When the Solution Becomes the Problem

Ever think a problem was fixed just to find that the solution was really more of a problem or a totally different kind of problem. While this can certainly happen in our person lives, I see this happen a lot in my professional life, and I’m sure you do as well. Through my tenure in emergency management, I’ve seen a lot of ill-informed assessments, poorly written plans, misguided training programs, bad hires or contracts, unwise equipment purchases, and exercises that could really be called damaging. Not only is the time, money, and effort put into developing these a waste of time (aside from learning how not to do them), they can have ramifications that cause issues to be solved in the short term or down the road.

Poorly conducted assessments can result in a lot of problems. If the data, the analysis, or conclusions are wrong, this can have considerable consequences if that assessment was intended to inform other projects, such as plans, construction, hazard mitigation efforts, staffing, and more. I’ve seen people point to reports with the assumption that the data was complete, analysis was unbiased, and conclusions are correct, and with something akin to blind obedience. When an assessment is used to justify spending and future efforts, we need to ensure that the assessment is carefully planned and executed. Similarly, we’ve all seen a lot of decisions based on no assessment at all. This can be just as dangerous.

Bad planning is a problem that has always, and I fear will always, plague emergency management. Of course, there are some really stellar plans out there, but they seem to be the exception. There are an abundance of mediocre plans in existence, which I suppose are fine but in the end aren’t doing anyone any favors because while the plans themselves may be fine, they tend not to include much useful information, specifics on procedure, or job aids to support implementation of the plan.

Here’s an example of how disruptive bad plans can be: A few years ago, my firm was hired by a UASI to design, conduct, and evaluate a couple of exercises (one discussion-based, the other operations-based) to validate a new plan written for them by another firm. Being that the exercises were to be based on the plan, I took a deep dive into the plan. I honestly found myself confused as I read. I forwarded the plan to a member of our project team to review and, quite unsolicited, I received a litany of communications expressing how confounded he was by the plan. At the very best, it was unorganized and poorly thought out. The subject matter lent itself to a timeline-based progression, which they seemed to have started then abandoned, which resulted in a scattering of topic-based sections that were poorly connected. After conferring with that team member to develop some very specific points, I approached our client for a very candid conversation. I came to find out that the planning process recommended and established by CPG-101, NFPA 1600, and others, was not at all used, instead the firm who built the plan didn’t confer with stakeholders at all and delivered (late) a final product with no opportunity for the client to review and provide feedback. This is a firm that gives other consulting firms a bad name. Working with the client, we restructured our scope of work, turning the tabletop exercise into a planning workshop which we used to inform a full re-write of the plan, which we then validated through the operations-based exercise.

Having been involved in training and exercises for the entire duration of my career, I’ve seen a lot of ugly stuff. We’ve all been through training that is an epic waste of time – training that clearly was poorly written, wasn’t written with the intended audience in mind, and/or didn’t meet the need it was supposed to. For the uninitiated, I’ll shamelessly plug my legacy topic of ICS Training Sucks. Possibly even worse is training that teaches people the wrong way to do things. Similarly, poorly designed, conducted, and evaluated exercises are not only a waste of time, but can be very frustrating, or even dangerous. Don’t reinforce negative behavior, don’t make things more complex than they are, don’t put people in danger, and DO follow established guidance and best practices. Finally, if you are venturing into unknown territory, find someone who can help you.

Equipment that’s not needed, has different capability than what is needed, is overpurchased, underperforms, undertrained, poorly stored and maintained, readily obsolete, and not used. Familiar with any of this? It seems to happen with a lot of agencies. Much of this seems to stem from grant funding that has very specific guidelines and must be spent in a fairly short period of time. Those who have been around for a while will remember the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) preparedness program that started prior to 9/11 and was bolstered by post-9/11 program funding. The centerpiece of this program was equipment purchases. While there was some good that came from this program, I witnessed a lot of wasted money and mis-guided purchases for equipment that wasn’t needed, for jurisdictions that didn’t need it or couldn’t sustain it, and supporting training and exercises to teach people how to use the equipment and keep them proficient. A lot of this circles back to poor (or non-existent) assessments used to inform these purchases, but the real culprit here is the ‘spend it or lose it’ mentality of grant surges like this. Foundational aspects of this program, such as defined need, sustainability, and interoperability were often skewed or ignored in favor of simply spending the funds that were thrust upon jurisdictions. I really blame the poor structuring of this program at the federal level on the poor implementations I saw and heard of at the state and local levels.

There are so many other examples of poor implementations that cause problems. Poorly built infrastructure, misguided hazard mitigation projects, and even poor responses. In the realm of response, I’ll draw on another example that I was involved in. Large disasters really do need to draw on a whole-community approach, which often leads to agencies who aren’t used to large-scale and long-duration incident operations going in over their heads. In one large disaster, I had been hired to help lead a team assembled to fix just such an occurrence, charged with rescuing a functionally necessary program that had been managed into the ground by a well intentioned but overly bureaucratic agency with high degrees of micromanagement. The time, money, and effort exerted to support saving this program from itself was fairly extensive, and, in implementation, challenging given the layers and nuances created by the agency that built it. In the end, the biggest issues they had were not listening to subject matter experts, some of which were in their own agency, and, ultimately, a failure of executives to deal with very apparent problems.

Most emergency management agencies operate on very slim and limited budgets. Being efficient and effective is of great importance. Don’t waste limited money or limited time of limited staff. Sometimes the things with greatest impact are simple, but if executed poorly the consequences can be high. Think things through and consult the right people. It makes a difference.

©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

10 Strategies for Improving Emergency Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Ground preparedness in reality

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

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

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

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

  1. Boost regional efforts and coalitions

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

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

  1. Embrace scholar-practitioners

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

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

  1. Understand emergency management as a social science

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

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

  1. Mindset: always in the disaster space

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

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

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

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

  1. Step away from tactics

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

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

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

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

  1. Plan better for recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~

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

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

 

Disaster Aid Approved for Houses of Worship

Earlier this year, FEMA expanded their Public Assistance program to include houses of worship.  As the FEMA news release linked here states, the Stafford Act allows FEMA to provide Public Assistance (PA) to certain private not for profit organizations to repair or replace facilities damaged or destroyed by a major disaster.  In a move that seems to underscore FEMA’s change in policy, the President signed a bill into law a few days ago making this policy decision permanent.  Both the policy and the bill back-dated impacts to include Hurricane Harvey.

This is a decision that I’m honestly torn on.  On one hand, houses of worship serve as community centers, shelters, and points of distribution in many communities.  Some (but not all) provide critical services for their communities during disasters.  Aside from the spiritual aspect, these are organizations that communities turn to in time of need.  In fact, there exist a number of faith-based organizations that support disaster response and recovery that do incredible work.  Faith-based organizations are a critical partner in communities, and across the nation and the world.  On the other hand, I’m not certain about the government’s responsibility to fund the rebuilding of houses of worship – most especially if they do not serve the purpose of an approved shelter, point of distribution, or other sanctioned disaster-related activity in a community’s disaster plan.

FEMA’s PA guidelines can be very stringent.  The reason for this is to ensure responsible expenditure of taxpayer dollars in helping communities to recover from disaster.  In work as a state employee and as a consultant I’ve sat in meetings with FEMA in the aftermath of disasters working to ensure that eligible applicants were submitting the appropriate paperwork for eligible projects and receiving everything afforded to them under FEMA policy and the Stafford Act.  This process is bureaucratic and, at times, contentious.   The burden of proof is on the applicant to prove that they are, in fact, eligible to receive recovery assistance, and each category of projects has very specific guidelines.

Given this, to ensure fair application of tax payer dollars, I expect to see guidelines in FEMA’s PA guidebook update that require certain conditions to be met for houses of worship to be eligible to receive PA assistance after a disaster.  These would include:

  • Being part of the community’s emergency operations plan for key activities such as sheltering, points of distribution, etc.
    • As with any facility identified for these key activities, I believe they should embrace practices of resilience. That includes having their own emergency operations and business continuity plans as well as a documented history of proactive disaster mitigation projects for their properties (these don’t have to be complex or expensive.  Generators, sump pumps, and preventative landscaping are reasonably simple and high impact)
  • Practices of non-discrimination, especially during times of disaster, to include providing for people of all faiths
  • The PA policy itself should not discriminate against any particular religion

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic.

© 2018 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC SM

Can we Require Preparedness?

The City of Pittsburgh recently lost an effort to require emergency preparedness training for security officers and building service employees.  The Commonwealth Court ruled that the City did not have the authority to require such an ordinance.  This is just another example we’ve seen with difficulties across the US with requirements for preparedness measures.  Why is it so challenging?  It often comes down to the legality of the requirement.

When it comes to the interface of local jurisdictions with states, we often see the concept of home rule providing one of the greatest challenges.  Some interpretations of home rule laws identify that states can’t require local (often to include county) jurisdictions to conduct certain activities, such as have certain plans, attend training, or conduct exercises.  In some states, we see law or regulation that states that if a jurisdiction is to have an emergency plan, then there is a required format of said plan.  But if there is no stick, there is often a carrot.

If requirements can’t be established, then incentives are often the best alternative.  Again, in the local/state relationship, states have grant allocations which can be provided to local governments.  Grant rules can be established that identify certain requirements as conditions of funding.  This tends to be highly effective, especially when funding is expected to continue year after year, and the grants continue to reinforce sustained maintenance on these requirements, such as periodic updates to emergency plans.  Generally, I see no down side to this alternative, so long as the required initiatives are well thought out and realistic given the amount of funds the jurisdiction is receiving.  To ensure effectiveness, however, there must be accountability and quality control measures in place to monitor execution of these requirements; such as reviewing plans, After Action Reports, and auditing training programs. This same methodology is typically how DHS/FEMA is able to get states and funded urban areas (UASIs) to comply with their wishes for various initiatives.

Outside of government, requirements can still be difficult.  While regulations may be put into place for certain industries and under certain conditions, we often have to rely on other, more practical, means of getting businesses, industry, and even not for profits on board.  This often comes with certifications.  An example would be ISO certifications, which some businesses and industry need to compete in certain markets.  Yes, there is even an ISO standard for emergency management.

Unfortunately, many entities, be they public, private, or even individuals, don’t want to be bothered with preparedness.  Most will agree that it’s a good idea, but it takes time, money, and effort.  It’s long been said that you can’t legislate preparedness, and that is often true.  Even if a requirement is able to be established, the extent of implementation can range widely, depending on the internal motivations and resources available to the entity.  Establish whatever requirements you want, but I guarantee there are some that will barely meet those requirements, and in doing so likely not meet the actual intent of the requirement; while others who are believe in the requirement and have available resources, will exceed the requirement.  Largely, organizations are motivated by funding and certification standards.

I’m interested in the perspectives you have on requiring preparedness, both in the US as well as other nations.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC