Six Emergency Management Priorities for the Next Administration

New administrations get to identify their priorities for various areas of focus… this can be both good and bad. It’s not a simple thing. New priorities should embrace progress, while ensuring that certain existing priorities, programs, and projects remain. Yes, some existing programs may deserve to be scrubbed, but far too often we see administrations go ‘clean slate’ doing away wholesale with what has been implemented by their predecessor or their predecessor’s predecessor. Emergency management requires consistency, yet we also require progress. It has been frustrating through the years to see many good practices discarded simply because they were a priority of another administration, and new practices introduced that aren’t well thought through, simply because it was someone’s good idea or they wanted to put their name on something. Emergency management (and I suppose most others) is an area of practice that must embrace forward looking consistency if that makes much sense.  Sometimes tradition needs to be dragged along kicking and screaming, while new practices need to integrate with legacy implementations, lest we continue to create a never-ending complexity of stove piped programs with little to no connective tissue.

Before I jump into the pool, I also want to acknowledge that no one person can obviously be knowledgeable of all the issues facing an area of practice. It requires not just an advisor, but a team of advisors – practitioners with a range of experience and experiences as well as academics. Emergency management is not only a government activity. Emergency management is not only pulled out of the toolbox when a disaster occurs. Emergency management also has more connections to other program areas than arguably any other practice. There is a lot to see and a lot to contextualize.

So on to our show…

Coronavirus/COVID 19

Obviously, this is THE priority of the incoming administration. I’m not going to go on at length about this since I’m pretty sure we’re all aware of the issues, complexities, etc. What I will encourage here is thinking comprehensively. This is a public health crisis, but the solution is not just in the realm of public health. There needs to be a better recognition of the role of emergency management in addressing problems and being part of the solutions, including vaccine distribution. These kinds of logistics are a big part of what emergency management does, so they don’t need to be recreated. Given the scope of this effort, the private sector will be huge partners in this as well. A national-level effort for after action reviews for the pandemic will also be important. Yes, there are a lot of lessons learned that can be put over the whole nation (and even the world), but there are plenty of other lessons learned that may be more dependent upon geography, population, and operational sector. Not only should everyone be doing an after-action report, but a portal where the data (not just the document) can be entered would help the federal government collect this data, the analysis of which would most assuredly provide valuable insight. Speaking of lessons learned…

Public Health Preparedness

The pandemic has shown what works and what doesn’t work. We need to fix what is broken, boost what works, and not forget to examine the grey areas in between (such as our earlier assumptions on pandemic planning… they weren’t all necessarily wrong, they were just wrong for this pandemic). Public health preparedness needs to be re-prioritized, and the relationship with emergency management strengthened (we tried to do this about 18 years ago but fell well short of where it needed to be). Use what exists – there are public health capabilities which are well defined. Public health coalitions have been developed across the nation. We need to do better at supporting public health in meeting and maintaining needs – this needs to be a structured, deliberate effort. DO NOT just throw money at the problem and hope it will get solved. That’s bullshit governing and a waste of tax dollars.

Climate Change

Speaking of bullshit governing and wasting tax dollars, we need a GOOD strategy to integrate climate change issues across everything we do. No more shotgun approach. No more of ‘well that’s the best we can do’. We need a deliberate, coordinated effort. Anything less is a waste of time, money, and effort. Just as emergency management touches practically all other functions, as does climate change. The federal government must do a better job of forming operational coalitions – that is partnering federal agencies, the private sector, non-profits, and even some select state and local governments into functioning entities. (This should be a standard of practice in emergency management as well). The model I’m speaking of isn’t some think tank, group that meets on occasion, or blue-ribbon panel. I’m talking about something that’s operational, with actual employees (specialists) from agencies with responsibility for addressing areas of the problem given temporary duty assignments to an entity whose existence is to work that problem. This is done through identification of priorities and implementation pathways, utilization and allocation of grant funding, advocacy, torch carrying, interagency coordination, problem solving, etc. Just a few of the entities involved in climate change obviously include FEMA, DOT, HHS, DHS, NWS, and more. The best way to solve this is not just getting everyone on the same page or in the same room, but actually organized, led, and synchronized.

Economic Recovery

Economic recovery is an aspect of emergency management, but I’m no economist, so I’ll address it briefly. The pandemic has hit our economy hard. Yes, I think a lot of it will naturally heal as the pandemic comes to an end, but we also can’t just sit around and wait for that nor can we hope for the best and accept (or not) the outcome we get. Economic recovery needs to be deliberate and structured. And remember, in emergency management we don’t just ‘recover’ – we ‘build back better’. This is an opportunity to integrate resiliency into our economy, governments, businesses, and society as a whole.

Integrated Preparedness

I’ve long been complaining about the stove piped programs we see in emergency management. Perhaps from a program administration perspective, focused activity works, but at the state and local levels, practitioners need to see how these things come together so they can easily link efforts. To do it well requires more than crosswalk developed by some junior consultant. It takes a deliberate effort at the doctrinal level to not only demonstrate, but provide sensible pathways to implementation that show how disparate concepts such as NIMS, HSEEP, the National Preparedness Goal, CPG 101, Community Lifelines, etc. actually come together IN PRACTICE. These are all good things taken individually, yet so many either don’t think to combine them, don’t know how to combine them, or are too intimidated or lack the understanding of the benefits to care.

HSEEP has done away with the training and exercise planning workshop (TEPW) and introduced the integrated preparedness planning workshop (IPPW), which we hope would contribute to actual integrated preparedness, but how many know about this? How many actually care? How many know how to do it? Let’s face it… most used the TEPW solely to put exercises on a calendar. That’s all. The training aspect was largely ignored. Is the mention of an IPP in updated HSEEP doctrine alone going to get people to talk even more broadly about preparedness? Nope. If exercises aren’t part of someone’s responsibility (or if they don’t have the time or inclination to do them) they aren’t going to read the updated HSEEP doctrine. Even if they do, will they catch this pretty important change? Possibly not. FEMA held webinars on the IPP concept. These webinars communicated very little, and reinforced that integrated preparedness is an HSEEP concept rather than an EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT concept. You can’t bury something that is so broad reaching into such focused doctrine. Integrated preparedness needs to have its own doctrine and have its own effort – and with the understanding that most mid to large sized emergency management agencies have different parts of the organization responsible for each area of preparedness. If the feds don’t give it the attention it deserves, most state and local governments certainly won’t. We do have a National Integration Center, don’t we? Hmmmm….

Hazard Mitigation Programs, Grants, and Tools

Similar to the matter of integrated preparedness, we really need to do better at hazard mitigation. Hazard mitigation planning has turned into a bureaucratic mess, with jurisdictions spending a lot of money on plans every five years that they rarely reference, much less put into deliberate action. We need to do better.

Standards for hazard mitigation planning also need to be expanded. Rarely is an ‘all hazard’ hazard mitigation plan actually ‘all hazard’. Do they address cyber security? Active shooter/hostile event incidents? Most do not. We also need to see better and more consistent integration of societal data into hazard mitigation planning. There is usually heavy analysis of risk, but not vulnerability in these types of plans. Things like community vulnerability indices give a better perspective on the fragility of our populations. Without doing so, we really aren’t considering the whole community.

~~

So, these are my top six priorities as I see them. Each of these has lasting impact coupled with a more timely urgency. Certainly, there are other things that can be viewed as priorities, but if the list is exhaustive, it pretty much loses the concept of being priority. These are the primary emergency management efforts I would build an administration around. Obviously other activities must continue, but these form the areas of emphasis.  

In re-reading my post, I realized there is a word I used an awful lot… deliberate. I’m guessing it wasn’t accidental, more an influence of my sub-conscious emphasizing well planned and established activities instead of the hap-hazard and half-hearted efforts we often see. There is no sense in showing up to only play part of the game. We need to see it through to the end. That’s how we make a difference.

What thoughts do you have on emergency management priorities for the incoming administration?

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

A New CPG 101 Draft

About a year ago, FEMA distributed a draft revision of Community Preparedness Guide 101: Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans (CPG 101). Since then we hadn’t heard much about the update progress, until yesterday. This latest draft, including in formation on how you can provide feedback, can be found here.

This latest draft incorporates some newer policies and programs not included in last year’s revision. I was pleased to see that some of the items from my feedback (and I’m certain from many others) was integrated into this draft. Some parts of the document were expanded or restructured, while other aspects were appropriately reduced (like excessive reiteration of national-level plans). It’s a much better draft than the one we saw a year ago. That said, there are some changes I’d still like to see.

Perhaps it was simply because this document is a draft, but a number of the graphics they have reused from other documents were grainy and low resolution. Clearly, they should have access to the source files for those graphics. If not, they need to redevelop them.  Aside from that aesthetic feedback, I’d like to see the document written less doctrinal and more as a tool – especially considering that most people referencing the document are likely to be less experienced planners. The document needs more references, job aids, and best practices identified. This draft does include quite a number of checklists, but those are only integrated within the text of the document. I feel those should also be included as an attachment that planners can ‘pull out’ of the main document and use as their primary reference. I’d also like to see clearer connections with other doctrine, policy, and practices, such as NIMS, THIRA, Community Lifelines, integrated preparedness plans, etc. While most of these are identified in the document, the contextualization needs to be amplified, reinforcing that these aren’t necessarily all ‘standalone’ applications or practices; that they are best utilized when specific linkages can be identified and exploited. It’s the utility for less experienced planners that I feel most strongly about.

All that said, I’m hopeful we don’t have to wait another year for this draft to become an official next version of CPG 101.

What do you think of this draft? What do you want to see included in CPG101?

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Build a Smart Exercise and Respond to the Unexpected

A few days ago I caught a documentary on NatGeo called Inside: 21st Century Warship. The documentary was produced in 2013 and told of the cutting-edge design of the USS Freedom and USS Independence. One segment of the documentary captured an exercise the USS Freedom engaged in, with the objective of testing the ship’s firepower to destroy several remote-controlled fast attack boats in open seas. The Captain, well experienced in my opinion, was able to neutralize the boats through the massive wake created by the ship’s sizeable turbines. EndEx.

The lead controller was clearly upset with this. The objective of the exercise, after all, was to test the ship’s guns, which were not fired in this exercise. The controller vented his frustration with the Captain, needing to reemphasize the parameters of the exercise.

Who was at fault in this? Was the objective of the exercise communicated to the Captain? That wasn’t made clear in the documentary. If it was, perhaps it wasn’t made clear that use of the ship’s guns was the only means by which the Captain could engage the attacking boats. I do applaud the Captain’s initial defensive methods, which is perhaps what he was trained to do, though that obviously circumvented the intent of the exercise. Either way, there was a miscommunication or misunderstanding as to the intent and parameters of the exercise.

While this is a military example, the portability to emergency management and homeland security is pretty direct. How do we mitigate against this type of miscommunication or misunderstanding? It starts with a well-defined concept and objectives for our exercise. Those build the foundation from which the rest of the exercise is constructed. Part of exercise design is anticipating how players may respond to the information they are provided and the situations which they will face. This constant analysis helps us to ensure a well-designed exercise, especially in regard to reducing any and all ambiguity, particularly as information relates to the objectives of the exercise and the ‘rules of the game’. It helps us to craft clear injects and even contingency injects in the event players don’t respond the way in which we expect them. Finally, when it comes to deployment of the exercise, an effective player briefing is very important.

Can things still go wrong? Sure they can. That’s why it helps to have a well experienced Exercise Director and/or Lead Controller, and a proficient SimCell Manager (if you are using a SimCell). They can help get the exercise out of a rut. I’ve seen and performed all manner of intervention… most often it’s some ad-hoc development of contingency injects to help steer them down the right path. I’ve also engaged chief executives, who sometimes weren’t expected to participate in the exercise, to make a call, functioning in their own capacity but working for me as an actor, with clear direction to poke, prod, inquire, or otherwise re-direct to get players back into my sandbox. If necessary, it’s a conversation directly with the ‘leader’ of the players, pulling them out of the exercise for a moment and letting them know what they can or can’t be doing. If you have to call a time out and reset something, do it, but do it quickly.

It may be cliché but expect the unexpected. Sometimes players will do something you don’t anticipate. While this may be the circumstance, however, it could very well be on you. Either you didn’t communicate the rules or communicate them well enough. Ensure understanding in this communication. Certainly, ensure that during the exercise, there is good communication between controllers and the SimCell to identify when, if, and how players might be straying a bit. If it’s caught early enough, it will usually just take a gentle nudge to get them back on track. It’s important to recognize and address it as soon as possible – otherwise you will quickly lose your exercise, wasting time and money, and certainly frustrating the players.

Have you had an exercise go off the rails? How did you correct it?

©2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®