Conduct of the New ICS 300 and 400 Courses

Last month a colleague and I delivered the new ICS 300 and 400 courses for a client.  If you’ve missed them, I have some early review notes and overall thoughts posted.  Nothing gets you into the curriculum like teaching it, though.

First, some credit to our course participants, who were extremely supportive in this delivery.  They were patient with our occasional need to double check the instructor guide and even helped to point out some inconsistencies.  While we each have about fifteen years of experience in teaching the courses, the first few times out with a new flow and format, along with new activities takes a bit of getting used to.  The courses also offered some challenges that had to be overcome in our course prep and delivery.

Leading off with the good foot, both courses reflect a positive direction of change.  It’s not the wholesale change that I’ve been stumping for, so expect to continue to see me championing more changes, but we are seeing positive movement in the right direction, at least with the ICS 300 course.  (I still hold out that most of the content of the ICS 400 course isn’t necessary for most who take it.  Time would be far better spent with grounding the concepts of ICS and supporting implementation of the aspects that are most likely to be used.)

Both courses continue a trend of scenario-based learning reinforcement, with the ability to utilize a progressive scenario threaded throughout the ICS 300 course and scenarios within the ICS 400 that help demonstrate when and how these concepts might be used.  While the ICS 300 materials provide several new scenarios for use, we actually didn’t use their progressive scenarios as our client had some specific needs, requiring us to build a localized scenario for them.  That said, the scenarios provided in the ICS 300 are easily adaptable to meet your needs.  Just be aware of the intent of each phase of the scenario and don’t alter the overall concept.

The endeavor to ground ICS as an operational tool is emphasized in Unit 4 of the ICS 300, Implementing an Operational Process.  This unit really seems to pull together the whole reason for being for ICS, especially in an extended operation, and is a good introduction to the Planning Process.  This unit was very well designed and is one of the most progressive changes in the course.

Not a lot was substantially changed in the ICS 400.  Aside from my earlier comment on the questionable necessity for most of the content, the course, as designed, is good enough to address what is intended, even if that intent seems misguided.  Much of the course was kept the same as the previous version, but there were a few tweaks and adjustments throughout.  The activity in Unit 2, the Fundamentals Review is multi-tiered and is very effective.  Unit 5 provides a lot of content on EOCs which wasn’t previously included as much, as well as introducing disaster recovery topics, which at this level incident the leadership of organizations (i.e. those taking this course) need to be aware of.  This is largely ‘bonus content’ which I had provided in the course off script in the past, as it wasn’t included.  I’m very happy to see this as part of the course now. The capstone exercise is the same as the previous version of ICS 400 and is still very well structured and produces great outcomes for participants.

On the down side… well, there is some substantial down side. I provided a fairly detailed list (of both positives and areas for improvement) to EMI.  Taking the course at face value – that is looking at what we have, not what I think it should be, most of the issues I had with this course have to do with faulty instructional design.  There is no way around saying that it was done very poorly.  There was significant lack of attention to detail… so many mis-spellings (spell check is a free feature included in every word processing program – FYI), inconsistencies between the Student Manual and Instructor Guide, problems with scenarios which are not part of the progressive scenario, graphics so small they are not visible for participants in the student manual, and some issues of course flow and organization.

Unit 3 in the ICS 300 course is titled Initial Actions for Unified Command.  So much of the unit is built on the premise that a unified command is formed in the initial response of an incident, practically exclusive of even the possibility of a single command.  This is insanely misleading and required some significant extended explanation on the part of our instructional team to temper that content.

Earlier I complemented unit 5 of the ICS 400, particularly for the additional material provided on various types of EOCs and extending the discussion into recovery.  While these are great, the unit should be organized earlier in the material, especially with several earlier references to EOCs without explanation of what they are.  Practically speaking, the concept of the EOC has far more actual use than any of the other concepts discussed in the course.  There is also way too much material on federal-level EOCs, most of which are so far removed from incident management that most emergency managers have no interaction at all with them.  I think this content should speak about EOCs in general terms.

I think Central City needs to be erased from all memory, and a new fictional jurisdiction developed.  The maps for Central City, et al, keep getting recycled and are small in print, confusing in design, and clearly dated.

The final exams for both courses were very bad.  They each had questions that our instructional team agreed to throw out, as they were poorly worded or ambiguous and nearly every participant got them wrong.  Even most of the valid questions and answers simply aren’t suitable for short-duration training, and certainly not with a closed book exam.

In all, I provided three pages of comments back to EMI. I’m appreciative of EMI being so receptive to the feedback and candid about certain issues they had in the development of these courses.  In respecting their candor, I’m not going to get into some of the points brought up, but it certainly appears as though they are disappointed with the condition in which these courses went out the door and they have a desire to improve them.  Hopefully it won’t be too long until you see another update of the course materials with most of these issues addressed.

I look forward to hearing from others about their experiences with delivering these updated courses.  As such a central topic to the greater public safety and emergency management community, we need to do better with teaching incident management and ICS as the primary tool we use for incident management.  As a community of practice, we need to get behind this initiative and support the need for significant improvement.  Of course if you aren’t familiar with my crusade on the matter, check out the series of ICS Training Sucks articles I’ve posted over the past few years.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

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Teaching ICS – We’re not there yet

Over the past week I’ve been neck deep in the updated ICS-300 and ICS-400 curriculum as I prepare to deliver these courses for a client.  While these courses, especially the ICS-300, have made some significant improvements from past versions, I’ve found what I perceive to be another challenge, perhaps a gap, in our collective approach to teaching incident management.

While ICS training should obviously focus on ICS, it seems we are missing an opportunity to provide some critical knowledge on emergency management (at least the response functions of EM) and incident management as an overall concept, especially when we get to the level of ICS-300.  I’m betting that most people taking the ICS-300 class know very little about emergency management and even less about the overall concepts of incident management.  While the ICS-300 is a good and worthwhile course for a great many supervisors within the ranks of public safety, it seems the requirement for ICS training puts a lot of this out of context.

While this might be fine for the ‘typical’ tactician, or even most unit leaders operating within an ICS organization, knowledge of what emergency management is and does, as well as the underlying concepts of incident management, will improve the ability of the response organization as a whole to function.  I echo this same sentiment for the EOC courses that have been developed.

While we strive to have the growth of many public safety professionals to include ICS position-specific training, we also have to be realistic in recognizing that most jurisdictions simply don’t have the capacity to make this happen.  Instead, they rely on a more ad-hoc incident management approach, which will generally serve them well.  Of course, the most challenging time is transitioning from the more ‘routine’ type 5 and 4 incidents into the larger extended response operations of a type 3 incident.  This is when people need to think beyond the normal approach of a largely tactics-focused response, to a system which still necessarily includes tactics, but builds a response organization meant to support and sustain those tactical operations.  What they learn from the ICS-300 may be the most amount of training they have outside of tactical applications.

In such an ad-hoc system, someone put into Logistics, or even more specifically the Supply Unit Leader, may be left wondering how to obtain resources when the answer to that question has always been dispatch.  It may not readily dawn on them to open the phone book (digitally or physically) or to contact the emergency management office to find the resources they need.  It seems silly, but in the context of incident management, dispatch may be all they know.  Similarly, someone assigned as the Situation Unit Leader may be re-creating the wheel when it comes to identifying what information is needed, where to get it from, what analysis needs to take place, and how to tie it all together.  Why?  Because they may not have been made aware of the greater system they function within. Their mental default is the job they usually do for the agency or department they work for.

On a whim, I did some key word searches within the new ICS-300 course student manual.  The term ‘incident management’ comes up with a few hits, mostly centered around NIMS-oriented content or included in the broader term of ‘incident management team’.  Very little explanation is really given on what incident management is.  Rather, the term is just put out there, seemingly with the expectation that the student knows what it is.   A search for the term ‘emergency management’ only comes up with two hits, one being part of ‘Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC)’ (note: no context is given for what this is), and the other use is a rather throwaway use when discussing demobilization.  Emergency management as a function is actually never discussed.

The Reader’s Digest version of all this is that we aren’t including critical contextual information about the systems ICS functions within when we teach more advanced ICS courses.  This inadvertently can close people’s minds to opportunities to improve incident management by extending their thinking beyond tactics and beyond the scope of their home agency.  A podiatrist must still learn about the systems of the whole body before they focus on the foot.  Teaching people, especially at the threshold of ICS-300, about the system of emergency management and the concepts of incident management are critical before we start teaching them the specifics of a particular tool.  Doing so will make their understanding and use of this tool far more effective.

Some may wonder if I will ever be happy with how we teach ICS (really, incident management as a whole).  That day may yet come, but to get there I think we first need to reassess the actual learning needs of practitioners, and do so with fresh eyes instead of trying to mark up the same materials.  I know over the years of my criticisms of ICS training I’ve stimulated a lot of discussion, not only nationally, but internationally.  Many have been hugely supportive of the ideas I’ve put forward, and some have contributed to the dialogue.  Of course, there are some who have been resistant and defensive.  I’m thankful to those who have been receptive and I’m happy to have contributed to the energy behind changes that have been made, and will continue to do so until we, as a collective, are satisfied that the best possible training is being made available.  Change is often times progressive and incremental. It doesn’t happen overnight.

As usual, I’m happy to receive any comments and feedback you might have on these ideas.  Please spread the word and encourage feedback from those who might not be aware.  Emergency management is an ever-evolving practice.  Though we may not have answers, we must continue asking questions.

©2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

 

Reviewing FEMA’s New ELG 2300 EOC Intermediate Course

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the new EOC training courses released by FEMA.  Last week I acquired some additional information on these through a webinar conducted by the course managers from FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI).  In this webinar, they covered the updated ELG 191 (ICS EOC Interface), G 402 (NIMS Overview for Officials), IS 2200 (Basic EOC Operations), and ELG 2300 (Intermediate EOC Operations).  Similar to the rollouts for the new ICS courses, they walked us through comparisons for these new/updated courses (where they exist) and gave some information on the course structure and general content areas.  They also provided plans of instruction, which, for those of you who aren’t instructional designers, are documents foundational to the instructional design process, laying out everything from course objectives, target audience, and materials needed, as well as outlining the content areas for each unit within the course.

First, it’s important to note that EMI stressed these courses being part of a new EOC training track, intended as an analog to the foundational ICS courses, with the vision being that, depending on what the assignment of personnel might be, they may be better suited to take one or the other.  Of course there are some staff that would certainly benefit from both.  I think this is a great move by EMI.  For decades we have been using ICS courses supplemented by home grown courses to produce meaningful training.  Depending on the structure and processes of the EOC, we often had to tell people to ignore parts of the ICS training they had because of how differently the EOC operates.  That said, while these new courses build a much better foundation for EOC training, there will still be a need for some locally developed training to address the specifics of your own EOC.  This is incredibly important… don’t be lazy about this.

The course I had greatest interest in during this webinar was the ELG 2300 – EOC Intermediate course.  This course actually replaces the G 775 EOC course, which I wouldn’t say is equivalent to the new course, but in creating these new courses, the old courses are being fully demobilized.  The course runs for three full days in the classroom, covering EOC skillsets, incident planning, situational awareness, resource management, and the ever-awkward transition to recovery.  Pilot offerings of the course have demonstrated it to be a very full three days, with didactic material reinforced by activities.

From reviewing the Plan of Instruction, here are the items I appreciate in this course:

  • They address an EOC as a nexus of activity within the greater context of emergency management, covering topics such as incident management teams, potential roles, multi-agency coordination, preparedness, and maintaining readiness.
  • Developing EOC plans and standard operating procedures
  • A lot of emphasis on situational awareness
  • They accept the challenge of discussing the different possible EOC organizational models within major topic areas
  • The importance of structured recovery operations and the role of the EOC in these

There are two things I see through the lens of the plan of instruction that I’m not a fan of.  First of all, the first few units seem to have reiterative content.  While it may be with a different focus, topics such as the ICS/EOC interface don’t need to be explained over and over again in each unit.

The second item is a big one, and this brings me back a few years to my first critical piece on ICS training.  This issue is that the course objectives simply don’t line up with what the course needs to be.  Each of the terminal learning objectives of the course center on explain or identify, which reflect a low domain of learning in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Yet the ‘overall course objective’ as stated in the plan of instruction is for students to ‘demonstrate the managerial and operational roles of the modern-day EOC’.  Demonstrate is a higher, application-level domain within the taxonomy, which is absolutely where we should be for a three-day intermediate level course.  The course terminal objectives, however, don’t reflect this higher domain.  Not seeing the actual course material, I’m not able to ascertain if this is a reflection of poor instructional design (not properly aligning the objectives with appropriate course content) or if the content is actually written in accordance with the terminal objectives, thus not meeting the intent of the ‘overall course objective’.

I’m a big proponent of the need for the courses in series to be developmental; with foundational, rote information provided in a basic or awareness level course and a progression to more practical learning occurring at intermediate and advanced levels.  While this course, as I see it, certainly comes a long way to improve our collective preparedness for emergency operations centers, most jurisdictions are not going to commit to sending their staff to three days of training just so they can do a better job of talking about what an EOC is and should do.  They should be coming back with an increased ability to perform.   Given the range of skills and ideal learning outcomes we are really striving for, perhaps we need to transcend the basic-intermediate-advanced training levels and examine the role-based model of awareness-operations-technician-management/command-planning.  This allows for better targeting of learning outcomes based upon what people need.  Just a thought.

Despite my misgivings, we needed to start somewhere with a jumpstarted EOC training program.  This is a great start and I’m sure as this course gets some exercise, there will be some identification of opportunities to improve and better meet the needs of the variety of audiences out there.  I’m looking forward to seeing the course material sometime in the near future.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

©2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

New FEMA EOC Training Courses Announced

Last night FEMA issued a NIMS Alert (13-19) announcing the release of some new and revised Emergency Operations Center (EOC) training courses.  These include:

E/L/G 191 – Emergency Operations Center/Incident Command System Interface

IS 2200 – Basic Emergency Operations Center Functions

E/L/G 2300 – Intermediate Emergency Operations Center Functions

This is also including an updated G 402 NIMS Overview for Senior Officials.

FEMA is hosting a series of webinars on these courses next week.  Information can be found at the bottom of this post.

First, a bit of background on the nomenclature, for those who might not be familiar.

  • E-coded courses are those offered ‘in residence’ by FEMA, typically at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI)
  • L-coded courses are those delivered by FEMA at various locations, typically at the request of state and local governments
  • G-coded courses are those able to be delivered by state emergency management offices
  • IS-coded courses are independent study courses available from training.fema.gov

Providing a bit of context to these courses.  First, the E/L/G 191 course.  This course has been in dire need of a re-write for a very long time.  While FEMA/EMI certainly have a challenge of developing courses that are applicable to most jurisdictions, I’ve long found the 191 course to be inadequate for most.  Interestingly enough, I found the content of the new IS 2200 course alone to be far superior to any previous content of the 191 course.  That said, I’m interested in seeing what the redesign has brought for the 191 course, hopefully increasing the utility of this course to participants.

Speaking of the IS 2200 course, I just completed this course on EMI’s Independent Study website.  Overall, I found the course to be solid, addressing all the foundational information needed by stakeholders to understand what an EOC is a does, in general terms, how it might be organized, and what it’s primary tasks are.  The course has heavy reference to NIMS, as expected, and provides several hyperlinks to additional resources of relevant interest.  While the course does reflect much of the EOC content from the updated NIMS document, the materials were thoughtfully organized with a fair amount of supplement and context, examples, and even small scenario-driven activities to support a better understanding of EOCS.  As indicated previous, it has a fair amount of information on the concepts of the ICS/EOC interface, which I think are of significant value to people who are new to the world of EOCs.  The course also stresses the value of emergency operations plans, something that had been missing from ICS courses for years prior to an earlier update.

There are some areas where I find the IS 2200 course to be lacking.  First of all, there were some typos and grammatical errors in the product.  While this might not seem like a big deal to some, quality counts.  Similarly, many of the photos used in the course are recycled from many years back of training and are of poor quality and resolution.  Granted, photos from EOCs are generally not exciting or sexy, but higher quality and updated hair styles do contribute to quality.  The traditional Planning P was referenced quite a bit in the course, with the caveat that the EOC should develop its own planning cycle.  I found this to be a bit lazy and would have liked to see some guidance on an EOC-oriented Planning P.  Lastly, I would have liked to see some material on departmental EOCs (DOCs) as well as the interface between a dispatch/public safety answering point (PSAP) and a local EOC.  Perhaps we will see this latter topic addressed in either the 191 course or the Intermediate EOC course.

E/L/G 2300 is the Intermediate EOC course.  I’m very curious to learn more about this course when I sit in on one of next week’s webinars.  The biggest challenge that FEMA has in this course, as I see it, is that there are several organizational models which can be used by EOCs, including the ICS-based model, the incident support model, the departmental model, and the emergency support function model.  This variety, which I think is good to have to help jurisdictions and agencies manage in the way that is most comfortable for them, does create significant difficulty to teach how, in any significant detail, an EOC should function.  While I would love for this course to dive into the EOC’s planning process and key in on roles and responsibilities of positions similar to the ICS 300 course, I think that detail might need to be reserved for a customized course, which I’ve built for various entities through my career.  That said, I’ll be sure to report out following the webinars on my thoughts on the information we are provided.


Additional information is available on these offerings through a series of webinars hosted by FEMA.  The dates and times of the webinars:

  • May 28, 2019 at 11:00 am (EST)
  • May 28, 2019 at 3:00 pm (EST)
  • May 30, 2019 at 11:00 am (EST)
  • May 30, 2019 at 3:00 pm (EST)

 The webinars will be presented through their NIMS ICS Training Forum – Adobe Connect platform here:

The Adobe Connect platform is for displaying visuals and for chatroom only. Audio will be provided using the following conference call line and pin #:

  • Conference Telephone #: 800-320-4330
  • Pin #: 884976

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many New FEMA IS Courses

The month of February saw a huge release of new FEMA Independent Study (IS) courses.  Most of these address topics within the public assistance (PA) program, and get into the nitty gritty items that can delay processing of PA paperwork after a federal declaration.  Lots of good info here applicable to public works and highway managers, PA specialists, finance specialists, and emergency managers as a whole. The new courses are listed below.

 

-TR

A FEMA Pilot Program? Maybe?

A few days ago, Homeland Security Today posted an article titled FEMA Creates Pilot Program for Long-term Emergency Management.  It seemed intriguing, so I took a look.  The article is pretty much verbatim (no fault of HS Today) from the press release posted by FEMA of the same title (linked to in the article).  Needless to say, I’m confused.

The press release states that FEMA has developed a pilot program to provide free training to local emergency managers across Puerto Rico to better prepare their disaster response capabilities.  There is an out of place name drop of sorts of the Incident Command System in the release, as well as a statement that the trainings ‘aim to improve capabilities of Puerto Rico Bureau of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration staff’, yet earlier the emphasis was on local emergency managers.

The training they are offering is certainly great and wholly appropriate, covering topics such as emergency planning, debris management planning, points of distribution, and threat and hazard identification and risk assessment (THIRA), as well as courses in American Sign Language.  The release also cites a train the trainer course to be delivered, but doesn’t indicate if it is specific to any of these courses or a general instructor development course.

Are you as confused as I am?  Perhaps it’s because the press release is incredibly poorly written, or maybe because this ‘pilot program’ is poorly conceived. A few thoughts…

  • I’m not sure what this is a pilot program of. Aside from the ASL training (which I think is a great addition, though I hope they realize that someone going through one ASL course still isn’t going to know squat, so hopefully it’s more than that) these courses are a regular part of FEMA’s training repertoire, which are typically provided at no charge.
  • While training certainly contributes to increased preparedness, I would have hoped that an area as vulnerable as Puerto Rico would get more than just training. Preparedness, comprehensively, is comprised of planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises (POETE), with continued assessments throughout.  Training is absolutely important, and I agree with the premise of supporting activities by teaching people how to do them for themselves.  While I understand that other resources have been provided to PR, especially in the wake of 2017’s hurricane impacts, this release awkwardly isolates the training efforts.
  • I’m still stuck on the mention of ICS in this release. It’s completely out of context, especially since there is no indication of any ICS training being provided.

Perhaps I’m being a bit nit-picky with this, but if you are going to advertise an effort, there are a spectrum of right and wrong ways to do so.  While every organization is flawed, I’m a big fan of FEMA, including many of their training programs (ok… maybe with the exception of ICS training).  Further, as a former State Training Officer, I’m big on needs-driven training and training being part of a comprehensive preparedness program.  It’s certainly very appropriate that FEMA is helping to support and boost preparedness in PR, but this release is either misleading, misinformed, or poorly written.

I know that a lot of FEMA folks, including some from EMI, read my blog.  Can anyone provide some clarification on this?  I’ll be happy to post an update!

– Tim Riecker, CEDP

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