ICS Training Sucks… So Let’s Fix It

A great many of you are familiar with the piece I wrote in June called Incident Command System Training Sucks.  In it, I identify that the foundational ICS courses (ICS-100 through ICS-400 – but especially ICS-300 and ICS-400) simply do not provide the skills training that emergency managers across all disciplines require to utilize the system efficiently, effectively, and comfortably.  ICS Training Sucks turned out to be a popular piece which had a great deal of support from the first responder and emergency management community – which I am very grateful for.  The amount of comments and feedback was indicative to me that I was on the right track and that I need to revisit the topic and explore more.

At the center of my argument stands Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Bloom’s is a learning hierarchy which helps to identify the depth of instruction and learning.  Here is Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.  We’ll be referencing it a bit in the examples I provide.

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

Take a moment to read through the descriptions of each of the ‘orders of thinking’ in Bloom’s.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Done?  Good.  Most would agree that courses such as ICS-300 and ICS-400 should attempt to convey learning at the Apply level, correct?  Unfortunately, that perception, while wildly popular, is wrong.  Most of the learning objectives of the two courses (objectives are our reference points for this) are at the Understand and Remember levels.  Yeah, I was a bit surprised, too.

In ICS Training Sucks, I provided a greater detail of the background analysis (it summarized the narrative of a Master’s research paper I wrote), so if you want more, simply go back and check it out.  While I make a few broad recommendations in that piece, there has been a need to examine our path to fixing this more closely.

In the development of curriculum, there exist several models.  The most commonly used model is the ADDIE model, which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  The first step, Analysis, is really the most important, although often the most ignored or cut short.  People think they know what the need is, but often don’t really understand it.  If you are interested, I’ve written a piece on the topic of Analysis for Training Magazine last year.

Even though we are suggesting a re-write of the ICS curriculum, or parts thereof, Analysis is extremely important.  The roots of the current curriculum we use goes back to circa 1970s wildfire ICS courses.  These are good courses, and while I’m not sure if they fully met the need then (although they did advance us quite a bit), their evolved versions certainly DO NOT now.  There is no sense in repackaging the same product, so let’s first figure out what people need to know to do their jobs effectively.  Essentially, this leads us to identifying a list of key core competencies in ICS.  Core competencies will define the level of competence needed in a particular job or activity.  We can easily use the levels of Bloom’s as our reference point to establish common definitions for the levels of competence.  What am I talking about?

Let’s pick one key activity in ICS to examine.  Resource Management is a great example as it shows the disparity between what exists and where we need to be.  Resource Management is discussed in Unit 6 of the ICS-300 course.  I think most would agree that we expect most every jurisdiction to be able to implement sound resource management practices.  Implement is the key word.  Implementation is indicative of the Apply level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  When looking at unit objectives in the ICS-300 course for unit 6, the key words are identify and describe.  Identify is indicative of the Remember level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, while describe is indicative of the Understand level.  Both fall short of application.  While we aren’t looking for this curriculum to create incident management teams, we still expect most jurisdictions to be able to manage resources, which is certainly a core competency of incident management.

I think the NIMS doctrine provides a good starting point for identifying core competencies.  In an effective study, there may be other competencies identified – perhaps topics such as leadership, that may not necessarily be found in a revised ICS curricula, but can be obtained through other training courses.  This could lead to an important differentiation between core competencies (those that MUST be included in ICS training) and associated competencies which can be sourced elsewhere.

Further, we can capitalize on what we have learned through implementation of the current ICS curriculum and previous iterations.  We know that multidisciplinary training is most effective since larger incidents are multidisciplinary.  We also know that training must be interactive and maximize hands-on time.  The past few updates to the ICS courses have done a great job of encouraging this, but we need more.

Making more detailed recommendations on fixing ICS training will take time and effort, as a solid Analysis must first be done.  Once core competencies can be identified and defined, then a strategy for revamping ICS training can be developed.  As mentioned in ICS Training Sucks, this approach should be multi-faceted, using both new and (good) existing courses to support it. Let’s not be bound by what currently exists.  We don’t necessarily have to create a ‘new’ ICS-300 or ICS-400 course.  Let’s create courses within a broader program that meets the needs of the emergency management community.  They may no longer be called ICS-300 and ICS-400.  Perhaps these two will be replaced by four smaller courses?  Who knows where this path will take us? The bottom line is that we need to be responsive to the needs of the learners, not bound by “the way we’ve always done it.”

As always, feedback is appreciated.  Perhaps there exists an institution that has the desire and funding to pursue this further?  I’m fully onboard!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC



8 thoughts on “ICS Training Sucks… So Let’s Fix It

  1. An even bigger problem is that we are requiring more and more people from outside the traditional first responder cimmunities to take increased levels of ICS training. Imagine working in Heath, public works, utilities, housing, planning, economic development, schools, public information, etc., and trying to relate to a course usually taught by first responders about a concept that evolved from first responders. If they manage to make it through the on-line training, their eyes begin to glaze over within minutes of the first ICS-300 class. Then, realize that most of those folks will rarely, if ever, use ICS in their daily operations, but only when working in an emergency operations center or some large multi-agency incident. We need to find ways to make the training more relevant to their experiences and perhaps find ways to integrate ICS concepts into thei regular (non-emergency) jobs.

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