Examining Needs-Based Emergency Planning

For the past decade and one half we have seen documents such as Civil Preparedness Guide (CPG) 1-8 (1990), State and Local Guide (SLG) 101 (1996), and two versions of Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101 (2009 and 2010) provide us with continually advancing standards and guidance for emergency planning.   We have seen the focus points of planning evolve from assumption-based, to threat and risk-based, to capability-based planning through each of these iterations.  With the release of each new standard, however, the lessons learned from the previous have been preserved, bringing with them remnants of the earlier standards.  Our current standard, Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101 (2010), maintains a focus on capability-based planning but still stresses the importance of formulating assumptions in our planning as well as identifying threats and risks.  Each of these elements is important, but in these examinations we seem to be forgetting something very important – what is the need?

Planning assumptions, risk and threat, and capabilities assessments are all important informers of emergency planning and must remain in the lexicon for us to be successful.  It seems, though, that while these elements contribute to our planning efforts, they still don’t define the true need.  In examining the real need in any jurisdiction, we need to identify these other elements but we can’t take the jurisdiction itself for granted.  Identifying the needs of the jurisdiction will help us, along with the other elements, to identify what the impacts of a disaster will be and how prepared we are to address them.  Too often we see emergency planning efforts which are very rote, paying little attention to the real needs of the jurisdiction.

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you likely recall that I am a huge proponent of needs assessments.  As a trainer, a proper needs assessment is everything.  It leads us to the identification of what the desired behavior is and is a critical first step in determining how we will effectively train individuals to achieve it.  Earlier this month I had an article published in Training Magazine on the Importance of Analysis to Identify Root Cause.  The same principles of needs assessment can be easily applied to emergency planning.  Very simply, needs drive objectives.

The identification of needs for a jurisdiction involves an examination of both the physicality of the jurisdiction as well as the population.  Elements of the physicality of the jurisdiction include size and geography, accessibility of areas within the jurisdiction, and critical infrastructure and key resources contained within the jurisdiction.  Examining the population demographics includes age ranges, income levels, disability, vulnerable and at risk populations (the CDC Social Vulnerability Index is a great resource), languages, cultures, religions, population densities, and the ratios of full time residents to transients/visitors, and commuters.  GIS can provide us with much of this information both individually and in aggregate.

Once we collect this data, an analysis is important to identify what it all means (aka defining the need).  Where are there vulnerabilities within the jurisdiction in a steady state?  Under which scenarios exist increased vulnerabilities – such as a bridge that provides the only access to an area of the jurisdiction being washed out.  What religious and cultural matters must be considered in disaster response?  What needs exist for communicating with those with limited English proficiency?  The answers to these questions will inform strategies contained in our emergency plans and annexes.

Good planners dig to these depths and produce quality operational plans – but most don’t.  Plans which have not been written with this detailed process are doomed to fail as the needs of the jurisdiction have not been weighed with our assumptions, threats and risks, and capabilities.  The THIRA process helps to move us in the right direction by asking us to provide threats and hazards with context (our planning assumptions) and then establishing capability targets which will address these impacts.  Still, it’s not direct or detailed enough to provide us with all the information we need.

While CPG 101 guides us to know our communities and to understand the consequences of a potential incident, the current focus on capabilities, while important, is a focus on us – public safety.  The focus must be on the jurisdiction as a whole and an identification and understanding of potential impacts and the resultant needs of the jurisdiction.  It’s not so much a change in process as it is a change in emphasis.  We must first understand needs before we can plan to address them.


© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

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