A New Vision for ICS Training

Yep, I’m still at it.  It seems with every post about the condition of Incident Command System training as we know it, I’m able to draw more people into our cause (aka the Crusade).  While I’ve never espoused there to be an easy solution, the training that we currently provide for ICS falls well short of doing us any favors.  People walk out of each subsequent training course with a marginally increased understanding of the system and how to use it.  And that’s really the fundamental problem, isn’t it?

Perhaps at some point, someone had the idea of developing ICS 100-400 to be knowledge-based courses, with position-specific training to be more about application.  Unfortunately, that’s a significant disservice to responders and the populations they serve, which was further exacerbated by the NIMS training requirements, creating a type of a false sense of security in which people believed that they have ‘been trained in ICS’, therefore all is well in the world.  Responders, in the broadest sense, at supervisory levels within every community should be trained not only in what ICS is but also how to implement it.  Not every community, for a variety of reasons, has reasonable access to position-specific training, so the core ICS curriculum absolutely MUST do a better job in teaching them how to implement the system.

This also goes further than just training.  ICS, like so many other things, is a knowledgebase that tends to degrade over time.  Without practice, you tend to lose the skills.  This is how people who are on Incident Management Teams or those who work regularly in an ICS-based Emergency Operations Center are so well practiced in the system.  In the absence (hopefully!) of actual incidents, planned events and exercises go a long way to keeping skills sharp.  Even those, however, can get costly and time-consuming to design and conduct.  Enter the hybridization of scenario-based training, which is something I’ve written on in the past.  Not only do we need to include more scenario-based training in everything, we need to include a scenario-based ICS skills refresher course as part of the core ICS curriculum.

While I continue to have various thoughts on what there is to be done with the ICS curriculum as a whole, here is my current vision…

ICS-100: (What is ICS?)  Pretty much keep this as is, with options for on-line and classroom delivery.  The purpose of this course is to serve as an introduction to ICS concepts for those who are likely to come into contact with it and work in lower levels within the system.  This is levels one (knowledge) and two (comprehension) of Bloom’s taxonomy.  It shall serve as a prerequisite to further ICS classes as it provides much of the fundamental terminology.

ICS-200: (How do I work within the system?)  Tear down/burn down/nuke the on-line version and never look back.  Simply making it ‘more accessible’ doesn’t mean that it’s good (it’s not).  The purpose of this course is to expand on knowledge and begin to approach functionality.  I expect content to reach deeper than what is currently within the course.  Without looking at specific content areas, I envision this course to be mostly level two (comprehension) of Bloom’s taxonomy with some touches on level three (application).  Perhaps the only level one content that should be introduced in this course are some fundamentals of emergency management.  Some of the content areas currently in the ICS 300 absolutely need to be moved into the ICS 200 to not only make the ICS 200 more impactful, but to also set up the ICS 300 as being fully focused on implementation of the system.  Expanded content may mean taking this course to a duration of up to three days (it even feels taboo writing it!). ICS 100 (taken within six months) is a prerequisite.

ICS-300: (How do I manage the system?) The most recent update of the ICS 300 course begins to approach the vision for what we need, but more work needs to be done.  This course needs to be much less about the system and more about how to IMPLEMENT and MANAGE the system.  This course is firmly rooted in level three (application) of Bloom’s taxonomy, with perhaps some level four objectives, which gets into analysis (troubleshooting and creative solutions… because that’s what emergency management is really all about!).  Much of this course is scenario-based learning centered on implementation and management of an incident through the use of ICS.  Less instruction, more guidance.  And because, at this point, ICS isn’t the only thing at play in real life, concepts of broader incident management are also applied.  ICS 200 is naturally a prerequisite, and should have been taken within a year.

ICS Implementation Refresher Course: This would be designed as a post- ICS 300 course, taken every year or two.  Reasonably, this can be accomplished in a day of intensive scenario-based training.

ICS-400: (A prerequisite for position-specific training).  Eliminate this from the core curriculum.  Seriously.  Most of the current content of this course is not needed in the core ICS curriculum.  Time is better spent in a more intensive ICS 300 course than teaching people about some (largely) obscure applications of ICS which are usually only ever performed by incident management teams.  The current content is largely fine, it just has such little impact on local implementation of ICS and is really rather awkward within the continuity of the curriculum.

Thoughts and feedback are always appreciated.  If we are to succeed and build a better mouse trap, it will be through dialogue and sharing of ideas.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

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A Podcast That is Not a Catastrophe

I’ve written in the past a few times about some emergency management and homeland security podcasts that I recommend.  As a podcaster myself, I’ve become a bit more discerning about what I listen to, which is a pretty extensive library of nerd culture, EM/HS, entrepreneurial, and political commentary podcasts.  I’ve recently come across a new podcast which is absolutely being added to my regular listening, and that’s Catastrophe!

Catastrophe! is hosted by Jess Phoenix and her husband Carlos.  Jess is a volcanologist with numerous television appearances and interviews related to such, and is well versed in a range of topics within emergency management and climate change.  Carlos is a cybersecurity and risk management expert, and together they run the non-profit Blueprint Earth.  The two complement each other well as hosts and are able to bring their experiences into the discussion.

As of my writing, Catastrophe! has released four episodes, with the current focus being on human caused disasters.  I’ve so far listened to the introductory episode and the fourth episode, which is on the Centralia PA Mine Fire, a disaster that has fascinated me for years.  While I do need to jump back to episodes 2 and 3, I’ll say that even in just the span of a few episodes, Jess and Carlos got more comfortable behind the mic, providing much smoother conversations.

The coverage they give on the catastrophes they discuss is great, with well researched topics and a presentation style that is interesting, entertaining, and even a bit instructional as they break down some of the technical aspects within each show’s topic area.  They have largely dedicated themselves to being a family friendly podcast, so I’d say that their show is appropriate for teens on up.  Their website, catastropheshow.com, also includes some great information complementing each show, with pictures, maps, links, and references.

I’m hopeful that Catastrophe! has a long and successful run.  You can find it through all the regular podcast apps or stream episodes from their website. Follow them on Twitter @catastrophepod and be sure to give them a listen, subscribe, and leave reviews wherever you find your podcasts.  I’m hopeful that they cover the Boston molasses flood soon!

  • Tim Riecker, CEDP

Conduct of the New ICS 300 and 400 Courses

Last month a colleague and I delivered the new ICS 300 and 400 courses for a client.  If you’ve missed them, I have some early review notes and overall thoughts posted.  Nothing gets you into the curriculum like teaching it, though.

First, some credit to our course participants, who were extremely supportive in this delivery.  They were patient with our occasional need to double check the instructor guide and even helped to point out some inconsistencies.  While we each have about fifteen years of experience in teaching the courses, the first few times out with a new flow and format, along with new activities takes a bit of getting used to.  The courses also offered some challenges that had to be overcome in our course prep and delivery.

Leading off with the good foot, both courses reflect a positive direction of change.  It’s not the wholesale change that I’ve been stumping for, so expect to continue to see me championing more changes, but we are seeing positive movement in the right direction, at least with the ICS 300 course.  (I still hold out that most of the content of the ICS 400 course isn’t necessary for most who take it.  Time would be far better spent with grounding the concepts of ICS and supporting implementation of the aspects that are most likely to be used.)

Both courses continue a trend of scenario-based learning reinforcement, with the ability to utilize a progressive scenario threaded throughout the ICS 300 course and scenarios within the ICS 400 that help demonstrate when and how these concepts might be used.  While the ICS 300 materials provide several new scenarios for use, we actually didn’t use their progressive scenarios as our client had some specific needs, requiring us to build a localized scenario for them.  That said, the scenarios provided in the ICS 300 are easily adaptable to meet your needs.  Just be aware of the intent of each phase of the scenario and don’t alter the overall concept.

The endeavor to ground ICS as an operational tool is emphasized in Unit 4 of the ICS 300, Implementing an Operational Process.  This unit really seems to pull together the whole reason for being for ICS, especially in an extended operation, and is a good introduction to the Planning Process.  This unit was very well designed and is one of the most progressive changes in the course.

Not a lot was substantially changed in the ICS 400.  Aside from my earlier comment on the questionable necessity for most of the content, the course, as designed, is good enough to address what is intended, even if that intent seems misguided.  Much of the course was kept the same as the previous version, but there were a few tweaks and adjustments throughout.  The activity in Unit 2, the Fundamentals Review is multi-tiered and is very effective.  Unit 5 provides a lot of content on EOCs which wasn’t previously included as much, as well as introducing disaster recovery topics, which at this level incident the leadership of organizations (i.e. those taking this course) need to be aware of.  This is largely ‘bonus content’ which I had provided in the course off script in the past, as it wasn’t included.  I’m very happy to see this as part of the course now. The capstone exercise is the same as the previous version of ICS 400 and is still very well structured and produces great outcomes for participants.

On the down side… well, there is some substantial down side. I provided a fairly detailed list (of both positives and areas for improvement) to EMI.  Taking the course at face value – that is looking at what we have, not what I think it should be, most of the issues I had with this course have to do with faulty instructional design.  There is no way around saying that it was done very poorly.  There was significant lack of attention to detail… so many mis-spellings (spell check is a free feature included in every word processing program – FYI), inconsistencies between the Student Manual and Instructor Guide, problems with scenarios which are not part of the progressive scenario, graphics so small they are not visible for participants in the student manual, and some issues of course flow and organization.

Unit 3 in the ICS 300 course is titled Initial Actions for Unified Command.  So much of the unit is built on the premise that a unified command is formed in the initial response of an incident, practically exclusive of even the possibility of a single command.  This is insanely misleading and required some significant extended explanation on the part of our instructional team to temper that content.

Earlier I complemented unit 5 of the ICS 400, particularly for the additional material provided on various types of EOCs and extending the discussion into recovery.  While these are great, the unit should be organized earlier in the material, especially with several earlier references to EOCs without explanation of what they are.  Practically speaking, the concept of the EOC has far more actual use than any of the other concepts discussed in the course.  There is also way too much material on federal-level EOCs, most of which are so far removed from incident management that most emergency managers have no interaction at all with them.  I think this content should speak about EOCs in general terms.

I think Central City needs to be erased from all memory, and a new fictional jurisdiction developed.  The maps for Central City, et al, keep getting recycled and are small in print, confusing in design, and clearly dated.

The final exams for both courses were very bad.  They each had questions that our instructional team agreed to throw out, as they were poorly worded or ambiguous and nearly every participant got them wrong.  Even most of the valid questions and answers simply aren’t suitable for short-duration training, and certainly not with a closed book exam.

In all, I provided three pages of comments back to EMI. I’m appreciative of EMI being so receptive to the feedback and candid about certain issues they had in the development of these courses.  In respecting their candor, I’m not going to get into some of the points brought up, but it certainly appears as though they are disappointed with the condition in which these courses went out the door and they have a desire to improve them.  Hopefully it won’t be too long until you see another update of the course materials with most of these issues addressed.

I look forward to hearing from others about their experiences with delivering these updated courses.  As such a central topic to the greater public safety and emergency management community, we need to do better with teaching incident management and ICS as the primary tool we use for incident management.  As a community of practice, we need to get behind this initiative and support the need for significant improvement.  Of course if you aren’t familiar with my crusade on the matter, check out the series of ICS Training Sucks articles I’ve posted over the past few years.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Spreading the Word

Some of you may have noticed that Lucien Canton, who writes the monthly Emergency Management Solutions newsletter, has featured some of my articles over the past few months.  (Thanks Lu!)

While Lu and I have never met, we have periodically corresponded over the past several years.  He is a highly experienced emergency manager and consultant, speaker, and author in the field, who, like me, has a passion for writing.  He covers a variety of topics in his newsletters and articles, from emergency management, to business acumen, and more.  Lately, he has been kind enough, in the collaborative nature of emergency management, to feature other bloggers, such as me, in his newsletter as well.

You can check out his current and past newsletters and featured articles here, along with other services and materials he offers.  Be sure to subscribe to this newsletter, which has great information every month!

-TR

Teaching ICS – We’re not there yet

Over the past week I’ve been neck deep in the updated ICS-300 and ICS-400 curriculum as I prepare to deliver these courses for a client.  While these courses, especially the ICS-300, have made some significant improvements from past versions, I’ve found what I perceive to be another challenge, perhaps a gap, in our collective approach to teaching incident management.

While ICS training should obviously focus on ICS, it seems we are missing an opportunity to provide some critical knowledge on emergency management (at least the response functions of EM) and incident management as an overall concept, especially when we get to the level of ICS-300.  I’m betting that most people taking the ICS-300 class know very little about emergency management and even less about the overall concepts of incident management.  While the ICS-300 is a good and worthwhile course for a great many supervisors within the ranks of public safety, it seems the requirement for ICS training puts a lot of this out of context.

While this might be fine for the ‘typical’ tactician, or even most unit leaders operating within an ICS organization, knowledge of what emergency management is and does, as well as the underlying concepts of incident management, will improve the ability of the response organization as a whole to function.  I echo this same sentiment for the EOC courses that have been developed.

While we strive to have the growth of many public safety professionals to include ICS position-specific training, we also have to be realistic in recognizing that most jurisdictions simply don’t have the capacity to make this happen.  Instead, they rely on a more ad-hoc incident management approach, which will generally serve them well.  Of course, the most challenging time is transitioning from the more ‘routine’ type 5 and 4 incidents into the larger extended response operations of a type 3 incident.  This is when people need to think beyond the normal approach of a largely tactics-focused response, to a system which still necessarily includes tactics, but builds a response organization meant to support and sustain those tactical operations.  What they learn from the ICS-300 may be the most amount of training they have outside of tactical applications.

In such an ad-hoc system, someone put into Logistics, or even more specifically the Supply Unit Leader, may be left wondering how to obtain resources when the answer to that question has always been dispatch.  It may not readily dawn on them to open the phone book (digitally or physically) or to contact the emergency management office to find the resources they need.  It seems silly, but in the context of incident management, dispatch may be all they know.  Similarly, someone assigned as the Situation Unit Leader may be re-creating the wheel when it comes to identifying what information is needed, where to get it from, what analysis needs to take place, and how to tie it all together.  Why?  Because they may not have been made aware of the greater system they function within. Their mental default is the job they usually do for the agency or department they work for.

On a whim, I did some key word searches within the new ICS-300 course student manual.  The term ‘incident management’ comes up with a few hits, mostly centered around NIMS-oriented content or included in the broader term of ‘incident management team’.  Very little explanation is really given on what incident management is.  Rather, the term is just put out there, seemingly with the expectation that the student knows what it is.   A search for the term ‘emergency management’ only comes up with two hits, one being part of ‘Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC)’ (note: no context is given for what this is), and the other use is a rather throwaway use when discussing demobilization.  Emergency management as a function is actually never discussed.

The Reader’s Digest version of all this is that we aren’t including critical contextual information about the systems ICS functions within when we teach more advanced ICS courses.  This inadvertently can close people’s minds to opportunities to improve incident management by extending their thinking beyond tactics and beyond the scope of their home agency.  A podiatrist must still learn about the systems of the whole body before they focus on the foot.  Teaching people, especially at the threshold of ICS-300, about the system of emergency management and the concepts of incident management are critical before we start teaching them the specifics of a particular tool.  Doing so will make their understanding and use of this tool far more effective.

Some may wonder if I will ever be happy with how we teach ICS (really, incident management as a whole).  That day may yet come, but to get there I think we first need to reassess the actual learning needs of practitioners, and do so with fresh eyes instead of trying to mark up the same materials.  I know over the years of my criticisms of ICS training I’ve stimulated a lot of discussion, not only nationally, but internationally.  Many have been hugely supportive of the ideas I’ve put forward, and some have contributed to the dialogue.  Of course, there are some who have been resistant and defensive.  I’m thankful to those who have been receptive and I’m happy to have contributed to the energy behind changes that have been made, and will continue to do so until we, as a collective, are satisfied that the best possible training is being made available.  Change is often times progressive and incremental. It doesn’t happen overnight.

As usual, I’m happy to receive any comments and feedback you might have on these ideas.  Please spread the word and encourage feedback from those who might not be aware.  Emergency management is an ever-evolving practice.  Though we may not have answers, we must continue asking questions.

©2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

 

Improv in Emergency Management

In emergency management we put a lot of emphasis on planning and training, and rightfully so.  Deliberate planning establishes a foundation for our actions, thought out well ahead of any incident or disaster we might deal with.  Further, most training we receive is necessarily sterile.  We are trained how to respond to, organize, and manage incidents and the various facets of them.  To learn the elements and procedures being taught, we must first learn them in their most raw form, free of other distractions.  We also know that in reality, our plans and training only get us so far.

I’ve recently been reading American Dunkirk: The Waterborne Evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11 by James Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf.  This is an incredible book, the story of which I only knew small pieces of.  It tells of boat operators and waterfront workers who supported the mass evacuation of people from Manhattan as well as the delivery of responders, equipment, relief supplies, and services proximate to ground zero.  This book is well researched and supported by a multitude of interviews and other accounts of the heroism and actions taken following the attacks.

One of the themes that struck me early in the book was that of improvisation.  For over a year now, I’ve been taking improv classes and doing some performances.  We have an outstanding group of people and I’ve learned a lot, not only on the stage, but skills that I can apply across various aspects of my life, from work and podcasting to social situations.  While I’ve always intuitively known that our emergency plans only get us so far and then we basically have to make things up, I never actually labeled it as ‘improv’.

Kendra and Wachtendorf state “Since it is difficult to anticipate everything, communities need to be able to improvise as well as plan ahead.” They further elaborate that “Theatrical improvisers exercise skills that allow them to perform skits and routines spontaneously.  They are making things up as they go, but they know which principles to pull together.  They know how to make use of props and cues and the environment closest to them.  Instead of following a scripted plan, improv performers match what they know and what they have at hand.”  Consider this in the context of emergency management.  Does it sound familiar?  It certainly should.

We use our plans as a foundation.  We should continue to endeavor to make those plans as solid as possible without being unwieldy, while still recognizing that for a period of time, certainly early in the incident and very likely at other periodic times throughout, chaos rules.  Circumstances take us away from the pages of the plan, but that doesn’t mean that we have lost control, it simply means that we need to improvise to bring the incident back into line with our assumptions, or, if it’s not possible, we are developing a new plan in the moment.  Even if we have deviated from the plan, the principles contained within the plan still hold incredible value.  They become touchstones for us, reminding us what must be accomplished and what our principles for managing the disaster are.

Collectively, I challenge everyone to flex some improv muscles.  This can tie to several things.  First, take some improv classes.  Many larger urban areas have them available.  Don’t be afraid to try something different.  Next, find opportunities where you can use your plans as a foundation, but with scenarios that may deviate from the plan.  Even if it’s a zombie attack scenario, which may sound silly, but when you break it down to many of the fundamental impacts (infrastructure, public health, mass care, civil unrest, etc.) many jurisdictions already have a lot of the planning in place.  Some creativity with a scenario like this or another, forces people to think outside the box and work together to solve problems, which is what improv is all about.

As always, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the topic.

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC ℠®

The Multi-Agency Resource Center

A disaster doesn’t end when the lights and sirens go away.  Communities are left dealing with clean up and rebuilding for weeks, months, or even years.  But we aren’t yet talking about recovery.  We are still talking about addressing early impacts of a disaster that have real implications on people’s lives and stability immediately following a disaster.

When a disaster is federally declared FEMA may open a Disaster Recovery Center in or near an impacted community.  These centers are helpful in getting survivors registered with FEMA and other agencies which might be able to provide some assistance, depending on the type of declaration in place and the specific impacts suffered by individuals and businesses.  While these centers do often integrate state agencies and non-governmental organizations, their primary purpose is to facilitate federal support, and, given the time that can pass before a federal declaration is in place, these centers may not open for days or even weeks following a disaster.  Clearly a gap exists.

Enter the concept of the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC).  MARC is a more global term, similar to emergency operations center (EOC), which encompasses a variety of facilities which different but related functions, based upon the agencies involved and the needs of communities.  MARCs aren’t anything new, but they are under-utilized.  Recent work with a client has brought the concept back to the forefront of my mind, thinking that planning for a MARC should be included as an annex to a great many emergency operations plans.

In searching Multi-Agency Resource Center, there are a number of references you will come across on the internet.  Fundamentally, a MARC is a facility established in a community in the aftermath of a disaster through which services are made available to individuals and businesses seeking assistance.  Absent a federal declaration, assistance can come from local, county, and state agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  Of course, don’t count out the private sector, as they may be willing and able to provide material resources and volunteers as well.  Also, consider that even if a presidential disaster declaration isn’t in place, some agencies, such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) can declare disasters independently and would likely be willing to send a representative to a MARC, if established.

Certainly, a MARC is convenient, as it offers ‘one stop shopping’ for those seeking assistance, rather than having to contact a multitude of agencies and organizations.  Better yet, it brings the agencies and organizations to the people, who, in all likelihood, aren’t aware are the vast amount of resources and services available to them.

What can be provided at a MARC?  In actuality, anything.  It can be co-located with a commodity point of distribution (CPOD), providing tarps, water, and other items to people.  Muck out kits and respiratory protection may be provided.  Guidance on removing water or mold, or on safe operations of generators can be obtained.  Perhaps people are displaced and need temporary housing, or have a question about the safety of their homes or businesses.  People may need food, unemployment assistance, legal aid, or disability services.  Even mental health and spiritual counseling can be offered at a MARC.  If the disaster involved a lot of green debris, the MARC could be a great location to offer a class on safe chain saw operation, in the hopes of decreasing injuries from the inevitable activity of community members.

As with any activity, a MARC should be planned.  Follow the tried and true planning process in CPG 101 and pull together a team of stakeholder agencies and organizations to discuss what assistance might be provided, how it would be organized, and ideal locations to host it.  There is some great information available from the National Mass Care Strategy.  Of course, once you have a plan in place, don’t forget to train and exercise!

I’ve worked in a variety of MARC-type facilities, but one in particular stands out in my career.  Following the Haiti earthquake in early 2010, NYC Mayor Bloomberg and NYS Governor Paterson created a Haitian Earthquake Family Resource center in Brooklyn, which has the largest Haitian population outside of Haiti itself.  There were quite a number of members of the NYC Haitian community who were directly impacted by this disaster so many miles away, with family members missing or killed, the loss of income coming from family members in Haiti, and services related to these issues.  Through this this facility, we coordinated the efforts of a number of local, state, and federal agencies, as well as NGOs.  Services included interpreters, legal information, grief counseling, and facilitated access to certain US and Haitian offices to obtain information and support.  This was a unique and meaningful application of the MARC to meet an identified need.

Has your jurisdiction ever used a MARC?  Do you have a plan in place?

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠