Supporting a Public Safety Training Program

Today happens to be National Teacher’s Day.  Be sure to show some appreciation for the teachers and professors who have influenced you and provide quality experiences for your kids.  Also consider expanding the definition of ‘teacher’.  In the public safety professions, we do a lot of training.  Some of us have structured academies, and while others may not, there are a lot of training opportunities provided locally, state-wide, and nationally.  Depending on the size and scope of your agency, you may run your own training program for internal, and potentially external stakeholders.

For a few years, I ran the training and exercise program of a state emergency management agency.  We delivered training programs state-wide to a variety of stakeholders.  We also developed some training programs to address needs which curricula from FEMA or other national providers could not meet.  Fundamentally, delivering training is easy, but properly managing a training program can have challenges.  Some thoughts…

  • Find the right people for the job. While we hired some personnel full time to be trainers, we also used people from elsewhere in the agency, as well as personnel from partner agencies, and hired some as 1099 employees.  There are a lot of highly qualified individuals in public safety – if you don’t know any, just ask, and they will be sure to tell you!  Assuming their qualifications are valid, are the most experienced and knowledgeable people always the best instructors?  Absolutely not.  While they may be subject matter experts, it doesn’t mean they have good presentation skills, much less comfort in doing so.  On the flip side, you might also have someone with little experience who has great delivery skills.  That might be a person to develop.
  • Quality control. When people are delivering training, peek in once in a while.  I traveled around the state regularly, and once in a while would see if one of our courses was being held somewhere along my route.  If I had the time, I would stop in and see how things were going.  While the visit was a surprise, our instructors knew this is something that might happen.  There are a few things this accomplishes.  First of all, it gives you an opportunity to observe and provide feedback.  Everyone can improve, and hopefully they can handle some constructive feedback.  Evaluation, formal or informal, is positive for the instructor and the program.  Look for consistency of practice (see the next bullet point) and professionalism.  On one of my surprise visits, I found an instructor wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.  When I discussed it with him, his response was that he was ‘retired’ (teaching for the agency was a retirement job for him) and that he could do whatever he wanted to.  After that discussion was happy to retire him further. Stopping in also shows support for your instructors and for the program as a whole.  Weather traveling across the state or down the hall, instructors want to know they are being supported.  A big part of support is simply being present.
  • Consistency counts. Training programs should be consistent.  While we might change around some examples or in-class scenarios, training delivered in one location by instructor a should largely match the training delivered another day, in a different location by instructor b.  Coming up through the ranks as a field trainer, I was part of a group that wanted to heavily modify the courses we delivered.  As I rose to management, I realized how detrimental this was.  If improvements are warranted, work with your instructors to integrate those improvements into the course.  Make sure that improvements are in line with best practices, not only in instructional design (remember: content must match objectives), but also with the subject matter.  Consistency not only ensures that all your learners are provided the same information, but also makes your curriculum and instructors more legally sound.  Too often we see instructors ‘going rogue’, thinking that they know a better way.
  • Programs need systems. A big part of building and maintaining a program is having adequate systems in place.  Systems require policies, procedures, and tools.  This is largely the behind the scenes stuff of a training program.  This includes annual curriculum reviews, performance reviews of instructors, selection/hiring and firing of instructors, maintaining instructors (see the next bullet), ordering course materials, maintaining training records, posting a course, course registrations, course cancellations, and so much more.  While it sounds bureaucratic, there should be a piece of paper that covers every major activity, identifying how it’s done, by who, with what approvals, and at what time.  Systems make sure that things aren’t missed, give you a basis of performance to evaluate the system and to train new staff, and help ensure consistency.  Systems contribute to your professionalism and are also good practices for business continuity.  Lots of credit to Cindy who was highly dedicated to establishing systems!
  • Keep instructors engaged. With either a large or small training shop, it’s important to maintain contact with your instructors.  Not just in handing them assignments and shuffling paperwork, but to really engage them.  We established twice a year ‘instructor workshops’, bringing our instructors together for two days.  From a management and administrative perspective, we used some of this time to express appreciation for their work, and provide information on curriculum updates and other information.  We encouraged much of the workshop agenda to be developed by the instructors themselves, with professional development provided by their peers.  This could include instructor development, after action reviews of incidents, case studies, and a variety of other activities and information.

Those are just a few tips and lessons learned.  I’m sure you may also have some to add to the list – and please do!

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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When in Doubt, Speak from Experience

Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at a conference on incident management. This two-conference covered a variety of topics ranging from preparedness, response, and recovery; and while there was a lot of discussion on mass shootings, the conference covered all hazards.  There were a number of great presenters providing interesting insight and information.  Of course one of the most interesting and effective ways of learning, in public safety and other industries, is through lessons learned of actual incidents and events.  We had some detailed reviews of various incidents, including the Dallas shooting, the Aurora theater shooting, and the San Bernardino shooting.  These had extraordinary detail and discussion, driven by presenters who worked those incidents.

There was one presenter, however, who enjoyed telling stories of incidents which he had no involvement in.  Generally, most people who do such a thing have the common sense of keeping it to brief illustrative points based on specific factual information.  If someone is taking a scholarly approach, we would see more detail, but based upon their research and interviews.  This particular presenter, we’ll call him Bart (name changed), took neither approach.  He was a retired Sherriff’s deputy from a county in California.  He clearly had enough credentials to get himself invited to things, but if this was his general pattern of presenting, I’m guessing he rarely gets invited back.

Aside from his presentations not at all addressing the topic, he liked to tell stories, speaking at length about incidents and locations he has never been involved in.  He even admitted to not having any involvement, and instead citing ‘something he read’ as his source.  This would be sketchy on the surface, but it was even more frustrating when he told stories of NYC 9/11 and recent events in the National Capital Region with myself and a colleague seated at the front table… myself having worked a variety of aspects of 9/11 and my colleague who presently works in the National Capital Region.

Bart presented twice, once the first day, and again on the second day.  While we casted a couple of corrections his way on the first day, we were mostly shocked that he would venture into such territory, providing information that was at best 80% fact.  During his presentation the second morning, we were much less forgiving.  His continued anecdotes about these areas and incidents were relentless, and his lack of facts in the telling of these stories was simply unprofessional.  We called him out on it several times and it was clear from body language and general lack of interest that the room fully understood what was going on.

My general rule of thumb is to speak from experience.  Don’t tell someone else’s story.  That’s not to say you can’t speak about an incident or event you weren’t involved in, just make sure you stick to the facts and be respectful that you have ventured into someone else’s territory.  If you were involved in an incident, you may be inclined to be a bit more casual about your manner because you lived it, but if you weren’t at the incident, keep it formal, cite your fact, associate it with your point, and move on.  Don’t be Bart.

Needless to say, I had several conversations with the conference organizer, who had no prior experience with Bart and was rather appalled at his presentations.

When in doubt, speak from experience.  Don’t be Bart.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

ICS Training (Still) Sucks… One Year Later

Just over a year ago, I posted my article Incident Command Training Sucks, which to date has been viewed almost 2000 times on the WordPress blog platform, alone.  Since then, I’ve written several more times on the necessity to change the foundational ICS training curriculum in the US to programs that are focused on application of ICS in initial and transitional response instead of just theory and vague instruction.  I am greatly appreciative of all the support these articles have received and the extra effort so many have taken to forward my blog on to the attention of others.  These posts have led to some great dialogue among some incredible professionals about the need to update ICS training.  Sadly, there is no indication of action in this direction.

A recent reader mentioned that it often ‘takes guts to speak the truth’.  It’s a comment I appreciate, but I think the big issue is often complacency.  We settle for something because we don’t have an alternative.  Also, I’ve found that people are reluctant to speak out against the current training programs because there are so many good instructors or because the system, foundationally, is sound.  My criticisms are not directed at instructors or the system itself – both of which I overwhelmingly believe in.  I’m also not being critical of those who have participated in the creation of the current curriculum or those who are the ‘keepers’ of the curriculum.

Much of the existing curriculum has been inherited, modified from its roots in wildfire incident management, where it has served well.  While adjustments and updates have been made through the years, it’s time we take a step away and examine the NEED for training.  Assessment is, after all, the first step of the ADDIE model of instructional design.  Let’s figure out what is needed and start with a clean slate in designing a NEW curriculum, instead of making adjustments to what exists (which clearly doesn’t meet the need).

Another reader commented that ‘The traditional ICS courses seem to expect the IC to just waive their hands and magically the entire ICS structure just would build beneath them’.  It is phrases we find in the courses such as ‘establish command’ or ‘develop your organization’ that are taken for granted and offer little supporting content or guides to application.  The actions that these simple phrases point to can be vastly complicated.  This is much of the point of Chief Cynthia Renaud’s article ‘The Missing Piece of NIMS: Teaching Incident Commanders to Function on the Edge of Chaos’.  We need to train to application and performance – and I’m not talking about formal incident management teams, I’m talking about the responders in your communities.  The training programs for incident management teams are great, but not everyone has the time or ability to attend these.

I’m hoping that my articles continue to draw attention to this need.  Perhaps the changes that come as a result of the final NIMS refresh will prompt this; hopefully beyond just a simple update to the curriculum giving us a real, needs-based rewrite.  As I’ve mentioned before, this is public safety, not a pick-up game of kickball.  We can do better.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

Emergency Management – Who Knows About Your Plans?

In emergency management and homeland security we put a lot of emphasis on planning.  Plans are important, afterall.  We need to take the time to identify what our likely hazards are and how we will address them.  But what happens when the plan is complete?  We congratulate members of the planning team and send them final copies.  Those copies get filed electronically or end up on a shelf, a trophy of our accomplishment and hard work.  Congratulations!

So… that’s it?  Is that all?

NO!  Of course not!  People need to be trained to the plan.  “Trained?” you ask.  Yes – trained.  Not just sent a copy and told to review it.  Let’s be honest, here.  Even assuming the highest degree of dedication and professionalism, many people simply won’t give it the time and attention it needs.  Very quickly the plan will get buried on their desks or the email will become one of dozens or hundreds in the inbox.  Even if they do give it a look through, most will only give a quick pass through the pages between meetings (or during a meeting!), not giving much attention to the details in the plan.

How effective do you expect people to be?

Sports analogy – when a coach creates new plays, do they simply give them to the players to become familiar with and expect proficiency?  No.  Of course not.  We’re all familiar with the classic, if not cliché, setting of the coach reviewing plays on a chalk board with the players in a locker room.  That’s training.  Then after that training, they go out in the field and practice the plays.

Back to our reality… The first real step of making people familiar with the plan is to review it with them.  This usually doesn’t need to be a sleep inducing line-for-line review of the plan (unless it is a detailed procedure), but a review of the concepts and key roles and responsibilities.  In fact, that’s who you invite to the training – those who are identified in the plan.  This is likely to include people in your own agency as well as people in other agencies (emergency management, after all, is a collaborative effort).  In states with strong county governments, we often see county-level emergency management offices creating plans that dictate or describe the activities of local governments and departments.  Most often, the local departments have no awareness of these plans, much less receive any training on them.  I’m guessing that plan won’t work.

Once you’ve trained these key stakeholders, be sure to conduct exercises on various aspects of the plan.  Exercises serve not only to validate plans, but to also help further familiarize stakeholders with the plan, their roles, and expectations of others.  When we plan, we tend to make many assumptions which exercises help to work through.  Through exercising we also identify other needs we may have.

Need help with planning? Training? Exercises?  EPS can do it!  Link below.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC 

 

Updating ICS Training: Identification of Core Competencies

The crusade continues.  ICS training still sucks.  Let’s get enough attention on the subject to get it changed and make it more effective.

If you are a new reader of my blog, or you happened to miss it, check out this post from last June which should give you some context: Incident Command System Training Sucks.

As mentioned in earlier posts on the topic, the ICS-100 and ICS-200 courses are largely OK as they current exist.  Although they could benefit from a bit of refinement, they accomplish their intent.  The ICS-300 course is where we rapidly fall apart, though.  Much of the ICS-300 is focused on the PLANNING PROCESS, which is extremely important (I’ve worked a lot as an ICS Planning Section Chief), however, there is knowledge that course participants (chief and supervisor level responders) need to know well before diving into the planning process.

First responders and other associated emergency management partners do a great job EVERY DAY of successfully responding to and resolving incidents.  The vast majority of these incidents are fairly routine and of short duration.  In NIMS lingo we refer to these as Type IV and Type V incidents.  The lack of complexity doesn’t require a large organization, and most of that organization is dedicated to getting the job done (operations).  More complex incidents – those that take longer to resolve (perhaps days) and require a lot more resources, often ones we usually don’t deal with regularly – are referred to as Type III incidents.  Type III incidents, such as regional flooding or most tornados, are localized disasters.  I like to think of Type III incidents as GATEWAY INCIDENTS.  Certainly far more complex than the average motor vehicle accident, yet not hurricane-level.  The knowledge, skills, and abilities applied in a Type III, however, can be directly applied to Type II and Type I incidents (the big ones).

It’s not to say that what is done in a car accident, conceptually, isn’t done for a hurricane, but there is so much more to address.  While the planning process certainly facilitates a proactive and ongoing management of the incident, there are other things to first be applied.  With all that said, in any re-writing and restructuring of the ICS curriculum, we need to consider what the CORE COMPETENCIES of incident management are.

What are core competencies?  One of the most comprehensive descriptions I found of core competencies comes from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, which I summarized below.  While their description is largely for a standing organization (theirs), these concepts easily apply to an ad-hoc organization such as those we establish for incident management.

Competency: The combination of observable and measurable knowledge, skills, abilities and personal attributes that contribute to enhanced employee performance and ultimately result in organizational success. To understand competencies, it is important to define the various components of competencies.

  • Knowledge is the cognizance of facts, truths and principles gained from formal training and/or experience. Application and sharing of one’s knowledge base is critical to individual and organizational success.
  • A skill is a developed proficiency or dexterity in mental operations or physical processes that is often acquired through specialized training; the execution of these skills results in successful performance.
  • Ability is the power or aptitude to perform physical or mental activities that are often affiliated with a particular profession or trade such as computer programming, plumbing, calculus, and so forth. Although organizations may be adept at measuring results, skills and knowledge regarding one’s performance, they are often remiss in recognizing employees’ abilities or aptitudes, especially those outside of the traditional job design.

When utilizing competencies, it is important to keep the following in mind:

  • Competencies do not establish baseline performance levels
  • Competencies support and facilitate an organization’s mission 
  • Competencies reflect the organization’s strategy; that is, they are aligned to short- and long-term missions and goals.
  • Competencies focus on how results are achieved rather than merely the end result. 
  • Competencies close skill gaps within the organization.
  • Competency data can be used for employee development, compensation, promotion, training and new hire selection decisions.

So what are the CORE COMPETENCIES OF INCIDENT MANAGEMENT?  What are the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that drive organizational success in managing and resolving an incident?  Particularly for this application, we need to focus on WHAT CAN BE TRAINED.  I would offer that knowledge can be imparted through training, and skills can be learned and honed through training and exercises; but abilities are innate, therefore we can’t weigh them too heavily when considering core competencies for training purposes.

All in all, the current ICS curriculum, although in need of severe restructuring, seems to cover the knowledge component pretty well – at least in terms of ICS ‘doctrine’.  More knowledge needs to be imparted, however, in areas that are tangential to the ICS doctrine, such as emergency management systems, management of people in the midst of chaos, and other topics.  The application of knowledge is where skill comes in. That is where we see a significant shortfall in the current ICS curriculum.  We need to introduce more SCENARIO-BASED LEARNING to really impart skill-based competencies and get participants functioning at the appropriate level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Aside from the key concepts of ICS (span of control, transfer of command, etc.), what core competencies do you feel need to be trained to for the average management/supervisor level responder (not an IMT member)?  What knowledge and skills do you feel they need to gain from training?  What do we need a new ICS curriculum to address?

(hint: this is the interactive part!  Feedback and comments welcome!)

As always, thanks to my fellow crusaders for reading.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Thinking Back and Looking Ahead – A Blogging Year in Review

Here it is, the close of one year and the dawn of another.  As with most of you, I’m taking some time to reflect on the past and look ahead to the future.  2015 was my best blogging year yet, doubling last year’s readership, for which I am thankful.  I’ve been humbled in getting readers from around the globe – 127 nations in all.  While most came from the US, I have a great number of readers in Canada and Australia.  Based on who commented, my readers include public safety and business continuity professionals, academics and scholars, and those simply curious about what we do and how we do it.  My thanks to you all!

2015

In case you may have missed them, below are my five most popular posts:

Incident Command System Training Sucks (June)  This post prompted a lot of discussion directly on my blog site as well as in numerous LinkedIn discussion forums.  I received phone calls, emails, and had several in person conversations about the need to revamp ICS training to make it more effective.  While sadly I’ve received no feedback directly from the National Integration Center, I will continue the crusade to get better and more effective ICS training for stakeholders.

ICS Training Sucks… So Let’s Fix It (September)  Riding the coat-tails of Incident Command System Training Sucks, this post reflected a bit more on what needed to be done to improve the curriculum.  I received lots of feedback on this post as well.

The Need for Practical Incident Command Training (March)  This post preceded Incident Command System Training Sucks, and marked my mental progression from an earlier post (which is listed next) to this piece’s most popular successor in the ad-hoc series.

Preparedness – ICS Is Not Enough (January)  This piece reflected mostly on ICS as a component of preparedness, identifying that many agencies think they are prepared simply because their staff have taken some ICS courses and they include the terms in their plans.  In this we see the danger of the requirements of NIMS, which often mean compliance to many people.

The Death of ADDIE? (November 2012)  Yes, this one was written back in my first year of blogging.  This piece still holds strong and I see many search terms about ADDIE and the Successive Approximation Model (SAM) which bring people to the post.  While I’m still an avid user and advocate of ADDIE, the emergence of SAM shows there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.

Looking ahead:

Clearly the topic of ICS training is an important one to those in emergency management and homeland security.  As mentioned, I will continue my crusade to advocate for better and more effective training in ICS for our personnel.

I also had the pleasure of co-authoring a post this year with Mr. Ralph Fisk of Fisk Consultants.  Prior to the release of the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, we wrote about public safety interests for jurisdictions, law enforcement, theater management, and the general public.  Fortunately there were no shootings or other similar violent incidents that arose during the first couple weeks of showing this blockbuster film.  It was fun collaborating with Ralph and we have already discussed some possible topics for collaboration in 2016.  I hope to do the same with others as well as hosting guest posts from other experts in public safety.

I hope all of you enjoy reading these posts as much as I like writing them.  Each post provides an opportunity for me to learn and to share what I have learned.  It has become a great networking tool and marketing tool for my consulting practice.  Together I hope we can improve the important work we do in emergency management, homeland security, business continuity, and public safety as a whole.  The thoughts you share on posts are greatly appreciated and I look forward to interacting with you all in 2016.

Health, wealth, and happiness in the New Year!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

 

 

Course Review: MGT-342 Strategic Overview of Disaster Management for Water and Wastewater Utilities

I took the opportunity yesterday to attend the aforementioned class held at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany, New York.  This half day (0800-1200) course was well attended by water and wastewater personnel from around central New York, a couple of emergency management types, and even a representative from a local brewery (no samples, sadly).  This DHS approved course is designed and instructed by personnel from the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center (NERRTC).

IMG_1263

Through my career in emergency management I have regularly worked, albeit tangentially, with water and wastewater professionals, which are generally regarded as a niche of public works.  In many small towns across the nation, water and wastewater systems are among the only critical infrastructure these small towns have.  In larger municipalities, water and wastewater systems are extensive and necessary for not only their residents, but for business and industry as well.  We often see impacts to water and wastewater systems from disasters ranging from earthquakes, to utility outages, floods, and other disasters, including criminal acts.  I’m always interested in an opportunity to learn more and this course was convenient in location and schedule.

This course is a condensed half-day version of a two-day course also taught by TEEX.  When instructors reviewed the morning’s agenda, I was skeptical, and rightfully so.  The participant manual, like most products developed by TEEX, is excellently done, with an abundance of reference material.  Even if the material was to be just reviewed, I knew that addressing most, if not all of it, would be a significant task for the instructors.  The lead instructor was very knowledgeable and experienced in the subject matter and very well spoken.  While he had a lot of value to provide to participants, he may have provided a bit too much relative to getting through the three units of the course as intended.

The course units are largely broken into three main topic areas: Threats, Preparedness, and Response; all obviously relative to water and wastewater systems.  The first unit, Threats, was covered thoroughly, taking nearly the full class time.  The information provided was excellent and realistic in scope.  Examples of actual impacts to water and wastewater systems around the world from a variety of threats and hazards were used to drive the point home about the vulnerability of these systems.  I was dismayed, though, that the second unit, Preparedness, was not covered at all.  Fortunately, there is a great amount of materials in the participant guide for after class reference.

The third unit, Response, also contains a great deal of information, especially for those who are not used to complex and multi-agency responses.  Unfortunately, we only had time to review a case study which was in the unit.  While the case study (the Charleston, WV spill from January 2014) was excellent and certainly time well spent, it would have been great to dig into the other response related materials in the course.  Again, at least we have these for post-course review.

This content of this course is quite valuable, relevant, and up to date.  It was expertly instructed, discounting some time management issues.  I do think, though, that the instructional design in more to blame, as the quantity of content contained in the course is simply too much to be adequately covered in a half day.  It certainly had me wanting to take the two day course, and definitely from the same instructor.  I provided similar comments on the course evaluation sheet, and I hope they do make some necessary changes to this class to maximize the amount of information provided.  Would I still recommend this course – yes, but just know going into it (at least in its present form) that you may not experience delivery of all the material.  If the quality of material and instruction is any indication of what to expect in the two day course, though, I would absolutely recommend it.

If you have any questions on the course, or experiences of your own, I’d love to hear them.

  • TR