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℠

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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

Incident Management vs Incident Command

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:

  • Transportation
  • Communications
  • Public Works and Engineering
  • Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human Services
  • Public Health and Medical Services
  • Agricultural and Natural Resources
  • Energy
  • 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

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

CDC Releases New Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Capabilities

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

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠

Reviewing The 2018 National Preparedness Report

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
  • Housing
  • Economic Recovery
  • Cybersecurity

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.

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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

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Finding Local Hazard Information

Among all the information shared across the internet, something that would be of great assistance to many stakeholders is local hazard information.  It surprises me how inaccessible this information is.  Typically, in most places around the US, ‘local’ will mean a city, village, or town, and depending on the structure of government in the state, counties (or other similar governmental units) may also be considered local.  Specific to this discussion, I’m referencing the most local level of government which has an emergency management function.

So often, we advise businesses and organizations to work with their local emergency managers on preparedness initiatives, yet necessary information lacks in availability or accessibility.  One of the foundational elements of information for all emergency management activities is a hazard analysis.  While every organization should conduct their own to ensure that their own hazards are identified and analyzed, an informed hazard analysis will consider information from other sources.  What better source, we would assume, than the hazard analysis conducted at the most local level of government possible?  Sadly, this information is not often regularly available.

Many governments who conduct comprehensive emergency management activities post plans on their websites, which is a good start.  Often these are hazard mitigation plans and sometimes even emergency operations plans (EOPs).  Both of these plans, if well written, should include hazard analysis information.  Typically, if EOPs include this information, it’s a very brief summary, perhaps only a small chart or table.  Hazard mitigation plans are really centered on a comprehensive hazard analysis, but as I’ve written before, most hazard mitigation plans are not truly ‘all hazard’.  Most commonly, hazard mitigation plans only address and examine natural hazards and some human-caused incidents such as dam failures or hazardous materials incidents.  Because so much effort goes into the hazard analysis conducted for a hazard mitigation plan, many jurisdictions will then only reference this hazard analysis in their preparedness activities, such as developing EOPs.  Fundamentally, this then means that many jurisdictions are not properly preparing for other threats, such as an active shooter/hostile event response (ASHER) incident.

So there are really two issues here, one being that of making information readily available, the other is ensuring quality of information.  Ideally, I’d like to see jurisdictions post hazard analysis information on their websites.  People working for organizations or businesses who are less familiar with emergency management aren’t likely to read through a hazard mitigation plan to find this information.  A stand-alone document with a reasonable summary of this information can easily be provided.  Aside from organizations and businesses, such a practice would also make this information more accessible to the general public.  With so much time and effort spent on telling people they need to prepare, perhaps we should make the information more accessible which tells them what they need to prepare for?

What are you doing to make hazard information more accessible?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠