Updated IS-100 Course: Missing the Target

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

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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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

Incident Command System Training Sucks

There it is.  I said it.  Before you unleash the hounds, hear me out.

A bit of background:

As another grad course at American Military University was coming to a close last month I was racking my brain over the theme of my term paper.  In one of our final assignments I was dissecting NIMS – and that’s where it struck me.  ICS training is all wrong.  Now that my paper is all wrapped up and submitted, I wanted to get some discussion on my blog.  So, since I don’t want to bore everyone with the paper itself, what follows is a much less academic and more conversational version of my term paper.

For those of you who read my blog, you will be familiar with a few fairly recent posts that involve ICS:  The Human Aspect of ICS and Overcoming Transitional Incidents, Preparedness – ICS is Not EnoughTraining EOC Personnel – ICS is not Enough, and finally The Need for Practical Incident Command Training.  In that last one I feel I was headed in the right direction but not yet on the right road.

Before we go any further, here is my disclaimer.  I am a big believer in ICS.  If you take a look at the aforementioned posts, you’ll see that.  It’s a system that has been in use for a long time and has a proven track record of working well when properly applied.  Along with that, I’ve been an ICS practitioner, instructor, and instructor trainer – since before NIMS, in fact.  I’ve also been in positions influencing NIMS-related policy at both the state and national level.  So I have a fair amount of familiarity with the system, how it is used, and how it is taught.

Defining the need:

A great many after action reports (AARs) reflect on Operational Coordination (the current core capability which most heavily features ICS), On-Scene Incident Management (the previous iteration under the target capabilities), and just ICS in general.  These AARs often go on to recommend that responders need more ICS training.  How can they say that, though?  Following NIMS compliance requirements, darn near everyone who has been required to take ICS training has done so over the past 10 years.  So how could we be so off base?

The reality is summed up in this simple statement from John Morton: “With respect to using ICS from NIMS… training incorporated in the NIMS doctrine largely does not provide any actual skills training or development.”  If you aren’t yet familiar with John Morton’s work, I suggest you take a look here: Book Review – Next-Generation Homeland Security.  Brilliant guy.

Looking at the substance of Mr. Morton’s quote, it’s true that the foundational ICS courses (ICS-100 through ICS-400) don’t provide any skills training.  However, there is a significant expectation that taking these courses is somehow a magic bullet.

Much of my paper focuses on the ICS-300 and ICS-400 courses.  The ICS-100 and ICS-200 courses are probably not far off from where they actually need to be.  There exists, however, a higher expectation from people to have learned something from the ICS-300 and ICS-400 courses which can be readily applied in the field.  One of the foundations for my paper was an analysis of the course objectives from the current ICS-300 and ICS-400 courses through the lens of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Bloom’s is a learning hierarchy which helps identify the depth of instruction and thus learning.  The revised version of Bloom’s is a scale of six levels, ranging from ‘Remembering’ to ‘Creating’, with remembering being pretty basic and creating being quite advanced.  The expectation of ICS training, obtained from a few sources as well as our perception, is that it falls somewhere in the middle under the taxonomy level of ‘Applying’.   The reality is that most of the objectives from these two courses fall short of that expectation.

How is it possible that we have been expecting more from people when we haven’t been giving them the proper training to do so?  In essence, all we have been training people in is theory.  Sorry, but theory doesn’t save lives, application does.  Why does the fire chief of even the small city (population ~62k) closest to me care what an incident complex or branch-level planning is?  It’s not something he can use.  He and his officers require proficiency in the system for not only the day to day type 4 and 5 incidents they deal with (which they generally have), but also enough for the type 3 incidents which occasionally occur from storms, hazmat incidents, and the like.

Yes, we do have position-specific courses for those who are members of incident management teams (IMTs).  Those courses presumably identify at a higher taxonomy level (I haven’t had a chance to do an analysis on them).  IMTs are great assets, but let’s have another brief shot of reality … not every jurisdiction is suited for an IMT.  Identifying potential members, getting them trained and experienced, and maintaining their skills is an investment that most jurisdictions simply aren’t willing or able to make.  The result is a huge gap between those who have only the core ICS training, which we have already identified does not meet the real need, and an IMT from a larger jurisdiction or region.  Jurisdictions need to be able to function for at least two days, if not longer, on their own.  Most incidents will be resolved at that point or ready for transition to an IMT.  If appropriate, the IMT can then apply things like branch-level planning.  That is the level of application expected from IMTs.

What can we do about it:

So what is needed?  Here are my rough ideas.  First off, at a micro level, we need a full rewrite of the ICS-300 and 400 courses.  Let’s make them more meaningful and focus on application.  Pull out all the theory and structure them around practical learning practices.  Second, we need refresher training.  Let’s stop the argument about that.  Knowledge and skills deteriorate over time, we all know that.  So let’s go with annual refresher training.  Not a day of being lectured, to, either.  Something more involved which reflects the identified need for applicable learning.  Third, continued reinforcement through exercises.  If you don’t use it you lose it.  The last ten years or so have seen a strong emphasis on exercises which we should certainly continue.  Lastly, all of this culminates at the macro level as a restructuring of the whole training program.  Why is that needed?  Well, aside from the current one being ineffective, we need to logically identify what training is needed for certain audiences based upon their roles and responsibilities and support it through accessible training programs.

In regard to restructuring the whole training program, I would suggest adoption of the Awareness, Management and Planning, and Performance course structure (AWR, MGT, PER).  ICS-100 is certainly awareness.  Awareness level training is appropriate for most responders and staff of assisting and supporting agencies who don’t have any leadership or decision-making roles and don’t need to have a high degree of interaction with larger system.  ICS-200 has some operational application for first line supervisors, so it’s probably a suitable introductory MGT course.  The ICS-300 should continue with a focus on the planning process but obviously needs to be bolstered with more application-level content and instruction.  With that, the target here is probably higher level management and planning.  The ICS-400, still needing a rewrite, is best left for those functioning at higher levels of incident management, such as EOC management and IMTs.  It will probably serve as a good foundational performance level course.  Now, just don’t leave it at that.  Let’s pull other courses in line to support this.  Many of those courses already exist, particularly those that have a strong ICS relationship, like the FEMA EOC and ICS/EOC courses (which are also in desperate need of rewrites to focus on application), the TEEX Enhanced Incident Management course (which is excellent), and others.  Let’s build a real, viable program for incident management as we have for other technical areas.  Without incident management we remain in chaos and the impacts of other activities are greatly minimized.  Let’s give it the respect it deserves.

Now that I’ve put all that out there, I’m absolutely prepared for your thoughts, ideas, and feedback.  I’m also hoping that someone forwards this on to Doc Lumpkins at the NIC.  Doc – let’s talk!  I might have an idea or two…

Unleash the hounds!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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