An Emergency Management Strategy for the Whole of Canada

In the US, we are used to seeing FEMA taking a step with states, territories, and tribal governments following suit, at least in terms of emergency management policy.  While states tend to handle a great deal of responsibility and authority in the US government structure, that largely pales to the structure of Canada, where the Canadian national government is generally more hands-off, in favor of provincial government autonomy.  Just as in the rest of the world, however, Canada has seen an increase in frequency and severity of disasters, resulting in a need for further nation-wide coordination of efforts.  This has led to the first ever Emergency Management Strategy for Canada.

The document, assembled and agreed upon by Federal, Provincial, and Territorial (FPT) emergency management partners, was guided by the Emergency Management Framework for Canada.  Similar to a best practice here in the US and elsewhere, the Framework and the new Strategy, emphasize the importance of partnerships and a whole community approach to emergency management.  Influenced by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and trends in emergency management, there is a lot of focus on the importance of resilience.

Priorities identified in the document include:

  1. Enhance whole-of-society collaboration and governance to strengthen resilience;
  2. Improve understanding of disaster risks in all sectors of society;
  3. Increase focus on whole-of-society disaster prevention and mitigation activities;
  4. Enhance disaster response capacity and coordination and foster the development of new capabilities; and
  5. Strengthen recovery efforts by building back better to minimize the impacts of future disasters.

As with most strategic documents, each priority identifies several enabling objectives to guide implementation.  The document touches on every aspect of emergency management and identifies a lot of the connective tissue that exists between preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.  On the down side, while I understand that implementation is left to each partner to execute as they see fit, the strategy lacks in identifying measures or benchmarks of success.

The Framework which this Strategy is based upon is even broader in scope and identifies a governance structure referred to as the Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Management (SOREM), with working groups for each phase of emergency management reporting to them.  I’m hopeful that with this Strategy document as a solid first step, more detailed guidance, or even requirements, are released to provide a unified, doctrinal, and consistent approach.

Whatever gets implemented is still necessary and important forward progress.  It chips away at problems we all commonly have and identifies a way forward for everyone.  While government structures around the globe vary significantly, I’m positive that we can all eventually get to where we need to be.

As with all of my posts, I welcome comments, thoughts, and feedback, but I’m especially interested in feedback from those who work in emergency management in Canada for your thoughts on this Strategy and the way ahead.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

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10 Considerations for Your EOC

Many jurisdictions, agencies, and organizations have emergency operations centers (EOCs) identified in their emergency plans to support incident response and recovery operations.  Through my career, I’ve seen all manner of EOCs, used to support entire incidents or just specific missions, ranging in size from just a handful of people to well over 100 people, various organizational models, and even varying degrees of successful implementation.  I’ve also seen many different locations for EOCs.

An EOC can be established anywhere, but just like any broad statement, there are a number of caveats to that.  Here are 10 things to consider in identifying a location for your EOC:

  1. Out of harm’s way

While it’s difficult to determine where an incident will strike, most jurisdictions have areas that may be less susceptible than others.  While it’s certainly convenient to have your EOC off a major highway, consider that a significant accident on that highway will impact access to your facility.  Locating your EOC near an industrial district or in a flood plain is just asking for trouble.  Be smart about where you locate your EOC relative to your geographic risk profile.

  1. Plenty of parking and accessibility

Few things are more frustrating than arriving to an EOC and not having a place to park.  That’s simply a silly problem to have and reflects greatly on shortsightedness.  If you are stuck in a certain location, plan for an overflow lot, signage, and a shuttle.  Also make sure your building is accessible.  I’ve seen far too many EOCs located either in basements or upper floors without any elevators or other ability for access for people with disabilities.

  1. Utility services and communications with redundancies

It practically goes without saying in our current age of technology, but we need to ensure full utility service in our EOCs.  This includes the basics like electricity, HVAC, and water, but also internet, terrestrial telephone, cellular service, television service (either cable or satellite), and radio communications.  The best facilities will have redundancies in these services to the greatest extent possible.  Generators (with fuel) are rather essential.  Engage your IT staff to ensure maximum flexibility and connectivity with wifi and wireless printing, while still maintaining secure networks.  Each work space should also be able to easily access outlets without running an excess of extension cords (but always have some on hand!).

  1. Meal and break rooms

Constant engagement fuels stress and exhaustion which leads to degradation of our ability to perform.  While work in an EOC may not be so physically strenuous, it can be mentally draining and having respite locations are important.  Both for respite and the sake of keeping work spaces clean, you want to have a separate dining area that can accommodate seating for everyone (at least in shifts), a place to wash hands, refrigeration of food and beverages, potable water and coffee/tea, and space for prepared food to be delivered and maintained within safe temperatures.

  1. Seating and tables

It seems odd to have to say this, but adequate seating is quite important.  I’ve been in EOCs that simply didn’t have it.  While I appreciate the ability of a jurisdiction to set up an ad-hoc EOC, a single six foot table and a few folding chairs aren’t likely to meet your needs.  If you don’t have a dedicated EOC (not everyone needs one!), meeting and conference rooms may have plenty of seating, though if they are too small, you will be extremely limited.  Thankfully folding tables and chairs are reasonably inexpensive and easy to store.  Consider the functional spaces you need to accommodate your EOC’s organization, be it ICS-based, Incident Support Model-based, or Emergency Support Function-based.  Functional groups should have their own work spaces and the arrangement and workspaces they need to accommodate and facilitate their functions.  Always plan for more people than you expect!

  1. Away from distractions

Your EOC shouldn’t be in a space that other wise will receive a lot of foot traffic.  While co-location of facilities can seem like a great idea before an incident, having your EOC in the same building as a shelter or your fire department is probably a bad idea.  It’s not only distracting, but also infringes on utility and communication usage, and even security.

  1. Security

Speaking of security, ensure that access to your EOC is limited only to those who should be there.  Generally, personnel not working in or serving the EOC should not have access to it.  It’s a pain to have civilians, the media, or other random persons wandering into an EOC, especially when they want immediate answers to complicated questions or feel their needs should be addressed first.  Along with ensuring access controls, security procedures should be in place, including a staffed reception desk and sign-in.  Personally, I also prefer armed security (law enforcement) for most EOCs.

  1. Meeting and briefing space

Meetings and briefings are a necessity in incident management.  It’s a way in which we share information, work through problems, and make decisions.  Of course there is always the danger of personnel getting stuck in a perpetual meeting, but that’s a topic for another blog post.  Ideally, your EOC should have adequate breakout space for these meetings and briefings.  An open space with a podium may be necessary for media briefings, and meeting rooms with conference call and video conference capabilities may also be required.  Having a separate space allows a meeting to take place without distraction from the general EOC activity while also being able to discuss sensitive information.

  1. Display space

One of the hottest commodities in an EOC is display space.  Space to project with an LCD projector, hang chart paper or maps, and write on with a dry-erase marker is pretty essential to helping ensure that people are informed and information is tracked.  Higher-tech EOCs may elect to have flat screen monitors mounted on the wall, as well.  Easel stands and portable white boards can augment this and make your space more flexible as well.

  1. A good backup site

One of the best tips I can provide about having a great space for an EOC is to have two!  You will be thankful you have that second space identified and planned for in a continuity situation.  If you don’t need it, it can always be used for something else, but if you do need and don’t have it, you will be scrambling to find a location, get your personnel there, and ensure you have supplies, equipment, and other needs addressed.

 

There are certainly a number of other considerations for EOCs, but paying heed to these ten will get you far.  Your EOC doesn’t need to be a dedicated facility.  It can be any reasonably flexible open space, such as town hall, a large meeting space, a training facility, a hotel conference space, or even a warehouse – your needs should determine your space.  Once you have identified your space, make it functional and ensure that you have an EOC plan and procedures. Train staff, develop job aids to support their tasks, and exercise your plans regularly!

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

Emergency Management and Public Safety Should Prepare Like a Sports Team

When and how did a once-annual exercise become the standard for preparedness?  I suppose that’s fine for a whole plan, but most plans can be carved into logical components that can be not only exercised to various degrees, but training can also be provided to support and compliment each of those components.  There are a lot of elements and activities associated with preparedness.  Consider how sports teams prepare. They are in a constant yet dynamic state of readiness.

Sports teams will review footage of their opponents playing as well as their own games.  We can equate those to reviews of after-action reports, not only of their own performance, but also of others – and with high frequency.  How well does your organization do with this quiz?

  • Do you develop after action reports from incidents, events, and exercises?
  • Are they reviewed with all staff and stakeholders or just key individuals?
  • Are they reviewed more than once or simply archived?
  • Are improvements tracked and reviewed with staff and stakeholders?
  • Do your staff and stakeholders review after action reports from other incidents around the nation?

Planning is obviously important – it’s the cornerstone of preparedness.  Coaches look at standards of practice in the sport, best practices, and maybe come up with their own innovations.  They examine the capabilities of their players and balance those with the capabilities of the opposing team.  They have a standard play book (plan), but that may be modified based upon the specific opponent they are facing.  Their plans are constantly revisited based upon the results of practices, drills, and games.  Plans let everyone know what their role is.

  • Do your plans consider the capabilities of your organization or jurisdiction?
  • Do they truly include the activities needed to address all hazards?
  • Are your plans examined and updated based upon after action reports from incidents, events, and exercises?
  • Are your plans flexible enough for leadership to call an audible and deviate from the plan if needed?
  • Is your organization agile enough to adapt to changes in plans and audibles? How are ad-hoc changes communicated?

Training is a tool for communicating the plan and specific roles, as well as giving people the knowledge and skills needed to execute those roles with precision.  Sports players study their playbooks.  They may spend time in a classroom environment being trained by coaches on the essential components of plays.  Training needs are identified not only from the playbook, but also from after action reviews.

  • Is your training needs-based?
  • How do you train staff and stakeholders to the plan?
  • What training do you provide to help people staffing each key role to improve their performance?

Lastly, exercises are essential.  In sports there are drills and practices.  Drills are used to hone key skill sets (passing, catching, hitting, and shooting) while practices put those skill sets together.  The frequency of drills and practices for sports teams is astounding.  They recognize that guided repetition builds familiarity with plans and hones the skills they learned.  How well do you think a sports team would perform if they only exercised once a year?  So why do you?

  • What are the essential skill sets your staff and stakeholders should be honing?
  • What is your frequency of exercises?
  • Do your exercises build on each other?

I also want to throw in a nod to communication.  Even if you aren’t a sports fan, go attend a local game.  It could be anything… hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball, football… whatever.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be pro.  Varsity, college, or semi-pro would certainly suffice.  Even if you don’t stay for the whole game, there is a lot you can pick up.  Focus on the communication between and amongst players and coaches.  Depending on where you are sitting, you might not be able to hear or understand what they are saying, but what you will notice is constant communication.  Before plays, between plays, and during plays.  Sometimes that communication isn’t just verbal – it might be the tapping of a hockey stick on the ice, clapping of hands, finger pointing, or a hand wave or other silent signal.  Coaches are constantly talking to each other on the bench and with players, giving direction and encouragement.  There is a lot going on… strategy, tactics, offense, defense.  What lessons can you apply to your organization?

Lastly, accomplishments should be celebrated.  In public safety, we tend to ignore a lot of best practices not only of sports teams, but also in general employee relations.  Because of the nature of emergency management and other public safety endeavors, it’s easy to excuse getting stuck in the same rut… we get ready for the next incident, we respond to that incident, and we barely have time to clean up from that incident before the next one comes.  Take a moment to breathe and to celebrate accomplishments.  It’s not only people that need it, but also organizations as a whole.

What lessons can you apply from sports teams to your organization?

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠

More Podcasts for Emergency Managers

It was a few years ago that I started listening to the Dukes of Hazards podcast and have enjoyed it ever since.  (I wrote about their show here).  Since then, I’ve sampled a variety of other EM-relevant podcasts, some appealing to me and others not.  Here’s who I’ve been listening to lately, along with their iTunes links:

Disaster Politics Podcast

Hosted by Jeff Schlegelmilch, this podcast centers on some great guests and panels, discussing all manner of emergency management policy, politics, regulation, and legislation.  Jeff arranges some really great and insightful discussions that are relevant to current application across a wide range of emergency management.

EM Weekly’s Podcast

This podcast is hosted by Todd DeVoe, bringing in guests to discuss current topics in emergency management.  There is a lot of relevant discussion on programs that are thought provoking and scalable, examining both big-picture issues as well as community-level solutions.

The Spear

The Spear is a podcast from the Modern War Institute at West Point.  While not usually directly relevant to emergency management topics (though there are a couple of great episodes covering the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and WTC), these are inspiring stories of people in combat that often underscore leadership, initiative, and the value of preparedness, sometimes even reflecting on how lessons learned have been applied afterwards.

The Security Studies Podcast

This podcast is produced by the Georgetown University Security Studies Program.  They cover a lot of topics related to domestic and international security, including terrorist groups and activities, critical infrastructure security, and more.  Some really great interviews and topics.

How I Built This

This NPR produced podcast has nothing at all to directly do with emergency management, but what it does have is inspiring stories of determination, improvisation, and innovation from people who built their own companies – many of which you are familiar with.  There are a lot of takeaways for emergency managers in these shows… not necessarily on starting your own business, but on the resolve and creativity we need to show more of in our own profession.  Lots of inspiration to be found here.

 

I hope you take some time to sample my recommendations, and of course, if you like them, be sure to follow them on social media, subscribe to their podcast feeds, and leave them reviews.  As a podcaster myself, I can attest to how important these things are!

What podcasts do you listen to?

In terms of a bit of self-promotion for my blog, if you like what you are reading, please be sure to share it with others.  Re-blog, re-tweet, re-post, etc.  I always appreciate comments and feedback, either on the WordPress site, LinkedIn, or Twitter.  Thanks very much and have a great new year!

 

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

We Only Need One ICS

I came across an article yesterday posted on EMS1/AMU’s blog about EMS adopting an incident command system.  It’s an article that leaves me with a lot of questions.

I want to examine some individual statements within the article.

  1. “Many EMS providers lack training and awareness about implementing an incident command structure.”

 

This is 100% true, but I’ll also expand this statement across much of public safety and emergency management.  Aside from well-experienced practitioners of ICS, which there are relatively few compared to the greater public safety/EM community, most simply aren’t equipped to implement a significant incident management system.  The biggest reason is that ICS training sucks.

 

  1. “EMS organizations have only recently recognized the value and need for such a command structure as part of their response strategy.”

 

I would suggest that this is partly true, but in many parts of the nation, requirements and standards have been established by way of executive order, state and regional EMS protocols, and other means for EMS to use ICS.  Many of these have been in place since the 90s, before HSPD-5 and NIMS requirements, but certainly with the emergence of NIMS in 2003, this has largely been a standard of practice for EMS, if not a requirement in many places (and under specific circumstances, such as required through OSHA 1910.120).  While I understand that ‘standards’ and ‘requirements’ don’t necessary define value, they essentially dictate a need.

 

  1. There was a recognition that “EMS providers were having difficulty applying fireground incident command practices to EMS calls.”

 

While I agree with what I think is the spirit and intent of this statement and bring this back to my comments on item 1 above, I’m still cringing at the ‘fireground incident command’ phrase in this statement.  ICS isn’t just for the fireground. While it may have been born in wildfires, that was decades ago.  We are now officially in 2019 and should be well past this concept that ICS is only for the fireground.  Even if we disregard, for the sake of discussion, the requirements for all responders to use ICS, such as those in OSHA 1910.120, which predate NIMS, HSPD-5 was signed almost 17 years ago!  Nothing in HSPD-5 or the original NIMS document elude to the current implementations of ICS being a fireground system.  It was to be applied to all responders.

 

  1. “During a response, providers did not establish a formal command structure”

 

Totally true.  This applies, however, not just to EMS, but to most of public safety.  See my comment for item 1.

 

  1. “In 2012… they began to research various fire and EMS command models that were scalable and practical for all types of critical EMS calls.”

 

I’m not sure why there is a need to look past NIMS ICS.  Perhaps we are stepping back to my comment on item 1 again, but if you understand the system, you can make it work for you.

~

It is absolutely not my intent to throw negativity on the author or the people who spearheaded the implementation of an EMS-specific ICS as cited in this article.  They clearly identified what they perceived to be a need and tried to address it.  I give them credit for that.  It should be seen, though, that they identified many of the same needs that ICS was developed to address in the first place.  They then created a system (which has many of the same qualities of ICS) that is focused on EMS needs during an incident.  The issue here is bigger than this article, and certainly more endemic.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t really provide much detail on their ‘provider in command’ model, but what they describe can all be accomplished through NIMS ICS if properly utilized.  They even identify objectives of their model, which are really just pre-identified incident objectives.  They certainly don’t require a different model.  I think, however, what they largely accomplished was an audience-specific training program to show how elements of ICS can be implemented.  I just don’t think they needed to change the model, which is what the article seems to indicate.

Sadly, trying to make customized adaptations of ICS is nothing new.  For years, some elements of the fire service have dug in with certain models which are fire-ground centric.  Other disciplines have dome similar things.  It’s worth mentioning that FEMA had developed a number of discipline-specific ICS courses, such as ICS for Public Works or ICS for Healthcare.  While the intent of these courses is to provide context and examples which are discipline-specific (which is a good practice) rather than new models specific to these disciplines, I think that has inadvertently given some the impression that there are different systems for different disciplines.  ICS is ICS.

Once again, I put the blame on poor training curriculum.  When a system is developed and proven to work under a wide variety of circumstances and for a wide variety of users, yet users keep feeling a need to develop adaptations for themselves, this is not a failure of the system or even the users, it’s a failure of the training.

There are facets of public safety and emergency management that are generally not using ICS as well or as often as they should.  EMS is one of them.  As an active EMT for over a decade (including time as a chief officer), I can attest that (in general) ICS training for EMTs is abysmal.  The text books tend to skim over the pillars of ICS and focus on the operational functions of triage, treatment, and transport.  While these are important (for a mass casualty incident… not really for anything else), they fail not only in adequately TEACHING the fundamental principles of ICS (which can and should be used on a regular basis), but they fall well short of actually conveying how to IMPLEMENT ICS.  Further, much of the training provided includes a concept of ‘EMS Command’, which is opposed to what is in ICS doctrine.  We shouldn’t be encouraging separate commands and ICS structures at the tactical level of the same incident.

A few years ago I had started a crusade of sorts to get a better ICS curriculum developed.  There was a lot of support for this concept across the public safety and EM community, not only in the US but other nations as well.  Perhaps with the coming of the new year that effort needs to be reinvigorated?

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

The National Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism

Earlier this month, the White House released a short document titled The National Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism.  This is a document I’m not sure we needed, and certainly does not meet the expectations of a national strategy document.  While it does outline eight distinct ‘lines of effort’ (objectives), which identify the priorities of this overall strategy, it provides no new approaches and very little substance, even for a national strategy document.

Those Lines of Effort are:

  • Deny terrorists access to dangers materials, agents, and equipment
  • Detect and defeat terrorist WMD plots
  • Degrade terrorist WMD technical capabilities
  • Deter support for WMD terrorism
  • Globalize the counter-WMD fight
  • Strengthen America’s national defenses against WMD terrorism
  • Enhance state, local, tribal, and territorial preparedness against WMD terrorism
  • Avoid technological surprise

The lines of effort are solid and practical, but are activities which are already taking place and are generally proven best practices.  Though most of the descriptions for each of the lines of effort are a page or less, making the whole document read more like an executive summary.  Most strategic plans usually identify some key activities (strategies) associated with each objective, which in this document are uninspiring and buried in narrative.  As mentioned previous, there are also no new information or novel approaches in this document.  It seems like it was prepared by an intern who was directed to synthesize some background information for a meeting.  A well-developed strategy is something that can be referenced in future related activities, but this document is so unremarkable, it really doesn’t seem to matter much.  Had direction been given to the National Security Council or the Department of Homeland Security, I’m confident that their subject matter experts could have developed a document that is much more meaningful.  This document was a swing and a miss, providing us with nothing new or tangible in our efforts to counter WMD.

What are your thoughts?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC