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

Emergency Alerting – A Case Study

Two days ago, much of the northeast was subject to a powerful storm front, which brought high winds, torrential rains, lightning, and several yet to be confirmed tornadoes.  Corresponding with these threats, areas saw a variety of National Weather Service warnings and watches.  Needless to say, when this emergency alert came up on my phone in the midst of these storms, I assumed the shelter in place order was weather related.  Well, you know what they say about assuming things… and of course I should have known better.

While the area of the alert didn’t impact me, Whitestown is just a couple of towns over, so after a few minutes I figured I should do a bit of research to see if whatever prompted the alert might eventually impact my area.  Unfortunately, ‘pressing for more’, as the alert message indicates, gave no further information.  News media in my area is notoriously slow and uninformative for a period of time, something that held true with this event as well.  Approximately 20 minutes later, a local news outlet Tweeted a message about law enforcement activity in that area related to an armed suspect.

Public information and warning is a big deal.  When we don’t communicate clearly and concisely with the public, we can suffer unintended consequences. While I’m not aware of any severe unintended consequences from the lack of any additional information from this emergency alert, officials must understand that the public (and other public safety professionals) want additional information.  They may also need it so they can make better decisions.

This particular example certainly should have included some brief context as to why the alert was issued.  Given the standing tornado watch which was in place at the time, I’m sure there were plenty of others who assumed this was for a tornado or other storm activity.  Such an occurrence would give me cause to gather my family in the basement for safety, rather than locking my doors, closing my blinds, and ensure that no family members left the house.  Shelter in place can mean a lot of things to different people and adding context could have assisted with ensuring better public safety.  There was also no follow up to this alert lifting the shelter in place message.  (Note: the ‘No longer in effect’ tag is my own, as an effort to be responsible with the image)

While I applaud the use of public alerting tools, issues such as this are seen far too often.  Jurisdictions should have public information and warning components to their emergency operations plans, with specific procedures outlined for not only how to activate an alert, but the proper messaging which should be included to maximize message effectiveness.  Sure, you do it, but do you do it well?

What do you do to ensure effectiveness of your messaging?

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

What’s in a Title?

The most recent issue of Domestic Preparedness Journal includes an article by Chas Eby titled Emergency Management – A Misnomer. In his article, Mr. Eby posits that the title of emergency manager does not adequately describe the discipline or represent the skill sets of practitioners.  While I agree with many of the points Mr. Eby makes, particularly in regard to the huge variety of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) leveraged by most emergency managers which are largely taken for granted, I disagree wholeheartedly that the term or title of emergency manager is limiting, as his conclusion states.

Functionally, we absolutely see emergency managers, at various levels, conducting a variety of activities.  They may be support staff or executives, decision makers or operators.  They may specialize in any single or multiple facets of the profession.  They must have an ability to coordinate and collaborate, work with grants and budgets, and handle daily administrative matters as well as emergency conditions.  They may specialize in one or more specific applications, such as hazard mitigation, disaster recovery, operations, or preparedness (to include planning, training, or exercises).

Does the title of Chef fully define all the duties of managing a restaurant kitchen including staff, developing a menu, ordering food, establishing processes and systems, and maintaining quality control?  No… because titles that are sentences long are impractical.  People within the profession, and some outside the profession, should be aware of what these titles mean and the KSAs and responsibilities that go along with them.

Sometimes I feel that those fighting for emergency management to become a more ‘established’ profession do more harm than good.  My point is, many skill sets don’t define a profession.  A vast array of professions require the ability to use a copy machine and make critical decisions all in the same breath.  It’s the context in which we apply those skill sets that makes the difference.  Yes, I agree that the skill sets of many emergency managers are taken for granted – but often by emergency managers themselves.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

2017 Health Security Index

The 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index has been released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  The Index provides measures of data nationally and for each state in the US across six public health domains, which include:

  1. Health security surveillance
  2. Community planning and engagement
  3. Information and incident management
  4. Healthcare delivery
  5. Countermeasure management
  6. Environmental and occupational health

The documents found on the website indicate a continued trend of improvement across the nation, but progress is slow, with some states lagging behind significantly according to the study, particularly in the deep south and mountain west regions.

The report identifies the following factors as having the greatest influence on the increase and intensity of US and global health threats:

  • Newly emerging and resurgent infectious diseases like Zika, MERS, and Ebola.
  • Growing antibiotic resistance among infectious agents.
  • Incomplete vaccination coverage.
  • Globalization in travel and trade patterns.
  • Political instability, violence and terrorism risks.
  • Aging infrastructure for transportation, housing, food, water, and energy systems.
  • Extreme weather events including storms, fires, floods, droughts, and temperature extremes.
  • Cyber-security vulnerabilities.

I think it’s important to note that while some of the factors listed above are distinctly within the public health realm, others are more universal in nature.  So not only are the findings of this study relevant to everyone, because public health is relevant to everyone, but many of the factors that influence the threats fall within areas of responsibility of broader emergency management and homeland security.

Public health matters are near the top of my list of greatest concern.  This report clearly shows that while we have made great strides in public health preparedness, we have a long way to go.  There is also no end game.  We don’t get to say we won after playing four quarters, three periods, or nine innings.  These are efforts in which we must persist, and not only with today’s tools and capabilities, but we must constantly look toward new tools.  However, as we do this, new threats will emerge.  It may seem intimidating, but it’s essential.

What are you doing to further public health preparedness capabilities?

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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

Incident Management & Proper Demobilization Planning

A fair amount of courses, especially those oriented toward the Incident Command System (ICS), mention demobilization, but that mention is usually fairly gratuitous.  Even the core ICS courses generally only offer a couple of paragraphs or a handful of bullet points.  The ICS 300, since it does focus more on incident planning, does contain some good additional material, but it’s still quite brief.  Demobilization is a best practice of incident management, along with staging areas, that are rarely done properly.  It’s not a surprise, though… there isn’t a lot of emphasis on them in ICS and related training, and generally what is out there is pretty poor quality.  This has been further emphasized through nine separate functional exercises I’ve conducted over the past couple of months where it was easily identified that most participants weren’t really familiar with what demobilization meant to them and their organizations. This is no slight on them… it comes down to training.

There is certainly room for improvement when it comes to the ICS National Training Curriculum.  In case you aren’t familiar, I’ve written pretty extensively on it in the past.  And yes, I still believe that ICS Training Sucks (click here to check out a few articles I’ve written on the topic).  In regard to demobilization, much of what is out there (including the ICS curriculum and otherwise), in addition to the couple of paragraphs or handful of bullet points, also puts a lot of emphasis on the Demobilization Check-Out (ICS form 221).  By all means, STOP THAT.  Throwing another form in front of people without proper context simply serves to confuse them further.  I’m not saying we need to train everyone to be a Demobilization Unit Leader (there is a specific course for that… and it’s less than great), but shoving another form in front of someone for seven seconds doesn’t do a damn bit of good… and in fact it probably does some measure of harm – especially for building the case made by some that ICS is nothing but a bunch of bureaucracy.  We need to actually show purpose.

Largely, those bits of prose contained in courses do a decent job in explaining why we need to demobilize.  Simply put, we don’t want people and other resources standing around for hours before they are told they can go home.  Along with this is usually the book answer of when we begin to plan for demobilization – that’s as soon as we order the resource.  In reality, I’ll give that a ‘kind of’ instead of a resounding agreement.  Most of the time, no, we’re not considering that, especially at the onset of an incident.  But we do need to start considering it early on, especially when we no longer need a lot of resources at the end of the first phase of an incident.  Further down the road, we also tend to have a lot of expensive resources and teams that need to be disengaged and dismantled from our incident organization and the operating area rather carefully before they can be sent home.  These deliberate actions are another good reason for proper demobilization planning.

Demobilization planning?  Yes, planning.  NOT the ICS 221.  That form is nothing more than an accountability sheet.  It is NOT a plan.  First off, demobilization planning is a team effort.  There needs to be involvement and input across much of the command and general staff of your incident management structure (be it a formal incident management team or otherwise).  It’s a planning effort, so it should be centered within your Planning Section.  For a larger incident, certainly designate a Demobilization Unit to do coordinate this.

How do we even make this happen?  First, the concept needs to be sold to command.  They will initially say no.  Expect it.  Many Incident Commanders not well practiced in formal demobilization think that even discussion of the term must be reserved for late in the game.  It might take a couple of attempts and a need to make your case.  Demob doesn’t signal an end to the entire operation, and in fact additional resources may be flowing into the incident as others are being demobilized.  Once command is sold on it, then it needs to be discussed with the entire command and general staff.  Everyone has input.  Most of the resources belong to ops, so they should be able to identify when certain resources will complete their operations and will no longer be needed.  The logistics organization may have a fair amount of resources in place largely to support operations, therefore, as certain operations are demobilized, logistics may also be able to demobilize some of their resources.  They may also want certain things returned and accounted for, such as radios.  And if any hazardous material was present, the Medical Unit within logistics may be arranging long-term medical monitoring, which needs to become part of demobilization.  The Liaison Officer may be getting pressured by outside agencies or organizations to release resources and/or may have to explain to certain assisting agencies why their resources are no longer needed.  Finance/Administration is aware of how much certain resources are costing the responsible party, both in direct costs as well as maintenance costs.  There may be others with input as well.

As this discussion occurs, Planning/Demobilization should be keeping good notes as these comments, concerns, and priorities may become part of the demobilization plan.  The plan itself consists of five standard sections:

  1. General information – what does this plan pertain to and generally, what’s it about (it’s an overview).
  2. Responsibilities – This identifies, within the ICS structure, who is responsible for what in regard to demobilization
  3. Release Priorities – These are the agreed upon priorities identified by command and general staff.
  4. Release Procedures – This should have the most detail, starting with identification, authorization, and notification of the resource of their impending demobilization status. How far ahead of the demobilization are they advised?  Who do they have to talk to along the way?  What equipment should be returned?  Do they need to submit any reports or paperwork?  Who do they actually sign out with?  How and when do they return home?  Based on the nature of the incident, consider a mandatory overnight before they can travel, medical monitoring, and a debrief.  And always require resources to confirm that they have arrived safely back to their home station.  This, by the way, is where you reference the ICS 221 form, which will maintain accountability of the demobilization process.  Certainly customize this form to match your procedures.
  5. Reference Information – This can include travel information, contact information for key personnel (such as the Demobilization Unit Leader), maps, schedules, reminders, and other info.

Like the majority of implementations of ICS, demobilization planning is generally accomplished in the head of the IC and perhaps other staff.  That’s likely fine for more routine type 5 incidents, and even some type 4 incidents.  There may be some type 4 incidents that have enough complexity and disparity of resources, that a written plan is a good idea.  Certainly anything more complex should have a written plan.  Just as we should be writing incident action plans for planned events, demobilization plans should also be used.  If anything, it makes for good practice.  For the same argument, it’s also great for exercises (not only for the players, but also for exercise management).

Looking for a demobilization plan template?  Here’s one.  I’m not familiar with the authors, but it’s a fairly standard template for such a plan.  I’m generally wary of templates, but this is pretty basic.  If you might find yourself in the position of organizing incident demobilization for your agency or jurisdiction, save it and start modifying it now.  There are likely a set of standard priorities and procedures which you can identify now that you can include in the plan.  Be sure to have an ICS 221 that you can modify for implementation as well.  Just be sure to not ‘finalize’ either one of these… just like an IAP, they are documents developed specifically for an incident, event, or exercise.

So there you have it, a bit of demobilization planning advice from someone who is trained and experienced in actually doing it.  I hope this was helpful.  Of course I’m happy to provide some direct advice as well as happy to hear from others who are experienced themselves in demobilization.  What best practices have you identified?

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

 

Operational Readiness – What is It?

A recent project I’ve been working on references ‘operational readiness’ as a key element of the training course.  We all know what operational readiness is, right?  We use the term all the time.  Surely, we must be able to find it defined in some key doctrine of FEMA.  Surprisingly not (and please, don’t call me Shirly).

Ah the internet… you’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Searches for the definition of operational readiness reveal two different concepts.  The first is a corporate perspective on operational readiness, which focuses on an organization’s ability to do what it is supposed to do on a daily basis.  This definition also seems to be adopted by hospitals.  While tangential, the focus on daily operations isn’t really what we are looking at relative to emergency management.  The second is of military derivation.  Drawn akin to combat readiness, the definition speaks to the capability of a unit, system, or equipment to perform the function for which it was designed.  Yes, this gets a lot closer; such as operational readiness of an EOC to perform as intended when it is activated.  I find it interesting, however, that such a simple, yet powerful concept isn’t defined within our own area of practice.

Edit: A few days after publishing this article I did find a definition of operational readiness in the context of emergency management.  The source is Title 6 (Domestic Security) of the US Code § 741 (National Preparedness System).  Title 6 is essentially the codification of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.  The definition provided therein is largely akin to the definition provided previous of  military derivation, but at least we have something linked directly to emergency management.  See https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/6.  

If we examine the definitions of each word, there is a bit of redundancy.  One of the definitions of the word operational (an adjective), provided by Merriam-Webster, states ‘ready for or in condition to undertake a desired function’.  A definition provided by the same source for readiness (a noun) states ‘ready for immediate use’.  (weren’t we always taught to not use the word we were defining in the definition?).  Anyhow, this doesn’t seem particularly helpful to us.

Let’s consider what our expectations are of operational readiness in the context of emergency management and homeland security.  Fundamentally (and reinforced by what we covered in the previous paragraph), both words, operational and readiness, imply an ability to perform within defined parameters at any time.  Readiness is often seen as a synonym of preparedness, although I would suggest that in this context, readiness is achieved through preparedness.  If we don’t have each of our POETE elements in order, our state of readiness is likely to be severely diminished.

The context of the term operational readiness generally focuses on a goal we want to achieve and maintain.  We want units, systems, and equipment (reasonably drawn from the militarily-derived definition) to perform in an emergency response to accomplish intended results.  I like to emphasize a difference from the military definition in that last part.  While we have expectations of resources to perform as they were designed to, in emergency management we do on occasion call upon resources (units, systems, and equipment) to perform, not necessarily as they were designed or originally intended, but in creative ways, either pre-planned or ad-hoc.  I think that our definition of operational readiness must leave room for innovation – which is application (and thus readiness) at a higher taxonomy level.

All that aside, I’m not intending to create a definition for the term here, but largely wanted to raise awareness of the lack of a definition within our own area of practice and provide some consideration for what we expect the term to mean through our regular usage.  There is certainly discussion that can be had on measuring operational readiness, which is a separate topic that I’ve largely explored (although not using that particular phrasing) through posts on preparedness and POETE assessments (see the previous link provided).

What thoughts do you have on operational readiness as a term and a concept? Have you come across a definition in emergency management or homeland security doctrine that I might have missed?

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC