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 ℠®

Advertisements

Run, Hide, and Fight – It’s a Matter of Survival

I’ve recently read yet another article espousing that the common Run-Hide-Fight training for active shooter/hostile event attacks isn’t appropriate because the persons involved in the incident are not trained fighters.  These articles and the so-called experts quoted in them are beyond frustrating.  The problem is very simple – someone is trying to kill people.  Potential victims must be able to do whatever they can and need to do to survive.  They may not be track stars or professional hide and seek competitors, either.  That doesn’t mean that their efforts won’t contribute to evading harm and, ultimately, surviving.

The Run-Hide-Fight training also emphasizes these actions as options.  Ideally, this is something to execute in order.  Run, but if you can’t get away from harm, then hide.  If you are found, then you fight for your life.  That said, there may be occasions when someone is immediately confronted by an attacker, with no ability to run or hide.  At that point, the victim has two options… fight for your life or succumb to the attacker.  Fight doesn’t even mean you need to subdue the attacker, but perhaps create an opportunity to run.  Fundamentally, you do what you need to in order to survive.  The rules of polite society are not valid in this situation.

There are other popular programs in use, but these can be too complex.  The steps they follow are great, but in the panic of an incident, simplicity will prove essential to survival rather than trying to figure out what a lengthy acronym stands for.  There are also systems that use terms other than ‘fight’, instead using terms like disrupt or counter.  Those should always be options considered prior to an actual physical confrontation, if possible, but it’s short sighted, and in fact dangerous to eliminate or talk around the potential need to fight for survival.

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

Reviewing FEMA’s New ELG 2300 EOC Intermediate Course

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the new EOC training courses released by FEMA.  Last week I acquired some additional information on these through a webinar conducted by the course managers from FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI).  In this webinar, they covered the updated ELG 191 (ICS EOC Interface), G 402 (NIMS Overview for Officials), IS 2200 (Basic EOC Operations), and ELG 2300 (Intermediate EOC Operations).  Similar to the rollouts for the new ICS courses, they walked us through comparisons for these new/updated courses (where they exist) and gave some information on the course structure and general content areas.  They also provided plans of instruction, which, for those of you who aren’t instructional designers, are documents foundational to the instructional design process, laying out everything from course objectives, target audience, and materials needed, as well as outlining the content areas for each unit within the course.

First, it’s important to note that EMI stressed these courses being part of a new EOC training track, intended as an analog to the foundational ICS courses, with the vision being that, depending on what the assignment of personnel might be, they may be better suited to take one or the other.  Of course there are some staff that would certainly benefit from both.  I think this is a great move by EMI.  For decades we have been using ICS courses supplemented by home grown courses to produce meaningful training.  Depending on the structure and processes of the EOC, we often had to tell people to ignore parts of the ICS training they had because of how differently the EOC operates.  That said, while these new courses build a much better foundation for EOC training, there will still be a need for some locally developed training to address the specifics of your own EOC.  This is incredibly important… don’t be lazy about this.

The course I had greatest interest in during this webinar was the ELG 2300 – EOC Intermediate course.  This course actually replaces the G 775 EOC course, which I wouldn’t say is equivalent to the new course, but in creating these new courses, the old courses are being fully demobilized.  The course runs for three full days in the classroom, covering EOC skillsets, incident planning, situational awareness, resource management, and the ever-awkward transition to recovery.  Pilot offerings of the course have demonstrated it to be a very full three days, with didactic material reinforced by activities.

From reviewing the Plan of Instruction, here are the items I appreciate in this course:

  • They address an EOC as a nexus of activity within the greater context of emergency management, covering topics such as incident management teams, potential roles, multi-agency coordination, preparedness, and maintaining readiness.
  • Developing EOC plans and standard operating procedures
  • A lot of emphasis on situational awareness
  • They accept the challenge of discussing the different possible EOC organizational models within major topic areas
  • The importance of structured recovery operations and the role of the EOC in these

There are two things I see through the lens of the plan of instruction that I’m not a fan of.  First of all, the first few units seem to have reiterative content.  While it may be with a different focus, topics such as the ICS/EOC interface don’t need to be explained over and over again in each unit.

The second item is a big one, and this brings me back a few years to my first critical piece on ICS training.  This issue is that the course objectives simply don’t line up with what the course needs to be.  Each of the terminal learning objectives of the course center on explain or identify, which reflect a low domain of learning in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Yet the ‘overall course objective’ as stated in the plan of instruction is for students to ‘demonstrate the managerial and operational roles of the modern-day EOC’.  Demonstrate is a higher, application-level domain within the taxonomy, which is absolutely where we should be for a three-day intermediate level course.  The course terminal objectives, however, don’t reflect this higher domain.  Not seeing the actual course material, I’m not able to ascertain if this is a reflection of poor instructional design (not properly aligning the objectives with appropriate course content) or if the content is actually written in accordance with the terminal objectives, thus not meeting the intent of the ‘overall course objective’.

I’m a big proponent of the need for the courses in series to be developmental; with foundational, rote information provided in a basic or awareness level course and a progression to more practical learning occurring at intermediate and advanced levels.  While this course, as I see it, certainly comes a long way to improve our collective preparedness for emergency operations centers, most jurisdictions are not going to commit to sending their staff to three days of training just so they can do a better job of talking about what an EOC is and should do.  They should be coming back with an increased ability to perform.   Given the range of skills and ideal learning outcomes we are really striving for, perhaps we need to transcend the basic-intermediate-advanced training levels and examine the role-based model of awareness-operations-technician-management/command-planning.  This allows for better targeting of learning outcomes based upon what people need.  Just a thought.

Despite my misgivings, we needed to start somewhere with a jumpstarted EOC training program.  This is a great start and I’m sure as this course gets some exercise, there will be some identification of opportunities to improve and better meet the needs of the variety of audiences out there.  I’m looking forward to seeing the course material sometime in the near future.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

©2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

New FEMA EOC Training Courses Announced

Last night FEMA issued a NIMS Alert (13-19) announcing the release of some new and revised Emergency Operations Center (EOC) training courses.  These include:

E/L/G 191 – Emergency Operations Center/Incident Command System Interface

IS 2200 – Basic Emergency Operations Center Functions

E/L/G 2300 – Intermediate Emergency Operations Center Functions

This is also including an updated G 402 NIMS Overview for Senior Officials.

FEMA is hosting a series of webinars on these courses next week.  Information can be found at the bottom of this post.

First, a bit of background on the nomenclature, for those who might not be familiar.

  • E-coded courses are those offered ‘in residence’ by FEMA, typically at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI)
  • L-coded courses are those delivered by FEMA at various locations, typically at the request of state and local governments
  • G-coded courses are those able to be delivered by state emergency management offices
  • IS-coded courses are independent study courses available from training.fema.gov

Providing a bit of context to these courses.  First, the E/L/G 191 course.  This course has been in dire need of a re-write for a very long time.  While FEMA/EMI certainly have a challenge of developing courses that are applicable to most jurisdictions, I’ve long found the 191 course to be inadequate for most.  Interestingly enough, I found the content of the new IS 2200 course alone to be far superior to any previous content of the 191 course.  That said, I’m interested in seeing what the redesign has brought for the 191 course, hopefully increasing the utility of this course to participants.

Speaking of the IS 2200 course, I just completed this course on EMI’s Independent Study website.  Overall, I found the course to be solid, addressing all the foundational information needed by stakeholders to understand what an EOC is a does, in general terms, how it might be organized, and what it’s primary tasks are.  The course has heavy reference to NIMS, as expected, and provides several hyperlinks to additional resources of relevant interest.  While the course does reflect much of the EOC content from the updated NIMS document, the materials were thoughtfully organized with a fair amount of supplement and context, examples, and even small scenario-driven activities to support a better understanding of EOCS.  As indicated previous, it has a fair amount of information on the concepts of the ICS/EOC interface, which I think are of significant value to people who are new to the world of EOCs.  The course also stresses the value of emergency operations plans, something that had been missing from ICS courses for years prior to an earlier update.

There are some areas where I find the IS 2200 course to be lacking.  First of all, there were some typos and grammatical errors in the product.  While this might not seem like a big deal to some, quality counts.  Similarly, many of the photos used in the course are recycled from many years back of training and are of poor quality and resolution.  Granted, photos from EOCs are generally not exciting or sexy, but higher quality and updated hair styles do contribute to quality.  The traditional Planning P was referenced quite a bit in the course, with the caveat that the EOC should develop its own planning cycle.  I found this to be a bit lazy and would have liked to see some guidance on an EOC-oriented Planning P.  Lastly, I would have liked to see some material on departmental EOCs (DOCs) as well as the interface between a dispatch/public safety answering point (PSAP) and a local EOC.  Perhaps we will see this latter topic addressed in either the 191 course or the Intermediate EOC course.

E/L/G 2300 is the Intermediate EOC course.  I’m very curious to learn more about this course when I sit in on one of next week’s webinars.  The biggest challenge that FEMA has in this course, as I see it, is that there are several organizational models which can be used by EOCs, including the ICS-based model, the incident support model, the departmental model, and the emergency support function model.  This variety, which I think is good to have to help jurisdictions and agencies manage in the way that is most comfortable for them, does create significant difficulty to teach how, in any significant detail, an EOC should function.  While I would love for this course to dive into the EOC’s planning process and key in on roles and responsibilities of positions similar to the ICS 300 course, I think that detail might need to be reserved for a customized course, which I’ve built for various entities through my career.  That said, I’ll be sure to report out following the webinars on my thoughts on the information we are provided.


Additional information is available on these offerings through a series of webinars hosted by FEMA.  The dates and times of the webinars:

  • May 28, 2019 at 11:00 am (EST)
  • May 28, 2019 at 3:00 pm (EST)
  • May 30, 2019 at 11:00 am (EST)
  • May 30, 2019 at 3:00 pm (EST)

 The webinars will be presented through their NIMS ICS Training Forum – Adobe Connect platform here:

The Adobe Connect platform is for displaying visuals and for chatroom only. Audio will be provided using the following conference call line and pin #:

  • Conference Telephone #: 800-320-4330
  • Pin #: 884976

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Updated ICS Training Courses – a Critical Review

It’s been quite a while since I’ve last posted, but, as I’m sure many of my followers expected, the updated ICS training materials would bring me out of my absenteeism.  For those not aware, in March of this year, FEMA released IS-200.c, an updated Basic ICS course; and earlier this week released updated ICS 300 and ICS 400 courses.  Let’s take a look at them…

First, ICS 200.  The biggest indicator of what a course is about is the course objectives, so let’s compare.

ICS 200.b Objectives ICS 200.c Objectives
Describe the Incident Command System organization appropriate to the complexity of the incident or event Describe how the NIMS Management Characteristics relate to Incident Command and Unified Command.
Use ICS to manage an incident or event Describe the delegation of authority process, implementing authorities, management by objectives, and preparedness plans and objectives.
  Identify ICS organizational components, the Command Staff, the General Staff, and ICS tools.
  Describe different types of briefings and meetings.
  Explain flexibility within the standard ICS organizational structure.
  Explain transfer of command briefings and procedures.
  Use ICS to manage an incident or event.

Obviously, the updated course has more objectives.  Is this better?  When we compare the relative content of the two courses, it’s pretty clear, first of all, that ICS 200.b only having two terminal learning objectives was the result of poor instructional design.  What is laid out in ICS 200.c is really how the previous version should have been.  The content between the two courses is largely the same, with the major exception of the updated course having a capstone activity.  Comparing the classroom time-plan, the previous version clocks in at 735 minutes (without breaks), while the updated version is almost two hours longer at 845 minutes, bringing the new course to a full two days of course delivery vs the day and one half which the course has been throughout its history.  The inclusion of a capstone activity as a standard in this course absolutely makes sense, helping the material become more relevant to students and starting to bring us into the Application domain of learning.

What concerns me considerably is the time plan for independent study, which totals 240 minutes (four hours).  I still don’t understand how such a difference in time can be justified when the two delivery formats are supposed to be equivalent in learning outcomes.  We all know they aren’t.  More on this in a bit…

On to ICS 300.  As before, let’s look at the objectives first.

ICS 300 (2013) ICS 300 (2019)
Describe how the NIMS Command and Management component supports the management of expanding incidents Given a simulated situation, identify roles and reporting relationships under a Unified Command that involves agencies within the same jurisdiction and under multijurisdictional conditions.
Describe the incident/event management process for supervisors and expanding incidents as prescribe by ICS Develop incident objectives for a simulated incident.
Implement the incident management progress on a simulated expanding incident Create an ICS Form 215, Operational Planning Worksheet, and an ICS Form 215A, Incident Action Plan Safety Analysis, using a given scenario.
Develop an incident action plan for a simulated incident Create a written IAP for an incident/event using the appropriate ICS forms and supporting materials and use the IAP to conduct an Operational Period Briefing.
  Explain the principles and practices of incident resources management.
  Identify demobilization considerations for a given scenario.

Note the big difference here in the increased use of verbs of higher learning domains such as develop and create in the updated course.  It certainly makes me wonder if the folks behind the ICS 300 update had read my post from 2015 ICS Training Sucks and other related posts, as this was one of the primary issues I focused on.  While there are, again, more terminal learning objectives, many of the general content areas of the ICS 300 remain the same, though when we look at the details, it seems the content is refined and more focused on implementation, especially in regard to breaking down the planning process into more digestible pieces.

One of the most notable differences in structure is seen in Unit 2, which serves as the ICS fundamentals review.  Previously, this was largely a didactic unit, with the instructor leading the review.  The module now is a bit longer, but oriented toward student-led learning as a scenario is provided up front and used to support a refresh on what is essentially the learning which should have been obtained in ICS 200.  Interestingly enough, in the webinar hosted by EMI about this update, the facilitator stressed the obvious differences in learning outcomes between the online version and classroom version of ICS 200, even going so far as saying that people should be taking the classroom version and not the online version.  SO WHY IS IT STILL BEING OFFERED???  I really won’t accept the excuse of convenience, either.  This is public safety and we need to take our training more seriously.

Another difference in the overall structure of the new ICS 300 delivery is the inclusion of a pre-test.  This has long been a standard in DHS Consortium training and helps to identify how much learning took place and in what areas.  It also helps identify weak areas in instructional design, supporting more meaningful future updates.  The new course is 21 hours long, upping the time of delivery from 18 hours.  This brings us to a full three days, much of which provides greater practical application.  As with the previous version, they provide a slate of scenarios from which to draw upon throughout the course, providing relevant context based on your local hazards and the response focus of your audience.  I’ll be delivering this new course in the summer and am very much looking forward to it.

Lastly, the ICS 400 course was also updated.

ICS 400 Objectives (2013) ICS 400 Objectives (2019)
Explain how major incidents pose special management challenges Given a scenario and review materials, apply key NIMS doctrine concepts (NIMS Management Characteristics, Unified Command, Incident Command System structure and functional area responsibilities, IAP Preparation and the Operational Period Planning Cycle, and incident complexity) to the management of a complex incident or event.
Describe the circumstances in which an area command is established Apply the appropriate structural option to manage a complex incident.
Describe the circumstances in which multiagency coordination systems are established Given a scenario, develop an Area Command organization.
  Identify the complex incident management issues that can result from a lack of multiagency coordination.

This revision comes at you with much more confident and meaningful objectives.  You can see that the scope is similar, but the taxonomy is at a higher level.  Time-wise, the updated course is just an hour longer at 16 hours vs 15.  They again implement a pre- and post-test and use a scenario to facilitate the Unit 2 review.  The multi-agency coordination unit is replaced with one that describes not only multi-agency coordination, but also discusses the interconnectivity of NIMS command and coordination structures, which is absolutely relevant, as the use of various commands, operations centers, and other incident facilities can be confusing during a disaster, even for those of us in the know!

I’ll also be delivering this course later in the summer and am excited to see how much better it is received than previous versions.

This rollout also accompanies a new Planning P video, which I’ve not yet looked at but will be using in my upcoming deliveries.

While I reserve more detailed commentary for once I’ve had an opportunity to examine specific content more closely and deliver the courses, what I’m already seeing is quite encouraging.  I’m hopeful that these courses can support development of local capability to use the concepts provided to better manage incidents and events.  If designed and instructed well, this training, combined with quality plans and exercises, has the potential to make a big difference.  Thanks to FEMA and EMI for listening!

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

Many New FEMA IS Courses

The month of February saw a huge release of new FEMA Independent Study (IS) courses.  Most of these address topics within the public assistance (PA) program, and get into the nitty gritty items that can delay processing of PA paperwork after a federal declaration.  Lots of good info here applicable to public works and highway managers, PA specialists, finance specialists, and emergency managers as a whole. The new courses are listed below.

 

-TR

A FEMA Pilot Program? Maybe?

A few days ago, Homeland Security Today posted an article titled FEMA Creates Pilot Program for Long-term Emergency Management.  It seemed intriguing, so I took a look.  The article is pretty much verbatim (no fault of HS Today) from the press release posted by FEMA of the same title (linked to in the article).  Needless to say, I’m confused.

The press release states that FEMA has developed a pilot program to provide free training to local emergency managers across Puerto Rico to better prepare their disaster response capabilities.  There is an out of place name drop of sorts of the Incident Command System in the release, as well as a statement that the trainings ‘aim to improve capabilities of Puerto Rico Bureau of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration staff’, yet earlier the emphasis was on local emergency managers.

The training they are offering is certainly great and wholly appropriate, covering topics such as emergency planning, debris management planning, points of distribution, and threat and hazard identification and risk assessment (THIRA), as well as courses in American Sign Language.  The release also cites a train the trainer course to be delivered, but doesn’t indicate if it is specific to any of these courses or a general instructor development course.

Are you as confused as I am?  Perhaps it’s because the press release is incredibly poorly written, or maybe because this ‘pilot program’ is poorly conceived. A few thoughts…

  • I’m not sure what this is a pilot program of. Aside from the ASL training (which I think is a great addition, though I hope they realize that someone going through one ASL course still isn’t going to know squat, so hopefully it’s more than that) these courses are a regular part of FEMA’s training repertoire, which are typically provided at no charge.
  • While training certainly contributes to increased preparedness, I would have hoped that an area as vulnerable as Puerto Rico would get more than just training. Preparedness, comprehensively, is comprised of planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises (POETE), with continued assessments throughout.  Training is absolutely important, and I agree with the premise of supporting activities by teaching people how to do them for themselves.  While I understand that other resources have been provided to PR, especially in the wake of 2017’s hurricane impacts, this release awkwardly isolates the training efforts.
  • I’m still stuck on the mention of ICS in this release. It’s completely out of context, especially since there is no indication of any ICS training being provided.

Perhaps I’m being a bit nit-picky with this, but if you are going to advertise an effort, there are a spectrum of right and wrong ways to do so.  While every organization is flawed, I’m a big fan of FEMA, including many of their training programs (ok… maybe with the exception of ICS training).  Further, as a former State Training Officer, I’m big on needs-driven training and training being part of a comprehensive preparedness program.  It’s certainly very appropriate that FEMA is helping to support and boost preparedness in PR, but this release is either misleading, misinformed, or poorly written.

I know that a lot of FEMA folks, including some from EMI, read my blog.  Can anyone provide some clarification on this?  I’ll be happy to post an update!

– Tim Riecker, CEDP