Emergency Management and Succession

Earlier this month, Emergency Management Magazine posted an article by Jim McKay titled ‘Is a Lack of Institutional Knowledge Plaguing Emergency Management?’.  It’s a thought-provoking article on a topic that is relevant to a great many professions.  This is an issue that deals primarily with retirements, but broadly any matter that involves a line of succession.  Not only might someone retire, which is usually, but not always an anticipated event, but they may take or get transferred to a new position, require an extended sick leave, get fired, or even have an untimely death.  In any event, I’m a firm believer that succession should be planned for any situation, and for nearly every position – especially one that’s grown and evolved over time with the individual occupying that position.

If it’s anticipated that someone will be retiring or otherwise leaving, organizations may have the ability to hire or identify a replacement while the person is still there, providing an opportunity for a mentorship.  For as rare as this is, it’s even more rare for that mentorship to be structured or anything but throwing a bunch of paperwork, files, and brain-dumping knowledge at the replacement.  If the departure of the individual isn’t planned, the organization can be left in the lurch.  People hopefully know what that person does, but likely not how they do it.  What are the priority tasks?  How often do they need to be completed?  What is the standard of performance for these tasks?  Who are the primary contacts?  Where can critical files be found?  What do I do if…???

Organizations have an opportunity to hedge against this.  Just as we prepare for disasters, we can prepare for someone vacating a position.  We know it will inevitably happen, so there is no excuse to not prepare for it.  Organizational leadership should promote this effort, spearheaded by human resources.  Checklists and guidance should be developed that cover all aspects of transferring institutional knowledge – from the mundane and practical, to the applied work.  This is a deliberate effort, just like developing an emergency operations plan, and an effort that nearly all positions should be involved in.

For a planned departure, two viable options are a job-share or a structured mentorship.  Both obviously require the organization to commit to overlapping staffing for this position for a period of time since the outgoing and incoming individuals need to work together.  This provides the most effective means of transferring institutional knowledge.  As indicated earlier, these efforts need to be structured, not just a daily data dump.  Use the ‘crawl, walk, run’ concept, giving the incumbent foundational information at first and building from there.  While process is important, there may be some processes that really fall to individual style, so the focus should be more on intent, sources of information, deliverables, and collaboration.  Hands-on experience, as many of us know, is extremely valuable.  The new individual should be going to meetings with the outgoing person, conducting site visits, and participating in other activities.  This also offers an opportunity for introductions to be made to important colleagues and other contacts.

The incumbent should also have face time with their new boss, direct reports, and other interested parties.  This is important to ensuring that expectations of these important stakeholders are communicated directly to the person who will be working with them.

An important tool that should be developed by almost every position is a job book.  This is a written document that outlines every critical aspects of a position.  Starting with the job description and working forward from there.  Fundamentally, this is a simple task, but can take some time over a period of months to develop, and of course it should be kept up to date.  It should identify priority tasks and how they are accomplished, key interactions and contacts, reporting relationships, standards and templates, information sources, deliverables, and due dates.  Each individual should step outside their position and imagine that someone new, who knows little about the position, will walk in tomorrow to take over.  This document should take that person through all important tasks.

The job book has several benefits.  First, it helps provide structure to any possible mentorship or job share that might take place for a planned departure.  It strongly supports an unplanned departure as well as an organization that might not be able to provide for any type of overlap between the outgoing and incoming individuals.  Job books are something I recommend not just for managers, but for most staff, even administrative support staff – It’s amazing how many organizations come to a screeching halt when a key administrative specialist leaves.

Lastly, beyond the process-driven and official things, never underestimate the value of social interactions.  There is a great deal of knowledge transfer that comes from the time of enjoying a meal or a beverage with someone.  While this time might be ‘off the books’, it should absolutely be encouraged and shouldn’t be a single occurrence.  These offer good opportunity for some ‘war stories’ and open conversations outside of the office environment in which a great deal can be learned.

Bottom line – organizational succession should be viewed as an aspect of continuity of operations.  It requires planned and deliberate activities to be most successful.

What kind of program does your organization have?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC™

Musings of October – and the Crusade to End Bad ICS Courses

Last month sure was a busy one!  Much of the focus was on marketing for our company Emergency Preparedness Solutions.  I had the opportunity to meet a number of county and local government representatives in a reverse trade show in the Poconos and see some old and new faces at the Vermont Emergency Preparedness Conference.  Pictures of our booth are below.  I also had the opportunity to present with their State Training Officer on the State-Wide Emergency Management and Homeland Security Training Needs Assessment project we completed for the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security a few months ago.  We also need to congratulate Doug Babcock for being honored as Vermont’s Local Emergency Manager of the Year!

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While those trips were great, the highlight of the month was a trip to Toronto.  The impetus for the trip was the Emergency Preparedness staff of Public Health Ontario, who, after reading my blog posts on the necessity for improvements in Incident Command System (ICS) training, extended an invitation for me to sit in on some training they offer that came about from just that need.  The course I attended was Public Health Emergency Preparedness – An IMS-based Workshop.  Fear not – this is not a reinvention of ICS (or Incident Management System – IMS – as they refer to it in Canada), rather this is an enhancement to the current curriculum.

The Canadian provinces have each adopted curricula for their IMS which are near 100% mirrors of the ICS courses we use here in the States.  While in Toronto, I also had the opportunity to sit in for a bit on an IMS-200 course being conducted by the Toronto Office of Emergency Management.  They were great hosts and have made excellent enhancements to the curriculum for a Toronto-based audience.  (Thank you Sherry and Sarah!) The course offered by Public Health Ontario is truly workshop based, with little lecture and a lot of group work to walk participants through concepts of IMS.  The workshop is positioned between IMS-100 (which most took online) and IMS-200, and is public health focused.

While I’m often weary of discipline-specific courses in emergency management, since the essence of emergency management is cooperative, this workshop absolutely made sense.  Why?  Two big themes built the foundation for this… First, practitioners must be comfortable with their own sand box before they can play with the neighborhood kids.  Second, this particular application works for public health (and several other disciplines) because most of the public health response occurs at the population level, not necessarily at an incident site.  Because of this, public health will almost always function (at least the higher echelons of their incident management structure) from an emergency operations center or departmental operations center.  As such, it pays to invest some training time on a homogeneous audience.  That said, the scenarios that drove the workshop were in no way introverted only to public health concerns and the instructors encouraged thought and discussion toward other activities and associated agencies which would be involved in an incident.

With the positioning of this training between IMS-100 and IMS-200, Public Health Ontario has armed participants with better knowledge and familiarity of the IMS, allowing those who will progress through further (and multi-disciplinary) training a better perspective of how IMS is applied by public health which allows for a better understanding of the system itself.  Not only does the workshop address some internal incident management training needs for public health, it also addresses some of the issues I’ve mentioned previously with ICS training as a whole.  The workshop is expertly designed by the Emergency Preparedness team at Public Health Ontario, and embraces concepts of adult educational methodology which we need to pay more attention to.  The high level of interaction lends to improved transfer of knowledge and better outcomes.  They included information such as the phases of emergency management and the need to reference deliberate planning efforts such as Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs) and Continuity of Operations Plans (COOPs).  This is certainly something we don’t have enough of in ICS courses yet is critically related.  Do you think the majority of our attendees know what these are, much less what is in theirs?  Guess again!

More information on this workshop can be found at https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/About/Departments/Pages/Incident-Management-System-for-Public-Health.aspx.  Many thanks to Moira, Richard, and Evanna for the invite and the hospitality!

With my road trips complete, I am returning back to the normal pace of work and preparing for another graduate course which begins next month.  I’ve also considered the need to ramp up my concern on this matter of poor ICS curricula from an occasional rant to a crusade.  This is a matter of public safety – from a sociological perspective there is nothing more important than our ability to effectively respond to save lives, stabilize the incident, and preserve property.  Let’s make some changes!

As always, many thanks to my readers; and if you are with a government entity, not for profit, or private interest that is seeking consulting services in the areas of emergency and disaster planning, training, exercises, and anything in between, please feel free to contact me.

© Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Emergency planning – A linear approach or ‘choose your own adventure’?

When creating deliberate emergency operations plans, and especially the associated standard operating procedures/guidelines (SOPs/SOGs) that accompany them (you do develop these, right?) there is always a consideration for how to progress through the written plan – chronologically or topically.  There are pros and cons to both approaches you should be aware of.

Chronological progression of your planning efforts assume that an incident starts at A and progresses to Z, in a particular order.  At a glance, this is a lot of structure for emergency management, but an analysis of most incidents will show that they generally tend to progress in this fashion.  It’s human nature for us to like order and to try to put things into a logical progression.  There are, of course, the outliers – those incidents which have tangential or cascading impacts which don’t necessarily have a linear progression.  It’s these unknown factors that make us stumble a bit.  How do we account for these disruptions of our orderly progression?  We have to skip around in the plan.  If our plan isn’t designed for skipping around, it can be rather awkward and not easy to use.

A Choose Your Own Adventure book

A Choose Your Own Adventure book

The other side of the coin argues that if you are likely to skip around in the plan anyway, why not build a topical, or ‘choose your own adventure’ style, plan?  Remember choose your own adventure books?  The story always starts the same, building a foundation for the adventure you will face, but you, the reader, eventually get to decide what the main character will do.  At some point, you will be faced with a choice.  Should your hero take the left tunnel or the right?  If you take the left, go to page X, if you go right, turn to page Y.

Non-linear planning will chunk the content of your plan so individual sections focus on each potential impact and major activity – be it hazard-specific or function-specific – with reference back to a core plan, kind of a hub and spoke approach.  (By the way, ‘chunking’ is an actual term.  We use it primarily in instructional design).  It can make for some flipping around through the plan, and sometimes a bit of redundancy if each section starts with the same concept of operations (thus the need to reference back to a core plan), but it more easily accommodates the unknowns of an incident by looking at separate impacts or major activities as individual components related to a central response.

What are your thoughts?  Do we try to keep things orderly, or do we give in to a modular, ‘choose your own adventure’ approach?  Which do you think is more complex?  Which do you think is more effective?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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