Last week I posted an article espousing the lack of emergency operations center (EOC) content in the most recently updated ICS-100 course. In response to this article, I heard from someone at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) letting me know about two courses which are currently in development, focusing on EOCs. The first is IS-2200: Basic EOC Functions. This is being designed as a four-hour online course. The second is E/L/G-2300: Intermediate EOC Functions. This course is being designed for a three-day long classroom delivery. These courses are both expected to release in the spring of 2019.
For those who aren’t familiar with FEMA’s course codes…
IS: Independent Study (web-based delivery)
E: In-resident course, typically delivered at EMI
L: A course delivered on-location by FEMA personnel anywhere around the nation
G: State-delivered courses
Personally, I’m thrilled to get definitive word that courses are being developed and that we have a timeframe for deployment. I’m a big proponent of the roles EOCs can play in incident management, yet so much of the training conducted for EOC personnel for so many years has been ad-hoc at best. Hopefully this will further move us toward standardization and common implementation of best practices.
© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP
As I was writing my thoughts on the updated ICS-100 course in my previous post, I got to thinking that it may be prudent to reinforce the difference between incident management and the incident command system (ICS). ICS is a specific application of incident management, while incident management is, in all, much broader than ICS. Incident management includes field responses, emergency operations centers (EOCs), activities of secondary and tertiary organizations, funding streams, public information, and even the mechanics of politics focused on that disaster response. Ideally, we would prefer these to all be orchestrated, such that they operate lock-step, but rarely, if ever, do we see such a thing. It would be as if a chorus, band, orchestra, stage performers, ushers, concessioners, stage hands, lighting and sound operators, and custodial staff were all working on the same performance and conducted by one person. They don’t. It just doesn’t happen that way. That’s why incident management systems, such as ICS, were developed.
Knowledge and application of systems, like ICS, are certainly important. The beginning of every ICS class tells you why, so I don’t need to get into that here. But to continue with my oft criticized analogies, if ICS is the trees, incident management is the forest. And, as it turns out, many people can’t see the forest for the trees. While ICS may be concerned with putting out the fire, stopping the bleeding, or catching the proverbial bad guy, incident management is about so much more. Even doctrinally, consider that the National Incident Management System (NIMS), comprised of key elements, such as resource management, command and coordination (this is the ICS piece, and more), and communications and information management. We also need to consider incident management beyond these, in as broad a scope as possible.
Incident management is a deliberate series of actions taken to solve problems associated with incidents and disasters. There are a lot of problems that can be caused, directly or indirectly, by whatever issue we are dealing with, be it flood, fire, or hostile event. Incident management needs to prioritize these problems and take action to address them. While it may sound like our incident command system structures do the same type of thing, they are often concerned with immediate effects and actions that save lives and stabilize the incident, as they should be. But that focus, necessarily, is narrow in scope and doesn’t address all the ancillary and important issues that an incident may cause.
Consider FEMA’s Emergency Support Function (ESF) structure and the matters they address. Here are a few:
- Public Works and Engineering
- Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human Services
- Public Health and Medical Services
- Agricultural and Natural Resources
- External Affairs
Do your plans address these issues? And by plans, I mean real, actionable plans. Many jurisdictions have functional annexes to their plans, most following the federal ESF structure, which do little more than state what agencies participate in each of the jurisdiction’s ESFs and what their primary goals are. Let’s be honest… these are aren’t plans. They are fully inadequate to be plans. These are prose I might use for the introduction of a plan, but certainly not the substance of the plan itself. This is exactly why we are missing the mark when it comes to incident management. We talk a lot about ICS, ICS is in our plans, we train people in ICS (though not as good as we should be), emphasize ICS in exercises, and focus on ICS when an incident occurs, but how much attention is given to broader incident management? Typically far too little. I’ve actually had conversations with local public safety officials, asking them how well they feel they are prepared for the next disaster, and they responded that they are fine because they are trained in ICS. I’ve received this response in more than one jurisdiction. That’s pretty scary, especially given the lackluster condition of their plans.
Can ICS be applied to broader incident management issues? It sure can. It’s simply a management system that can be applied to anything you want. But the problem is that people conceptualize ICS as something to only use ‘in the field’ and during the more urgent initial period of response.
The take-away from this is that we need to identify what our issues are and how we are going to manage them. These are essential parts of the planning process. Write good plans. Invest time, effort, and likely some money into it. Do you need to use the ESF structure? No, but certainly make sure that all concerns are addressed. Think about the cascading impacts of an incident. Leverage stakeholders from across the community to ensure that you are getting input from multiple perspectives and interests. Doing so will help you be better prepared to manage the entirety of the incident.
As always, thoughts are appreciated.
© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP
Earlier this week, FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) released course materials, including student manual, handouts, instructor guide, and visuals, for the updated IS-100/ICS-100: An Introduction to the Incident Command System. Note that this update (IS-100.c) has been available online since the summer. The release of materials, however, included no errata, so absent comparing the previous version to this, I can’t speak specifically to what the changes include, though I’m aware from their release of the online course several months ago that there were adjustments to account for some of the revised content of the third edition of the NIMS doctrine, released in October of last year.
Those familiar with my running commentary for the past few years of ‘ICS Training Sucks’ are aware that much of my wrath was focused on the ICS-300 and ICS-400 courses. That said, with the release of the third edition of NIMS (my review of the document can be found here), there were some needed additions to incident management fundamentals and my realization that the ICS-100 and ICS-200 courses are ignoring a significant population of professionals in their content. While ICS itself was largely built for field personnel working within a command (vice coordination) structure, over the years, the prevalence of various forms and types of emergency operations centers (EOCs) has grown significantly. One of the biggest additions in the most recent version of the NIMS document was, in fact, the inclusion of much more meaningful content on EOCs and their potential organizational models. While still a minority compared to first responders, there is a significant audience of people taking ICS-100 because of their assignment to a local, county, state, or organizational EOC. Yet, the ICS-100 materials have scantly more than ONE SLIDE talking about EOCs.
Yes, we do have courses such as the ICS/EOC Interface course and others that dive deeper into EOC operations and how they coordinate with each other and with command structures, but the introduction to all of this is often the ICS-100 course, which all but ignores EOCs and the audiences who primarily serve in them. In fact, there are many jurisdictions that require EOC personnel to have ICS training (smartly), which starts with the ICS-100 course (why? Because it’s the best/only thing generally available to them), but I’m sure many people taking the course are a bit confused, as it doesn’t speak at all to their role. While I feel that ICS training for EOC personnel is important, an introductory course like this should include a bit more on EOCs.
As with my original writing on ICS Training Sucks, I bring this back to the fundamentals of instructional design, which is focused on the AUDIENCE and what THEY NEED TO LEARN. It’s evident that these fundamentals are being ignored in favor of a quick update, which might change some content but does not improve quality. Let’s actually look at who are audience groups are and either incorporate them all into the course, or develop another course and curriculum to meet their specific needs (aka EOC-100). Otherwise, they are simply ignoring the fact that what is currently available is like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Sure it fills a lot of space, but there are also some significant gaps.
While a number of jurisdictions have identified this need and developed their own EOC training, there are a lot of standards and fundamentals that could be addressed by FEMA in a national curriculum. This is certainly a missed opportunity, and one that makes many of our responses less than what they should be.
© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP
Whatever your choice of the above definitions, or you have another, in the end the basic responsibilities of all leaders are all the same, People!
It has been said that without our customers we wouldn’t have a business, and although that is a true statement; but without applying effective leadership to our employees we wouldn’t have customers.
Who interacts with your customers day to day? Most of the time it is those that you have hired, and if you can’t provide effective leadership to those…
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The CDC recently released its updated Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Capabilities. While this is certainly important for public health preparedness personnel, these are something that most emergency management professionals should also be aware of. Public Health is an incredibly integral partner in emergency management and homeland security. Last year I did a review of the new HHS ASPR Health Care Preparedness and Response Capabilities and also included the previous version of the CDC Public Health capabilities in my discussion.
The new CDC standards, at a glance, are the same as the previous version. All 15 capabilities have been continued. Upon closer examination, there has certainly been some refinement across these capabilities, including some adjustments in the functions, or primary activities, associated with each capability; as well as a better look at preparedness measures for each. As with the previous version, they front load some guidance on integrating the capabilities into preparedness and response activities.
For those keeping track from the previous version, each capability narrative includes a summary of changes which were adopted from lessons learned over the past several years. Similar to the previous version, each capability is broken into functions and tasks, with suggested performance measures. For those of you who remember the old Target Capabilities List and Universal Task List, it’s a similar, although more utilitarian, concept.
So what do emergency managers need to know? Fundamentally, be aware that these capabilities are what public health will be primarily focused on rather than the National Preparedness Goal’s 32 Core Capabilities. These aren’t mutually exclusive to each other, though. In fact, the new CDC document references the National Preparedness Goal. There are some public health capabilities that cross walk pretty easily, such as Fatality Management. The public health capability, however, has a strong focus on the public health aspects of this activity. Some public health capabilities don’t necessarily have a direct analog, as many of them would be considered to be part of the Public Health, Healthcare, and Emergency Medical Services Core Capability.
My recommendation is to have a copy of this document handy. Review it to become familiar with it, and, depending on how heavy your involvement is with public health, you may be making some notes on how these capabilities compare with and interact with the 32 Core Capabilities.
© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP
The 2018 National Preparedness Report was released last week. For the past few years, I’ve provided my own critical review of these annual reports (see 2017’s report here). For those not familiar with the National Preparedness Report (NPR), it is mandated by the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA). The information is compiled by FEMA from the State Preparedness Reports (SPR), including the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) data submitted by states, territories, and Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) – funded regions. The data presented is for the year prior. The SPRs and NPR examine the condition of our preparedness relative to the 32 Core Capabilities identified in the National Preparedness Goal.
Overall, the NPR provides little information, certainly nothing that is really shocking if you pay attention to the top issues in emergency management. Disappointingly, the report only covers those Core Capabilities identified for sustainment or improvement, with no more than a graphic summary of the other Core Capabilities.
Core Capabilities to Sustain
Operational Coordination was identified as the sole Core Capability to sustain in this year’s report. I’ve got some issues with this right off. First of all, they summarize their methodology for selecting Core Capabilities to sustain: ‘To be a capability to sustain, the Nation must show proficiency in executing that core capability, but there must also be indications of a potentially growing gap between the future demand for, and the performance of, that capability.’ To me, what this boils down to is ‘you do it well, but you are going to have to do it better’. I think most EM professionals could add to this list significantly, with Core Capabilities such as Planning; Public Information and Warning; Public Health, Healthcare, and EMS; Situational Assessment; and others. Distilling it down to only Operational Coordination shows to me, a severe lack of understanding in where we presently are and the demands that will be put on our systems in the future.
Further, the review provided in the report relative to Operational Coordination is pretty soft. Part of it is self-congratulatory, highlighting advances in the Core Capability made last year, with the rest of the section identifying challenges but proving little analysis. Statements such as ‘Local governments reported challenges with incident command and coordination during the 2017 hurricane season’ are put out there, yet their single paragraph on corrective actions for the section boils down to the statement of ‘we’re looking at it’. Not acceptable.
Core Capabilities to Improve
The 2018 report identifies four Core Capabilities to improve:
- Infrastructure Systems
- Economic Recovery
These fall under the category of NO KIDDING. The writeups within the NPR for each of these superficially identifies the need, but doesn’t have much depth of analysis. I find it interesting that the Core Capability to sustain has a paragraph on corrective actions, yet the Core Capabilities to Improve doesn’t. They do, instead, identify key findings, which outline some efforts to address the problems, but are very soft and offer little detail. Some of these include programs which have been in place for quite some time which are clearly having limited impact on addressing the issues.
What really jumped out at me is the data provided on page 9, which charts the distribution of FEMA Preparedness grants by Core Capability for the past year. The scale of their chart doesn’t allow for any exact amounts, but we can make some estimates. Let’s look at four of these in particular:
- Infrastructure Systems – scantly a few million dollars
- Housing – None
- Economic Recovery – Less than Infrastructure Systems
- Cybersecurity – ~$25 million
With over $2.3 billion in preparedness funding provided in 2017 by FEMA, it’s no wonder these are Core Capabilities that need to be improved when so few funds were invested at the state/territory/UASI level. The sad thing is that this isn’t news. These Core Capabilities have been identified as needing improvement for years, and I’ll concede they are all challenging, but the lack of substantial movement should anger all emergency managers.
I will agree that Housing and Cybersecurity require a significant and consolidated national effort to address. That doesn’t mean they are solely a federal responsibility, but there is clear need for significant assistance at the federal level to implement improvements, provide guidance to states and locals, and support local implementations. That said, we can’t continue to say that these areas are priorities when little funding or activity is demonstrated to support improvement efforts. While certain areas may certainly take years to make acceptable improvements, we are seeing a dangerous pattern relative to these four Core Capabilities, which continue to wallow at the bottom of the list for so many years.
The Path Forward
The report concludes with a two-paragraph section titled ‘The Path Forward’, which simply speaks to refining the THIRA and SPR methodology, while saying nothing of how the nation needs to address the identified shortcomings. Clearly this is not acceptable.
As for my own conclusion, while I saw last year’s NPR as an improvement from years previous, I see this one as a severe backslide. It provides little useful information and shows negligible change in the state of our preparedness over the past year. The recommendations provided, at least of those that do exist, are translucent at best, and this report leaves the reader with more questions and frustration. We need more substance beginning with root cause analysis and including substantial, tangible, actionable recommendations. While I suppose it’s not the fault of the report itself that little improvement is being made in these Core Capabilities, the content of the report shows a lack of priority to address these needs.
I’m actually surprised that a separate executive summary of this report was published, as the report itself holds so little substance, that it could serve as the executive summary. Having been involved in the completion of THIRAs and SPRs, I know there is information generated that is simply not being analyzed for the NPR. Particularly with each participating jurisdiction completing a POETE analysis of each Core Capability, I would like to see a more substantial NPR which does some examination of the capability elements in aggregate for each Core Capability, perhaps identifying trends and areas of focus to better support preparedness.
As always, I’m interested in your thoughts. Was there anything you thought to be useful in the National Preparedness Report?
© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP