Learning from the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Response (Guest Post)

Another great article from Alison Poste. Please be sure to check out her blog – The Afterburn – at www.afterburnblog.com.

I’m looking forward to reading about the adaptations to ICS she references in this article.

-TR

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Learning from the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Response

The ICS model remains a universal command and control standard for crisis response. In contrast to traditional operations-based responses, the COVID-19 pandemic has required a ‘knowledge-based’ framework. 

A fundamental element of ICS is the rapid establishment of a single chain of command. Once established, a basic organization is put in place including the core functions of operations, planning, logistics and finance/administration. In the face of a major incident, there is potential for people and institutions to work at cross purposes. The ICS model avoids this by rapidly integrating people and institutions into a single, integrated response organization preserving the unity of command and span of control. Support to the Incident Commander (the Command Staff) includes a Public Information Officer (PIO), a Liaison Officer and a Safety Officer.

In a study done by Chris Ansell and Ann Keller for the IBM Center for the Business of Government in 2014, the response of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) to the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic was examined in depth. In examining the response, a number of prior outbreak responses were reviewed. Prior to the widespread adoption of ICS, “the CDCP viewed its emergency operations staff as filling an advisory role rather than a leadership role during the crisis” (Ansell and Keller, 2014). This advisory function was the operating principle of the 2003 SARS outbreak response.

ICS was created to coordinate responses that often extend beyond the boundaries of any individual organizations’ capacity to respond. Considering the 2009 H1N1 pandemic response, the authors outline three features complicated the use of the traditional ICS paradigm:

  • The overall mission in a pandemic response is to create authoritative knowledge rather than the delivery of an operational response;
  • The use of specialized knowledge from a wide and dispersed range of sources; and 
  • The use of resources to manage external perceptions of the CDCP’s response.

In response to these unique features, the authors of the study have advocated seven adaptations to the ‘traditional’ ICS structure. These adaptations will be examined in depth in a future post.

Notwithstanding the unique challenges of a ‘knowledge-based’ response, the ‘traditional’ ICS structure is well-equipped to adapt and scale to the needs of any incident. While it is true that a ‘knowledge-based’ response differs from an operational one, this is not inconsistent with the two top priorities of the ICS model: #1: Life Safety and #2: Incident (Pandemic) Stabilization. The objectives of the incident will determine the size of the organization. Secondly, the modular ICS organization is able to rapidly incorporate specialized knowledge and expand/contract as the demands of the incident evolve. Finally, assigning resources to monitor external communications will remain the purview of the PIO as a member of Command Staff.

When the studies are written on the use of ICS in the COVID-19 pandemic, what do you think will be the key take-aways? As always, I’m interested to hear your thoughts and ideas for future topics.

Reference

Ansell, Chris and Ann Keller. 2014. Adapting the Incident Command Model for Knowledge-Based Crises: The Case of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. IBM Center for the Business of Government. Retrieved August 16, 2020 from http://www.businessofgovernment.org/sites/default/files/Adapting%20the%20Incident%20Command%20Model%20for%20Knowledge-Based%20Crises.pdf 

How BC is Acing the Pandemic Test (Guest Post)

I’m excited and honored to promote a new blog being written by Alison Poste. Alison has led major disaster response and recovery efforts in Alberta, Canada, including the 2013 floods and the Fort McMurray wildfires, and currently works as a consultant specializing in business continuity, emergency management, and crisis communications. Her new blog, The Afterburn – Emergency Management Lessons from Off the Shelf, takes a critical look at lessons learned and how they are applied.

I’ve pasted her first post below, but also be sure to click the link above to follow her blog. I’m really excited about the insight Alison will be providing!

– TR

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The pandemic has upended how those in the emergency management field have seen traditional response frameworks. Lessons learned from the pandemic response will be useful to governments and the private sector alike in the coming years.

The ICS framework for emergency response is well equipped to address the unique needs of any disaster, including a global pandemic. The rapid scalability of the structure allows the response to move faster than the speed of government. It provides the framework for standardized emergency response in British Columbia (B.C.).

The B.C. provincial government response to the coronavirus pandemic, led by Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer (PHO) has received international acclaim. It is useful therefore to learn from the best practises instituted early on in the pandemic to inform future events. 

In February 2020, the Province of B.C. published a comprehensive update to the British Columbia Pandemic Provincial Coordination Plan outlining the provincial strategy for cross-ministry coordination, communications and business continuity measures in place to address the pandemic. Based on ICS, the B.C. emergency response framework facilitates effective coordination by ensuring the information shared is consistent and effective. The Province of B.C. has provided a daily briefing by Dr. Henry and Adrian Dix, the B.C. Minister of Health as a way to ensure B.C. residents receive up to date information from an authoritative source.

While we may consider the COVID-19 pandemic to be a unique event, a number of studies have provided guidance to emergency response practitioners of today. The decisive action taken by the B.C. PHO on COVID-19, has focused on the twin pillars of containment and contact tracing. Early studies regarding the effect of contract tracing on transmission rates have seen promising results, however the tracing remains a logistical burden. As studies indicate, these logistical challenges have the potential to overwhelm the healthcare system should travel restrictions be relaxed, leading to the possible ‘importation’ of new infections. 

B.C. has instituted robust contract tracing mechanisms to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in alignment with best practises in other jurisdictions. When instituted methodically, contact tracing, consistent communication, and Dr. Henry’s mantra to “Be calm. Be kind. Be safe.” remain critical tools to ensure limited spread, a well-informed and socially cohesive population.

How has your organization helped to slow the spread of COVID-19?  As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions for how to improve the blog.

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®

FEMA’s 2017 Hurricane Season AAR

A few days ago, FEMA published its after action report (AAR) for the 2017 hurricane season.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that last year was nothing short of devastating.  The major hurricane activity revolved around Hurricane Harvey (Texas), Hurricane Irma (Caribbean/South Atlantic coast), and Hurricane Maria (Caribbean), but domestic response efforts were also significantly dedicated to a rough season of wildfires in California.  While each of these major disasters was bad enough on its own, the overlap of incident operations between them is what was most crippling to the federal response.  Along with these major incidents were the multitude of typical localized incidents that local, state, and some federal resources manage throughout the year.  2017 was a bad year for disasters.  I don’t think any nation could have supported disaster response as well as the US did.

No response is ever perfect, however, and there were certainly plenty of issues associated with last year’s hurricane responses. Politicians and media outlets made issues in Texas and Puerto Rico very apparent.  While some of these issues may rest on the shoulders of FEMA and other federal agencies, state and local governments hold the major responsibility for them.

This FEMA AAR contains good information, perspective, and reflections.  There are a lot of successes and failures to address.  While I’m not going to write a review of the entire document, which you can read for yourself, but I will discuss a few big-picture items and highlight a few specifics.

First, is the overall organization of the document.  The document is organized through reflection across each of five ‘focus areas’.  I’m not sure why this was the chosen approach.  The doctrinal approach should be a reflection on Core Capabilities, as outlined in the National Preparedness Goal.  Some of these focus areas seem to easily align with a Core Capability, such as ‘Sustained Whole Community Logistics Operations’, which gives me reason to wonder why Core Capabilities were not referenced.  While we use Core Capabilities as a standard in exercises, the purpose for them being part of the National Preparedness Goal is so that we have a standard of reference throughout all preparedness activities.  Any AAR – incident, event, or exercise – should bring us back to preparedness activities.

The second issue I have with the document is the focus.  While it’s understood that this is FEMA’s AAR, not a wholistic federal government AAR, it’s almost too FEMA-centric.  The essence of emergency management is that emergency management agencies are coordination bodies, as such, most of their work gets accomplished through coordinating with other agencies.  While it’s true that FEMA certainly has a significant work force and resources, the AAR seems to stop at the inside threshold of FEMA headquarters, without taking the additional step to acknowledge follow-on actions from a FEMA-rooted issue that may involve other agencies.

Among the positive takeaways were some of the planning assumptions outlined in the report.  There is a short list of planning assumptions on page 9, for example, that provide some encouraging comparisons between planning assumptions and reality.  This is a great reminder for local and state plans to not only include numbers and percentages in their planning assumptions, which will directly lead to identifying capability and resource gaps, but to also reality check those numbers after incidents.

Page 10 of the repost highlights the success of FEMA’s Crisis Action Planning groups.  These groups identified future issues and developed strategies to address these issues.  This is actually an adaptation of an underutilized function within the ICS Planning Section to examine potential medium and long-term issues.

Pages 11 and 12 highlight how Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) data from states and UASIs can inform response.  It’s encouraging to see preparedness data directly inform response.  I hope this is something that will continue to evolve.

Pages 22 and 23 discuss the staffing issues FEMA had with massive overlapping deployments.  Along with their regular full time workforce, FEMA also deployed a huge volume of their cadre personnel.  They also tapped into a pilot program called State Supplemental Staffing.  While there were some administrative and bureaucratic difficulties, it seems to have been considerably successful.

Overall, this is a good document citing realistic observations and recommendations.  While the document is FEMA-centric, the way of FEMA is the way of emergency management in the US, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on what they are doing, as many of their activities have reach to state and local governments we as other federal agencies.

What important concepts jumped out at you?

© 2018 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC™

Hurricane Harvey AAR – Lessons for Us All

Harris County, Texas has recently released their After Action Report (AAR) for Hurricane Harvey that devastated the area last year.  I applaud any AAR released, especially one for an incident of this magnitude.  It requires opening your doors to the world, showing some incredible transparency, and a willingness to discuss your mistakes.  Not only can stakeholders in Harris County learn from this AAR, but I think there are lessons to be learned by everyone in reviewing this document.

First, about making the sausage… The AAR includes an early section on the means and methods used to build the AAR, including some tools provided in the appendix.  Why is this important?  First, it helps build a better context for the AAR and lets you know what was studied, who was included, and how it was pulled together.  Second, it offers a great example for you to use for future incidents.  Developing an AAR for an incident has some significant differences from developing an AAR for an exercise.  Fundamentally, development of an AAR for an exercise begins with design of the exercise and is based upon the objectives identified for that exercise.  For an incident, the areas of evaluation are generally identified after the fact.  These areas of evaluation will focus the evaluation effort and help you cull through the volumes of documentation and stories people will want to tell.  The three focus areas covered in the AAR are Command and Control, Operations, and Mass Care and Sheltering.

Getting into the Harvey AAR itself… My own criticism in the formatting is that while areas for improvement in the AAR follow an Issue/Analysis/Recommendation format, identified strengths only have a sentence or two.  Many AAR writers (for incidents, events, or exercises) think this is adequate, but I do not.  Some measure of written analysis should be provided for each strength, giving it context and describing what worked and why.  I’m also in favor of providing recommendations for identified strengths.  I’m of the opinion that most things, even if done well and within acceptable standards, can be improved upon.  If you adopt this philosophy, however, don’t fall into the trap of simply recommending that practices should continue (i.e. keep doing this).  That’s not a meaningful recommendation.  Instead, consider how the practice can be improved upon or sustained.  Remember, always reflect upon practices of planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises (POETE).

As for the identified areas for improvement in AAR, the following needs were outlined:

  • Developing a countywide Continuity of Operations Plan
  • Training non-traditional support personnel who may be involved in disaster response operations
  • Transitioning from response to recovery operations in the Emergency Operations Center
  • Working with the City of Houston to address the current Donations Management strategy

If anything, for these reasons alone, the AAR and the improvement planning matrix attached should be reviewed by every jurisdiction.  Many jurisdictions that I encounter simply don’t have the POETE in place to be successful in addressing these areas.

What is your biggest take away from this AAR?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC™

Seek First to Understand

‘Seek first to understand.’  It’s one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

This past weekend I came across a blog in a prominent industry magazine’s online edition which was highly critical of a recent response and the state of preparedness of a major metropolitan area.  I was quite set back by how outwardly critical this post was, particularly since the author is rather experienced in emergency management.

No matter what field we are in, we have a tendency to examine, critique, analyze, and criticize.  This is generally healthy and important, especially when there is something that can be learned and applied from the experience.  Things can easily go ugly, though.

The nitty gritty of this is that if you weren’t involved and aren’t providing a critique through something more or less official and reasonably objective, such as an after action report, you generally shouldn’t be commenting (at least publicly).  Why?  Primarily, you very likely don’t have all the information.  Second, what is the criticism gaining you aside from looking like an ass?

Seek first to understand.  That’s the main reason why we, particularly in emergency management, should be looking at other people’s incidents.  Yes, we can examine media reports and other sources of information, but be holistic and comprehensive.  If the people involved in managing the incident made mistakes, then learn from their mistakes.  Don’t criticize them for it – they very likely are already receiving that criticism internally.  They certainly don’t need you to Monday morning quarterback.  It does no one any good.

Pointing fingers at other people only makes them point fingers back and creates a culture of negativity.  In emergency management, we are fortunate enough to have a culture of collaboration, where we are generally willing to share our success and failures with others so that they may learn from them as well.  When we become critical, people become bitter, defensive, and isolationist.

It’s not to say that it’s inappropriate to use an incident as an example.  In December I wrote a post about how People Should Not Die in Exercises, in response to an article about an active shooter exercise in Kenya gone wrong. Was I harsh?  You bet your ass I was – and rightfully so.  The occurrence I wrote about was a great example of what not to do in exercises and an important lesson learned that a lot of people should know about to prevent further loss of life.

While I have as much a history of putting my foot in my mouth as the next person, all I’m saying is be careful how you spend your criticism credits.  When you start to criticize you are no longer seeking to understand.  If you aren’t seeking to understand, then no one learns.

-TR

So Your AAR Says Bad Things… Now What?

There it is.  Your recently delivered after action report (AAR).  Uncomfortably sitting across the room from you.  You eye it like Tom Hanks looking at Wilson for the first time.

Wilson

Wilson!!!

You know what’s in it.  It says bad things.  Things you don’t like.  Things your boss really doesn’t like.  But what will you do?

First, let’s assume that, despite you being unhappy with the areas for improvement identified in the AAR, they are fair representations.  What will you do with the dreaded information now that you have it?  Your AAR may have come with a corrective action plan (CAP), but this is only guidance that still needs to be reviewed and acted upon.

First, each identified area for improvement should be prioritized.  After all, if everything is important, then nothing is important.  Even if the areas for improvement and/or corrective actions are already identified in the AAR (particularly if done by a third party or if the AAR is representative of a multi-agency exercise) you should review this prioritization with your own organization’s stakeholders.  This means pulling together a committee (sorry for cursing!) comprised of key areas within your organization.  This may even mean people from areas that may not have participated, such as information technology, as I’m betting there was something in the exercise about computer systems, programs, internet connection, data access, data continuity, etc.  Don’t forget the finance people, either… some fixes aren’t cheap!

Once everyone has had an opportunity to review the AAR, each identified area for improvement should prioritized, at least to the degrees of high, medium, and low; with a secondary filtering of short-term vs long-term projects.  While some may be relatively quick fixes, others can take months, if not years, to accomplish.  Activities should also be identified that are dependent upon others which may need to be completed first (i.e. a procedure needs to be written before it can be trained on).

That’s probably enough for one meeting.  But the people you gathered aren’t cut loose yet… in fact they are pretty much locked in, so you need to be sure that the people you bring together for this corrective action group have the knowledge, ability, and authority to commit resources within their respective areas of responsibility.  Now that activities have been prioritized, it’s time to assign them… this is why involvement of your boss (if you aren’t the boss) is so important.

Some individuals within your organization will be able to act on their own to make the corrective actions that are needed – while others will need to work together to make these happen.  Consider that there may be more activities than just those identified in the AAR.  For example, the AAR may identify a need for a resource management plan.  That’s good, but we all know you can’t just build a plan and expect it to be ready for action.

For those who are regular readers of my blog, you know I’m a big fan of the POETE elements.  (More on POETE here).  What is POETE?  POETE is an acronym that stands for:

  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Equipping
  • Training
  • Exercising

What is the value of POETE and what does it all mean?  POETE is a great reminder of the key activities we need to do to enhance our preparedness.  Given that, when we look at an identified need for improvement, we need to consider how to properly address it.  So start at the top:

  • What plans, policies, and procedures are needed to implement and support this corrective action?
  • What organizational impact will occur? Do we need to change our organization in any way?  Do we need to form any special teams or committees to best implement this corrective action?
  • What equipment or systems are needed to support the corrective action?
  • What do people need to be trained in to support the corrective action? Do we need to train them in the plan, about a new policy or procedure?  Do they need training on organizational changes?  How about training in the use of equipment or systems?
  • Lastly, once you’ve made a corrective action, it’s a good idea to test it. Exercises are the best way to accomplish this.

There are obviously other considerations depending on the specific corrective actions and the circumstances of your organization.  Funding is often times one of the most significant.  If you need to obtain funding to make corrective actions, the AAR is one of the best documented investment justifications you can get.

From a project management perspective, the committee should regularly reconvene as a matter of checking in to see how the corrective actions are going.  On a continuing basis, the progress of corrections should be tracked (spreadsheets are great for this), along with who has been tasked with addressing it, timelines for completion, related finances, progress notes, etc.  Otherwise, in our otherwise busy days, these things get lost in the shuffle.

From a program management perspective, this is a process that should be engrained culturally into your organization.  Ideally, one person should be responsible in your organization for coordinating and tracking this corrective action process.  As additional exercises are conducted and actual incidents and events occur, corrective actions from these will be brought into the mix.  It is all too often that organizations complain of seeing the same remarks on every AAR or from experiencing the same issues for every response.  BREAK THE CYCLE!  Establishing a corrective action program for your organization will go a long way toward making these chronic issues go away.

By the way, the same concept can be applied to multi-organizational/agency efforts at any level – local, county, state, federal, regional, etc.  Since we respond jointly, there are great benefits to joint preparedness efforts.  We will likely find that even that we have our own house in order, working with someone else is a very different experience and will require a whole new list of corrective actions as we identify areas for improvement.  This process works great with multi-agency committees.

The bottom line – the biggest reason why we exercise is to test our capabilities.  When we test them, we find faults.  Those faults need to be corrected.  Capitalize on the investment you made in your exercise effort to address those identified deficiencies and improve your capabilities.

What ideas do you have for addressing corrective actions?

Need help with preparedness activities?  Be Proactive and Be Prepared™ – Reach out to Emergency Preparedness Solutions!  We’re always happy to help.

Thanks for reading!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Dig Deeper – Ask ‘Why?’ Five Times

Be an archaeologist and DIG DEEPER!

Be an archaeologist and DIG DEEPER!

An old boss of mine once told me that to find the real root of any problem you should ask ‘Why?’ five times.  This sage Yoda-like advice has served me well ever since.  Of course it’s not always necessary to ask it the full five times; in fact you often find the foundational cause sooner.  Nonetheless, this approach will inevitably guide you toward discovering what needs to be fixed.

Those who follow my blog know that I post mostly within two thematic areas – emergency management or training.  The ‘ask why’ methodology applies to both of these areas and darn near anything else I can think of.  My thoughts are below on both themes.  Of course training in the field of emergency management is a combination of the two!

In Emergency Management

I’ve posted numerous times on topics such as hazard analysis, Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA), and other similar topics in emergency management.  It is so incredibly necessary for us to identify needs and vulnerabilities, and to understand our community’s capabilities in order to properly prepare for future disasters and emergencies.  I’ve learned that in public safety, when asking a question, you often get a story and that story is often related to a past incident.  While the story may be elaborate, it usually gives you little substance.  Anecdotes aren’t enough.  You need to dig deeper.

As a culture within public safety we are still trying to drive practitioners to be more analytical.  Quality after action reports are a big step in the right direction.  The benefits of after action reports for incidents, not just exercises, are huge.  After action reports should lead to improvement plans, but without identifying the real reason behind what went wrong we can’t fix the problems.  After action reports require an analysis to dig deeper into the observed action to discover what really needs to be addressed.

In Training

In November I published an article in Training Magazine titled The Importance of Analysis to Identify Root Cause.  While I didn’t reference the ‘ask why’ methodology directly, the subject matter of the article lends itself to this approach.  As a trainer, when a problem is presented to you to ‘fix with training’, you need to figure out what the real issues are so that 1) you can confirm that it is in fact a training issue, and 2) you can determine what the objectives and methodologies of the training need to be.  Without properly identifying and defining the needs you are doomed to fail and will likely be putting forth a lot of effort with little gain.  While the results may put some people on the defensive, they can point the organization in the right direction to address inefficiencies and performance problems.

In any needs assessment, don’t simply accept the first answer given to you – dig deeper!  It’s amazing what you will find!

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 4: Conduct an Annual Training & Exercise Planning Workshop

This post is part of a 10-part series on Managing an Exercise Program. In this series I provide some of my own lessons learned in the program and project management aspects of managing, designing, conducting, and evaluating Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) exercises. Your feedback is appreciated!

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 1

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 2: Develop a Preparedness Strategy

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 3: Identify Program Resources and Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 4: Conduct an Annual Training & Exercise Planning Workshop.

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 5: Securing Project Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 6: Conducting Exercise Planning Conferences

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 7: Develop Exercise Documentation

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 8: Preparing Support, Personnel, & Logistical Requirements

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 9: Conducting an Exercise

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 10: Evaluation and Improvement Planning

Timothy Riecker

HSEEP Cycle

As HSEEP Volume 1 states, “The basis of effective exercise program management is a Multi-Year Training and Exercise Plan.”  The MYTEP is the product of a Training and Exercise Planning Workshop (TEPW), a collaborative which should be conducted annually to update the plan (and the collaborating partners!) with any changes in preparedness priorities, funding, or other influential factors.  I really can’t underscore the importance of the TEPW and MYTEP enough – they truly are the backbone of an effective exercise program.

First the TEPW needs to be scheduled and attendees invited.  This workshop should include not only your core planning team (discussed a bit in part 3), but should also expand to others within the sphere if influence and coordination.  States should invite relevant state agencies, a representation of counties (as it would be unwieldy to invite all of them), key cities and/or Urban Area Security Initiative groups, key Federal partners (like FEMA, EPA, DOE, USCG), as well as major not for profits or VOADS, and critical infrastructure private sector folks or authorities like utility or rail companies or regional transit authorities.  Counties should invite key county and state agencies, a representation of local governments, representatives of key groups like the county fire chief’s association, not for profits or VOADs, and those critical infrastructure folks within the county – including school districts and colleges.  Cities, towns, and villages should all follow suite similarly.  Not for profits and private sector folks need to ensure that they are invited to the table of the meetings of others (are you part of a local emergency planning committee – LEPC???) – and for conducting their own TEPWs (not required, but a good idea) need to consider where their primary operations take place and who they have significant relationships with relative to preparedness.  In the end it can be quite a crowd.  You want to be certain that the invites go to the right people (i.e. the exercise program managers, if they have them, or the emergency managers for these entities).  Stress that this is a workshop – where work gets done – so they can’t just send someone to ‘hold a seat’.  It needs to be someone who can represent the organization and its interests in the area of preparedness.  The invite should also state what key information they should be prepared with and prepared to discuss, like major preparedness training and exercise initiatives.

The HSEEP website provides some detailed guidance on TEPWs, a sample agenda, and even a draft invite letter and presentation on its resources website.  You’ll notice that the agenda is a VERY full day.  Don’t try to cut any corners – and I would even encourage a working lunch.  It’s frustrating to hold people longer than planned and even more frustrating to spend a full day in a workshop and not accomplish what you set out to do.  During the workshop, participants should review priority preparedness capabilities and coordinate exercise and training activities that can improve and validate those capabilities. As a result of the workshop, the Multi-Year Training and Exercise Plan outlines a multi-year schedule and milestones for execution of specific training and exercise activities.  Just as importantly, the TEPW helps to deconflict any exercise issues that may exist between these partners, like avoiding scheduling major exercises too closely to each other.  As part of this process, be sure to discuss major areas for improvement discovered from After Action Reports of earlier exercises – the implemented improvements should be tested.

During the TEPW, you will start to populate an exercise calendar.  Some partners will have dates set, others may only be able to narrow it down to a month or calendar quarter.  Around these exercise activities and their known major objectives, training programs can be identified and roughly scheduled as well.  This is the beginning of your MYTEP.

Conducting a TEPW and formulating a MYTEP is not only the first step toward HSEEP compliance, it is also the foundation of your program.  Through the TEPW, your organization and its partners will identify training and exercise requirements, goals, and benchmarks; ideally forecasted out three to five years.  You start with regulatory and other legal requirements, include grant and funding deliverables, and initiatives driven by the organizational mission and emergency management functions.  If the organization has a goal of revising a certain emergency plan by the end of the calendar year, then it would be a good idea to include an exercise testing that plan.  Through the process of the TEPW, you will identify what level of exercise is appropriate: ranging from a seminar to a full-scale exercise; and opportunities to capitalize on different exercise initiatives, merging exercises and leveraging combined efforts and funding – especially between different agencies and organizations.  Finally, you should identify training opportunities to ensure that personnel have the tools they need to function properly.

A TEPW can be complex and fast-paced.  There can be a lot of attendees all needing to get their information out.  The preparedness of the facilitator and attendees is absolutely critical to the success of the TEPW and the quality of the MYTEP.  If you’ve never done one, reach out to someone who has to help you along – including me.

Happy New Year to all and be on the look out for Managing an Exercise Program – Part 5: Securing Project Funding.