In a POETE State of Mind

One of the searches that has most often brought people to my blog over the last couple of years has been POETE.  In case you forgot, POETE stands for Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising.  If you conduct an internet search for POETE, there are very few relevant results.  Along with a few of my blog posts, there are a couple of articles published by others, and a few FEMA documents that include obscure references to POETE.  Sadly, there is nothing available that provides (official) guidance, much less doctrine.

Why is it that such a great tool has so few tangible references?  Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that.  I hope that will soon change.

POETE was most widely indoctrinated several years ago as an analysis step within the State Preparedness Reports (SPRs), which are annual submissions completed by every state, UASI (Urban Area Security Initiative-funded program), and territory.  Note: The SPR templates and guidance are generally not publicly posted, as they are sent directly to the points of contact for each jurisdiction – thus they generally don’t come up in internet search results.

The SPR is a step beyond the THIRA (Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Analysis), which is a very in-depth hazard analysis.  The SPR examines each jurisdiction’s level of preparedness for hazards, referencing the 32 Core Capabilities.  Each Core Capability is then analyzed through the lens of POETE.

As a conceptual example, let’s use the Operational Communications Core Capability.  The POETE analysis will examine the jurisdiction’s preparedness by examining:

  • Planning (are plans adequate? Have they been tested?  What improvements need to be made?);
  • Organizing (are there organizational barriers to success? What human operational communications resources are available?  Are there gaps?  Have teams been exercised? What improvements need to be made?);
  • Equipment (does the jurisdiction have equipment necessary for operational communications? What needs are there relative to the resource management cycle?);
  • Training (what training has been provided? What training gaps exist?  When/how will they be addressed?);
  • Exercises (what exercises have been conducted that include the operational communications Core Capability? What were the findings of the AAR/IPs?  What future exercises are scheduled that include this Core Capability?).

Along with answering a few questions on each element, jurisdictions are asked to rate their status for each POETE element for each Core Capability.  If they look at their reports submitted historically, they can see the measure of progress (or lack thereof) with each.  They also have a tracking of identified action items to help them improve their measure of preparedness.

While this analysis can be quite tedious, it’s extremely insightful and informative.  Often, stakeholders have conceptual ideas about the state of preparedness for each Core Capability, but absent conducting this type of in-depth analysis, they rarely see the details, much less have them written down.  Documenting these helps with recognition, awareness, tasking, tracking, and accountability.  It’s a valuable activity that I would encourage all jurisdictions and organizations to conduct.

What else can POETE be applied to?  In the past few years, POETE is being included in DHS preparedness grants.  They often want applicants to identify key tasks within the POETE structure, and awardees to chart progress along the same lines.

I’ve advocated in the past to use the POETE structure in improvement plans, which are a step beyond after action reports from exercises, events, and even incidents.  Having key activities identified across each POETE element for the Core Capabilities analyzed is extremely helpful, and ensures that issues are being identified comprehensively.

Using the POETE concept across all preparedness efforts helps to tie them together.  By documenting each element for each Core Capability, you will have full visibility and reference to your current status and what needs to be improved upon.  It helps drive accountability, a comprehensive approach, and reduces duplication of efforts – especially in larger organizations.  While implementing such a program will take some investment up front to begin to identify, organize, and chart progress and establish an organizational system to do so, I feel it’s an investment that will pay off.

I’m hopeful that the use of POETE continues to see adoption across all of emergency management and homeland security, and that it is further reinforced as a standard through DHS, FEMA, NFPA, and other organizations which hold sway for settings standards and/or requirements.

How does your organization, agency, or jurisdiction use POETE?

© 2017 – Timothy M Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Incident Evaluation

I’ve written at length about the importance of quality evaluation of exercises.  Essentially, if we don’t evaluate exercises, and do it well, the benefits of the exercises are quite limited.  Generally, we don’t see a benefit to incidents.  By their very nature, incidents threaten and impact life, property, and environment – things we don’t view as being beneficial.  However, benefits are often a product of opportunity; and we absolutely should take the opportunity to evaluate our responses.

Many incidents do get evaluated, but through research after the fact.  We retrace our steps, review incident documents (such as incident action plans), interview personnel, and examine dispatch logs.  These efforts usually paint a decent picture of intent and result (things that are often different), but often miss the delta – the difference between the two – as well as other nuances.  When we evaluate an exercise, we do so in real time.  Th evaluation effort is best done with preparation.  Our evaluation plans, methodologies, and personnel are identified in the design phase of the exercise.  Just as we develop emergency operations plans and train personnel to respond, we can develop incident evaluation plans and train personnel to evaluate incident responses.

Understandably, a hurdle we might have is the availability of personnel to dedicate solely to evaluation, especially on larger incidents – but don’t be afraid of asking for mutual aid just to support incident evaluation (just be sure to include them in your preparedness efforts).  Just as regional exercise teams should be developed to provide cooperative efforts in exercise design, conduct, and evaluation; incident evaluation teams should be developed regionally.  To me, it makes sense for many of these personnel to be the same, as they are already familiar with how to evaluate and write up evaluations.

In exercises, we often use Exercise Evaluation Guides (EEGs) to help focus our evaluation efforts.  These are developed based upon identified Core Capabilities and objectives, which are determined early in the exercise design process.  While we don’t know the specific objectives we might use in an incident, we can identify these in general, based upon past experiences and our preparedness efforts for future incidents.  Similarly, our emergency planning efforts should be based around certain Core Capabilities, which can help inform our incident evaluation preparedness efforts.  Job aids similar to EEGs, let’s call them incident evaluation guides (IAGs), can be drafted to prepare for incident evaluation, with adjustments made as necessary when an incident occurs.

Evaluating an incident, in practice, is rather similar to how we would evaluate an exercise, which is why the training for these activities is relatively portable.  Evaluation efforts should avoid evaluating individuals, instead focusing on the evaluation of functions and processes.  Don’t reinvent the wheel – evaluate based upon documented (hopefully!) plans and procedures and use the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) standards to guide your process. Incident evaluation must be managed to ensure that evaluation gaps are minimized and that evaluation progresses as it should.  Observations should be recorded and, just as we would for an exercise, prepared for and eventually recorded in an after action report (AAR).

I favor honest after action reports.  I’ve seen plenty of after action reports pull punches, not wanting the document to reflect poorly on people.  Candidly, this is bullshit.  I’ve also heard many legal councils advise against the publication of an after action report at all. Similarly, this is bullshit.  If our actions and the need to sustain or improve certain actions or preparations is not properly recorded, necessary changes are much less likely to happen.  If an AAR isn’t developed, a corrective action plan certainly won’t be – which gives us no trackable means of managing our improvements and disavows our intent to do so.

As a profession, public safety must always strive to improve.  We have plenty of opportunity to assess our performance, not just through exercises, which are valuable, but also through the rigors of incident responses.  Prepare for incident evaluation and identify triggers in your emergency plans for when evaluation will be employed, how, and who is involved.  Begin evaluation as early as possible in an incident – there are plenty of lessons learned in the early, and often most critical moments of our incident response.  Finally, be sure to document lessons learned in an AAR, which will contribute to your overall continuous improvement strategy.

How does your agency accomplish incident evaluation?  If you don’t, why?

Need help with the evaluation of incidents?  We are happy to help!

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

New and Timely Cyber Security Information

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month.  With it, the DHS Private Sector Office has provided a number of resources to help organizations get involved in cyber security awareness.  These include weekly themes, such as Stop. Think. Connect., information on a weekly Twitter Chat series, and other information.

Perhaps released intentionally during National Cyber Security Awareness Month is the call for public comment on the National Cyber Incident Response Plan.  From their website, DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate and FEMA’s National Integration Center are leading the development of this document in coordination with the US Department of Justice, the Secretary of Defense, and other partners.  This plan is intended to provide a nation-wide approach to cyber incidents, incorporating roles for the private sector and all levels of government (TR – similar to the National Planning Frameworks, which this document rather heavily references).  The National Engagement Period ends on October 31, so be sure to review the document and provide feedback.  There are also a series of webinars referenced on the website.

In my initial and very cursory review of the plan, I was pleased to see the references to the National Preparedness Goal and National Planning Frameworks.  I’ve mentioned before that we need to strive to align and integrate all preparedness efforts along these lines and I’m thrilled to see it happening.  It’s even more encouraging to see this occurring with something that could be considered a bit fringe to traditional emergency management.  The plan directly references a number of Core Capabilities.  They take an interesting approach with this.  Instead of identifying which Core Capabilities the plan organizes under, they instead align certain Core Capabilities within what they call Lines of Effort.  These Lines of Effort include Threat Response, Asset Response, and Intelligence Support.  For each Core Capability they define the Core Capability, a la the National Preparedness Goal, and describe how that Core Capability applies to Line of Effort, along with listing associated critical tasks. (inserted is Table 2 from the plan which shows this alignment)

cyber-cc-by-loe

What I find even more interesting is the array of Core Capabilities they identified for their Lines of Effort.  While this plan is oriented toward response, the Core Capabilities they identify come from the Mission Areas of Prevention, Protection, Response, and Mitigation, along with including the three common Core Capabilities.  This further reinforces the thought that the Cyber Security Core Capability should also be included as a common Core Capability.  This is an interesting document which I look forward to reviewing in more detail.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

 

Must Read – Evaluating Preparedness at Different Levels of Analysis by Brandon Greenberg

In the past I’ve made references to the DisasterNet blog written by Brandon Greenberg.  If you aren’t reading his blog, you certainly should be, as he routinely posts great material.  Yesterday’s post was no exception.

Brandon has been doing some research on evaluating preparedness, which is a topic I’ve also written about in the past and I feel is of great importance to continued improvements in emergency management.  His article, Evaluating Preparedness at Different Levels of Analysis provides a number of insightful thoughts and information which are certainly going down the right path.  With all hope, Brandon’s continued work may help us find better ways to evaluate preparedness.

-TR

 

 

 

Planning for Preparedness

Yes, planning is part of preparedness, but organizations must also have a plan for preparedness.  Why?  Preparedness breaks down into five key elements  – remember the POETE mnemonic – Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising.  I’m also in favor of including assessment as a preparedness element.  Needless to say, we do a lot when it comes to preparedness.  Each of these elements alone involves significant activity, and together there are opportunities for activities to be synchronized for maximum benefit.  In smaller organizations, these elements may be addressed by one or two people, which itself can be challenging as these are the same people running the organization and addressing myriad other tasks.  In larger organizations each element alone may be addressed by a number of people, which also provides a complication of synchronizing tasks for maximum benefit.  Either way, as with all project and program management, without a plan of action, we may forget critical tasks or do things out of order.

By establishing a preparedness plan, we can address many of these issues.  The plan can be as detailed as necessary, but should at least identify and address requirements (internally and externally imposed) as well as benchmarks to success.  But what do we plan for?

Assessment – Yes, I’m including this as an element.  Assessment is something we should constantly be doing.  Just as we strive to maintain situational awareness throughout an incident, we have to be aware of and assess factors that influence our state of readiness.  There are a variety of assessments that we do already and others that can be done as they relate to the other five elements.  In fact, assessments will inform our preparedness plan, helping us to identify where we are and where we need to be.  We can review after action reports from incidents, events, and exercises to determine what improvements must be made.  We can research best practices and examine funding requirements, legal requirements, and standards such as EMAP or NFPA 1600 which can broadly influence our programs.  We assess current plans to identify what our gaps are and what plans need to be revisited.  We can assess our organization to determine if staffing is maximized and that policy, procedure, and protocol support an agile organization.  The status of equipment can be assessed to determine what is operational and ready to deploy.  We can conduct a training needs assessment to identify what training is needed; and lastly, we can assess opportunities to exercise.  Not only should our assessments inform what needs to be accomplished for each of the POETE elements, but regular assessment check ins and activities should be identified, nay planned for, within our preparedness plan.  Consider what else can inform our preparedness plan.  A recent hazard analysis, THIRA, or state preparedness report (SPR) can feed a lot of information into a preparedness plan – especially the state preparedness report, as it is specifically structured to identify POETE gaps.

Planning – We should always examine what we have.  If plan reviews aren’t scheduled, they often fall to the wayside.  Plan review teams should be identified for each plan, and a review schedule or cycle established.  Benchmark activities for plan review activities should also be identified.  The need for new plans should also be highlighted.  Based on standards, requirements, best practices, or other need, what plans do you organization need to assemble in the next year or two?  Again, identify benchmarks for these.

Organization – Assessments of your organization, either as direct efforts or as part of after action reports or strategic plans can identify what needs to be accomplished organizationally.  Maybe it’s a reorganization, an increase in staffing levels, an impending change in administration, expected attrition, union matters, or something else that needs to be addressed.  As with many other things, some matters or organization are simple, while others are very difficult to navigate.  Without a plan of action, it’s easy to allow things to fall to the wayside.  What changes need to be made?  Who is responsible for implementing them?  Who else needs to be involved? What’s a reasonable timeline for making these changes happen?

Equipping – Many logisticians are great at keeping accurate records and maintenance plans.  This measure of detail isn’t likely needed for your preparedness plan, but you still should be documenting the big picture.  What benchmarks need to be established and followed?  Are there any large expenditures expected for equipment such as a communications vehicle?  Is there an impending conversion of equipment to comply with a new standard?  Are there any gaps in resource management that need to be addressed?

Training – Informed by a training needs assessment, a training plan can be developed.  A training plan should identify foundational training that everyone needs as well as training needed for people functioning at certain levels or positions.  Ideally, you are addressing needs through training programs that already exist, either internally or externally, but there may be a need to develop new training programs.  A training plan should identify what training is needed, for who, and to what level (i.e. to steal from the hazmat world – Awareness? Operations? Technician?).  The plan should identify who will coordinate the training, how often the training will be made available, and how new training will be developed.

Exercises – We have a standard of practice for identifying exercises into the future – it’s called the multi-year training and exercise plan (MYTEP).  While it’s supposed to include training (or at least training related to the identified exercises), training often falls to the wayside during the training and exercise planning workshop (TEPW).  The outcomes of the TEPW can be integrated into your preparedness plan, allowing for an opportunity to synchronize needs and activities across each element.

Just as we do with most of our planning efforts, I would suggest forming a planning team to shepherd your preparedness plan, comprised of stakeholders of each of the elements.  I envision this as a group that should be in regular communication about preparedness efforts, with periodic check-ins on the preparedness plan.  This engagement should lead to synchronization of efforts.  Identify what activities are related and how.  Has a new plan been developed?  Then people need to be trained on it and the plan should be exercised.  Has new equipment been procured?  Then people should be trained in its use and plans should account for the new or increased capability.

Like any effort, endorsement from leadership is necessary, especially when multiple stakeholders need to be brought together and working together.  Many emergency management and homeland security organizations have positions responsible for preparedness, often at the deputy director level.  The formation and maintenance of a comprehensive preparedness plan should be a foundation of their efforts to manage preparedness and forecast and synchronize efforts.

Does your organization have a plan for preparedness beyond just a multi-year training and exercise plan?  What elements do you tie in?  Do you find it to be a successful endeavor?

Do you need assistance in developing a preparedness plan?  Contact us!

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

Incident Management Synchronization

I wrote most recently on Building a System of Response, focusing on the preparedness perspective of bringing stakeholders together to better anticipate each other’s priorities and objectives through collaborative planning, training, and exercising.  Incident synchronization is the step beyond having a system of response.  It’s the implementation where we make the system work.  Effective incident synchronization, however, is not as simple as building a good system of response.  There are a number of factors at play.

Incident Timeline

Every incident has its own timeline.  There are parts of this timeline that we can control, and parts that we can only respond to.  Most incidents occur with little or no notice, which already puts us in the passenger seat, regardless of our level of preparedness.  There is a period of time where we must play catch-up.  This initial response MUST be an early focus of incident management synchronization.  The success of our initial response will set a tone for the rest of the incident.

Looking at the incident timeline as a whole, we find that most incidents we deal with have a focus on response, with little need for intensive recovery activity.  Major incidents may have a response of a few hours or days, with recovery lasting months or even years.  The impacts of the incident largely determine the overall timeline.  The activities within the timeline, however, are determined by us.

Incident Priorities

Our response and recovery actions have certain timelines associated with them.  In response, our timelines are largely dictated by the three priorities of:

  1. Life Safety
  2. Incident Stabilization
  3. Property Conservation

These priorities should be addressed in order – that is, our life safety activities tend to go before incident stabilization and property conservation, although we do often have some overlap of activities associated with these priorities, especially where it can make sense to prevent further life safety issues.  These priorities, particularly life safety, are reflected in our initial response.

Depending on the nature and impacts of the incident, other priorities may be introduced by various stakeholders as we go into an extended response.  The extended response brings about a measure of bureaucracy, as responders enter non-emergency activities and non-traditional responders arrive to take part in matters related to their areas of responsibility.  These non-emergency activities and areas of responsibility may be associated with laws and regulation, plans, organizational charter, executive direction, or simply managing expectations. Of all of these, plans, particularly interagency plans, stand the best chance of respecting a system of response, aiding in a synchronization of incident management.  This extended response is often associated with incidents of Type 3 or larger.  Effective incident management synchronization during the extended response is critical. 

The Transition to Recovery

While politicians like to make declarations about the end of response and the beginning of recovery, these lines are rarely, if ever, so solid and defined.  On even the simplest of incidents – a motor vehicle accident – the incident commander will call for a tow truck early in the response activity.  In the microcosm of the small-scale Type 5 incident, this is a recovery activity.  Clearly then, when extending these concepts to a larger incident, we also initiate a number of short and long-term recovery activities within our response phase.

Recovery tends to bring in a number of agencies and organizations with little concern about response, but rather with a focus on getting people, organizations, and infrastructure back to where they were pre-incident, if not better.  We look at capabilities such as infrastructure systems, economic recovery, health and social services, housing, and natural and cultural resources.  We are addressing human needs, continuity of operations, restoration of infrastructure, social stabilization, and environmental remediation.  Clearly there are a variety of organizations and priorities at play.  While many of these activities, for a time, will run parallel to response, there are intersections, and recovery will continue well past the response phase.  Incident management synchronization must account for the integration of and transition to recovery. 

Accomplishing Incident Management Synchronization

Good preparedness leads to good implementation.  If we have built an effective system of response (and recovery), this lays an essential foundation for our success in incident management synchronization.  A big factor of our plans being effective is if they can actually be implemented.  Some good reading on operational emergency plans here.  Frameworks and conceptual plans offer a good start, but an effective plan should walk you through key activities.  We also need to recognize that our system of response is actually a system of systems.

Implementation of plans and synchronization of incident management is strongly supported by an incident management system, such as the Incident Command System (ICS).  ICS supports short term and long term incidents.  ICS embraces a planning process, which is summarized visually by the Planning P.  The planning process provides a system for developing incident action plans for the next operational period.  When performed properly, the planning process should be informed by all stakeholders, integrating their priorities, objectives, and activities into one consolidated plan.  Their objectives are vetted by the incident commander (or unified command, if used), which helps to ensure coordination, synchronization, and support throughout the timeline of the incident.

planning P for Planning

Despite this standard of incident management, there are still some organizations and individuals that work in disaster recovery that view ICS and concepts such as the planning process as too response-oriented and refuse to use it.  Looking back on the need to integrate recovery activities with response early in the incident, I find this myopic perspective simply foolish and a significant contributor to the disconnect between response and recovery.  I certainly acknowledge that ICS is foundationally very response-oriented, but just as it was adapted from wild-fire response, ICS can (and has been) adapted into recovery, with the foundational principles of incident management continuing to hold true.

Outside of ICS, incident management synchronization will only be successful with good communication among and between all stakeholders.  Effective communication fosters all measure of effective incident management.  Hopefully preparedness measures helped ensure that the organizations and perhaps the personnel involved were familiar with each other, but if not, communication can help overcome that gap.

To further reinforce the connection and need for synchronicity between response and recovery, I reflect again upon preparedness measures.  Short-term recovery activities should be anticipated and planned for alongside and integrated with response.  The full transition to long-term recovery should also be planned, acknowledging that the transition must be phased.  Further, key staff must be trained in these plans and the plans should be exercised at every opportunity.

As always, thanks for reading.  I’m interested in your perspectives, thoughts, and experiences with incident management synchronization.

© Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – Your Partner in Preparedness

 

 

Building a System of Response

On even relatively simple incidents, multiple agencies respond, each with their own priorities, objectives, and authorities.  Even on these small and fairly routine incidents, agencies will complain about one another, typically from a lack of understanding of their role and priorities at an incident scene.  On-scene conflict between police and fire departments is almost cliché, but if you’ve been in this business for a while, you’ve certainly seen it occur.

The number of agencies and interests often expands with great leaps and bounds as the size, duration, and complexity of an incident grows.  While we have incident management systems (such as the incident command system or ICS) which help us to organize and manage the multitude of resources and interests involved during an incident, it’s critical that we have a better understanding and accountability of these agencies and interests before a complex incident occurs.  How can this best be done?

Management Level

Establishing this mutual understanding and accountability is the foundation of a system of response.  From the broadest levels, this is established in the National Response Framework, which is a national-level document describing how the US Federal government organizes to response to large incidents, but also identifies, in general terms, the roles and responsibilities of state, local, tribal, private, nonprofit, faith-based, and community stakeholders; along with how they interrelate during a response.  In the US, states have their own emergency operations plans, which further narrow this perspective within their state, addressing their own unique hazards, resources, laws, and ways of operating.  County and local governments, individual agencies, organizations, and others can and often times do have their own plans with a continually refined focus.

It is through the creation and ongoing maintenance of these planning documents where our system of response is first built.  Dialogue and understanding among the stakeholders are essential.  We must learn who are partners are in emergency response (and mitigation, recovery, prevention, and protection, for that matter) and what their interests and objectives are.  Sometimes those partners are asked to participate, other times they simply arrive on scene, leaving local responders and the person in charge feeling insecure and frustrated.  In your planning efforts, try to anticipate who might be involved in a critical incident so you can better anticipate those needs.

Responder Level

To further this understanding, especially with those who may find themselves working directly with responders of other agencies, it is important to train and exercise together.  Joint training and exercises give responders an opportunity to navigate course and exercise objectives together, leveraging their own knowledge, experience, and capabilities along with those of others; increasing the value of the learning experience as well as their aptitude for joint operations.

Many training courses are well suited for mixed audiences – from the management and planning level to the tactical level.  Incident command system courses, which all responders should take to an appropriate level, are also ideal for this, especially since they should encourage discussion about operational priorities, objectives, and strategies.  Additionally, courses that are heavy in scenario-based training can greatly maximize this synergy, since they are a combination of training and structured exercises.  Courses that use simulation tables are excellent for cross-discipline integration.

Joint training and exercises might not always be practical, especially for those new to their field of practice.  Acknowledging that, consider including information on the other disciplines within the basic or academy-level training that is conducted.  A brief amount of time spent on the legal authorities, priorities, and operational objectives of partner disciplines can be valuable to creating understanding on a complex incident.

Keep it Going

As with all preparedness efforts, ‘one and done’ is not a mantra you want to follow.  To be effective, contemporary, and impactful; you have to build a legacy program.  As the program continues, strive to constantly improve.  Don’t only keep plans up to date, but create procedures on integration that lead to an effective system of response.  Use training to support these plans and procedures and use exercises as both an opportunity for practice as well as an opportunity to identify strengths and areas for improvement within the plans and procedures.  Joint exercises will help identify areas that need to be addressed, such as interoperable communications, conflicting protocols, and competing priorities.  It’s better to identify and address these matters now than during a critical incident.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC Your Partner in Preparedness

Using Departmental Operations Centers for Incident Management Success

Increasingly, government agencies and departments are identifying the benefits of establishing and activating departmental operations centers (DOCs) to help manage their responses to incidents.  At the Vermont Vigilant Guard 2016 exercise, which concluded last week, I had some opportunity to discuss the benefits of DOCs, particularly with an agency who used theirs for the first time in this exercise.

For most agencies, a DOC can relieve agency representatives in an EOC from also having to manage and track their agency’s response activity.  In an EOC, an agency representative is largely a conduit for communication and they provide knowledge of their agency and their agency’s capabilities as they contribute to the greater discussions within the EOC.  According to NIMS/ICS, an agency representative should have some decision-making capability for their agency, although political and practical realities often dictate otherwise.  The overall scope of activity for an agency representative in an EOC largely precludes them from also managing the details of their agency’s response, particularly if that response is even moderately complex.

A DOC is the ideal location from which an agency can oversee and coordinate their own response to an incident.  They can deploy and track resources, address internal logistics matters, and coordinate external logistics matters back through their agency representative at the EOC.  DOCs are also an excellent application for large agencies, which may have a variety of technical functions organized throughout, such as a health department or transportation department.  Pulling together representatives from each organizational element within the agency to collectively troubleshoot, problem solve, and share resources, is excellent use of a DOC.  In a way, this application of a DOC could be considered similar to a multi-agency coordination center (MACC).

Does a DOC need to mirror NIMS/ICS (or the new Center Management System) standards?  While there is no set standard for organizing and managing a DOC, there are a lot of applications of ICS that can certainly be applied.  If you look at the main activities of your DOC, you will see where opportunities for integration of ICS principles exist.  Consider that a DOC should have and maintain good situational awareness.  While much of this can be provided by the EOC, the EOC may (should) be looking for some specific information from your agency.  A situation unit within your DOC would certainly be helpful.  Likewise, DOCs often address tactical or near-tactical application, by deploying and directing resources from throughout their agency.  Having a resource unit within your DOC will help tremendously in the tracking of these resources.  Depending on the size and scope, it may be prudent for your DOC to establish an incident action plan (IAP) of its own.

Logistics, mentioned earlier, may be another need within a DOC.  Certainly an element of finance is important for the approval of procurements and tracking of costs within the agency related to the incident.  If resources are being deployed, someone should be in charge of operations.  Lastly, any organization needs to maintain someone in charge.  A DOC Manager would be the ideal generic term for this position.

What are the draw backs of establishing a DOC?  First of all, it’s an additional layer of incident management.  While possibly necessary based on factors discussed earlier, adding layers of incident management can make incident management more complex, especially if roles of each layer and function are not well defined.  The best way to address this is pre-planning!  Staffing can also be a significant concern.  Many agencies may be too small to warrant, much less have staff available, for a DOC.  If such is the case, just as in other applications of ICS, you should be able to collapse down to a manageable size.

An often seen pitfall of DOCs is that they can quickly devolve into a management by committee type of structure; particularly with larger agencies where senior staff, who are used to regular meetings with each other, are now representing their functional interests within the DOC.  I’ve seen this result in what is essentially one endless meeting, interrupted by phone calls and emails which introduce new problems and perpetuate more discussion.  Strong leadership is absolutely required to ensure that a group such as this stays focused and on task, resolving issues on a timely basis.

Overall, the use of Departmental Operations Centers is a smart practice.  Work internally to plan their use, scoping out when and how it will be applied, where it will be located, the organization to be used, and how it is integrated into the overall incident management effort.  Once plans are developed and appropriate training is performed, exercise the plan to identify areas for improvement, turning those into corrective actions, and implementing them for continued success.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – Your Partner in Preparedness

2016 National Preparedness Report Released

The fifth National Preparedness Report has been released by FEMA.  The National Preparedness Report is based upon, as the report states, input of more than 450 data sources and 190 stakeholders, including 66 non-federal organizations (which would account for state preparedness report submissions and information from Urban Area Security Initiative regions).  The report is intended as a summary of where the nation stands in regard to each of the 32 Core Capabilities outlined in the National Preparedness Goal.

As mentioned, this is the fifth National Preparedness Report to hit the streets.  While they have some value and demonstrate that the data collection that is done is actually collated, I feel that through the years they are offering less meat and more potatoes.  I appreciate the highlighting of best practices for each mission area, but, to me, there is a missed opportunity if a report is simply providing data and not recommendations.  While it’s understood that the goal of the National Preparedness Report is not to provide recommendations (it would also take longer to publish the report, and the people pulling the data together do not likely have the expertise to create recommendations), I’d like to see FEMA (and stakeholders) have follow up efforts to provide recommendations in each mission area and not miss this valuable opportunity to then apply the findings and look forward.

Below, I’ve included their overall findings with a bit of my own commentary.  Overall, I will say that there is nothing eye opening in this report for anyone who pays attention.  It’s pretty easy to guess those Core Capabilities which are at the top and those which are at the bottom.

  • Planning; Public Health, Healthcare, and Emergency Medical Services; and Risk and Disaster Resilience Assessment are the three Core Capabilities in which the Nation has developed acceptable levels of performance for critical tasks, but that face performance declines if not maintained and updated to address emerging challenges.
    • My commentary: BULLSHIT.  If these Core Capabilities are at ‘acceptable levels’, then our standards must be pretty low.  Planning is the one that disturbs me most.  We continue to see plenty of poor plans that are not realistic, can’t be operationalized, and are created to meet requirements (which are typically met by formatting and buzzwords).  Have we improved?  Sure.  But I wouldn’t say we are at ‘acceptable levels’.  As for Public Health, Healthcare, and Emergency Medical Services, we are struggling in certain areas to simply keep our heads above water.  While we are fairly solid in some areas of public health, one only needs to look at the Ebola incident to view how fragile our state of readiness is.  The findings for Planning and Public Health, to me, are nothing but shameful pandering and we need to get realistic about where we are at and the challenges we face.  Gold stars won’t stand up to the next disaster.  As for Risk and Disaster Resilience Assessment I have admittedly less experience personally.  I do know that we have some pretty incredible tools available that can help us determine impacts of various hazards for any given area under a variety of conditions, which is an amazing application of technology.  My concerns here are that there are still many who don’t know about these tools, don’t use them, and/or don’t follow the findings of information from these tools in their hazard mitigation actions.
  • Cybersecurity, Economic Recovery, Housing, and Infrastructure Systems remain national areas for improvement. Two additional Core Capabilities – Natural and Cultural Resources, and Supply Chain Integrity and Security – emerged as new national areas for improvement.
    • My commentary: NO KIDDING. While we have made a great deal of progress on Cybersecurity, we are still far behind the criminal element in most respects.  It also needs to be fully recognized in the National Preparedness Goal that Cybersecurity is a Core Capability common to all five mission areas.  Economic Recovery will always be a challenge, as every community impacted by an incident has a certain way it heals, essentially along the lines of Maslow’s Hierarchy.  A strong local economy is important to this healing, ensuring that the community has access to the resources it needs to rebuild and a return to normalcy.  While I’m sure studies have been done, we need to examine more closely how the economic recovery process evolves after a disaster to identify how it can be best supported.  Housing is the absolutely most challenging Core Capability in the National Preparedness Goal.  While I don’t have a solution for this, I do know that our current approaches, philosophies, and ways of thinking haven’t moved us an inch toward the finish line on this one.  We need to change our current way of thinking to be successful.  As for Infrastructure Systems, I could go on for days about this.  I’ve written previously, several times, (as have many others) on the critically fragile state of our infrastructure.  It’s no big secret.
  • States and territories continue to be more prepared to achieve their targets for Response Core Capabilities, while they are least prepared to meet their targets in the Recovery Mission Area.
    • This is another NO KIDDING. While we must always have a greater focus on Response, as that’s where lives are saved and the immediate danger is addressed, we can’t lose sight of Recovery.  Some recovery activities are more clear cut than others, and FEMA often muddies the waters more by inadvertently intimidating state and local governments when it comes to disaster recovery, as the focus becomes centered more on reimbursable activities vs doing what needs to be done.  The report included some interesting findings (take a look in the Recovery Mission Area drop down on the web site) on ‘mixed trends in exercising recovery capabilities’.  Again, this is nothing earth shattering, but it’s nice to see the matter addressed.  Yes, we clearly need to exercise Recovery Mission Area Core Capabilities better and more often.

These reports are always worth looking through, even though much of the information is generally known by those of us in the profession.  There are always little nuggets of learning available, and data from the report may be used to support your own endeavors for additional funding or resources for your own program.

As always, I’m interested in your insights and thoughts on this post and the National Preparedness Report.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – Your Partner in Preparedness

 

A Decontamination Game Changer

Last week, the way we remove chemical contamination from victims of a terror attack or chemical accident has changed… well, not quite yet, but it should soon.  A partnership between the US Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and the University of Hertfordshire in England and Public Health England found that “…removing clothes removes up to 90 percent of chemical contamination and wiping exposed skin with a paper towel or wipe removes another nine percent of chemical contamination.  After disrobing and wiping with a dry cloth, showering and drying off with a towel or cloth provides additional decontamination, bringing contamination levels down 99.9 percent.”

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Essentially, what they discovered was that despite recommendations for doing so, victims have often not been required to disrobe for decontamination.  When victims would progress through a decontamination (water spray down), much of the chemical they have been exposed to remains in the clothing and trapped against the skin.  Clearly this is not effective.

I see this new methodology being a significant change to how we decontaminate victims.  As the study hypothesizes, decontamination is much more effective when the chemical is wiped from the body after the victim disrobes.  Following this, they may progress then through a water spray.  This, essentially, adds a step to the typical protocols used in North America, Europe, and other locations.  I’m told the wipe methodology has been used in Japan for some time now.  I also believe that wipes have been in use by the US (and other) military forces for units in the field.

Links of interest:

HHS Press Release on the study.

Implementation of new protocols in the UK and other European nations

Many thanks to my colleague Matt for passing this information on to me.

As with any new procedure, the devil is in the details.  Standards must be established and adopted, supplies and equipment must be identified and obtained, personnel must be trained, and exercises must be conducted to validate.

I’m interested to hear opinions on these findings and recommendations, as well as thoughts on implementation in the US and abroad.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC Your Partner in Preparedness