I recently came across an emergency management handbook assembled for municipalities in Connecticut. First of all, I’m thrilled that officials in CT are openly sharing this handbook. Doing so makes it easier for their municipal officials to find and, in the spirit of sharing found within emergency management, it is always great to share best practices. There are a great deal of concepts, templates, checklists, and the sort which are benchmarked and shared throughout the emergency management community, by way of the Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) site and other means, which are of great help the collective profession. If someone else has already done something and it seems to work, why not adapt it to your own needs instead of trying to create something completely different?
I recall early in my career when handbooks and reference guides assembled by states for their local governments were common practice. For a period of time we seemed to get away from that for some reason, but the practice now is making a resurgence. I consulted on a project a year ago for the creation of a UASI regional handbook and have seen others in use. The CT handbook which I linked to at the beginning of the article is an excellent example of what should be included in a handbook and how it should be structured. Recall from my training-related articles that my focus is always on the audience and their needs. This audience-centered approach doesn’t only apply to training – it also applies perfectly well to document development. So who is the audience for these handbooks? Certainly the chief elected officials of counties, cities, towns, and villages. Their subordinates (department heads) can also benefit greatly from the content. How about schools (primary and secondary education alike) and hospitals? The more people who are familiar with the foundational concepts of emergency management and how it is applied in a particular state, the better. With some modification to include more information for them, I’d also include private sector entities as well.
The structure of the CT document is also one to be benchmarked. They make reference with brief explanations to federal and state laws and related authorities of individuals and agencies regarding emergency management and related topics, such as NIMS. For these and other references throughout the document, they include external links where additional information can be found. They include emergency management structure and flow, which helps local governments identify who they need to coordinate with and who they should request assistance from. They break down the document into the phases of incident management and include information on each; including planning, training, exercises, and grants within Preparedness; communication, coordination, notification, resources, and other information within Response; debris management, PDAs, and recovery programs in Recovery; and the variety of common mitigation programs in Mitigation. Appendices provide information sheets on things like the CT VOAD and 211, as well as templates and checklists for the critical elements of each phase of emergency management.
Recalling the needs of the audience, CT addresses them well with this document, which was a collaborative effort between their state emergency management department, emergency management association, state conference of municipalities, council of small towns, and association of regional planners. These types of collaborative efforts help ensure that the right information is being conveyed. Most new elected and appointed officials know little about emergency management and need to become familiarized with it before a disaster occurs. While response is the most prominent phase of emergency management, the other phases are necessary to promote an effective response and a good, overall program. Even for those experienced in emergency management, a guide such as this provides excellent references for the critical information. The handbook is of reasonable size – only 90 pages – so it is easy to navigate. While it has value in print, it is even more valuable electrically given the addition of hyperlinks which bring you to other information. As a PDF, it’s handy to keep in the library of a iPad or other tablet where it can be referenced easily. Overall, the information is succinct, giving only what is needed for foundational understanding. The templates, checklists, and quick reference guide found in the appendices help turn the information into actionable content.
Lastly, the structure and content of the document lends itself well to a structured review (i.e. training), which gives people the opportunity to look at the document in-depth and ask questions.
Does your state or municipality have a handbook similar to this? What are your thoughts on the one CT provides? Would you like to see more content or less? Have they missed something essential?