Training EOC Personnel – ICS is not Enough!

A consistent misconception is that if an emergency operations plan calls for an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to utilize the Incident Command System (ICS), then EOC personnel only require ICS training to be successful in their jobs.  ICS training, however, only gets personnel part way to success.

Regular readers of my blog know that I am a big advocate of conducting needs assessments.  Often times, agencies don’t know how to conduct a needs assessment, don’t think it’s important enough to conduct one, don’t think that conducting one is necessary, or simply don’t even consider conducting a needs assessment.  The result is creating training or using existing training that does not meet the real needs.  Certainly if an EOC is using the foundations of ICS to define its organizational structure and processes, then ICS training is absolutely important.  Consider, however, the multitude of other processes that take place in an operational EOC that are not included (in whole or in part) in ICS training.  Processes including financial management and procurement, situation reporting, and use of EOC management and resource tracking software are so diverse and can very from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

The unique application of Multi-Agency Coordination Systems (MACS), an element of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), just like ICS, by each jurisdiction also has to be considered.  While there are numerous best practices in MACS, their interface with ICS – often implemented through an EOC – is influenced significantly by governmental structure, statutory responsibilities, and politics more than can be addressed by any training curriculum. Consider simply the differences between a state EOC, a county EOC, and a local government EOC and their unique roles and needs. For as much standardization NIMS encourages, there will still be different ways of implementing these systems.  In the end, the challenge remains the same – how do we train people to function in EOCs?

First, do conduct that needs assessment.  What do people have to know and what skills must they have to be successful in an EOC?  At this point, I speak foundationally, as additional and more in-depth training can be explored based on position and responsibility.  Certainly ICS – with sufficient detail in positions of the organization and the planning process.    What else do they need to know?  ICS training does not address in detail what an EOC is or does – an important understand for people to have.  What processes must they be familiar with?  What tools or methodologies does the EOC use that must be trained on?  Are there specific organizational elements that require unique interactions with the greater organization (such as emergency support functions <ESFs>)?  Look through your jurisdiction’s EOC Standard Operating Procedures/Guidelines (you do have one, right?) to help you identify some of these needs.

Second, identify how to address these training needs.  ICS organization and the planning process are covered in the ICS-300 course, so that will meet some of your needs.  Unfortunately, since so many of the other needs are unique to your jurisdiction, you will have to build custom training to meet these needs.  Yes, FEMA does have available a course called EOC Management and Operations (IS/G – 775).  While some material in this course may or may help meet your training needs, chances are the course in its entirety will not.  First, it dedicates time discussing ideal facilities for an EOC (not really necessary if you already have such a facility), and second, while it provides an outline for general EOC operations it still won’t address all of your specific needs, although course materials can be used as a resource to inform your instructional design.

Third, build staying power into your training.  Much of what is learned is quickly forgotten, especially when people don’t practice it often.  There are a few strategies to combat this knowledge loss… 1) offer refresher training, 2) conduct regular exercises, 3) create job aids.  ICS is big on job aids – that’s very simply what the ICS forms are.  There are a multitude of additional job aids that you can create for your EOC.  Practically every position and process can have checklists and flow charts which help remind staff of what they need to do and in what order to do it in.

This can all be a lot of work, but it will pay off next time you have to activate your EOC.  Remember, there is always help available.  My consulting firm, Emergency Preparedness Solutions, has a great deal of experience working in a variety of EOCs across the country.  We have developed plans, procedures, job aids, training, and exercises unique to each EOC.  We can help you!  Check out our website at www.epsllc.biz or contact us at consultants@epsllc.biz.  Be Proactive, Be Prepared!™

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

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