Finding Local Hazard Information

Among all the information shared across the internet, something that would be of great assistance to many stakeholders is local hazard information.  It surprises me how inaccessible this information is.  Typically, in most places around the US, ‘local’ will mean a city, village, or town, and depending on the structure of government in the state, counties (or other similar governmental units) may also be considered local.  Specific to this discussion, I’m referencing the most local level of government which has an emergency management function.

So often, we advise businesses and organizations to work with their local emergency managers on preparedness initiatives, yet necessary information lacks in availability or accessibility.  One of the foundational elements of information for all emergency management activities is a hazard analysis.  While every organization should conduct their own to ensure that their own hazards are identified and analyzed, an informed hazard analysis will consider information from other sources.  What better source, we would assume, than the hazard analysis conducted at the most local level of government possible?  Sadly, this information is not often regularly available.

Many governments who conduct comprehensive emergency management activities post plans on their websites, which is a good start.  Often these are hazard mitigation plans and sometimes even emergency operations plans (EOPs).  Both of these plans, if well written, should include hazard analysis information.  Typically, if EOPs include this information, it’s a very brief summary, perhaps only a small chart or table.  Hazard mitigation plans are really centered on a comprehensive hazard analysis, but as I’ve written before, most hazard mitigation plans are not truly ‘all hazard’.  Most commonly, hazard mitigation plans only address and examine natural hazards and some human-caused incidents such as dam failures or hazardous materials incidents.  Because so much effort goes into the hazard analysis conducted for a hazard mitigation plan, many jurisdictions will then only reference this hazard analysis in their preparedness activities, such as developing EOPs.  Fundamentally, this then means that many jurisdictions are not properly preparing for other threats, such as an active shooter/hostile event response (ASHER) incident.

So there are really two issues here, one being that of making information readily available, the other is ensuring quality of information.  Ideally, I’d like to see jurisdictions post hazard analysis information on their websites.  People working for organizations or businesses who are less familiar with emergency management aren’t likely to read through a hazard mitigation plan to find this information.  A stand-alone document with a reasonable summary of this information can easily be provided.  Aside from organizations and businesses, such a practice would also make this information more accessible to the general public.  With so much time and effort spent on telling people they need to prepare, perhaps we should make the information more accessible which tells them what they need to prepare for?

What are you doing to make hazard information more accessible?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠

Incident Action Planning

Hello readers!  It’s been a couple of months since I’ve last posted – along with the holidays, I’ve been fortunate to be busy with some great projects and a bit of travel.  While I’m still busy, I’ve been itching to get back to posting.

Over the past few months, I’ve had an opportunity to look at some different aspects of incident action planning.  Having worked as a Planning Section Chief for numerous state and federally declared disasters, I’ve created Incident Action Plans (IAPs), part and parcel, for a variety of incidents.  Teaching hundreds of course offerings of ICS and EOC management, I’ve also had a lot of opportunity to help others understand and appreciate the value of an IAP.

What is an IAP?

The Incident Action Plan is really the culmination of the planning process.  It documents our expected actions for the next operational period, which, through that planning process, should be ready to be supported through an identified organization and necessary resources.  It begins, foundationally, with an understanding of the situation and objectives built to solve the problems that situation imposes upon us.  IAPs identify some situational information, the incident objectives, and tactics – which specific resource assignments – to accomplish those objectives.  To support the tactics, additional elements are added to the IAP, such as the organizational structure, a medical plan (for responders), a communications plan, and specific safety messages.  Based upon the unique characteristics of each incident, additional material can be added.

The planning process, and thus IAPs, are a standard of practice within NIMS/ICS.

Issues with Teaching the Planning Process

For those coming up through the ranks, as it were, of ICS training, the forms integrated into ICS are often one of the most frustrating aspects.  Responders want to do the hands-on stuff, not fill out forms.  Most areas and systems, however, are able to find the responders who are interested in becoming involved in incident management aspects, and engage them in formal or ad-hoc incident management teams.

Often the only exposure that responders have to IAPs is from the ICS 300 course, where they are able to see some samples and are walked through the planning process and associated forms of the IAP.   Having taught hundreds of these, I know it’s a challenge*.  We inundate course participants with a pile of forms and expect them to leave the class to go out and do great things.  While it might be a reasonable initial exposure, this needs to be followed up on, practices, and reinforced if we expect anyone to be successful, much less use the system.

*note: if you aren’t familiar with my position on the current state of ICS training, here are a few other blog posts to orient you.  In short… ICS Training Sucks!

The planning process can be confusing – who does what?  When?  Based upon what information?  The Planning P is the best visual out there and incident management handbooks (aka Field Operations Guides or FOGs) are references that every IMT member should have in the utility pocket of their 5.11s.  While all based on the same system, I find the United States Coast Guard to have the best handbook out there.  These are great job aids for something we don’t go to work and do every day, no matter how proficient you might think you are.

planning P for Planning

Uses of IAPs

IAPs can be applied to anything we can/should apply the planning process to.  These include incidents, pre-planned events, and exercises.  Planned events and exercises provide a great opportunity to practice the planning process and development of IAPs.  It is certainly something that requires practice to be proficient.  Every member of the Command and General staff, as well as a number of support positions, have an important role to play and responsibilities to contribute to the planning process.  The forms themselves even require some practice to ensure that the right information is obtained.  Large incidents can also require a great deal of tactical planning, which means greater time for that and for documenting the tactics and necessary support.

One aspect that is often forgotten in the heat of battle is that our response should, ideally, be based on our emergency operations plans (EOPs).  These should be a regular reference to the Command and General staff, as they can, at the very least, provide some general guidance.  Good EOPs, and their associated annexes, should provide some detailed guidance on certain aspects of response, which can prevent the IMT from having to re-invent a plan in the midst of chaos.  The direction of EOPs, to the greatest extent possible, should be referenced in the planning process and reflected in the IAPs.  EOPs should serve as the foundation for the planning process – with that in mind, EOPs can be implementation-ready.  More thoughts on emergency plan development here.

As mentioned, exercises are a great opportunity for participants to practice the planning process and IAP development, along with other facets of ICS – especially those that we don’t get to apply so often.  Also consider, however, the use of an IAP for exercise management.  Our company, Emergency Preparedness Solutions, worked with the State of Vermont this past summer providing exercise control and evaluation services for their Vigilant Guard exercise.  This week-long exercise spanned nearly 60 distinct venues across the state and involved thousands of participants.  We coordinated over 100 control and evaluation staff throughout the exercise.  While staffing decisions were made weeks in advance, we knew that with so many variables, needs and assignments were bound to change.  For each operational period of the exercise, venues had staff assigned, a point of contact they should coordinate with, a need to communicate with the simcell and exercise management staff, a need to be aware of weather and safety matters, and processes to follow in regard to exercise management and reporting.  We recognized the similarities to a tactical deployment and decided to develop incident action plans for exercise management.  We called these eXercise Action Plans (XAPs).  Within just a couple of operational periods, we were receiving great feedback on the documents from exercise staff.  Use of XAPs were identified as a best practice in exercise management for that project.

Final Thoughts

Incident Action Plans are great tools that can help us put our emergency plans in action.  They allow us to apply incident or event-specific ground-truths and the realities of incident needs and resources.  While it’s understanding that some are frustrated with the forms used, the forms are job aids, tested through decades, to help us navigate complex incident management.  When I walk into a command post or an EOC, the IAP is the first thing I look for.  Because the format and forms are relatively standardized, I can flip through it, and in a couple of minutes have a good sense of the activity and who is responsible for what.  Someone told me long ago that ICS is forms facilitated, not forms driven – and that’s very true.  The forms (and thus the IAP) are products of the planning process, which is another decades-old practice in incident management.

What best practices have you seen in the application of the planning process and incident action plans?

Need assistance with planning, training, or exercises?  Emergency Preparedness Solutions can help!

Until next time.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

 

If You Aren’t Assessing Hazards, What Are You Basing Your Preparedness On?

I just read an article from Campus Safety Magazine which cited a report on college campus preparedness.  Some of the numbers are a bit disturbing.  To me, the most serious numbers are from this graphic, which came from the Margolis Healy 2015 Campus Safety Survey:

Hazard_Assessment_Margolis_Healy_2015

According to this graphic, 26.5% of college campuses surveyed have not conducted a hazard and vulnerability assessment and 18.8% do not know if they have conducted an assessment.  Given that this study identified that 86% of colleges have an emergency operations plan, there is a significant number within this study who have what I would consider baseless plans.

Given these statistics, I’m left wondering WHY these campuses haven’t conducted a hazard analysis.  Potential reasons?

  • Didn’t know they needed to
  • Didn’t want to
  • Assumed they were aware of the hazards, impacts, etc.

I’m sure there are some other potential reasons for why they didn’t conduct a hazard analysis, but these are bound to be the big ones.  Regardless of the reason, I’m left assuming that, besides the plan being based upon no actual hazard information, the rest of the plan is BASELESS, INEFFECTUAL CRAP.

Forgive me for being blunt (you don’t have to), but if you aren’t assessing hazards, what are you basing your preparedness on?  Just as planning is the cornerstone of preparedness, a hazard analysis is the foundation of planning.  Therefore no (or a poor) hazard analysis will very likely result in a poor plan, and a poor plan will very likely result in poor preparedness efforts overall.

I’m not just picking on college campuses.  While this study targeted institutions of higher education, this same concern (likely with similar statistics) applies to EVERYONE – jurisdictions and government agencies, the private sector, and not for profits.

So what are we dealing with?  The parties responsible for creating these emergency plans are either UNINFORMED, LAZY, or UNDERFUNDED/UNDERSTAFFED.  To me, none of these are valid excuses.

  • Uninformed? Study up!  It’s not difficult to find out what the planning standards are.  (see the next paragraph)
  • LAZY? QUIT YOUR JOB! – you shouldn’t be in public safety.
  • Underfunded or understaffed? Welcome to public safety.  What could possibly help justify more funding or staff than a solid assessment?

If you need information on planning standards, check out these posts.  I talk about CPG-101, which is the foundation for emergency planning in the US; and a variety of other planning and hazard analysis related topics.

Need help?  It just so happens that I’m a well-qualified consultant.  Our website is linked below.

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Emergency planning – A linear approach or ‘choose your own adventure’?

When creating deliberate emergency operations plans, and especially the associated standard operating procedures/guidelines (SOPs/SOGs) that accompany them (you do develop these, right?) there is always a consideration for how to progress through the written plan – chronologically or topically.  There are pros and cons to both approaches you should be aware of.

Chronological progression of your planning efforts assume that an incident starts at A and progresses to Z, in a particular order.  At a glance, this is a lot of structure for emergency management, but an analysis of most incidents will show that they generally tend to progress in this fashion.  It’s human nature for us to like order and to try to put things into a logical progression.  There are, of course, the outliers – those incidents which have tangential or cascading impacts which don’t necessarily have a linear progression.  It’s these unknown factors that make us stumble a bit.  How do we account for these disruptions of our orderly progression?  We have to skip around in the plan.  If our plan isn’t designed for skipping around, it can be rather awkward and not easy to use.

A Choose Your Own Adventure book

A Choose Your Own Adventure book

The other side of the coin argues that if you are likely to skip around in the plan anyway, why not build a topical, or ‘choose your own adventure’ style, plan?  Remember choose your own adventure books?  The story always starts the same, building a foundation for the adventure you will face, but you, the reader, eventually get to decide what the main character will do.  At some point, you will be faced with a choice.  Should your hero take the left tunnel or the right?  If you take the left, go to page X, if you go right, turn to page Y.

Non-linear planning will chunk the content of your plan so individual sections focus on each potential impact and major activity – be it hazard-specific or function-specific – with reference back to a core plan, kind of a hub and spoke approach.  (By the way, ‘chunking’ is an actual term.  We use it primarily in instructional design).  It can make for some flipping around through the plan, and sometimes a bit of redundancy if each section starts with the same concept of operations (thus the need to reference back to a core plan), but it more easily accommodates the unknowns of an incident by looking at separate impacts or major activities as individual components related to a central response.

What are your thoughts?  Do we try to keep things orderly, or do we give in to a modular, ‘choose your own adventure’ approach?  Which do you think is more complex?  Which do you think is more effective?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

WWW.EPSLLC.BIZ

Business Continuity and Emergency Management Standards and Requirements

When building a business continuity or emergency management program – or the foundation of that program in a business continuity or emergency management plan – there is a lot of research that needs to be performed before much work can even begin.  Some of the most critical research is the identification of the standards and requirements which apply to your program/plan.  Note a significant difference in terminology between requirement and standard.  Requirements are generally items that are in passed into law or included in regulation.  Standards are typically developed by standards organizations or accrediting bodies and are generally looked upon as best practices within an industry.  Standards are also more likely to be regularly updated whereas requirements (laws) are generally updated on a less often basis.

Where should you look for requirements and standards which apply to you?  Much of it is based upon what industry you are in and where you are located.

Start locally.  Research local laws and codes which may have requirements for certain industries.  Local emergency management planning codes that I’ve seen include industries that use or produce specific chemicals, healthcare facilities, day care programs, and the hospitality industry (hotels and resorts), to name a few.  These codes may require certain planning or notification elements which you must address.  You should search the codes/laws of your city/town/village as well as your county.  The clerks or emergency management officials for those jurisdictions should be of great help to you.  States usually also have specific planning requirements found in state law and/or regulation which cover requirements for local jurisdictions as well as many of the industries mentioned previously.  Contact your state emergency management agency as well as the state agency that regulates your industry for the best information.

Local and state laws comprise most of the requirements you will find – however certain industries may have federal laws or regulations which must be followed – many of these come from the EPA.  Nationally, however, you are more likely to find standards.  FEMA’s standard for emergency planning (which largely applies to jurisdictions but can certainly be used by other organizations) is found in Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101 – Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans.  While there is no up front legal requirement to follow CPG 101 from FEMA, it may be a requirement of grant funding – yet another requirement you must explore and address.  Certain industries seeking ISO (International Standards Organization) accreditation may need to follow various ISO standards on emergency management and safety.  Overall, if your industry has a professional association or accrediting body, they are an excellent resource for you.

But isn’t there some standard that applies broadly to everyone?  Yes – that is NFPA 1600.  The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) creates standards which apply to many industries and are often legally adopted as code by jurisdictions.  The NFPA itself does not create law or regulation but they drive many of the standards we see across the nation in many applications including chemical production and handling, engineering, electrical, plumbing, building and development codes, fire codes and others.  NFPA documents are developed through a consensus standards development process approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).  NFPA 1600 is the Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs.  Typically access to NFPA documents requires membership or a fee per document (their material is copyrighted), however NFPA 1600 is seen as so critical and broad-reaching that the NFPA offers access to the document free of charge.

NFPA 1600 is comprehensive yet open enough for individual application.  You won’t see from NFPA 1600 any detailed guidance in how to write a plan, but you will see the steps of a planning process and key benchmarks they recommend be addressed in a plan.  In addition to planning, the standard also addresses program management, training and exercises, and program improvement.  Intended to be used as a tool, the standard also includes program evaluation checklists and references other best practices in emergency management and business continuity including DRII (Disaster Recovery Institute International) and United Nations programs.  An annex within the standard even addresses family preparedness programs intended for employees.

While the standards you must follow are dependent upon your location and industry, NFPA 1600 can be applicable to all organizations and should be referenced in the building and maintenance of your emergency management and business continuity plan.  For those of you dependent upon access to information on your mobile devices, they even have a free NFPA 1600 mobile app (I reference it often!).

Adherence to requirements and standards helps ensure that your program meets or exceeds all expectations and best practices.  Even if you are not legally obligated to do so, following standards, such as NFPA 1600, provides you with a comprehensive program which will help you better prepare for, respond to, and recover from disaster.

If you need help navigating your emergency management requirements or standards, contact Emergency Preparedness Solutions.  Visit our website at www.epsllc.biz.

© 2014 Timothy Riecker

Lucien Canton Webinar Recording: Are Your Emergency Operations Plans Realistic?

Last week EM Forum hosted one of the better webinars I’ve attended recently.  The presenter was Lucien Canton, CEM, a fellow Emergency Management Consultant.  His topic was “Are your emergency operations plans realistic?  A group discussion on planning assumptions”.  This presentation was in obvious response to his excellent blog article, Paper Plans and Fantasy Documents, which I blogged about a few weeks ago.  In both his article and the webinar, Lu talks about the need to ensure that plans make sense and can actually be implemented, not just cover legal requirements.

For ease, I’ve pasted the EMForum follow up email here, which provides a link to the webinar recording in various formats.  Highly recommended if you didn’t catch the original airing!

 

The Webinar recording of the February 13th EMForum.org program, “Are Your Emergency Operations Plans Realistic? A Group Discussion on Planning Assumptions,” with emergency management consultant, Lucien G. Canton CEM®, is now available. This is a large file and requires Windows Media Player or Windows Media Components for QuickTime or a similar product to view. The recording is also available in MP4 format for mobile users. The TranscriptAudio Podcast, as well as Ratings and Comments are available from the Background Page. The Audio Podcast and MP4 recordings are also available from the iTunes Store.