The EOC Incident Support Model

Since the release of the NIMS Refresh in October 2017, a number of jurisdictions have made changes to the organizational structure of their emergency operations center.  While many jurisdictions use a traditional Incident Command System (ICS)-based structure, a structure aligned to the emergency support functions (ESFs), or a hybrid thereof, the NIMS Refresh seems to have popularized an alternative structure called the Incident Support Model.  I’ve been working with some clients who recently have, or are currently making a change to the Incident Support Model.  The general model of that structure can be found below.

ISM

The intent of this model is to provide an EOC with an organizational model that better fits what an EOC does… information management, planning, and resource support.  This model, unlike the more traditional ICS-based model or the ESF-based model really focuses on what EOCs do instead of potentially utilizing an organization and mission that are mis-matched.  As stated by the NIMS Refresh document, this model puts the EOC manager in direct contact with those doing situational awareness/information management, and streamlines resource sourcing, ordering, and tracking.

As someone who has worked in and long advocated for an ICS-based model for EOCs, I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with the Incident Support Model over time.  It certainly makes sense.  Appendix B of the NIMS Refresh document provides some additional detail on this model, but not much.

The Incident Support Model, most prominently, reorganizes some of the major ICS-centered functions we are used to seeing.  It pulls two key functions from the Planning Section, those being situational awareness and resource tracking.  Situational awareness in this model is established as a section.  Those who have managed large and fully staffed Situation Units in an ICS-based model know that the various responsibilities such as information tracking, developing situation reports, addressing requests for information, and information analysis and display can be significant.  Technical specialists, such as meteorologists and other sciences come into the fold of this section, as does Geographic Information Services (GIS).

The function of resource tracking, traditionally from the Resources Unit in the ICS model, is pulled together with all other resource-centered activities in the EOC under the Incident Support Model.  This includes the tasking and assignment of resources, as well as the support of those resources, which functionally has been handled by a combination of Operations and Logistics in the ICS-based model.  Reflecting on how many EOCs have grown comfortable organizing these functions previously, this section may be organized by ESF or other workable function.  The Resource Support Section is also to include Finance/Administration, which I’m not necessarily as keen on.  While I understand it from a contracting and procurement perspective, Finance/Administration is a function that may be best retained as their own section.

Separate from the Resource Support Section is the Center Support Section, which is focused on supporting the EOC itself with IT, admin staff, food, and other needs.  The Center Support Section may also be tasked with providing similar services to other defined facilities, such as a Joint Information Center (JIC) or Family Assistance Center (FAC).  I see this as a smart move as Logistics in the traditional ICS model had to juggle needs internal and external to the EOC.

Lastly is the Planning Support Section.  With information management resource tracking gutted from the Planning Section, you may be left wondering what is left for the Planning Section to do.  The Planning Support Section is still responsible for managing the planning process, which needs a bit of realignment under the Incident Support Model.  With this is overall responsibility to develop the Incident Action Plan (IAP), but there is more.  An astute planning function in an EOC in any sizeable incident should not only be managing the planning process for the next operational period, they should also looking ahead.  They may be pulling together a plan for something like debris management or utility restoration which is expected to be an operational focus in a few days, or perhaps planning for the transition to recovery operations, or even for demobilization.  As such, the Incident Support Model calls for the Planning Support Section to be divided between Current (and next operational period) Planning and Future Planning.  With an organization model underscoring this, we will hopefully see Planning Sections focused on future outcomes as much as they are focused on short-term processes.

The Incident Support Model is certainly a workable structure, which seems to remove some of the awkwardness of the tactically-built ICS-based structure from the EOC.  While we’ve certainly evolved the ICS-based structure to meet our needs in an EOC, I think many, myself included, were reluctant to make the changes needed to make it more functional in an EOC environment and still have it reflect ICS.

Now that jurisdictions are retooling and building this new model into their plans, however, we are in a bit of an awkward position in regard to training and utilization of staff. In the absence of national training program to support this model, jurisdictions are left on their own to train staff how to function in this structure.  Many jurisdictions have invested a great deal of time to have staff trained in the NIMS Position-specific courses.  While I don’t see that training as being wholly wasteful in light of a change to this model, there are obviously some adaptations to be made for those looking to utilize that training in an EOC using the Incident Support Model.  Even established Incident Management Teams (IMTs), which follow the ICS model, will need to determine how they will adjust their deployment to fit EOCs which may use the Incident Support Model.  The functions of this model certainly aren’t foreign, but may require a crosswalk of sorts for personnel who are otherwise trained or qualified to work in an ICS-based environment.

Working with clients who are adopting this model, I’m looking forward to seeing it in action and further identifying pros and cons.  Knowing that some have been using this model for some time, I’m also interested in reviewing their lessons learned, particularly things like operational flow, adaptations to the Planning P, job action sheets, and other things.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

 

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EOC Skillsets and Position Task Books Finalized

Back in April, FEMA released the drafts of EOC skillset documents and position task books for public comment.  A few days ago, the final versions of these documents were released on FEMA’s National Qualification System (NQS) website: www.fema.gov/national-qualification-system.

While the hub of emergency response is the incident command post, the hub of emergency coordination is the Emergency Operations Center.  While life saving tactics, directed from the ICP, are absolutely essential, a comprehensive and long-term response can’t be sustained without the activities of an EOC.  We have gone far too long in emergency management without having good national guidance on the organization and qualification of personnel in the EOC.

When you crack into the website you may be a bit overwhelmed by all the documents you find.  Don’t look to this as something that must be implemented 100% right away.  Take a deep breath and remember that most things done well in emergency management, ironically enough, are an evolution and take time.  Also remember that while this has been established as guidance, it’s not a requirement.  Implement what you can, when you can.  Focus on establishing a foundation you can build from and do what makes sense for your jurisdiction or organization.

The foundation of everything in emergency management is planning, so whatever you do decide to implement should find its way into plans, which may need to be supported by policy.  While implementing a qualification system with task books can be cumbersome, it can also solve some problems when it comes to having less than qualified personnel working in your EOC.  The position task books are a great way for individuals to see what standards they are being held to and allows them to track progress.  If you don’t feel that the use of position task books will work for your jurisdiction or you are on a slower track to implementation, it’s still worthwhile to examine the skillset documents for each position you have identified in your EOC.  These can support your own developed standards, expectations, and plans; serve as a foundation for training course development; and support exercise evaluation.

Lastly, talk about these with your committees and your peers.  It’s easy to forget about them so keep these visible.  These documents offer an abundance of solid guidance which can strongly support your operational coordination.

What are your thoughts on the EOC skillsets? Do you plan on implementing them in your system?  If so, how?  If not, why not?

Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠

How to Categorize a Hurricane?

There has been a lot of discussion lately on rethinking how we categorize hurricanes.  At present, we use the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which provides a category (numbered 1-5) based on the hurricane’s present sustained wind speed.  While this scale has served as the standard for several decades, it is based only upon one impact of hurricanes – wind.  As such, the Saffir-Simpson scale is not a good universal predictor of potential hurricane impacts.

To better consider how we can categorize hurricanes, we should understand those impacts.

  • Wind is an ever-present threat from hurricanes. The highest reaches of these winds can be utterly devastating, practically leveling an area of built infrastructure and foliage. Wind speeds can be measured throughout the entire life of the hurricane, and wind speeds can be predicted with reasonable accuracy.  While tornadoes are generally expected with hurricanes, their intensity is difficult to predict.
  • Storm Surge is the greatest threat to coastal areas from a hurricane. Storm surge is defined as the rising of the sea as a result of atmospheric pressure changes and wind associated with a storm.  Essentially, the winds of the hurricane push water up on to land creating sudden inundation.  The height and degree of inundation of storm surge is dependent upon several factors including wind speed, tide, natural and built barriers, and distance inland.
  • Rain, like wind, is a sustained threat from hurricanes, potentially causing flooding well inland. The geographic size of hurricanes tends to result in saturation from rain across a wide area, making the management of runoff incredibly difficult.  In coastal areas, rain will obviously contribute to the flooding conditions caused by storm surge.

In recognition of the hazards, there have been proposals for categorizing hurricanes based upon hazards other than wind.  While I’m no meteorologist, I can certain identify that these will provide even less valuable data than wind alone.  While it’s true that storm surge is often the most impactful hazard of hurricanes, the extent of potential damage from storm surge varies so wildly based upon a variety of factors, there are few general statements that can be made about it to establish any kind of categorization.  Further, how will the storm threat be categorized to those too far inland to be impacted by storm surge?  Rating a hurricane based upon rain is even less of a full picture than those who argue against wind.

The Saffir-Simpson scale begins to approach the problem by also defining the types of damage that can be caused by hurricanes of different intensities.  These defined impacts, however, are limited to wind damages.  Certainly the ideal model provides categories which define expected levels of damage from wind, rain, and storm surge combined.  Such models may be more informative to the public, elected officials, first responders, and emergency managers.  There are efforts under way to examine some potential new models.  Be alert to what gets proposed and be sure to provide feedback.

Have I missed anything here?  Are there any other considerations for how we should be categorizing hurricanes?

Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠