Battling Wild Fires and Perspectives

Hello readers!  Apologies for my absence over the past couple of weeks.  I’m grateful, especially as a founder and company partner, that we’ve been so busy as of late.  The design, conduct, and evaluation of a couple of great exercises for one client; the design of several impactful training courses for another; along with preparations for two new contracts have had our small business buzzing with activity.  We will be recruiting a lot of people for one of those contracts, so stay posted on the blog (www.triecker.wordpress.com), my LinkedIn profile, and both my personal (@triecker) and our company (@epsllc) Twitter accounts, as well as the company website (www.epsllc.biz) for more info.

Although I’ve not been blogging for the last couple of weeks, I’ve still been keeping up on current events.  The wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada has been consistently one of the biggest stories as the fires still continue to spread, having caused massive devastation to property and the environment, and having displaced around 100,000 people.  Hundreds of vehicles were abandoned during evacuations, either due to mechanical trouble or lack of fuel.  The Canadian Red Cross, partnering with federal and provincial governments, is providing tens of millions of dollars in direct aid to impacted individuals and families.  Thousands of workers are being evacuated from the oil sands area north of the Fort McMurray, stalling more than a million barrels of production each day.  Firefighters, law enforcement, military personnel, and other resources are battling dry conditions, high temperatures, and winds in this massive and constantly shifting fire.  Other provincial and local governments and even citizens are helping to shelter and care for evacuees, many of which have lost much of their property.

One thing I often find interesting is the difference between perspectives, especially between public safety and citizens.  While our focus in public safety is… well… to make sure the public is safe, we always have to keep tabs on perception.  Take the seemingly conflicting reports of these two articles, for example.  The first article, published Thursday May 5, tells the story of residents evacuated from an area who are questioning the organization of response efforts and general preparedness of officials.  One individual tells of no police officers to guide evacuees out of town.  The second article, published on Saturday May 7 tells of military and police overseeing evacuations across the incident.  I believe I read these two articles back to back, causing the dichotomy of the two to really jump out at me.

Truth, of course, likely lies in both articles.  Yes, thousands of public safety and military personnel are involved and doing what they can.  Some evacuation orders, as indicated in the first article, are sudden, based upon rapidly changing factors, giving public safety little time to mobilize to the new area.  There must also be a consideration that evacuation orders may have been issued without proper coordination of resources.  Any of these things are possibilities, especially in the fast moving environment of wild fires.  Still, they provide opportunities for us to learn and improve.  Not knowing the details of what may or may not have transpired, I am always reluctant to speculate.  As with all incidents, events, and exercises, however, once the work is done, we have an excellent opportunity to review and evaluate information in a collaborative manner to identify strengths and areas for improvement.  Organizing these notes creates a corrective action plan, the implementation of which will, over time, make us better at what we do.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker

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Best Practices for the New Year – Standards in Emergency Management Programs

Going into the New Year I’m endeavoring to write a few posts on best practices in emergency management.  The New Year is a great opportunity for us to take a broad look at our emergency management programs to identify needs and develop and implement some strategies to improve.  Instead of looking back in a rather cliché “year in review”, let’s look ahead toward improvement!

I also wanted to express appreciation to all of my blog readers.  Some of you find me directly through my blog’s home at WordPress, some through LinkedIn or Twitter (@triecker or @epsllc), and some through my company’s website – Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC.  If you like my blog please share it with others.  Comments are always welcome.

On to our topic… Standards in Emergency Management Programs

All emergency management programs – government, private sector, and not-for-profit – should strive for their programs to meet accepted industry standards.  The two most significant standards in the United States are the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1600: Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs and the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP).  The two standards are very similar in content and in fact complimentary, with the most significant difference being that EMAP offers an actual accreditation process.  Both programs offer copies of their standards free of charge, which is reflective of the spirit of sharing and improvement that exists in emergency management.

The NFPA offers the most recent previous version of their standard as a free download from their website.  The NFPA 1600 standard is quite detailed and can be initially overwhelming but really should be referenced piecemeal.  The free EMAP standards are published in a bit less detail, but they provide a very detailed assessment tool for those who initiate the formal accreditation process.  Because neither standard references specific laws or FEMA documents, they are also great references for governments, private sector, and not-for-profits outside the US.

How should you review the standards? 

They both essentially serve as checklists for what is programmatically needed for successful emergency management programs.  They are both organized by functions, such as planning, training, exercises, and logistics allowing a program to see what activities within each area are needed.  Neither standard will tell you how to meet any particular section of their standard, as they don’t want to be seen as favoring any particular published processes or products and want to encourage innovation and resourcefulness.  This also lends itself well to either/both standards being applicable and achievable by large and small organizations alike.

Examining your own emergency management program through the lens of either of these standards provides a great opportunity to see where you stand.  Examine your functions piece by piece, function by function.  Check off what areas you feel meet the standards and highlight those which you feel do not.  Use these areas as a point of reference for improvements.  Conduct a bit of a needs assessment in these areas to identify exactly what needs to be done to improve and meet the standard then create an improvement plan to make it happen.

Having helped organizations with both NFPA 1600 compliance as well as EMAP accreditation, I’ll attest that much of it simply comes down to paperwork and good systems management.  Many of the standards can be addressed through creating and applying polices and solid practices and procedures.  Organized and thorough record keeping is very important for these matters.

What if you don’t have a specific emergency management function or certain activities are conducted by someone else?

Of course you probably should have a specific emergency management function within your community, company, or organization; but many do not.  Needs are often met in these circumstances through an amalgamation of functions found throughout the rest of the jurisdiction, company, or organization.  Hopefully you at least have an emergency management committee (or one which can serve this purpose such as a safety committee) which has representation from these various entities.  Such a committee is an ideal group to review these standards.  An emergency management program isn’t necessarily a specific agency or office; it’s really the entire system.  These standards should be examined through the entire jurisdiction, company, or organization as responsibilities and functions may be spread around.

What advantages do these standards offer for emergency management programs?

There is certainly a piece of mind knowing that your program meets these standards which are based upon industry best practices, even more so if you took advantage of EMAP’s accreditation.  These standards also provide documented justification for grants, budget allocations, resources, and activities which will contribute to a thriving emergency management program.  Overall, however, you will find that your program will be more professional and more responsive to the emergency and disaster needs of your constituency – be it a community, company, or organization.

Meeting these standards is an investment, but mostly of time and effort.  Sure, there are ways you can meet certain standards better by purchasing some cutting edge software or hiring six more people, but these standards are not intended to serve only the most fortunate and affluent emergency management programs.  A program run by a part time emergency manager with minimal funding can still successfully meet these standards.

Maintaining compliance with these standards is important and is an ongoing effort – it’s quite easy to fall off the carnival ride, especially when distracted by our daily routines and changing priorities.  Set a schedule to conduct an annual review of the standards, incorporate your compliance efforts into strategic plans, and regularly refer back to the standards to keep them fresh in your head.

Of course help is available!  Emergency Preparedness Solutions can help your jurisdiction, company, or not-for-profit conduct a Standards Assessment to determine what standards are met, what standards need to be met, and develop a strategic plan to meet these standards.  Through our full range of preparedness services we can also help you meet these standards and develop a maintenance plan for your program.

If you have questions please contact me at tim@epsllc.biz.

Have a wonderful, safe, and productive New Year!

@ 2014 – Timothy Riecker