Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Organizing

As a continuation of the Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness series (read the first one on Planning here), this post’s focus is on the POETE element of Organizing.  There are a number of ‘organizing’ efforts we engage in through our preparedness endeavors.  Some are temporary, like establishing working groups to solve a certain problem; while some are intended to be long-term, like forming an incident response team.

Why organize?  Most organizational efforts are fueled by the need to capitalize on the power of many.  What one person can do, more people can do better.  Problem solving, responding, etc.  Often our organizational efforts are internal, but, particularly in public safety, we coordinate with other agencies.  We might be building a professional response organization, such as an Incident Management Team (IMT), or perhaps we are building a community organization, such as a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

What costs are associated with organizational activities?  Foundationally, it’s simply the staff time needed to prepare for, attend, and perform follow up work from meetings and other organizational efforts.  Depending on how complex our efforts are, however, and the intent of our organizational efforts, this can take on full time duties.  You also have to consider who is being drawn into these efforts and what the ‘replacement cost’ is of their time – meaning, what is the cost of someone else performing their work while they are involved in the meetings, etc.?  We also need to identify what costs might be associated with organizing?  The remaining POETE elements (Planning, Equipping, Training, and Exercising) can probably lead you to identifying these.

What are the benefits (value) of organizing?In order to identify the return on our investment, we need to be able to ascertain the benefits our organizational efforts bring – some may be tangible and relatable in dollar figures, others may be more intangible and amorphic.

As with many preparedness efforts, we find ourselves needing to make reasonable assumptions to identify cost savings or value.  We need to follow the bouncing ball of our efforts.  As an example… If we create a CERT team, citizens will be better able to tend to their own needs in the event of a disaster.  This leads to less immediate need of limited resources (first responders), allowing them to focus on more critical needs (i.e. saving lives and protecting infrastructure).   In this example we can make some assumptions about the types of infrastructure to be impacted by a certain incident and the costs associated with it becoming incapacitated.

In regard to saving lives, it’s difficult for us to attach a dollar value to that.  We often say that lives are priceless, and while that may be true, we sometimes need to make an educated guess.  Depending on who you are reporting figures to, they may be satisfied with a reasonable number of lives being saved… others may want to actually compare apples to apples (that is, dollars to dollars).  If you engage the use of your favorite internet search engine and search ‘what is the value of a life’, or something similar, you will find a number of results.  In perusing some of these results myself, I found that the dollar figure assigned to a life is obviously subjective and very much related to the industry in which the question is being asked.  This particular article makes for an interesting read on the subject.  Spoiler alert: they peg the value of a human life at $5M USD (2011).

In the end, organizational efforts need to have a purpose providing a net value.  Even in routine matters and daily business, we should examine the cost of organizational efforts – particularly meetings.  Meetings are one of my biggest bugaboos, as they are often too long, have little purpose, and the objectives can be met in a much more efficient manner.

What ideas do you have on determining the return on investment for organizational activities?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC 

National Preparedness Goal: Second Edition Just Released

Today FEMA released the second edition of the National Preparedness Goal.  This document, which only has a few substantive changes from the original, provides a vision for preparedness across the nation.  It is best known for identifying the five mission areas of Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery; along with the Core Capabilities.  Many thanks to my colleague Jon who brought this release to my attention.  The updated National Preparedness Goal and associated documents can be found here.

There are not many changes in this update, and the changes that are included should be of little surprise if you reviewed the draft released for public comment several months back.  Up front, the update provides some editorial clarification on the definitions and relationships between the federal government and tribes as well as US territories.  It also provides more emphasis on the concept of whole community and the special populations within the whole community which may require additional protections and actions.

Perhaps the most significant changes are reflected in the Core Capabilities, of which there are now 32.  In the preamble to the Core Capabilities which discusses the concept of Risk, it is interesting to note that the Core Capability of Cybersecurity was specifically highlighted as having applicability across all Mission Areas – a concept which I fully agree with.  I’m left wondering, then, why it was not re-defined as a common Core Capability.

NPG 32 Core Capabilities

NPG 32 Core Capabilities

Other changes to the Core Capabilities include the renaming of the On-Scene Security and Protection Core Capability to On-Scene Security, Protection, and Law Enforcement; and the Public Health and Medical Services Core Capability to Public Health, Healthcare, and Emergency Medical Services.  Additionally, the Public and Private Services and Resources Core Capability was renamed to Logistics and Supply Chain Management, which seems to provide better recognition of the intent of that Core Capability.  Finally, a new Core Capability was added – Fire Management and Suppression.

Three of these changes seems to revolve around a stronger recognition and inclusion of the traditional first responder services of Law Enforcement, Fire Service, and Emergency Medical Services; all of which seemed to get lost in the bigger picture of the earlier capability discussions.  I’m hopeful these changes will help bring these services to the table in more communities when capabilities are discussed.  I’m a firm believer that the Core Capabilities provide a consistent, scalable, foundation for discussion of preparedness for every community.

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


LLIS is Back!

Great news from FEMA early this morning – the Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) resource is back.  Quite a while ago they pulled down the LLIS site and have (very slowly) worked to transition the data and management responsibilities to the Naval Postgraduate School’s Homeland Security Digital Library.  Information from the FEMA release below.



We are pleased to announce that Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) program has completed the consolidation of content previously available on with the Naval Postgraduate School’s Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL). As part of the consolidation effort, nearly 23,000 documents were transferred to the HSDL document library. We believe this consolidation will improve the whole community’s access to valuable information. Some of our most recent LLIS products, including Threat/Hazard and Core Capability Trend Analyses, Grant Case Studies, and Lessons Learned and Innovative Practices can be found on or by visiting

The content transferred to HSDL will maintain a similar level of accessibility as Documents that required a username and password to view on will also require a username and password on While your log-in credentials do not transfer, you can easily create a new HSDL account by visiting the HSDL login page. Please note that some content is available without a password. To search for publicly available documents visit and use the search bar function on the homepage.

If you have additional questions, we encourage you to review our Frequently Asked Questions document. You can also email us at

Thank you for your patience during this transition. Stay updated on all LLIS program news by signing up for the LLIS newsletter.

Facilities Management and ICS

Earlier in the year I posted a video (something I need to get back into doing) on the positioning of care facilities within the ICS structure (Operations, not Logistics).  I’m currently reviewing some standard operating guidelines created by a county government on the management of such a facility and have made some critical observations….

The biggest observation is that the management of the facility does not have to mirror the ICS organization.  What I mean here is that it really shouldn’t have its own Operations Section, Logistics Section, Planning Section, Finance/Admin Section, PIO, Safety Office, and Liaison Officer.  While I commend the folks who developed this SOG for trying to stick with ICS, I think they are trying too hard.  While the application of this type of organization CAN assist with management of a facility, it’s typically too much.  Yes, ICS is flexible and allows us to activate only the elements needed, but often people feel compelled to utilize the organization to its fullest extent – which in this case can mean the creation of positions which are not needed.  The application of ICS elements to the management of a facility can also be redundant and confusing.  Besides, most jurisdictions don’t have access to multiple Planning Section Chiefs (or persons qualified in other positions) to staff all these areas.

Let’s start at the top… Facilities, per ICS definition, are overseen by Managers.  Not directors or other such titles.  Most facilities have very specific functional activities which should drive their organization.  Yes, most of these would be considered ‘Operations’, and the support of these can be considered ‘Logistics’.  But we really need to look at the responsibilities of the facility and the relationship to the rest of the incident organization to help guide us in the development of how we organize our facility management.  Managers, in ICS, can have assistants, which may be all that’s needed to help address management-level issues that people may be associating with ICS positions.

Does a facility need a Public Information Office (PIO)?  Probably not.  ICS guidelines prescribe one PIO per incident to help ensure coordination and integrity of public information.  If the facility has a need to communicate information to the pubic, they should be working through THE incident PIO.  If the scope of the facilities operations are complicated enough, perhaps that function may have a designated assistant PIO to ensure proper handling of the information, but they are not the incident PIO.

Certainly facilities can have safety issues.  Does they mean they should have a Safety Officer?  Again, ICS prescribes that we have one incident Safety Officer.  Typically the facility manager (or perhaps an assistant facility manager) will have safety included as an additional duty, in coordination with the incident Safety Officer to ensure adherence to all applicable safety standards.  As with the PIO matter, if the facility for some reason has some serious safety concerns, it may warrant the placement of an assistant safety officer by the incident Safety Officer.

The function of a Liaison Officer is fairly high level, with the primary intent of supporting the Incident Commander with the coordination of various organizations involved in the response.  Of course many facilities are likely to be supported by several organizations, but the participation of these organizations has already been addressed by Command, likely with the assistance of the Liaison Officer.  An added Liaison Officer is simply redundant and confusing.

Logistics – while there are certainly support matters that need to be tended to in facilities – such as security, parking, sanitation, etc., this doesn’t warrant a position in the capacity of a Logistics Section Chief.  Yes, they do require some oversight which may be beyond the span of control of the Facility Manager to provide.  This is a good opportunity to assign a Support Services Leader or some other similarly titled position who reports to the Facility Manager.  Additionally, most facilities should not be the ordering point for resources.  If they need resources, the request should be sent up to the incident Logistics Section.  Similarly, there is no need for a facility to have its own Finance/Admin section.

Having an incident action plan is always a critical element of organization.  A care facility should certainly be included in the Incident Action Plan; reflected in objectives and organization, and tasked in a form ICS 204.  That said, I certainly acknowledge that some facilities can be rather complex, with a multitude of personnel and activities and thus can benefit from having more than just an ICS 204 to run by.  Select elements of an IAP can be very helpful, but a full blown IAP is generally not needed.  The development of such a document for a facility generally won’t require a full time position, much less an actual Planning Section Chief.  This is another opportunity to use an assistant facility manager.  The check in function should be coordinated with the incident Planning Section who will either assign someone or the task will be addressed internally by the Facility Manager.

As with most things, there are always exceptions to the rule.  Very large facilities with extensive operations can certainly benefit from having an overhead team.  I’ve seen ‘short teams’ (these are compact versions of Incident Management Teams) assigned to manage everything from staging areas to family assistance centers in very large (Type 1) incidents.  As such this is not something I would generally plan for since it would be an exception to the rule.  Organizationally, a short team/overhead team would become a layer between the facility manager and the task leads/unit leaders to better allow them to focus on their functional jobs while the overhead team addressed the broader management and coordination matters.  If introduced to the organization of the facility, the overhead team must have a carefully defined scope of operations to ensure they were not redundant to functions of the incident’s actual management team.  Also, an overhead team such as this would likely not have a PIO or Liaison Officer.

While we try to introduce ‘hard and fast’ rules to incident management, the reality is that these things are quite fluid and determined by need.  While our general preparedness should support a credible worst-case scenario, we also need to be careful with our planning assumptions.  Otherwise a full-blown plan for a small community could call for a need for a dozen Liaison Officers, which we aren’t likely to get under most any circumstance.  Yes, ICS is flexible, but we need to have a realistic approach.  Similarly, we can use that flexibility of ICS to introduce elements into our organization that might not have been addressed in the plan with a fair amount of ease.  We’re looking at the difference between a shelter in an average high school vs a shelter in a large sports stadium.  All that said, if your catastrophic plan identifies the use of the large sports stadium as a shelter, you should certainly include the provision in that plan for an overhead team to assist in the management of that shelter.

Of course I’m interested in your thoughts on this.

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Planning

Inspired a bit by my previous post Measuring Return on Investment in Emergency Management and Homeland Security: Improving State Preparedness Reports, I’ve decided upon writing a series of posts picking apart our primary activities in emergency management and homeland security preparedness to identify ways to gauge our Return on Investment (ROI).  To encapsulate our primary activities, I’m using the five POETE capability elements:

  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Equipping
  • Training
  • Exercises

Most preparedness activities within emergency management and homeland security fall within one or more of the POETE capability elements.  The capability element of Planning is the foundational activity on which all preparedness is built and will be the topic of this post.  Here’s what I’m covering:

  • What is Return on Investment?
  • What planning efforts are involved in preparedness?
  • What organizational investments are involved in Planning?
  • Does the planning effort comply with applicable standards?
  • Can the plan be implemented?
  • What will exercises tell you?
  • Is there a need to maintain plans?

Return on Investment, or ROI, is a business term used to identify the profitability of certain investments or actions.  While preparedness is certainly done to protect against losses, for public and private sector alike, we generally don’t see preparedness activities as generating revenue.  However, when most entities INVEST time, money, and other resources into preparedness activities, they often want a reasonable assurance that their investment has paid off.  How do we gauge ROI for planning efforts?

First off, what planning efforts might we see in public or private organizations?  Obviously emergency and disaster plans are the big ones.  These plans are designed to identify key processes, such as alert and notification, response organization and incident management, and others which are intended to save lives and protect property.  These plans are likely to have annexes and appendices which address uniqueness of certain hazards, response circumstances, and support activities.  Continuity plans – usually business continuity or government continuity – identify how the organization will survive as an entity in the face of disaster.  Planning activities also involve the creation, review, and maintenance of policies and procedures.  We also create plans for hazard mitigation, long term recovery, specific events, and other needs.

What investments are involved in planning activities?  Organizations can and should allocate staff time and physical space and infrastructure to planning efforts.  The dedication of staff (full or part time) and/or consultants is often required, especially when planning efforts are viewed as a continual process and a critical part of preparedness.  The organization itself must make a commitment to the planning effort.  This commitment isn’t just in concept, but also practical involvement of staff throughout the organization, access to information, and even an involvement of third parties.

Certainly a first step in assessing return on investment of planning is to evaluate compliance with applicable rules, regulations, and guidelines.  These requirements can be hard (legally binding) or soft (general guidance) and can differ from industry to industry, nation to nation, and state to state.  Here in the US, FEMA provides guidance on emergency planning through Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101.  Some states may have requirements for emergency planning, such as New York State’s Executive Law Article 2-bNFPA 1600: The Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs is often referenced by public and private entities alike, while the International Standards Organization (ISO), has many industry-specific requirements for emergency planning.  If grant funding is being used for the planning effort, the grant may also have specific requirements.  Regardless of what the requirements are, planning efforts, plans, and associated documents should be audited to ensure that requirements are met.

Compliance, however, isn’t necessarily indicative of a good planning effort.  I’ve seen many plans which may meet requirements but the content itself was severely lacking.  Far too often planners get caught up in the world of checking boxes and fail to consider implementation.  If a plan cannot be implemented, it is useless to the organization.  Many plans exist now that meet applicable requirements but are still yet vacant of any meaningful direction or guidance in the event of an emergency.  These types of ‘plans’ are really better seen as policy documents.  A plan should identify what will be done, when, how, and by who.  If your ‘plan’ simply contains a statement on the requirement to use NIMS/ICS, but doesn’t provide detail on who will be in charge of what, when, and how; it is a policy document, not a plan.  Plans and their associated documents (i.e. procedures, guidelines, and job aids) need to chase down the lifespan of each critical step, especially early in a response.  They must identify who is responsible to make key decisions, who will be notified (how and by who), and who will take what actions.  A logical review of planning documents by the planning committee or perhaps even a third party is another good means of assessing your return on investment.

Does the plan work?  This is, perhaps, the ultimate factor in determining return on investment.  Usually our best means for identifying if a plan works is to exercise it.  Exercises provide a controlled and focused environment for testing plans or components of plans.  They will also help us in identifying if the plan can truly be implemented.  I’ve written a lot on exercises: articles can be found here.  (I also anticipate writing about assessing ROI for exercises as part of this series).  Generally, an incremental exercise program is usually recommended, beginning with discussion-based exercises – such as table tops and workshops – and progressing to operations-based (hands on) exercises.  A well written and honestly evaluated exercise will go a long way toward identifying the return on investment of your planning efforts.

Are we there yet?  Nope.  Planning, like all other preparedness efforts, requires maintenance.  If you create a plan then walk away, even if it’s a good plan, your plan’s value will diminish over time – and we’re talking months, not decades.  Think about how often something changes in your organization.  Staffing.  Equipment.  Technology.  Procedures.  Insurance policies.  All of these things, and more, influence your plans in some way.  Over time these changes not only occur, but also compound and move the present reality of your organization further from the assumptions of your planning efforts.  This is why plans must be maintained and updated on a regular basis.

Is there some mathematical formula for identifying the return on investment of preparedness efforts?  Given all the factors involved and their fluidity, I don’t think so.  It’s not cut and dry like a traditional business investment.  As you can see, though, there are a number of steps we can take to assess the utility of our investment.  I’ve seen organizations pay a lot for bad plans, and others pay much less for great plans.  Not only do organizations need to ensure that their planners know what they are doing, but the organization itself needs to have a commitment to success.  Without it, the planning effort is doomed to fail.

As always, feedback is appreciated.  What are your thoughts on assessing the return on investment of planning efforts?  What do you think is a good measure?

Does your organization need a new plan or need to update a plan?  Do you need help with the planning process or evaluating your organization’s preparedness?  How about exercises?  Emergency Preparedness Solutions can help!  Email to or visit

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


Measuring Return on Investment in Emergency Management and Homeland Security: Improving State Preparedness Reports

A lot of money is spent within the emergency management and homeland security enterprise.  Looking just at the last couple of years of annual Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) (this is the annual grant provided by the US Federal government to states and urban areas), $1.044 billion was allocated in FFY 2015 and $1.043 billion allocated in FFY 2014.  These billions of dollars only account for a portion of spending within EM/HS.  There are other federal initiatives as well as state, tribal, territorial, and locally funded efforts.  Businesses and NGOs also invest significantly in emergency management, homeland security, and business continuity activities.  But where does it all get us?

Through the past decade or so there have been a few efforts by DHS/FEMA to try to measure preparedness, ideally to identify improvements in our preparedness as the result of the billions of dollars invested.  None of these efforts have really provided obvious and tangible results.  The current measure is through annual State Preparedness Reports (SPRs), which utilize the THIRA process (Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment) outlined in Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 201 as a foundation, but with the POETE analysis (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising) for each of the 31 Core Capabilities.  (You can find articles I’ve written on the utility and application of POETE here.) The SPR is a good methodology for identifying the current condition of preparedness for each state as viewed through the 31 Core Capabilities.  The POETE analysis helps to identify the strengths and weaknesses within each Core Capability.

The SPR, however, still falls short.  How can we improve it?

1. Include historical data for trend analysis. The SPR largely provides only a snapshot of current conditions.  The format of the SPR does not provide for any analysis of historical data to identify trends (i.e. improvements or otherwise) in the state’s assessed condition of its 31 Core Capabilities.  FEMA regional offices, upon receipt of an SPR, do provide a brief feedback report of the current SPR with a passing mention of the previous year’s submission, but the report provides so little information it could hardly be called an analysis.

A rudimentary table identifying trends for a selected Core Capability is below.  For those not familiar, higher scores rate a higher measure of capability.  In this table, I’ve identified POETE elements which have trended lower from year to year with a RED highlight, and those which have trended higher with a GREEN highlight.  A simple analysis such as this give an at-a-glance comparison.  To make this analysis more comprehensive, I would suggest the addition of narrative for each trend (higher or lower) which explains what has changed to warrant the new ranking.

Historical Comparison of a Core Capability

2. Include a financial analysis for the current year to identify return on investment. An identification and summary of key program area investments for the year will lay the groundwork for a return on investment (ROI) analysis.  ROI will help identify how much bang for the buck you are getting in certain areas.  It’s easy to lose sight through the year from a program management perspective on how much money was spent on certain programs and activities – especially for larger agencies with a layered bureaucracy.  Incorporating this analysis into an SPR is not only good financial and program management, but provides an opportunity to identify where money was spent and to measure, at least on a broader scale, what the results were.  Certainly we have to fund continued operations to simply sustain our capabilities, but we should also be funding, where possible, programs to enhance our high priority capabilities and those needing the most improvement.

Again, as a rudimentary example, we can build on the table provided earlier to identify where funds were spent to see if they made a difference in our level of preparedness.  As with the earlier example, a narrative should be provided for each investment to identify what it was and assess the impact.  This also provides an excellent opportunity to review the investment justification written for grants to determine if the investment met the intended objectives (which should have been to maintain or enhance some aspect of the capability).  Historic investment data can also be included for each year.  This all leads directly to identifying the return on investment – did the investment make a difference and to what extent?

Historical Analysis of a Core Capability with Identified Investments

Ultimately this added data and analysis requires more work, potentially the involvement of more people, and likely more time to complete the SPR.  However, this new process will also result in a positive return on investment itself by helping to identify trends and outcomes.  Financial information is regularly reported to DHS (for those grants that originate with them) in the form of progress reports, but that information is stovepiped and usually not associated with a more comprehensive assessment such as the THIRA/SPR.  Bringing this data together paints a much more accurate picture.

The concept of preparedness is difficult to put in a box.  It’s amorphic and challenging to identify, yet people often ask the question ‘Are we prepared?’  States, locals, DHS, and Congress often have difficulties measuring preparedness and advances in preparedness, especially relative to the dollars spent on it.  The GAO has regularly recommended efforts to better identify return on investment, yet we haven’t gotten there.  The recommendations identified here can bring us much closer to nailing down where we are and where we need to be.  Armed with this knowledge, we can make better decisions for future investments and activities.

Moving forward, I expect to write a bit on each POETE element, with my thoughts on how we can identify return on investment for each.  As always, I’m very much interested in your thoughts on the approach I identified above and how we can better identify return on investment in the realm of emergency management and homeland security.

If you are interested in utilizing this approach to better identify your return on investment for local, state, tribal, territorial, or organizational preparedness efforts (whether or not you do a State Preparedness Report), Emergency Preparedness Solutions is here to help!  Check out our website at or contact me directly to discuss what we can do for you.

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


FEMA Seeking Comment on Preliminary Damage Assessment Manual

Released last week, FEMA is seeking comment from emergency managers on the draft FEMA Damage Assessment Operating Manual.  The manual establishes (much needed!) national damage assessment standards developed from historic lessons learned and best practices already in use by local, state, tribal, territorial, and federal emergency management agencies.

The draft manual and comment matrix are posted in the FEMA Library.  FEMA asks that comments be submitted no later than November 14, 2015 to Mr. Ryan Buras, Senior Program Advisor at

Emergency managers – Be Heard!