What’s the (next) Big Idea in Emergency Management?

Innovation.  It seems to be what everyone clamors for.  In emergency management we see people striving for it across the board: in government and in education we try to build the better emergency management mouse trap.  We establish think tanks to find new solutions and the private sector looks for better ways to protect their investments.  But what is it that we are looking for?  What systemic problems do we still face in emergency management that require change? 

There is plenty out there that needs to be improved upon.  There always will be.  Until we can prepare for, prevent, and mitigate disasters to the point that little to no response is ever needed and no loss of life occurs we will continue to strive for better ways of doing things.  I’m guessing that day is a long way off, so we have plenty of work to do.  Before we can innovate, however, we must find cause.  Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.  So what needs exist that must be corrected? 

Certainly our after action reports (AARs) identify areas of needed change.  But those generally only show us gaps in local systems.  Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Analysis (THIRA) likewise shows gaps in local systems.  Does this information ever get fed to higher levels?  Of course it does… in some measure but only some of the time.  States assemble State Preparedness Reports (SPRs) which, in current practice, conduct an analysis of each core capability through each of the POETE elements (planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercising).  These in turn inform the National Preparedness Report (NPR).  The 2014 NPR was released by FEMA earlier this month, identifying areas for improvement in several of the core capabilities.  This is certainly a resource to help us identify needs, but none of these resources or mechanisms are perfect.  What is missing?  How do we improve them?

Interestingly enough, some opine that we aren’t examining the right data.  The Congressional Research Service suggests that we might need better measures of preparedness, according to their report and this article from FierceHomelandSecurity.com.  The report gives no answers, but poses several questions.  Overall, what can we do better?

Returning to innovation, where do the gaps truly exist?  How do we validate those gaps?  Can we address those gaps with current systems or do we need to create new systems (innovations)?  If it is with current systems, what are the barriers to getting the gaps addressed in the short term?  If it is not with current systems where does the innovation come from? 

Despite having worked in Emergency Management for over fifteen years and having seen, felt, and experienced the myriad changes which have occurred – especially since 9/11 – and with every administration subsequent to the attacks I really hadn’t sat and considered the changes that have occurred.  I’m about half way through an amazing book by John Fass Morton called Next-Generation Homeland Security: Network Federalism and the Course to National Preparedness.  The first 200 pages or so of the book provide a thorough review of civil defense/emergency management/homeland security through decades and over a dozen presidential administrations.  The gravity of it all has left my head spinning.  So many changes – and most simply for the sake of politics.  Much of it seems like wasted effort, but Mr. Morton connects the dots so brilliantly and identifies that D certainly could not have happened if not for A, B, and C… even though C and A were essentially the same.  IT seems that through these years so much has occurred, but so little has actually changed.  I would argue that the practice of emergency management is in a better place now than ever, but what will emergency management look like tomorrow?  Will our continued evolution be through measured change or through innovation?  What makes that determination? 

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker


National Preparedness Month Webinars for Businesses

September is National Preparedness Month in the US and to help promote preparedness across the whole community, FEMA is partnering with the Small Business Administration and their consultant Agility Recovery to spread the word to the business community.  Below is information on a webinar series with topics to help prepare your business!  

Get Your Business Ready For Any Kind of Disaster at Free National Preparedness Month Webinar Series

 WASHINGTON – Each year small businesses nationwide are forced to close their doors in the aftermath of severe storms, flooding, tornadoes, wildfires and hurricanes. Business interruptions, even if they last just a few hours, are costly in terms of lost productivity and profits.

 You can get help with your own business preparedness planning through a series of free webinars in September hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration and Agility Recovery.   The September series is presented in collaboration with FEMA’s Ready Campaign as part of National Preparedness Month.  

 The SBA wants to help business owners take charge of the well-being of their own companies, the safety of their employees, and the sustenance of their local economies by being prepared to rebound quickly from any kind of disaster.

 The half-hour webinars will be presented at 2 p.m., Eastern time, each Wednesday in September. Visit http://snurl.com/296yw4e to register for any or all of the webinars listed below:

 September 3: Crisis Communications for Any Organization

Learn best practices for developing an emergency communication strategy.

 September 10: How to Plan for a Power Interruption…and Recover Fast

Tips on how to make your company resilient and better prepared to mitigate losses during power outages.

 September 17: The Top 5 Steps for Preparedness This Year

The top five ways to prepare for disaster-related business interruptions will be discussed.

 September 24: If You Do Nothing Else This Year

Simple, low-cost tips on building a solid business continuity plan.

 SBA has partnered with Agility Recovery to offer business continuity strategies through their “PrepareMyBusiness” website. Visit www.preparemybusiness.org to check out the archived webinars and for more disaster preparedness tools.

What Planning Format To Use?

Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101 (CPG 101) describes three format options for your emergency operations plan (EOP): The traditional functional EOP format, the Emergency Support Function (ESF) format, and the agency/department focused format.  As mentioned in CPG 101 the traditional functional EOP format is the most popular and widely used.  It generally provides for three major sections – the basic plan, functional annexes, and hazard specific annexes.  The traditional format provides for the greatest flexibility and allows a jurisdiction or organization to easily evolve their plan as the need for addressing additional issues or hazards is recognized.  Continuity of Government/Continuity of Operations (COG/COOP) plans are easily integrated as annexes as our newer concepts such as resiliency plans and climate change plans. 

Agency/department focused EOP formats provide utility for those folks that like to crack open the book looking to answer the question ‘what is expected of me?’.  This format offers some flexibility, but under most occurrences where the need to address a new issue arises edits need to be made through much of the plan to identify and address each agency’s involvement in said issue.  It can also be awkward to include other associated plans, such as the afore mentioned COOP and COG plans.  It does work for smaller communities, though, whose hazards and other planning areas stay fairly static. 

The ESF EOP format is modeled after the National Response Framework (NRF) (originally the Federal Response Plan) which addresses functions by grouping agencies and organizations with responsibility and resources to address those functions.  This model has worked fairly well for the federal government given their structure and the general federalist approach of most agencies (aside from those agencies with direct authorities such as the US Coast Guard).   There is some flexibility in this model with the ability to include both support and hazard specific annexes, but one must be cautioned not to confuse the ESF annexes with the support annexes.  The key word in the format is ‘support’, which is largely what the federal government does in response to a disaster. 

Last week Lucien Canton posted an article Emergency Support Functions: Misunderstood and Misapplied.  Read this!  As usual, Lu states his point expertly as he discusses the pros, cons, and uses for the ESF structure.  Many jurisdictions, in an effort to mirror a system which seems to work for the federal government, create their EOP in an ESF format.  I’ve rarely ever seen it well applied – at least not in the form that the feds use.  Understanding that the feds structure their ESFs to address policy and coordination, these same needs may not exist at a state or local level.  Therefore states and locals change the ESF structure.  While there is certainly no requirement to use only those ESFs which are used in the NRF, using a different format can cause great confusion.  For example, what is ESF #12 (Energy) in the NRF may be an ESF for economic recovery for a city or county.  Now we have what we’ve been trying to avoid in incident management – a lack of common terminology. 

Each jurisdiction and organization should choose which format works best for them.  I would strongly recommend the traditional format which is the easiest to shape to meet your needs rather than trying to work within an awkward planning framework.  Remember that no plan is ever perfect, but requires regular attention to ensure that it evolves with and addresses your needs.  Don’t try to tackle it all at once, either, or on your own.  Proper planning is a team effort requiring input from multiple stakeholders in your jurisdiction or organization.  CPG 101 references ‘whole community’ planning which is a great idea to ensure that you capture multiple perspectives and that all stakeholders are bought into the process and the product.  Take on your planning work in small bites, one component at a time.  First work on the base plan – the most essential part.  Then identify those functional and hazard specific annexes which are most important – accomplish those next.  To help guide your work it will help to create a project chart for your planning efforts identifying timelines and benchmarks, stakeholders, and needed inputs.  Finally, don’t forget to exercise your plans to validate them! 

Lastly, my marketing plug – If you need help planning please contact Emergency Preparedness Solutions!  EPS is experienced in working with governments, private sector, and not for profits in all facets of preparedness including assessment, planning, training, and exercises.  We are happy to discuss your needs and determine the best way to meet them. 

What planning format do you prefer and why?

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker




What, if Anything, Will Change in Law Enforcement?

The events this past month in Ferguson, MO have caught not only national but international attention.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts and comments to others, we still do not yet know all the facts of what actually transpired in the death of Michael Brown, therefore I urge everyone to hold off on any analysis or judgment and allow the family to grieve and judicial processes to work. 

The other topic of discussion related to Ferguson, MO has been the use of police force and the equipment used by law enforcement.  This has spurred a number of national-level news stories and even a request by the President to examine the programs which provide surplus military-grade equipment to law enforcement authorities.  One such article can be found here

Such inquiries can certainly be conducted but the fact of the matter is that the items that law enforcement is obtaining, such as body armor and armored vehicles, can be purchased on the open market.  Armored vehicles of some type have been in the possession and use of law enforcement agencies decades before this post-9/11 program ever existed.   The primary intent of the post-9/11 program is to bolster the resources of law enforcement agencies in the event that they encounter a terrorist threat.  Having these resources for that purpose doesn’t mean we should moth-ball them away in the event of a terrorist attack, however.  They should be used so our officers are familiar with them.  We’ve certainly seen other legitimate uses such as responses to mass shootings, busting drug labs, and gang-related responses and arrests.  Examine the case of the 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery where heavily armed and armored men simply had their way with LAPD.  Law enforcement should never be caught in this type of situation again.  A badge and a six-shooter just don’t cut it any more.  Gun control laws have proven wholly ineffective against criminals who are determined to obtain high powered weapons.  Clearly law enforcement must continue to have the upper hand to defeat these criminals and protect the public. 

The CBS article referenced in the second paragraph does bring about some interesting examples of potential overzealousness in the use of these resources, however.  Note that I do say ‘potential’, as a mere mention by the media does not tell the whole story, but we have seen articles with similar mentions over the last few years which do give cause to at least raise an eyebrow.  The article suggests that perhaps additional training is needed in the deployment and use of such resources.  I would suggest that the use of these resources must first be rooted in policy and procedure, accountability, and then training – just like everything else done in law enforcement and throughout most of public safety.  I’m sure most departments who possess these resources already have such things in place, but some may not.  Clearly we need to balance officer safety with operational necessity and even public perspective. 

While I’ve worked with law enforcement for years, I’ve never worked in law enforcement.  I’m curious about what others think.  What, if anything, will change in law enforcement as a result of the events in Ferguson, MO? 

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Visions Experts Corner

I’m proud to announce that I have been recently included in the Emergency Visions Experts Corner.  Emergency Visions is a company I have recently been chatting with regarding their technology solutions for THIRA and resource management.  The Emergency Visions software solutions are well thought through to ensure applicability across any jurisdiction or organization helping clients to track data real-time and perpetually to aid in preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. 

As part of their Experts Corner, I will partner with Emergency Visions to provide topical information, similar to this blog, and also have plans to conduct a webinar this October with them and their partner Carahsoft on the THIRA process and integrating THIRA results into other preparedness endeavors.  I encourage you to check out some of the blog posts and webinars already listed on the Emergency Visions website.  I’ll post information on the upcoming webinar once we have the details hammered out. 

Thanks as always for following this blog.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to share ideas with others in the emergency management and homeland security field. 

– Tim Riecker

An Academic Study in Ferguson Civil Disorder

From an academic and emergency management lessons learned perspective, there will be a great deal to learn from the events in Ferguson, Missouri.  In this brief article on Western Illinois University’s Emergency Management program, faculty comment on how a few of the courses within their degree program expect to analyze this social disaster. 

I anticipate a lot of post-incident analysis once we have the facts of this event.  Respecting the loss of life as we do in any disaster, the practice of emergency management within the greater professions of public safety and even government administration stand to learn a great deal from an after action analysis of this incident to help us improve by preparing for and preventing the impacts of future incidents. 

Cyber Security Video – Stop. Think. Connect

Students and faculty from Grand Valley State University created a video for the West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium and the US Department of Homeland Security’s campaign on cyber security called Tapping In – Stop. Think. Connect.  The information site for the video (including a link to the video) can be found here – Stop. Think. Connect.

It’s a clever video about the dangers of hackers, the importance of individual vigilance, and ways to maintain your own cyber security.  Overall the video is well done and the music is catchy, although I think the production is a bit long (five and a half minutes), leading to the message getting a back seat to the music.  I do like the characterization and the vignettes that drive the video and the overall message.  I’m hopeful they will edit down the piece to provide video segments a bit more palatable to our short attention spans and conducive to inclusion in advertising campaigns. 

More of this is needed.  The public at large seems to pay little attention to cyber security and the role that individuals play in it.  While data infiltrations of large corporations like Target get a great deal of media attention, hackers and phishing scams lead to data and identity theft of individuals on a daily basis. 

How do you promote cyber security in your organization or jurisdiction?  What materials and methods do you use to promote it?  Do you feel you are reaching your audience?  

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

Keeping Up With Changes in Emergency Management

As with many things in life, the field of emergency management has changed and will continue to do so.  Much of this change is an evolution – generally positive and productive adjustments to make us more effective and efficient in what we do supported by doctrine and models to guide our actions and provide consistency of application.  Sometimes changes are made which simply give the illusion of progress or are applied much like a Band-Aid as a knee-jerk stop-gap measure which usually fail unless a better implementation is put in place.  Many of the better thought out applications, however, do tend to stick.  While we have seen a great deal of change in the field over the last 14 years, we have largely seen a clear progression with practitioners and policy makers learning from previous programs. 

Yesterday I encountered two separate instances which did not apply current practices and policies. The first was an advertisement for a training program which discussed the four phases of emergency management.  The second was an article in which the author stated that ‘…preparedness is no longer part of the (emergency management) lexicon…’.  The two items, while different, are related in that they both indicate a lack of understanding in the evolution we have made from the four phases of emergency management – mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. 

In a nutshell, these long standing phases began to change soon after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 with the integration of homeland security with emergency management resulting in the inclusion of ‘prevention’ into the emergency management phases – thus prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.  As minor as this seems, it was quite a change for those of us who had been in the world of the four phases for a while and was a difficult pill to swallow.  Along with the human nature of resistance to change there was still a feeling that the matter wasn’t quite fully settled – in other words, more change would come. 

For several years different models were kicked around but none really gained traction until the issuance of Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD8), which created the National Preparedness Goal and the National Preparedness System.  These begat things like the Core Capabilities (a revamping of the predecessor Target Capabilities) and the introduction of the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) as well as a new way of viewing the major activities within emergency management and homeland security – the five mission areas of prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.  These five mission areas have re-defined, or perhaps more accurately defined what it is that we do in emergency management and homeland security. 

The traditional four phases were often depicted in a cycle.  Taken literally, this meant that you progressed from one phase to the next in a series.  The truth of the matter was that each of the four phases could actually run simultaneously.  There was also a misunderstanding that preparedness was an isolated activity, when in actuality our preparedness efforts applied to all activities.  With the further evolution of homeland security the foundational activities of prevention and then protection were identified and defined.  Pulling together these five mission areas – prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery – the National Preparedness System provides for distinct preparedness activities identified for each mission area, an organization of the Core Capabilities within each mission area, and national planning frameworks which identify the role and goals of each mission area in achieving the national preparedness goal.  Not only has preparedness not gone away, but it has been elevated in status. 

PPD8 was probably the presidential directive with the greatest and broadest impact on our field of practice since Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD5) in 2003 which drove the implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS).  Keeping up with critical changes in our evolution such as these is absolutely imperative for practitioners.  Not only do these policy changes impact how we do our jobs individually and programmatically, but they impact how we coordinate with each other, which is and always will be the foundational essence of emergency management. 

How do you keep up with changes in our field of practice?

© 2014 Timothy Riecker

Crowdsourcing CPR

Emergency Management Magazine has run a great article on LA County Fire Department linking its dispatch system to an app that will notify CPR trained citizens of the need for their lifesaving skills.  This app, PulsePoint, has apparently been in existence for a while and has, according to the article, 650 emergency response systems linked to it from across the country.

I was not aware of this app, but I think the concept of crowdsourcing lifesaving skills like CPR is great – especially given the narrow window of time that emergency medicine can be effective following cardiac arrest.  This concept leads me to think of what other areas within public safety can be crowdsourced, relying on the good will of citizens to provide aid in times of need.

What possibilities do you see?

– Tim Riecker



After posting this blog I downloaded the PulsePoint app on my phone.  I was amazed at the number of locations PulsePoint serves across the country.  While there were none near me I still activated the alerting feature on the app as I do travel to many of the locations listed.  When searching for the app in the App Store, I also came across PulsePoint AED, which is another crowdsourcing app which allows users to help identify the locations of AEDs in their communities (this database is cross referenced with the CPR app so users can be alerted to the location of an AED).  There didn’t seem to be any indicated in my area, so there likely are not any users around here as of yet.  I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for these locations when I’m out in the community and contributing to PulsePoint’s database.

Robin Williams

Please forgive this digression from my normal topical blog. Like others in the world I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Robin Williams. He was a brilliant actor and comedian who seemed to touch the lives of every person who saw any of his many comedy acts, TV shows, or movies.

His performances made viewers laugh and cry – Sometimes funny, sometimes serious, but always amazing.

It is reported that Mr Williams suffered from depression. I think we all know someone who has or is suffering from depression, maybe it’s even you. Through my life it has touched me and people I love. Please be sure to get help for yourself or support those that need it in getting help. It is easier said than done, but depression can be overcome.

Rest in peace Robin Williams. You will live on in your art and in our hearts.

Oh Captain, my Captain!