The Emergency Management Support Act

First off, I certainly must acknowledge that it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’m fortunate to have been and continue to be extremely busy managing and growing my firm, with a ton of great clients and projects around the country. I appreciate those who have reached out in the past couple of months expressing how much they have missed my blog posts. Fear not! There is plenty more to come.

I felt this post was rather timely to get out as I just heard about The Emergency Management Support Act (HR 3626), which amends the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) of 2006. This bill seeks to, among other items, set training requirements for local emergency managers. The bill was just introduced yesterday and has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

As of the authoring of this post, the full language of the bill is not yet available on, though a summary is available here. In the summary, there are three components identified:

  1. Direct States, through the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG), to require local emergency management directors to complete emergency management training within one year after the enactment of the bill
  2. Require local emergency management directors to complete recurrent training with certifications to be submitted to FEMA annually
  3. Require FEMA to report to Congress on compliance with this Act

My commentary:

Superficially, this proposal makes sense. We want emergency managers to be trained, right? Before I even get into the three components, I want to look at the premise of the bill.

The summary points to the 2017 Hurricane Season FEMA After-Action Report (AAR) as the driving force behind the bill, citing an actually rather obscure comment on the twelfth page of the report that states “pre-disaster training and exercises proved to be critical in Florida’s ability to efficiently execute mutual aid agreements”. This quote is pretty isolated within the report, with the context of that particular section being gaps in Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) data. In fact, none of the recommendations for that section of the AAR mention anything about training, though you could stretch to a possible connection of an obscure mention of the creation of ‘preparedness products’. Second, the AAR quote’s specific mention of the execution of mutual aid agreements may or may not be a very niche topic, depending on how it’s being defined. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the AAR that provides any citation or context to this line. It makes me wonder why this one line is so specifically being referenced as it clearly was not a major point of the AAR.

Now, let’s get into the three components. For the first, requiring states to require local emergency management directors to complete emergency management training. OK, but on what topics? To what level of proficiency? There are no specifics provided. A multitude of state emergency management offices have created training requirements for local emergency managers which range from a single training course to several. Many are even tied to local EMPG allocations. It’s certainly an effective practice, but I still question this bill establishing an ill-defined requirement.

The second component requires recurrent training, with certifications to be submitted to FEMA annually. This little statement is loaded with landmines. Again, I must ask the question – recurrent training on what topics? My second comment is the use of the term ‘certifications’. I have an entire post on the significant difference between certificate and certification. Is this second component calling now for not just training but a certification? That’s a very different thing. And most certifications do not require annual refresher training, though they do often require some kind of continuing education. My last comment on this component is about the submission of said ‘certifications’ to FEMA annually. This is not something FEMA is set up to receive and manage. While they have a learning management system or content management system that works behind the scenes of their independent study program and also tracks completions of other courses delivered by their Emergency Management Institute (and other partner programs), they do not track third party training for emergency managers across the nation. It could be that the ‘certification’ they refer to here is an attestation by state emergency management offices that local emergency management directors are meeting training requirements. If such is the case, this would certainly be easier and could be accomplished within state EMPG reporting back to FEMA.

As with most legislation in emergency management (and I imagine other technical fields), this is ill informed and ill constructed (though I say this only from seeing the summary and not the bill itself). While the intentions are good, this could cause states to have to restructure their established training requirements for local emergency management directors, and, depending on the mechanism for receiving and managing this information, could put an unnecessary administrative burden on FEMA. I really do wish lawmakers would rely more on subject matter experts to identify needs for and crafting of legislation instead of the good idea fairy.

Thanks, as always, for reading.


Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

IPSA 2023 Conference

The International Public Safety Association (IPSA) is holding their annual conference on May 1 and 2 in beautiful Mesa, Arizona. With the understanding that large incidents and disasters require a team effort, the IPSA brings together all public safety professionals – law enforcement, fire service, EMS, telecommunications, emergency management, public health, and others – to collaborate and learn from each other in support of united preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. The annual conference is a great embodiment of that, providing in-person opportunities through two days of seminars and discussions.

This year’s conference has a great slate of presenters on topics such as active shooter/hostile event response and recovery, CBRNE, points of distribution, crowd psychology, emergency operations center management, responder wellness, and more. A light breakfast, beverages, and lunch are provided each day courtesy of our sponsors. We will also have several exhibitors at the conference.

More information on the conference is available here:, including attendee registration, and additional opportunities for sponsorship and exhibitors. IPSA members receive a discount on conference registration (yes – you can become a member now to get the discount!).

As vice-chair of the IPSA board of directors, I’m looking forward to seeing you there!


Big City Emergency Management Audits

In October of 2022, audit reports were released for the emergency management offices for the two largest cities in the US – interestingly enough conducted by controller’s offices. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office conducted an audit of NYC Emergency Management, while City of Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin’s office conducted an audit of LA’s Emergency Management Department. While these audits were conducted by controller’s offices, they were not only financial. In fact, both audits contained considerable programmatic assessment.

Before I get into the findings of the audits, there are a few things I want to express. First off, I think third party audits are great. Organizations are supposed to be taking certain actions – either dictated by mandate, devised by their own commitment, or encouraged by demonstrated need – and so often fall short in execution. We can all make excuses, many of them justifiable and valid, as to why actions weren’t taken or completed, and while an external evaluation may lack important context, they can help keep us on track. All that said, I wonder who the people were conducting the audits. Do they have any backgrounds in emergency management? Is that even necessary? Certainly, emergency management is a complex system of systems, that non-emergency managers could understand, but did the auditors have that understanding? It seems to be a failure right off that only emergency management offices were audited and not emergency management programs of those jurisdictions. I think we have great precedent and understanding of that demonstrated by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP), as their accreditation reviews are of programs, not just agencies. Those items expressed, let’s get to the meat of the audits. Feel free to dive into the audits for additional information.

The New York City audit zeroed in on three key areas:

  1. Hazard mitigation planning deficiencies
  2. Lack of updating evacuation plans
  3. Gaps in continuity of operations (COOP) planning and exercises

The LA audit listed these key findings:

  1. Gaps in planning for specific hazards, such as cyberattacks, climate change, and drought
  2. Lack of assistance provided to other city agencies for emergency planning and COOP planning
  3. Deficiencies in tracking qualifications and credentials of designed emergency operations center (EOC) staff
  4. An observation that training and exercises decreased during the pandemic, but noting that the department is reorganizing its training and exercise program
  5. Failure to adequately track all corrective actions from exercises, incidents, and events
  6. Lack of supply and equipment assessments to support city preparedness

Both audits identified needs to create or update plans, and also called on the emergency management offices to better support other city agencies in the development and maintenance of emergency plans and COOP plans. Given that planning is the foundation of emergency management, this should certainly be a priority for every emergency management agency and program. While these audits were not centered on emergency management programs for the jurisdictions, I did appreciate that they identified city-wide gaps in planning. While I feel that each agency should be responsible for its own plans – and certainly city agencies of that size should have their own emergency management specialists – they should still be able to count on some support from the city emergency management office.

I find it interesting that the NYC audit honed in considerably on deficiencies in hazard mitigation planning, while the LA audit cited the hazard mitigation plan but didn’t have any criticisms. Overall, the two audits provided some very different perspectives in their concerns, with the NYC audit focused on known issues (i.e. identified hazard mitigation measures, evacuation plans); while the LA audit had considerable focus on emerging matters. Neither audit was big on identifying what agencies did well, which I think is a deficiency of the audits.

The NYC audit included a rebuttal from OEM, though the LA audit did not include any rebuttal from EMD.

Overall, the audits identify deficiencies which I think are common across many local and state emergency management agencies, not just those of big cities. While there are excuses and justifications, the items listed seem fair. As mentioned, though, emergency management is a complex system of systems, opening a lot of opportunity for things to be missed or mishandled. Emergency management is also not just a responsibility of emergency management agencies. Further, when we get into response mode, we tend to forsake many other activities. This was exacerbated considerably by COVID-19 and other disasters that occurred during the pandemic. We all have room for improvement.

What have you learned from this that you can apply to your own agency or program? Are there any external entities that audit or review your emergency management agency or programs?

© 2023 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

The 2022 National Preparedness Report – Another Failure in Reporting

As with past years, FEMA gifts us the annual National Preparedness Report for the prior year around the holidays. Some reminders: 1) You can find my reviews of the reports of prior years here. 2) To get copies of the reports of prior years, FEMA archives these in the unrestricted side of the Homeland Security Digital Library. 3) Each report is derived from data from the year prior, so this December 2022 report actually covers the calendar year of 2021.

Compared to last year’s report, this year’s follows much of the same format, with sections on risk, capabilities, and management opportunities. They appropriately moved some of the content in this year’s report to appendices, which helps each of the sections get more to the point.

Last year’s report was on a kick of catastrophic risk, committing what I think was an excessive amount of content to data on large-scale disasters. While we should certainly plan for the worst, most areas do a mediocre job at best with preparing for, mitigating against, responding to, and recovering from mid-sized disasters. If they can’t manage all aspects of these, it’s not even realistic for them to be able to manage the largest that nature, terrorists, or accidents can throw at us. This year’s report has a much better focus on risk, threat, and hazards; with some reflection on THIRA/SPR data from 2021, grounded realities of climate change, and some time given to cybersecurity and infrastructure. In line with the FEMA strategic plan (and continuing from last year’s report), this year’s report also discusses equity, social vulnerability, and risk exposure; with reference to social vulnerability measures (of which I’m a big fan).

Last year’s report covered risk associated with healthcare systems and the economy, which didn’t get much of a mention in this year’s report, which I think is unfortunate. The reality of surge and the shortage of hospital beds has been brought to the forefront over the past few years, with little to nothing being done to address it. Similarly, we’ve also had the fragility of organizations revealed over the past few years, yet have not seen as much of a push for continuity of operations as we should have seen. While thankfully this year’s report doesn’t have the focus on COVID that last year’s did, it seems people want to move on without addressing the glaring lessons learned.

In all, this year’s report spends about half the page volume on risk compared to last year’s report. While this year’s report provides better information, I still think there were some missed opportunities.

Looking into the assessment of capabilities, the first noted issue is that the capability targets for 2021 were the same as those for 2020. While consistency is important for long-term measurement, the lack of any alteration indicates to me that those who establish the capability targets are lacking some critical awareness of the emergency management landscape. While I don’t necessarily dispute the targets included, I think many of them could use some better refinement and specificity. The lack of inclusion of the cross-cutting Planning Core Capability (which is the foundation of all preparedness) is mind-blowing, as is the lack of the Recovery Mission Area’s Housing Core Capability (considered by many to be our greatest area of fragility). I’d really like to see the data substantiating the THIRA/SPR submissions that indicate such a high achievement of Unified Operations. Reflecting back on the necessity for long-term measurement, this year’s report offers none at all. This limits our ability to perceive preparedness gains or losses over time. As with last year’s report, which similarly did not provide this information, I feel this report has failed to meet its primary goal. It’s nothing more than a snapshot in time of very limited metrics – certainly not a comprehensive review of the state of the nation’s preparedness.

One particular graphic, identified as Figure 11 on page 24 of the report, is extremely telling. The chart identifies the non-disaster grant investments for FY21 across various grant programs. The grant distribution seems to not at all align with the established capability targets, which is good in some cases (we still need to invest in plans) but bad in other cases (fatality management is an established capability target that had minimal investment). By far, the greatest expenses are related to planning, as I feel they should be, yet the ground truth is that there are still a lot of horrible plans being generated. We have significant gaps in certain capabilities such as the aforementioned Fatality Management, along with Public Health/Healthcare/EMS, Housing, and Economic Recovery yet we see minimal investment in these. Lastly, for this section I’ll note that last year’s report highlighted some specific capabilities and provided some narrative and data on each, which, while it needed refinement, was a good direction for this report to go into. This year’s report dropped that depth of information completely.

The final section is Management Opportunities. The three opportunities identified in this section are:

  1. Building Community-Wide Resilience to Climate Change Impacts
  2. Reduce Physical and Technological Risks to Critical Infrastructure
  3. Increase Equity in Individual and Community Preparedness

I don’t argue at all with these three items, but the content, as usual, is lacking. What we should see here is a strategic approach to addressing these priority issues. Of course, to best do so, it would need to align with grant funding priorities and other efforts… which is something we’re just not seeing. They do provide some references and data within their analysis, but they do more for making a case for why these are priority issues and thumping their chest for what they have accomplished rather than laying a national roadmap for accomplishing these priorities. Reviewing last year’s management opportunities, I don’t recall many external products that really worked towards addressing these, nor does this year’s report reflect on any progress of these. Without doing so, this section is nothing but well-intentioned yet intangible statements.

My last statement pretty much sums up the entirety of the report… nothing but well intentioned yet intangible statements. This continues on a trend of previous National Preparedness Reports providing a few good data points but certainly NOT reporting on our nation’s preparedness in any meaningful, much less comprehensive, manner. I stand by my statements from last year that we, the emergency management community, should not be accepting this type of reporting. FEMA receives THIRA and SPR data from states, UASIs, and territories; all of which have years of legacy data. Similarly, FEMA receives regular reports on the grants they provide to jurisdictions, all with metrics that should tie back to a common foundation – the National Preparedness Goal’s Core Capabilities. Yet they fail every year to connect these dots and provide tangible, grounded reports with actionable recommendations. This effort, investment, and the FEMA Administrator’s endorsement is both disappointing and concerning. I continue to feel these reports do not meet the intent of the PPD8 requirements.

Happy New Year one and all!

© 2023 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Federal Coordination of All-Hazard Incident Management Teams

A few months ago the FEMA administration decided that the US Fire Administration (USFA) would discontinue their management of the All-Hazards Incident Management Team (AHIMT) program, which they have developed and managed for years. While I was never in favor of the USFA managing the program (AHIMTs are not fire-service specific), the staff assigned to the program did an admirable job of growing the AHIMT concept to what we have today.

The All-Hazards Incident Management Team Association (AHIMTA), which has been a vocal proponent of the development of AHIMTs, has thankfully been working to make people aware of this change. As part of their advocacy, they also wrote to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell regarding their concerns with the dissolution of this formal program. Administrator Criswell responded to AHIMTA, indicating that despite successes, the AHIMT program has “not been able to establish a sustainable or robust AHIMT program with long-term viability.” She did indicate that the USFA will continue providing related training to state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) partners (though she specified that USFA training efforts will apply to fire and EMS agencies) and that she has directed the USFA to collaborate with the FEMA Field Operations Directorate to continue support to AHIMTs.

This change and some of the wording in the Administrator’s response is obviously very concerning for the future of AHIMTs. I first question the Administrator’s statement about the AHIMT program not being sustainable long-term. Not that I’m doubting her, but I’m curious as to what measures of sustainability she is referring. I’m guessing most of the issue is that of funding, along with this never having fully been part of the USFA’s mission. Everything really does boil down to funding, but how much funding can a small program office really need? I’m also concerned about the USFA continuing with the AHIMT training mission (as I always have been), and even more so with the Administrator’s specification of fire and EMS (only?) being supported. While I have no issue at all with the USFA, and think they have done a great job with IMT and related training, their primary focus on fire and EMS (even absent the Administrator’s statement) can be a barrier (real or perceived) to other disciplines obtaining or even being aware of the training.

I firmly believe that a federal-level program office to continue managing, promoting, and administering a national AHIMT program is necessary. I do not think it should be in the USFA, however, as it has been, as their mission is not comprehensive in nature. It’s a program that should be managed properly within FEMA, though not by the FEMA Field Operations Directorate, which is primarily charged with FEMA’s own field operations. While this does include FEMA’s own IMATs, their focus is internal and with a very different purpose. My biggest inclination is for the program to be placed within the NIMS Integration Center, which already does a great deal of work that intersects with AHIMTs. On the training side of things, I’d like to see AHIMT training moved to FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI), to emphasize the inclusion of SLTT participants regardless of discipline. Incident management, as a comprehensive response function, is inclusive of all hazards and all disciplines and practices, just like emergency management.

The dissolution of the AHIMT program at the federal level makes no sense to me at all. The absence of a program office not only degrades the importance of incident management teams, but of incident management as a concept and a skillset – which I think also needs some vision beyond the current IMT model to support local incident management capabilities. I’m appreciative of the AHIMTA and their advocacy for a federal AHIMT program office, and I’m hopeful that they will be able to convince FEMA of this need and that a program office is properly restored.

© 2022 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Incident Management is a Technical Skill

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Rob Burton on his Tea and Chaos webinar. We talked about the Incident Command System (ICS) and what can make it successful. Since our conversation, I’ve had some continued thoughts about ICS and the complaints people have about it. One of the complaints I hear more often is that it is the system that is flawed because it’s too challenging for people to use. They argue that it should be easier to implement with little training.

I believe I mentioned in the webinar that using ICS is not like riding a bike or tying a shoelace. It’s not something you can be trained on then expect to be able to perform years later (with no interim training and application) with little to no difficulty. ICS, a tool of incident management. Incident management is not only a perishable skill, but also a technical skill.

A technical skill is something you are trained on and hone with practice over time. Technical skills are typically industry specific and require a specialized knowledge set. It could be anything from video editing to surgery. In either of these examples, people learn the knowledge needed and acquire the skills to implement. They learn and perform every detail, becoming proficient in the practice, processes, and associated tools. If they want to stay current and relevant, they take opportunities for continuing education. They learn about new approaches and tools. They maintain proficiency through repetition and application of new knowledge.

Incident management is no different. ICS is just one of the tools we use in incident management, and as such it is something we must learn, practice, hone, and maintain. If you aren’t using it and learning more about it, those skillsets will diminish.

Let’s continue to change our perspective on preparedness for incident management. If you aren’t familiar with my years-long crusade to improve ICS training (ICS Training Sucks), here is some background reading. It’s not only the curriculum we need to change, but also our expectations of learners. What do we want learners to be able to do? Continuing on with one of the examples… not every doctor is a surgeon. So not every responder or emergency manager is an incident manager. They should know the fundamentals, just as most doctors are trained in the fundamentals such as anatomy and physiology, cell biology, etc. We certainly want our responders and emergency managers to have awareness of incident management concepts, as they may certainly be called upon to play a role in a greater organization, though if incident management isn’t their specialization, they likely won’t actually be part of the core ICS or emergency operations center (EOC) staff, even though they will be functioning within the system.

Some will need to learn more, though. Which means they need training – not just on WHAT incident management is, but HOW we manage incidents. Much of our core ICS training is focused on what ICS is, with very little on how to use it. Expecting people to become good incident managers just by taking ICS courses is foolish. It would be like expecting a doctor to become a proficient surgeon because they have learned about the tools in the operating room. So before we even get to the tool (ICS), we need to be teaching about the function (incident management). Incident management is composed of a variety of capabilities and skillsets, such as leadership and project management, which are barely touched upon in existing training. Once those are learned, then we can teach the tools, such as ICS.  

Most who are candidates for incident management should become generalists before they become specialists. General surgeons have a broad knowledge and perform the vast majority of surgeries. Some go on to be specialists. In incident management that specialization could be subject matter expertise in the management of certain hazards or impacts, or performing in a specific function. I see this as being the difference between local incident management capabilities and formal incident management teams. Specialization is supported by position-specific training, among other mechanisms. Yet we don’t really have anything to support incident management generalists.

For all that we’re accomplishing with building incident management capability, we still have a significant gap at the local level across the nation. To expect specialization within most local jurisdictions simply isn’t realistic. We define a lot of the practice through NIMS position descriptions and task books, yet we are skipping some critical steps. We are going right to focusing on the tool instead of the practice, yet at the foundational levels we aren’t teaching enough about how to implement the tool – and in fact spending far too much time on higher level implementations of the tools that most will never see (that’s the ICS 400 course, by the way). We are wasting time and resources by training people in position specific courses when what they really need for their jurisdiction is to become good incident management generalists.

Those complaining that ICS is too difficult, are failing to see the bigger picture the technical skills needed to build professions. Professionals must keep up on the rigors and requirements of their technical skills. If you don’t want to keep up on these things, then I’ll argue that you aren’t dedicated to the profession.

While I feel that what we are doing to build formal incident management teams is great and largely on target, it’s everything that comes before that which needs to be completely reimagined. We need a group of incident management professionals to come together on this. Professionals who understand the gaps that exist and are willing to deviate from current practices and expectations to build what is needed to address those gaps. They can’t be afraid of the traditionalists or those who are only focused on building high-level capability. All disasters begin and end locally, and we are ignoring the incident management needs of most local jurisdictions. We are also building a system focused on high-level capability that doesn’t have a firm foundation, which makes me question sustainability. We can do better. We must do better.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

NIMS Change – Information and Communications Technology Branch

FEMA recently released a draft for the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) guidance, providing a framework for incorporating ICT into the Incident Command System (ICS). The draft guidance in many ways formalizes many of the functional changes ICS practitioners have been incorporating for quite a while.

Essentially, the guidance creates an ICT branch within the Logistics Section. That branch can include the traditional Communications Unit as well as an Information Technology (IT) Service Unit. They also make allowances for a Cybersecurity Unit to be included the branch – not as an operational element for a cyber incident, but largely in a network security capacity. The creation of an ICT branch is also recommended for emergency operations centers (EOCs), regardless of the organizational model followed.

The IT Service Unit includes staffing for a leader, support specialists, and a help desk function, while the Cybersecurity Unit includes staffing for a leader, a cybersecurity planner, a cybersecurity coordinator, and a cyber support specialist. The position descriptions and associated task books are already identified pending final approvals and publication of this guidance, with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) seemingly ready to support training needs for many of the new positions.

I’m fully in support of this change. FEMA is accepting feedback through October 20, 2022, with instructions available on the website provided previous.

Not being a communications or IT specialist myself, I’m interested in the perspectives of others on this.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Certificates and Certifications

There seem to be regular misunderstandings between words and their meanings. The words ‘certified’, ‘certificate’, and ‘certification’ are words I see regularly misused, especially in requests for proposals, LinkedIn profiles, and resumes.  Unfortunately, as with so much in the English language, there are no easy boxes to put these in, but the differences are really important.

One of the things I regularly see is in reference to something like the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP). Far too often, RFPs request personnel who are ‘HSEEP certified’. There is no certification for HSEEP. To be certified, according to Oxford, means that someone is ‘officially recognized as possessing certain qualifications or meeting certain standards’. People who complete HSEEP training are provided with a certificate of completion. A certificate of completion is simply documentation given by a training provider indicating that someone has completed the requirements of a course (attendance, participation, maybe an exam), but is not intended to speak to their qualifications, therefore it is not a certification.

Certifications are credentials that should be provided by independent bodies indicating that someone has met a certain slate of standards. To be certified in something digs deeper. I am a Certified Emergency Disaster Professional (CEDP), which is a credential provided by the International Board for Certification Services and Management (IBFCSM). To become certified I had to demonstrate experience, education, and competence; and I must affirm continued competence through continuing education.

Colleges also have certificate programs, such as the one I’ve helped develop and have recently started teaching for Herkimer College. A certificate program is a specific type of academic program with a more concise set of requirements compared to a degree program.

If you are writing RFPs, developing your LinkedIn profile, or updating your resume, please be sure to properly represent credentials and qualifications.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Legislative Advocacy in Emergency Management

Yet another discussion I’ve had with a few colleagues over the past few weeks highlighting a situation which absolutely needs to be improved upon. On a reasonably regular basis there are laws being considered across the US that directly or indirectly impact emergency management and our interests. In fact, there are more than we are even aware of. From annual budget bills, to bills about pets in disaster, bills impacting inclusion and equity, and bills about the National Disaster Safety Board, there is no shortage – and this is just an example of recent federal legislation. Last year, many state legislatures pushed back hard on the authority of their governors during a disaster. Be it at the federal or state level (or even local level), most of these things, unfortunately, are politicians wielding politics, often with little to no consideration of consequences, intended or otherwise, and the mechanics behind implementation. Emergency managers, on behalf of our own profession as well as the people we serve, MUST be involved.

Unfortunately, we don’t see enough legislative advocacy at state and federal levels. Some organizations claim they do, and I believe them, yet there is little transparency in this. Most states have emergency management associations, with membership composed of emergency managers working in the respective state. Some have active legislative advocacy, others do not. I found a reference from North Dakota State University’s acclaimed Center for Disaster Studies and Emergency Management that provides information on state EM associations. Unfortunately, the document is undated (so frustrating!!!), but I know it is at least a few years old as Vermont’s association is not listed. Most of these state associations don’t post anything publicly about their legislative advocacy work, so we have no idea what they may or may not be involved in.

At a national level in the US, there are two prominent emergency management membership organizations, the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) and the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA). NEMA, of which I am a private sector member, maintains numerous topic-based committees, including a Legislative Committee. Accessible to members are various bill tracking summaries providing information on federal-level bills, budget requests, and such; and letters submitted to elected officials and voicing favor or opposition to certain actions or bills. Unfortunately, the most recent of any of these listed is from about a year ago. I’m hopeful NEMA has been taking action since then, but there is no evidence of such. Similarly, IAEM has a US Government Affairs Committee. They publicly list the organization’s legislative priorities and a variety of documents and links. While there are a few things from within the past year, there isn’t much – certainly nothing on the recent climate bill that was just signed by the president, the recent pets in disaster bill that’s working its way through the legislative process, or the National Disaster Safety Board bill that’s also progressing. Perhaps there is more available to members, but what’s posted certainly isn’t impressive.

Specifically in the case of NEMA and IAEM, they are both membership organizations, though they both claim to be advocating on behalf of the profession – not just their membership. It’s disappointing that we don’t see much of the work they claim to be doing. Likewise, if they are working on behalf of the profession, I’d like to see more of them gathering input on various topics of legislative interest from the greater emergency management community.

Having friends and colleagues in both organizations who are vocal about what their organizations do, I’ll head that off a bit… Don’t just tell me what you do. Show me. Show people across the profession what it is you are doing. Seek their input. Work collaboratively. At present, any measure of transparency in their legislative advocacy is well below par. And while there are numerous federal bills and actions to be tracked, there are even more at the state level that IAEM regions, state EM Directors (who are the voting membership of NEMA), and state associations should be aware of and working on.

While there will always be an extent of voicing an opinion on a bill that pops up or trying to get changes made before it progresses too far, the goal is to have emergency managers involved in the process from the start. We should be consulted, not only as subject matter experts, but also as the ones who are largely responsible for implementation. I see bills in process and/or get signed that may have great intent, but don’t use wording consistent with the profession, don’t consider the impacts of what they are requiring, or are simply poorly written with ambiguity and lack of clarity. While I’m sure there are some great success stories in certain areas of the country and even the world in regard to legislative advocacy (particularly as a consistent practice, not just a single success), I’m giving the efforts I see and hear about here in the US a failing grade. We must do better.

How to do better? And who? NEMA appears to be best positioned and comes with the weight of state directors at the core of their membership but may presently lack the resources or organizational structure to be effective at this. Legislative advocacy on such a scale requires not just a committee of volunteers, but it also requires staff support dedicated to research and establishing and maintaining constant contact with lawmakers. This is not an ad-hoc initiative, rather it is a collection of constant, steady-state activities. State associations can help by working closer with their state emergency management offices to flag matters of concern to emergency managers at the local and state levels, providing input to the process. We must be at the table.

Let’s take control of our practice.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

A bit of an update… I received a call from NEMA in response to this post. It’s great to see there are people paying attention! As expected, they do more than we see. While they do send email updates to members (something I admittedly need to pay better attention to) they aren’t as diligent about listing a lot of their activity on their website. Certainly some progress is being made, but we collectively need to do better as a profession and in a collaborative, cohesive manner.

Applying What We’ve Learned

The COVID-19 pandemic shattered so many of our planning assumptions. Not only assumptions on how a virus would act, spread, and react, but also assumptions on human behavior. Many of our plans accounted for security in the transportation and distribution of vaccines to address theft and violence caused by people who would commit these acts to get their hands on the vaccine (perhaps too many apocalyptic movies led us to this assumption?), we also falsely assumed that everyone would want the vaccine. The political divisiveness, faux science, misinformation, disinformation, and members of the public simply not caring enough for each other to take simple actions to prevent spread were largely unanticipated.

I think that had the virus been different, we would have seen things align better with our assumptions. Had the symptoms of the virus been more apparent, and had the mortality rate been higher, I think we would have seen more people wanting to protect themselves and each other. Would this have been fully aligned with our earlier assumptions? No. I think that we’ve learned that human behaviors aren’t as easy to generalize, but also the societal and political climate we are in, not just in the US but in many other nations around the world would have still perpetuated many of the problems we have and continue to see during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where to from here? I’m not a sociologist, but I’m a firm believer that much of what we do in emergency management is rooted in sociology. I’m sure an abundance of papers have already been authored on sociological and societal behaviors during the pandemic, with many more to come. I’m sure there are even some that are aligned to support and inform practices of emergency management, with valuable insights that we can use in planning and other activities. I look forward to having some time to discover what’s out there (and always welcome recommendations from colleagues). Speaking of implementation, what I do know is that we shouldn’t necessarily throw away the assumptions we had pre-COVID-19. Most of those assumptions may still be valid, under the right circumstances. The challenge is that there are many variables in play that will dictate what assumptions will apply. We do need to learn from what we have/are experiencing in the current pandemic, but this doesn’t hit the reset button in any way. This doesn’t necessarily invalidate what we thought to be true. It simply offers an alternative scenario. The next pandemic may yet align with a third set of truths.

While it makes things much more complex to not know which assumptions we will see the next time around, at least we know there are a range of possibilities, and we can devise strategies to address what is needed when it’s needed. What also adds complexity is the reinforcement of plans needing to be in place for various aspects of a pandemic and written to an appropriate level of detail. Most pandemic plans (and other related plans) that were in place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic simply weren’t written to the level of detail necessary to get the job done. Yes, there is a matter of variables, such as assumptions, but the fundamental activities largely remain the same. As with many disasters, jurisdictions were scrambling to figure out not only what they needed to do but how, because their plans were written at too high a level. As always, we are challenged to ensure the right amount of flexibility in our plans while still providing enough detail.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®