Management and Organization of EOCs

I’ve always been fascinated by emergency operations centers (EOCs).  Through my career I’ve worked in many of them across the nation as a responder, trainer, and exerciser (is that a word?).  I’ve seen EOCs large and small, dedicated facilities and multi-use rooms.  I’ve been in EOCs on the top floor of buildings, so as to have a bird’s-eye view; and those underground, originally designed to withstand a Soviet nuclear attack.  I’ve seen technology that rivals NASA’s Mission Control, and EOCs that drop phone and internet lines from the ceiling when needed.  While the size, layout, and technology can all support an EOC’s mission, it’s really all about the people.

IMG_3226Over the past several months I’ve seen an even greater variety of EOCs due to a broad range of consulting projects I’ve led for my company.  These projects have brought me to EOCs in states, cities, and airports across the nation.  While coordination is the commonality, there are a great deal of differences between and among these EOCs, not only in their physical space, but also in how they operate.  While all pay heed to the National Incident Management System (NIMS) in some fashion, some lean more heavily on the Incident Command System (ICS) than others, while some prefer the emergency support function (ESF) model, and others yet seem to be in limbo, searching for the best model.

It’s been over a year since the National Integration Center (NIC), charged with maintaining NIMS, released a draft for public comment of the NIMS Refresh, which included the Center Management System (CMS) concept.  CMS is/was intended as a model for organizing EOCs and other such incident support functions.  Despite promises, we have yet to see any of that come to fruition.  That said, there are certain expectations and activities that must still exist for an EOC to be successful and productive.

With tactics being managed by the Operations Section in the Incident Command Post (ICP), planning is really the focal point of an EOC.  The perspective of an EOC is generally much bigger picture than that of an ICP.  Assuming a traditional coordination and support role of an EOC, the Operations Section of an EOC is really geared toward pulling agencies together and facilitating strategic-level problem solving through proper coordination.  For an EOC to function properly, current information is just as important as the ability to anticipate future needs so that problems can be solved and resources obtained.  This information management and forecasting is the responsibility of the Planning Section in an ICS-centered model, or of a planning function in any other model.

Every agency that contributes to the EOC, regardless of the model, should be prepared to contribute time and potentially even staff to this planning function.  Often, the incident is ‘routine’ enough that the planning staff are familiar with the various facets of the incident to do proper information collection, analysis, and forecasting; but on occasion subject matter experts are needed to support each of these critical activities.  Those subject matter experts often come from the agencies or emergency support functions represented in the EOC.  As forecasting is performed, opportunities are identified for needs that may need to be supported.  This is where the forecasting loops back to Operations to coordinate the agencies/emergency support functions to solve these problems.

None of this actually means that an EOC doesn’t oversee tactics, even indirectly.  While an ICP, for most incidents, doesn’t report to the EOC, there may be ancillary organizations developed to address other matters which the ICP isn’t overseeing.  While the ICP is focused on immediate life-safety issues, the EOC may be coordinating evacuation, sheltering, or public health matters.  In each of these examples, or numerous others which could be contrived, someone has to be in charge of them.  If the incident commander’s attention is focused on the highest priorities, these other matters are likely to be run by the EOC.  Typically, these would be within the chain of command of the EOC’s Operations Section or through an ESF.

I love seeing how different EOCs address problems and manage their own functions.  I’m all for creativity, but there fundamentally should be some standardization to the organization and management structure.  What’s unfortunate, however, is that so many EOCs don’t have proper plans which identify these functions or how they will be managed.  Some simply insert the phrase ‘NIMS/ICS’ into their plan, and assume that’s enough (it’s not).  Others have no plan at all.  The enemy of coordination is chaos, and if you don’t have quality plans in place, which have been trained to and exercised, the EOC stands to add even more chaos to the incident at hand.

Put some thought into your EOC management structure and plans.    How would the EOC run if you or someone else who usually runs it weren’t there?  Are plans and procedures detailed enough for it to operate smoothly?  Are personnel from all agencies trained properly in their roles and responsibilities?  Have you exercised these plans recently?  If so, what lessons learned do you usually see and have you worked to address them?

Feedback is always welcome!

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

New Release: Core Capability Development Sheets

Today’s FEMA Daily Digest Bulletin announced the release of Core Capability Development Sheets which are intended to help jurisdictions build or sustain each capability by integrating:

  • Available training courses
  • Capability targets for the THIRA
  • Nationally typed resources
  • Partners to support development of capabilities
  • Exercise support and guidance to validate capabilities
  • Assistance from the FEMA National Preparedness Directorate

In all, there are 48 Core Capability Development Sheets.  This made me raise an eyebrow when I first read it, as there are 32 Core Capabilities.  The 48 sheets account for the common Core Capabilities (Planning, Public Information and Warning, and Operational Coordination) being carried across each of the five mission areas, as well as other Core Capabilities that are carried across more than one mission area, such as Infrastructure Systems.  This is smart, since, for example, Operational Coordination has some different applications between mission areas, such as Prevention and Recovery.

The sheets themselves offer some good information and make a nice quick reference, particularly for those who aren’t hip-deep in the Core Capabilities on a regular basis.  Matching the National Preparedness Goal, each Core Capability starts off identification of the applicable mission area and a description.  The sheets also identify some training programs across DHS training consortium entities, such as EMI and CDP, which can support the capability.

I like the inclusion of example capability targets, which compliments THIRA development, but also helps users wrap their heads a bit more around the concept of each Core Capability, how progress can be measured, and what can be strived for.  They also offer some identification of resource types that fall in line with the national Resource Typing Library Tool.  I’m a bit ambivalent about this, as the resources identified are response-oriented resources.  For example, the Planning Core Capability identifies two resources – Planning Section Chief (Type 3) and an EOC Planning Section Chief.  Yes, there is obviously a strong case for operational planning in an incident (i.e. the ICS Planning Process), but there is no acknowledgment in this area of resources needed for pre-planning, even though the recommended training does focus on pre-planning.

Each sheet also provides summaries of information on potential partners to help support capability development as well as resources to assist in validating capabilities, the latter being largely exercise focused.  Every sheet has a number of links and even email addresses to DHS program areas which can provide additional information, which may be one of the best aspects of these sheets.

While it’s not indicated that the Core Capability Development Sheets are in any kind of draft form, FEMA’s Technical Assistance program does ask that feedback and comments are emailed to them at FEMA-TARequest@fema.dhs.gov.

I like the concept of these sheets and most of the information contained within.  They are a good quick reference for those that don’t work with the Core Capabilities all the time, and I envision these being circulated for study ahead of meetings, such training and exercise planning workshops (TEPWs) and THIRA/SPR meetings to make sure there is a foundational understanding of each Core Capability and some ideas on how they can be further developed for a jurisdiction.  Kudos to FEMA’s Technical Assistance program on these!  I hope they continue to develop as we all gain a better understanding of how to grow our capabilities.

I’m always interested in the thoughts of readers.  Please look these over and share what you think about them.

© 2017 – Timothy M. Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

 

EPS – Celebrating Five Years!

Aside from a brief mention at the end of some posts, I don’t often promote our company on this blog.  While the intent of the blog has never been to directly promote our services, we have gained and maintained a number of professional relationships through it, including those with clients.  I do want to take advantage of the platform on this occasion to express gratitude and hope that you will join us in celebrating an important benchmark.

Emergency Preparedness Solutions (EPS) is excited to be celebrating five years of helping clients to enhance capabilities and improve performance in the areas of emergency management and homeland security.  We have worked with clients across the nation on assessments, planning, training, and exercises on a variety of unique projects.  More specifically, over the past five years we have taken on projects such as exercise design, conduct, and evaluation – including staff support to a state-wide Vigilant Guard exercise, and conduct of airport exercises around the nation.  We have developed, conducted, and evaluated training programs – including those on functional needs sheltering, hazardous materials response for EMS, and continuity of operations.  We have also conducted state-wide training needs assessments, plan evaluations, and have created multi-hazard plans.

EPS New logo

To help mark our five years, we are proud to release a new logo for EPS and an updated website.  The URL is still the same, but the look is totally different.  Please visit us at WWW.EPSLLC.BIZ and take a look around.  Our look is sharper, more contemporary, and mobile friendly.  We also have pictures from a variety of our projects featured throughout the site as well as a live feed of this blog.  Many thanks to Mohawk Valley GIS for their work on the website.  MVGIS is a small business local to us that provides outstanding Geographic Information Systems services and other work locally and afar.  Please be sure to check them out.

On our new website we are also happy to announce our support of Team Rubicon.  Team Rubicon is an outstanding organization that provides hands-on disaster relief services to communities struck by disaster across the nation and around the globe.  Team Rubicon accomplishes great things through the people that make up their organization, mostly military veterans.  You can show them support by direct financial contributions as well as purchasing items through their online store.

We certainly want to acknowledge the contributions of the people who have and continue to work for us on projects.  We often leverage talented people from around the country based on the skills required to meet the needs of clients.  These include active and retired public safety professionals and military veterans.

Like most small businesses, the support of friends and family, especially in the early years, are extremely important.  There are far too many to name, and I’d be likely to forget someone, but each of you have been so important to our success!

Lastly, we wouldn’t be in business if not for our clients.  There are a number of testimonials on our website from several of our clients and we are grateful for the opportunity to work with each of them.  We continue to take on new clients as well as engaging in new contracts with previous clients.  We look forward to continuing on with current clients and working with new ones far into the future!

Thanks for your continued support of this blog and of EPS!

Be safe!

Tim Riecker, CEDP

Awareness of Public Health Preparedness Requirements – CMS

Emergency management and homeland security are collaborative spaces.  Think of these areas a Venn diagram, with overlapping rings.  Some of the related professions overlap with each other separately, but all of them overlap in the center.  This overlap represents the emergency management and homeland security space.  What’s important in this representation is the recognition that emergency managers and homeland security professionals, regardless of what specific agency they may work for, need to have awareness of that shared space and the areas of responsibility of each contributing profession.  One of the biggest players in this shared space is public health.Presentation1

For nearly a year, public health professionals have been talking about new requirements from CMS, which stands for The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  How does Medicare and Medicaid impact emergency management?  CMS, part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) covers over 100 million people across the US – far more than any private insurer.  As an arm of HHS and a significant funding stream within public health, they set standards.

The most relevant standard to us is the Final Rule on Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Medicare and Medicaid Participating Providers and Suppliers.  The rule establishes consistent emergency preparedness requirements across healthcare providers participating in Medicare and Medicaid with the goal of increasing patient safety during emergencies and establishing a more coordinated response to disasters.

The CMS rule incorporates a number of requirements, which include:

  • Emergency planning
  • Policies and procedures
  • Communications planning with external partners
  • Training and exercises

These are all things we would expect from any emergency management standard.  Given the different types of facilities and providers, however, the implementation of the CMS rule can be complex.  A new publication released by the HHS ASPR (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response) through their TRACIE program (Technical Resources, Assistance Center, and Information Exchange), provides some streamlined references to the CMS rule.  It’s a good document to study up on and keep on hand to help keep you aware of the requirements of one of our biggest partners.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

FEMA and NOAA are NOT Leaderless

VMS Vulnerabilities Can Have Serious Consequences

Few things piss me off more than headlining incorrect information.  Right or wrong, headlines ARE the news for many members of the public who choose to not consume the content of the article.  As either a cause or symptom of our politically divisive climate, many seem to be dismissive of facts and jump to conclusions.  Within the past week, I’ve seen several news articles and Twitter posts claiming that FEMA and/or NOAA are ‘leaderless’. The one that finally did me in was this article from Emergency Management Magazine.

Without venturing into politics, I think it’s very unfortunate that permanent heads of these two agencies have yet to be appointed and confirmed.  Having these posts filled is as important to these agencies psychologically as it is practically.  That said, processes and progress are not stopping at either of these agencies because new heads have yet to be appointed.

First of all, each agency has an acting head.  At FEMA, Bob Fenton is the acting Administrator.  He has a history with FEMA going back to 1996, including a number of high-level leadership roles.  Despite rumors on social media, federal assistance will occur without an appointed FEMA Administrator – and in fact federal assistance, including disaster declarations, have been occurring since Fenton took over as acting Administrator on January 20.  Similarly, NOAA is not without an agency head.  Benjamin Friedman has been performing the duties of NOAA Administrator and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.  Similar to Fenton, Friendman has a significant leadership history within NOAA and has continued to lead the agency on an interim basis.

Second, both philosophically and practically, organizations have leaders within, not just at the top of the org chart.  There are a number of principals and deputies, program managers, and other functionaries – appointees and civil servants alike – within both organizations that continue to do what they do every day to turn on the lights and provide services to the public and other agencies.  They provide leadership within their areas of responsibility and get work done.

While I understand and agree with the premise of the concern that these agencies don’t have fully appointed agency heads, it’s misleading to the public and insulting to their acting administrators as well as the professionals within these agencies to say they are leaderless.  We continue to see the work we would expect from these agencies, such as new NIMS content and preparedness grants, and diligent weather information, as well as plenty of behind the scenes work that provides us with services every day.  Speak out about the lack of fully appointed agency heads if you like, but don’t say these agencies are without leadership.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Public Area Security National Framework

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently released this report in cooperation with a variety of stakeholders which provides information and guidance on preparedness, prevention, and response activities to strengthen the public spaces of transportation venues.  While the focus of the document is on airports, the information in the document is great not only across all transportation venues, but other public spaces as well.  I think there are great takeaways for other areas of vulnerability, such as malls, convention centers, event spaces, and others.

To be honest, there is nothing particularly earthshattering in this document.  The document is brief and identifies a number of best practices across emergency management and homeland security which will help agencies and organizations prevent, protect, prepare, and respond to threats, particularly attacks.  That said, the document does accomplish providing concise information in one document on key activities that absolutely should be considered by entities which control public-access spaces.  I would also suggest that this document is still 100% relevant to those which have some access controls or entry screenings.

Information in the document is segmented into three key tenets: Information Sharing, Attack Prevention, and Infrastructure and Public Protection.  Within these tenets are found recommendations such as relationship building, communication strategies, vulnerability assessments, operations centers, planning, training, and exercises.  Most of the recommendations provide examples or leading best practices (although no links or sources of additional information, which is a bit disappointing).

The framework is worth a look and can probably serve as an early foundation of activity for those who haven’t yet done much to prepare their spaces for an attack.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Can we Require Preparedness?

The City of Pittsburgh recently lost an effort to require emergency preparedness training for security officers and building service employees.  The Commonwealth Court ruled that the City did not have the authority to require such an ordinance.  This is just another example we’ve seen with difficulties across the US with requirements for preparedness measures.  Why is it so challenging?  It often comes down to the legality of the requirement.

When it comes to the interface of local jurisdictions with states, we often see the concept of home rule providing one of the greatest challenges.  Some interpretations of home rule laws identify that states can’t require local (often to include county) jurisdictions to conduct certain activities, such as have certain plans, attend training, or conduct exercises.  In some states, we see law or regulation that states that if a jurisdiction is to have an emergency plan, then there is a required format of said plan.  But if there is no stick, there is often a carrot.

If requirements can’t be established, then incentives are often the best alternative.  Again, in the local/state relationship, states have grant allocations which can be provided to local governments.  Grant rules can be established that identify certain requirements as conditions of funding.  This tends to be highly effective, especially when funding is expected to continue year after year, and the grants continue to reinforce sustained maintenance on these requirements, such as periodic updates to emergency plans.  Generally, I see no down side to this alternative, so long as the required initiatives are well thought out and realistic given the amount of funds the jurisdiction is receiving.  To ensure effectiveness, however, there must be accountability and quality control measures in place to monitor execution of these requirements; such as reviewing plans, After Action Reports, and auditing training programs. This same methodology is typically how DHS/FEMA is able to get states and funded urban areas (UASIs) to comply with their wishes for various initiatives.

Outside of government, requirements can still be difficult.  While regulations may be put into place for certain industries and under certain conditions, we often have to rely on other, more practical, means of getting businesses, industry, and even not for profits on board.  This often comes with certifications.  An example would be ISO certifications, which some businesses and industry need to compete in certain markets.  Yes, there is even an ISO standard for emergency management.

Unfortunately, many entities, be they public, private, or even individuals, don’t want to be bothered with preparedness.  Most will agree that it’s a good idea, but it takes time, money, and effort.  It’s long been said that you can’t legislate preparedness, and that is often true.  Even if a requirement is able to be established, the extent of implementation can range widely, depending on the internal motivations and resources available to the entity.  Establish whatever requirements you want, but I guarantee there are some that will barely meet those requirements, and in doing so likely not meet the actual intent of the requirement; while others who are believe in the requirement and have available resources, will exceed the requirement.  Largely, organizations are motivated by funding and certification standards.

I’m interested in the perspectives you have on requiring preparedness, both in the US as well as other nations.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC