Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101 (CPG 101) describes three format options for your emergency operations plan (EOP): The traditional functional EOP format, the Emergency Support Function (ESF) format, and the agency/department focused format. As mentioned in CPG 101 the traditional functional EOP format is the most popular and widely used. It generally provides for three major sections – the basic plan, functional annexes, and hazard specific annexes. The traditional format provides for the greatest flexibility and allows a jurisdiction or organization to easily evolve their plan as the need for addressing additional issues or hazards is recognized. Continuity of Government/Continuity of Operations (COG/COOP) plans are easily integrated as annexes as our newer concepts such as resiliency plans and climate change plans.
Agency/department focused EOP formats provide utility for those folks that like to crack open the book looking to answer the question ‘what is expected of me?’. This format offers some flexibility, but under most occurrences where the need to address a new issue arises edits need to be made through much of the plan to identify and address each agency’s involvement in said issue. It can also be awkward to include other associated plans, such as the afore mentioned COOP and COG plans. It does work for smaller communities, though, whose hazards and other planning areas stay fairly static.
The ESF EOP format is modeled after the National Response Framework (NRF) (originally the Federal Response Plan) which addresses functions by grouping agencies and organizations with responsibility and resources to address those functions. This model has worked fairly well for the federal government given their structure and the general federalist approach of most agencies (aside from those agencies with direct authorities such as the US Coast Guard). There is some flexibility in this model with the ability to include both support and hazard specific annexes, but one must be cautioned not to confuse the ESF annexes with the support annexes. The key word in the format is ‘support’, which is largely what the federal government does in response to a disaster.
Last week Lucien Canton posted an article Emergency Support Functions: Misunderstood and Misapplied. Read this! As usual, Lu states his point expertly as he discusses the pros, cons, and uses for the ESF structure. Many jurisdictions, in an effort to mirror a system which seems to work for the federal government, create their EOP in an ESF format. I’ve rarely ever seen it well applied – at least not in the form that the feds use. Understanding that the feds structure their ESFs to address policy and coordination, these same needs may not exist at a state or local level. Therefore states and locals change the ESF structure. While there is certainly no requirement to use only those ESFs which are used in the NRF, using a different format can cause great confusion. For example, what is ESF #12 (Energy) in the NRF may be an ESF for economic recovery for a city or county. Now we have what we’ve been trying to avoid in incident management – a lack of common terminology.
Each jurisdiction and organization should choose which format works best for them. I would strongly recommend the traditional format which is the easiest to shape to meet your needs rather than trying to work within an awkward planning framework. Remember that no plan is ever perfect, but requires regular attention to ensure that it evolves with and addresses your needs. Don’t try to tackle it all at once, either, or on your own. Proper planning is a team effort requiring input from multiple stakeholders in your jurisdiction or organization. CPG 101 references ‘whole community’ planning which is a great idea to ensure that you capture multiple perspectives and that all stakeholders are bought into the process and the product. Take on your planning work in small bites, one component at a time. First work on the base plan – the most essential part. Then identify those functional and hazard specific annexes which are most important – accomplish those next. To help guide your work it will help to create a project chart for your planning efforts identifying timelines and benchmarks, stakeholders, and needed inputs. Finally, don’t forget to exercise your plans to validate them!
Lastly, my marketing plug – If you need help planning please contact Emergency Preparedness Solutions! EPS is experienced in working with governments, private sector, and not for profits in all facets of preparedness including assessment, planning, training, and exercises. We are happy to discuss your needs and determine the best way to meet them.
What planning format do you prefer and why?
© 2014 – Timothy Riecker