Earlier this year, FEMA released guidance on the Community Lifelines. I wrote a piece in the spring about integrating the concept into our preparedness and response activities. Last month, FEMA issued updated guidance for Community Lifeline Implementation through Toolkit 2.0. In this update, FEMA cites some lessons learned in actually applying the Lifeline concept in multiple exercises across the nation, as well as from feedback received by stakeholders. Based on these lessons learned and feedback, they have made some adjustments to their toolkit to reflect how they understand, prioritize, and communicate incident impacts; the structure and format for decision-making support products. And planning for these impacts and stabilization prior to and during incidents. They have also made some changes based upon the updated National Response Framework. The documents associated with the updated Community Lifelines all seem to reflect an inclusion in the efforts of the National Response Framework. It’s great to see FEMA actually tying various efforts together and seeking to provide grounded guidance on application of concepts mentioned in doctrine-level documents.
The biggest addition to the Community Lifelines update is the inclusion of the FEMA Incident Stabilization Guide. The ‘operational draft’ is intended to serve as a reference to FEMA staff and a resource to state, local, and tribal governments on how “FEMA approaches and conducts response operations”. It’s a 77-page document the obviously leans heavily into the Community Lifelines as a standard for assessing the impacts to critical infrastructure and progress toward restoration, not only in response, but also into recovery operations. It even reflects on bolstering Community Lifelines in resilience efforts, and ties in the THIRA and capability analysis efforts that states, UASIs, and other governments conduct. I’m not sure the document is really a review of how FEMA conducts operations, as they say, but it does review the ideology of a portion of those operations. Overall, there is some very useful information and references contained in the document, but this brings me to a couple of important thoughts:
- The utility of this document, as with the entire Community Lifelines concept, at the state and local level is only realized through integration of these concepts at the state and local levels.
- We finally have guidance on what ‘incident stabilization’ really entails.
To address the first item… In my first piece on Community Lifelines, I had already mentioned that if states or communities are interested in adopting the concept of Community Lifelines, that all starts with planning. An important early step of planning is conducting assessments, and the most pertinent assessment relative to this initiative would be to identify and catalog the lifelines in your community. From there the assessment furthers to examine their present condition, vulnerabilities, and align standards for determining their operational condition aligned with the Community Lifelines guidelines. I would also suggest identifying resiliency efforts (hopefully these are already identified in your hazard mitigation plan) which can help prevent damages or limit impacts. As part of your response and short-term recovery lexicon, procedures should be developed to outline how lifeline assessments will be performed, when, and by who, as well as where that information will be collected during an incident.
As for my second item, the concept of incident stabilization has an interesting intersection with a meeting I was invited to last week. I was afforded the opportunity to provide input to an ICS curriculum update (not in the US – more on this at a later time), and as part of this we discussed the standard three incident priorities (Life Safety, Incident Stabilization, and Property Conservation). We identified in our discussions that incident stabilization is incredibly broad and can ultimately mean different things to different communities, even though the fundamental premise of it is to prevent further impacts. This Incident Stabilization Guide is focused exclusively on that topic. In our endeavor to make ICS training better, more grounded, less conceptual, and more applicable; there is a great deal of foundational information that could be distilled from this new document for inclusion in ICS training to discuss HOW we actually accomplish incident stabilization instead of making a one-off mention of it.
Going a bit into my continued crusade against the current state of ICS training… I acknowledge that any inclusion of this subject matter in ICS training would still be generally brief, and really more of a framework, as implementation still needs to be grounded in community-level plans, but this document is a great resource. This also underscores that “learning ICS” isn’t just about taking classes. It’s about being a professional and studying up on how to be a more effective incident manager. ICS is simply a tool we use to organize our response… ICS is NOT inclusive of incident management. Not only are we teaching ICS poorly, we are barely teaching incident management.
While I’ve been away for a while working on some large client projects, I’m looking forward to ending the year with a bang, and getting in a few more posts. It’s great that in my travels and interactions with colleagues, they regularly mention my articles, which often bring about some great discussion. I’m always interested in hearing the thoughts of other professionals on these topics.
© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP