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®

EM Engagement with the Public

Emergency management is notoriously bad at marketing. People have a much better idea of what most other government agencies do, or simply (at least) that they exist. Establishing awareness and understanding of emergency management not only for the people you serve, but those you work with can go a long way toward meeting your goals.

As with any message everything is about the audience. Emergency management has a variety of audiences. While we have some programs and campaigns oriented toward individuals, much of our work is with organizations, including non-profits, other government agencies, and the private sector. All in all, most emergency managers are pretty good at interfacing and coordinating with organizations. It’s the public that we still struggle with. Emergency management inherited the burden of individual and family preparedness from the days of civil defense. Things were different then. Civil defense focused on one threat, it was persistent, and the calls to action were tangible and even practiced with the public in many communities.

And yes, I said that our present engagement with the public is a burden. Can it make a difference? Sure. Does it make a difference? Sometimes. While some can argue that any measurable difference we make is good, we all need to acknowledge that campaigns and programs for the public are often a huge source of frustration for emergency managers across the nation and elsewhere. We feel compelled to do it, but so often we can’t make that connection. While I think it is a worthwhile mission and there are successes, the usual rhetoric is stale (i.e., make a plan, build a kit, be informed, get involved) and our return on investment is extremely low.

We need to do more than handing out flyers at the county fair. Some communities have been able to find success through partner agencies or organizations that actually do work with the public on a regular basis, which I think is a better formula for success. These agencies and organizations already have an in with a certain portion of the population. They have an established presence, rapport, and reputation. Given that agencies and organizations have different audiences, it is best to engage more than one to ensure the best coverage throughout the community.

As mentioned, our usual rhetoric also needs to change. With continued flooding here in the northeast US, I saw a message from a local meteorologist on Twitter recently giving some information on the flooding and saying to ‘make a plan’. Fundamentally that’s good. Unfortunately, this message is pretty consistent with what we put out most of the time in emergency management. Yes, it’s a call to action, but incredibly non-specific. Should I plan to stay home? Should I plan to evacuate? Should I plan to get a three-week supply of bread and milk? I’ll grant that Twitter isn’t really the best platform for giving a lot of detail, but I think we can at least tell the public what to make a plan for and provide a reference to additional information.

Should EM disengage with the public at large? No, absolutely not. But we do need to find better ways to engage, and I think that really requires a keen eye toward marketing, analyzing our audiences to determine what kinds of messaging will work best, how to reach them, and what is important to them. Two messages a year about preparedness doesn’t cut it. Neither does a bunch of messages giving the FEMA hotline after a disaster. It needs to be consistent. It needs to be fun. It needs to be engaging. It should be multimodal – social media, speaking at local meetings, articles in the town newsletter, etc. Don’t be boring, don’t be technical, don’t be doom and gloom. Make it clear, make it interesting (to them… not you), and make it brief. Essentially, don’t be so ‘government’ about it. (The same applies for any corporate emergency management program as well).

I’ll also add that having a presence with the public in your community is, in a practical sense, a presence with voters. While emergency managers often talk about the need for emergency management to be politically neutral, there are a lot of interests that align with emergency management that are clearly partisan, giving cause for us to be political. For context (because ‘politics’ has become such a bad word) I’m not talking about campaigning for someone, attending a rally, or spewing political rhetoric; but rather being engaged in political processes, of which a huge part is having a regular and strong presence. Even with partisan issues aside, emergency management requires funding and other resources to be effective, and that often requires an extent of political engagement and support. We need to actively and regularly promote what we do and what we accomplish. No, it’s not usually as sexy as putting out a big fire or building a bridge, but most fire and highway departments don’t miss an opportunity to get that stuff in the news. That’s why people know them.

Given the fairly universal benefits to emergency managers everywhere, I’d love to see FEMA engage with a marketing firm to produce a broad range of reusable content. TV and radio spots; website and social media graphics; customizable newsletter articles and handouts; speaking points for meetings (no PowerPoint necessary, please), interviews, and podcasts; etc. This also can’t be done every 10 or 15 years. It’s something that should be refreshed every two years to stay relevant, fresh, and meaningful, and with the input of actual emergency managers and public information officers. Speaking of PIOs, if you think your only work with emergency management is during a disaster, think again. PIOs, even if not within EM, should absolutely be engaged in these efforts.

FEMA has produced some material in the past, as have some states for use by local governments, but we need more and we can’t hold our breath for this to be done. Emergency management is, however, a great community of practice. If you have a successful practice or message, please share it! Bring it to your networks or even provide information in a comment to this post.

© 2021 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

When to AAR

A discussion with colleagues last week both on and off social media on the development of after-action reports (AARs) for the COVID 19 pandemic identified some thoughtful perspectives. To contextualize, the pandemic is arguably the longest and largest response the world has ever faced. Certainly, no one argues the necessity for organizations to develop AARs, as there have been an abundance of lessons learned that transcend all sectors. It’s thankfully not often we are faced with such a long incident, but in these circumstances, we need to reconsider our traditional ways of doing things, which has generally been to develop an AAR at the conclusion of the incident.

One central aspect of the discussions was about the timing of the AARs. When should we develop an AAR for an incident? I certainly think that with most incidents, we can safely AAR when the incident is complete, particularly given that most incidents don’t last as long as the pandemic has. The difficulty with the pandemic, relative to AARs, is time. The more time goes on, the more we focus on recent concerns and the less we remember of the earlier parts of the response. This likely remains within tolerable limits for an incident that will last several weeks or even up to a few months, but eventually we need to recognize that that longer we go without conducting the after-action process, the more value we lose. Yes, we can recreate a lot with through documentation, but human inputs are critical to the AAR process, and time severely erodes those. Given this, I suggest the ideal practice in prolonged incidents is to develop interim AARs to ensure that chunks of time are being captured.

Another aspect related to this is to determine what measure we are using for the incident. The vast majority of AARs focus mostly on response, not recovery. This is an unfortunate symptom of the response-centric mentality that persists in emergency management. We obviously should be conducting AARs after the response phase, but we also need to remember to conduct them once the recovery phase is substantially complete. Given that recovery often lasts much longer than the response, we certainly shouldn’t wait until recovery is complete to develop a single AAR for the incident, rather we should be developing an AAR, at a minimum, at the substantial completion of response and another at the substantial completion of recovery.

Yet another complication in this discussion is that timing is going to be different for different organizations. I presently have some clients for which the pandemic is much less of a concern operationally as it was a year ago, especially with a vaccinated workforce. So much less of a concern, in fact, that they have largely resumed normal operations, though obviously with the continuation of some precautionary measures. Other organizations, however, are still in a full-blown response; while there are still yet others somewhere in the middle. This means that as we go through time, the pandemic will largely be over for certain organizations and jurisdictions around the world, while others are still consumed by the incident. While the WHO will give the official declaration of the conclusion of the pandemic, it will be over much sooner for a lot of organizations. Organizations should certainly be developing AARs when they feel the incident has substantially ended for them, even though the WHO may not have declared the pandemic to have concluded.

Consider that the main difference between evaluating an exercise and evaluating an incident is that we begin the exercise with the goal of evaluation. As such, evaluation activities are planned and integrated into the exercise, with performance standards identified and staff dedicated to evaluation. While we evaluate our operations for effectiveness during a response and into recovery, we are generally adjusting in real time to this feedback rather than capturing the strengths and opportunities for improvement. Be it during the incident or after, we need to deliberately foster the AAR process to not only capture what was done, but to help chart a path to a more successful future. I’ve been preaching about the value of incident evaluation for several years, and have been thankful to see that FEMA had developed a task book for such.

Given the complexity and duration of the pandemic, I started encouraging organizations to develop interim AARs longer than a year ago, and in fact supported a client in developing their initial response AAR just about a year ago. FEMA smartly assembled an ‘Initial Assessment Report’ of their early response activity through September of 2020, though unfortunately I’ve not seen anything since. There was a question about naming that came up in the discussions I had, suggesting that the term ‘AAR’ should be reserved for after the incident, and a different term used for any other reports. I partially agree. While I think we should still call it what it is – even if it’s done in the midst of an incident, it is still an after-action report – that being an analysis of actions we’ve taken within a defined period of time. Afterall, it’s not called an ‘after incident report’. That said, I do think that any AARs developed during the incident do warrant some clarification, which can incorporate the inclusion of a descriptor such as ‘interim’ or ‘phase 1, 2, 3, etc’, or whatever is most suitable. I don’t think we need anything standardized so long as it’s fairly self-explanatory.

Have you already conducted an AAR for the pandemic? Do you expect to do another?

© 2021 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Metrics and Data Analytics in Emergency Management

I’ve lately seen some bad takes on data analytics in emergency management. For those not completely familiar, data analytics is a broad-based term applied to all manner of data organization, manipulation, and modeling to bring out the most valuable perspectives, insights, and conclusions which can better inform decision-making. Obviously, this can be something quite useful within emergency management.

Before we can even jump into the analysis of data, however, we need to identify the metrics we need. This is driven by decision-making, as stated above, but also by operational need, measurement of progress, and reporting to various audiences, which our own common operating picture, to elected officials, to the public. In identifying what we are measuring, we should regularly assess who the audience is for that information and why the information is needed.

Once we’ve identified the metrics, we need to further explore the intended use and the audience, as that influences what types of analysis must be performed with the metrics and how the resultant information will be displayed and communicated.

I read an article recently from someone who made themselves out to be the savior of a state emergency operations center (EOC) by simply collecting some raw data and putting it into a spreadsheet. While this is the precursor of pretty much all data analysis, I’d argue that the simple identification and listing of raw data is not analytics. It’s what I’ve come to call ‘superficial’ data, or what someone on Twitter recently remarked to me as ‘vanity metrics’. Examples: number of people sheltered, number of customers with utility outages, number of people trained, number of plans developed.

We see a lot of these kinds of data in FEMA’s annual National Preparedness Report and the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) ‘Return on Investment’ report generated by IAEM and NEMA. These reports provide figures on dollars spent on certain activities, assign numerical values to priorities, and state how much of a certain activity was accomplished within a time period (i.e. x number of exercises were conducted over the past year). While there is a place for this data, I’m always left asking ‘so what?’ after seeing these reports. What does that data actually mean? They simply provide a snapshot in time of mostly raw data, which isn’t very analytical or insightful. It’s certainly not something I’d use for decision-making. Both of these reports are released annually, giving no excuse to not provide some trends and comparative analysis over time, much less geography. Though even in the snapshot-of-time type of report, there can be a lot more analysis conducted that simply isn’t done.

The information we report should provide us with some kind of insight beyond the raw data. Remember the definition I provided in the first paragraph… it should support decision-making. This can be for the public, the operational level, or the executive level. Yes, there are some who simply want ‘information’ and that has its place, especially where political influence is concerned.

There are several types of data analytics, each suitable for examining certain types of data. What we use can also depend on our data being categorical (i.e. we can organize our data into topical ‘buckets’) or quantitative. Some data sets can be both categorical and quantitative. Some analysis examines a single set of data, while other types support comparative analysis between multiple sets of data. Data analytics can be as simple as common statistical analysis, such as range, mean, median, mode, and standard deviation; while more complex data analysis may use multiple steps and various formulas to identify things like patterns and correlation. Data visualization is then how we display and communicate that information, through charts, graphs, geographic information systems (GIS), or even infographics. Data visualization can be as important as the analysis itself, as this is how you are conveying what you have found.

Metrics and analytics can and should be used in all phases of emergency management. It’s also something that is best planned, which establishes consistency and your ability to efficiently engage in the activity. Your considerations for metrics to track and analyze, depending on the situation, may include:

  • Changes over time
    • Use of trend lines and moving averages may also be useful here
  • Cost, resources committed, resources expended, status of infrastructure, and measurable progress or effectiveness can all be important considerations
  • Demographics of data, which can be of populations or other distinctive features
  • Inclusion of capacities, such as with shelter data
  • Comparisons of multiple variables in examining influencing factors (i.e. loss of power influences the number of people in shelters)
    • Regression modeling, a more advanced application of analytics, can help identify what factors actually do have a correlation and what the impact of that relationship is.
  • Predictive analytics help us draw conclusions based on trends and/or historical data
    • This is a rabbit you can chase for a while, though you need to ensure your assumptions are correct. An example here: a hazard of certain intensity occurring in a certain location can expect certain impacts (which is much of what we do in hazard mitigation planning). But carry that further. Based on those impacts, we can estimate the capabilities and capacities that are needed to respond and protect the population, and the logistics needed to support those capabilities.
  • Consider that practically any data that is location-bound can and should be supported with GIS. It’s an incredible tool for not only visualization but analysis as well.
  • Data analytics in AARs can also be very insightful.

As I mentioned, preparing for data analysis is important, especially in response. Every plan should identify the critical metrics to be tracked. While many are intuitive, there is a trove of Essential Elements of Information (EEI) provided in FEMA’s Community Lifelines toolkit. How you will analyze the metrics will be driven by what information you ultimately are seeking to report. What should always go along with data analytics is some kind of narrative not only explaining and contextualizing what is being shown, but also making some inference from it (i.e. what does it mean, especially to the intended audience).

I’m not expecting that everyone can do these types of analysis. I completed a college certificate program in data analytics last year and it’s still challenging to determine the best types of analysis to use for what I want to accomplish, as well as the various formulas associated with things like regression models. Excel has a lot of built-in functionality for data analytics and there are plenty of templates and tutorials available online. It may be useful for select EOC staff as well as certain steady-state staff to get some training in analytics. Overall, think of the variables which can be measured: people, cost, status of infrastructure, resources… And think about what you want to see from that data now, historically, and predicted into the future. What relationships might different variables have that can make data even more meaningful. What do we need to know to better support decisions?

Analytics can be complex. It will take deliberate effort to identify needs, establish standards, and be prepared to conduct the analytics when needed.

How have you used data analytics in emergency management? What do you report? What decisions do your analytics support? What audiences receive that information and what can they do with it?

© 2021 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

ESFs Aren’t for Everyone

Through the years I’ve had numerous conversations with states, cities, and others about organizing their emergency operations plans (EOPs) around Emergency Support Functions (ESFs). In every conversation I’ve suggested against the use of ESFs. Why?

Let’s start with definitions. One definition of ESFs provided by FEMA states that ESFs ‘describe federal coordinating structures that group resources and capabilities into functional areas most frequently needed in a national response’.  Another states that ESFs are ‘a way to group functions that provide federal support to states and federal-to-federal support, both for Stafford Act declared disasters and emergencies and for non-Stafford Act incidents.’ The National Response Framework (NRF) states that ESFs are ‘response coordinating structures at the federal level’.

The key word in these definitions is ‘federal’. ESFs are a construct originally of the Federal Response Plan (FRP) which was in place from 1992 to 2004. The FRP was a signed agreement among 27 Federal departments and agencies as well as the America Red Cross that outlined how Federal assistance and resources would be provided to state and local governments during a disaster. The ESFs were carried into the National Response Plan in 2004 and the National Response Framework in 2008.

While the NRF, CPG 101, and other sources indicate that other levels of government may also organize their response structure utilizing ESFs, I think any attempts are awkward and confusing at best.

Jumping to present day, the following ESFs are identified in the NRF:

  1. Transportation
  2. Communications
  3. Public Works and Engineering
  4. Firefighting
  5. Information and Planning
  6. Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Temporary Housing, and Human Assistance
  7. Logistics
  8. Public Health and Medical Services
  9. Search and Rescue
  10. Oil and Hazardous Materials Response
  11. Agriculture and Natural Resources
  12. Energy
  13. Public Safety and Security
  14. Cross-Sector Business and Infrastructure
  15. External Affairs

The ESFs work for the Federal government by providing organizations to address the legal, regulatory, and bureaucratic coordination that must take place across various agencies. These organizations are utilized before (preparedness), during (response and recovery… though ultimately most of these transition to the Recovery Support Functions per the National Disaster Recovery Framework), and after (AAR) a disaster as a cohesive means of maintaining relationships, continuity, and operational readiness. Each of the ESFs maintains a lead agency and has several supporting agencies which also have capabilities and responsibilities within the mission of that ESF.

Where does this fall apart for states and other jurisdictions? First of all, I view Emergency Support Function/ESF as a branded name. The ESF is a standard. When someone refers to ESFs, it’s often inferred that they are speaking of the Federal constructs. ESFs are defined by the Federal government in their current plans (presently the NRF). When co-opted by states or other jurisdictions, this is where it first starts to fall apart. This creates a type of ‘brand confusion’. i.e. Which ESFs are we speaking of? This is further exacerbated if names and definitions of their ESFs aren’t consistent with what is established by the Federal government.

Further, the utilization of ESFs may simply not be the correct tool. It may be the same agencies responsible for transportation as well as public works and engineering. So why have two teams comprised of personnel from the same agencies – especially if bench depth is small in those agencies. Related to this, I’ll say that many jurisdictions (which may even include smaller states, territories, or tribes) simply don’t have the depth to staff 15 ESFs. This is why an organization should be developed for each jurisdiction by each jurisdiction based on their needs and capabilities. It’s simply silly to try to apply the construct utilized by our rather massive Federal government to a jurisdiction much smaller.

Next, I suggest that the integration of ESFs into a response structure is simply awkward. I think in many ways this holds true for the Federal government as well. Is ESF 7 (Logistics) an emergency support function or is it a section in our EOC? The same goes for any of the other ESFs which are actually organizational components often found in response or coordination structures inspired by the Incident Command System.

All that said, the spirit of ESFs is valuable and should be utilized by other jurisdictions in other levels of government. These are often referred to as Functional Branches. Similar to ESFs, they can be used before, during, and after a disaster. Your pre-disaster planning teams become the core group implementing the plans they developed and improving the plans and associated capabilities after a disaster. As functional branches, there is no name confusion with ESFs, even though there is considerable similarity. You aren’t constrained to the list of Federal ESFs and don’t have to worry about how they define or construct them. You can do your own thing without any confusion. You are also able to build the functional branches based on your own needs and capabilities, not artificially trying to fit your needs into someone else’s construct. I’ve seen a lot of states use the term State Support Function or SSF, which is certainly fine.

I will make a nod here though to a best practice inspired by the ESFs, and that is having certain standing working groups for incident management organizational elements (i.e. communications, logistics, information and planning, and external affairs) that may not be organized under the operations section or whatever is analogous in your EOC. Expand beyond these as needed. Recall that the first step in CPG 101 for emergency planning calls for developing a planning team. There is a great deal of benefit to be had by utilizing stakeholder teams to establish standard operating guidelines, job aids, etc. in these functions or others in your EOC or other emergency organizational structure. Often it’s the emergency manager or a staff member doing this, expecting others to simply walk in and accept what has been developed. If people want to work in a Planning Section for your jurisdiction, let them own it (obviously with some input and guidance as needed).

I think ESFs are a valuable means for the US Federal government to organize, but don’t confuse the matter or develop something unnecessary by trying to carbon copy them into your jurisdiction. Examine your own needs and capabilities and form steady state working groups that become functional entities during disaster operations.

© 2021 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

EOCs and IMTs

The world of incident management is foggy at best. There are rules, sometimes. There is some valuable training, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to all circumstances or environments. There are national models, a few of them in fact, which makes them models, not standards. Incident management is not as straight forward as some may think. Sure, on Type 4 and 5 incidents the management of the incident is largely taking place from an incident command post. As you add more complexity, however, you add more layers of incident management. Perhaps multiple command posts (a practical truth, regardless of the ‘book answer’), departmental operations centers, emergency operations centers at various levels of government, and an entire alphabet soup of federal operations centers at the regional and national levels with varying (and sometimes overlapping) focus. Add in operational facilities, such as shelters, warehouses, isolation and quarantine facilities, etc. and you have even more complexity. Trying to map out these incident management entities and their relationships is likely more akin to a tangle of yarn than an orderly spiderweb.

Incident Management Teams (IMTs) (of various fashion) are great resources to support the management of incidents, but I often see people confusing the application of an IMT. Most IMTs are adaptable, with well experienced personnel who can pretty much fit into any assignment and make it work. That said, IMTs are (generally) trained in the application of the incident command system (ICS). That is, they are trained in the management of complex, field-level, tactical operations. They (usually) aren’t specifically trained in managing an EOC or other type of operations center. While the principles of ICS can be applied to practically any aspect of incident management, even if ICS isn’t applied in the purest sense, it might not be the system established in a given operations center (in whatever form it may take). While IMTs can work in operations centers, operations centers don’t necessarily need an IMT, and while (formal) IMTs are great resources, they might not be the best solution.  

The issue here certainly isn’t with IMTs, though. Rather it’s with the varying nature of operations centers themselves. IMTs are largely a defined resource. Trying to fit them to your EOC may be a square peg/round hole situation. It’s important to note that there exists no single standard for the organization and management of an EOC. NIMS provides us with some optional models, and in practice much of what I’ve seen often has some similarity to those models, yet have deviations which largely prevent us from labeling what is in practice with any of the NIMS-defined models in the purist sense. The models utilized in EOCs are often practical reflections of the political, bureaucratic, and administrative realities of their host agencies and jurisdictions. They each have internal and external needs that drive how the operations center is organized and implemented. Can these needs be ultimately addressed if a single standard were required? Sure, but when governments, agencies, and organizations have well established systems and organizations, we’ll use finance as an example, it simply doesn’t make sense to reorganize. This is why we are so challenged with establishing a single standard or even adhering to a few models.

The first pathway to success for your operations center is to actually document your organization and processes. It seems simple, yet most EOCs don’t have a documented plan or operating guideline. It’s also not necessarily easy to document how the EOC will work if you haven’t or rarely have activated it at all. This is why we stick to the CPG-101 planning process, engaging a team of people to help determine what will or won’t work, examining each aspect from a different perspective. I also suggest enlisting the help of someone who has a good measure of experience with a variety of EOCs. This may be someone from a neighboring jurisdiction, state emergency management, or a consultant. Either way, start with the existing NIMS models and figure out what will work for you, with modifications as needed. Once you have a plan, you have a standard from which to work.

Once you have that plan, train people in the plan. Figure out who in your agency, organization, or jurisdiction has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to function within key positions. FEMA’s EOC Skillsets can help with this – even if the positions they use don’t totally map to yours, it’s not difficult to line up most of the common functions. Regardless of what model you are using, a foundation of ICS training is usually helpful, but DON’T STOP HERE. ICS training alone, even if your EOC is ICS-based, isn’t enough. I can practically guarantee your EOC uses systems, processes, or implementations unique to your EOC which aren’t part of ICS or the ICS training your personnel received. Plus, well… if you haven’t heard… ICS training sucks. It can be a hard truth for a lot of entities, but to prepare your personnel the best way possible, you will need to develop your own EOC training. And of course to complete the ‘preparedness trifecta’ you should then conduct exercises to validate your plans and support familiarity.

All that said, you may require help for a very large, long, and/or complex incident. This is where government entities and even some in the private sector request incident management support. Typically this incident management support comes from established IMTs or a collection of individuals providing the support you need. The tricky part is that they aren’t familiar with how you are organized or your way of doing things. There are a few ways to hedge against the obstacles this potentially poses. First, you can establish an agreement or contract with people or an organization that know your system. If this isn’t possible, you can at least (if you’ve followed the guidance above) send your plan to those coming to support your needs, allowing them at least a bit of time in transit to study up. Lastly, a deliberate transition, affording some overlap or shadowing time with the outgoing and incoming personnel will help tremendously, affording the incoming personnel to get a hands-on feel for things (I recommend this last one even if the incoming personnel are familiar with your model as it will give an opportunity to become familiar with how you are managing the incident). Of course all of these options will include formal briefings, sharing of documentation, etc.

Remember, though, that there are certain things your agency, organization, or jurisdiction will always own, especially the ultimate responsibility for your mission. Certain internal processes, such as purchasing, are still best handled by your own people. If your operations are technical and industry-specific, such as for a utility, they should still be managed by your own people. That doesn’t mean, however that your people can’t be supported by outside personnel (Ref my concept of an Incident Support Quick Response Team). The bottom line here is that IMTs or any other external incident support personnel are great resources, but don’t set them up for a slow start, or even failure, by not addressing your own preparedness needs for your EOC. In fact any external personnel supporting your EOC should be provided with a packet of information, including your EOC plan and procedures, your emergency operations plan (EOP), maps, a listing of capabilities, demographics, hazards, org charts for critical day-to-day operations, an internal map of the building they will be working in, and anything else that will help orient them to your jurisdiction and organization – and the earlier you can get it to them the better! Don’t forget to get your security personnel on board (building access cards and parking tags) and your IT personnel (access to your network, printers, and certain software platforms). Gather these packets beforehand or, at the very least, assemble a checklist to help your personnel quickly gather and address what’s needed.

© 2021 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Measuring Return on Investment Through Key Performance Indicators

Return on investment (ROI) is generally defined as a measurement of performance to evaluate the value of investments of time, money, and effort. Many aspects of preparedness in emergency management offer challenges when trying to gauge return on investment. Sure, it’s easy to identify that m number of classes were conducted and n number of people were trained, that x number of exercises were conducted with y number of participants, that z number of plans were written, or even that certain equipment was purchased. While those tell us about activity, they don’t tell us about performance, results, or outcomes.

More classes were conducted. So what?

We purchased a generator. So what?

The metrics of these activities are easy to obtain, but these are rather superficial and generally less than meaningful. So how can we obtain a meaningful measure of ROI in emergency preparedness?

ROI is determined differently based on the industry being studied, but fundamentally it comes down to identifying key performance indicators, their value, and how much progress was made toward those key performance indicators. So what are our key performance indicators in preparedness?

FEMA has recently began linking key performance indicators to the THIRA. The Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment, when done well, gives us quantifiable and qualifiable information on the threats and hazards we face and, based upon certain scenarios, the performance measures need to attain certain goals. This is contextualized and standardized through defined Core Capabilities. When we compare our current capabilities to those needed to meet the identified goals (called capability targets in the THIRA and SPR), we are able to better define the factors that contribute to the gap. The gap is described in terms of capability elements – planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises (POETE). In accordance with this, FEMA is now making a more focused effort to collect data on how we are meeting capability targets, which helps us to better identify return on investment.

2021 Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) funding is requiring the collection of data as part of the grant application and progress reports to support their ability to measure program effectiveness and investment impacts. They are collecting this information through the EMPG Work Plan. This spreadsheet goes a long way toward helping us better measure preparedness. This Work Plan leads programs to identify for every funded activity:

  • The need addressed
  • What is expected to be accomplished
  • What the expected impact will be
  • Identification of associated mission areas and Core Capabilities
  • Performance goals and milestones
  • Some of the basic quantitative data I mentioned above

This is a good start, but I’d like to see it go further. They should still be prompting EMPG recipients to directly identify what was actually improved and how. What has the development of a new plan accomplished? What capabilities did a certain training program improve? What areas for improvement were identified from an exercise, what is the corresponding improvement plan, and how will capabilities be improved as a result? The way to get to something more meaningful is to continue asking ‘so what?’ until you come to an answer that really identifies meaningful accomplishments.

EMPG aside, I encourage all emergency management programs to identify their key performance indicators. This is a much more results-oriented approach to managing your program, keeping the program focused on accomplishing meaningful outcomes, not just generating activity. It’s more impactful to report on what was accomplished than what was done. It also gives us more meaningful information to analyze across multiple periods. This type of information isn’t just better for grant reports, but also for your local budgets and even routine reports to upper management and elected officials.

What do you think about FEMA’s new approach with EMPG? What key performance indicators do you use for your programs?

© 2021 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®