ICS Training Sucks: A Revival

It’s sad to say that in the past four and a half years of stumping for changes in ICS training, we have seen little progress.  I was recently sent a response org chart developed by an agency that completely tore apart ICS and rebuilt it in a fundamentally different image.  ICS is a standard.  It shouldn’t be changed.  Once you change it, especially at fundamental levels, you no longer have a standard.  It has innate flexibility, but those are applied without changing the fundamentals.  I vented some of my frustration about this last night on Twitter, to a mix of celebration and naysayers, as expected.  Some of those naysayers think the system simply doesn’t work. Others think the system simply can’t accommodate their type of agency.

(note that I’m using the word ‘agency’ here to mean any type of government, non-government, or private sector organization.  I decided to use it since I’m also heavily using the term ‘organization’ in regard to the structure we apply for a response)

So let’s back up a bit.  Why is this happening?  It starts with people having some knowledge of ICS and, with good intentions, wanting to adapt it to their agency and their circumstances.  But there is simply no reason to do any adaptation.  The functions outlined in ICS are all you need in a field-level response.  I’ve heard all the excuses – “We need to make it work for us.”  “FEMA needs to build an ICS for our type of agency.”  “It’s not you, it’s me.” I’ve worked with a lot of stakeholders across a lot of sectors across the whole country, and I have yet to find a field-level response that I can’t organize without violating the fundamentals of ICS.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but adhering to the standard is important because if we don’t adhere to a standard, we are out of the loop.  If enough people don’t adhere to a standard, it’s no longer a standard.  Either way, the benefits of having a standard are crumpled up and thrown away.

One problem is that a lot of entities, particularly large agencies with multiple components, like to ensure that every function or department within their static structure is represented in an ICS model.  This isn’t what ICS is built for.  If you are seeking specific representation, you can assign agency representatives to the ICP or the EOC, or use a department-based EOC model, but the foundational ICS structure itself isn’t intended to reflect your static organization.  You have an animal control officer.  Do they need to be represented in your pre-planned ICS org chart?  No, they are brought in as a resource if needed, likely in Operations.  You have an IT department.  Do they need to be represented in your pre-planned ICS org chart?  Not as a department. But their capability is identified, likely for assignment within Logistics.  It’s not about recreating ICS to fit your static organization.  It’s about knowing the capabilities of your static organization and applying them within the established ICS structure when and how they are needed. 

Let’s put this out there… ICS isn’t just for you, it’s for everyone.  What I mean is that the greatest benefit of ICS (the prime reason it was actually devised) is for multi-agency operations.  In a local incident of any significance, your agency is likely to be part of a multi-agency response.  Depending on the type of incident, scope, location, and other factors, certain positions will be staffed with personnel selected from the agencies with primary responsibility and, hopefully, with qualified staff.  So that carefully crafted org chart you have developed for your agency’s response is largely irrelevant in a multi-agency operation.  Yes, your agency certainly should have a go-to model for single-agency responses, but consider that a single-agency response probably isn’t going to need a full-blown org chart.

There is a difference, though… and that’s for EOCs, or more specifically departmental emergency operations centers.  These are, by definition, not multi-agency, and established to support your own agency’s needs for deployment, sustainment, internal coordination, and matters that may not be addressed at the field-level.  EOCs have a variety of organizational models available to them, which don’t necessarily need to be ICS.   A problem I often see is agencies trying to accomplish everything in one org chart.  They are trying to fit executive level positions in with field response.  Stop.  Take a breath and figure out what you are trying to accomplish.  It’s OK (and perhaps necessary) for your agency to have two organizational models to accomplish what you need, depending, of course, on your agency’s role, responsibilities, and capabilities.  You may need a field-level organization that addresses a tactical response (this is ICS-based) and an EOC organization that supports that response and the needs of your agency as a whole in regard to the incident (again, lots of options for the EOC organization).  Also consider, depending on your agency, that a policy group may be necessary to guide things.  A policy group is non-operational and they essentially exist to make the broad-reaching decisions on behalf of the organization.

Why are we seeing such extensive mis-applications of ICS?  First, people still don’t understand ICS.  Second, they aren’t truly considering the needs of their agencies.  The irony is that many of the people doing this DO think they understand ICS and that they are making changes to it to better serve the needs of their agencies.  So… we’re still maintaining that ICS Training Sucks.  Do I have a total solution to that problem?  No. But in the articles you find in that link, I certainly have some ideas.  I’ve also found a great many kindred spirits in this whole crusade that agree with the need for change in how we train people in ICS.

What I do know is that the solution isn’t as straight forward as we would like it to be.  Considerations:

First, we are considerably tainted by our knowledge of current and past ICS curricula.  When talking with people about how to fix ICS training, I have to regularly remind myself to push that knowledge aside and look at the problem with fresh eyes.  Lessons learned aside; we can’t move forward when we are still planting ourselves in what is in use now.

Second, we need to consider that there may not be a single solution that fits all needs.  I still think we may need a curriculum structure similar to that used for HazMat training, which addresses the needs of different user groups (i.e. Awareness, Operations, Technician, Planner, Commander).

Third, we need to actually teach people how to apply ICS.  At present, with only a bit of exception, true application of ICS isn’t deliberately instructed until someone takes position-specific and incident management team training.  This in no way meets the needs of most agencies, many of which are volunteer, and have limited availability to go away for several weeks to get the training they need.

Fourth, recognize that if you aren’t using ICS regularly (and I mean at a large scale), your knowledge and skill degrades.  Refresher training should be required and scenario-based learning should be incorporated across the curriculum.

Fifth, stop trying to re-develop ICS.  Trust me, all the needed capabilities of your agency for a field-level response fit within an ICS org chart.  It’s not about your static organization, it’s about capabilities.  Identify and assign capabilities.

I love the continued dialog and attention this topic gets.  The only way we will see positive change is by continuing that dialog.  Please share these blogs and your ideas with colleagues.  Let’s keep spreading this and striving for change.

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEPD

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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In memoriam: I humbly dedicate this post to a friend and colleague who recently lost a battle with cancer.  Phil Politano is known by many for his good nature, his gregarious laugh, and his incredible knowledge as a Public Information Officer.  I’ve known Phil since about 2002, and had worked with him on incidents, taught classes with him, and learned a lot from him.  Phil eventually left Central NY and moved his family a bit south, taking a job with FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.  There, his talents were applied to their greatest extent.  He reshaped PIO training, spread that gospel to people from all around the world, and supported large scale responses with his knowledge, skills, and abilities.  He was a master in his craft and shared his mastery with anyone who wanted to learn.  He was an incredible practitioner, a great friend, and a wonderful person.  He made us all better simply by knowing him.   He is missed by so many.  Rest well.

 

 

A Deeper Review of FEMA’s E/L/G 2300 EOC Intermediate Course

A couple months ago I got my hands on the materials for the ELG 2300 EOC Intermediate course.  Back in early June I gave an initial review of this course, based on information from a webinar and the course’s plan of instruction.   Unfortunately, upon reviewing the actual course materials, my initial concerns have been reinforced.

First, I’ll start off with what I think are the positives of this course. The course doesn’t stray from NIMS, and applies a practical integration of the NIMS management concepts, which we are mostly used to seeing in ICS, into the EOC environment.  This is 100% appropriate and should always be reinforced.  The course also references the EOC National Qualification System skillsets.  It’s great to see the NQS referenced in training as they otherwise receive very little attention, which actually brings about a lot of concern as to their overall adoption.  Two units within the course provide some incredibly valuable information.  Those are Unit 5 (Information and Intelligence Management) and Unit 7 (EOC Transition to Recovery).

On to the down side of things… As mentioned in my review a couple months back, the course objectives simply don’t line up with what this course needs to do – that is, it needs to be teaching people how to work in an EOC.  So much of the content is actually related to planning and other preparedness activities, specifically Units 3, 4, and 8. Unit 3 dives into topics such as position tack books, organizational models, EOC design, staff training and qualifications, exercises and more.  Though, ironically enough, there is little to no emphasis on deliberate PLANNING, which is what all this relates to.  This isn’t stuff to be thinking about during an EOC activation, but rather before an activation.  Unit 4, similarly, gets into triggers for activation, how to deactivate the EOC, and other topics that are planning considerations.  Unit 8 dives more into design, technology, and equipment.  While it’s valuable for people to know what’s available, this is, again, preparedness content.

There is a lot of repetitive content, especially in the first few units, along with some typos, which is really disappointing to see.  There are also some statements and areas of content which I wholeheartedly disagree with.  Here are a few:

  • There is ‘no common EOC structure’.   There are actually a few.  Hint: they are discussed in the NIMS document.  I think what they are getting at with this statement is that there is no fixed EOC structure.
  • ‘EOC leaders determine the structure that best meets their needs’. False. Plans determine the structure to be used.  While that organizational model is flexible in terms of size of staff and specific delegations, the lack of context for this statement seems to indicate that the EOC Manager or Director will determine on the fly if they will use the ICS-based model, the Incident Support Model, or another model.
  • One slide indicates that use of the ICS-based model doesn’t require any additional EOC training beyond ICS for EOC staff. Absolutely false!  In fact, this sets you up for nothing but failure.  Even if the model being applied is based on ICS, the actual implementation in an EOC is considerably different.  I’ve written about this in the past.
  • The Incident Support Model ‘is not organized to manage response/recovery efforts’. Wrong again.  With the integration of operations functions within the Resource Support Section, response and recovery efforts can absolutely be managed from the EOC.

There is another area of content I take particular exception with.  One slide describes ‘incident command teams’, and goes on to describe the Incident Command Post (which is a facility, not a team), and an Incident Management Team, with the formal description of a rostered group of qualified personnel.  Not only is this slide wrong to include an Incident Command Post as a ‘team’, they are fundamentally ignoring the fact that ‘incident command teams’ are comprised every damn day on the fly from among responders deploying to an incident.  These are the exact people I espouse the need to train and support in my discussions on ICS.

My conclusions… First of all, this course does not do as it needs to do, which is training people how to work in an EOC.  While the preparedness information it gives is great, operators (people assigned to work in an EOC) will be taking this course expecting to learn how to do their jobs.  They will not learn that.  I’ve advocated before for most training to be set up similar to HazMat training, utilizing a structure of Awareness, Operations, Technician, Management, and Planning focused courses which are designed to TEACH PEOPLE WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW based upon their function.  Largely, this course is a great Planning level course, that is it’s ideal for people who will be developing EOC operational plans, standard operating guidelines, position qualification standards, and other preparedness material.  I think that Operations, Technician, and Management level training is going to be left to jurisdictions to develop and implement, as it certainly isn’t found here.

I urge a lot of caution to everyone before you decide to teach this course.  Take a look at the material and decide if it’s really what your audience needs.

What are your thoughts on this course?  Will your jurisdiction get use out of it?

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

EOC Training is Coming from FEMA

Last week I posted an article espousing the lack of emergency operations center (EOC) content in the most recently updated ICS-100 course.  In response to this article, I heard from someone at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) letting me know about two courses which are currently in development, focusing on EOCs.  The first is IS-2200: Basic EOC Functions.  This is being designed as a four-hour online course.  The second is E/L/G-2300: Intermediate EOC Functions.  This course is being designed for a three-day long classroom delivery.  These courses are both expected to release in the spring of 2019.

For those who aren’t familiar with FEMA’s course codes…

IS: Independent Study (web-based delivery)

E: In-resident course, typically delivered at EMI

L: A course delivered on-location by FEMA personnel anywhere around the nation

G: State-delivered courses

Personally, I’m thrilled to get definitive word that courses are being developed and that we have a timeframe for deployment.  I’m a big proponent of the roles EOCs can play in incident management, yet so much of the training conducted for EOC personnel for so many years has been ad-hoc at best.  Hopefully this will further move us toward standardization and common implementation of best practices.

© 2018 – 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

Management and Organization of EOCs

I’ve always been fascinated by emergency operations centers (EOCs).  Through my career I’ve worked in many of them across the nation as a responder, trainer, and exerciser (is that a word?).  I’ve seen EOCs large and small, dedicated facilities and multi-use rooms.  I’ve been in EOCs on the top floor of buildings, so as to have a bird’s-eye view; and those underground, originally designed to withstand a Soviet nuclear attack.  I’ve seen technology that rivals NASA’s Mission Control, and EOCs that drop phone and internet lines from the ceiling when needed.  While the size, layout, and technology can all support an EOC’s mission, it’s really all about the people.

IMG_3226Over the past several months I’ve seen an even greater variety of EOCs due to a broad range of consulting projects I’ve led for my company.  These projects have brought me to EOCs in states, cities, and airports across the nation.  While coordination is the commonality, there are a great deal of differences between and among these EOCs, not only in their physical space, but also in how they operate.  While all pay heed to the National Incident Management System (NIMS) in some fashion, some lean more heavily on the Incident Command System (ICS) than others, while some prefer the emergency support function (ESF) model, and others yet seem to be in limbo, searching for the best model.

It’s been over a year since the National Integration Center (NIC), charged with maintaining NIMS, released a draft for public comment of the NIMS Refresh, which included the Center Management System (CMS) concept.  CMS is/was intended as a model for organizing EOCs and other such incident support functions.  Despite promises, we have yet to see any of that come to fruition.  That said, there are certain expectations and activities that must still exist for an EOC to be successful and productive.

With tactics being managed by the Operations Section in the Incident Command Post (ICP), planning is really the focal point of an EOC.  The perspective of an EOC is generally much bigger picture than that of an ICP.  Assuming a traditional coordination and support role of an EOC, the Operations Section of an EOC is really geared toward pulling agencies together and facilitating strategic-level problem solving through proper coordination.  For an EOC to function properly, current information is just as important as the ability to anticipate future needs so that problems can be solved and resources obtained.  This information management and forecasting is the responsibility of the Planning Section in an ICS-centered model, or of a planning function in any other model.

Every agency that contributes to the EOC, regardless of the model, should be prepared to contribute time and potentially even staff to this planning function.  Often, the incident is ‘routine’ enough that the planning staff are familiar with the various facets of the incident to do proper information collection, analysis, and forecasting; but on occasion subject matter experts are needed to support each of these critical activities.  Those subject matter experts often come from the agencies or emergency support functions represented in the EOC.  As forecasting is performed, opportunities are identified for needs that may need to be supported.  This is where the forecasting loops back to Operations to coordinate the agencies/emergency support functions to solve these problems.

None of this actually means that an EOC doesn’t oversee tactics, even indirectly.  While an ICP, for most incidents, doesn’t report to the EOC, there may be ancillary organizations developed to address other matters which the ICP isn’t overseeing.  While the ICP is focused on immediate life-safety issues, the EOC may be coordinating evacuation, sheltering, or public health matters.  In each of these examples, or numerous others which could be contrived, someone has to be in charge of them.  If the incident commander’s attention is focused on the highest priorities, these other matters are likely to be run by the EOC.  Typically, these would be within the chain of command of the EOC’s Operations Section or through an ESF.

I love seeing how different EOCs address problems and manage their own functions.  I’m all for creativity, but there fundamentally should be some standardization to the organization and management structure.  What’s unfortunate, however, is that so many EOCs don’t have proper plans which identify these functions or how they will be managed.  Some simply insert the phrase ‘NIMS/ICS’ into their plan, and assume that’s enough (it’s not).  Others have no plan at all.  The enemy of coordination is chaos, and if you don’t have quality plans in place, which have been trained to and exercised, the EOC stands to add even more chaos to the incident at hand.

Put some thought into your EOC management structure and plans.    How would the EOC run if you or someone else who usually runs it weren’t there?  Are plans and procedures detailed enough for it to operate smoothly?  Are personnel from all agencies trained properly in their roles and responsibilities?  Have you exercised these plans recently?  If so, what lessons learned do you usually see and have you worked to address them?

Feedback is always welcome!

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC