Failures in Preparedness

In May the GAO released a report titled “National Preparedness: Additional Actions Needed to Address Gaps in the Nation’s Emergency Management Capabilities”. I encourage everyone to read the report for themselves and also reflect on my commentary from several years of National Preparedness Reports. I’ll summarize all this though… it doesn’t look good. The National Preparedness Reports really tell us little about the state of preparedness across the nation, and this is reinforced by the GAO report as they state “FEMA is taking steps to strengthen the national preparedness system, but has yet to determine what steps are needed to address the nation’s capability gaps across all levels of government”.

First of all, let me be clear about where the responsibility of preparedness lies – EVERYONE. Whole community preparedness is actually a thing. It’s not FEMA’s job to ensure we are prepared. As also made evident in the GAO report (for those who haven’t worked with federal preparedness grants), most preparedness grants are pretty open, and as such, the federal government can’t force everyone to address the most critical capability gaps. Why wouldn’t jurisdictions want to address the most critical capability gaps, though? Here are some of the big reasons:

  • Most or all funding may be used to sustain the employment of emergency management staff, without whom there would be no EM program in that jurisdiction
  • The jurisdiction has prioritized sustaining other core capabilities which they feel are more important
  • The jurisdiction has decided that certain core capabilities are not for them to address (deferring instead to state or federal governments)
  • Shoring up gaps is hard
  • Response is sexier

The GAO report provided some data to support where priorities lie. First, let’s take a look at spending priorities by grant recipients:

While crosscutting capabilities (Operational Coordination, Planning, and Public Information and Warning) were consistently the largest expenditures, I would surmise that Operational Coordination was the largest of the three, followed by Planning, with Public Information and Warning coming in last. And I’m pretty confident that while these are cross cutting, these mostly lied within the Response Mission Area. Assuming my predictions are correct, there is fundamentally nothing wrong with this. It offers a lot of bang for the buck, and I’ve certainly spoken pretty consistently about how bad we are at things like Operational Coordination and Planning (despite some opinions to the contrary). Jumping to the end of the book, notice that Recovery mission area spending accounts for 1% of the total. This seems like a poor choice considering that three of the five lowest rated capabilities are in the Recovery mission area. Check out this table also provided in the GAO report:

Through at least a few of these years, Cybersecurity has been flagged as a priority by DHS/FEMA, yet clearly, we’ve not made any progress on that front. Our preparedness for Housing recovery has always been abysmal, yet we haven’t made any progress on that either. I suspect that those are two areas, specifically, that many jurisdictions feel are the responsibility of state and federal government.

Back in March of 2011, the GAO recommended that FEMA complete a national preparedness assessment of capability gaps at each level of government based on tiered, capability-specific performance objectives to enable prioritization of grant funding. This recommendation has not yet been implemented. While not entirely the fault of FEMA, we do need to reimagine that national preparedness system. While the current system is sound in concept, implementation falls considerably short.

First, we do need a better means of measuring preparedness. It’s difficult – I fully acknowledge that. And for as objective as we try to make it, there is a vast amount of subjectivity to it. I do know that in the end, I shouldn’t find myself shaking my head or even laughing at the findings identified in the National Preparedness Report, though, knowing that some of the information there can’t possibly be accurate.

I don’t have all the answers on how we should measure preparedness, but I know this… it’s different for different levels of government. A few thoughts:

  • While preparedness is a shared responsibility, I don’t expect a small town to definitively have the answers for disaster housing or cybersecurity. We need to acknowledge that some jurisdictions simply don’t have the resources to make independent progress on certain capabilities. Does this mean they have no responsibility for it – no. Absolutely not. But the current structure of the THIRA, while allowing for some flexibility, doesn’t directly account for a shared responsibility.
  • Further, while every jurisdiction completing a THIRA is identifying their own capability targets, I’d like to see benchmarks established for them to strive for. This provides jurisdictions with both internal and external definitions of success. It also allows them an out, to a certain extent, on certain core capabilities that have a shared responsibility. Even a small town can make some progress on preparedness for disaster housing, such as site selection, estimating needs, and identifying code requirements (pro tip… these are required elements of hazard mitigation plans).
  • Lastly, we need to recognize that it’s difficult to measure things when they aren’t the same or aren’t being measured the same. Sure, we can provide a defined core capability, but when everyone has different perspective on and expectation of that core capability and how it should be measured, we aren’t getting answers we can really compare. Everyone knows what a house is, but there is a considerable difference between a double wide and a McMansion. Nothing wrong with either of them, but the differences give us very different base lines to work from. Further, if we need to identify how big a house is and someone measures the length and width of the building, someone else measures the livable square footage of a different building, and a third person measures the number of floors of yet another house, we may have all have correct answers, but we can’t really compare any of them. We need to figure out how to allow jurisdictions to contextualize their own needs, but still be playing the same game.

In regard to implementation, funding is obviously a big piece. Thoughts on this:

  • I think states and UASIs need to take a lot of the burden. While I certainly agree that considerable funding needs to be allocated to personnel, this needs to be balanced with sustaining certain higher tier capabilities and closing critical gaps. Easier said than done, but much of this begins with grant language and recognition that one grant may not fit all the needs.
  • FEMA has long been issuing various preparedness grants to support targeted needs and should not only continue to do so, but expand on this program. Targeted grants should be much stricter in establishing expectations for what will be accomplished with the grant funds.
  • Collaboration is also important. Shared responsibility, whole community, etc. Many grants have suggested or recommended collaboration through the years, but rarely has it been actually required. Certain capabilities lend themselves to better development potential when we see the realization of collaboration, to include the private sector, NGOs, and the federal government. Let’s require more of it.
  • Instead of spreading money far and wide, let’s establish specific communities of practice to essentially act as model programs. For a certain priority, allocate funds for a grant opportunity with enough to fund 3-5 initiatives in the nation. Give 2-3 years for these programs to identify and test solutions. These should be rigorously documented so as to analyze information and potentially duplicate, so I suggest that academic institutions also be involved as part of the collaborative effort (see the previous bullet). Once each of the grantees has completed their projects, host a symposium to compare and contrast, and identify best practices. Final recommendations can be used to benchmark other programs around the nation. Once we have a model, then future funding can be allocated to support implementation of that model in other areas around the nation. Having worked with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, they may be an ideal organization to spearhead the research component of such programs.
  • Recognize that preparedness isn’t just long term, it’s perpetual. While certain priorities will change, the goals remain fundamentally the same. We are in this for the long haul and we need to engage with that in mind. Strategies such as the one in the previous bullet point lend themselves to long-term identification of issues, exploration of solutions, and implementation of best practices.
  • Perhaps in summary of all of this, while every jurisdiction has unique needs, grant programs can’t be so open as to allow every grantee to have a wholly unique approach to things. It feels like most grant programs now are simply something thrown at a wall – some of it sticks, some of it falls right off, some might not even make it to the wall, some slowly drips off the wall, and some dries on permanently. We need consistency. Not necessarily uniformity, but if standards are established to provide a foundational 75% solution, with the rest open for local customization, that may be a good way to tackle a lot of problems.

In the end, while FEMA is the implementing agency, the emergency management community needs to work with them to identify how best to measure preparedness across all levels and how we can best implement preparedness programs. Over the past few years, FEMA has been very open in developing programs for the emergency management community and I hope this is a problem they realize they can’t tackle on their own. They need representatives from across the practice to help chart a way ahead. This will ensure that considerations and perspectives from all stakeholder groups are addressed. Preparedness isn’t a FEMA problem, it’s an emergency management problem. Let’s help them help us.

What thoughts do you have on preparedness? How should we measure it? What are the strengths and areas for improvement for funding? Do you have an ideal model in mind?

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Different Perspectives on Disaster Recovery

It seems a lot of the things we have been dealing with relative to the Coronavirus pandemic have brought us a different perspective, or at least have revealed a perspective that public health and emergency management have been concerned about for a while.  The pandemic given us a more accurate perspective on the impacts of a truly major public health event and the things we need to do to manage it.  We also find ourselves looking ahead to recovery and needing to view that through a different lens as well. 

Most disaster recovery, and in fact the way the Stafford Act is written, reflects physical damage from disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes.  We are dealing with debris, damaged infrastructure, displaced masses, and the like.  The pandemic is something completely different.  While we may see shades of some more traditional recovery activity, recovery from the pandemic is giving us a very different way of seeing things. 

Before we get into the details, one of the biggest factors in all this is trying to determine where recovery fits in.  It’s long been a conundrum for people who want to make emergency management an exact science to be able to stick a pin in the exact spot where response ends and recovery begins.  Not only does the lack of that delineation persist for the pandemic, it’s exacerbated.  But that’s not all.  While some recovery activity has already started (more about that in a bit), the big push may not be able to start until society can at least begin to intermingle (though likely with some continued precautions).  Further, true recovery arguably can’t take place until we have a vaccine.  Until we reach that point, recovery efforts are likely to have a stutter, as we start, then have to stop or at least slow down when infection rates increase again, then resume once they subside.  This is simply not a formula we are used to working by. 

I suppose the best way to examine this is to look at it through the Recovery Mission Area Core Capabilities:

  • Planning
  • Operational Coordination
  • Public Information and Warning
  • Infrastructure Systems
  • Economic Recovery
  • Health and Social Services
  • Housing
  • Natural and Cultural Resources

Planning, Operational Coordination, and Public Information and Warning – I’m initially lumping these three together as they are the ‘common’ Core Capabilities and we generally see these in recovery having eventually transitioned over from the response focus.  The challenge with the pandemic is that we see the overlap of response and recovery, in some circumstances, more than we are used to compared to other disasters.  Also, a lot of the recovery we currently see is coming in the form of direct services from the Federal government, with little to no connection to state or local governments.  This is heavily emphasized in matters of Economic Recovery (more on this later).  The overall sense I’m getting is that the fundamentals of these three common Core Capabilities haven’t substantially changed (obviously some of the tasks have), though the experience different jurisdictions are having varies.  Consider that most jurisdictions aren’t used to dealing with prolonged incidents such as this.  In fact, many jurisdictions have decided to no longer operate EOCs (hopefully these were virtual!) as the impacts within their jurisdictions have been minimal and what problems do exist are largely being addressed by an emergency manager supported by a multi-agency coordination group.  Other jurisdictions, obviously, are being hit much harder and their management of this incident has continued to grow as they address the myriad issues that rise up and prepare for what they expect to see next.  There are some of the differences in Operational Coordination. 

Looking a little closer at Planning, this should still be taking place regardless of the volume of work your jurisdiction is experiencing, and even if your jurisdiction doesn’t have a public health department.  There is a lot of planning that still needs to take place to account for recovery, continuity of operations, and contingencies.  This one really permeates the other Core Capabilities the most. 

Lastly within this group, Public Information and Warning.  Absent jurisdictions that are used to dealing with more prolonged responses and recovery, most haven’t had to address a need for persistent public messaging.  While a lot of it is echoing guidance coming from certain authorities like the CDC or state health departments, more localized matters still need to be addressed in terms of what local services are or are not available (or how they now need to be accessed), providing information on planned events, and addressing rumors and mis-information. 

Infrastructure Systems – Restoration of infrastructure is often a big emphasis in most disasters.  Roads, bridges, water and waste water systems, electricity, and other systems are often damaged or destroyed as the result of the disaster of the day.  In the matter of the pandemic, generally the most impact we see in these systems is delays in maintenance because of some decreased capacity among those that are responsible for them.  Perhaps the one significant exception, through from a very different perspective, is internet services.  While internet services weren’t damaged by the pandemic, they were heavily impacted with many organizations directing staff to work from home.  College students are now engaged in classes from home instead of the campus.  Families and friends are connecting more often via video calling. Even on-line gaming has seen a surge with people spending more time at home.  All this changed the dynamic of internet use.  Most businesses are provided with dedicated lines by internet service providers, designed to handle the concentrated surge of internet use demanded by a facility or collection of facilities.  Much of that use has dwindled, shifting to a drastic increase on residential services.  We also see increased demands on either end of this, with attention being drawn to entire areas that have no internet service as well as the need for increased server capacity of companies that host video calling and gaming platforms.  Even organizations and their employees have had to scramble to ensure that employees (and students) have internet access at home, the hardware required to access the internet, and the ability to connect to the organization’s servers and services. 

Another interesting perspective on infrastructure, however, comes from the emphasis on essential services and essential employees that we hear of every day.  While definitions of this have existed for some time, in this disaster alone we have seen that definition change a few times as we realize the connectivity between certain services and organizations.  Some important lessons to be documented and applied to future planning efforts. 

Economic Recovery – For as much as Infrastructure Systems (largely) haven’t been impacted, Economic Recovery has needed to be significantly re-imagined.  With businesses being forced to close and employees being furloughed or laid off, the global economy has taken a significant hit.  This is certainly a prime example, perhaps our first, of how deep a disaster of a global scale can cut us.  As a result, many nations around the planet have been pushing out some sort of economic stimulus, helping those that are unemployed as well as those businesses that are still open yet struggling with decreases in revenue.  The economic hit from the pandemic will take years to recover from and will require some very different ways of solving the problem.  Governments have only so much money to give.  Many jurisdictions are also examining the association between infrastructure and economic recovery in a different light, especially as thought is being put into when and how to re-open our communities and economies. 

As a related side note, we were recently awarded a contract to provide guidance on the reopening of transportation and transit in major cities.  Continued preventative measures as well as human behaviors are going to apply some interesting demands on urban planning, prompting cities to respond appropriately to these changes if they want to see businesses rebound, or even thrive as we move further into recovery. 

Health and Social Services – Rarely does public health lead the way through a major disaster.  Though we realize that just with other disasters where we might like to think that people are in charge, the disaster itself still remains in the driver’s seat and we are really just along for the ride, trying to address problems the best we can. Our health system is stretched, yet we see an interesting irony of hospitals laying off staff, as elective surgeries and other non-emergency services are presently suspended.   Obviously public health will continue to lead the way through our recovery.  Even with others seemingly in charge of other recovery functions, it is public health markers which will become the decision points that dictate our overall recovery.  On the social services side of this Core Capability, we also see a change in dynamics.  While the pandemic doesn’t have the physical impacts of a more traditional disaster, we are also seeing fewer people being displaced overall due to emergency legal protections being put in place to prevent evictions and utility service disconnections from lack of payment.  That said, we are still seeing traditional social service issues related to food, medicine, and mental health exacerbated due to the pandemic, the economic impact from the pandemic, and the mental stresses imposed by the pandemic as a whole, as well as social distancing, deaths, and other factors.  While many social services have traditionally been very hands-on and face-to-face, many of these services have moved to remote models, though others, by necessity, are still physically operating.  Social services recovery, linked to economic recovery as well as psychological matters like PTSD, will persist long after the pandemic.  Recovery plans must be re-imagined to address this.  Public health recovery, similarly, will last long after the pandemic as we need to take an honest look at the gaps in our system and work to address them. 

Housing – As mentioned earlier, there are few displacements (that should be) happening as a result of the pandemic.  Houses haven’t been destroyed as a direct result of the pandemic. Though how long will landlords be able to reasonably wait for back rents to be paid to them?  While those that own large apartment complexes may be able to absorb these losses, landlords with small properties will not.  They are small businesses, with bills to pay and mouths to feed.  While it’s great for tenants to get a reprieve, this also has impacts.  Local economies will likely need to figure out how to address this. 

Natural and Cultural Resources – Similar to infrastructure and housing, our natural resources have seen, overall, limited impact from the pandemic.  In fact, by many reports, many of our natural resources have seen marked and measurable improvement due to decreases in pollution and other impacts of ‘normal’ human activity.  Many cultural resources, on the other hand, have been impacted. I speak not of historical sites, which are often considered in the reconstruction activities associated with disaster recovery, but of museums and performance centers.  Museums, as with any other organization, rely on income to survive.  Many are non-profits, and generally put revenue into improving the facility and its collections, leaving not much of a ‘rainy day’ fund.  Similarly, collections haven’t been damaged, as they might have in another disaster, so there is no insurance claim to cover losses.  Similarly, performance centers, such as the 1930s era theater where I perform improv, haven’t seen revenue in weeks.  Here, we blur the lines between a different perspective on cultural preservation with economic recovery.  Another challenge local economies will have. 

So where does this leave us?  Clearly we are seeing different perspectives of each of these Core Capabilities, requiring us to approach them in ways different than we have in the past.  While the easy solution to many of them is money, an economy globally impacted has little funding to adequately do so.  We also see the interconnectivity of these Core Capabilities.  For many, there is reliance on others to make progress before another can see tangible improvement.  That said, planning is still the crux of it all. We must make deliberate planning efforts to address each of these.  Sure, we can reference current plans, but I argue that most current plans are inadequate, as the problems and the resultant solutions were not anticipated to look like this.  Planning also needs to occur at all levels, and there absolutely must be an emphasis on the first step of the CPG 101 planning process… Form a Team.  Our recovery from a global, national, and community level requires people working together.  We see now, more than ever, how interconnected things are.  This is no time to be insular.  We must consider all stakeholders, including citizens, organizations, and businesses, as part of our planning teams.  And by the way, we’re already behind. 

A couple more items before I close this rather long post.  First of all, consideration should be given to Continuity being added to the Core Capabilities.  Perhaps as a common Core Capability, but at least as one that is included in more than one mission area.  It’s a specific effort that, yes, does include planning (as should any other Core Capability), but has a very specific function and implementations. 

Second (and lastly), you absolutely must be capturing and documenting lessons learned (strengths and areas for improvement).  In fact, don’t wait to hotwash.  If you haven’t already, do one now.  You will do another later.  And likely one or more after that.  The duration of this disaster, and the different focal points and phases of it will constantly shift our attention and cause people to forget what they have learned.  Lessons learned must be captured in phases, allowing us to focus on sets of activities.  Be sure to document your lessons learned, share them far and wide, and set a timeline for implementing improvements.  There is so much to learn from this disaster, but it’s a waste if we ignore it or expect someone else to tell us what to do.   

I hope I delivered in this piece, highlighting the different perspectives of disaster recovery we are dealing with.  Are all disaster recovery activities fully turned on their heads?  Of course not.  We are still able to apply the standards we have been for decades, though some of them do need to be looked at and approached from a different perspective.  I’m very interested in feedback and thoughts. 

Stay safe. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

The 2019 National Preparedness Report, or ‘How Are We Measuring Preparedness?’

FEMA recently released the 2019 National Preparedness Report.  Simply put, I’m confused.  Nothing in the report actually lines up with doctrine.  It leaves me wondering how we are actually measuring preparedness.  So what’s the issue?

While the National Preparedness Report is initially structured around the five mission areas (Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery), the only full inclusion of the Core Capabilities in the report is a table on page 9, outlining usage of grant funds per Core Capability.  After this, the Core Capabilities for each mission are listed in the title page for each mission area within the detailed findings for those mission areas.  No detail of progress within these Core Capabilities is provided, however.  With the absence of this analysis, we are not seeing data on the progression of preparedness, which, per the National Preparedness Report, is measured through the lens of each of the Core Capabilities.

This is further confused on pages 45 and 48, in particular, where tables list the Community Lifelines with some sort of correlated ‘capabilities’ (noted with a lowercase ‘c’… thus not the Core Capabilities).  These capabilities are not from any doctrine that I can find or recall, including the components and subcomponents for each Community Lifeline provided in the Community Lifelines Toolkit.  For each of these they provide some analytical data, but it’s unclear what this is based upon.  The methodology provided early in the document does nothing to identify why this change in format has occurred or where these specific data sets come from, much less why they are deviating from the previous format and the standards provided through the National Preparedness Goal.

Some perspective… It would seem logical that the National Preparedness Report would be assessing our national state of preparedness relative to the National Preparedness Goal, as it has since its inception.  The National Preparedness Goal is structured around the five mission areas and the 32 Core Capabilities.  With the emergence of the Community Lifelines and their inclusion in the recent update of the National Response Framework, it makes sense that we will see Community Lifelines further integrated into standards, doctrine, and reports, but they have yet to be integrated into the National Preparedness Goal (the current version is dated 2015).  We have not yet seen a comprehensive crosswalk between the Community Lifelines and the Core Capabilities, but it should be recognized that there are certain aspects, even if you just examine the Response Mission Area, that don’t match up.

In an unrelated observation on the National Preparedness Report, the trend continues with citing after action reports from the year, but not actually providing any analysis of lessons learned and how those are being applied across the nation.

Bottom line… while there are some valuable nuggets of information included in this report, I find most of it to be confusing, as it lacks a consistent format on its own, as well as inconsistency with the existing standard of measurement as defined by the National Preparedness Goal.  Why is this a big deal?  First, it’s a deviation from the established standard.  While the standard may certainly have room for improvement, the standard must first be changed before the metrics in the reporting can be changed.  Second, with the deviation from the standard, we aren’t able to measure progress over time.  All previous National Preparedness Reports have provided data within the scope of Core Capabilities, while this one largely does not.  This breaks the possibility of any trend analysis.  Third, there is no reasoning provided behind the capabilities (lowercase ‘c’) associated with each of the Community Lifelines in the report.  It’s simply confusing to the extent that it becomes irrelevant because the information provided is not within the existing lexicon which is used for measurement of practically everything in preparedness.

Simply put, this year’s report is even more disappointing than those provided in previous years.  In fact, since it doesn’t conform with the current standard, I’d suggest it’s not even valid.  This should be far better.

Thoughts?

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

 

 

10 Strategies for Improving Emergency Management

I recently listened to an interview with author and professor Sean McFate.  In the interview he discusses the changing landscape of warfare and what the US must do to keep up, particularly since we are still largely stuck in a mindset of conventional warfare.  For those interested in this very insightful interview, it was on The Security Studies Podcast.

Obviously, a great deal has changed over the decades in warfare, but many philosophies and perspectives have remained the same.  As I listened to the interview, I found McFate’s words to ring true for emergency management as well.  We have had some changes in focus from civil defense, to natural hazards, to terrorism, and now toward what seems to be the most comprehensive all-hazards perspective we’ve ever had.  We’ve also had changes in technology and methodologies, but we still seem stuck in a lot of old ways of thinking.  Emergency management isn’t linear.  In fact the lines are blurred so much that it’s hardly cyclical (another old way of thinking).

McFate espoused that high-level warfare strategies should span administrations and leadership changes.  They should be durable and adaptable.  In the interview he discussed 10 new rule of war, which were summarized from his new book.  As such, I offer 10 strategies for improving emergency management.  You will see that most of these items aren’t radical.  The fundamentals of what we do in emergency management must certainly persist, but some perspectives do need to change.  Here’s what I have to offer:

  1. More incentivization for data-driven hazard mitigation and resilience

There are a few items to unpack in this one.  First of all, fully bringing the concept of resilience on board and marrying it up hazard mitigation.  Where there is some overlap in the two, there are also distinct differences.  Ultimately, however, the ideal end state for the two is the same: eliminate or significantly reduce hazards and impacts from those hazards.  The more we start discussing hazard mitigation and resilience together, the more we will see the linkages between the two.  Hazard mitigation funding, likewise, needs to be broadened to incorporate concepts of resilience.

Another key item here is making these projects data-driven.  Let’s do a better job of quantifying risk in relatable terms.  Risk needs to include not only immediate potential impacts, but also cascading effects.  Once we have that impact data, then root cause analysis is important.  Some of this is regulation, some engineering, some human behavior.  Also keep in mind that this needs to truly be all-hazards.

Lastly, incentivization.  Incentivization isn’t just funding, and gold stickers are not tangible incentives.  Make it meaningful.  Also make these incentives more immediate.  It’s great that mitigation measures can result in a locality paying a lower percentage in the event of a future public assistance declaration, but that could happen years from now, or it might not.  That’s still good to include, but let’s be real – tax payers and law makers don’t just want to dream about the reward, they want to enjoy it now.

  1. Ground preparedness in reality

I’ve seen a lot of preparedness activities (planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises) based on someone’s “good ideas” instead of actual data and needs.  It’s no coincidence that I just mentioned data in the previous point.  How many jurisdictions actually use all that data from their hazard mitigation plan, generally synthesized at significant expense, for other emergency management needs?  It’s quite a rare occasion.  Why?  Most practitioners view hazard mitigation to be a totally different animal.  It’s not sexy response stuff, so they don’t see a need to pay attention to it.  Instead, they fully dismiss what was done for hazard mitigation planning and do their own hazard analysis.  It seems to be a no-brainer that we should do better at developing one system to meet both needs.

Needs assessments take time and that has a cost, but leadership should be making informed decisions about what preparedness needs exist.  Absent conducting a needs assessment, the wrong decisions can easily be made, which results in a waste of time and money.  Most every emergency management agency has a story of time and money wasted on knee-jerk reactions.

Needs assessments should be applied to every aspects of preparedness.  In planning, we want to minimize assumptions and maximize data.  If an incident of the type you are looking at has never happened in your jurisdiction, make comparisons other similar jurisdictions.  Training programs should be based on identified needs, and individual courses should be developed based upon identified needs.  Probably a good opportunity for me to mention that ICS Training Sucks (but a realistic training needs assessment would fix it).  Similarly, the objectives we identify for exercises should be grounded in recognizing what capabilities and plans we need to validate.

Observation: When we look at the 32 Core Capabilities from the National Preparedness Goal, Threat and Hazard Identification is a Core Capability sitting in the Mitigation mission area.  If threat and hazard identification is so fundamental to what we do across all of emergency management, why isn’t it a common capability along with Planning, Operational Coordination, and Public Information and Warning?  Perhaps that needs to change?

  1. Boost regional efforts and coalitions

It’s interesting that everyone talks about how emergency management is a collaborative effort, yet in practice so many are resistant, reluctant, or negligent in working collaboratively.  Sure, it’s often easier to write a plan yourself, but the end result likely isn’t as good as it would be from a group effort.  In healthcare preparedness (yep, that’s a part of emergency management, too), they have been using regional healthcare coalitions.  These coalitions cover all aspects of healthcare, from hospitals, to clinics, to private practices, nursing homes, and EMS, along with health departments.

There is certainly precedent in emergency management to work collaboratively.  There are required collaborations, such as Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), as well as those emphasized in practice, such as in plan development.  LEPCs are great, and often under-utilized in a lot of areas.  In some areas, especially those with heavy industry, they are large and busy, and can’t really take on any more than they already do, but in other areas they have much less to do and could certainly work with a dual purpose as a standing emergency management coordination or advisement entity.  Regardless of how it’s done, build a local or regional EM coalition.  The relationships and perspectives, if properly organized and tasked, will reap some great benefits.  Don’t forget to make them regional, if that makes sense for you.  Disasters don’t give a damn about the funny lines we draw on maps.  And don’t just make these groups about meetings… actually engage them in meaningful preparedness activities and other aspects of emergency management.

  1. Embrace scholar-practitioners

One of the items McFate mentioned in his interview was embracing scholar-practitioners. Now I’m not the kind of person to espouse that a practitioner is any better than a scholar, or vice versa.  They each have an important role, especially in a profession like emergency management, where there is a lot of theory (more than most people realize) and a lot of application.  That said, we don’t have to pick a side.  You can be whoever you want, in fact you can even do both.  Does being a practitioner mean that you have to be a full-time emergency manager? Nope.  Being a scholar doesn’t necessarily mean you must be a professor or a student pursuing an advanced degree, either.  I would absolutely argue that regularly reading some research papers or a book on related topics, or even this blog, makes you a scholar.  If you have interest beyond just direct application, and like to think or discuss broader ideas in emergency management, that makes you a scholar.

I think it is scholar-practitioners that have that capacity to advance our profession more than others.  Not only is this group doing, but they are thinking about how to do it better.  If they come up with an idea of how to do it better, they have the greatest chance of actually giving their idea a try.  They are also the ones most prone to share their lessons learned, both successes and otherwise.

  1. Understand emergency management as a social science

Speaking of theory, we need to recognize emergency management for what it is.  While specific applications of emergency management may be within niche areas of practice and academic disciplines, most of emergency management is really a social science.  Social science is fundamentally about the relationships of people.  That is what we do in emergency management.  There are aspects of social science that may apply more than others, such as sociology or public health, but we also need to embrace political science.

In application, emergency managers need to become more astute in politics.  Not the partisan running for office type of politics, but politics as an aspect of governance, policy, and relationship building.  As an emergency manager, it’s your job to understand what every agency and department does in your jurisdiction, and how they fit into the function of emergency management.  Yes, you can espouse the benefits of emergency management and business continuity to them, but how do they fit into emergency management?  Some connections are easy to make, especially the public safety ones or extensions of that such as transportation, public works, and public health.  But many are quick to dismiss administrative, support, and social welfare agencies.  The better you understand them and are able to champion their involvement in emergency management, the stronger coalition you will build.

  1. Mindset: always in the disaster space

I mentioned in the introduction that the lines between the phases of emergency management are blurred.  We used to teach (and some still do) of distinct phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.  Sure it’s easier to teach about these when we put them in their own box, but that gives the impression to many that we only do one at a time.  The reality is that most jurisdictions are certainly doing mitigation, preparedness, and recovery right now – and maybe even some element of response.

The main point here is that we need to change mindsets of people.  I’ve had plenty of people ask me what emergency managers do when there isn’t an active disaster.  I certainly have no problem satisfying this common curiosity, but the simple fact that they ask means that we aren’t promoting enough of what we do.  We need put ourselves and others in the mindset that are always operating in the disaster space.  It doesn’t need to mean that there is always a disaster response we are involved in, but we need to be very clear that we are active every single day in disaster-related work.

I’ll take this one step further, and that’s to suggest that the primary function of every government agency is emergency management.  Consider that we have roads not only for ease of everyone’s transportation, but so that we can more quickly and efficient respond to save lives and property.  Our public works departments provide potable water and sewage systems for public health purposes, which is part of the greater emergency management family.  I could give examples for every government agency.  The administrative departments support those agencies and the implementation of their missions.

It’s also worth mentioning here that since several of these agencies have involvement in our infrastructure that we need to seriously step up our investments in infrastructure, which not only make it better and more effective and efficient, but also more resilient (tying back to my first point)

  1. Step away from tactics

Far too many emergency managers still focus on tactics.  In defense of that, it’s easy to do, especially if you come from a public safety background.  I still think it’s important to understand tactics.  That said, an effective emergency manager needs to think less about implementation and more about strategy and relationships. There are plenty of tacticians out there.  One more isn’t needed.  What is needed is someone who can step back and see the forest for the trees, as they say.

  1. Private citizens won’t prepare, but volunteers can be engaged

We need to let citizen preparedness go.  I’m not saying we should give up on our message of individual and family preparedness, because it can make a difference, but we need to recognize that most citizens simply won’t do it.  This is a concept that has largely evolved out of society.  In the days of civil defense we were engaging a different generation of people.  We also presented them with a credible and scary threat that was being put in their face all the time.  Now is not that time.  Sure, there are models of citizen preparedness that still work to extraordinary lengths, such as in Cuba, but government oppression and a cold war mentality contribute significantly to that.  Our society has evolved to an extent of individuals not having the time, wherewithal, or interest in preparing themselves.  Sure there are exceptions to every rule, but largely, society has an expectation of being provided for by the government.

Citizen engagement, on the other hand, is still a great reserve that we can spend more effort tapping.  Trained, organized volunteers can accomplish an incredible extent of activity.  Volunteer management is no easy task, though.  Programs need to be developed and promoted, volunteers recruited and trained, and organizations sustained.  Volunteers must be given purpose and don’t forget about the critical link with government… how will this happen.  Religious institutions, corporate and union volunteer groups, and entities such as CERT are all great.  We just need to do a better job at incentivizing, managing, and engaging.

  1. Plan better for recovery

Ah, recovery.  Everyone talks about how we need to do it better, but too few resources are applied to making that happen.  Remember that preparedness starts with a needs assessment and planning.  We can identify estimates of disaster impacts from which we then extrapolate reasonable benchmarks of performance within the core capabilities of recovery.  The problem is that most recovery plans are written at too high a level and generally not followed through on.  Why? Maybe because the emphasis is always on the life safety aspect of response plans.  Certainly that’s important (and we can still do so much better with our response plans), but most recovery oriented plans fall incredibly short.  It seems that most governments that even bother to write recovery plans only do so to the extent of the plan being a framework.  They identify what the goals are, what agencies are involved, and provide some high-level objectives.  Typically no strategy is provided and the management of the recovery function is rarely mentioned, despite such a focus that we have on incident management.

I just recently had a discussion with a client about recovery exercises.  They were approached about the need to conduct more of them.  Smartly, they responded by putting the focus back on the requester by asking if the recovery plans were ready to be exercised.  Once the requestor took a moment to consider, their answer was no.  Remember that (in most cases) exercises validate plans.  We can conduct an exercise in the absence of a plan, but generally that only confirms the lack of a plan.  Plans establish the standards of performance that we use in exercises and in real life.

  1. Use technology to the greatest extent, but prepare for austerity

Ah, technology.  It’s a wonderful thing, until it doesn’t work.  I’m a big fan of the efficiencies that technology provide, especially when technology is developed to solve a specific problem, not to create new ones.  Processes should dictate technology needs, not the other way around.

Technology is mostly a data tool.  It helps us to communicate more quickly and efficiently; access, organize, and transmit data; visualize data; and collect data.  More specifically, we use technology platforms such as EOC management systems and GIS.  These have allowed us to make significant strides in what we do and how we do it.  I’ve used dashboards, databases, maps, 3D models, simulators, and more to do my job.

I’ve seen some emergency managers simply not embrace technology.  And I mean at all.  Not even a computer.  I understand how they are able to function, and though they may have brilliant minds for emergency management, they are simply not able to do much without an assistant to research, type, print, and even communicate for them.  While I’m seeing this less and less, there are still some of these folks out there, and it’s not just older generations, either.

There are many who have a reasonable literacy of technology, but still aren’t embracing inexpensive or even free resources that would make them more effective.  This is even more important for the majority of emergency managers, who are typically one-person offices with few resources.   Maybe listing some of these resources will occur in a future post of mine.

Despite the wonders of technology, I often advocate procedures for going dark (i.e. when your technology fails).  After all, we are emergency managers, are we not?  Every EOC that uses a technology tool to manage functions within their EOC should absolutely have a low tech back up, procedures and training in how to implement it, and an annual exercise to test those procedures and keep people in practice.  Carbon paper and gas station maps are your friends.

~~

Well there they are: 10 strategies for improving emergency management.  As I stated in the introduction, there really isn’t anything revolutionary here, although some concepts might be a bit controversial, which I am happy to embrace.  Perhaps I missed an important point or have a poor perspective on something.  I absolutely welcome your comments and feedback, as always.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

 

Reviewing The 2018 National Preparedness Report

The 2018 National Preparedness Report was released last week.  For the past few years, I’ve provided my own critical review of these annual reports (see 2017’s report here).  For those not familiar with the National Preparedness Report (NPR), it is mandated by the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA).  The information is compiled by FEMA from the State Preparedness Reports (SPR), including the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) data submitted by states, territories, and Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) – funded regions.  The data presented is for the year prior.  The SPRs and NPR examine the condition of our preparedness relative to the 32 Core Capabilities identified in the National Preparedness Goal.

Overall, the NPR provides little information, certainly nothing that is really shocking if you pay attention to the top issues in emergency management.  Disappointingly, the report only covers those Core Capabilities identified for sustainment or improvement, with no more than a graphic summary of the other Core Capabilities.

Core Capabilities to Sustain

Operational Coordination was identified as the sole Core Capability to sustain in this year’s report.  I’ve got some issues with this right off.  First of all, they summarize their methodology for selecting Core Capabilities to sustain: ‘To be a capability to sustain, the Nation must show proficiency in executing that core capability, but there must also be indications of a potentially growing gap between the future demand for, and the performance of, that capability.’  To me, what this boils down to is ‘you do it well, but you are going to have to do it better’.  I think most EM professionals could add to this list significantly, with Core Capabilities such as Planning; Public Information and Warning; Public Health, Healthcare, and EMS; Situational Assessment; and others.  Distilling it down to only Operational Coordination shows to me, a severe lack of understanding in where we presently are and the demands that will be put on our systems in the future.

Further, the review provided in the report relative to Operational Coordination is pretty soft.  Part of it is self-congratulatory, highlighting advances in the Core Capability made last year, with the rest of the section identifying challenges but proving little analysis.  Statements such as ‘Local governments reported challenges with incident command and coordination during the 2017 hurricane season’ are put out there, yet their single paragraph on corrective actions for the section boils down to the statement of ‘we’re looking at it’.  Not acceptable.

Core Capabilities to Improve

The 2018 report identifies four Core Capabilities to improve:

  • Infrastructure Systems
  • Housing
  • Economic Recovery
  • Cybersecurity

These fall under the category of NO KIDDING.  The writeups within the NPR for each of these superficially identifies the need, but doesn’t have much depth of analysis.  I find it interesting that the Core Capability to sustain has a paragraph on corrective actions, yet the Core Capabilities to Improve doesn’t.  They do, instead, identify key findings, which outline some efforts to address the problems, but are very soft and offer little detail.  Some of these include programs which have been in place for quite some time which are clearly having limited impact on addressing the issues.

What really jumped out at me is the data provided on page 9, which charts the distribution of FEMA Preparedness grants by Core Capability for the past year.  The scale of their chart doesn’t allow for any exact amounts, but we can make some estimates.  Let’s look at four of these in particular:

  • Infrastructure Systems – scantly a few million dollars
  • Housing – None
  • Economic Recovery – Less than Infrastructure Systems
  • Cybersecurity – ~$25 million

With over $2.3 billion in preparedness funding provided in 2017 by FEMA, it’s no wonder these are Core Capabilities that need to be improved when so few funds were invested at the state/territory/UASI level.  The sad thing is that this isn’t news.  These Core Capabilities have been identified as needing improvement for years, and I’ll concede they are all challenging, but the lack of substantial movement should anger all emergency managers.

I will agree that Housing and Cybersecurity require a significant and consolidated national effort to address.  That doesn’t mean they are solely a federal responsibility, but there is clear need for significant assistance at the federal level to implement improvements, provide guidance to states and locals, and support local implementations.  That said, we can’t continue to say that these areas are priorities when little funding or activity is demonstrated to support improvement efforts.  While certain areas may certainly take years to make acceptable improvements, we are seeing a dangerous pattern relative to these four Core Capabilities, which continue to wallow at the bottom of the list for so many years.

The Path Forward

The report concludes with a two-paragraph section titled ‘The Path Forward’, which simply speaks to refining the THIRA and SPR methodology, while saying nothing of how the nation needs to address the identified shortcomings.  Clearly this is not acceptable.

~~

As for my own conclusion, while I saw last year’s NPR as an improvement from years previous, I see this one as a severe backslide.  It provides little useful information and shows negligible change in the state of our preparedness over the past year.  The recommendations provided, at least of those that do exist, are translucent at best, and this report leaves the reader with more questions and frustration.  We need more substance beginning with root cause analysis and including substantial, tangible, actionable recommendations.  While I suppose it’s not the fault of the report itself that little improvement is being made in these Core Capabilities, the content of the report shows a lack of priority to address these needs.

I’m actually surprised that a separate executive summary of this report was published, as the report itself holds so little substance, that it could serve as the executive summary.  Having been involved in the completion of THIRAs and SPRs, I know there is information generated that is simply not being analyzed for the NPR.  Particularly with each participating jurisdiction completing a POETE analysis of each Core Capability, I would like to see a more substantial NPR which does some examination of the capability elements in aggregate for each Core Capability, perhaps identifying trends and areas of focus to better support preparedness.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.  Was there anything you thought to be useful in the National Preparedness Report?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Project Responder and DHS’ Inability to Follow Standards

I was recently made aware of Project Responder, a publication sponsored by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, which examines emergency response capability needs within the scope of current operational requirements, threats, and, hazards; with an ultimate focus on the identification of needs an correlating these with technological fixes.  The project description states that ‘the findings from the project can inform the US Department of Homeland Security’s decisions about investments in projects and programs to promote capability enhancement…’.  Project Responder 5 was published in August of this year.  Prior to this edition, I’ve not been familiar with the project, which started in early 2001.

The executive summary of the document states that ‘the document describes 37 capability needs identified by emergency responders…’ <record scratch>.  Hold on a moment… I thought DHS defined 32 Core Capabilities.  Yep, they still do.  The first page of Project Responder 5 includes a foot note that states ‘For purposes of this document, a capability is defined as “the means to accomplish one or more tasks under specific conditions”’.  So in other words, DHS can’t follow it’s own standards.  In many of my articles I’ve regularly remarked about the continual need to streamline our emergency management processes so we can make easier comparisons between these processes, efforts, and activities without having to establish cross walks or translations.  By working from the same standards, we can move easily move between mission areas, which don’t always have boldly marked lines between them, and have an ability to define target results and measure progress.  The Core Capabilities established by the National Preparedness Goal go a long way toward accomplishing this standardization.  It seems the folks in the Science and Technology Directorate don’t think they are that important, and this infuriates me.

The document outlines the 37 capability needs within nine capability domains.  These are:

  • Risk Assessment and Planning
  • Communication and Information Sharing
  • Command, Control, and Coordination
  • Training and Exercise
  • Responder Health and Safety
  • Intelligence and Investigation
  • Logistics and Resource Management
  • Casualty Management
  • Situational Awareness

Some of these appear to have direct correlation to some of what we know as the 32 Core Capabilities, while others seem to combine, redefine, or create new ones.  As the gaps within each domain are discussed, they reference applicable standards.  Interestingly enough, certain standards which you would expect to see aren’t present, such as NIMS being referenced in the Command, Control, and Coordination capability; and HSEEP referenced in the Training and Exercise capability.  Regardless of what technology applications are used to support these areas, these standards are fundamental.

It’s not that the data and analysis that comes out of Project Responder is entirely bad.  It isn’t.  But it’s not great either.  It seems to fall short consistently throughout the document.  The information also needs to be organized within the current lexicon, allowing the reader to make direct correlations to what we are familiar with.  I’m guessing that the project team who did the research and pulled the document together actually knows very little about emergency management or homeland security.  Their inability to communicate context and work within established standards seems to demonstrate this.  It’s fine that the document has a focus on technology implementations that can address gaps, but the fundamentals within the field of practice can’t be ignored.  I don’t see why this project could not have been conducted within the established industry standards.

Perhaps I’ve given a more soap-boxish post than I usually do.  I’m frustrated to see so much wasted time, effort, and dollars in something that could have been more impactful.  Please take a look through the document and let me know what your impressions are.  Also, if you happen to have any insight on this publication which I have missed or am not aware, I’d love to hear it.

Thanks for reading and be safe this holiday season.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

2017 National Preparedness Report – A Review

With my travel schedule, I missed the (late) release of the 2017 National Preparedness Report (NPR) in mid-October.  Foundationally, the findings of the 2017 report show little change from the 2016 report.  If you are interested in comparing, you can find my review of the 2016 NPR here.

The 2017 NPR, on the positive side, provided more data and more meaningful data than its predecessor.  It appeared to me there was more time and effort spent in analysis of this data.  If you aren’t familiar with the premise of the NPR, the report is a compilation of data obtained from State Preparedness Reports (SPRs) submitted by states, territories, and UASI-funded regions; so the NPR, fundamentally, should be a reflection of what was submitted by these jurisdictions and regions – for the better or worse of it.  The SPR asks jurisdictions to provide an honest analysis of each of the core capabilities through the POETE capability elements (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising).

From the perspective of the jurisdictions, no one wants to look bad.  Not to say that any jurisdiction has lied, but certainly agendas can sway subjective assessments.  Jurisdictions want to show that grant money is being spent effectively (with the hopes of obtaining more), but not with such terrific results that anyone would think they don’t need more.  Over the past few years the SPRs, I believe, have started to normalize and better reflect reality.  I think the authors of the NPR have also come to look at the data they receive a little more carefully and word the NPR to reflect this reality.

The 2017 NPR (which evaluates 2016 data from jurisdictions) identified five core capabilities the nation needs to sustain.  These are:

  • Environmental Response/Health and Safety
  • Intelligence and Information Sharing
  • Operational Communications
  • Operational Coordination
  • Planning

I’m reasonably comfortable with the first two, although they both deal with hazards and details that change regularly, so keeping on top of them is critical.  Its interesting that Operational Communication is rated so high, yet is so commonly seen as a top area for improvement on after-action reports of exercises, events, and incidents.  To me, the evidence doesn’t support the conclusion in regard to this core capability.  Operational Coordination and Planning both give me some significant concern.

First, in regard to Operational Coordination, I continue to have a great deal of concern in the ability of responders (in the broadest definitions) to effectively implement the Incident Command System (ICS).  While the implementation of ICS doesn’t comprise all of this core capability, it certainly is a great deal of it.  I think there is more room for improvement than the NPR would indicate.  For example, in a recent exercise I supported, the local emergency manager determined there would be a unified command with him holding ‘overall command’.  Unfortunately, these false interpretations of ICS are endemic.

I believe the Planning core capability is in a similar state inadequacy.  Preparedness lies, fundamentally, on proper planning and the assessments that support it. While I’ve pontificated at length about the inadequacy of ICS training, I’ve seen far too many plans with gaps that you could drive a truck through.  I’ve recently exercised a college emergency response plan that provided no details or guidance on critical tasks, such as evacuation of a dormitory and support of the evacuated students.  The plan did a great job of identifying who should be in the EOC, but gave no information on what they should be doing or how they should do it.  The lack of plans that can be operationalized and implemented is staggering.

The NPR identified the top core capabilities to be improved.  There are no surprises in this list:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Economic Recovery
  • Housing
  • Infrastructure Systems
  • Natural and Cultural Resources
  • Supply Chain Integrity and Security

Fortunately, I’m seeing some (but not all) of these core capabilities getting some needed attention, but clearly not enough.  These don’t have simple solutions, so they will take some time.

Page 10 of the NPR provides a graph showing the distribution of FEMA preparedness (non-disaster) grants by core capability for fiscal year 2015.  Planning (approx. $350m) and Operational Coordination (approx. $280m) lead the pack by far.  I’m curious as to what specific activities these dollars are actually being spent on, because my experience shows that it’s not working as well as is being reported.  Certainly there has been some positive direction, but I’m guessing that dollars are being spent on activities that either have negligible impact or actually have a negative impact, such as funding the development of some of the bad plans we’re seeing out there.

I’m curious as to what readers are seeing out in real life.  What capabilities concern you the most?  What capabilities do you see successes in?  Overall, I think everyone agrees that we can do better.  We can also get better and more meaningful reports.  This NPR was a step in the right direction from last year’s, but we need to continue forward progress.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

New Release: Core Capability Development Sheets

Today’s FEMA Daily Digest Bulletin announced the release of Core Capability Development Sheets which are intended to help jurisdictions build or sustain each capability by integrating:

  • Available training courses
  • Capability targets for the THIRA
  • Nationally typed resources
  • Partners to support development of capabilities
  • Exercise support and guidance to validate capabilities
  • Assistance from the FEMA National Preparedness Directorate

In all, there are 48 Core Capability Development Sheets.  This made me raise an eyebrow when I first read it, as there are 32 Core Capabilities.  The 48 sheets account for the common Core Capabilities (Planning, Public Information and Warning, and Operational Coordination) being carried across each of the five mission areas, as well as other Core Capabilities that are carried across more than one mission area, such as Infrastructure Systems.  This is smart, since, for example, Operational Coordination has some different applications between mission areas, such as Prevention and Recovery.

The sheets themselves offer some good information and make a nice quick reference, particularly for those who aren’t hip-deep in the Core Capabilities on a regular basis.  Matching the National Preparedness Goal, each Core Capability starts off identification of the applicable mission area and a description.  The sheets also identify some training programs across DHS training consortium entities, such as EMI and CDP, which can support the capability.

I like the inclusion of example capability targets, which compliments THIRA development, but also helps users wrap their heads a bit more around the concept of each Core Capability, how progress can be measured, and what can be strived for.  They also offer some identification of resource types that fall in line with the national Resource Typing Library Tool.  I’m a bit ambivalent about this, as the resources identified are response-oriented resources.  For example, the Planning Core Capability identifies two resources – Planning Section Chief (Type 3) and an EOC Planning Section Chief.  Yes, there is obviously a strong case for operational planning in an incident (i.e. the ICS Planning Process), but there is no acknowledgment in this area of resources needed for pre-planning, even though the recommended training does focus on pre-planning.

Each sheet also provides summaries of information on potential partners to help support capability development as well as resources to assist in validating capabilities, the latter being largely exercise focused.  Every sheet has a number of links and even email addresses to DHS program areas which can provide additional information, which may be one of the best aspects of these sheets.

While it’s not indicated that the Core Capability Development Sheets are in any kind of draft form, FEMA’s Technical Assistance program does ask that feedback and comments are emailed to them at FEMA-TARequest@fema.dhs.gov.

I like the concept of these sheets and most of the information contained within.  They are a good quick reference for those that don’t work with the Core Capabilities all the time, and I envision these being circulated for study ahead of meetings, such training and exercise planning workshops (TEPWs) and THIRA/SPR meetings to make sure there is a foundational understanding of each Core Capability and some ideas on how they can be further developed for a jurisdiction.  Kudos to FEMA’s Technical Assistance program on these!  I hope they continue to develop as we all gain a better understanding of how to grow our capabilities.

I’m always interested in the thoughts of readers.  Please look these over and share what you think about them.

© 2017 – Timothy M. Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

 

Reviewing Health Care and Public Health Capabilities

Most in emergency management and homeland security are aware of the National Preparedness Goal’s 32 Core Capabilities, but are you aware of the Health Care and Public Health capabilities promulgated and published by the HHS/ASPR and the CDC?

Recently updated, the 2017-2022 Health Care Preparedness and Response Capabilities are assembled by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).  According to ASPR, these capabilities are intended to ‘describe what the health care delivery system must do to effectively prepare for and respond to emergencies that impact the public’s health’.  The health care delivery system includes health care coalitions (HCCs), hospitals, and EMS.  These consist of four capabilities:

  1. Foundation for Health Care and Medical Readiness
  2. Health Care and Medical Response Coordination
  3. Continuity of Health Care Service Delivery
  4. Medical Surge

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (also part of HHS) publishes the Public Health Preparedness Capabilities.  The current version of the Public Health capabilities is dated 2011, with the CDC being anticipated to begin updating the document in late summer of 2017.  The CDC’s Public Health Preparedness Capabilities help to establish standards for state and local public health preparedness through 15 capabilities, which are:

  1. Community Preparedness
  2. Community Recovery
  3. Emergency Operations Coordination
  4. Emergency Public Information and Warning
  5. Fatality Management
  6. Information Sharing
  7. Mass Care
  8. Medical Countermeasure Dispensing
  9. Medical Material Management and Distribution
  10. Medical Surge
  11. Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions
  12. Public Health Laboratory Testing
  13. Public Health Surveillance and Epidemiological Investigation
  14. Responder Safety and Health
  15. Volunteer Management

Similar to the use of the Core Capabilities in emergency management and homeland security broadly, I see the ASPR and CDC sets of capabilities as providing an opportunity to identify capabilities which are functionally focused.  Aside from the three common Core Capabilities (Planning, Public Information and Warning, and Operational Coordination), there is only one public health/health care-specific Core Capability: Public Health, Health Care, and Emergency Medical Services.  It makes sense for these areas to need to further identify and refine their own capabilities.  It might be interesting to see other sub-sets of public safety, such as fire and law enforcement do the same relative to the Core Capabilities they each heavily participate in.  Or it might send us down a rabbit hole we don’t need to jump down…

That said, I always champion opportunities for synergy and streamlining of existing systems and doctrine, and I’m rather disappointed that has not been done.  There is clearly overlap between the ASPR and CDC capabilities as compared to the Core Capabilities; that being apparent in even the titles of some of these capabilities addressing topics such as operational coordination, mass care, and public information and warning.

Corresponding to the recent release of ASPR’s updated Health Care Preparedness and Response Capabilities, I sat through a webinar that reviewed the update.  The webinar gave an opportunity for me to ask if there was any consideration given to structuring these more similarly to the National Preparedness Goal’s Core Capabilities.  In response, ASPR representatives stated they are working with the Emergency Preparedness Grant Coordination Working Group, which consists of ASPR, CDC, Health Resources and Services Administration, DHS/FEMA, US DOT, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  This working group has developed an interim crosswalk, applicable to the current documents, and expected to be updated with the CDC’s update to the Public Health Preparedness Capabilities.  While a crosswalk helps, it still acknowledges that each are operating within their own silos instead of fully coordinating and aligning with the National Preparedness Goal.  The world of preparedness is dynamic and made even more complex when efforts aren’t aligned.

Regardless of the lack of alignment, these are great tools.  Even if you aren’t in public health and health care, you should become familiar with these documents, as they represent important standards in these fields.  Similar to the Core Capabilities, grants and preparedness activities are structured around them.  If you interface with public health and health care, you have even more reason to become familiar with these – as they are likely referenced in multi-agency discussions and you should be aware of the similarities and differences between these and the Core Capabilities.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Preparedness Exercises – The Building Block Concept Can Be Misleading

If you’ve been doing emergency management and homeland security exercises for even a little while, you are probably familiar with this graphic.  It’s included in a great many exercise training courses and other materials that talk about the different types of exercises out there.  This graphic looks correct at first glance.  It seems to make sense.  Intuitively, we assume that full-scale exercises are the most complex exercise type and that they test capabilities to the greatest extent.  When we put more thought into that, though, we realize that it can be wrong.

I’m happy to note that the most recent document on the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) (April 2013) does NOT include this graphic.  They include a couple of paragraphs on using a ‘progressive approach’ to a multi-year exercise program, recommending that “each successive exercise building upon the previous one until mastery is achieved” is the path forward.  While I’m not too crazy about this statement, either, it’s not as misleading as the legacy ‘building block’ graphic.

Here’s the problem with the graphic – It assumes too much.  While in some instances this graphic can be correct, it shouldn’t be regarded as even occasional guidance.  I’ve witnessed, managed, designed, evaluated, or otherwise participated in a number of workshops, tabletops, drill, and functional exercises that are far more complex than some full-scale exercises I’ve likewise been involved in.  Similarly, I can attest to some ‘lower level’ exercises testing capabilities to a greater extent than the ‘higher level’ exercises.  The hierarchal structure is simply misleading.  The problem this can create is people being dismissive of the relevance, necessity, and value of conducting exercises other than functional and full-scale.

Making a training comparison, exercise types don’t really stick to a scaled taxonomy.  (Check out this article for a small introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy which is used in instructional design.) While we can state that an awareness level course is more about knowing and understanding, and an operations-level course is more about applying, we can’t say the same for exercises as a spectrum generalization.  Consider that seminars are certainly geared toward orienting people with information, while workshops, on the other hand, require creation of a product, by definition.  Tabletop exercises can (and should) be incredibly in-depth, analyzing plans and policy, while drills are more about application.

So what exercise type should you choose?  It goes back to the foundations of exercise design – consider your objectives, then consider what exercise type best fits what was identified that you want to accomplish.  Reflecting, now, back on the progressive approach mentioned in the HSEEP document, it’s true that you probably don’t want to jump into a full-scale right away.  That has less to do with the perceived complexity of the exercise and more to do with how plans are properly tested – which is the main reason why we exercise.  First, we need to talk through aspects of our plans, policies, and procedures.  We need to make sure that our foundational assumptions are sound and that broader decisions and actions are in line with the documents created.  This is typically the reasoning behind conducting a table top exercise before any type of operations-based exercise.  Once we have established that the foundational premise and supporting policies of the plan is sound, then it can make sense to progress to a selection of operations-based exercises to test various tactile aspects of the plan and associated procedures.

That said, some procedures are so tactile that really the only way to test them is through an operations-based exercise.  Perhaps they are first built in a workshop-type of environment, then go straight to a drill for testing.  That might be all that’s needed.  Yes, they could be further integrated into a functional or full-scale later, if you choose to integrate them into other activities.

The bottom line here is that while the building-block approach to exercises makes sense at a glance, it is really quite more complex than the graphic eludes to.  Yes, it still has some relevance, but it should not be viewed as the rule.  Just as in training and emergency response, objectives drive everything in exercises.

© 2017 – Timothy M Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC