Familiarizing Elected Officials with their Emergency Management Programs

Back in October of 2013, in an article in Emergency Management Magazine, David Silverberg discussed the issue of elected officials rarely being educated about emergencies.  Just last month, David Maack published an article in Emergency Management Magazine about how elected officials can prepare for and respond to emergencies.  Silverberg’s article not only identified the issue, but also pointed out strategies used in some places around the country to help orient elected officials to the world of emergency management. 

The premise of both articles is that this familiarization is obviously lacking, and it’s quite imperative that elected officials are familiar with the concepts of emergency management; the hazards, capabilities, and plans of their jurisdiction; gaps and needed improvements; how to support their emergency manager; and state laws governing emergency management where they are.  I’m a firm believer that elected officials do, in fact, need to support their emergency management programs and their emergency manager.  Not only on a day to day basis, but certainly during a disaster.  The emergency manager is a subject matter expert, and while they take direction from the elected official, the elected official needs to take cues from the emergency manager.  The emergency manager needs to be very clear with their boss about what expectations they have, as well.  Maack’s article includes a great list of steps that emergency managers should reference when giving an orientation to their elected officials.  Obviously it all needs to be put in the proper context for each jurisdiction.

Here in New York State, the regional office of the State’s Office of Emergency Management works with the county/local emergency manager to conduct a Public Officials’ Conference.  These sessions, usually conducted in an evening, are intended to not only familiarize elected and appointed officials of a jurisdiction, but to also communicate what is expected of them and to strengthen the role of the emergency manager as a coordinator and subject matter expert.  While there are some usual content areas in these briefings, such as NIMS, a briefing on the local emergency plan, etc., it is flexible based on the needs identified by the emergency manager.  These sessions, through the years of conducting them, are generally very well received.  One of the most important messages is the flow of emergency management.  People need to know how the system works and who is responsible for what. 

Several years back, when teaching an ICS Basic (I-200) course, one of my participants introduced himself as “the town supervisor – you know, the one who would be the incident commander during an incident”.  I made certain, during the course, to point out that elected officials are generally not the incident commander, rather they are the incident commander’s boss.  I then spent some time pointing out what the roles and responsibilities were of this ‘agency administrator’. 

What thoughts do you have on familiarizing elected officials with emergency management?

Attacks on Electrical Infrastructure

A February 10, 2014 article in Emergency Management Magazine titled Attack on California Electric Grid Called Terrorism brings about some very interesting speculation on an incident that occurred at an electrical substation near San Jose last year.  Unfortunately the article saves some critical information for the end and left me with a poor initial impression (i.e. assuming that the weapons used were assault rifles).  My early impression of the article, particularly having grown up in the country, was that this was the result of ‘Billy-Bob and Joe decided after a bunch of brewskis they were going to shoot up a substation’, as stated by Mark Johnson, recently retired VP of Pacific Gas and Electric. 

Toward the end of the article, the author identifies information associated to the shooting of the transformers, including the removal of 75 lb manhole covers and the cutting of fiber optic lines.  With this and other information revealed in the article, it seems likely this was more than Billy-Bob and Joe.  It’s suggested by the author that this activity could have been a ‘dress rehearsal’ for terrorists.  While I’m no terrorism expert, I offer that it’s not likely to involve any major entities such as Al-Qaeda, who are, unfortunately, must more clandestine than this – just look at how long it took us to find Bin Laden.  My guess is that this was perpetrated by a local, semi-organized, domestic group.  They did some research, but were clearly sloppy and ultimately unsuccessful, if, in fact, their goal was to cause an outage.  Nonetheless, an act such as this should certainly be categorized as terrorism, despite the origin of the perpetrators and their cause. 

This scenario, however, provides some important food for thought.  I’ve posted previously on the vulnerability of our electrical system to both intentional acts as well as natural disasters.  There are some efforts under way to increase the redundancies of our system and to create micro-grids, which would isolate impacts, which are great mitigation strategies.  The occurrence of this intentional act should bring strong consideration to prevention and protection activities to heighten security and resiliency of this infrastructure.  We need to call on our law makers to work with emergency managers, regulators, and the industry itself to require a multi-faceted approach to include protection, prevention, and mitigation efforts. 

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 1

This post is part of a 10-part series on Managing an Exercise Program. In this series I provide some of my own lessons learned in the program and project management aspects of managing, designing, conducting, and evaluating Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) exercises. Your feedback is appreciated!

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 1

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 2: Develop a Preparedness Strategy

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 3: Identify Program Resources and Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 4: Conduct an Annual Training & Exercise Planning Workshop.

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 5: Securing Project Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 6: Conducting Exercise Planning Conferences

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 7: Develop Exercise Documentation

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 8: Preparing Support, Personnel, & Logistical Requirements

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 9: Conducting an Exercise

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 10: Evaluation and Improvement Planning

 

From inception to improvement planning, I think preparedness exercises provide great value to the jurisdictions, companies, and organizations that do them.  From a seminar to a full-scale exercise, there is much to be learned by participants as well as the strengths and areas for improvement identified from emergency plans.  I’ve been inspired to write a series of blog posts on each of the phases within the Homeland Security Exercise Evaluation Program (HSEEP) cycle.  The cycle, shown below, encompasses not just the steps in executing an exercise (project management), it includes exercise program management as well, which I think is often neglected.  Doings exercises is great, but to ensure continuity, quality, and continuous improvement, any entity that does exercises should have an exercise program.  Having a structured exercise program will ensure that your organization capitalizes on your exercise investments to the greatest degree possible.  Just like any other functional program, it needs to be managed.

HSEEP Cycle

Each blog post will give some insight and lessons learned from my own experiences with exercises large and small and I will reflect on exercise program management responsibilities throughout the cycle.  For more in-depth information on exercise program management, I refer you to HSEEP Volume I.  I will also have an update on this HSEEP volume in the near future as DHS will soon release a revision.

The first thing I want to cover is exercise program management as a general concept.  As stated in HSEEP Volume I, “Exercise program management is directed toward achieving the objectives established during the multi-year planning process…”.  As an exercise program grows, so should the responsibilities of managing it.  Most organizations don’t need a full-time exercise program manager, but they will require someone with the flexibility to vary how much time they spend on the exercise program.  The planning and conduct of an exercise can take up a considerable amount of time, and the program manager needs to shepherd this process.  In small organizations, the exercise program manager may be one of the few people involved in these activities as well.

Obviously the person in charge of an exercise program needs to be knowledgeable and experienced in exercises.  As with the oversight of any program, you need to have the right person in place.  Some caution should be used here, however – there are plenty of folks with LOTS of exercise experience… BUT the vast majority of experience out there is as a player.  Players, as a general rule, don’t experience all the machinations behind putting an exercise together.  Someone may have been a player in the largest exercise known to human kind, but that doesn’t make them adept at exercises.  There is plenty of training out there addressing various areas of exercises: the HSEEP training course, Exercise Design, Exercise Evaluation, and others.  These are great – but the world is full of ‘trained’ people.  Do they have the experience to do the job?  It doesn’t take a lot of experience, in fact, in my opinion, a little experience can go a long way – especially if it’s the right experience and they were taught the right way to do it from someone with a lot of experience.  I’ve fully immersed interns in many of the areas of exercise program management and would be fully confident in their ability to run a program for an organization.

As mentioned above, exercise program management centers on the multi-year training and exercise plan (MYTEP), which makes sense as this document will outline requirements, goals, and benchmarks for the program.  Building this plan is not the first, though.  We know that before we can write a plan, we need to do an analysis or an assessment of where we stand.  This is why the first step in the HSEEP cycle (above) is Updating Preparedness Assessments.  As much of a fan as I am of the HSEEP documents, they do fall rather short on providing guidance relative to this step.  It can be broken down easily enough, though.

A preparedness assessment, to me, would identify where we stand and where we want to be in terms of preparedness.  The resultant gap would then feed the second step in the HSEEP cycle – developing a preparedness strategy.  Let’s define preparedness: traditionally, it involves planning, training, and exercising; we can build from this to give us the data we need.  An absolute priority is identifying and assessing risk.  Hopefully your jurisdiction has a recent hazard analysis or THIRA, or your company or organization has a recent business impact analysis (BIA).  Having a recent hazard analysis done will identify the threats you need to be prepared for.  If you don’t have a recent one of these, I would suggest that you are way ahead of yourself with exercises and need to take a step back in emergency management to do one of these and build a plan.  Based upon the results of your hazard analysis, do you have the necessary plans (and are they up to date?) to address the hazards?

The second assessment should be a capabilities assessment.  You can reference FEMA‘s list of core capabilities to ensure that you are examining everything you need to.  Keep in mind that not everyone needs to have every capability.  You may not have a need for certain capabilities or it may not be feasible for you to have it based upon costs – so long as you can obtain that capability from someone else in times of disaster.  However, there are certain capabilities, based upon your hazards, that you want to ensure that you have.  If you don’t have them, they need to be developed.  That’s a gap.

A third assessment, related to the second, would be to identify needs to develop personnel capabilities – specifically through the means of training.  Yep, a Training Needs Assessment.  I’ve blogged previously about this.  Your identified needs become another gap to include in your preparedness assessment.

Lastly, you should do an assessment of exercises and real life events to date.  While you are just starting to formalize your exercise program, I still think an assessment of exercise progress to date is important.  While you may not have had a formal program, you have likely done some exercises or at least participated in someone else’s.  What plans have been tested with these exercises?  How long ago were they conducted?  Do you have After Action Reports?  (Read my article in Emergency Management Magazine on the importance of AARs and implementing corrective actions).  How about lessons learned and after action reports from actual incidents?  What gaps from these still need to be addressed?

All of this data and these documents can be pulled together and referenced in a simple, cohesive document outlining your preparedness needs.  It seems like a lot of work, but without identifying our needs, we can’t move forward with an effective exercise program.

What are your thoughts on identifying preparedness needs?  Is there anything I’ve missed?

Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for part two of Managing an Exercise Program where I will outline the development of a preparedness strategy.