Much of preparedness is about getting us ready to conduct situational assessment and prioritization of actions. We train people and develop resources, such as drones, field-deployed apps, and geographic information systems (GIS) to support situational assessment. The information we obtain from these assessments help in the development and maintenance of situational awareness and, when shared across disciplines, agencies, and jurisdictions, a common operating picture. Based upon this information, leaders at all levels make decisions. These decisions often involve the prioritization of our response and recovery actions. Ideally, we should have plans in place that establish standards for how we collect, analyze, and share information, and also to support the decision making we must do in prioritizing our actions. Exercises, of course, help us to validate those plans and practice associated tasks.
One significant hurdle for us is how overwhelming disasters can be. With just slight increases in the complexity of a disaster, we experience factors such as large geography, extensive damages, high numbers of lives at risk, hazardous materials, and others. Certainly, we know from Incident Command System training that our broad priorities are life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation – but with all that’s happening, where do we start?
One thing that can help us both assessment and prioritization are community lifelines. From FEMA: “Community lifelines reframe incident information to provide decision-makers with impact statements and root causes.” By changing how we frame our data collection, analysis, thinking, and decision-making, we can maximize the effectiveness of our efforts. This shouldn’t necessitate a change in our processes, but we should incorporate community lifelines into our preparedness activities.
The community lifelines, as identified by FEMA, are:
- Safety and Security
- Food, Water, and Sheltering
- Health and Medical
- Hazardous Materials
If this is your first time looking at community lifelines, they certainly shouldn’t be so foreign to you. In many ways, these are identified components of our critical infrastructure. By focusing our attention on this list of items, we can affect a more concerted response and recovery.
FEMA guidance goes on to identify essential elements of information (EEI) we should be examining for each community lifeline. For example, the lifeline of Health and Medical includes the EEIs of:
- Medical Care
- Patient Movement
- Public Health
- Fatality Management
- Health Care Supply Chain
Of course, you can dig even deeper when analyzing any of these EEIs to identify the status and root cause of failure, which will then support the prioritization of actions to address the identified failures. First we seek to stabilize, then restore. For example, within just the EEI of Fatality Management, you can examine components such as:
- Mortuary and post-mortuary services
- Transportation, storage, and disposal resources
- Body recovery and processing
- Family assistance
The organization of situation reports, particularly those shared with the media, public, and other external partners might benefit from being organized by community lifelines. These are concepts that are generally tangible to many people, and highlight many of the top factors we examine in emergency management.
Back in March of this year, FEMA released the Community Lifelines Implementation Toolkit, which provides some great information on the lifelines and some information on how to integrate them into your preparedness. These can go a long way, but I’d also like to see some more direct application as an addendum to CPG-101 to demonstrate how community lifelines can be integrated into planning. Further, while I understanding that FEMA is using the community lifeline concept for its own assessments and reporting, the community aspect of these should be better emphasized, and as such identifying some of the very FEMA- and IMAT-centric materials on this page as being mostly for federal application.
Has your jurisdiction already integrated community lifelines into your preparedness? What best practices have you identified?
© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP