I wrote most recently on Building a System of Response, focusing on the preparedness perspective of bringing stakeholders together to better anticipate each other’s priorities and objectives through collaborative planning, training, and exercising. Incident synchronization is the step beyond having a system of response. It’s the implementation where we make the system work. Effective incident synchronization, however, is not as simple as building a good system of response. There are a number of factors at play.
Every incident has its own timeline. There are parts of this timeline that we can control, and parts that we can only respond to. Most incidents occur with little or no notice, which already puts us in the passenger seat, regardless of our level of preparedness. There is a period of time where we must play catch-up. This initial response MUST be an early focus of incident management synchronization. The success of our initial response will set a tone for the rest of the incident.
Looking at the incident timeline as a whole, we find that most incidents we deal with have a focus on response, with little need for intensive recovery activity. Major incidents may have a response of a few hours or days, with recovery lasting months or even years. The impacts of the incident largely determine the overall timeline. The activities within the timeline, however, are determined by us.
Our response and recovery actions have certain timelines associated with them. In response, our timelines are largely dictated by the three priorities of:
- Life Safety
- Incident Stabilization
- Property Conservation
These priorities should be addressed in order – that is, our life safety activities tend to go before incident stabilization and property conservation, although we do often have some overlap of activities associated with these priorities, especially where it can make sense to prevent further life safety issues. These priorities, particularly life safety, are reflected in our initial response.
Depending on the nature and impacts of the incident, other priorities may be introduced by various stakeholders as we go into an extended response. The extended response brings about a measure of bureaucracy, as responders enter non-emergency activities and non-traditional responders arrive to take part in matters related to their areas of responsibility. These non-emergency activities and areas of responsibility may be associated with laws and regulation, plans, organizational charter, executive direction, or simply managing expectations. Of all of these, plans, particularly interagency plans, stand the best chance of respecting a system of response, aiding in a synchronization of incident management. This extended response is often associated with incidents of Type 3 or larger. Effective incident management synchronization during the extended response is critical.
The Transition to Recovery
While politicians like to make declarations about the end of response and the beginning of recovery, these lines are rarely, if ever, so solid and defined. On even the simplest of incidents – a motor vehicle accident – the incident commander will call for a tow truck early in the response activity. In the microcosm of the small-scale Type 5 incident, this is a recovery activity. Clearly then, when extending these concepts to a larger incident, we also initiate a number of short and long-term recovery activities within our response phase.
Recovery tends to bring in a number of agencies and organizations with little concern about response, but rather with a focus on getting people, organizations, and infrastructure back to where they were pre-incident, if not better. We look at capabilities such as infrastructure systems, economic recovery, health and social services, housing, and natural and cultural resources. We are addressing human needs, continuity of operations, restoration of infrastructure, social stabilization, and environmental remediation. Clearly there are a variety of organizations and priorities at play. While many of these activities, for a time, will run parallel to response, there are intersections, and recovery will continue well past the response phase. Incident management synchronization must account for the integration of and transition to recovery.
Accomplishing Incident Management Synchronization
Good preparedness leads to good implementation. If we have built an effective system of response (and recovery), this lays an essential foundation for our success in incident management synchronization. A big factor of our plans being effective is if they can actually be implemented. Some good reading on operational emergency plans here. Frameworks and conceptual plans offer a good start, but an effective plan should walk you through key activities. We also need to recognize that our system of response is actually a system of systems.
Implementation of plans and synchronization of incident management is strongly supported by an incident management system, such as the Incident Command System (ICS). ICS supports short term and long term incidents. ICS embraces a planning process, which is summarized visually by the Planning P. The planning process provides a system for developing incident action plans for the next operational period. When performed properly, the planning process should be informed by all stakeholders, integrating their priorities, objectives, and activities into one consolidated plan. Their objectives are vetted by the incident commander (or unified command, if used), which helps to ensure coordination, synchronization, and support throughout the timeline of the incident.
Despite this standard of incident management, there are still some organizations and individuals that work in disaster recovery that view ICS and concepts such as the planning process as too response-oriented and refuse to use it. Looking back on the need to integrate recovery activities with response early in the incident, I find this myopic perspective simply foolish and a significant contributor to the disconnect between response and recovery. I certainly acknowledge that ICS is foundationally very response-oriented, but just as it was adapted from wild-fire response, ICS can (and has been) adapted into recovery, with the foundational principles of incident management continuing to hold true.
Outside of ICS, incident management synchronization will only be successful with good communication among and between all stakeholders. Effective communication fosters all measure of effective incident management. Hopefully preparedness measures helped ensure that the organizations and perhaps the personnel involved were familiar with each other, but if not, communication can help overcome that gap.
To further reinforce the connection and need for synchronicity between response and recovery, I reflect again upon preparedness measures. Short-term recovery activities should be anticipated and planned for alongside and integrated with response. The full transition to long-term recovery should also be planned, acknowledging that the transition must be phased. Further, key staff must be trained in these plans and the plans should be exercised at every opportunity.
As always, thanks for reading. I’m interested in your perspectives, thoughts, and experiences with incident management synchronization.
© Timothy Riecker, CEDP
Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – Your Partner in Preparedness