Step up! Soft Target Resiliency.

Readers: please check out this post by Ralph Fisk on the need to take a realistic perspective on the vulnerabilities of soft targets in our communities.

As I had commented on Ralph’s post, this is the most realistic and pragmatic perspective I’ve seen on this topic.  We need to open our eyes to the reality of these threats and prepare, protect, and prevent the best ways possible.


Wanna be a Facilitator? Toughen up!

I just read a great post by Robert Burton on LinkedIn titled 5 Common Tabletop Exercise Mistakes.  Robert gives a good review of the common issues that can doom a TTX from the beginning.  Go check it out!

My addition to his post reflected on the need for good and strong facilitation.  I figured it would be worthwhile to develop a separate post and expand on that a bit.  Facilitation itself is certainly an art – be it for a meeting, a workshop, or a tabletop exercise.  I would offer that while there are similar skills, abilities, and traits that will lend to success for all these applications, there are also some differences.  Facilitation for all applications requires that one speak up, follow an agenda, clearly communicate, and give everyone a chance to participate.  Charisma helps carry things along.  In some instances, you also need to be tough.  In a meeting, you have to be tough to enforce sticking to the agenda.  In a table top exercise, you need to be a little tough with the participants.

We’ve certainly all witnessed poor exercise facilitation.  They facilitator doesn’t follow the MSEL, tells their own stories, leads participants to answers, and puts up with softball answers that don’t tell much of anything.  Remember, the ultimate purpose of an exercise is to test plans.  Plans are executed by people.  We are testing the plans through these people.  If we aren’t getting good answers, we aren’t meeting our goal of testing the plans.

In one of the best table top exercises I ever witnessed, the facilitator provided injects, as expected, to a group of agency department heads.  The facilitator had a very distinct position in the agency, though… he was their new director.  He requested that we put together a TTX focusing on agency response plans.  When we asked who he wanted to facilitate, he said he would do it.  Now there are certainly pros and cons to this, but he was the boss, and the results were quite eye opening.

As follow ups to the injects, participants were asked questions such as ‘What is your role?’ ‘How would you respond to this?’ and ‘What would you do next?’.  This is how participants should be drawn out to obtain good information.  Additionally, facilitators should consider asking ‘Why’ when participants give certain responses.  (Check out my post Ask Why 5 Times – I explore the power of this question a bit more).  Do they think their response was a good idea or is it actually called for in a plan?  ‘Who’ is another good question.  It’s easy for participants to throw out generalities in response to questions (i.e. We would do x.).  Well WHO specifically would do it?  And WHY? And what if they weren’t around?  What does the plan say?

After getting a few answers he wasn’t very comfortable with, the new director then lobbed in a heck of a hand grenade – Show me.  This threw participants for a loop.  Now, I will grant you that this is rather unorthodox in a TTX, although not completely unheard of.  Given his position, no one was going to challenge him, though.  Out scampered one person.  A few more questions, then the phrase again – Show me.  Out scampered another person in search of another binder.  In the end, some had supported their claims, others did not.  These were great lessons learned.  We found holes in plans, necessary connections between plans, and a need to update plans and train people on those plans.

After this exercise, I learned lessons myself and approached facilitation of future exercises very differently.  I began asking more questions as follow ups to participants’ responses.  We dug deeper and found out more – so did the participants.  Sometimes they don’t like it, and sometimes you feel like you are being antagonistic.  Obviously you don’t want to create an unpleasant experience for anyone, but if they aren’t able to handle a few tough questions from an exercise facilitator, they certainly won’t like handling them from their boss, their bosses boss, or the media.

Bottom line, if you are going to facilitate an exercise, toughen up.  Ask follow up questions.  Get clarity on the answers and don’t let participants get away with easy answers.  If participants squirm a bit, that’s OK.

What are your exercise facilitation experiences?  Any best practices to add?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Course Review: MGT-342 Strategic Overview of Disaster Management for Water and Wastewater Utilities

I took the opportunity yesterday to attend the aforementioned class held at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany, New York.  This half day (0800-1200) course was well attended by water and wastewater personnel from around central New York, a couple of emergency management types, and even a representative from a local brewery (no samples, sadly).  This DHS approved course is designed and instructed by personnel from the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center (NERRTC).


Through my career in emergency management I have regularly worked, albeit tangentially, with water and wastewater professionals, which are generally regarded as a niche of public works.  In many small towns across the nation, water and wastewater systems are among the only critical infrastructure these small towns have.  In larger municipalities, water and wastewater systems are extensive and necessary for not only their residents, but for business and industry as well.  We often see impacts to water and wastewater systems from disasters ranging from earthquakes, to utility outages, floods, and other disasters, including criminal acts.  I’m always interested in an opportunity to learn more and this course was convenient in location and schedule.

This course is a condensed half-day version of a two-day course also taught by TEEX.  When instructors reviewed the morning’s agenda, I was skeptical, and rightfully so.  The participant manual, like most products developed by TEEX, is excellently done, with an abundance of reference material.  Even if the material was to be just reviewed, I knew that addressing most, if not all of it, would be a significant task for the instructors.  The lead instructor was very knowledgeable and experienced in the subject matter and very well spoken.  While he had a lot of value to provide to participants, he may have provided a bit too much relative to getting through the three units of the course as intended.

The course units are largely broken into three main topic areas: Threats, Preparedness, and Response; all obviously relative to water and wastewater systems.  The first unit, Threats, was covered thoroughly, taking nearly the full class time.  The information provided was excellent and realistic in scope.  Examples of actual impacts to water and wastewater systems around the world from a variety of threats and hazards were used to drive the point home about the vulnerability of these systems.  I was dismayed, though, that the second unit, Preparedness, was not covered at all.  Fortunately, there is a great amount of materials in the participant guide for after class reference.

The third unit, Response, also contains a great deal of information, especially for those who are not used to complex and multi-agency responses.  Unfortunately, we only had time to review a case study which was in the unit.  While the case study (the Charleston, WV spill from January 2014) was excellent and certainly time well spent, it would have been great to dig into the other response related materials in the course.  Again, at least we have these for post-course review.

This content of this course is quite valuable, relevant, and up to date.  It was expertly instructed, discounting some time management issues.  I do think, though, that the instructional design in more to blame, as the quantity of content contained in the course is simply too much to be adequately covered in a half day.  It certainly had me wanting to take the two day course, and definitely from the same instructor.  I provided similar comments on the course evaluation sheet, and I hope they do make some necessary changes to this class to maximize the amount of information provided.  Would I still recommend this course – yes, but just know going into it (at least in its present form) that you may not experience delivery of all the material.  If the quality of material and instruction is any indication of what to expect in the two day course, though, I would absolutely recommend it.

If you have any questions on the course, or experiences of your own, I’d love to hear them.

  • TR

So Your AAR Says Bad Things… Now What?

There it is.  Your recently delivered after action report (AAR).  Uncomfortably sitting across the room from you.  You eye it like Tom Hanks looking at Wilson for the first time.



You know what’s in it.  It says bad things.  Things you don’t like.  Things your boss really doesn’t like.  But what will you do?

First, let’s assume that, despite you being unhappy with the areas for improvement identified in the AAR, they are fair representations.  What will you do with the dreaded information now that you have it?  Your AAR may have come with a corrective action plan (CAP), but this is only guidance that still needs to be reviewed and acted upon.

First, each identified area for improvement should be prioritized.  After all, if everything is important, then nothing is important.  Even if the areas for improvement and/or corrective actions are already identified in the AAR (particularly if done by a third party or if the AAR is representative of a multi-agency exercise) you should review this prioritization with your own organization’s stakeholders.  This means pulling together a committee (sorry for cursing!) comprised of key areas within your organization.  This may even mean people from areas that may not have participated, such as information technology, as I’m betting there was something in the exercise about computer systems, programs, internet connection, data access, data continuity, etc.  Don’t forget the finance people, either… some fixes aren’t cheap!

Once everyone has had an opportunity to review the AAR, each identified area for improvement should prioritized, at least to the degrees of high, medium, and low; with a secondary filtering of short-term vs long-term projects.  While some may be relatively quick fixes, others can take months, if not years, to accomplish.  Activities should also be identified that are dependent upon others which may need to be completed first (i.e. a procedure needs to be written before it can be trained on).

That’s probably enough for one meeting.  But the people you gathered aren’t cut loose yet… in fact they are pretty much locked in, so you need to be sure that the people you bring together for this corrective action group have the knowledge, ability, and authority to commit resources within their respective areas of responsibility.  Now that activities have been prioritized, it’s time to assign them… this is why involvement of your boss (if you aren’t the boss) is so important.

Some individuals within your organization will be able to act on their own to make the corrective actions that are needed – while others will need to work together to make these happen.  Consider that there may be more activities than just those identified in the AAR.  For example, the AAR may identify a need for a resource management plan.  That’s good, but we all know you can’t just build a plan and expect it to be ready for action.

For those who are regular readers of my blog, you know I’m a big fan of the POETE elements.  (More on POETE here).  What is POETE?  POETE is an acronym that stands for:

  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Equipping
  • Training
  • Exercising

What is the value of POETE and what does it all mean?  POETE is a great reminder of the key activities we need to do to enhance our preparedness.  Given that, when we look at an identified need for improvement, we need to consider how to properly address it.  So start at the top:

  • What plans, policies, and procedures are needed to implement and support this corrective action?
  • What organizational impact will occur? Do we need to change our organization in any way?  Do we need to form any special teams or committees to best implement this corrective action?
  • What equipment or systems are needed to support the corrective action?
  • What do people need to be trained in to support the corrective action? Do we need to train them in the plan, about a new policy or procedure?  Do they need training on organizational changes?  How about training in the use of equipment or systems?
  • Lastly, once you’ve made a corrective action, it’s a good idea to test it. Exercises are the best way to accomplish this.

There are obviously other considerations depending on the specific corrective actions and the circumstances of your organization.  Funding is often times one of the most significant.  If you need to obtain funding to make corrective actions, the AAR is one of the best documented investment justifications you can get.

From a project management perspective, the committee should regularly reconvene as a matter of checking in to see how the corrective actions are going.  On a continuing basis, the progress of corrections should be tracked (spreadsheets are great for this), along with who has been tasked with addressing it, timelines for completion, related finances, progress notes, etc.  Otherwise, in our otherwise busy days, these things get lost in the shuffle.

From a program management perspective, this is a process that should be engrained culturally into your organization.  Ideally, one person should be responsible in your organization for coordinating and tracking this corrective action process.  As additional exercises are conducted and actual incidents and events occur, corrective actions from these will be brought into the mix.  It is all too often that organizations complain of seeing the same remarks on every AAR or from experiencing the same issues for every response.  BREAK THE CYCLE!  Establishing a corrective action program for your organization will go a long way toward making these chronic issues go away.

By the way, the same concept can be applied to multi-organizational/agency efforts at any level – local, county, state, federal, regional, etc.  Since we respond jointly, there are great benefits to joint preparedness efforts.  We will likely find that even that we have our own house in order, working with someone else is a very different experience and will require a whole new list of corrective actions as we identify areas for improvement.  This process works great with multi-agency committees.

The bottom line – the biggest reason why we exercise is to test our capabilities.  When we test them, we find faults.  Those faults need to be corrected.  Capitalize on the investment you made in your exercise effort to address those identified deficiencies and improve your capabilities.

What ideas do you have for addressing corrective actions?

Need help with preparedness activities?  Be Proactive and Be Prepared™ – Reach out to Emergency Preparedness Solutions!  We’re always happy to help.

Thanks for reading!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Exercises

In this last article of the Return on Investment series, I’ll be discussing the investments and benefits of preparedness exercises to help organizations determine their return on investment – or ROI.  The series has followed the model of the five POETE elements (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, Exercising).  The inspiration for the series was a piece I wrote called Measuring Return on Investment in Emergency Management and Homeland Security: Improving State Preparedness Reports.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to review the earlier articles in the series, they are linked below:





We conduct preparedness exercises for two main reasons: 1) to test plans and procedures, and 2) to provide people with an opportunity to practice their roles and responsibilities.  Exercises can be stand-alone activities or integrated into training and education through scenario-based learning. In the US we use the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) as our model for both the macro and micro levels of exercise management.  If you are interested in an in-depth look on HSEEP and its components, you can check out an earlier series I did called Managing an Exercise Program.

As with most major activities we do, exercise-related tasks can be divided out into program management (the macro level) and project management (the micro level).  Since we usually examine ROI for individual activities, we will focus on the micro level of exercises, that is the project management piece, or individual exercises, to identify specific costs (investments) and benefits.

Conducting an exercise takes a fair amount of preparation.  The more complex the exercise, the greater period of time it should take to prepare.  Complexity of an exercise is measured by a few different factors – the number of participants involved, the span of time for the exercise, the complexity of the tasks/plans being exercised, and the number of locations being exercised.  Most of us who have been involved in emergency management and homeland security for a while have seen the full gamut of exercises – from discussion-based exercises like table top exercises, workshops, and seminars; to operations-based exercises like drills, functional, and full-scale exercises.  Often we view functional and full scale exercises as being the most complex, however I’ve been involved in table top exercises and workshops which have involved significant efforts.

Up front, the most significant investment any organization can make in an exercise is personnel time.  All exercise efforts will have a lead planner, and most will be supported by a planning team.  If the exercise involves only one organization, that planning team will typically involve only internal people, while multi-organizational exercises should involve some measure of representation from every organization, either directly or indirectly.  Planning an exercise requires a great attention to detail, drafting and editing of documents, and arranging of logistical matters.  Experience helps, so those who do this less often will typically require more time to do it.  This is why many organizations hire consultants (like me!) to help them with exercises.

During the planning phase for the exercise, you may have some associated costs, such as meeting space, food, and travel for planning meetings.  You may also have these costs for the exercise itself which should be identified during the planning phase.  It is also important to identify any costs associated with audio-visual equipment, communications equipment (including internet connectivity), and even things as simple as name badges and signage.

For the exercise itself, personnel costs are still significant.  You must not only consider the time of all participants (as well as potential travel costs), but also the time of your exercise management staff – an exercise director, controllers, evaluators, and possibly staff for a simulation cell.  Again, experience helps to support a successful exercise, so if you don’t have the depth of experience in your organization, consider hiring consultants for the conduct and evaluation of the exercise as well.  Either way, exercises can be significant investments.

Once the exercise is complete, the activity isn’t over – and neither are the costs.  The evaluation team needs to draft the after action report (AAR), and conduct an AAR meeting with the planning team and principal participants to ensure that everything was captured accurately.  Once the AAR is finalized, action items identified in the AAR are assigned to responsible parties to address improvements.  These improvements are generally not considered part of the cost of the exercise itself, but rather part of your general preparedness costs (these will all fall within the POETE elements).

While exercises come at no insignificant cost, the benefits are tremendous – if the exercise is done properly.  A well designed, conducted, and evaluated exercise provides better outcomes and benefits.  The AAR should reflect not only best practices that should be continued, but also areas for improvement which should be addressed to enhance preparedness.  Any of these, as mentioned in the last paragraph, can fall within the five POETE elements – Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising.  While each of these certainly have costs associated with them, the benefit from the exercise was identification and documentation of need.  Perhaps you are exercising a new active shooter response plan and through the exercise realize that a certain procedure was based on poor assumptions – if this plan was put in place without being exercised, the outcomes in a real life event could have been catastrophic.  It’s better to identify these issues through an exercise so they can be addressed with much less cost.

As I mentioned earlier, another reason to exercise is to provide participants with an opportunity to practice plans, procedures, or skills in a safe and structured environment.  While there is a great deal of routine to what we do in emergency management, homeland security, and public safety, there are certainly activities that we don’t do very often, resulting in degradation of skill over time.  Many of these activities, though, are absolutely critical when needed, which means that we must give practitioners ample opportunity to practice and apply what they have learned through training.  The benefits of this, depending on the activity, can include increased efficiency (time), reductions in injury and loss of life, and proper use of equipment and protocols.  Additionally, there are benefits to getting people to work together in these activities, especially for those who don’t usually work together.  Emergency management, after all, is about collaboration.

Because of the wide range of things we exercise, it’s up to you to examine what your investments and benefits might be.  At EPS, we can help you with designing, conducting, and evaluating exercises; identifying potential costs and benefits of an exercise; and other preparedness activities.  We’re happy to help!

Feedback from this return on investment series of posts has been very positive, which I greatly appreciate.  We also got some good dialogue across all mediums including the blog home page ( and various LinkedIn discussion groups – some of which provided some excellent additional ideas on how to better capture information on investments and benefits.  The challenge remains to not only identify these, but to convert them into meaningful information for decision makers, which usually involves currency values.  Thank you, as always, for your time and attention.

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Preparing to Use the Incident Command System

For a bit of context, if you haven’t already read them, please take a look at these other ICS related articles I’ve posted:

Incident Command System Training Sucks

ICS Training Sucks… So Let’s Fix It

Preparedness – ICS is Not Enough

The crusade to improve ICS training and implementation continues…

We invest a lot of time and effort into training people in the use of the Incident Command System (ICS).  However, as a broad statement, the training we provide is massively inadequate.  We don’t actually train people to do anything – we simply tell them about ICS through an increasingly repetitive and complex series of courses.  At the risk of being repetitive myself, I refer you to the articles linked above for many of my foundational thoughts on the current state of ICS training.

The ICS core training curriculum aside, we – as both individuals and organizations – need to be better prepared to actually use ICS.  The thought that people are able to use ICS the minute they walk out of an ICS course is totally and completely false.  By ‘use ICS’, I don’t mean to simply function within an organizational chain of command that uses ICS, I’m referring to being a driving force within the system itself.  ICS isn’t something that happens automatically, it requires deliberate and constant actions.  This typically involves functioning at the Command or General Staff levels, but also within many of the subordinate positions which are absolutely critical to managing a complex incident and driving the system.

So how do we prepare to use ICS?  I often refer to the preparedness capability elements of POETE (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising) when I’m talking about preparedness activities.  These same concepts apply here.  We need to remember that planning is the foundation of all preparedness efforts.  If it’s not documented, then why are we doing it?  So we have to have plans, polies, and procedures which call for the implementation of ICS and direct us in the nuances of how we will manage an incident.  I’m sure everyone’s plan has taken a page from the NIMS Doctrine and includes language about the requirement to use NIMS and ICS.  That’s all well and good, but like many things in our plans, we don’t reinforce these things enough.

I’m not talking about simply giving NIMS and ICS lip service.  I’m talking about procedure level integration of these concepts.  This begins with good planning, which means plans that are implementation-ready.  Would you consider your plans implementation-ready?  Do they describe how to use the ICS structure and concepts to actually implement the plan?  Maybe yes, maybe no.   If not, your team has some plan updating to do.

Your organization must be ready to respond using ICS.  That means that everyone is familiar with their assigned roles and responsibilities.  Often ICS training falls short of this.  This article: Training EOC Personnel – ICS is Not Enough, details many of the reasons why, at least for an EOC environment.  Many of the points made in the article, however, can be reasonably applied to other environments and organizations.  While ICS provides us with overall concepts, the application of those concepts will differ for various organizations and locations.  Every location, county, region, and state have different protocols which must be integrated into incident management practices.  (Refer back to planning).  Our organizations, both those that are static as well as those which are ad-hoc (assembled for the response to a particular incident or event) need to be ready to act.  This means familiarity not only with ICS or our specific applications of it, but also with our plans.  How often do ICS courses actually talk about the implementation of emergency plans?  Rarely.  Yet that’s what we are actually doing.  Do you have people assigned to ICS roles?  Are they ready to take on the responsibilities within these roles?  Do you have backups to these positions?  I’m not necessarily talking about a formal incident management team (IMT), although that may be suitable and appropriate.  Absent an IMT, the responders within a jurisdiction or organization should have a reasonable expectation of the role/roles they will play.  This helps them and your organization to be better prepared.

The implementation of ICS generally doesn’t take much equipping, but there are some basics.  Responders love radios and we use them often.  How about people who aren’t traditional responders, but may be called on to function with your ICS organization?  Do they know how to use a radio?  Do you have a standing communication plan to help you implement their use?  How do you track incident resources?  I didn’t just ask about fire service resources – I mean all resources.  Do you have a system for this?  T-Cards are great, but take training and practice to use them – plus they require that all responders know their responsibilities for accountability.  The same goes with a computer-based solution.  For whatever equipment or systems you plan on using, you must ensure that they are planned through and that people are very familiar with how to use them.

Training… I think I’ve talked about the need for better ICS training quite a bit, so I’m not going to continue with that point here.  What I will mention is a need for refresher training and jurisdiction-specific training on incident management.  This isn’t necessarily ICS focused, but it is ICS based.  For many years now, FEMA has believed that by including three slides on NIMS in every training program that they are helping with NIMS compliance.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  You have to actually talk about how these concepts are key to implementing plans.  Responders need to be familiar with the emergency management system they are working within.  Train people to the plans and procedures.  Let them know who is in charge of what and when, who the decision makers are, and any other training needs identified in the earlier POETE activities.  Prepare them to implement ICS!

Lastly, exercises.  Incident management should be something that is practiced and tested in almost every exercise.  Applying these concepts is not something we do on a regular basis, therefore knowledge and skills erode over time.  Certainly we have to be familiar with the system, not just at an awareness level but at a functional and operational level.  Regardless of the state of the current curriculum, that involves practice.  Exercises don’t have to be elaborate, remember that they can range from discussion-based to operations-based.  Table top exercises are great to talk things through, drills are good for focused activities, and even full-scale exercises can be small and contained.  So long as the exercise is designed, conducted, and evaluated well, that’s what counts.  Don’t forget that evaluation piece.  The feedback to the entire system (plans, organization, equipment and systems, and training) is extremely important to continued improvement.

This is public safety, not a pick-up kick ball game.  We can do better.

Thanks for listening… what are your thoughts?

Does your organization or jurisdiction need help preparing to implement ICS?  Emergency Preparedness Solutions can help!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Training

This is my fourth article in a series examining how organizations can gauge their return on investment for various emergency management and homeland security preparedness projects.  These were inspired by an original article I wrote called Measuring Return on Investment in Emergency Management and Homeland Security: Improving State Preparedness Reports.  The POETE model (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, Exercising) helps us to identify all activities related to preparedness.  Thus far, we have covered:




If you haven’t already reviewed these articles, check them out for additional context and information.  Within each, I outline the general activities within the preparedness element, and identify the potential costs and benefits of these activities to the organization.  While some costs and benefits are direct (meaning we can readily identify them in terms of currency), most are not, and require some measure of analysis.

We put a lot of money (and faith) into training as a central preparedness activity.  And why shouldn’t we?  Training, by definition, is a transfer of learning.  We have a lot of information to communicate to our staff and other stakeholders, with the goal of that information collectively becoming a body of knowledge, and a vision of these people applying what they have learned to future circumstances.

In emergency management and homeland security we train quite a bit, with some training being required by organizational, local, state, national, international, or federal standards; while other training will help develop and advance staff.  We include HR-required training; soft skills like communication, leadership, decision making, and the like; as well as technical skills such as emergency planning, exercise design, and incident management.  Emergency management and homeland security are broad fields of practice, which intersect public safety, public health, and other essential government and social functions.  Most emergency management and homeland security practitioners have roots in one or more of these fields and typically continue receiving training relative to those as well.

Training comes from a variety of sources including our home organizations, local and county governments, state government, private and not for profit entities, and the federal government.  Particularly for training that is sponsored by a government entity, most training is ‘free’.  In the US, federal training entities, such as FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute, also reimburse travel expenses and provide lodging for all levels of government employees.  On the surface, the cost of most emergency management and homeland security training is fairly low.

Of course depending on perspective, the cost of training can vary.  As a former state training officer who managed all emergency management related training delivered across my state, I could identify our agency’s cost of training.  This would include our staff admin time for course prep and record keeping, the cost of duplicating participant manuals, any costs associated with the hosting facility (although we usually utilized no cost facilities), the cost of paying our instructors for their time and travel, and, if applicable, any lodging and/or meal costs for participants who may have traveled a distance.  These costs, however, are only part of the picture.

What about the cost to the organization that is sending people to be trained?  Directly, this is salary time in which little to no work is actually being accomplished for the organization.  The organization may also be footing the bill for travel costs for their participants.  Depending on who is sponsoring the training, there may be a fee for the course.  Indirectly, what is the cost of that employee being away?  Who is doing their work?  This often depends on the organization and the position the individual holds in that organization.  Firefighters, police officers, health care professionals, and others may be covering shifts that will still need to be filled, especially if policies or union contracts require certain staffing levels.  Sometimes this backfilling isn’t as simple as changing schedules, as most employees are already scheduled at full time status.  Therefore, someone may need to be paid overtime to fill this position for the duration of the training.  Perhaps the learner themselves is being paid overtime to tend to priority tasks outside of training hours.  Maybe others can simply absorb some extra tasks while this person is gone, or the learner will be swamped for some period of time once they return from training.  Each of these mechanisms, all dealing with productivity, has a cost associated to it.

Training can get expensive, which is why it’s often one of the first activities cut when an organization’s budget gets tight.  We try to minimize the cost of training through a variety of practices such as shorter training days, online training, and local training.  These, however, have various impacts on the organization’s ability to obtain the training as well as the overall effectiveness of the training.  Sometimes we simply defer the training, but the organization may have little choice, particularly with mandated training.

So what benefits can training provide?  As mentioned, I have quite a bit of background as a trainer and training manager.  I’d love to tell you that training has the greatest of all benefits, but that would be a complete lie. Just like any other preparedness activity, it has to be properly applied.  Training won’t fix everything.  I’ve written a lot of pieces on training in my blog… just search for ‘training’ and you will find plenty of articles about how training should/shouldn’t be applied.  With that caveat, training can have great benefit.  Not only can it make people more effective and efficient in their jobs and related tasks, it can also help defer liability from the organization.  Training also has benefits which more directly apply to the learner vs the organization, such as providing background for advancement and/or promotion (which can be internal or external to the organization).  There are many practices in emergency management and homeland security for which training aids in health and safety, not only of the staff member who took the training, but also of others.  In training, the impacts can go pretty far… you just have to follow the bouncing ball.  As an example: Jane gets trained in how to write emergency plans.  The emergency plans she writes will help the organization respond more effectively in the event of a disaster.  When the organization responds more effectively, lives and property are protected.  While this is a great ideal outcome, it makes for some difficulty in determining the benefits in terms of currency.

Often, the most direct benefits from training are rooted in compliance and proficiency.  Organizations have a variety of compliance matters they have to meet.  These obligations may be HR driven, required by an executive, a higher level of government, an accreditation body, or a funding source.  Safety matters are also usually linked with a compliance matter.  I often try to associate training activities to these requirements.  Sometimes we can directly link a financial benefit to these compliance matters, while other times compliance is simply factually stated.  Second is proficiency.  People need to stay current in essential skills.  This might require regularly recurring training for staff, well as training for new staff.  Staff need to be proficient in new procedures, software, and equipment operation.  Certain staff may need to be trained to more advanced levels.  Gauging the benefit in financial terms for proficiency is generally more difficult, although the need for the training is apparent.  The benefit simply needs to be extrapolated.  For instance, if the training is in a new process, what is the time and/or quality difference between the old process and the new?

As mentioned earlier, it is often times not easy to determine the financial return on investment for many of our activities.  We need to dig deep and identify quantifiable metrics which can be examined before and after we apply our preparedness activity.  We must assign reasonable currency figures to those metrics to help us and other decision makers better understand our investment and the benefits it will potentially bring.

Soon I’ll be wrapping up this series with the last key preparedness activity – exercises.  As always I’m happy to hear your thoughts on how we can better identify the returns on our investments in preparedness activities.  As a resource, I’d encourage you to search Training Magazine (, which often has articles on analyzing the return on investment in training.

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Equipping

I’ve written previous posts on our preparedness investments and how we can gauge our return on those investments.  Following the POETE model (planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises), I’ve so far covered some considerations for Planning and Organizing.  This piece will focus on identifying our return on investment for Equipping.  Equipment can be anything from a new fire engine, to a generator, a UAV/drone, a radiological detection device, or incident management software.

Equipping is generally a preparedness activity in which we can more easily identify what our actual investment is.  Unlike Planning, which requires varying amounts of time from a number of people, or Organizational efforts which sometimes have rather esoteric costs, when we purchase or maintain equipment, we usually have a receipt in hand.

Functioning in the bureaucracies we do, however, we tend to add complexities.  We form committees to find the best equipment we can, we leverage our own staff time to keep it maintained, and we often have other associated costs, which reflect back on the other POETE elements… at least we should.  In addition to the cost of the equipment itself, let’s look at what the associated costs could be.

Every significant equipment purchase, first of all, should stem from an identified need.  Maybe it’s a critical element of a process, it’s called for in a plan, or the need was identified in an after action report.  Perhaps you are upgrading or expanding application of a certain piece of equipment?  Regardless, your organization must invest some time to ensure the equipment will meet your needs and how it will impact your operations.  This activity, generally referred to as Assessment, if often rolled into the Planning element.  Once we do obtain the equipment, we also need to plan.  We need to ensure the use of the equipment is accounted for in our plans.  Perhaps it’s as simple as adding it to a resource inventory, or as complex as creating processes or procedures that address its use.

Organizationally, you may need to task an individual or even assemble a team which will be responsible for the care and operation of the equipment.  This, logically, leads to Training.  People need to be properly trained in not only the use of the standard use of the equipment, but also the circumstances which it will be used as well as any processes or procedures for use which are unique to your organization.  Consider what degree of proficiency these individuals may need in the operation of the equipment.  Is it just basic operation, or is there a need for something more advanced?  Will recurring training be needed to maintain proficiency or to train additional people in the future?  Will anyone be trained in higher level maintenance of the equipment?

Exercising the equipment, its effectiveness, and the ability of your resources to use the equipment is essential.  Lastly, we often don’t consider the costs of maintaining and storing the equipment.  It may need replacement parts or regular servicing, which even done in-house, has an associated cost.  It may have certain storage requirements to ensure the safety and readiness of the equipment.

Now that we’ve outlined potential costs or investments, how do we know those investments have made a difference for your organization?  To determine this, we must first look at the original need.  What actually defined the need for the equipment?  Was it to replace something older and less reliable?  Was it to enhance response time?  Was it because of safety?  Did the need identify inefficiencies in previous practices and systems?  Did the new equipment meet that need?

To dig further, what was the value of that need?  To identify this, we should look at the metrics associated with that need.  If the new equipment replaced something aging, we can look at the maintenance costs and down time over a certain period of time for the older equipment.  If it was to shorten response time to get a certain capability on-scene, we should be able to identify the time metrics as well as the difference that equipment makes once it is on scene (eg. a fire department which previously had to call mutual aid to get jaws of life on scene, vs purchasing a set of jaws and having them on scene much faster).  We can associate a dollar-value cost to many of these metrics.

Was there any additional value which the equipment brought your organization?  Perhaps the added capability decreased your insurance rates or made you eligible for a particular industry certification?  Are there any indirect cost savings because of the new equipment?  Does the new equipment somehow aid in generating income?

There are many considerations when it comes to any of our investments to ensure that they are sound, responsible, and reasonable.  Often we need to identify the value of an investment before it is made, but we should certainly keep track of that value after the investment as well.

Need help with planning?  Gap analysis?  Resource inventories?  Maybe with the training or exercising associated with new equipment or other preparedness needs? Contact EPS!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC 

Musings of October – and the Crusade to End Bad ICS Courses

Last month sure was a busy one!  Much of the focus was on marketing for our company Emergency Preparedness Solutions.  I had the opportunity to meet a number of county and local government representatives in a reverse trade show in the Poconos and see some old and new faces at the Vermont Emergency Preparedness Conference.  Pictures of our booth are below.  I also had the opportunity to present with their State Training Officer on the State-Wide Emergency Management and Homeland Security Training Needs Assessment project we completed for the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security a few months ago.  We also need to congratulate Doug Babcock for being honored as Vermont’s Local Emergency Manager of the Year!



While those trips were great, the highlight of the month was a trip to Toronto.  The impetus for the trip was the Emergency Preparedness staff of Public Health Ontario, who, after reading my blog posts on the necessity for improvements in Incident Command System (ICS) training, extended an invitation for me to sit in on some training they offer that came about from just that need.  The course I attended was Public Health Emergency Preparedness – An IMS-based Workshop.  Fear not – this is not a reinvention of ICS (or Incident Management System – IMS – as they refer to it in Canada), rather this is an enhancement to the current curriculum.

The Canadian provinces have each adopted curricula for their IMS which are near 100% mirrors of the ICS courses we use here in the States.  While in Toronto, I also had the opportunity to sit in for a bit on an IMS-200 course being conducted by the Toronto Office of Emergency Management.  They were great hosts and have made excellent enhancements to the curriculum for a Toronto-based audience.  (Thank you Sherry and Sarah!) The course offered by Public Health Ontario is truly workshop based, with little lecture and a lot of group work to walk participants through concepts of IMS.  The workshop is positioned between IMS-100 (which most took online) and IMS-200, and is public health focused.

While I’m often weary of discipline-specific courses in emergency management, since the essence of emergency management is cooperative, this workshop absolutely made sense.  Why?  Two big themes built the foundation for this… First, practitioners must be comfortable with their own sand box before they can play with the neighborhood kids.  Second, this particular application works for public health (and several other disciplines) because most of the public health response occurs at the population level, not necessarily at an incident site.  Because of this, public health will almost always function (at least the higher echelons of their incident management structure) from an emergency operations center or departmental operations center.  As such, it pays to invest some training time on a homogeneous audience.  That said, the scenarios that drove the workshop were in no way introverted only to public health concerns and the instructors encouraged thought and discussion toward other activities and associated agencies which would be involved in an incident.

With the positioning of this training between IMS-100 and IMS-200, Public Health Ontario has armed participants with better knowledge and familiarity of the IMS, allowing those who will progress through further (and multi-disciplinary) training a better perspective of how IMS is applied by public health which allows for a better understanding of the system itself.  Not only does the workshop address some internal incident management training needs for public health, it also addresses some of the issues I’ve mentioned previously with ICS training as a whole.  The workshop is expertly designed by the Emergency Preparedness team at Public Health Ontario, and embraces concepts of adult educational methodology which we need to pay more attention to.  The high level of interaction lends to improved transfer of knowledge and better outcomes.  They included information such as the phases of emergency management and the need to reference deliberate planning efforts such as Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs) and Continuity of Operations Plans (COOPs).  This is certainly something we don’t have enough of in ICS courses yet is critically related.  Do you think the majority of our attendees know what these are, much less what is in theirs?  Guess again!

More information on this workshop can be found at  Many thanks to Moira, Richard, and Evanna for the invite and the hospitality!

With my road trips complete, I am returning back to the normal pace of work and preparing for another graduate course which begins next month.  I’ve also considered the need to ramp up my concern on this matter of poor ICS curricula from an occasional rant to a crusade.  This is a matter of public safety – from a sociological perspective there is nothing more important than our ability to effectively respond to save lives, stabilize the incident, and preserve property.  Let’s make some changes!

As always, many thanks to my readers; and if you are with a government entity, not for profit, or private interest that is seeking consulting services in the areas of emergency and disaster planning, training, exercises, and anything in between, please feel free to contact me.

© Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC