Yes, planning is part of preparedness, but organizations must also have a plan for preparedness. Why? Preparedness breaks down into five key elements – remember the POETE mnemonic – Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising. I’m also in favor of including assessment as a preparedness element. Needless to say, we do a lot when it comes to preparedness. Each of these elements alone involves significant activity, and together there are opportunities for activities to be synchronized for maximum benefit. In smaller organizations, these elements may be addressed by one or two people, which itself can be challenging as these are the same people running the organization and addressing myriad other tasks. In larger organizations each element alone may be addressed by a number of people, which also provides a complication of synchronizing tasks for maximum benefit. Either way, as with all project and program management, without a plan of action, we may forget critical tasks or do things out of order.
By establishing a preparedness plan, we can address many of these issues. The plan can be as detailed as necessary, but should at least identify and address requirements (internally and externally imposed) as well as benchmarks to success. But what do we plan for?
Assessment – Yes, I’m including this as an element. Assessment is something we should constantly be doing. Just as we strive to maintain situational awareness throughout an incident, we have to be aware of and assess factors that influence our state of readiness. There are a variety of assessments that we do already and others that can be done as they relate to the other five elements. In fact, assessments will inform our preparedness plan, helping us to identify where we are and where we need to be. We can review after action reports from incidents, events, and exercises to determine what improvements must be made. We can research best practices and examine funding requirements, legal requirements, and standards such as EMAP or NFPA 1600 which can broadly influence our programs. We assess current plans to identify what our gaps are and what plans need to be revisited. We can assess our organization to determine if staffing is maximized and that policy, procedure, and protocol support an agile organization. The status of equipment can be assessed to determine what is operational and ready to deploy. We can conduct a training needs assessment to identify what training is needed; and lastly, we can assess opportunities to exercise. Not only should our assessments inform what needs to be accomplished for each of the POETE elements, but regular assessment check ins and activities should be identified, nay planned for, within our preparedness plan. Consider what else can inform our preparedness plan. A recent hazard analysis, THIRA, or state preparedness report (SPR) can feed a lot of information into a preparedness plan – especially the state preparedness report, as it is specifically structured to identify POETE gaps.
Planning – We should always examine what we have. If plan reviews aren’t scheduled, they often fall to the wayside. Plan review teams should be identified for each plan, and a review schedule or cycle established. Benchmark activities for plan review activities should also be identified. The need for new plans should also be highlighted. Based on standards, requirements, best practices, or other need, what plans do you organization need to assemble in the next year or two? Again, identify benchmarks for these.
Organization – Assessments of your organization, either as direct efforts or as part of after action reports or strategic plans can identify what needs to be accomplished organizationally. Maybe it’s a reorganization, an increase in staffing levels, an impending change in administration, expected attrition, union matters, or something else that needs to be addressed. As with many other things, some matters or organization are simple, while others are very difficult to navigate. Without a plan of action, it’s easy to allow things to fall to the wayside. What changes need to be made? Who is responsible for implementing them? Who else needs to be involved? What’s a reasonable timeline for making these changes happen?
Equipping – Many logisticians are great at keeping accurate records and maintenance plans. This measure of detail isn’t likely needed for your preparedness plan, but you still should be documenting the big picture. What benchmarks need to be established and followed? Are there any large expenditures expected for equipment such as a communications vehicle? Is there an impending conversion of equipment to comply with a new standard? Are there any gaps in resource management that need to be addressed?
Training – Informed by a training needs assessment, a training plan can be developed. A training plan should identify foundational training that everyone needs as well as training needed for people functioning at certain levels or positions. Ideally, you are addressing needs through training programs that already exist, either internally or externally, but there may be a need to develop new training programs. A training plan should identify what training is needed, for who, and to what level (i.e. to steal from the hazmat world – Awareness? Operations? Technician?). The plan should identify who will coordinate the training, how often the training will be made available, and how new training will be developed.
Exercises – We have a standard of practice for identifying exercises into the future – it’s called the multi-year training and exercise plan (MYTEP). While it’s supposed to include training (or at least training related to the identified exercises), training often falls to the wayside during the training and exercise planning workshop (TEPW). The outcomes of the TEPW can be integrated into your preparedness plan, allowing for an opportunity to synchronize needs and activities across each element.
Just as we do with most of our planning efforts, I would suggest forming a planning team to shepherd your preparedness plan, comprised of stakeholders of each of the elements. I envision this as a group that should be in regular communication about preparedness efforts, with periodic check-ins on the preparedness plan. This engagement should lead to synchronization of efforts. Identify what activities are related and how. Has a new plan been developed? Then people need to be trained on it and the plan should be exercised. Has new equipment been procured? Then people should be trained in its use and plans should account for the new or increased capability.
Like any effort, endorsement from leadership is necessary, especially when multiple stakeholders need to be brought together and working together. Many emergency management and homeland security organizations have positions responsible for preparedness, often at the deputy director level. The formation and maintenance of a comprehensive preparedness plan should be a foundation of their efforts to manage preparedness and forecast and synchronize efforts.
Does your organization have a plan for preparedness beyond just a multi-year training and exercise plan? What elements do you tie in? Do you find it to be a successful endeavor?
Do you need assistance in developing a preparedness plan? Contact us!
© 2016 – Timothy Riecker
Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – Your Partner in Preparedness
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