A Disaster Superfund aka Redundant Bureaucracy

Linking to a blog I read often by fellow emergency manager Claire Rubin. She posted a link to an article that makes a case for a disaster superfund… you’ll see my thoughts as a comment on Claire’s page.

Recovery Diva

In an article titled The Dance for Disaster Dough, the author makes an interesting case for creating a Disaster Superfund. The author, Steven Cohen, is Executive Dir. of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

See readers’ comments below.

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Hurricane Sandy was a Surprise?

The second to last paragraph of this ABC News article contains a pretty shocking statement made by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “The city was not expecting Sandy.”  Really?  I think Mayor Bloomberg should have spoken to the good folks in his Emergency Management agency.  Or read one of the several reports cited in this article.  Or spoken to Michael Balboni who has been involved in emergency management and homeland security in New York State for many years.  Or looked at a map.

Optimistically, I think the Mayor’s intent here was to say that the chances of something like Hurricane Sandy happening were so low that there wasn’t much focus on it.  I’m still not thrilled with that, either, but I think that’s where he was going.

Folks, while the chance of such a strong system making landfall in the greater New York City area was pretty slim, it was still a possibility – and a very dangerous one.  A possibility, in fact, that a great deal of discussion and preparation had gone into.  The preparations that were done were good, but clearly not enough.  There needed to be massive investments of resilient, disaster mitigating infrastructure that would protect against the impacts of a storm such as this.  But we’re not too late.  We can still do these things.  Sadly, there isn’t a lot of money behind it, but we need to engage the political momentum behind this storm – just as we’ve seen in the aftermath of other major disasters such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina – which have funded massive projects.  We’ve seen ideas like a giant sea wall, which I’ve previously blogged about.  Or the mitigation projects engineered in, under, and around the city of Hong Kong, which I’ve also recently blogged about.  All these things are possible and very much necessary for the City of New York and other high risk coastal areas.

It’s time for our elected officials to take emergency management seriously.  The investments made in preparedness and mitigation can drastically reduce the loss of lives and property.

Disaster Preparedness – Hong Kong

Seal of Hong Kong

Seal of Hong Kong

I’m interrupting my series on exercise program management (which I’m sure I’ll do several more times) to highlight a news spot I first saw on last night’s NBC News.  The segment was about Storm Preparedness in Hong Kong.  In it they briefly outline the threats to Hong Kong, including being struck by a cyclone seven times a year on average, and they highlight the preparations they’ve taken.  These preparations include underground reservoirs to contain flood waters and runoff and a system of barrier fences to mitigate against landslides.  I always like to see how other people around the world are prepared for their hazards.  Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and other places around the globe have come up with innovative ways to protect themselves from natural disasters.  Comparisons were made in this brief segment between NYC and Hong Kong – with the silent inference that if these measures are already being taken elsewhere, then certainly the City of New York can do it.

One thing I noticed wasn’t actually discussed in the video – they showed a brief clip of a Hong Kong area news broadcast which was alerting citizens. Broadcasts are the cornerstone of their notification and alert system and use levels of ‘signals’ to communicate the severity of the threat (the Hong Kong broadcast clip that NBC includes shows them issuing a Signal 10, their most serious).  An easy internet search led me to the Hong Kong Security Bureau which handles emergency management.  This preparedness guide explains their signal system and shows how they color code other hazards based on level of severity such as wild fires and storms.  Their documents are in both Chinese and English.

A little more poking around their website found versions of their contingency plans.  I quickly perused their contingency plan for natural disasters which seemed to include all the right elements.  Certainly, with an average of seven cyclones annually along with the threat of wild fires and landslides all around the city, Hong Kong is well versed in preparedness.  While a quick search for any studies on citizen preparedness didn’t come up with much, I’m hopeful that the preparedness message is getting to them as well.  The broadcast indicated that Hong Kong had recently suffered through a storm event of similar strength as Hurricane Sandy, and survived with no fatalities.  Based on this alone, it would seem to me that the citizens of Hong Kong do take this seriously.

We can always learn from others – especially those who haven’t been jaded by our way of doing things, which I think more often than not holds us all back.  We need to look beyond our borders and share ideas.  It seems to be done in many other fields, but not so much in emergency management.

Managing An Exercise Program – Part 2: Developing the Preparedness Strategy

This post is part of a 10-part series on Managing an Exercise Program. In this series I provide some of my own lessons learned in the program and project management aspects of managing, designing, conducting, and evaluating Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) exercises. Your feedback is appreciated!

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 1

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 2: Develop a Preparedness Strategy

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 3: Identify Program Resources and Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 4: Conduct an Annual Training & Exercise Planning Workshop.

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 5: Securing Project Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 6: Conducting Exercise Planning Conferences

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 7: Develop Exercise Documentation

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 8: Preparing Support, Personnel, & Logistical Requirements

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 9: Conducting an Exercise

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 10: Evaluation and Improvement Planning

 

 

In my last post, I outlined the initial needs of managing a preparedness exercise program, including sources of information for a preparedness assessment.  Recognized as a best practice, I’m following the model of the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP).  The next step of program management is developing a preparedness strategy.

HSEEP Cycle

HSEEP Cycle

The development of a preparedness strategy is an activity that will involve the highest levels of your organization.  Drawing upon the data collected in the last step (the preparedness assessment), the preparedness strategy will address overcoming the identified gaps in your preparedness.  The mnemonic to remember here is POETE or Planning, Organization, Equipment, Training, and Exercises.  The gaps you identified in your assessment should fall into one of these categories.

Once you have catalogued your gaps, you must develop strategies to overcome each gap.  Here are some helpful hints in strategic planning:

1) Define the gap and identify the underlying cause(s).

2) Create objectives to overcome each gap.  Remember that objectives must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-oriented).

3) Establish priorities.  Some gaps may have a higher priority to accomplish based on the vulnerability they pose, legal or regulatory requirements, or other matters.  Additionally, some objectives may need to be accomplished prior to others for many of the same reasons, as well as practical flow of processes.

4) Assign required actions – identify specific actions required to accomplish each objective (there may be several).  Identify who will be responsible for each action and who will be responsible for supporting their work.  Establish a realistic deadline.  NOTE: some gaps may take a long time (years) to overcome.  As such, do the best you can to outline objectives and keep in mind that strategic plans are ‘living documents’.  Early on, you may not be assigning tasks to overcoming certain gaps, but someone will be responsible for monitoring related issues.

5) Marry needed resources to each action item established above.  This may be personnel, funding, facilities, etc.

6) As work is being done to accomplish these tasks, continual monitoring and assessment is necessary to ensure that everyone is staying on track and that the strategic plan continues to reflect the direction and priorities of today.

There are many references out there for strategic planning.  With a bit of insight you can translate this guidance into something useful for these purposes.  The end goal of this step is to have a document in hand that identifies what your organization needs to accomplish to be better prepared.  From this, you will soon develop exercise goals which will be the cornerstone of your exercise program.

What successes have you found from your strategic planning experience?

Coming soon – Managing an Exercise Program Part 3: Identifying Program Resources and Funding.

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 1

This post is part of a 10-part series on Managing an Exercise Program. In this series I provide some of my own lessons learned in the program and project management aspects of managing, designing, conducting, and evaluating Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) exercises. Your feedback is appreciated!

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 1

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 2: Develop a Preparedness Strategy

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 3: Identify Program Resources and Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 4: Conduct an Annual Training & Exercise Planning Workshop.

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 5: Securing Project Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 6: Conducting Exercise Planning Conferences

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 7: Develop Exercise Documentation

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 8: Preparing Support, Personnel, & Logistical Requirements

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 9: Conducting an Exercise

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 10: Evaluation and Improvement Planning

 

From inception to improvement planning, I think preparedness exercises provide great value to the jurisdictions, companies, and organizations that do them.  From a seminar to a full-scale exercise, there is much to be learned by participants as well as the strengths and areas for improvement identified from emergency plans.  I’ve been inspired to write a series of blog posts on each of the phases within the Homeland Security Exercise Evaluation Program (HSEEP) cycle.  The cycle, shown below, encompasses not just the steps in executing an exercise (project management), it includes exercise program management as well, which I think is often neglected.  Doings exercises is great, but to ensure continuity, quality, and continuous improvement, any entity that does exercises should have an exercise program.  Having a structured exercise program will ensure that your organization capitalizes on your exercise investments to the greatest degree possible.  Just like any other functional program, it needs to be managed.

HSEEP Cycle

Each blog post will give some insight and lessons learned from my own experiences with exercises large and small and I will reflect on exercise program management responsibilities throughout the cycle.  For more in-depth information on exercise program management, I refer you to HSEEP Volume I.  I will also have an update on this HSEEP volume in the near future as DHS will soon release a revision.

The first thing I want to cover is exercise program management as a general concept.  As stated in HSEEP Volume I, “Exercise program management is directed toward achieving the objectives established during the multi-year planning process…”.  As an exercise program grows, so should the responsibilities of managing it.  Most organizations don’t need a full-time exercise program manager, but they will require someone with the flexibility to vary how much time they spend on the exercise program.  The planning and conduct of an exercise can take up a considerable amount of time, and the program manager needs to shepherd this process.  In small organizations, the exercise program manager may be one of the few people involved in these activities as well.

Obviously the person in charge of an exercise program needs to be knowledgeable and experienced in exercises.  As with the oversight of any program, you need to have the right person in place.  Some caution should be used here, however – there are plenty of folks with LOTS of exercise experience… BUT the vast majority of experience out there is as a player.  Players, as a general rule, don’t experience all the machinations behind putting an exercise together.  Someone may have been a player in the largest exercise known to human kind, but that doesn’t make them adept at exercises.  There is plenty of training out there addressing various areas of exercises: the HSEEP training course, Exercise Design, Exercise Evaluation, and others.  These are great – but the world is full of ‘trained’ people.  Do they have the experience to do the job?  It doesn’t take a lot of experience, in fact, in my opinion, a little experience can go a long way – especially if it’s the right experience and they were taught the right way to do it from someone with a lot of experience.  I’ve fully immersed interns in many of the areas of exercise program management and would be fully confident in their ability to run a program for an organization.

As mentioned above, exercise program management centers on the multi-year training and exercise plan (MYTEP), which makes sense as this document will outline requirements, goals, and benchmarks for the program.  Building this plan is not the first, though.  We know that before we can write a plan, we need to do an analysis or an assessment of where we stand.  This is why the first step in the HSEEP cycle (above) is Updating Preparedness Assessments.  As much of a fan as I am of the HSEEP documents, they do fall rather short on providing guidance relative to this step.  It can be broken down easily enough, though.

A preparedness assessment, to me, would identify where we stand and where we want to be in terms of preparedness.  The resultant gap would then feed the second step in the HSEEP cycle – developing a preparedness strategy.  Let’s define preparedness: traditionally, it involves planning, training, and exercising; we can build from this to give us the data we need.  An absolute priority is identifying and assessing risk.  Hopefully your jurisdiction has a recent hazard analysis or THIRA, or your company or organization has a recent business impact analysis (BIA).  Having a recent hazard analysis done will identify the threats you need to be prepared for.  If you don’t have a recent one of these, I would suggest that you are way ahead of yourself with exercises and need to take a step back in emergency management to do one of these and build a plan.  Based upon the results of your hazard analysis, do you have the necessary plans (and are they up to date?) to address the hazards?

The second assessment should be a capabilities assessment.  You can reference FEMA‘s list of core capabilities to ensure that you are examining everything you need to.  Keep in mind that not everyone needs to have every capability.  You may not have a need for certain capabilities or it may not be feasible for you to have it based upon costs – so long as you can obtain that capability from someone else in times of disaster.  However, there are certain capabilities, based upon your hazards, that you want to ensure that you have.  If you don’t have them, they need to be developed.  That’s a gap.

A third assessment, related to the second, would be to identify needs to develop personnel capabilities – specifically through the means of training.  Yep, a Training Needs Assessment.  I’ve blogged previously about this.  Your identified needs become another gap to include in your preparedness assessment.

Lastly, you should do an assessment of exercises and real life events to date.  While you are just starting to formalize your exercise program, I still think an assessment of exercise progress to date is important.  While you may not have had a formal program, you have likely done some exercises or at least participated in someone else’s.  What plans have been tested with these exercises?  How long ago were they conducted?  Do you have After Action Reports?  (Read my article in Emergency Management Magazine on the importance of AARs and implementing corrective actions).  How about lessons learned and after action reports from actual incidents?  What gaps from these still need to be addressed?

All of this data and these documents can be pulled together and referenced in a simple, cohesive document outlining your preparedness needs.  It seems like a lot of work, but without identifying our needs, we can’t move forward with an effective exercise program.

What are your thoughts on identifying preparedness needs?  Is there anything I’ve missed?

Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for part two of Managing an Exercise Program where I will outline the development of a preparedness strategy.

 

The Emergence of Whole Community Planning

FEMA has contracted the development of a national Whole Community disaster training program.  This should result in some of the best planning guidance ever put forward by FEMA since CPG-101.  What is ‘Whole Community’ planning?  Whole Community planning takes into account everything in your community, not just the hazards, but also the vulnerable populations, as well the community’s resources – all of them, to include the private sector.  This is smart planning!

Timothy RieckerI don’t know what the final guidance will look like, but I’m imagining a process, imbedded within our existing planning process, which is similar to a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) which has long been used as a business analysis tools.  Strengths and weaknesses are internal reflections, while opportunities and threats have you looking to the outside.  From the perspective of an emergency planner for a community, strengths and weaknesses would reference their innate government-based capabilities (remember capabilities-based planning?  I’m still a big fan); while opportunities and weaknesses would reference what is brought to the table by the rest of the community (i.e. private sector, NGO, and even the citizens themselves – such as a neighborhood watch or CERT).

In many ways, good planners and emergency managers have already been doing this.  They have been capitalizing on relationships with the private sector and NGOs and building plan annexes based upon these relationships – such as human services oriented plans and logistics plans.  Moving forward as a ‘branded’ concept, Whole Community planning will become the standard, not just a best practice, and will evolve as more people do it and make it better.  This concerted effort will ensure that the entire community is moving forward in a coordinated fashion and with common goals in the response to and recovery from an incident.  I’m also hopeful that this Whole Community guidance will give some input on community preparedness as well.

The project will be released in phases over the next three years, so be looking out for it.

NYC Transportation Post Hurricane Sandy

This study – Transportation During and After Hurricane Sandy – was brought to my attention by Claire Rubin by way of her blog.  Thank you Claire!

This is a great study and very timely.  Having worked with these transportation entities in the past, I can attest that what they have accomplished is not easily done.  The variety of agencies that cover the array of transportation systems and modes in the greater NYC area creates challenges – City agencies, State agencies, and multi-state authorities.  Each owns not only their own modes, but their own infrastructure as well.  They also have their own reporting chain, making coordinated decision-making a challenge.  Additionally, any decisions made that impact transportation systems must also consider evacuations.  Systems and infrastructure can’t be shut down until evacuations have been effected.  The folks on Long Island have to move to higher ground or out of the area completely before bridges are shut down around NYC.

They have come a long way through the last several years.  The study mentions some significant flooding in 2004 and 2007 in which lessons were learned.  We also conducted an exercise, the largest of its kind at the time, in the summer of 2008 simulating landfall of a hurricane in the NYC metro area.  This exercise provided great feedback and spurred changes to both state and local plans.  In 2011, Irene came up the coast, eerily following a track very similar to our simulated hurricane in 2008.  Plan improvements were made again, and they will be yet again in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

A significant item that was barely touched upon in this paper is the role of the private sector.  Much of the impact of private sector policy is demonstrated on page 25 of the study, where we see that prior to the hurricane only 2% of New Yorkers telecommuted, whereas following the hurricane (November 1-2) 22% telecommuted.  It’s great to see that so many companies saw the sense in allowing employees to telecommute instead of contributing to the transportation nightmare that occurred on these days.  I would challenge more private entities to do the same!  The best way to implement this, of course, is to include it in your business continuity plan.

In Emergency Management it is not only important that we improvise, adapt, and overcome; we must also learn and change.  We must turn lessons observed into lessons learned by creating a corrective action plan and actually implementing these changes.  It’s positive to see these types of documents, all After Action Reports (AARs) in their own right, which use facts and observations to highlight what went well and what needs to be improved upon.  The challenge is making these changes.  Change, good or bad, is stressful and counterintuitive to us.  We default to what is comfortable (i.e. ‘the way we’ve always done things’).  Change may require funding – sometimes vast amounts of it.  Some change is drastic, some subtle, some long-term, some immediate.  Nonetheless, with the ultimate goal of saving lives, we must change.  That, if anything, is our burden.