Let’s Bring Human Interaction Back Into Training

I love technology.  I really do.  I generally don’t have any problems with the accomplishments or advancements we’ve made and I’m not looking to abolish any of the triumphs or practices we have in place as a result of technology, but there are some things we have to step back on a bit.  One of those things is the extreme volume of self-paced, internet learning, e-learning, independent study, etc. types of programs out there.  We’ve accomplished a great deal in regard to these self driven types of programs and they do have value – yet I think we’re losing touch with the human factor.

When I started in the training business, the internet was still fairly youthful and humanity hadn’t yet realized all the potential it held (we still don’t, but we were a much longer ways away from it then).  There was no such thing as online learning.  You could download training materials and references, maybe even submit test answers online (although the norm was still to fax answers), but that was about as interactive as it got.  The next step was pretty pathetic – uploading slides in a PowerPoint format or something similar, to the internet for people to view.  As time progressed, we saw great advances in online learning.  Now we have video, audio, in-course quizzes and learning checks, even biometrically-driven verification systems to ensure that it’s still you taking the course (don’t believe me?  take the defensive driving course on-line).  Courses are much more comprehensive and provide both internal and external links to additional information and content areas.  I think it’s fantastic and we can’t stop this advancement – but we can’t let it take over, either.  All things in moderation.

People need interaction.  In 1970, Malcolm Knowles identified, as one of his six characteristics of adult learners, that adult learners are generally autonomous and self-directed.  While this may be true, it doesn’t mean that all learning is to be accomplished in isolation or without facilitation.  Adult learners still need human interaction.  While the degree of interaction necessary may vary based upon each individual’s preferred learning styles and personality type, that need still exists.  This is an interaction that generally can’t be replaced by games or other interactive components in e-learning programs.  Yes, many adults love the concept and process of self discovery, and some will excel greatly at absorbing information completely on their own, but most people need and desire human interaction.  We can’t forget this.

Some content areas are much more suited (read: ideal) for e-learning.  I recently began working with a company that has employees nation-wide.  E-learning is certainly the best structure to disseminate required programs such as business ethics and workplace harassment.  In fact, these programs were extremely well done.  They used a lot of audio, pictures, and knowledge checks throughout the programs.  They were designed to provide variety and appeal to the senses.  They were well structured and didn’t contain any of the cheesy videos many of us remember from previous iterations of these types of programs.  I can honestly say that I preferred these in an e-learning format over any previous classroom experience in the same subject areas I’ve ever had.

Why do programs like ethics and workplace harassment work very well in an e-learning format?  Because, if designed well, they require very little human interaction to facilitate the learning process.  There are programs that I have taught for many years, however, that MUST have human interaction, such as incident management and emergency planning topics.  I think the key here is that they are complex topics, with a lot of variables, and the real world execution of these topics requires team work and human interaction.  You can’t manage an incident inside a barrel nor can you write an emergency plan (a good one) without input from an entire team of people.  The instructors have to have experience in these areas and be subject matter experts that the learners can consult throughout the class.  Access to an SME helps the learners become more comfortable with the topic.  All this said, do these courses need to be delivered in a classroom environment?  Not necessarily.  We can still be interactive with others without being face to face.  It’s all about creativity, leveraging technology and other resources, and paying attention to the needs of our learners as well as the objectives of the courses themselves.

We have a number of distance learning options we can leverage, from webinars, to video teleconference, to chat room types of environments (and these can be highly integrated such as the ones used by educational institutions).  Does course participation (in whole or in part) have to be synchronous (the instructor is present with all learners at the same time) or can it be asynchronous (the instructor and learners can log in at different times, able to download and upload materials and leave messages for each other)?  It all depends on what needs to be accomplished.  Once again, as in previous blogs, I defer back to the needs assessment.  The data collected from the needs assessment will provide an astute instructional designer with information necessary to identify the delivery modes that would be appropriate for the learners.

With all the technology we have available to us, I think many learning organizations are being seduced into using e-learning platforms for everything.  E-learning and content management systems are very powerful and valuable tools, but can’t forget the human factor.  We need to be very careful with what we use and how we use it – and ensure that we are meeting the needs of our learners in the best way possible.  I encourage you to use caution and always consider what is best for the learner.

It’s about the customer, stupid!

Yesterday I received my very first issue of Training Magazine in the mail.  After over 16 years as a training professional, I’m really not sure why I never read Training before – but I’m glad I started.  Right off the bat I was quite pleased with what I was reading.  Like many trade magazines, the edition opens with a letter from the editor.  Lorri Freifeld, the editor in chief of Training, does just that.  Her editorial is titled ‘Ask and You Shall Receive’, and includes an example from training professional Michael Marr, who mentions that training folks have a tendency to agree to developing and delivering training without out determining the true need.  Lorri expands on this by illustrating the simple process of going to a coffee shop.  They don’t just hand you a cup of coffee when you go in (well they do maybe if you are a regular there), instead they ask you what you would like.  As trainers we must always keep our finger on the pulse of the needs of the customers.

I’ve blogged previously about the necessity of conducting training needs assessments and how critical they are to learner outcomes.  Yes, sometimes the need seems very apparent, and you may be right, but peel back the layers of this anyway just to make sure.  Not only does this give you the opportunity to verify the purported need, but it will also give you insight into the driving forces behind that need – which may lend itself well as fodder for training content.  You may be surprised to find that the issue is not training related at all, but rather a fault in the process or equipment.   Remember, training is the greatest example of the ‘garbage in – garbage out’ theory.  If you don’t invest your time, energy, and resources into making a quality product that meets needs, then you are simply wasting the time, energy, and resources – and in this economy, more than ever, we can’t afford to waste those things.

10 Years of the Department of Homeland Security

A few days ago I looked at four different links related to the 10 year anniversary of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  Every one of these links (here’s one of them) called for the abolishment of the department and decried everything they have done and stand for.  Being the relative moderate that I am, I take a slightly different view on this – let’s make some changes, but in the end DHS will still stand – albeit a different agency.

On November 25, 2002 President George W. Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which authorized the largest governmental reorganization in the US since the creation of the Department of Defense.  The goal was to bring, in whole or in part, 22 US agencies which were chartered in some way with domestic terrorism protections under one agency umbrella.  Interestingly enough, two agencies who took a lot of heat for perceived intelligence and coordination  failures prior to the 9/11 attacks – the FBI and CIA – were not included in this reorganization… thankfully!  It seems that over the last decade, nearly every entity brought into DHS has suffered in some way.

Looking back, there absolutely was a need for increased coordination amongst federal agencies when it came to intelligence.  The US Intelligence Community is significant, with a multitude of agencies all playing a necessary role.  In my humble opinion, there should have been a strengthening of the role and powers relative to intelligence coordination of the Director of National Intelligence.  Perhaps even some agencies could have been merged, in whole or in part, to streamline missions.

Relative to the agencies brought into the fold of DHS, intelligence is a secondary or tertiary function to many of them (I speak of the function, not mental capacity).  Similar to streamlining missions amongst intelligence agencies, certainly there could have been some mergers, again in whole or in part, amongst these 22 DHS-bound agencies to help streamline the response, training, and critical infrastructure missions that many of them touch upon.  This would have had a much greater (positive) impact to the public safety and emergency management community than stuffing them all into one house and hoping they would get along.  Despite intelligence not being a primary function of these agencies, DHS has jumped head first into the deep end of intelligence as a knee jerk reaction instead of going about it the right way.  In this haste, we see some big mistakes with fusion centers, grabbing a lot of media attention.  In government there tends to be a desire to over-legislate things.  When we see a problem we create a bill and pass a law.  That law creates a new agency or charges an existing agency to do something different.  Often times, an existing agency is already doing what needs to be done or has the resources available to do it – which would be the easy fix.  Instead we see something called mission creep, where agencies will wander into mission areas already occupied by someone else, and using some legal charter to justify the action.  The creation of the US Department of Homeland security was the worst possible amalgamation of these circumstances, forcing changes in command structure and hierarchy of 22 different agencies – even taking away the cabinet-level position held by one of those agencies (FEMA) – a move that was realized as a significant mistake when Hurricane Katrina struck.  The Washington Times even reports that President Bush was resistant to the concept, not seeing a need for such a large agency.

DHS became a massive bureaucracy, not only through the merging of these 22 agencies, but through the creation of a substantial overhead organization.  That overhead organization does little to provide shared services for those 22 agencies such as HR, payroll, purchasing, finance, etc. – which would be an ideal use.  Instead, things grew so complex that for several years of the last decade, KPMG – one of the largest audit firms in the nation – was unable to complete an audit of the agency.  Hundreds of billions of dollars have been budgeted to DHS over the last decade – dollar amounts far in excess of the value to the American public.  Even their grants, which have benefitted many state, county, and local governments, have gone overboard and lack proper accountability.  Some of the grant rules are so cumbersome that many jurisdictions haven’t been able to spend grant funds going back several years.

But should we get rid of DHS?  I say no.  The Department of Homeland Security, originally created as the Office of Homeland Security (prior to the Homeland Security Act) was charged with developing a national strategy to secure our nation from terrorist attacks to include the coordination of detection, preparation, prevention, response, and recovery efforts.  The creation of DHS should have been a modest and conservative reflection of this original charter, drawing in the necessary agencies and resources to accomplish this mission.  It should not have swallowed agencies that have their own distinct missions, those that functionally don’t belong under another agency (i.e. emergency management as a function of homeland security) or those who best function with cabinet-level representation (i.e. FEMA).  Yes, I do stand in obvious defense of FEMA, but 21 other agencies were also impacted significantly by this.

It’s not too late to make the necessary changes.  As I’ve said in the past – let’s be smart and use some common sense.

The Death of ADDIE?

In a recently received email solicitation for ASTD (American Society for Training and Development) membership, they are offering a free copy of Michael Allen’s new book Leaving ADDIE for SAM.  Like many practicing trainers who also design and develop training material, I’ve used the ADDIE model my entire career to facilitate the process.  ADDIE, if you aren’t familiar, is an acronym for the steps in this universally accepted instructional design process standing for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  This process, when used properly, is a key to success in instructional design.


So, being intrigued by this concept of replacing ADDIE with another model, I did some research on the new model – SAM – which stands for Successive Approximation Model.  I came across a few articles and blogs which helped explain things to me.

This article is from Allen Interactions, Mr. Allen’s company which is promoting this new model.  Here’s another blog which promotes the Successive Approximation Model.  While these articles provided me with some insight and clarification on the SAM process, I’m honestly not sold.  I don’t think the ADDIE model is broken – any identified deficiencies (Mr. Allen identifies seven of them) are, in my humble opinion, errors in use rather than the model itself.  One must know how to use the model to be effective.  That’s like saying that a computer is broken because the user doesn’t know how to operate it.  I was actually put off by the insinuation in the previously linked article that the ADDIE model lends to ‘boring, lifeless training’.  I’m sorry, but no model is going to lend itself to or prevent that – that’s completely on the shoulders of those who design the training.  Admittedly, I’d like to learn more about SAM, but these are my first impressions.

All this said, can the ADDIE model be enhanced?  Absolutely.  There have been several modified ADDIE models proposed over the years, yet none have seemed to stick.  The essential differences in these models, including what’s captured in Mr. Allen’s SAM process, is to make the model less linear and to include feedback loops within the process for regular look backs, particularly to the data from the analysis phase.  The problem with these models, including SAM, is that they seem to require redundancy.  There are certainly instances when such redundancy is not necessary.  Regardless of these differences, I’m not sure that the ADDIE model was designed to be a strictly linear process anyway, and anyone who is a slave to a process without regularly reflecting on the quality of the product/outcome (and in training it’s all about learner outcomes) is likely in need of some remedial training on the matter.  I actually prefer this cyclic visualization of ADDIE to better show the interactions between the phases.

ADDIE Viewed as a Cycle

The initial instructional design training that folks go through may actually be the root cause of the problem.  If they are not taught to utilize flexibility inherent in the process then they obviously won’t see that flexibility.

The bottom line, regardless of what process we use, is that we must produce quality outcomes.  No outlined process will give us all the answers or a turn by turn roadmap to lead us to success.  We need to use our brains and apply what we’ve learned while keeping our ultimate goal in mind.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Public Safety Mega-Event Planning aka Super Mardi Gras Bowl

Super Bowl XLVII, February 3 2013, New Orleans.   The Mardi Gras Carnival, January 19-February 12 2013, New Orleans.

One word – wow!

The Super Bowl is being held at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA.  Fan capacity – 72000+.  Add in the teams and their entourages, Beyonce and her entourage, event staff, facility staff, security staff, media, vendors, etc… let’s just settle on about 120,000 inside and out of the Superdome.

Carnival – a weeks long celebration leading up to Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras).  The most spectacular of these celebrations is in New Orleans, LA.  Crowds of up to one million can be expected each year.

Either one of these mega-events is a public safety planning nightmare.  So why not do them both?

There can be no doubt that the city of New Orleans has healed from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  No one takes on something like this without being whole.  Yes, there is some scarring and some unfinished business with Katrina, but the people of the Gulf Coast must look ahead, not back.

So how does a community plan for two events like this?  First of all, not every community would be able to pull this off as easily as New Orleans will.  The biggest benefit they have in all this is that these two events occur every year.  The people who plan these things are true experts.  While the Super Bowl isn’t held there every year, the city does have experience with it.  The city of the Saints has hosted the game nine times previous, the most recent in 2002 – which you might recall was a very emotional (and highly secure) game as the first after 9/11.  The NFL itself lends a great deal of support with a small army to ensure their show case event is flawless – right down to the wardrobe malfunctions.  Additionally, as a high-profile event, Federal agencies swarm the venue months ahead of time to be part of the public safety planning effort.

The City of New Orleans knows how to plan for Carnival and Mardi Gras.  It’s in their blood and they do it well every year.  We plan Super Bowls annually in places all around the nation and do it well every year.  Combining the two is really just a matter of more people and more resources.  They are doing this wisely, though – by suspending Carnival events for a few days around the Super Bowl.  This was a very wise move, helping to ensure that resources can be focused on one event at a time.  So, in essence, both events aren’t truly being held at the same time.

These things do take a vast amount of coordination and planning.  Plans must address all possible threats and hazards and the contingency plans to respond to them.  An operational organization (the Incident Command System) must be in place to manage public safety resources and responses for the event.  This type of planning begins months ahead of time.  I coordinated the emergency planning efforts for Woodstock 99 here in Central New York.  Just like Mardi Gras or the Super Bowl, it involved a great deal of coordinated effort between local, county, State, and federal agencies as well as private sector entities and not for profits.  Keep in mind that we weren’t planning the event, either – just the public safety portion of it – i.e. what could go wrong and how would we respond to it?  There was no official attendance count… ticket sales were close to a quarter million but actual attendance was estimated near 400,000.  Through the preparedness effort you need to ensure operational coordination and unity of effort and synchronized plans.  Train people to the plan to ensure that they are familiar with its content and their roles.  Lastly, exercise exercise exercise.  If you don’t bring people together to discuss their actions and the plans you are doing yourself a massive disservice.  Exercises familiarize people with the plans in the best possible way and also identify gaps in those plans (and there will be gaps).  It’s better to identify them now and have a chance to fix them rather than finding them during the event itself.

Want to know more about public safety planning for an event?  Take the Special Events Contingency Planning Independent Study course – it’s free!

Power Restoration Post-Disaster: How Long is Too Long?

Homeland Security Today ran an article reprinted from an AP article titled Power Outage Time After Sandy Not Extraordinary.  The article outlines an AP analysis of outage times from other hurricanes and storms and compares these to the duration of outages experienced by customers as a result of Hurricane Sandy.  To be honest, I’m not sure that the science behind this study is totally sound (it appears they compared only the duration of outages) as there are many factors involved in such a comparison to make it meaningful (such as type and age of infrastructure, damage to infrastructure, strength of hurricane, etc.).  That said, their apples to oranges comparison does lead to some legitimate statements.

I’m certainly not intending to diminish the issues associated with prolonged power outages.  For many it is an inconvenience (and we are extremely over reliant on electrical energy), but it does impact the health and well-being of a good portion of our population – especially in temperature extremes.  Through my experience in emergency management, however, it seems that many people are quite vocal about even the shortest of power outages.  These complaints quickly become political.  I even recall several years ago being pressured by a governor to ensure that power was restored prior to the Superbowl.  Yes, these things are important – practically and politically – but we also need to be realistic and understanding of the situation.

That situation comes down to the battle being fought by the utility companies.  Energy utilities are regulated, meaning that they are constantly bombarded by politicians and special interest groups.  Part of this regulation requires them to have disaster plans in place to address emergency outages and restoration.  With the experience of working 19 federally declared disasters, I’ve seen utility companies in action time and again – and to be completely honest, they impress the hell out of me.  They mobilize massive fleets of not only their own people, vehicles, and equipment but also those of other utility companies from far and wide as part of an elaborate and often used mutual aid system.  These crews need to be supervised, fed, housed, and supplied.  The logistics of power restoration is a massive undertaking – especially after a regional event such as Hurricane Sandy, where companies up the coast and throughout the northeast are all competing for the same resources – especially utility poles.

Utilities conduct restoration efforts in priority, first addressing urgent needs, such as hospitals and nursing homes, while also trying to effect repairs of their energy superstructure, such as primary distribution lines and substations.  After that, they need to literally examine every line in their system – with priority given to those that feed larger populations.  This takes time.  Consider that they are initially fighting lingering weather conditions and may be held back by additional foul weather such as heavy rains and high winds which can hinder their efforts and even set them back with additional damages.  After a storm, they are also working on clearing debris so they can safely access their infrastructure.  Combined, this is a lot of time, effort, and resources – all of which costs a lot of money.

There is no benefit to a utility company dragging their feet on a restoration effort.  Given the expenses and the negative press, they want to finish it as quickly as they possibly can.  Can they do it better?  Of course – there is always room for improvement.  The article says that “…Sandy caused 8.5 million power outages across 21 states, the highest outage total ever.”

The utility restoration effort found an unlikely ally – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – who applauded their work.  A lesson other governors should probably learn.  Let’s work with them and support their efforts instead of being so quick to criticize.

Electric Grid Vulnerabilities

Government Security News (GSN) just published an article (http://www.gsnmagazine.com/node/27833?c=infrastructure_protection) about the recent declassification of documents identifying that our electric grid is still vulnerable to terrorist attacks.  Really?  I’m not sure there needed to be a classified document in the first place.  The vulnerability of our grid should be pretty obvious.

The report was focused on the vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks – but thankfully did at least acknowledge that impacts can be caused by natural disasters (by the way, the lights are still out on Long Island).  Terrorist vulnerabilities absolutely do exist, though.  Our energy infrastructure is very open, physically and virtually.  Generally, power generation facilities have decent security – particularly nuclear power plants.  Security does drop notably with other facilities, especially hydro-generation plants, which should have the same measure of security as nuclear power plants as most of them are associated with a dam, which, if breached not only knocks out power generation but also is bound to impact a population catastrophically.

Most energy sub-stations are not staffed, and while there is passive security in place, such as fencing, these can obviously be overcome easily.  Utility lines stretch across our nation above and below ground – generally accessible with little trouble to people with malicious intent.  Remember that acts interrupting our grid may not necessarily come from Al-Qaeda, but can come from disgruntled locals as well.  Take a look at the pictures below.  These were actually taken by my father who worked for a utility company in New York State.  Shortly after these high power transmission lines were put up over 25 years ago, a local, in protest over these lines going through their land, actually unbolted the tower from the base.  They never caught the person who did it – but this is a federal crime – and taken very seriously by prosecutors and law enforcement, including security personnel of the utility companies.  This same transmission line passes through my property and my family and I have made several calls through the years to the security office of the utility company when we see people loitering around and taking pictures or notes on these towers.













In consideration of cyber attacks – guess what – they happen EVERY DAY!  Most, fortunately, are pretty weak and stopped well short of their goal.  Some do have some measure of success, penetrating fire walls and other defenses.  Some come from individuals domestically, but many are known to come from the likes of China, North Korea, and Iran – all of which ‘officially’ deny sponsoring such acts of terrorism.  Practically everything is controlled by a computer, and practically every computer is networked and accessible from the outside world by people who know how to do so.  Energy plants can be shut down, overloaded, or have safety protocols circumvented.  Scary stuff.

So what’s the result of all this?  Much more than the inconvenience of a short-term power outage, I can assure you of that.  Our energy grid is the most critical of our infrastructure.  Without it nothing works.  We’ve only scratched the surface of examples from the areas that were hit by Hurricane Sandy and still don’t yet have power.  It impacts our other critical infrastructures such as communications, hospitals, the economy, and others.  It breaks beyond discomfort and inconvenience when it endangers lives during periods of temperature extremes.  All in all we have an aging infrastructure in our nation, but not only do we need to work on replacing and improving it, we need to protect it.

A great post reflective of how producers of EOC management software need to focus on meeting the needs of users.


I recently attended a great demo by a new emergency management technology called Veoci.  This has great potential.  I even sent this along to my friend who works emergency management at a major airline.

But as I look at the market for technical solutions and compare it against the problems of emergency management (and business continuity), which is increasingly cost-conscious, I realize there is a great divide between what is out there and what is needed such as feature mix, usability and scalability.  This post focuses on the innovative entrepreneur who wants to help the “disaster” solutions market go beyond its current technical limitations, provide a great service to its customers, and realize success.

Features and Specialization.  Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that product specialization is a key element of growth strategy and innovation.  After all, it is very hard to pinpoint precise problems and actually develop…

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Looking Ahead – Hazards of Concern in the US

A multi-agency/discipline group called the National Homeland Security Consortium has released a white paper – Protecting Americans in the 21st Century: Priorities for 2012 and Beyond.  The paper highlights eight areas of concern requiring a national focus.

Sidebar – The entity called the National HOMELAND SECURITY Consortium has assembled a document that is clearly meant for the EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT community (a concept much broader and far-reaching than homeland security).  I really wish they would get this straightened out… and now back to your regularly scheduled blog…

The eight areas are as follows:

  • Cyber Hazards
  • Climate Change
  • Demands on Global Resources
  • Changing Demographics
  • Emerging Technologies
  • Violent Extremist Ideologies
  • WMD Proliferation
  • Mega-Hazards and Catastrophic Cascading Consequences

The Consortium has recognized and stresses in their white paper the hazard that is larger than any of these individually, and that is the potential for any of these hazards to interact or influence each other – an observation and warning that I feel is long overdue.  They are also not encouraging us to lose focus on the more immediate hazards we may have at hand, but are encouraging stakeholders and relevant parties to give some attention to these emerging hazards and consider how we will prepare for, mitigate against, respond to, and recover from their impacts.

I won’t comment on each of these items now, but reserve the right to do so in the near future.  I do, however, leave you with this… consider what impacts these hazards may have on you.