Musings of October – and the Crusade to End Bad ICS Courses

Last month sure was a busy one!  Much of the focus was on marketing for our company Emergency Preparedness Solutions.  I had the opportunity to meet a number of county and local government representatives in a reverse trade show in the Poconos and see some old and new faces at the Vermont Emergency Preparedness Conference.  Pictures of our booth are below.  I also had the opportunity to present with their State Training Officer on the State-Wide Emergency Management and Homeland Security Training Needs Assessment project we completed for the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security a few months ago.  We also need to congratulate Doug Babcock for being honored as Vermont’s Local Emergency Manager of the Year!

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While those trips were great, the highlight of the month was a trip to Toronto.  The impetus for the trip was the Emergency Preparedness staff of Public Health Ontario, who, after reading my blog posts on the necessity for improvements in Incident Command System (ICS) training, extended an invitation for me to sit in on some training they offer that came about from just that need.  The course I attended was Public Health Emergency Preparedness – An IMS-based Workshop.  Fear not – this is not a reinvention of ICS (or Incident Management System – IMS – as they refer to it in Canada), rather this is an enhancement to the current curriculum.

The Canadian provinces have each adopted curricula for their IMS which are near 100% mirrors of the ICS courses we use here in the States.  While in Toronto, I also had the opportunity to sit in for a bit on an IMS-200 course being conducted by the Toronto Office of Emergency Management.  They were great hosts and have made excellent enhancements to the curriculum for a Toronto-based audience.  (Thank you Sherry and Sarah!) The course offered by Public Health Ontario is truly workshop based, with little lecture and a lot of group work to walk participants through concepts of IMS.  The workshop is positioned between IMS-100 (which most took online) and IMS-200, and is public health focused.

While I’m often weary of discipline-specific courses in emergency management, since the essence of emergency management is cooperative, this workshop absolutely made sense.  Why?  Two big themes built the foundation for this… First, practitioners must be comfortable with their own sand box before they can play with the neighborhood kids.  Second, this particular application works for public health (and several other disciplines) because most of the public health response occurs at the population level, not necessarily at an incident site.  Because of this, public health will almost always function (at least the higher echelons of their incident management structure) from an emergency operations center or departmental operations center.  As such, it pays to invest some training time on a homogeneous audience.  That said, the scenarios that drove the workshop were in no way introverted only to public health concerns and the instructors encouraged thought and discussion toward other activities and associated agencies which would be involved in an incident.

With the positioning of this training between IMS-100 and IMS-200, Public Health Ontario has armed participants with better knowledge and familiarity of the IMS, allowing those who will progress through further (and multi-disciplinary) training a better perspective of how IMS is applied by public health which allows for a better understanding of the system itself.  Not only does the workshop address some internal incident management training needs for public health, it also addresses some of the issues I’ve mentioned previously with ICS training as a whole.  The workshop is expertly designed by the Emergency Preparedness team at Public Health Ontario, and embraces concepts of adult educational methodology which we need to pay more attention to.  The high level of interaction lends to improved transfer of knowledge and better outcomes.  They included information such as the phases of emergency management and the need to reference deliberate planning efforts such as Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs) and Continuity of Operations Plans (COOPs).  This is certainly something we don’t have enough of in ICS courses yet is critically related.  Do you think the majority of our attendees know what these are, much less what is in theirs?  Guess again!

More information on this workshop can be found at https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/About/Departments/Pages/Incident-Management-System-for-Public-Health.aspx.  Many thanks to Moira, Richard, and Evanna for the invite and the hospitality!

With my road trips complete, I am returning back to the normal pace of work and preparing for another graduate course which begins next month.  I’ve also considered the need to ramp up my concern on this matter of poor ICS curricula from an occasional rant to a crusade.  This is a matter of public safety – from a sociological perspective there is nothing more important than our ability to effectively respond to save lives, stabilize the incident, and preserve property.  Let’s make some changes!

As always, many thanks to my readers; and if you are with a government entity, not for profit, or private interest that is seeking consulting services in the areas of emergency and disaster planning, training, exercises, and anything in between, please feel free to contact me.

© Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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ICS Training Sucks… So Let’s Fix It

A great many of you are familiar with the piece I wrote in June called Incident Command System Training Sucks.  In it, I identify that the foundational ICS courses (ICS-100 through ICS-400 – but especially ICS-300 and ICS-400) simply do not provide the skills training that emergency managers across all disciplines require to utilize the system efficiently, effectively, and comfortably.  ICS Training Sucks turned out to be a popular piece which had a great deal of support from the first responder and emergency management community – which I am very grateful for.  The amount of comments and feedback was indicative to me that I was on the right track and that I need to revisit the topic and explore more.

At the center of my argument stands Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Bloom’s is a learning hierarchy which helps to identify the depth of instruction and learning.  Here is Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.  We’ll be referencing it a bit in the examples I provide.

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

Take a moment to read through the descriptions of each of the ‘orders of thinking’ in Bloom’s.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Done?  Good.  Most would agree that courses such as ICS-300 and ICS-400 should attempt to convey learning at the Apply level, correct?  Unfortunately, that perception, while wildly popular, is wrong.  Most of the learning objectives of the two courses (objectives are our reference points for this) are at the Understand and Remember levels.  Yeah, I was a bit surprised, too.

In ICS Training Sucks, I provided a greater detail of the background analysis (it summarized the narrative of a Master’s research paper I wrote), so if you want more, simply go back and check it out.  While I make a few broad recommendations in that piece, there has been a need to examine our path to fixing this more closely.

In the development of curriculum, there exist several models.  The most commonly used model is the ADDIE model, which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  The first step, Analysis, is really the most important, although often the most ignored or cut short.  People think they know what the need is, but often don’t really understand it.  If you are interested, I’ve written a piece on the topic of Analysis for Training Magazine last year.

Even though we are suggesting a re-write of the ICS curriculum, or parts thereof, Analysis is extremely important.  The roots of the current curriculum we use goes back to circa 1970s wildfire ICS courses.  These are good courses, and while I’m not sure if they fully met the need then (although they did advance us quite a bit), their evolved versions certainly DO NOT now.  There is no sense in repackaging the same product, so let’s first figure out what people need to know to do their jobs effectively.  Essentially, this leads us to identifying a list of key core competencies in ICS.  Core competencies will define the level of competence needed in a particular job or activity.  We can easily use the levels of Bloom’s as our reference point to establish common definitions for the levels of competence.  What am I talking about?

Let’s pick one key activity in ICS to examine.  Resource Management is a great example as it shows the disparity between what exists and where we need to be.  Resource Management is discussed in Unit 6 of the ICS-300 course.  I think most would agree that we expect most every jurisdiction to be able to implement sound resource management practices.  Implement is the key word.  Implementation is indicative of the Apply level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  When looking at unit objectives in the ICS-300 course for unit 6, the key words are identify and describe.  Identify is indicative of the Remember level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, while describe is indicative of the Understand level.  Both fall short of application.  While we aren’t looking for this curriculum to create incident management teams, we still expect most jurisdictions to be able to manage resources, which is certainly a core competency of incident management.

I think the NIMS doctrine provides a good starting point for identifying core competencies.  In an effective study, there may be other competencies identified – perhaps topics such as leadership, that may not necessarily be found in a revised ICS curricula, but can be obtained through other training courses.  This could lead to an important differentiation between core competencies (those that MUST be included in ICS training) and associated competencies which can be sourced elsewhere.

Further, we can capitalize on what we have learned through implementation of the current ICS curriculum and previous iterations.  We know that multidisciplinary training is most effective since larger incidents are multidisciplinary.  We also know that training must be interactive and maximize hands-on time.  The past few updates to the ICS courses have done a great job of encouraging this, but we need more.

Making more detailed recommendations on fixing ICS training will take time and effort, as a solid Analysis must first be done.  Once core competencies can be identified and defined, then a strategy for revamping ICS training can be developed.  As mentioned in ICS Training Sucks, this approach should be multi-faceted, using both new and (good) existing courses to support it. Let’s not be bound by what currently exists.  We don’t necessarily have to create a ‘new’ ICS-300 or ICS-400 course.  Let’s create courses within a broader program that meets the needs of the emergency management community.  They may no longer be called ICS-300 and ICS-400.  Perhaps these two will be replaced by four smaller courses?  Who knows where this path will take us? The bottom line is that we need to be responsive to the needs of the learners, not bound by “the way we’ve always done it.”

As always, feedback is appreciated.  Perhaps there exists an institution that has the desire and funding to pursue this further?  I’m fully onboard!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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