8 Predicted Changes to Emergency Management Post-Pandemic

In public safety we learn from every incident we deal with.  Some incidents bring about more change than others.  This change comes not just from lessons learned, but an effort to apply change based upon those lessons. In recent history, we’ve seen significant changes in emergency management practice come from disasters like the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, with many of the changes so significant that they are actually codified and have led to new doctrine and new practices at the highest levels.  What changes can we expect from the Coronavirus pandemic?

Of course, it’s difficult to predict the future.  We’re also still in the middle of this, so my thoughts may change a month or two into the future.  Any speculation will begin with idealism, but this must be balanced with pragmatism.  Given that, the items I discuss here are perhaps more along the lines of changes I would like to see which I think have a decent chance of actually happening. 

  1. Legislation.  Similar to the aforementioned major disasters, this too will spawn legislation from which doctrine and programs will be derived.  We are always hopeful that it’s not politicians who pen the actual legislation, but subject matter experts and visionaries with no political agendas other than advancing public health preparedness and related matters. 
  2. More public health resources. This one, I think, is pretty obvious.  We need more resources to support public health preparedness, prevention, and detection efforts.  Of course, this begins with funding which will typically be spawned from the legislation mentioned previous.  Public health preparedness is an investment, though like most preparedness efforts, it’s an investment that will dwindle over time if it’s not properly maintained and advanced to address emerging threats and best practices.  Funding must address needs, programs to address those needs, and the resources to implement those programs. 
  3. Further integration of public health into emergency management.  Emergency management is a team sport.  Regardless of the hazard or the primary agencies involved, disasters impact everyone and many organizations and practices are stakeholders in its resolution and can contribute resources to support the resolution of primary impacts and cascading effects.  Despite some gains following 9/11, public health preparedness has still been treated like an acquaintance from another neighborhood. The legislation, doctrine, programs, and resources that we see MUST support an integrated and comprehensive response.  No longer can we allow public health to be such an unfamiliar entity to the rest of the emergency management community (to be clear – the fault to date lies with everyone). 
  4. Improved emergency management preparedness.  Pulling back to look at emergency management as a whole, we have certainly identified gaps in preparedness comprehensively.  Plans that were lacking or didn’t exist at all.  Equipment and systems that were lacking or didn’t exist at all.  People who didn’t know what to do.  Organizations that weren’t flexible or responsible enough.  Processes that took too long.  Poor assumptions on what impacts would be. We can and must do better.
  5. An increase in operational continuity preparedness.  We’ve been preaching continuity of operations/government for decades, yet so few have listened. The Coronavirus pandemic has shown us so many organizations jumping through their asses as they figure it all out for the first time.  By necessity they have figured it out, some better than others.  My hope here is that they learned from their experience and will embrace the concepts of operational continuity and identify a need to leverage what they have learned and use that as a basis for planning, training, exercises, and other preparedness efforts to support future continuity events. 
  6. Further expansion of understanding of community lifelines and interdependencies of critical infrastructure.  This pandemic gave us real world demonstrations of how connected we are, how vulnerable some of our critical infrastructure is, and what metrics (essential elements of information) we should be monitoring when a disaster strikes.  I expect we will see some updated documents from DHS and FEMA addressing much of this. 
  7. More/better public-private partnerships.  The private sector stepped up in this disaster more than they previously ever had. Sure, some mistakes were made, but the private sector has been incredibly responsive and they continue to do so.  They have supported their communities, customers, and governments to address needs they identified independently as well as responding to requests from government.  They changed production.  Increased capacity.  Distributed crisis messages.  Changed operations to address safety matters.  Some were stretched to capacity, despite having to change their business models.  Many companies have also been providing free or discounted products to organizations, professionals, and the public.  We need to continue seeing this kind of awareness and responsiveness.  I also don’t want to dismiss those businesses, and their employees, that took a severe financial hit.  Economic stabilization will be a big issue to address in recovery from this disaster, and I’m hopeful that our collective efforts can help mitigate this in the future. 
  8. An improved preparedness mindset for individuals and families.  Despite the panic buying we saw, much of the public has finally seemed to grasp the preparedness messaging we have been pushing out for decades.  These are lessons I hope they don’t forget. Emergency management, collectively, absolutely must capitalize on the shared experience of the public to encourage (proper) preparedness efforts moving forward and to keep it regularly in their minds. 

In all, we want to see lasting changes – a new normal, not just knee-jerk reactions or short-lived programs, that will see us eventually sliding backwards.  I’m sure I’ll add more to this list as time goes on, but these are the big items that I am confident can and (hopefully) will happen.  I’m interested in your take on these and what you might add to the list.

Be smart, stay safe, stay healthy, and be good to each other. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Properly Leveraging the EOC Safety Officer

One of my Twitter connections tweeted over the weekend about the importance of the Safety Officer in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during the pandemic response.  This is absolutely true, but it’s not the only time the EOC Safety Officer should be engaged.  There is a significant role for them in many EOC activations, but they are historically underutilized, often relegated to monitoring for trip hazards in the EOC and making sure that no one hits their head on the desk when they fall asleep on those long wind-down shifts. 

While the Safety Officer in an Incident Command Post has a great deal of work to do, monitoring tactical hazards and implementing mitigative measures, we often think that with the EOC’s hands-off approach to tactics (something else that is also a myth in incident management) that there is little for an EOC Safety Officer to do.  Obviously, the potential of an EOC Safety Officer depends on the specific circumstances of the incident and the scope of support being provided by the EOC, especially if it’s staffed with the proper personnel. 

Remember that the Safety Officer is a member of the Command (or EOC Management) staff, and therefore can have assistants to support technical needs as well as a volume of work.  While ideally we want people trained as Safety Officers (in accordance with the NIMS position-specific curriculum), let’s face it – most of pool of position-trained personnel come from the fire service.  While on the surface there is obviously nothing wrong with that – fireground safety applications are incredibly detailed and require a very specific know-how – we need to leverage people with the proper background based on the incident we are dealing with.  That could be someone with a fire background, but, for example, a public health incident likely requires a Safety Officer (or advising assistant Safety Officer) to have a public health background; just as an emergency bridge replacement likely requires someone with an engineering background to be the Safety Officer. 

Through my experience, I’ve found that occupational health and safety personnel (either OSHA-proper from the US Dept of Labor or State/Local Occupational Health and Safety personnel) are great for this position, and even better if they have the proper ICS training.  On one hand, I’d call them generalists, because you can utilize them for darn near any incident, but calling them generalists almost feels insulting, as their knowledge of laws, regulations, and guidelines is often very extensive, and if they don’t know, they know where to find the information.  They also work well with hazard-specific specialists who can be integrated as assistants.  They can also call upon a small army of other OSHA-types to support field monitoring of safety matters. 

I will mention a word on using ‘regulators’ as Safety Officers.  Some may be reluctant to do so.  Reflecting again on my experience, I’ll say that Federal/State/Local OSHA-types are great to work with in this regard.  They are often willing to be flexible, developing and implementing an incident safety plan that can be phased, with safety personnel initially providing guidance and correction (when appropriate) and enforcing later. 

In looking at the scope of responsibility for an EOC Safety Officer, we do need to consider the scope of responsibility for any Safety Officers working from Incident Command Posts to ensure the work is complimentary, with minimal duplication of effort, but enough overlap for continuity.  The Safety Officers in an ICP will be primarily focused on the operating area of their ICP.  They are less likely to be concerned with safety matters off-site. 

For an ‘intangible’ incident, such as the current pandemic, we are more apt to find EOCs running the show vs incident command posts.  Obviously, this greatly expands the responsibility of the Safety Officer – in a jurisdiction’s primary EOC, as well as the Safety Officers in departmental operations centers (DOCs) – as many tactical operations are truly being managed from the EOC.  Considerations such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and operating guidelines for all areas of operation and all tactics are likely to be coming from the EOC Safety Officer.  If DOCs or other incident management facilities are involved, the Safety Officer of the jurisdiction’s primary EOC may be collaborating with the Safety Officers from these other facilities to ensure a common operating picture in regard to safety, a unified safety plan, and consistent monitoring and enforcement.  A Safety Officer operating in this capacity needs to be comprehensive in their scope, not just looking at the hazards associated with the primary issue (i.e. an infectious disease), but examining all tactics and considerations, ranging from people operating equipment, to emerging weather hazards.

For an incident with more traditional EOC involvement, a Safety Officer still has a full range of responsibilities, though the actual range of these are still dictated by the scope of the incident.  If an EOC is primarily serving as a resource ordering point, the EOC Safety Officer should be communicating with the Safety Officer at the ICP to ensure an understanding of the hazards in general operating area as well as the specific hazards and PPE needs of the application each resource will be assigned to.  The EOC Safety Officer should be ensuring that responding resources are aware of these safety requirements, as well as potential safety concerns while in transit.  The EOC Safety Officer may be providing the ICP Safety Officer with specialized safety support, analysis, and resources, including supplies and equipment (in coordination with EOC Logistics). 

An EOC supporting multiple ICPs (and even coordinating with several DOCs) should have a more involved and proactive Safety Officer, as they need to be coordinating safety matters across each of these incident management structures.  This includes ensuring a common operating picture in regard to safety, a unified safety plan, and consistent monitoring and enforcement.  They are also likely to be involved in working with EOC Logistics to ensure the proper supplies and equipment.  They should be watching for tactical applications or resource movements of each incident management structure to ensure there are no conflicts or impacts in regard to safety. 

An EOC more significantly engaged is likely to be providing mission support (a topic I’ll be writing about in the near future).  In summary, EOC mission support are generally tactical applications which are developed and managed by an EOC to address matters that are beyond the scope of the ICP or those which the Incident Commander can’t presently deal with.  EOC mission support could include things like sheltering, points of distribution, or a family assistance center.  Once up and running, each of these examples should have their own management structure including a Safety Officer to address their specific needs, but the EOC Safety Officer should be heavily involved in the planning and development stages of these missions, as well as coordinating and supporting safety matters to each of them, similar to what has been mentioned previously. 

Lastly, I’ll suggest that an EOC Safety Officer may also be working with third parties, to include non-government organizations, the private sector, and the public.  Depending on the activity of any of these, the EOC Safety Officer should be keeping tabs on what the safety issues are and communicating with these parties.  The role of the EOC Safety Officer could even include public education.  A great example of this was the October 2006 snowstorm in Erie County, NY.  The Safety Officer from the County EOC (staffed by US DOL/OSHA) coordinated several chainsaw safety courses for the public, knowing that despite the number of safety messages distributed via the Public Information Officer, homeowners, who perhaps never used a chainsaw or hadn’t used one in years, would be out in their yards clearing debris from fallen trees.  These courses were incredibly effective and appreciated by the public. 

To be honest, I’m in favor of breaking tradition within EOCs and designating EOC safety matters, such as trip hazards and signage for mopped floors, to those who are managing EOC facility needs (i.e. the Center Support Section if you are using the Incident Support Model).  This assignment more appropriately corresponds with the focus of the Center Support Section and allows the EOC Safety Officer to maintain focus on what’s going on outside the EOC. 

So there is some food for thought on how to properly use an EOC Safety Officer.  Don’t continue to let it be a lame position as so many have in the past.  It has incredible importance when properly utilized and staffed.  I’m interested in hearing about how you have leveraged EOC Safety Officers, or if you are a Safety Officer, what activities you have performed from an EOC. 

Be safe out there. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Funeral Services in the Midst of a Pandemic

Despite Coronavirus and COVID19, there are things that must continue. Public safety, health and hospitals, grocers, shipping and distribution, banking and finance all carry on.  Unfortunately, be it related to COVID19 or otherwise, people die.  Based on social norms, religious practice, and family tradition, we mourn our dead, typically coming together to see them off to the afterlife.  Obviously, we need not risk our own lives to mourn the dead. 

With the recommendation for gatherings being no more than ten people, we should understand that this will likely mean only immediate family, or just a few select family members to be physically present for services.  There has been some great guidance going out from the National Funeral Director’s Association (NFDA) for funeral home directors and other related practitioners based upon information from and consultation with the CDC and other public health experts.  The CDC’s COVID19 site also has an FAQ for funerals (and other topics).  The NFDA recommends that funeral home directors and religious facilities provide live streams of services for loved ones who may not be able to attend services. 

Public safety agencies, emergency management offices, and other government officials may be getting inquiries about the conduct of funeral services.  It’s important that we know where to go for this information. 

Be smart, stay safe, stay healthy, and be good to each other.

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Responding to Coronavirus & a Second Major Incident

Springtime is practically upon us.  Trees are budding, asparagus is growing (yes, I mentioned asparagus), birds are chirping, and snow is melting.  And it’s raining.  Some people call it spring, others call it the first flood season of the year.  Flooding isn’t the only hazard we face right now.  It’s still early enough for the threat of snow and ice storms, and we’ve already seen tornado activity in the US.  Oh, and by the way, we’re dealing with a pandemic.  EDIT: In the midst of writing this post and also exchanging emails re Coronavirus with a client in Utah, he exclaimed in one of his responses that a 5.7 earthquake had just struck with an epicenter just outside Salt Lake City.  As one of my old bosses used to say, you can’t make this stuff up. 

So often we are used to dealing with one disaster at a time.  Yes, sometimes we get hit with a one-two punch, or other times the same incident, such as a hurricane, persists, but these are typically localized, not a nation-wide concern, much less global.  When our resources are already strained from dealing with Coronavirus, it can be a challenge to respond to another significant incident, especially when there is little mutual aid to be had.  I often think back to an example I use back from my days in EMS, and that’s the multi-trauma patient.  Most EMS instructors, following the standard curriculum, will teach you how to treat lacerations, fractures, burns, and the like.  But rarely do we learn about how to deal with those things when they all happen at once. I remember back when I was a young pup EMT, my first multi-trauma patient was a victim of a motor vehicle accident (as it probably was for most EMTs).  I recall having a brief moment of panic because that’s not what we were taught to handle.  My brain quickly reset, and I went back to my ABCs, assessing and stabilizing the patient in priority order. 

Another personal example I have is the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 on November 12, 2001 – two months and one day after 9/11.  The plane crashed in Queens borough of New York City as the result of a critical structural failure.  260 souls on board, plus 5 on the ground died.  This occurred in the midst of the response to one of the most impactful disasters in US history.  In a way we ‘lucked out’ that the incident occurred in New York City.  On a normal day, the City of New York can leverage more resources in a response than some US states and even nations.  November 2001 was anything but ‘normal’ with a massive amount of additional resources still rotating into the City to support 9/11 activities.  While at this point, two months following 9/11, things were reasonably stable in and around ground zero, the crash of Flight 587 still required a significant change in operations.  From my recollection, in the State EOC in Albany, we actually split some of our staff for a brief period of time (within the same chain of command), with some staying focused on 9/11 activity while others were focused on the crash.  We didn’t create a new organization, but there were people in Operations and Planning committed specifically to monitoring and supporting the new incident.  Like a Venn diagram, there were some different needs in the initial response with some overlapping needs between the two incidents.  As the two circles moved closer together, creating more overlap, we re-integrated our staff to track and support both incidents collectively.  I recall the reintegration occurring after only a few operational periods. 

So what to do when an incident occurs during our current pandemic?  There are a few concerns, some related to incident management, others related to our tactical responses and humanitarian needs.  While our general response times are likely to be improved, many resources are already strained.  We are likely in an operational continuity mode already, currently working with or ready to work with fewer staff as Coronavirus impacts our people and their families.  It’s incredibly important to be rotating your emergency staff, keeping people as rested as possible.  We can also leverage the lead agency status that is presently at play in most jurisdictions, with public health having the lead, and emergency management agencies and others supporting them.  If something occurs other than a second public health event, the emergency management agency may be able to pivot to be the lead coordinating agency for the new incident while still supporting public health.  (Of course, I say this fully recognizing that the vast majority of emergency management offices are one-person shops.)  If you are able to split off some staff within your Coronavirus organization (really speaking in terms of your EOC) similar to my Flight 587 example, that may be a workable strategy.  Another strategy could be the reverse of that, where most of your organization is focused on the new incident, since that is in its critical early stages, leaving a few other staff to continue supporting Coronavirus needs.  I generally wouldn’t consider creating parallel organizations as most jurisdictions simply don’t have the capacity for that, plus EOCs are intended to be able to support multiple incidents.  The splitting off of staff is generally only for the early response to ensure that we are gathering information and providing the support that is needed.  We can still leverage the organization as a whole (you probably don’t have a need to dedicate anyone in Logistics or Finance specifically to the new incident, though expenses should be tracked separately), and the chain of command still remains intact.  Your planning process, likewise, should accommodate both incidents. Depending on the scope of the new incident, certain subject matter experts may need to be brought in to address specific response and disaster recovery needs for the new incident.  Overall, flexibility is key.  I’ll also say that all this can be done while still adhering to organization tenants of ICS (even if your EOC doesn’t purely use ICS). 

From a more tactical perspective, the main concerns are staffing and safety.  Staffing, as mentioned before, may be a challenge as we progress through the most infectious stages of this pandemic.  Your continuity plans must absolutely address this.  I mention safety not only in regard to whatever hazards the new incident brings about, but also the continued safety measures we need to maintain for Coronavirus.  The most prominent of these safety measures are those involving an expanded circle of exposures for responders and the public; dealing with large numbers of victims, perhaps displaced from a building who may need shelter and other care.  Mass care is a big concern. Certainly, for smaller numbers of victims, hotels may be more appropriate than a shelter, but we know that we need to prepare for a credible worst-case scenario.  How?

  • We must ensure that our responders, VOAD, and social services agencies are prepared to address needs. 
  • With so many facilities being closed, we need to ensure that we still have access to identified shelters and the people and resources necessary to support them. 
  • Many of the VOAD organizations and social services agencies may have limited operations due to Coronavirus, with staff working from home.  Do they have the resources and equipment at-hand to support a response or do they need to retrieve these from their offices? 
  • Do they have an ability to recall staff? 
  • Is there any change in their capability and capacity? 
  • Are the supply chains we use for shelter food and supplies still viable?    
  • What needs to be done to support social distancing and limit exposure within a shelter environment?
  • How will you address isolation needs for those who may have been exposed or are symptomatic?
  • Are their activation and notification procedures impacted by Coronavirus? 

Now is the time to convene your VOAD and social services agencies (by tele/video conference, of course) to answer these questions and ensure that a written plan (an amendment to your standing sheltering/human needs plan) is developed and circulated for common understanding. 

Regardless of the circumstances, we cannot allow ourselves to become so focused on Coronavirus that we forsake the challenges we would face should another major incident strike, the changes to our capability and capacity, and the continued preparedness we need to maintain.  Remember, preparedness doesn’t stop simply because we are in the midst of a disaster. I’ll also mention that I’m certainly not the first to consider this issue.  Over the past few days, several people, including Ralph Fisk and Dr. Samantha Montano have posted their concerns about our ability to respond to other disasters in the midst of the Coronavirus response and impacts.  It’s something that shouldn’t just be on our minds, it’s something we need to be prepared for.  Developing a contingency plan for your EOC operations and other related support is something that should absolutely be taking place sooner rather than later.

I’m sure I didn’t cover all possibilities or considerations on this topic (I rarely do on any topic), but my intent is to get your mental juices flowing and to plant some ideas.  Please be sure to share any ideas or considerations you have in your contingency preparedness. 

Be smart, stay safe, stay healthy, and be good to each other. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Convening and Operating an EOC Remotely

I typically refrain from writing about disasters in the midst of those disasters.  It’s very easy to be critical of things as they are happening, without an appreciation for the circumstances and information that decision-makers are in.  There are also often plenty of critics out there between the media, politicians, and social media.  There is one thing, however, that has jumped out at me in this Coronavirus/COVID19 incident that is so egregious that it absolutely needs to be addressed, and that is the traditional convening of face-to-face EOCs by many jurisdictions, agencies, and organizations.  Much of the messaging we have seen in this incident promotes social distancing, yet so many are not practicing this.

It’s one thing to have a handful of people physically in your EOC.  While I acknowledge there are absolutely advantages to operating an EOC face-to-face, by doing so in the event of a pandemic, we are endangering these critical staff, other co-workers, and their families.  At this point, I have serious concerns with the leadership of any agency or organization that is substantially staffing an EOC in-person in the midst of this incident.  I’m tremendously disappointed in this.  Is it hubris?  Ignorance?  I don’t know what the cause is, but I do know that it’s simply irresponsible to endanger people and your operations, and it’s pretty much against everything we work for.

A virtual EOC is the answer to this.  Hopefully you have a plan for implementing one, though we know that many do not. Web-based EOC management platforms, of which there are many (and of varying capability and quality) can support facilitation of this, but aren’t necessary.  Through use of other technology, most of it free or potentially already owned by your agency or organization, you can still accomplish the things you need to.  Preparation obviously plays off, but you can make this happen on the fly, if needed, but it will still take some work to set up. 

What’s needed?  In all likelihood, most people will be working from home.  As such, reliable internet and a computer are essential, as are a phone, even if you are planning on doing most of your audio (and even video) through your computer.  We have a lot of collaboration tools available to us.  Below are a few (non endorsed) collaboration apps that, depending on the app, cover a range of capability from document sharing and live collaboration, chat, voice, video, project management, and more.  Some are practically full service, while others specialize in one or a few features.  Many of them integrate with each other for even more benefits.  They do have varying security capability, so be sure to read up on that if security is a concern (it should be to at least some extent):

  • Microsoft Teams – broad capability (available free from Microsoft)
  • Crisis Communications (this is an add-on to Microsoft Teams, also currently free from Microsoft)
  • Skype/Skype for Business – voice and video, some document sharing (available free from Microsoft)
  • OneDrive/SharePoint – document sharing (pay for more storage)
  • OneNote – document collaboration (Microsoft)
  • Dropbox – document sharing (free for limited data storage, pay for more)
  • Google Drive/Docs/Calendar/Hangouts – broad capability (free for limited data storage, pay for more)
  • Slack – broad capability, especially with add on apps (free for smaller-scale use)
  • Discord – broad capability, especially with add on apps (free)
  • WebEx – voice and audio, some document sharing (basic is free, pay for more capability)
  • HipChat – broad capability (basic is free, there is a cost for additional capability)
  • Zoom – voice and video, some document sharing (basic is free, pay for additional capability)
  • Yammer – broad capability (free with Office 365, pay for additional capability)

Working remotely may not be as convenient as face-to-face interaction, but it’s certainly possible and better for the safety of your staff and your own operational continuity.  Through use of these tools, we can still conduct all the necessary activities in an EOC.  We can communicate with people as a group or one-on-one.  We can conduct collaborative meetings.  We can develop documents, share drafts, and even work collectively on the same document in real time.  We can view videos, take calls, write reports, manage information, and track resources. 

Aside from EOC operations, I’d suggest that organizations look to these or similar tools to support remote work for their staff where possible.  I have some recent tips on continuity here.  For those of you in government, I suggest looking into what needs to be done to conduct public meetings in a virtual environment as well, while still ensuring they are open and accessible to the public.  Tools like Skype, WebEx, or Zoom can help support this.  States have varying requirements for public meetings, so these of course should be examined before making any changes.  I’d also encourage courts, especially lower ones such as traffic court, to consider postponing their proceedings or looking to alternate means of conducting their proceedings that don’t require individuals to be there in person.  I obviously appreciate that these are complex matters with a lot of legality, and as such may not have ideal solutions in the near-term, but good solutions absolutely need to be considered for future implementation. 

The bottom line here is that social distancing applies to you, whether you like it or not.  Some professions, such as public health and hospitals, first responders, and others have no choice but to continue engaging face-to-face and hands-on with people.  They are provided with PPE and safety procedures to minimize their exposures while they continue providing these critical services.  In emergency management, however, we do not need to be face-to-face.  It’s an unnecessary risk to take and there is plenty of availability of technology tools to help us do what we need to do. 

What collaboration tools do you use to support remote/virtual operations? 

Be smart, be safe, be well. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Improving the HSEEP Templates

For years it has bothered me that the templates provided for the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) are lacking.  The way the documents are formatted and the lack of some important content areas simply don’t do us any favors.  These templates go back to the origination of HSEEP in the early 2000s and they have seen little change since then.  It gives me concern that the people who developed these have struggled with concepts of document structuring and don’t understand the utility of these documents. 

I firmly believe that the documents we use in exercise design, conduct, and evaluation should be standardized.  Many of the benefits of standardization that we (should) practice in the Incident Command System (ICS) certainly apply to the world of exercises, especially when we have a variety of different people involved in each of these key phases of exercises and entering at different times.  Much like an incident, some people develop documents while others are users.  Both should count on a measure of standardization so they don’t have to figure out what they are looking at and how to navigate it before actually diving into the content.  That doesn’t mean, however, that standards can’t evolve to increase utility and function. 

I’ve written in the past about the dangers of templates.  While they are great guides and reminders of certain information that is needed and give us an established, consistent format in which to organize it, I still see too many people not applying some thinking to templates.  They get lost in plugging their information into the highlighted text areas and lose all sense of practicality about why the document is being developed, who the target audience for the document is, and the information they need to convey. 

Some of my bigger gripes…

  • Larger documents, such as ExPlans, SitMans, Controller/Evaluator Handbooks, and After-Action Reports MUST have a table of contents.  These documents can get lengthy and a TOC simply saves time in finding the section you are looking for. 
  • Some exercises are complex and nuanced.  As such, key documents such as ExPlans, SitMans, and Controller/Evaluation Handbooks must have designated space for identifying and explaining those situations.  This could be matters of multiple exercise sites and site-specific information such as different scopes of play for those sites, limited scopes of participation for some agencies, statements on the flow and execution of the exercise, and others.
  • Recognize that the first section of an EEG (Objective, Core Capability, Capability Target, Critical Tasks, and sources) is the only beneficial part of that document.  The next section for ‘observation notes’ is crap.  Evaluators should be writing up observation statements, an analysis of each observation, and recommendations associated with each observation.  The information provided by evaluators should be easily moved into the AAR.  The EEG simply does not facilitate capturing this information or transmitting it to whomever is writing the AAR. 
  • The AAR template, specifically, is riddled with issues. The structure of the document and hierarchy of headings is horrible.  The template only calls for documenting observations associated with observed strengths.  That doesn’t fly with me.  There should similarly be an analysis of each observed strength, as well as recommendations.  Yes, strengths can still be improved upon, or at least sustained.  Big missed opportunity to not include recommendations for strengths.  Further, the narrative space for areas of improvement don’t include space for recommendations.  I think a narrative of corrective actions is incredibly important, especially given the very limited space in the improvement plan; plus the improvement plan is simply intended to be an implementation tool of the AAR, so if recommendations aren’t included in the body of the AAR, a lot is missing for those who want to take a deeper dive and see specifically what recommendations correlate to which observations and with an analysis to support them. 

Fortunately, strict adherence to the HSEEP templates is not required, so some people do make modifications to accommodate greater function.  So long as the intent of each document and general organization remains the same, I applaud the effort.  We can achieve better execution while also staying reasonably close to the standardization of the templates.  But why settle for sub-par templates?  I’m hopeful that FEMA’s National Exercise Division will soon take a look at these valuable documents and obtain insight from benchmark practitioners on how to improve them.  Fundamentally, these are good templates and they have helped further standardization and quality implementation of exercises across the nation.  We should never get so comfortable, though, as to let tools such as these become stagnant, as obsolesce is a regular concern. 

I’m interested in hearing what you have done to increase the value and utility of HSEEP templates.  How would you improve these?  What are your pet peeves? 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Operational Readiness in Emergency Management

Back in 2017 I wrote a piece on defining operational readiness.  It’s a topic, which, after some recent discussion with a colleague, I think bears revisiting and expanding upon.  Specifically, how we apply it in emergency management, or not.  Readiness is really a final comprehensive perspective of preparedness.  That is, once you have reached a certain level of preparedness, you can be ready, but being prepared doesn’t necessarily make you ready.  Preparedness is generally perceived as an ongoing process, though a state of readiness is typically a snapshot in time.

It struck me that the military tends to have more of a focus on readiness, while emergency management has a focus on preparedness.  While you will find both concepts within the doctrine of emergency management and military, the actual applications are considerably skewed.  After my discussion, I began to wonder why there this difference exists and what we can learn from it.

Having worked a considerable amount with various National Guard elements, I’ve come to highly respect their processes and their endeavor for readiness.  Not that we don’t have similar rigor in emergency management, but the focus seems to be more on the processes of preparedness rather than a state of operational readiness.  Sometimes the differences are so subtle that I have to sit back and think them through, but they are certainly there, and they are meaningful.  Given the military’s focus on operational readiness, they serve as a good source of information, though it needs to be properly filtered for application to emergency management.

As I’ve applied more thought to this, I’ve assembled a refined definition of readiness as it applies to emergency management, that being:

[Readiness is the nexus of benchmark outcomes of preparedness matched with the needs of a specific kind and type of response. A state of operational readiness is achieved when all applicable preparedness benchmarks are met and the organization is willing and able to adequately leverage the resulting capabilities against a corresponding threat or hazard.]

I’ve put together a graphic I think reasonably represents this relationship below.  Readiness is represented by a cloud because, as I explore further in this writing, it is itself rather amorphic and complex.

Readiness

To explain the components of my definition…  Readiness comes from a culmination of outcomes from preparedness activities, but only when each of these outcomes achieves a specific benchmark state.  The achievement of benchmarked preparedness activities define a measure of capability.  These capabilities are associated with a specific threat(s) or hazard(s).  As such, that state of readiness is only applicable to a specific kind (threat or hazard) and type (size and complexity) incident.  To help illustrate my points, here are a couple of examples using field response scenarios:

We can assume that a volunteer fire department is prepared to handle a room and contents fire.  They should have all the elements needed to do so, and in fact, these elements have standards (benchmarks) defined by the NFPA and state fire marshals.  Does this mean they have achieved readiness?  Hopefully yes, but perhaps not.  Given the rather extensive crisis of low membership in volunteer fire departments, the department in question may not have adequate staff to respond to this fire if it occurs, for example, in the middle of a week day.  This gives them a measure of degraded, or even negligible readiness.

Similarly, if we take the same fire department, having accomplished the benchmarks of preparedness for response to a room and contents fire, and even given adequate staff to do so, they may not have a state of readiness to fully address a hazardous materials incident.  While many of the elements of preparedness apply to both types of incidents, there are some critical differences which they would have to overcome to establish a state of readiness for a different type of incident.  Likewise, we could revert back to the room and contents fire and make it bigger – say a fully involved structure fire. While the department might have operational readiness to address the room and contents fire, they may not have the operational readiness to address a structure fire.

I think it’s fair to say that we can be prepared for something without having operational readiness for it.  Years ago, when there was a planetary ‘near miss’ by a meteor, a news outlet contacted our state OEM PIO.  They asked if we had a plan for a meteor strike.  The PIO acknowledged that we didn’t have a plan specific to that, but we did have a comprehensive emergency management plan, through which, and supported by various functional annexes, we were prepared to respond to such an incident and its effects should it occur.  Was the PIO wrong?  Not at all.  Assuming the other elements of preparedness were reasonably in place (and they were), it would be fair to say we were generally ‘prepared for anything’.  Were we ready, however?  Absolutely not.  The operational readiness needs for such an extraordinary, high impact incident are near-impossible to achieve.

When we examine this, it’s important to identify that a state of readiness can wax and wane, based on our ability to apply the identified preparedness measures to the incident in question. Considering the first example of the fire department and the room and contents fire, the department has a state of operational readiness when, as included in the definition I gave, all the preparedness benchmarks are met and they are willing and able to adequately leverage the resulting capabilities against a corresponding threat or hazard.  Changes in capability and/or the willingness or ability to apply those capabilities will result in degradation of readiness.  Depending on the factor in question, it may fully disqualify their readiness, or it may decrease their readiness by some measure.

So why is readiness important?  Readiness is the green light.  If we accomplish a state of operational readiness, we increase our chances of success in addressing the threat or hazard in question.  If we haven’t achieved readiness, we still can obviously be successful, but that success may come at a greater cost, longer period of time, and/or increased error.

How do we achieve readiness?  The current approach we have in emergency management certainly isn’t enough.  While some efforts may culminate in operational readiness, there is, as a whole, a significant lack of focus on operational readiness.  This seems to largely be a cultural issue to overcome.  In general, we seem to have the attitude that preparedness equates to readiness, and that preparedness itself is an end state. Even though we intuitively, and doctrinally, know that preparedness is a cycle, we seem to take comfort in ‘completing’ certain tasks among the preparedness elements – planning, organizing, equipping, training, exercises, and improvement – and then assuming readiness.  Readiness itself is actually the end state, though it is a dynamic end state; one that we can easily lose and must constantly strive to maintain.  To accomplish and maintain operational readiness, it is imperative that we aggressively and rigorously pursue activity in each of the elements of preparedness.  We must also continually monitor our ability to execute the capabilities we are preparing.  That ability, ultimately, is our measure of readiness.

The scale and unit of measuring readiness is something I’m not exploring in depth here (it really warrants its own deliberate effort), but expect to revisit in the future.  I surmise that the factors may be different based upon the various capabilities, and types and kinds of threats/hazards we are trying to address.  We need to examine capability requirements at a granular (task) level to truly assess our current state of readiness and identify what we need to address to increase our readiness.  I also assume that there is a somewhat intangible factor to readiness, one that likely revolves around the human factor. Things like leadership, decision-making, confidence, and ability to improvise. The measure of readiness may also involve certain external factors, such as weather.  The measurement of readiness certainly is complex and involves numerous factors.

I do know that practice is a significant factor in operational readiness.  Earlier I mentioned my experience with the National Guard.  Much of that revolves around exercises, which is one of the best (though not the only) measures of readiness.  Operational military units seem to constantly exercise.  Sometimes small scale, sometimes large.  They exercise different aspects, different scenarios, and different approaches.  It’s the regular repetition that builds competence and confidence, along with identifying shortfalls within the capability such as planning gaps, equipment failures, and the need to anticipate and prepare for certain contingencies.  While we exercise a fair amount in emergency management, we still don’t exercise enough.  I see a lot of people in emergency management leadership develop a complacency and virtually declare that ‘close enough is enough’.  It’s absolutely not enough to exercise a plan or capability once a year, which is something we often see (and often at best).

Preparedness is not something we achieve, it’s something we do; but through it we strive to achieve and maintain readiness.

It’s interesting to note that at the level of federal doctrine, we have a National Preparedness Goal.  We need to recognize that preparedness isn’t the goal – Readiness is.  A possible starting point for change would be the assembly of a blue-ribbon panel, likely by FEMA, to explore this topic and provide recommendations on a unified way ahead for emergency management to recognize the need for operational readiness, including purposeful changes in doctrine and culture to emphasize this desired end state.  We need a solid definition, means of measurement, guidelines for implementation, and an identification of the barriers to success with recommendations on how to overcome them (yep, I already know money and staff are the big ones).

I hope I’ve given some food for thought in regard to readiness.  The simple act of writing this and the bit of associated reading and thinking I’ve done on the topic certainly has me thinking about things differently.  As always, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on operational readiness, what it means to you, and what we can do to achieve it.

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®