Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management

There have been a number of efforts to further the expansion of diversity and inclusion in Emergency Management recently. A great step forward has recently been made by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), by organizing their own internal Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) within the agency. Their press release states it is the first of its kind across the nation dedicated to reducing barriers to assistance and equality in disaster relief and emergency management. They will provide subject matter expertise, strategic leadership, and technical assistance to VDEM and other Emergency Management partners.

Diversity and inclusion are equally important internally to Emergency Management as they are externally. It starts with deliberate intent from leadership and inclusion in the strategic plans of the organization, with personnel across the organization made familiar with goals, specific approaches, and given examples of what to do and how to do it. Whether you establish a specific unit within your Emergency Management organization or not, the effort must permeate the entirety of the Emergency Management practice, regardless of those efforts originating with the Emergency Management agency or elsewhere. Consider your own internal matters, such as hiring, partner agencies and organizations, and your own personnel practices and relationships. Large agencies should ensure that their staff reflect the demographics of the communities they serve. It’s not just a matter of race and gender, but ethnic and cultural background, languages, disability, and other factors.

We need to examine how we deliver programs. When I took over a state training and exercise program, I had the realization that many of the training locations we used across the state were not accessible. The most basic but significant barrier being that facilities were either up flights of stairs or down flights of stairs, with no elevators. While we didn’t have any complaints, it was still wrong; not to mention in violation of the federal funding used for training which required adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I sought the advice of an organization that advocates for persons with disabilities and developed ADA-consistent standards for the selection of our training facilities. Those not meeting those standards were immediately discontinued.

Community outreach efforts, which may also crosscut to other lines of effort such as training, hazard mitigation, and disaster recovery; need to be inclusive. We must always consider our audiences and how they will be reached and communicated with. There is no single solution, therefore multiple solutions should be made available. We need to not only consider languages and accommodations for hearing impairments, but also the inherent distrust that some cultures, particularly refugees, may have of government. We need to address technological barriers as well – not everyone is on Twitter, much less following your account. Even the simple ability to relate is important. While it’s important to dress professionally (I’m seeing some EM agencies wearing tee shirts… which I think is far too casual), a suit and tie is often too intimidating, too ‘government’, and too impersonal when working with community members.

Our planning efforts must identify, acknowledge, and address the diverse audiences and communities we have, the barriers they may have relative to the plan, and how we will work toward supporting those communities. Hazard mitigation and disaster recovery efforts are where some of our biggest gaps are when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Our existing policies and procedures are great, and applicable to a large percentage of the situations and people who need help, but they also unintentionally (I’m being optimistic) leave some people behind. We need to ensure concerted efforts to assess and meet the needs of traditionally underserved populations, which not only includes vulnerable and small rural communities, but urban communities as well. We also need to consider a customer service perspective in these efforts; remembering that while WE know the rules, policies, and procedures, the people impacted often do not. Persons impacted are confused, overwhelmed, and traumatized. This requires special care, deliberate outreach, and helping them through the bureaucracy we seem to thrive in. In regard to hazard mitigation, the long-established standard of community participation is important to ensuring that we are not only meeting needs we may not fully be aware of, but also not creating unintended consequences by any of our approaches to addressing known problems. Reflecting back on our community outreach efforts, we all know that most requirements for advertising public meetings do NOT reach across the entire community. We need to make better efforts.

Diversity and inclusion should somehow be on the agenda of most meetings. We should always consider who we are aren’t including or not reaching and how we can do better, regardless of the activity. Do we need to do something different internally? Is there an external partner that can support our efforts? Are we unintentionally creating barriers? If someone is not able to go through the process as we have prescribed it, is there an alternate means of doing so? We also need to recognize where law and regulation create barriers, and work with elected officials to advocate for meaningful changes.

Emergency Management has always been about engaging different stakeholders through our coordination activities. Diversity and inclusion then seem an easy bridge to cross, yet far too many Emergency Management agencies and efforts continue to be dominated by able-bodied white men. It’s (mostly) not a knock on that demographic (of which I am a part), but we need to recognize the benefits of the different perspectives offered by others, as well as the need to better serve those who have consistently been underserved by our efforts, through error or omission. We have long espoused ‘whole community’ in our efforts, yet we often aren’t practicing what we preach.

I think the VDEM ODEI may serve as a model for other states and larger local Emergency Management offices. I hope to see them spreading lessons learned, speaking at conferences, and being embraced by FEMA as a new standard of practice in Emergency Management. For those Emergency Management organizations that are perhaps too small to include a new organizational component for this, they can still incorporate the concepts into what they do, along with establishing partnerships with organizations that can support these efforts. We can and must do better!

What other efforts toward diversity and inclusion does Emergency Management need to engage in?

© 2021 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Climate Change Exercise Resource Guide

Aside from the significant challenge of educating climate change deniers, climate change provides us with challenges of adaptation and resilience now and into the future. To meet this challenge, we need to meld various aspects of emergency management, science, engineering, theory, and some educated guesses to our applications. We are further challenged with certain preparedness activities which have always been difficult for us because of the less tangible and more dynamic nature of what we are dealing with. I wrote a few years ago on the difficulties we have in designing exercises for long-term recovery. That difficulty, along with the fact that recovery isn’t deemed as sexy as response, are why we rarely have exercises in set in the recovery phase of disaster. But how about exercises in the mitigation mission area?

Exercises focused on the mitigation mission area are also not commonplace, yet the application absolutely makes sense. Yes, we have science, engineering models, and historical data that help support hazard mitigation planning and other related tasks, but in emergency management we don’t seem to take the time to actually talk through some of the scenarios we may be faced with. Exercises help us not only to validate plans, but also help us to identify viable approaches for our plans.

Most people know climate change as an ethereal concept, something they hear about with increasing frequency, but don’t really understand what could happen in their own communities. They also likely view climate change as something too big for them to deal with. Climate change is no longer a theory of what may happen hundreds of years from now, rather it’s happening right now and we will see those impacts increase exponentially even within our own lifetimes. We need to make these discussions as commonplace as any other hazard (and actually WITH other hazards since climate change tends to exacerbate the frequency and impact of other hazards), and exercises offer an ideal structure for those discussions, helping to maintain focus and document outcomes in a consistent fashion.

To help support these efforts, FEMA has released the Long-Term Community Resilience Exercise Guide, along with a packet of reference documents from exercises around the nation which give some ideas on how this can be applied. These are available on the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) website and are another important tool available to us. From the HSEEP website, the Guide is intended to provide:

  • A dictionary with common terms to ensure a shared understanding of climate-related terminology and principles before an exercise
  • Tools and template for planning and conducting climate-focused exercises
  • Resources including funding opportunities, risk assessments, and training programs

Now that the federal government is again allowed to use the term ‘climate change’, I’m hopeful we will see more resources made available. I also appreciate that FEMA is asking users to submit their best practices for using this new guide; which they will hopefully use to continue improvements and share with others.

© 2021 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Soft Skills Are Hard to Find

Across emergency management, dependent upon specific jobs, we certainly need to apply a lot of technical skillsets. So often, though, soft skills are dismissed, which is quite ironic given that soft skills are really the foundation of what emergency managers need given our emphasis on communication, collaboration, and coordination.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, soft skills are things that are generally applicable to various types of work. These include things like communication, writing, leadership, teamwork, problem solving, organizing, time management, and others. These are skills generally expected of any working professional. They can be honed, but often require some innate ability. Soft skills are different from hard skills, which are those that tend to be more technical and industry specific. These are also generally something acquired more through learning and less dependent upon innate ability.

FEMA’s Professional Development Series (PDS) used to be a cornerstone of emergency management training. Many state emergency management training programs had an emphasis on these courses and the content they provided. The PDS offered soft skills courses, such as Effective Communication, Decision Making and Problem Solving, and Leadership alongside training on topics more so focused on emergency management topics. These courses did a lot to support the professionalism of emergency managers and their abilities to do their jobs in a reasonably comprehensive nature. About 15 years ago FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute made the decision to offer these courses as part of their Independent Study program, a choice that made the content more widely available while also arguably decreasing the effectiveness of the training by removing the dynamics of a live instructor and the learning gained from group activities. While states still had the option to continue delivering classroom versions of these courses, demand severely dropped as people opted to take the courses online.

While the PDS is still available, it’s in a diminished popularity. FEMA’s EMI now offers the National Emergency Management Basic Academy, which provides a great series of courses, and to their credit, they do include some soft skills topics within the courses, especially the Foundations of Emergency Management course. That said, we still need more. Soft skills aren’t a one-off, they need to be built and honed. While FEMA’s EMI isn’t the only provider of soft skills training, they are the go-to provider for most emergency managers.

Having recently had the opportunity to review the participant manual for the new Advanced Planning Practitioner course, I was very happy to see the thought put into providing content on soft skills particularly as they relate to the hard skills involved in emergency planning. Emergency planning at its essence is absolutely a hard skill, with specific technical aspects, but there are several soft skills that are complimentary to the process of emergency planning, without which the planning effort will be less than effective. Consider that so much of emergency planning is consensus building, coordination, meeting management, research, and writing. Communication, facilitation, and public speaking are central to much of this.

I think a lot of people have a tendency to roll their eyes at soft skills, thinking that their abilities are already at peak performance or claiming that they are good because they took a course 15 years ago. As professionals in emergency management, we need to regularly spend time honing our skills. Yes, there are plenty of technical things for us to be trained in and practice such as plan writing, exercises, ICS, etc., but soft skills make us better at doing those things. Both in government service and as a consultant, I see far too many people lacking in soft skills. There may be some highly technical jobs where soft skills have less importance, but soft skills in emergency management are just as important, if not more important, than some technical skills, especially when you consider that one of the greatest values we contribute is our ability to bring people to the table, facilitate discussions, and gain consensus on important decisions before, during, and after disaster. How all that is applied may very well be technical, but we can’t get there without good soft skills.

What do you think are the most valuable soft skills?

© 2021 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Public Health and Public Safety: Step Up or Step Out

So here it is. This is what it’s come to. We are over a year and a half into the COVID 19 pandemic. We have vaccines. We have improved treatments on the horizon. Yet we still have a long way to go. Why? Because people who are able to do so refuse to get vaccinated and even refuse to wear masks and practice other precautions. It’s inexcusable among the public, unforgivable for those who work in public health and public safety.

Those who work in public health and public safety are entrusted with the health and safety of the public. In order to do so we not only need to take care of ourselves, but also do what we can to protect each other and the public. We seem to have a rash of issues lately, such as:

  • A state trooper, ‘forced’ to resign because he didn’t comply with a vaccine mandate, signing off of his last transmission with a statement of ‘the governor can kiss my ass’. From all I’ve heard, this trooper had a great career and made a big difference – yet this temper tantrum is what most people are talking about.
  • Hundreds of health workers ‘forced’ to resign or being fired because of their lack of compliance with vaccine mandates.
  • A large number of attendees of a recent emergency management conference not wearing masks during the conference, despite repeated written and verbal instructions from the host organization to do so before and during the conference.
  • Hundreds of corrections officers potentially being ‘forced’ to resign or being fired because of their lack of compliance with vaccine mandates.

Public health and public safety have never been about individual freedoms, rather they are focused on what is good for the public as a whole. Yes, we should be taking precautions to protect ourselves, but we also do so to protect our co-workers and the public we are entrusted with caring for and serving. While some choose to make this a political issue, I have colleagues across much of the political spectrum who have maintained vigilance and care in the office, with the public, with their families, and even off duty by getting vaccinated and practicing other precautionary measures as appropriate. Some choose to make it a matter of religious freedom, yet the leaders of every major world religion are encouraging their followers to get vaccinated and take precautions.

It seems a simple, and respectful thing to get vaccinated and to also take these precautions when on duty and representing your agency, but also as much as possible beyond that. I’ll grant that some social situations can be challenging, but we can and should maintain an appropriate measure of vigilance, again not just for the benefit of yourself, but also for the benefit and respect of others. Doing so isn’t about ‘being a sheep’ or following some fascist rule of law. It’s about health, safety, and respect.

I’ve seen some disregard vaccinations and precautionary measures because they are not 100% effective, therefore they must be a joke or the science must be wrong. Consider that careful driving, the wearing of seatbelts, and vehicles with airbags aren’t foolproof preventers of injury or death in a car accident., either. Nothing is foolproof, especially when there are so many fools. We do the best we can with what we have and if we want to be true professionals in public health and public safety we need to lead by example.

My disappointment in public health and public safety personnel who flaunt and disregard these standards is high, regardless of their rank, station, or prior accomplishments. As such, I say: step up or step out. If you don’t have a regard for yourself, your family, your coworkers, and the public; then you should likely seek a different profession. If you are in these professions, but aren’t doing what you can to prevent the spread of the pandemic, I’m not sure what you stand for. This is a pandemic. It’s serious. Though it may not cause something as severe or dramatic as people randomly collapsing to their death in the streets, it has caused over 700,000 deaths in the US alone so far, as well as serious and lasting effects for many survivors.

I’ll close with this… I always encourage and welcome dialogue, discussion, and different points of view in response to my posts. That’s not changing, but I will say that science deniers, conspiracy theorists, and those espousing fuzzy math need not respond. Those aren’t informed opinions and certainly don’t lead to intelligent dialogue.

TR

ICS – Assistant Section Chiefs

Somehow this one snuck past me, but luckily I have some friends and colleagues who brought it to my attention and talked it through with me. The latest ICS curricula (not consistently, however) identifies that Section Chiefs can have Assistants. It’s been a long-standing practice for General Staff to have Deputies rather than Assistants. So where did this come from?

Page 82 of the NIMS document, as pointed out to me by someone at EMI, provides some language that seems to be the root of this. Here are the definitions provided:

Deputies are used at section and branch levels of the incident organization. A deputy, whether at the command, section, or branch level, is qualified to assume the position.

Assistants are used on Command Staffs and to support section chiefs. Unlike deputies, assistants have a level of technical capability, qualification, and responsibility subordinate to the primary positions and need not be fully qualified to assume the position.

None of those I spoke with are aware of the actual source of this change or why it was changed. Of course, I initially balked at it because it wasn’t the ICS I ‘grew up with’. Given some thought, however, it provides some organizational opportunities and certainly doesn’t violate any of the primary tenets of ICS.

There are absolutely some occasions in the past when, as a Planning Section Chief, I could have used this option. Planning Section Chiefs end up in a lot of meetings, and while I always felt comfortable with leaving the personnel staffing the section to their own tasks, it’s good to have another leader there in the absence of the Section Chief, both for the benefit of the section staff as well as the rest of the organization. However, if there was no one technically qualified to be a Deputy Section Chief but still capable of leading the staff and serving as an interim point person for the section, we would be (and have been) stuck in an organizational nuance. By definition, they couldn’t be assigned as a Deputy, but we didn’t have another option. This is a great opportunity to assign an Assistant. This is somewhat like an ‘executive officer’ type of position, whereas they have authority but can’t necessarily fill the shoes of the principal position.

To add to the myriad options for the Intelligence function, I also see the potential in the use of an Assistant, either in Planning or Operations, to be a viable option. This is someone qualified to lead the task, but not necessarily the Section they are organized within. I similarly see possibilities for addressing other defined needs within the incident organization. Sometimes we take some liberties, again for example in the Planning Section, to create Units that are non-standard, perhaps for tasks such as ‘Continuity Planning’, or ‘Operational Planning Support’ – of course being non-standard, you may have some different titles for them. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, as we aren’t violating any of the primary rules of ICS, nor are we creating positions that actually belong elsewhere (as I often see). Planning is planning, and there may be necessity to have personnel specifically tasked with functions like these. Instead of creating a Unit, which could still be done, you could assign the task to an Assistant. Consider something like debris management. There is a significant planning component to debris management, separate from the operations of debris management. This could be tasked specifically to an Assistant Section Chief to handle.

Another consideration, and somewhat tied to my first example of a de facto leader/point of contact for a section in the absence of the Section Chief, is that an Assistant Section Chief seems to carry more authority than a Unit Leader. That level of authority may need some doctrinal definition, but I think is also largely dependent upon the task they are given and the desires of the Section Chief assigning them – though this can make for inconsistencies across the incident organization. Having someone with a measure of authority, depending on the needs of the task, can be extremely helpful, particularly with the bureaucracies that incident management organizations can sometimes evolve into.

It’s important for us to recognize the need for doctrine to evolve based on common sense approaches to addressing identified needs. That means that the ICS we ‘grew up with’ can and should change if needed. As NIMS/ICS (and other standards) continues to evolve, we need to have discussions on these needs and potential solutions. Every change, however, has consequences, or at least additional considerations. I don’t feel this change should have been made without further exploration of the topic and answering questions such as the level of authority they may have, qualification standards, and support staff assigned to them (let’s be honest – things like this were never well defined for Assistant Command Staff positions either).  I also see a lot of value in doctrine offering best practice examples of use. Once doctrinal changes are made, curriculum changes certainly need to follow. In just examining the ICS 300 and ICS 400 course materials, the inclusion of Assistant Section Chiefs is simply not consistent or adequate.

Where do you find yourself on this topic? For or against Assistant Section Chiefs? What potential uses do you see? What potential problems do you see? How can we address these and ensure good implementation?

© 2021 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

A New CPG – 101 for Emergency Planning (v 3)

I know I’m a big nerd when it comes to this stuff, but I was really excited to receive the notice from FEMA that the new Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101: Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans has been published! This has been a long time coming. This update (version 3) replaces the previous version which was published in November 2010. The update process was also rather lengthy, with the first public review occurring in November 2019 and the second in November 2020.

Did a lot change? No.

Is it better? Yes.

Could it be even better? You bet.

The changes that are included in the new document are meaningful, with an emphasis on including accessibility concepts in plans; and references to current practices and standards, such as new and updated planning guides, CPG 201 (THIRA), Community Lifelines, and more. It even highlights a couple of lessons learned from the COVID 19 pandemic. I’m particularly pleased to see Appendix D: Enhancing Inclusiveness in EOPs, which I think is an excellent resource, though more links to other resources, of which there are many, should be provided in this appendix.

The format of the document is largely the same, with a lot of the content word-for-word the same. As a standard, a lot of change shouldn’t be expected. While we’ve seen some changes in our perspectives on emergency planning, there really hasn’t been anything drastic. Certainly “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but I think there could have been some better formatting choices, narrative, graphics, and job aids to enhance readability and implementation.  

There is some added content as well as a bit of highlighting of planning approaches, such as the District of Columbia’s services-based emergency operations plan. While I advocated for heavy reference to newer implementations and standards, such as THIRA, into the document (which was largely done) I also advocated for more user-friendly approaches, such as a hazard analysis matrix, to be included. My feedback from both public comment periods heavily emphasized the need to develop a document that will mostly benefit novice emergency planners. To me this means the inclusion of more graphic depictions of processes and tasks, as well as job aids, such as checklists and templates. The new CPG 101 does include more checklists. At first glance these are buried in the document which is not very user friendly. However, they did make a separate Compilation of Checklists document available, which I’m really happy about. It’s not highly apparent on the website nor is it included as part of the main document, so it could be easily missed.

I would have really liked to see a comprehensive library of job aids provided in the appendices to support implementation by new planners. We have other doctrine and related documents that provide rather extensive job aids to support implementation, such as HSEEP and NIMS (and not only the ICS component of NIMS). Not including that kind of supporting material in this update is very much a missed opportunity. Planning really is the cornerstone of preparedness, yet it doesn’t seem we are providing as much support for quality and consistent planning efforts. Given the extent of time between updates, I expected better. While being largely consistent in the format and content between versions is practically a necessity, there really should have been a parallel effort, separate from document revision, to outline practices and approaches to emergency plan development. Integrating that content into the update, ideally, would have done more to support HOW each step of the planning process is accomplished, as well as providing some job aids.

Speaking of implementation support, I’m curious about how EMI’s new Advanced Planning course, which I didn’t get into the pilot offering of, builds on the Emergency Planning course and compliments use of CPG 101.

Be sure to update your own personal reference library with this new version of CPG 101. If you are interested in a review with FEMA personnel, they are providing a series of one-hour webinars. What are your thoughts on the new CPG 101?

© 2021 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Twenty Years

It’s been nearly twenty years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It simultaneously feels like it happened just a few months ago, if not a lifetime ago. I can still feel the fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, and exhaustion from the incident and the long response.

I spent most of the response in the NY State EOC in Albany. Although disconnected by distance, it was still a traumatic and impactful event for the people there. Everyone has their own personal story of 9/11. I won’t bore you with mine.

With this 20th anniversary, there are a lot of panels, documentaries, and writeups about the attacks, the impacts, the people, the response, and the recovery efforts. For those of you who weren’t yet working in emergency management at the time, or perhaps were even too young to recall much of it, I urge you, if you can, to consider checking out some of the fact-based materials new and old. Among those, I suggest reading the report from the 9/11 Commission. There were an abundance of lessons learned, many of which we have applied, some of which have been unfortunately left to the wayside. Lessons learned from the 9/11 attacks were the catalyst for some significant changes in emergency management, including a newfound and sometimes awkward partnership with homeland security, a concept rarely heard of before then.

I urge everyone to be respectful of those who lived through the event – survivor, responder, or civilian. While some like to tell war stories, others prefer to maintain some emotional distance. A few years ago I stopped attending 9/11 memorials. I’ve come to feel rather overwhelmed by them. I still honor those lost with my own remembrances and in my own way. Do whatever feels appropriate to you: Attend a memorial. Volunteer. Donate blood. Make a charitable donation. Thank a responder.

If you feel a lot of distress on this anniversary, please talk to a friend, family member, or a therapist, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 (this link provides numbers for suicide prevention hotlines in other nations around the world). If you know anyone who struggles with their emotions from 9/11, please do check in on them over the next few days. It can make a world of difference to them, and it may even save their life.  

Never forget.

TR

ICS 400 Training – Who Really Needs It?

A few days ago I had a bit of discussion with others on Twitter in regard to who actually has a need for ICS 400 training. I think a lot of people are taking the ICS 400 (Advanced ICS for Command and General Staff) course for the wrong reasons. While I’d never dissuade anyone from learning above and beyond what is required, we also, as a general statement, can’t be packing course offerings with people who don’t actually need the training. There is also an organizational expense to sending people to training, and the return on that investment decreases when they don’t need it and won’t apply it. Overall, if you are a new reader, I have a lot of thoughts on why our approach to ICS Training Sucks, which can be found here.

Before we dig any deeper into the topic, let’s have a common understanding of what is covered in the ICS 400 course. The course objectives identified in the National Preparedness Course Catalog for some reason differ from those actually included in the current 2019 version of the course, so instead I’ll list the major topics covered by the two-day course:

  • Incident Complex
  • Dividing into multiple incidents
  • Expanding the Planning Capability
  • Adding a second Operations or Logistics Section
  • Placement options for the Intel/Investigations function
  • Area Command
  • Multi-Agency Coordination
  • Emergency Operations Centers
  • Emergency Support Functions

For this discussion, it’s also important to reference the NIMS Training Program document, released in the summer of 2020. This document states many times over that it includes training recommendations and that the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) determines which personnel are to take which courses. This document indicates the ICS 400 is recommended for:

  1. ICS personnel in leadership/supervisor roles
  2. IMT command, section, branch, division, or group leaders preparing for complex incidents

Note that while #1 above seems to fully capture anyone in a leadership/supervisor role, the document also says that IMT unit, strike team, resource team, or task force leaders preparing for complex incidents do NOT need the training. I’d say this certainly conflicts with #1 above.

With that information provided, let’s talk about who really needs to take the ICS 400 from a practical, functional perspective. First of all, looking at recommendation #1 above, that’s a ridiculously broad statement, which includes personnel that don’t need to have knowledge of the course topics. The second recommendation, specific to IMTs, I’ll agree is reasonably accurate.

Having managed a state training program and taught many dozen deliveries of the ICS 400 course, I’ll tell you that the vast majority of people taking the course don’t need to be in it. I’d suggest that some deliveries may have had absolutely no one that actually needed it, while most had a scant few. Much of this perspective comes from a relative determination of need of personnel that fit within recommendation #1 above. Just because someone may be an incident commander or a member of command and general staff, doesn’t necessarily mean they need to take ICS 400. It’s very likely that through their entire career all of the incidents they respond to and participate in the management of can be organized using standard ICS approaches.

Interface with an EOC does not mean you need to take ICS 400. There is, in fact, a better course for that, aptly named ‘ICS/EOC Interface’. More people need to take this course than the ICS 400. I’m also aware that some jurisdictions require ICS 400 for their EOC staff. The ICS 400 course doesn’t teach you how to function in or manage an EOC. Again, the ICS/EOC Interface course is the better solution, along with whatever custom EOC training is developed (note that none of the FEMA EOC courses will actually teach you how to manage or work in YOUR EOC). If you feel that people in your EOC need to know about some of the concepts within the ICS 400, such as Multi-Agency Coordination or Area Command, simply include the appropriate content in your EOC training. To be honest, I can tell most EOC personnel what they need to know about an Area Command in about three minutes. They don’t need to sit through a two-day course to learn what they need to know.

Cutting to who does need it (aside from IMT personnel), personnel who would be a member of Command and General Staff for a very large and complex incident (certainly a Type I incident, and MAYBE certain Type 2 incidents) are the candidates. Yes, I understand that any jurisdiction can make an argument for their fire chief or police chief, for example, being the IC for an incident of this size and complexity, though let’s consider this in a relative and realistic sense. Most incidents of this size and complexity are likely to span multiple jurisdictions. Particularly in a home rule state, that fire chief or police chief is typically only going to be in charge of that portion of the incident within their legal borders. Although that incident may be a Type I incident taken as a whole, it will likely be managed in large part by a higher AHJ, which may use some of the concepts outlined in the ICS 400. While local government is still responsible for managing the portion of the incident within their borders, they are much less likely to utilize any of the ICS 400 concepts themselves. Along a similar line of thought, most jurisdictions don’t have hazards that, if they become incidents, would be of such size or complexity within their jurisdiction that would require use of these concepts. This leaves larger, more populous jurisdictions generally having a greater need for this level of training.

At some point, every state and UASI was required, as part of their NIMS implementation, to develop a NIMS training plan. Most of the plans I’ve seen further perpetuate the idea that so many people must have ICS 400 training. As part of this, many states require that anyone holding the position of fire chief must have ICS 400. Considering my argument in the paragraphs above, you can see why this is tremendously unnecessary. We must also consider erosion of knowledge over time. As people do not use the knowledge, skills, and abilities they have learned, that knowledge erodes. This is highly likely with the concepts of ICS 400.

A lot of states and other jurisdictions need to take a more realistic look at who really needs ICS 400 training. I’d also like to see some clarification on the matter in FEMA’s NIMS Training Guidance. It’s not about making this training elite or restricting access, but it is about decreasing the perceived and artificially inflated demand for the course.

What’s your jurisdiction’s take on ICS 400 training?

© 2021 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Preparing for Disaster Deployments

I wrote last year about my trepidation over Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) being considered as a deployable resource. The problem is that even most professionally trained emergency personnel aren’t prepared for deployment. We need to do better.

One of the key aspects of a disaster is that it overwhelms local resources. This often requires help from outside the impacted jurisdiction(s). Working outward from the center, like the bullseye of a dartboard, we are usually able to get near-immediate assistance from our neighbors (aka mutual aid), with additional assistance from those at greater distances. When I use the word ‘deployment’, I’m referring to the movement of resources from well outside the area and usually for a period of time of several days or longer.

The US and other places around the world have great mutual aid systems, many supported by laws and administrative procedures, identifying how requests are made, discerning the liability for the requesting organization and the fulfilling organization(s), and more. Most of these are intended for response vs deployment, but may have the flexibility to be applicable to deployment. Some, such as the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) are specifically written for deployments. While all this is certainly important, most organizations haven’t spent the time to prepare their people for deployment, which is a need that many organizations seem to take for granted. Those organizations which are, practically be definition, resources which are designed to deploy, such as Type 1 and 2 incident management teams (IMTs), often have at least some preparations in place and can be a good resource from which others can learn.

What goes into preparing for deployment? First, the sponsoring organization needs to recognize that their resources might be requested for deployment and agree to take part in this. That said, some organizations, such as volunteer fire departments, might have little control over their personnel deploying across the country when a call for help goes out publicly. These types of requests, in my opinion, can be harmful as large numbers of well-intentioned people may abandon their home organization to a lack of even basic response resources – but this is really a topic to be explored separately.

Once an organization has made a commitment to consider future requests, leadership needs to develop a policy and procedure on how they will review and approve requests. Will requests only be accepted from certain organizations? What are the acceptable parameters of a request for consideration? What are the thresholds for resources which must be kept at home? 

Supporting much of this decision making is the typing of resources. In the US, this is often done in accordance with defined typing from FEMA. Resource typing, fundamentally, helps us to identify the capabilities, qualifications, and eligibility of our resources. This is good not only for your own internal tracking, but is vitally important to most deployment requests. Organizations should do the work now to type their resources and personnel.

If an organization’s leadership decides they are willing to support a request, there then needs to be a canvass and determination of interest to deploy personnel. This is yet another procedure and the one that has most of my focus in this article. Personnel must be advised of exactly what they are getting into and what is expected of them (Each resource request received should give information specific to the deployment, such as deployment duration, lodging conditions, and duties.). The organization may also determine a need to deny someone the ability to deploy based on critical need with the home organization or other reasons, and having a policy already established for this makes the decision easier to communicate and defend.

These organization-level policies and procedures, along with staff-level training and policies should be developed to support the personnel in their decision and their readiness for an effective deployment.

Many things that should be determined and addressed would include:

  • Matters of pay, expenses, and insurance
  • Liability of personal actions
  • Code of conduct
  • What personnel are expected to provide vs what the organization will provide (equipment, supplies, uniform, etc.)
  • Physical fitness requirements and inoculations
  • Accountability to the home organization

Personnel also need to be prepared to work in austere conditions. They may not have a hotel room; instead they could be sleeping on a cot, a floor, or in a tent. This alone can break certain people, physically and psychologically. Access to showers and even restrooms might be limited. Days will be long, the times of day they work may not be what they are used to, and they will be away from home. They must be ready, willing, and able to be away from their lives – their families, pets, homes, jobs, routines, and comforts – for the duration of the deployment. Their deployment activity can subject them to physical and psychological stresses they must be prepared for. These are all things that personnel must take into consideration if they choose to be on a deployment roster.

This is stuff not taught in police academies, fire academies, or nursing schools. FEMA, the Red Cross, and other organizations have policy, procedures, training, and other resources available for their personnel because this is part of their mission and they make these deployments regularly. The big problem comes from personnel with organizations which don’t do this as part of their core mission. People who are well intentioned, even highly trained and skilled in what they do, but simply aren’t prepared for the terms and conditions of deployment can become a liability to the response and to themselves.

Of course, organizational policy and procedure continues from here in regard to their methods for actually approving, briefing, and deploying personnel; accounting for them during the deployment; and processing their return home. The conditions of their deployment may necessitate follow up physical and mental health evaluations (and care, as needed) upon their return. They should also be prepared to formally present lessons learned to the organization’s leadership and their peers.

I’ll say that any organization interested in the potential of deploying personnel during a disaster is responsible for making these preparations, but a broader standard can go a long way in this effort. I’d suggest that guidance should be established at the state level, by state emergency management agencies and their peers, such as state fire administrators; state departments of health, transportation, criminal justice, and others. These state agencies often contribute to and are even signatories of state-wide mutual aid plans which apply to the constituents of their areas of practice. Guidance developed at the state level should also dovetail into EMAC, as it’s states that are the signatories to these agreements and often rely on the resources of local organizations when requests are received.

There is clearly a lot to consider for organizations and individuals in regard to disaster deployments. It’s something often taken for granted, with the assumption that any responder can be sent to a location hundreds of miles away and be fully prepared to live and function in that environment. We can do better and we owe our people better.

Has your organization developed policies, procedures, and training for deploying personnel?

© 2021 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®