FEMA’s 2017 Hurricane Season AAR

A few days ago, FEMA published its after action report (AAR) for the 2017 hurricane season.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that last year was nothing short of devastating.  The major hurricane activity revolved around Hurricane Harvey (Texas), Hurricane Irma (Caribbean/South Atlantic coast), and Hurricane Maria (Caribbean), but domestic response efforts were also significantly dedicated to a rough season of wildfires in California.  While each of these major disasters was bad enough on its own, the overlap of incident operations between them is what was most crippling to the federal response.  Along with these major incidents were the multitude of typical localized incidents that local, state, and some federal resources manage throughout the year.  2017 was a bad year for disasters.  I don’t think any nation could have supported disaster response as well as the US did.

No response is ever perfect, however, and there were certainly plenty of issues associated with last year’s hurricane responses. Politicians and media outlets made issues in Texas and Puerto Rico very apparent.  While some of these issues may rest on the shoulders of FEMA and other federal agencies, state and local governments hold the major responsibility for them.

This FEMA AAR contains good information, perspective, and reflections.  There are a lot of successes and failures to address.  While I’m not going to write a review of the entire document, which you can read for yourself, but I will discuss a few big-picture items and highlight a few specifics.

First, is the overall organization of the document.  The document is organized through reflection across each of five ‘focus areas’.  I’m not sure why this was the chosen approach.  The doctrinal approach should be a reflection on Core Capabilities, as outlined in the National Preparedness Goal.  Some of these focus areas seem to easily align with a Core Capability, such as ‘Sustained Whole Community Logistics Operations’, which gives me reason to wonder why Core Capabilities were not referenced.  While we use Core Capabilities as a standard in exercises, the purpose for them being part of the National Preparedness Goal is so that we have a standard of reference throughout all preparedness activities.  Any AAR – incident, event, or exercise – should bring us back to preparedness activities.

The second issue I have with the document is the focus.  While it’s understood that this is FEMA’s AAR, not a wholistic federal government AAR, it’s almost too FEMA-centric.  The essence of emergency management is that emergency management agencies are coordination bodies, as such, most of their work gets accomplished through coordinating with other agencies.  While it’s true that FEMA certainly has a significant work force and resources, the AAR seems to stop at the inside threshold of FEMA headquarters, without taking the additional step to acknowledge follow-on actions from a FEMA-rooted issue that may involve other agencies.

Among the positive takeaways were some of the planning assumptions outlined in the report.  There is a short list of planning assumptions on page 9, for example, that provide some encouraging comparisons between planning assumptions and reality.  This is a great reminder for local and state plans to not only include numbers and percentages in their planning assumptions, which will directly lead to identifying capability and resource gaps, but to also reality check those numbers after incidents.

Page 10 of the repost highlights the success of FEMA’s Crisis Action Planning groups.  These groups identified future issues and developed strategies to address these issues.  This is actually an adaptation of an underutilized function within the ICS Planning Section to examine potential medium and long-term issues.

Pages 11 and 12 highlight how Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) data from states and UASIs can inform response.  It’s encouraging to see preparedness data directly inform response.  I hope this is something that will continue to evolve.

Pages 22 and 23 discuss the staffing issues FEMA had with massive overlapping deployments.  Along with their regular full time workforce, FEMA also deployed a huge volume of their cadre personnel.  They also tapped into a pilot program called State Supplemental Staffing.  While there were some administrative and bureaucratic difficulties, it seems to have been considerably successful.

Overall, this is a good document citing realistic observations and recommendations.  While the document is FEMA-centric, the way of FEMA is the way of emergency management in the US, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on what they are doing, as many of their activities have reach to state and local governments we as other federal agencies.

What important concepts jumped out at you?

© 2018 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC™

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No Standards for Armed Teachers in Colorado

No matter what side you fall on in the debate on arming teachers, I think most people can agree that if teachers are to be armed, there should be some standards.  Apparently, Colorado law makers don’t think so.

Whenever giving someone the ability to handle a deadly weapon, especially as part of or sanctioned by their employer, there should absolutely be some standards in place.  To name a few:

  • What kind of weapon is allowed?
  • Are there any conditions in which that weapon cannot be carried?
  • Can the weapon be secured on the premises?
  • What are the rules for use of the weapon?
  • Does the person have to register their possession of the weapon?
  • What initial and refresher training requirements are in place?
  • Who is responsible for maintaining training and other records?
  • Who carries the legal liability?
  • Are mental health checks required?
  • What procedures are in place for reporting an incident involving the weapon?
  • What procedures are in place if the person is accused of a violent offense outside of work?

As the article cites, and as most of my readers are likely familiar, law enforcement officers and military personnel participate in many hours of fire arms training.  Before a weapon is even put into their hands, they are schooled on the components of their weapon, rules for use of force, and firearms safety.  On the range, safety discipline is paramount.

It’s not to say there aren’t any standards being put in place by these school districts in Colorado.  Many of them may be addressing all of these questions and more.  Unfortunately, there is a lack of consistency, since, as special districts, they are empowered to self-govern in many aspects (this is similar in most, if not all states).  The lack of statewide standards leaves a lot of room for gaps and liability, and, regardless of altruistic intent, can potentially endanger not only students, but first responders as well.

From a public safety perspective, I encourage local law enforcement, fire service, EMS, and emergency management to coordinate with their school districts (they should be anyway) if they are allowing their teachers to be armed.  Don’t only encourage policy, procedure, and standards to be in place, but press hard for it and offer to be involved.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC™

Changing The Lexicon on Terrorism Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

A couple months ago I posted about NFPA 3000: Standard for Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response Program.  Soon after posting, I ended up purchasing a copy of the standard and, combined with other readings and discussions, am fully bought into not only this standard but a change in our lexicon for this type of incident.

NFPA3000

First off, in regard to NFPA 3000, it’s not rocket science.  There is nothing in this standard that is earth shattering or itself wholly changing to what we do or how we do it.  But that’s not the intent of NFPA standards.  NFPA technical committees compile standards based upon best practices in the field. The standards they create are just that – standards.  They are a benchmark for reference as we apply the principles contained therein.  NFPA 3000 provides solid guidance that everyone in EM/HS should be paying attention to.

What NFPA 3000 has helped me realize is that our focus has been wrong for a while.  Terrorism isn’t necessarily the thing we need to be preparing for.  Why?

First, let’s look at what is generally referenced definition of terrorism in the United States.  This comes from Title 22 Chapter 38 US Code § 2656f.  It states that terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents’.  Note that the definition focuses on motive more than action or consequence.  While motive is very important in prevention/intelligence and prosecution, it is far less important to most preparedness, response, and recovery activities.

The term ‘active shooter’ has been used quite a bit, yet it’s not a good description of what communities and responders can face when we consider that perpetrators could use means and methods instead of or in addition to firearms.  We’ve seen a wide variety of these instances that involve knives, vehicles, improvised explosives, and more.

This is why I prefer the term ‘active shooter/hostile event response’ or ASHER.  While the term has been around for a bit (a quick internet search shows references going back to at least 2013), NFPA 3000 has essentially canonized it in our lexicon.  The definition provided in NFPA 3000 is focused on the incident, rather than the motivation, and is comprehensive of any means or methods which could be used.  That definition is – Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER): An incident where one or more individuals are or have been active engaged in harming, killing, or attempting to kill people in a populated area by means such as firearms, explosives, toxic substances, vehicles, edged weapons, fire, or a combination thereof.

When it comes to preparedness, response, and recovery ASHER is the focus we need to have.  Motivations generally make little difference in how we should respond.  We should always be looking for secondary devices or other attackers – these are not features unique to terrorist attacks.  As we do with any crime scene, we should always be mindful of evidence that can lead us to the motives and potential co-conspirators of an attacker.  That’s important for investigation, prosecution, and the prevention of further attacks.  Does the term ‘terrorism’ still have a place?  Of course it does.  In our legal system, that’s an important definition.  Philosophically, we can argue that all attacks are acts of terror, but because of the legal definition that exists of terrorism, we can’t – at least in the US.

I encourage everyone to start making the move to changing the lexicon to ASHER where appropriate.  It makes sense and gives us the proper perspective.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC ™