach, we also had validation of our final product – one that stood up to further exercises and actual incidents.

Does trial and error take time?  Sure it does.  Does it always yield results?  Yes – although not always positive ones – but those are still results.  It’s important to remember to collect data on each of our attempts.  Just like an exercise we want to evaluate and document.  Sometimes our ideas turn out to be epic failures, and that’s OK.  Had we not found this out during our trial and error, just like an exercise, it could have been devastating and costly in a real life application.  A severe mistake during an incident can be career ending for you, and life ending for those you are sworn to protect.

The bottom line is that it’s OK to fail – just try to control when and how you fail.  In order to accept that premise, however, we need to let go of the super Type A hero/god/ego thing.  Yes, we can learn from successes, but we learn more from failure, especially with a little root cause analysis.  Sometimes things look great on paper, but unless you actually try them out, you’ll never know.  In your trial and error, also consider different variables which may have influence on the outcomes.  It’s great to plan for a response and practice it on a sunny day, but what about pouring rain, freezing temperatures, or high winds?  How does this impact your plan?  Often we can make assumptions (remember those?), but we’ll never really know unless we try.

Do you buy into this?  Thoughts appreciated.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

Water System Preparedness

For at least the past eight years or so, I’ve kept tabs on what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been doing for emergency preparedness for water systems.  Their efforts, spearheaded from their Water Security Division, include information on comprehensive emergency management activities – mitigation and resilience, surveillance and response, preparedness, and more.  Their website offers a plethora of resources, not only for water utilities and systems operators, but for others as well.  These resources include tools and guidance for conducting risk assessments, creating emergency plans, building resilience, developing a training and exercise plan, and conducting exercises.  These resources and tools all help to de-mystify emergency management systems and help to build a bridge into the emergency management world.  While they provide information on certain hazards, such as flooding or criminal activity, their approach, overall is all-hazards.  The EPA includes links to ICS and other FEMA training, as well as other agencies, and encourages water systems to interact with other agencies at the local, state, and federal level.

Back in November of last year, I gave a review of the TEEX course MGT: 342 Strategic Overview of Disaster Management for Water and Wastewater Utilities.  Those who work with or for water utilities would certainly benefit from attending this training and reviewing the EPA’s Water Security Division website.  Water is an important component of our Critical Infrastructure, with dependencies cascading across all other sectors.  These resources strengthen and support our continued preparedness within these sector, while also adding to whole community preparedness.

The EPA Water Security Division provides a quarterly e-newsletter, to which you can subscribe to stay abreast of their tools, resources, and information.

© 2016 – Timothy M. Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC Your Partner in Preparedness

ICS: Let’s Keep Talking

I find it interesting that a topic so seemingly mundane – that of the incident command system (ICS) has seen an increase of discussion lately.  The NIMS Refresh seems to have fueled some of that, but other writings and conversations have also been taking place.  While I’ve certainly been critical of the national ICS training program in several of my writings, there have been other thoughts posted on ICS, some you absolutely must take a look at:

Are We Overthinking ICS?  This article, posted by noted emergency management consultant Lucien Canton has some great thoughts on the proposed NIMS Refresh.  He brings up an excellent point about the disappearance of Multi-Agency Coordination Systems (MACS) – something I had myself completely missed in my review.  A must read.

ICS and ESF: An Unhappy Marriage?  Another article by Lu Canton.  This piece gives a concise review of the differences between ICS and FEMA’s Emergency Support Function (ESF) structure and gives some ideas on how the two can be brought together.  I’ve seen the things Lu suggests in action, and I promise you, they can work.

Where Incident Management Unravels.  This article by Charles Bailey in the August edition of the Domestic Preparedness Journal took me on a wild ride, for which I’ll have some extended commentary here… I’ve read and reread this article several times, each time having different reactions and responses.  Through my first read, I saw this piece as being highly critical of ICS. Then I read it again, and I began to understand.  While I don’t agree with all Chief Bailey’s points, I respect everything he is saying and absolutely appreciate the thoughts and ideas this article offers.  I’ll leave you to read the article for yourself and form you own opinions.  The bottom line is the importance of early efforts to gain control over the chaos of the incident.  NIMS/ICS doesn’t provide us with all the answers for how to do that – something that I think needs to be reflected in better instruction of the principles of ICS.  Chief Bailey mentions toward the end of his piece the need to create ‘nimble response paradigms’ for initial response – a concept I fully agree with.  I also think that Chief Cynthia Renaud has some incredible insights on this matter in her Edge of Chaos paper.

I’m excited about the volume of discussion over NIMS and ICS lately.  It’s the system we rely on to manage incidents, coordinate resources, and ultimately save lives.  It’s kind of a big deal.  It should be good, and we should do it right.  While it’s the best we currently have, that doesn’t mean the system is perfect, nor will it ever likely be.  Similarly, the human elements involved in training, interpretation, and implementation of the system means that we will rarely do things ‘by the book’, but we are never handed disasters ‘by the book’, either, which emphasizes the number of variables involved in incident management.  The system must continue to evolve to be effective and to reflect our new and changing ideas on incident management.  We need to regularly examine the system critically and as realists and implement positive changes.  That said, change needs to be carefully administered.  We can’t make change for the sake of change, and we must be mindful that constant change will itself create chaos.

Have you read any other great articles on ICS lately?  What thoughts do you have on ICS, ICS training, and the need for ICS to evolve?  What’s missing?

© Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

Do you Really Know Unified Command?

Despite how much incident command system (ICS) instructors try to hammer this one home, there still remains some measure of confusion about what the concept of unified command really is. I regularly review documents or sit in meetings where unified command is improperly defined, applied, and discussed.  There are many who espouse that they use unified command instead of ICS.  Unified command is, in fact, an application of ICS, just like many other concepts within the system.  It is not a different system. When unified command is used, all other concepts within ICS remain the same.

From the National Incident Management System (2008) document, unified command is defined as follows: In incidents involving multiple jurisdictions, a single jurisdiction with multiagency involvement, or multiple jurisdictions with multiagency involvement, Unified Command allows agencies with different legal, geographic, and functional authorities and responsibilities to work together effectively without affecting individual agency authority, responsibility, or accountability.

Once we can gain an understanding of what unified command is, implementation of unified command is where the greatest misconceptions lie.  People often think that unified command is applied with a concept best described as ‘We use unified command, but the Fire Chief is in charge.’.  Nope.  That’s not it.  That’s simply an application of single command, with deputies coming from other agencies.  Unified command is truly unified.  The participants in unified command operate at the same level of authority.  Obviously standards of professionalism and legal authority should hold true, ensuring that none are issuing orders contrary to those of their counterparts, and often there is deference to the member of unified command who may have certain jurisdiction or subject matter expertise as it applies to a particular matter, but decisions and made and applied jointly.  The unified command, therefore, acts and speaks as a single entity.

Given the factors described above, as well as the need to properly synchronize incident management (see my recent article on this topic, here), unified command is absolutely something that should be prepared for.  Because of the nuances of its application, planning for unified command is helpful.  While the application of unified command is generally optional, some regulations and policies may require its use under certain circumstances. Be it required or not, plans establish a course of action for stakeholders to follow and can be strongly supported by procedures.  Plans should at least acknowledge that unified command may be an option for certain incidents, and may need to identify who makes the decision to implement unified command.  I’ve seen some plans require unified command for certain incidents, which I’m not crazy about.  Unified command, as mentioned, is just one more application of ICS.  Given the right circumstances, a single command may be the best option.  That said, if something isn’t included in a plan, even as an option, it may not even be considered during an incident.  Unified command should always at least be an option.

As an example of unified command application, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) commonly encourages and participates in unified command for many of their incidents, often pulling together, at a minimum, the USCG, a local or state government representative, and a representative of the responsible party (owner and/or operator).  They do this because it makes sense.  While the USCG has legal authority over navigable waterways and a response requirement within those waterways, incidents can also impact the shorelines, which are generally the responsibility of state and local governments.  State and local governments may also be providing a great deal of resources to assist in the incident.  International laws require that responsible parties do, in fact, take responsibility (usually financially) for incidents caused by or involving their vessels, which makes them a significant (although sometimes reluctant) stakeholder.

Further preparedness measures are needed for practitioners to become proficient in the application of unified command.  The inclusion of the option in plans alone isn’t enough.  It should be trained, so people understand what it is and how best to apply it.  The concept of unified command is incorporated into every level of the ICS national training curriculum.  Sadly, the common misconceptions associated with unified command tell me that we aren’t communicating well enough what unified command actually is.  Beyond training, the best opportunity to reinforce the application of unified command is exercises.  Exercises obviously offer an opportunity for a no-fault environment which allow for informal feedback and formal evaluation, which should both inform potential improvements. Unified command certainly should be practiced to be successful.  The reason it’s so successful with USCG applications is because their people train and exercise heavily in ICS concepts, including unified command.  They also enter a unified command environment with an eye toward coaching other participants who may not be so familiar with it and how it works.

There are a number of keys to success for unified command.  Chief among them are an understanding of what it is and what is expected and an ability to work as a team.  Working well as a team involves essential elements such as communication, coordination, and checking your ego at the door. Rarely is unified command successful when someone is trying to strong-arm the matter.  A successful unified command requires discussions to identify the priorities that each agency or jurisdiction has, and determining how to properly plan, shape, and synchronize the response efforts to ensure that each of these is handled appropriately.  Clearly, some measure of negotiation must regularly take place.

People often ask who should be part of the unified command.  The membership of unified command should remain fairly exclusive.  Representatives should only come from those agencies or jurisdictions that are significant stakeholders within the incident (i.e. they have responsibility or authority for major components of the response).   Just because an agency or jurisdiction is providing resources or support to an incident does not mean they should be part of the unified command.  Unified command functions best when it is small.  If your unified command effort is exceeding five or six people, you are entering the land of management by committee, and that should be avoided.  While some claim that there are a multitude of interests that should be represented in the management of an incident, I would suggest establishing a multi-agency coordination group, which is a policy-level body who can guide the incident command/unified command from that level.  The goal is to have only essential agencies working at the command level.

As I continue the crusade of improving ICS training, we will need to ensure that the concept of unified command gets some special attention to ensure better understanding of what it is and how it works.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts and practices on how you prepare for and implement unified command within your jurisdiction or organization.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness