Don’t Plan Yourself into a Corner

I’ve long been an advocate for detailed planning. Plans should identify who (by position or title) are decision-makers, who are action agents, and how things are to be done. Without identifying these responsible parties and the processes necessary to execute planned actions, plans will generally lack the ability to be successfully implemented. Context is also important. To address this, plans have a preamble that identifies the scope and objectives of the plan. All of this tells us what circumstances the plan is intended to apply to and what it expects to accomplish. Details matter. That said, making plans too specific can also spell trouble.

(I figured putting up the cover Michael McCaul’s Failures of Imagination was suitable for this post, as it’s all about emergency management suffering from a lack of imagination.)

In terms of context, only some plans need to be very precise about when and how they are used. Give yourself some wiggle room. If you don’t provide a proper and wide enough scope and objectives to the plan, you are already poisoning the well. Case in point – a lot of entities have realized that their pandemic plans have failed them, and as such are re-writing their plans. I’m hearing of many totally scrapping their old pandemic plans and writing the new ones as if all future infectious disease outbreaks will behave exactly as Coronavirus has. The old plans largely failed not necessarily because our assumptions were wrong, but because they were too narrow. Don’t make the same mistake. A proper scope and objectives will help properly define what you want to address. If these are too focused or narrow, you leave out a lot of possibilities.

When it comes to strategies and procedures, plans often fail because they don’t have enough detail. But plans can also fail if they are too restrictive or if the strategies and procedures don’t align with the scope and objectives. Restrictive plans define rigid circumstances under which approaches are taken, and/or those approaches are so rigidly defined that they will only work under certain circumstances or with all the right personnel and resources. You’ve been through disasters, right? You realize that disasters impose extreme circumstances upon us; impacting health, safety, and infrastructure; and we rarely ever have all the resources we would like to have in resolving that disaster. In fact, I’d argue that if disasters only impacted us the way we want them to, it would be more of an inconvenience rather than a disaster.

So unless you expect your title to change to Inconvenience Manager, remember that all preparedness starts with planning. Do your research and know your hazards, threats, and vulnerabilities, but don’t be totally encumbered by them either. Broaden your planning assumptions where you can, which will open your scope. Ensure that your planning objectives truly define what you intend for the plan to accomplish. Plan with greater detail and fewer restrictions. Ensure that succession and chain of command are addressed, so it’s not just a certain title or position that has authority over certain actions. Ensure that people are cross trained and that both people and plans are exercised with a certain extent of random factors in scenarios. Our plans and our resources must be agile to be successful.

Sure, we can improvise and get out of a corner that our plans back us into or don’t address, but we are better prepared if we can acknowledge the possibility of other scenarios. This is why planning teams contribute to successful plans. It’s the different perspectives they bring, with a lot of ‘what ifs’ and different viewpoints. Open your eyes and look around. One of the biggest enemies of emergency management is tradition. Is it any wonder why the same corrective actions keep rising to the surface?  Do better. Be better.

Thoughts?

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

The Universal Adversary Mindset

Some of you are probably familiar with the concept of the Universal Adversary (UA). From previous Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) doctrine, UA is “a fictionalized adversary created by compiling known terrorist modifications, doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures in live, virtual, and constructive simulations. The UA is based on real realistic threats … providing participants with a realistic, capabilities-based opponent.” UA is often executed by a Red Team, which serves as an exercise-controlled opposing force for participants.

Over the past few years, I’ve heard less and less of the Universal Adversary concept. DHS used to have a UA Program supporting terrorism-based prevention and responses exercises, dating back to the early 2000s, but lately I’ve neither seen or heard anything about the continuation of the program or capability. (can any readers confirm the life or death of this capability?)

Regardless, the concept of UA offers a fair amount of opportunity, not only within the Prevention Mission Area, but across all of exercise design and perhaps other areas of preparedness – yes, even across all hazards. Of course, I recognize the difference between human perpetrators and other hazards, but just stick with me on this journey.

The fact of the matter is that we so often seem to have, as the 9/11 Commission Report made the phrase infamous, a failure of imagination in our preparedness. I’m not saying we need to go wild and crazy, but we do need to think bigger and a bit more creatively – not only in the hazards that threaten us, but also in our strategies to address them.

The UA concept is applied based on a set of known parameters, though even that gives me some concern. In the Prevention world, this means that a Red Team will portray a known force, such as ISIS, based upon real intel and past actions. We all know from seeing mutual fund commercials on TV that past performance does not predict future results. While humans (perpetrators and defenders alike) gravitate toward patterns, these rules can always and at any time be broken. The same can be said for instances of human error or negligence (see the recent and terrible explosion in the Port of Beirut), or in regard to someone who we have a love-hate relationship with… Mother Nature. We need to be ever vigilant of something different occurring.

There is the ever-prolific debate of scenario-based preparedness vs capability-based preparedness. In my opinion, both are wrong and both are right. The two aren’t and shouldn’t be set against each other as if they can’t coexist. That’s one mindset we need to move away from as we venture further into this. We need to continue with thinking about credible worst-case scenarios, which will still be informed by previous occurrences of a hazard, where applicable, but we need to keep our minds open and thinking creatively. Fundamentally, as the UA concept exists to foil and outthink exercise participants, we need to challenge and outthink ourselves across all areas of preparedness and all hazards.

A great example of how we were foiled, yet again, by our traditional thinking is the current Coronavirus pandemic. Practically every pandemic response plan I’ve read got it wrong. Why? Because most pandemic plans were based upon established guidance which emergency managers, public health officials, and the like got in line and followed to the letter, most without thinking twice about it. I’m not being critical of experts who tried to predict the next pandemic – they fell into the same trap most of us do in a hazard analysis – but the guidance for many years has remained fairly rigid. That said, I think the pandemic plans that exist shouldn’t be sent through the shredder completely. The scenarios those plans were based upon are still potentially valid, but Coronavirus, unfortunately, started playing the game in another ball field. We should have been able to anticipate that – especially after the 2003 SARS outbreak, which we pretty much walked away from with ignorant bliss.

It’s not to say that we can anticipate everything and anything thrown at us, but a bit of creativity can go a long way. Re-think and re-frame your hazards. Find a thread and pull it; see where it leads you. Be a little paranoid. Loosen up a bit. Brainstorm. Freeform. Improv. Have a hazard analysis party! (I come darn close to suggesting an adult beverage – take that as you will). We can apply the same concepts when designing exercises. Consider that in the world of natural hazards, Mother Nature is a Universal Adversary. Any time we hope to have out-thought her, she proves us wrong, and with considerable embarrassment. We also try to out-think the oft stupidity and negligence of our fellow humans… clearly, we’ve not been able to crack that nut yet.

“Think smarter, not harder” is such an easy thing to say, but difficult, often times, to do. So much of what we do in emergency management is based on traditional practices, most of which have valid roots, but so often we seem reluctant to think beyond those practices. When the media reports that a disaster was unexpected, why the hell wasn’t it expected? Consider that many of our worst disasters are the ones we never thought of. Challenge yourself. Challenge others. It is not in the best interests of this profession or for the people we serve to stay stuck in the same modes of thinking. Be progressive. Break the mold. Do better.

© 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

Improving the HSEEP Templates

For years it has bothered me that the templates provided for the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) are lacking.  The way the documents are formatted and the lack of some important content areas simply don’t do us any favors.  These templates go back to the origination of HSEEP in the early 2000s and they have seen little change since then.  It gives me concern that the people who developed these have struggled with concepts of document structuring and don’t understand the utility of these documents. 

I firmly believe that the documents we use in exercise design, conduct, and evaluation should be standardized.  Many of the benefits of standardization that we (should) practice in the Incident Command System (ICS) certainly apply to the world of exercises, especially when we have a variety of different people involved in each of these key phases of exercises and entering at different times.  Much like an incident, some people develop documents while others are users.  Both should count on a measure of standardization so they don’t have to figure out what they are looking at and how to navigate it before actually diving into the content.  That doesn’t mean, however, that standards can’t evolve to increase utility and function. 

I’ve written in the past about the dangers of templates.  While they are great guides and reminders of certain information that is needed and give us an established, consistent format in which to organize it, I still see too many people not applying some thinking to templates.  They get lost in plugging their information into the highlighted text areas and lose all sense of practicality about why the document is being developed, who the target audience for the document is, and the information they need to convey. 

Some of my bigger gripes…

  • Larger documents, such as ExPlans, SitMans, Controller/Evaluator Handbooks, and After-Action Reports MUST have a table of contents.  These documents can get lengthy and a TOC simply saves time in finding the section you are looking for. 
  • Some exercises are complex and nuanced.  As such, key documents such as ExPlans, SitMans, and Controller/Evaluation Handbooks must have designated space for identifying and explaining those situations.  This could be matters of multiple exercise sites and site-specific information such as different scopes of play for those sites, limited scopes of participation for some agencies, statements on the flow and execution of the exercise, and others.
  • Recognize that the first section of an EEG (Objective, Core Capability, Capability Target, Critical Tasks, and sources) is the only beneficial part of that document.  The next section for ‘observation notes’ is crap.  Evaluators should be writing up observation statements, an analysis of each observation, and recommendations associated with each observation.  The information provided by evaluators should be easily moved into the AAR.  The EEG simply does not facilitate capturing this information or transmitting it to whomever is writing the AAR. 
  • The AAR template, specifically, is riddled with issues. The structure of the document and hierarchy of headings is horrible.  The template only calls for documenting observations associated with observed strengths.  That doesn’t fly with me.  There should similarly be an analysis of each observed strength, as well as recommendations.  Yes, strengths can still be improved upon, or at least sustained.  Big missed opportunity to not include recommendations for strengths.  Further, the narrative space for areas of improvement don’t include space for recommendations.  I think a narrative of corrective actions is incredibly important, especially given the very limited space in the improvement plan; plus the improvement plan is simply intended to be an implementation tool of the AAR, so if recommendations aren’t included in the body of the AAR, a lot is missing for those who want to take a deeper dive and see specifically what recommendations correlate to which observations and with an analysis to support them. 

Fortunately, strict adherence to the HSEEP templates is not required, so some people do make modifications to accommodate greater function.  So long as the intent of each document and general organization remains the same, I applaud the effort.  We can achieve better execution while also staying reasonably close to the standardization of the templates.  But why settle for sub-par templates?  I’m hopeful that FEMA’s National Exercise Division will soon take a look at these valuable documents and obtain insight from benchmark practitioners on how to improve them.  Fundamentally, these are good templates and they have helped further standardization and quality implementation of exercises across the nation.  We should never get so comfortable, though, as to let tools such as these become stagnant, as obsolesce is a regular concern. 

I’m interested in hearing what you have done to increase the value and utility of HSEEP templates.  How would you improve these?  What are your pet peeves? 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

The Multi-Agency Resource Center

A disaster doesn’t end when the lights and sirens go away.  Communities are left dealing with clean up and rebuilding for weeks, months, or even years.  But we aren’t yet talking about recovery.  We are still talking about addressing early impacts of a disaster that have real implications on people’s lives and stability immediately following a disaster.

When a disaster is federally declared FEMA may open a Disaster Recovery Center in or near an impacted community.  These centers are helpful in getting survivors registered with FEMA and other agencies which might be able to provide some assistance, depending on the type of declaration in place and the specific impacts suffered by individuals and businesses.  While these centers do often integrate state agencies and non-governmental organizations, their primary purpose is to facilitate federal support, and, given the time that can pass before a federal declaration is in place, these centers may not open for days or even weeks following a disaster.  Clearly a gap exists.

Enter the concept of the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC).  MARC is a more global term, similar to emergency operations center (EOC), which encompasses a variety of facilities which different but related functions, based upon the agencies involved and the needs of communities.  MARCs aren’t anything new, but they are under-utilized.  Recent work with a client has brought the concept back to the forefront of my mind, thinking that planning for a MARC should be included as an annex to a great many emergency operations plans.

In searching Multi-Agency Resource Center, there are a number of references you will come across on the internet.  Fundamentally, a MARC is a facility established in a community in the aftermath of a disaster through which services are made available to individuals and businesses seeking assistance.  Absent a federal declaration, assistance can come from local, county, and state agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  Of course, don’t count out the private sector, as they may be willing and able to provide material resources and volunteers as well.  Also, consider that even if a presidential disaster declaration isn’t in place, some agencies, such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) can declare disasters independently and would likely be willing to send a representative to a MARC, if established.

Certainly, a MARC is convenient, as it offers ‘one stop shopping’ for those seeking assistance, rather than having to contact a multitude of agencies and organizations.  Better yet, it brings the agencies and organizations to the people, who, in all likelihood, aren’t aware are the vast amount of resources and services available to them.

What can be provided at a MARC?  In actuality, anything.  It can be co-located with a commodity point of distribution (CPOD), providing tarps, water, and other items to people.  Muck out kits and respiratory protection may be provided.  Guidance on removing water or mold, or on safe operations of generators can be obtained.  Perhaps people are displaced and need temporary housing, or have a question about the safety of their homes or businesses.  People may need food, unemployment assistance, legal aid, or disability services.  Even mental health and spiritual counseling can be offered at a MARC.  If the disaster involved a lot of green debris, the MARC could be a great location to offer a class on safe chain saw operation, in the hopes of decreasing injuries from the inevitable activity of community members.

As with any activity, a MARC should be planned.  Follow the tried and true planning process in CPG 101 and pull together a team of stakeholder agencies and organizations to discuss what assistance might be provided, how it would be organized, and ideal locations to host it.  There is some great information available from the National Mass Care Strategy.  Of course, once you have a plan in place, don’t forget to train and exercise!

I’ve worked in a variety of MARC-type facilities, but one in particular stands out in my career.  Following the Haiti earthquake in early 2010, NYC Mayor Bloomberg and NYS Governor Paterson created a Haitian Earthquake Family Resource center in Brooklyn, which has the largest Haitian population outside of Haiti itself.  There were quite a number of members of the NYC Haitian community who were directly impacted by this disaster so many miles away, with family members missing or killed, the loss of income coming from family members in Haiti, and services related to these issues.  Through this this facility, we coordinated the efforts of a number of local, state, and federal agencies, as well as NGOs.  Services included interpreters, legal information, grief counseling, and facilitated access to certain US and Haitian offices to obtain information and support.  This was a unique and meaningful application of the MARC to meet an identified need.

Has your jurisdiction ever used a MARC?  Do you have a plan in place?

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

 

FEMA’s Forgotten Civil Defense Role

A recent article posted to the Homeland Security Affairs Journal of the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security is quite thought provoking.  The author, Quin Lucie, an attorney with FEMA and former Marine Corps Judge Advocate, posits in his article, How FEMA Could Lose America’s Next Great War, that FEMA’s legal responsibilities for civil defense have been all but forgotten, potentially endangering the welfare of our citizens and our ability to sufficiently mobilize our industrial war complex in the event of a substantial war.

The article has a lot of great depth on the history of civil defense, FEMA, and its predecessor agencies, and the movement of FEMA away from that role, first in favor of work aligned to various mission areas associated with natural hazards, then eventually including human-caused disasters and terrorism.  The author certainly isn’t wrong that civil defense is a ‘hazard’ that we have left out of our all hazards lexicon.

There are arguments that can be made supporting FEMA’s persistence in their civil defense role, with much of the capability they have developed for their own mission and supported for others being truly applicable to all hazards, including civil defense.  We can name myriad programs and capabilities, such as continuity of operations/continuity of government, incident management teams, preparedness standards, and specialized response teams.  Each of these would absolutely have a role in supporting civil defense.  It seems one of the biggest gaps, however, is in planning, where there is little meaningful inclusion of specific civil defense missions, activities, and capabilities; as well as the association of established capabilities and authorities to civil defense missions.

I applaud the author for mentioning that our ways and means of conducting civil defense as we had in the 50s and 60s is not necessarily something to fall back on, as times, needs, and technology have changed.  These factors necessitate even more meaningful analysis, exploration, and deliberation of the role of emergency management as a whole (not just FEMA’s legal responsibilities) in civil defense, especially considering that most, if not all states, have laws on the books for civil defense activity and authority.

As FEMA goes, so does the rest of emergency management, so it’s not a stretch to ascertain that states and localities need to consider this inclusion as well.  At the federal level, laws and executive orders may need to be amended to change with the times and expectations of such activity, followed by frameworks, strategies, and plans, as well as other preparedness measures to support implementation.  Following federal changes, guidance will need to be formulated for states, suggesting any legislative changes they should make to appropriately update to the new vision and synchronize with any changes in federal laws, as well as guidance for state-level planning, which will likely be accompanied by grant funding for this and related activities.

The important perspective with all this is that we are not to be taking a step backwards, but instead re-assessing needs and associated capabilities of an obligation that seems to have been left in the wake of a seemingly forgotten era.  While many of our current capabilities can be leveraged to support civil defense activity, the arrangement and application of such capabilities, as well as the specific laws governing these capabilities, is unique enough to warrant plans exclusive to this function.  We need to look ahead at the challenges we might face in such a situation to ensure our preparedness.   Some have argued that homeland security is the new civil defense, and even I have mentioned that some of these concepts have come full-circle.  While some of that is true, there are also needs and capabilities we haven’t examined since the era of civil defense, which are largely not included in our terrorism preparedness/homeland security efforts.

As always, I’m interested in the thoughts of readers on this topic.  Also, please be sure to read Mr. Lucie’s article referenced at the beginning of this post.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

Updated IS-100 Course: Missing the Target

Earlier this week, FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) released course materials, including student manual, handouts, instructor guide, and visuals, for the updated IS-100/ICS-100: An Introduction to the Incident Command System.  Note that this update (IS-100.c) has been available online since the summer.  The release of materials, however, included no errata, so absent comparing the previous version to this, I can’t speak specifically to what the changes include, though I’m aware from their release of the online course several months ago that there were adjustments to account for some of the revised content of the third edition of the NIMS doctrine, released in October of last year.

Those familiar with my running commentary for the past few years of ‘ICS Training Sucks’ are aware that much of my wrath was focused on the ICS-300 and ICS-400 courses.  That said, with the release of the third edition of NIMS (my review of the document can be found here), there were some needed additions to incident management fundamentals and my realization that the ICS-100 and ICS-200 courses are ignoring a significant population of professionals in their content.  While ICS itself was largely built for field personnel working within a command (vice coordination) structure, over the years, the prevalence of various forms and types of emergency operations centers (EOCs) has grown significantly.  One of the biggest additions in the most recent version of the NIMS document was, in fact, the inclusion of much more meaningful content on EOCs and their potential organizational models.  While still a minority compared to first responders, there is a significant audience of people taking ICS-100 because of their assignment to a local, county, state, or organizational EOC.  Yet, the ICS-100 materials have scantly more than ONE SLIDE talking about EOCs.

Yes, we do have courses such as the ICS/EOC Interface course and others that dive deeper into EOC operations and how they coordinate with each other and with command structures, but the introduction to all of this is often the ICS-100 course, which all but ignores EOCs and the audiences who primarily serve in them.  In fact, there are many jurisdictions that require EOC personnel to have ICS training (smartly), which starts with the ICS-100 course (why?  Because it’s the best/only thing generally available to them), but I’m sure many people taking the course are a bit confused, as it doesn’t speak at all to their role.  While I feel that ICS training for EOC personnel is important, an introductory course like this should include a bit more on EOCs.

As with my original writing on ICS Training Sucks, I bring this back to the fundamentals of instructional design, which is focused on the AUDIENCE and what THEY NEED TO LEARN.  It’s evident that these fundamentals are being ignored in favor of a quick update, which might change some content but does not improve quality.  Let’s actually look at who are audience groups are and either incorporate them all into the course, or develop another course and curriculum to meet their specific needs (aka EOC-100).  Otherwise, they are simply ignoring the fact that what is currently available is like fitting a square peg into a round hole.  Sure it fills a lot of space, but there are also some significant gaps.

While a number of jurisdictions have identified this need and developed their own EOC training, there are a lot of standards and fundamentals that could be addressed by FEMA in a national curriculum.  This is certainly a missed opportunity, and one that makes many of our responses less than what they should be.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Use of Pre-Developed Exercises – Proceed with Caution

I was recently asked by a client about my thoughts on pre-developed or ‘canned’ exercises.  As it turns out, I have a lot of feelings about them, most of them negative.  Pre-developed exercises, if properly understood and applied, can be a huge help, but the big problem is that we’re dealing with human nature, and some people are just damn lazy.  Garbage in, garbage out.

We need to keep in mind that exercises, fundamentally, are developed to validate plans.  Not my plans.  Your own plans.  While standards of practice mean that most plans have a high degree of commonality (i.e. a HazMat response plan for a jurisdiction in California will be largely the same as one for a jurisdiction in New York State), it’s often the deviations from the standards and the local applications that need to be tested most.  So it doesn’t do well for anyone to replicate an exercise that doesn’t test your own plans.  Similarly, the foundation of exercise design is objectives.  While the pre-developed exercise may have a theme that coincides with what you want to test, sheltering, for example, there are a lot of different aspects of sheltering.  The pre-developed exercise might not focus on what you need to exercise.  With all this, anyone who wants a quality exercise from something pre-developed is going to have to do a lot of re-development, which might be more frustrating than starting from scratch.

HSEEP1

If you want a quality exercise, you really can’t short cut the process.  Not only might HSEEP be required for whatever grant funding you are using for the exercise, but it’s a best practice – and for good reason.  So often people want to cut corners.  If you do, the final product will look like you’ve cut corners.  It might lack proper context, good reference documents, or meaningful evaluation.   The exercise planning meetings have defined purpose, and the documents help capture that process and communicate the intent to specific audiences.

On the other hand, there are proper ways to use materials from a previously developed exercise to benefit your own exercise.  The development of good questions in discussion-based exercises and injects for operations-based exercises can be a challenge.  Reviewing other exercises, especially when there might be some similarity or overlap in objectives, can be a huge help, so long as they are properly contextualized and relate back to objectives for your exercise.  This isn’t a copy and paste, though… as it all should still be applied within the exercise design process.

There are some exercises out there that might seem like exceptions to what I’ve written above.  The first that comes to mind are FEMA’s Virtual Table Top Exercises (VTTX).  The VTTX is a great program, conducted monthly, focusing on different themes and hazards.  FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) assembles a package of materials that go to each community registered for the event, allowing a measure of local customization.  While jurisdictions may use this material differently, it is at least an opportunity to discuss relevant topics and hopefully capture some ideas for future implementation.

Similarly, my company, Emergency Preparedness Solutions, recently completed a contract with the Transportation Research Board for a project in which we developed a number of ‘generic’ exercises for airports.  These functional exercises, facilitated through a web-based tool, can be easily customized to meet the needs of most airports across the nation and are written with objectives focused on the fundamentals of EOC management within the timeline of an incident.  While specific plans aren’t directly referenced in the exercises, airport personnel are able to examine the structure of response in their EOC and can reflect on their own plans, policies, and procedures.  Similar to FEMA’s VTTX series, they aren’t a replacement for a custom-developed exercise, but they can help examine some fundamentals and start some important discussions.  I’m not able to get into much more detail on this project, as the final report has yet to be published, but look forward to future posts about it.

All in all, I tend to caution against using pre-developed exercises.  I simply think that most people don’t use them with the right intent and perspective, which can severely limit, or even skew, outcomes.  That said, there exists potential for pre-developed exercises to be properly applied, so proceed with caution and with your wits about you.  Understanding that time, money, and other resources can be scarce, emergency management has always done well with ‘borrowing best practices’.  While there is sometimes nothing wrong with that, short cutting the process will often short cut the benefits.  Do it right.  Use of a custom-developed exercise is going to maximize benefit to your community or organization.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

EPS New logo

HSEEP Training – Is it Required

Continuing from my previous blog post, I’ll answer a search phrase used to bring someone to my blog.  Earlier this month, someone searched ‘Is HSEEP training mandatory?’.  We speak, of course, of the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program, which is the DHS-established standard in exercise program and project management.

The short answer to the question: Maybe.

Generally speaking, if your exercise activities are funded directly or indirectly by a federal preparedness grant, then grant language usually requires that all exercises are conducted in accordance with HSEEP.  While most federal grant guidance doesn’t explicitly state that exercise personnel must be formally trained in HSEEP, it’s kind of a no-brainer that the fundamental way to learn the standards of practice for HSEEP so you can apply them to meet the funding requirement is by taking an HSEEP course.  If you are a jurisdiction awarded a sub-grant of a federal preparedness grant or a firm awarded a contract, there may exist language in your agreement, placed there by the principal grantee, that specifically requires personnel to be trained in HSEEP.

Beyond grant requirements, who you work for, who are you, and what you do generally don’t dictate any requirement for HSEEP training.  Aside from the federal grant funding or contracts mentioned, there is no common external requirement for any organization to have their personnel trained in HSEEP.  If your organization does require it, this is likely through a management-level decision for the organization or a functional part of it.

So, while HSEEP is a standard of practice, training in HSEEP, in general terms, is not a universal requirement.  That said, I would certainly recommend it if you are at all involved in the management, design, conduct, or evaluation of exercises.  FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) offers HSEEP courses in both a blended learning and classroom format.  The emergency management/homeland security offices of many states and some larger cities offer them as well.

© 2018 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC SM

Studying Strange Disasters – The Boston Molasses Flood

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Aftermath of the Boston Molasses Flood.  Source: Boston Public Library

Anyone who has been in the trade of emergency management will likely tell you to always expect the unexpected.  No two disasters are ever the same.  While we can predict similarities from one flood, fire, or hurricane to another, there are always different impacts, needs, and circumstances which often give us cause to consider different means and methods in our response.  Some disasters are noted for specific uniquenesses in their impacts, needs, or circumstances which tend to be a theme of sorts for that disaster.  Every once in a while, however, a disaster occurs which was largely unexpected.

99 years ago this month, the City of Boston encountered one of those unexpected disasters when a flood of over two million gallons of molasses rushed through several blocks of Boson’s North End, killing 21 people and several horses, injuring 150 people, and destroying numerous buildings.  The molasses took weeks to clean and the cause and origin investigation took years, with a final ruling against the company which owned the massive storage tank being found liable.

While I had originally intended to write more about the incident in-depth, I think it most prudent to steer readers toward some of the sources I had looked at, as the information is quite interesting.

While an incident like this seems so unlikely as to never occur again, never say never.  In 2013 over 200,000 gallons of molasses was spilled into Honolulu Harbor.  While no people were killed or buildings destroyed from this pipe leak, the fish kill in the harbor was massive.

And yes, even a beer spill can be hazardous.  In 1814 several tanks containing over 300,000 gallons of beer ruptured in London.  The tidal wave of ale damaged and destroyed several structures and killed 8 people, aged 3 to 63.

We often think about hazardous materials as only being volatile chemicals which can ignite or cause harmful, noxious fumes.  We must consider that any substance in sufficient quantity introduced into a space where it’s not supposed to be can be extremely hazardous, both to people and the environment.  A flood is the most fundamental of these… I don’t think we need to detail the threat and impacts from flood waters.  But as you assess hazards in your community, consider that bulk storage of things like milk, grains, or other materials, which we often don’t consider hazardous, can cause great impact should they be unleashed on people, infrastructure, and the environment.  While our safety regulations (a mitigation measure) are certainly stronger than those which were in place in the 1800s and early 1900s, the hazards still exist.  Be smart and don’t dismiss those hazards outright.

What out of the ordinary hazards concern you?

© 2018 – Timothy M. Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC SM