COVID-19 Vaccine Administration Preparedness

On September 16, the CDC released the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations. This document lays out some fairly realistic expectations of jurisdictions (mostly states) in their distribution, administration, and tracking of COVID-19 vaccinations. That said, even though there continue to be many unknowns about the vaccines to be utilized, dosages, timetable of availability, and how and where vaccines will be delivered to states, there are reasonable assumptions that could be made and high probability strategies identified, which the CDC failed to do. Instead, as is a hallmark of many poor managers, they provided a punch list of considerably detailed demands but not the very essential information and parameters needed to support good planning. Information is everything.

Garbage in/garbage out is a pretty simple concept of utilizing poor or lacking information to inform a process, which will result in similar outputs. After reviewing New York State’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan, that concept is fully demonstrated. Most sections of New York State’s plan are vague at best, saying what they will do but not how they will do it. They do identify some roles and responsibilities, but without delineating the boundaries between functionaries. For example: they will utilize pharmacies, local health departments, and state-run facilities, among others, to accomplish public vaccination. This is a solid and expected strategy, but the responsibilities for each are poorly defined for their own operations, much less how they will or won’t work together. Many concepts in the plan are vague at best, and even lacking more defined federal guidance, should have better detail. A big component of vaccination will be community delivery through local health departments, yet this is barely acknowledged. I would have expected this plan to provide guidance and outline preparedness requirements for local health departments, even if they were communicated separately. I acknowledge this is intended to be a strategic level plan, but it doesn’t seem to even consistently provide that measure of detail. I’m left with a lot of questions. And while it may be petty, the document itself is poorly written and published – I expect better from state government.

I’ve not looked at the plans of other states, but if this is indicative of the general state of things, the term ‘shit show’ is the phrase that comes to mind. While we will no doubt improve, there is a long way to go and I think jurisdictions will find themselves in a bind, being poorly prepared when they receive notice of an imminent delivery of vaccines with no detailed plan or assigned resources to get the job done. If anything, we have had plenty of time to prepare for vaccination efforts. There are clearly failures at all levels. While communication between and among federal, state, and local jurisdictions has certainly taken place beyond these documents, the standards and measures need to be more apparent.

We need to do better and be better. Reflecting a bit on the piece I wrote yesterday, we need to be thorough and imaginative in our preparedness efforts without excluding possibilities. Local jurisdictions must be prepared to support vaccinations in their communities. As I’ve written before, most health departments simply don’t have the capacity to do this. Jurisdictions need to engage with their health departments for the best guidance possible and work from that. An 80% solution now is better than a 20% solution later. As with any disaster, local communities are the first stakeholder and the last.

What are you seeing from your states? What do you think is missing in our overall efforts?

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

How BC is Acing the Pandemic Test (Guest Post)

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

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

– TR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speculation on the Upcoming Role of Local Governments in Pandemic Recovery

Last night I remotely facilitated a session with the senior leadership of a mid-sized city discussing multi-agency coordination, incident management, and other concepts, mostly within the context of the coronavirus pandemic.  We spoke at great lengths about the role of local government in this, especially when they do not have their own health department, and what expectations there might be of them in the future.  In this discussion I had the realization of a potential scenario that seems to hold a fair amount of probability, and it’s one that is grounded in prior practice.

A bit of a disclaimer up front.  My regular readers know that I usually avoid speculation.  In the wrong context, speculation can cause undue stress or unnecessary effort.  Obviously, that is not my goal.  My goal is, as is typical of most of my articles, to promote thought and discussion on preparedness activities which are grounded in reality.  As I’ve said to people many times over the past several weeks, it’s not too late to prepare.  There are still plenty of things that we need to be preparing for in the midst of our response, including contingency plans for other potential hazards, and obviously continued operational needs.  The best emergency managers think ahead.  What I’m writing is not a call to action, but rather a call to thought. 

When it comes to vaccination (once a vaccine is developed), it’s apparent that everyone will need to be vaccinated.  While there are some factors which will force us to deploy vaccines in phases, including the supply of vaccine and the need to provide for fragile and critical populations first, there will eventually come a time when the population at-large will need to be vaccinated.  Obviously, our public health system is not equipped to administer inoculations for everyone in every jurisdiction in a timely fashion.  As such, there will be considerable reliance on local governments and advanced EMS providers, among others, to make this happen. 

First off, addressing the use of advanced EMS providers – this is not without precedent.  Advanced EMTs and paramedics have been used for a while now to support public health in mass inoculation needs, which have included H1N1, Hepatitis A outbreaks, and other viruses.  I expect that we will see these personnel used again to support the eventual vaccination of the global population against Coronavirus.  Because of the sheer volume needed, it is probable that we will see other medical practitioners likewise engaged.  When the time comes, state health departments and state EMS agencies will need to develop or update (if they have them already) protocols and just-in-time training for personnel on the proper administration of the vaccine.  Agreements in regard to paid third-party EMS service providers will also need to be addressed.  Overall, EMS will be a significant and necessary augmentation of our public health system in this regard. 

So what’s the role of local government that I expect?  Most public health outbreaks we deal with are fairly localized, allowing public health officials to establish and manage vaccination points of distribution where they are needed.  In a ‘typical’ outbreak, they can mobilize the resources needed, supported by state health departments and mutual aid from other public health offices.  The activities for these points of distribution include the development of protocol and record keeping standards and mechanism, identifying the population, securing suitable facilities, equipping those facilities (tables, chairs, internet, privacy screens, etc.), notifying the public, coordinating with local officials for control of traffic and movement of people, delivery and administration of the vaccine, securing of sharps and biological waste, and clean up; among other things.  In the scope of the coronavirus outbreak our public health offices doesn’t have the resources to do all this for every jurisdiction.  I suspect that along with providing the serum and supplies to administer it, public health will only be able to establish standards and provide guidance, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that jurisdictions will be asked to provide significant support in the non-clinical aspects of setting up and managing these points of distribution. 

What does this mean for local governments?  As I’m not a government official nor do I have an ability to definitively see the future, I certainly would not advise local governments to engage in any detailed efforts now to prepare for this scenario unless they have been advised by a public health entity to do so.  That said, it may be wise to pull together some stakeholders and at least outline a framework for how this can be done.  I’m confident that at least some of what is identified will be of use in the future of this pandemic.  Some jurisdictions may have already developed plans for points of distribution, which will be a good reference, but will likely be found to have inadequacies given current information on planning assumptions, the increased role of local governments I predict, and sheer numbers to be vaccinated. 

Who else has considered this future need?  I’m interested in hearing from others about their thoughts on these possibilities. 

Be smart, stay safe, stay healthy, and make a difference. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Thriving After Your Small Business Closes

I’m thrilled to welcome a guest writer to my blog! This article addresses an important part of disaster recovery – economic recovery – which is something we will be hearing about for a long time. We’re seeing many people becoming unemployed and small businesses closing as a result of the pandemic.

This article is written by Carla Lopez. Carla retired a couple years ago, but she didn’t lose her entrepreneurial spirit. She created Boomer Biz for retirees like herself who still have a desire to work and achieve. The site is a resource for people in their golden years who want to start their own business or go back to work doing what they love. You can reach Carla at carla.lopez@boomerbiz.org.

(Please note that by posting this article we aren’t endorsing any products or services, nor do we make any commitments on the accuracy or representation of the subject matter.)

Thriving After Your Small Business Closes

Failure is a common step on the road to success, but that doesn’t make it an easy one. You start your small business knowing all the facts and statistics, well aware that many businesses fail in their first few years. Yet it’s natural to think, deep down, that you will be the exception. If things do go wrong, picking up the pieces can be a serious challenge.

Here are a few tips for moving past a failed venture and embracing your next great idea:

Let Yourself Grieve

A common mistake people make in the face of failure is avoidance. It can be tempting to try and pretend nothing bad has happened, but facing reality is more productive. After all, something bad did happen. Ignoring that doesn’t take it away, or make it any better.

Facing it and grieving, however, can have a number of positive effects. It will make it less painful over time, allowing you to process and move on from the experience. Remember that a major benefit of making mistakes is developing the ability to recognize them. Just as Lifehacker explains, grief is a valuable part of improvement.

Evaluate Your Finances

Once you’ve had a chance to process some of the pain, resolve to figure out your new financial situation. Money is, naturally, one of the most stressful parts of a business not working out. Do not let anxiety keep you from understanding your own means. After all, you have to know where you are to figure out where you’re going.

Look over your financial records and see if there’s anything you can learn from them. You might even consider hiring a small business or sales/marketing consultant who can help you identify any subtle mistakes you may have made along the way. This type of reflection will give you a firm foundation for your next big project. You can find talented consultants through freelancing websites like Upwork. Just select your desired work category and browse through qualified candidates.

Brainstorm Daily

Some people are full of new ideas when one venture falls through, while others are creatively blocked. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, daily brainstorming will help generate and clarify a path forward.

Set aside 10 or 15 minutes a day to jot down notes or put an app to work. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, since the goal is consistency, not daily brilliance. Building regular brainstorming into your schedule will train your mind to consider bigger and better possibilities.

Consider Your Options

Don’t let your first project define your next. Unfortunately, many business owners box themselves in. Though it’s good to foster expertise and know your niche, overdoing it can be limiting. Try to find ways to look at your ideas laterally, and recognize opportunities to take a more innovative approach.

For example, Business News Daily points out that there’s a world of opportunity in the e-commerce market. If you’re not already familiar with running a business online, there are plenty of resources available. Online wikis can help you understand the ins and outs of marketing, resource management, growth hacking, and more.

Start Planning

When you do find the idea that excites and motivates you, make the most of that excitement and start planning. There’s nothing like that initial spark. It’s important to capitalize on that energy and keep your thoughts moving forward.

One way you can take advantage of this momentum is to write your mission statement and craft an elevator pitch. These are valuable marketing tools, but more importantly, the act of working on them will help you understand your ideas even better.

Closing your small business can be a heartbreaking process, but there’s a serious value in it. Don’t let your pain hold you back from a prosperous future. By picking up the pieces and moving forward, you can dive into your next venture with the wisdom and grace that breeds success. 

Photo Credit: Pexels

It’s Not Too Late To Prepare

The phrase I’ve been using lately when I speak to people has been “It’s not too late to prepare”.  Many people perceive that in the middle of a disaster we are unable to prepare.  Quite the contrary, we have the potential to integrate all of our preparedness steps into a response.  Because we have problems in front of us that need to be addressed, we have an opportunity to continuously improve, ensuring that organizationally we are offering the very best we can. 

There is a reason why there isn’t a mission area for preparedness in the National Preparedness Goal.  This is because preparedness is ongoing.  It’s not a separate or distinct activity.  Rather it is comprised of activities that support all mission areas, no matter when they are actioned.  Preparedness is continuous.

Assessment

Assessment is a key activity within preparedness.  In fact, assessment is foundational in understanding what’s going on.  During a disaster, good management practices dictate that we should be monitoring our response and adjusting as needed.  What exactly should we be monitoring?  Similar to evaluating an exercise, consider the following:

  • What was the effectiveness of deliberate planning efforts? 
    • Were planning assumptions correct?
    • Was the concept of operations adequate in scope and detail? 
    • What was lacking?
    • What worked well?
  • What was the effectiveness of plan implementation?
    • If aspects of plan implementation need improvement, what was the reason for the shortfall?
      • A poor plan
      • Lack of job aids
      • Lack of/poor/infrequent training
      • Lack of practice
      • Lack of the proper resources or capabilities
      • The plan wasn’t followed
  • Did resources and capabilities meet needs?  If not, why?

Planning

While some planning gaps will require a longer time period to address, I’m aware of many jurisdictions and organizations which have been developing plans in the midst of the pandemic.  They recognized a need to have a plan and convened people to develop those plans.  While some of the planning is incident-specific, many of the plans can be utilized in the future we as well, either in the form they were written or adjusted to make them more generally applicable without the specific details of this pandemic.  I’d certainly suggest that any plans developed during the pandemic are reviewed afterwards to identify the same points listed above under ‘assessment’ before they are potentially included in your organization’s catalogue of plans. Also consider that we should be planning for contingencies, as other incidents are practically inevitable.

Training

Training is another fairly easy and often essential preparedness activity which can performed in the midst of a disaster.  Many years ago FEMA embraced the concept of training during disasters.  FEMA Joint Field Offices mobilize with training personnel.  These personnel not only provide just in time training for new personnel or to introduce new systems and processes, but they provide continuing training a variety of topics throughout response and recovery, providing a more knowledgeable workforce.  I’ve seen some EOCs around the country do the same.  Recently, my firm has been contracted to provide remote training for the senior leadership of a jurisdiction on topics such as continuity of operations and multi-agency coordination, which are timely matters for them as they continue to address needs related to the pandemic. 

Exercises

While assessments, planning, and training are certainly activities that may take place during a disaster, exercises are probably less likely, but may, if properly scoped and conducted, still have a place.  Consider that the military will constantly conduct what they call battle drills, even in active theaters of war, to ensure that everyone is familiar with plans and protocols and practiced in their implementation.  Thinking back on new plans that are being written in the midst of the pandemic, it’s a good idea to validate that plan with a tabletop exercise.  We know that even the best written plans will still have gaps that during a blue-sky day we would often identify through an exercise.  Plans written in haste during a crisis are even more prone to have gaps simply because we probably don’t have the opportunity to think everything through and be as methodical and meticulous as we would like.  A tabletop exercise doesn’t have to be complex or long, but it’s good to do a talk through of the plan.  Depending on the scope of the plan and the depth of detail (such as a new procedure, conducting a walk-through of major movements of that plan (that’s a drill) can help ensure validity of the plan and identify any issues in implementation.  While you aren’t likely to go the extent of developing an ExPlan, an evaluator handbook, or exercise evaluation guides (yes, that’s totally OK), it’s still good to lay out a page of essential information to include objectives and methodology since taking the time to write these things down is one more step to ensure that you are doing everything you need for the validation to be effective.  Documentation is still important, and while it can be abbreviated, it shouldn’t be cut out entirely.  It’s also extremely important to isolate the exercise, ensuring that everyone is aware that what is being performed or discussed is not yet part of the response activity.  Evaluators should still give you written observations and documented feedback from participants.  You probably don’t need a full AAR, especially since the observations are going to be put into an immediate modification of the plan in question, but the documentation should still be kept together as there may still be some observations to record for further consideration. 

Evaluation and After Action

Lastly, incident evaluation is something we shouldn’t be missing.  We learn a lot about incident evaluation from exercise evaluation.   I’ve written on it before, which I encourage you to look at, but the fundamentals are ensuring that all actions and decisions are documented, that a hotwash is conducted (or multiple hotwashes to capture larger numbers of people or people who were engaged in very different functions), and that an after action report is developed.   Any incident should provide a lot of lessons learned for your organization, but the circumstances of a pandemic amplify that considerably.  Ensure that everyone in your organization, at all levels, is capturing observations and lessons learned daily.  Ensure that they are providing context to their observations as well, since once this is over, they may not recall the details needed for a recommendation. You may want to consider putting together a short form for people to capture and organize these observations – essentially identifying the issue, providing context, and putting forth a recommendation to address the issue. Don’t forget to encourage people to also identify best practices.  In the end, remember that if lessons learned aren’t actually applied, nothing will change. 

I welcome any insight on how we can continue to apply preparedness in the midst of a disaster. 

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

©2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

8 Predicted Changes to Emergency Management Post-Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Funeral Services in the Midst of a Pandemic

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

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

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

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

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Responding to Coronavirus & a Second Major Incident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Convening and Operating an EOC Remotely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be smart, be safe, be well. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC