Best Practices for the New Year – Standards in Emergency Management Programs

Going into the New Year I’m endeavoring to write a few posts on best practices in emergency management.  The New Year is a great opportunity for us to take a broad look at our emergency management programs to identify needs and develop and implement some strategies to improve.  Instead of looking back in a rather cliché “year in review”, let’s look ahead toward improvement!

I also wanted to express appreciation to all of my blog readers.  Some of you find me directly through my blog’s home at WordPress, some through LinkedIn or Twitter (@triecker or @epsllc), and some through my company’s website – Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC.  If you like my blog please share it with others.  Comments are always welcome.

On to our topic… Standards in Emergency Management Programs

All emergency management programs – government, private sector, and not-for-profit – should strive for their programs to meet accepted industry standards.  The two most significant standards in the United States are the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1600: Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs and the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP).  The two standards are very similar in content and in fact complimentary, with the most significant difference being that EMAP offers an actual accreditation process.  Both programs offer copies of their standards free of charge, which is reflective of the spirit of sharing and improvement that exists in emergency management.

The NFPA offers the most recent previous version of their standard as a free download from their website.  The NFPA 1600 standard is quite detailed and can be initially overwhelming but really should be referenced piecemeal.  The free EMAP standards are published in a bit less detail, but they provide a very detailed assessment tool for those who initiate the formal accreditation process.  Because neither standard references specific laws or FEMA documents, they are also great references for governments, private sector, and not-for-profits outside the US.

How should you review the standards? 

They both essentially serve as checklists for what is programmatically needed for successful emergency management programs.  They are both organized by functions, such as planning, training, exercises, and logistics allowing a program to see what activities within each area are needed.  Neither standard will tell you how to meet any particular section of their standard, as they don’t want to be seen as favoring any particular published processes or products and want to encourage innovation and resourcefulness.  This also lends itself well to either/both standards being applicable and achievable by large and small organizations alike.

Examining your own emergency management program through the lens of either of these standards provides a great opportunity to see where you stand.  Examine your functions piece by piece, function by function.  Check off what areas you feel meet the standards and highlight those which you feel do not.  Use these areas as a point of reference for improvements.  Conduct a bit of a needs assessment in these areas to identify exactly what needs to be done to improve and meet the standard then create an improvement plan to make it happen.

Having helped organizations with both NFPA 1600 compliance as well as EMAP accreditation, I’ll attest that much of it simply comes down to paperwork and good systems management.  Many of the standards can be addressed through creating and applying polices and solid practices and procedures.  Organized and thorough record keeping is very important for these matters.

What if you don’t have a specific emergency management function or certain activities are conducted by someone else?

Of course you probably should have a specific emergency management function within your community, company, or organization; but many do not.  Needs are often met in these circumstances through an amalgamation of functions found throughout the rest of the jurisdiction, company, or organization.  Hopefully you at least have an emergency management committee (or one which can serve this purpose such as a safety committee) which has representation from these various entities.  Such a committee is an ideal group to review these standards.  An emergency management program isn’t necessarily a specific agency or office; it’s really the entire system.  These standards should be examined through the entire jurisdiction, company, or organization as responsibilities and functions may be spread around.

What advantages do these standards offer for emergency management programs?

There is certainly a piece of mind knowing that your program meets these standards which are based upon industry best practices, even more so if you took advantage of EMAP’s accreditation.  These standards also provide documented justification for grants, budget allocations, resources, and activities which will contribute to a thriving emergency management program.  Overall, however, you will find that your program will be more professional and more responsive to the emergency and disaster needs of your constituency – be it a community, company, or organization.

Meeting these standards is an investment, but mostly of time and effort.  Sure, there are ways you can meet certain standards better by purchasing some cutting edge software or hiring six more people, but these standards are not intended to serve only the most fortunate and affluent emergency management programs.  A program run by a part time emergency manager with minimal funding can still successfully meet these standards.

Maintaining compliance with these standards is important and is an ongoing effort – it’s quite easy to fall off the carnival ride, especially when distracted by our daily routines and changing priorities.  Set a schedule to conduct an annual review of the standards, incorporate your compliance efforts into strategic plans, and regularly refer back to the standards to keep them fresh in your head.

Of course help is available!  Emergency Preparedness Solutions can help your jurisdiction, company, or not-for-profit conduct a Standards Assessment to determine what standards are met, what standards need to be met, and develop a strategic plan to meet these standards.  Through our full range of preparedness services we can also help you meet these standards and develop a maintenance plan for your program.

If you have questions please contact me at tim@epsllc.biz.

Have a wonderful, safe, and productive New Year!

@ 2014 – Timothy Riecker

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Emergency Management Grants – Promoting Planning Standards

We know that good emergency plans are the cornerstone of preparedness.  Often times it is local governments that have difficulty putting quality plans in place because they don’t have knowledgeable personnel or funds available to make this happen.  This gap is critical since we know that all disasters begin and end locally, so quality local plans are an imperative.

States provide financial assistance to local governments through a local allocation of the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG), which is an annual grant program through FEMA/DHS as a component of the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP).  While there is always some variance in the goals or focus of EMPG, the overall concept and allowable costs are fairly static and the emphasis is always on preparedness.

Preparedness, however, encompasses a lot of activities.  The best breakdown is POETE – Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising.  Just from this we can see a lot of opportunity to spend money on a lot of needed activities.  Planning, however, regularly needs to be revisited.  While funding the other activities may be important, they mean very little without a quality, up to date plan.  All preparedness activities should relate somehow back to the plan, such as equipment and training efforts to shore up capabilities identified for need through the planning process.  This applies to everyone by the way – federal, state, and local governments; private sector; and not for profits.

How can states (or any other grant or budget managers) continue to emphasize the importance of planning?  I’ve recently seen a best practice by the State of New Hampshire which is similar to the federal administration of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) programs.  First, they make funds available for, and only for, planning.  This includes new plans and plan updates.  Once plans have been developed that meet their standards, then additional funds can be requested for supporting preparedness activities.  This building block preparedness approach helps provide targeted funds solely for plan improvements while helping to ensure that subsequent funds are provided for activities that associate with the plan and addressing or identifying (by way of exercises) gaps.  While it can be a bit cumbersome, I think it’s a great model for promoting preparedness the right way.

Thoughts?

©2014 – Timothy Riecker

Dig Deeper – Ask ‘Why?’ Five Times

Be an archaeologist and DIG DEEPER!

Be an archaeologist and DIG DEEPER!

An old boss of mine once told me that to find the real root of any problem you should ask ‘Why?’ five times.  This sage Yoda-like advice has served me well ever since.  Of course it’s not always necessary to ask it the full five times; in fact you often find the foundational cause sooner.  Nonetheless, this approach will inevitably guide you toward discovering what needs to be fixed.

Those who follow my blog know that I post mostly within two thematic areas – emergency management or training.  The ‘ask why’ methodology applies to both of these areas and darn near anything else I can think of.  My thoughts are below on both themes.  Of course training in the field of emergency management is a combination of the two!

In Emergency Management

I’ve posted numerous times on topics such as hazard analysis, Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA), and other similar topics in emergency management.  It is so incredibly necessary for us to identify needs and vulnerabilities, and to understand our community’s capabilities in order to properly prepare for future disasters and emergencies.  I’ve learned that in public safety, when asking a question, you often get a story and that story is often related to a past incident.  While the story may be elaborate, it usually gives you little substance.  Anecdotes aren’t enough.  You need to dig deeper.

As a culture within public safety we are still trying to drive practitioners to be more analytical.  Quality after action reports are a big step in the right direction.  The benefits of after action reports for incidents, not just exercises, are huge.  After action reports should lead to improvement plans, but without identifying the real reason behind what went wrong we can’t fix the problems.  After action reports require an analysis to dig deeper into the observed action to discover what really needs to be addressed.

In Training

In November I published an article in Training Magazine titled The Importance of Analysis to Identify Root Cause.  While I didn’t reference the ‘ask why’ methodology directly, the subject matter of the article lends itself to this approach.  As a trainer, when a problem is presented to you to ‘fix with training’, you need to figure out what the real issues are so that 1) you can confirm that it is in fact a training issue, and 2) you can determine what the objectives and methodologies of the training need to be.  Without properly identifying and defining the needs you are doomed to fail and will likely be putting forth a lot of effort with little gain.  While the results may put some people on the defensive, they can point the organization in the right direction to address inefficiencies and performance problems.

In any needs assessment, don’t simply accept the first answer given to you – dig deeper!  It’s amazing what you will find!

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker