NIMS is Worthless, Unless You Put it into Action

It’s so often that I hear people proclaim in response to a problem that NIMS will fix it.  I’ve written in the past that many organizations reference the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS) in their plans, as they should, but it’s often a reference with no substance.  The devil is in the details, as the saying goes; and the details of implementation are necessary to ensure that difficulties can be overcome.

The premise is simple… NIMS is a doctrine, only as valuable as the paper you print it on.  So fundamentally, NIMS has no value – unless it is implemented.  This human factor is the biggest hurdle organizations and jurisdictions must face, yet so many are lulled into a false sense of security because they cite it in their plans and they’ve taken some ICS courses.  I encourage every organization to review the NIMS doctrine and give your organization an honest assessment of how you are actually following it.  It’s bound to be pretty eye opening for many.

nims_document

We also have to keep in mind that NIMS isn’t just for your own organization.  While there are plenty of great practices in NIMS for your own organization, the greatest value in it is for multi-agency responses.  These don’t have to be to the extent of Hurricane Katrina or a massive wildfire, either.  Multi-agency responses occur in most jurisdictions every day – even what we regard as some of the most simple or routine incidents require multiple agencies to respond.  While the actions and responsibilities of these agencies are fairly rote and well-practiced, a slight increase in complexity can cause significant changes.

Consider that different agencies, even those within the same discipline have some different ways of doing things.  These can be simply in the mechanics of what they do, or they can be driven by procedures, equipment, or personality.  Some of this may be in writing, some may not.  Where this matters is in tactics.  NIMS won’t solve differences in tactical application or ensuring interoperability.  Only preparedness can accomplish that.  Before an incident occurs, we need to be having regular conversations with other agencies within our jurisdiction and outside of it.  How often do you exercise with your mutual aid partners?  I mean really exercise with them…  It’s great that you all arrive to the exercise site and set up your own stuff, but how about mixing and matching equipment?  What will work?  What won’t?  How will it impact tactical application?  These are some of the most meaningful lessons learned.

Bottom line – don’t try to pencil-whip NIMS as the solution to your problems.  It’s meaningless unless it’s actually put into action – and the way to proactively do that is through preparedness efforts.   Work together through POETE activities – Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercises.  Once you put the concepts of NIMS into action, then it will work for you!

How has your organization implemented NIMS concepts?

© 2017 –  Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Measuring Preparedness – An Executive Academy Perspective

A recent class of FEMA’s Emergency Management Executive Academy published a paper titled Are We Prepared Yet? in the latest issue of the Domestic Preparedness Journal.  It’s a solid read, and I encourage everyone to look it over.

First off, I wasn’t aware of the scope of work conducted in the Executive Academy.  I think that having groups publish papers is an extremely important element.  Given that the participants of the Executive Academy function, presently or in the near future, at the executive level in emergency management and/or homeland security, giving others the opportunity to learn from their insight on topics discussed in their sessions is quite valuable.  I need to do some poking around to see if papers written by other groups can be found.

As most of my readers are familiar, the emphasis of my career has always been in the realm of preparedness.  As such, it’s an important topic to me and I tend to gravitate to publications and ideas I can find on the topic.  The authors of this paper bring up some excellent points, many of which I’ve covered in articles past.  They indicate a variety of sources, including literature reviews and interviews, which I wish they would have cited more completely.

Some points of discussion…

THIRA

The authors discuss the THIRA and SPR – two related processes/products which I find to be extremely valuable.  They indicate that many believe the THIRA to be complex and challenging.  This I would fully agree with, however I posit that there are few things in the world that are both simple and comprehensive in nature.  In particular regard to emergency management and homeland security, the inputs that inform and influence our decisions and actions are so varied, yet so relevant, that to ignore most of them would put us at a significant disadvantage.  While I believe that anything can be improved upon, THIRA and SPR included, this is something we can’t afford to overly simplify.

What was most disappointing in this topic area was their finding that only a scant majority of people they surveyed felt that THIRA provided useful or actionable information.  This leaves me scratching my head.  A properly done THIRA provides a plethora of useful information – especially when coupled with the SPR (POETE) process.  Regardless, the findings of the authors suggest that we need to take another look at THIRA and SPR to see what can be improved upon, both in process and result.

Moving forward within the discussion of THIRA and SPR, the authors include discussion of something they highlight as a best practice, that being New York State’s County Emergency Preparedness Assessment (CEPA).  The intent behind the CEPA is sound – a simplified version of the THIRA which is faster and easier to do for local governments throughout the state.  The CEPA includes foundational information, such as a factual overview of the jurisdiction, and a hazard analysis which ranks hazards based upon likelihood and consequence.  It then analyses a set of capabilities based upon the POETE elements.  While I love their inclusion of POETE (you all know I’m a huge fan), the capabilities they use are a mix of the current Core Capabilities (ref: National Preparedness Goal) and the old Target Capabilities, along with a few not consistent with either and a number of Core Capabilities left out.  This is where the CEPA falls apart for me.  It is this inconsistency with the National Preparedness Goal that turns me off.  Any local governments looking to do work in accordance with the NPG and related elements, including grants, then need to cross walk this data, as does the state in their roll-up of this information to their THIRA and SPR.

The CEPA continues with an examination of response capacity, along the lines of their response-oriented capabilities.  This is a valuable analysis and I expect it becomes quite a reality check for many jurisdictions.  This is coupled with information not only on immediate response, but also sustained response over longer periods of time.  Overall, while I think the CEPA is a great effort to make the THIRA and POETE analysis more palatable for local jurisdictions, it leaves me with some concerns in regard to the capabilities they use.  It’s certainly a step in the right direction, though.  Important to note, the CEPA was largely developed by one of the authors of the paper, who was a former colleague of mine working with the State of New York.

The Process of Preparedness

There are a few topic areas within their paper that I’m lumping together under this discussion topic.  The authors make some excellent points about our collective work in preparedness that I think all readers will nod their heads about, because we know when intuitively, but sometimes they need to be reinforced – not only to us as practitioners, but also to other stakeholders, including the public.  First off, preparedness is never complete.  The cycle of preparedness – largely involving assessment, planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercising – is just that – a cycle.  It’s endless.  While we do a great deal of work in each of these, our accomplishments are really only temporary.

The authors also mention that our information is not always precise.  We base a lot of what we do in preparedness on information, such as a hazard analysis.  While there are some inputs that are factual and supported by science, there are many that are based on speculation and anecdote.  This is a reality of our work that we must always acknowledge.  As is other of their points – there is no silver bullet.  There is no universal solution to all our woes.  We must constantly have our head in the game and consider actions that we may not have ever considered before.

ICS Improvement Officer

The authors briefly discuss a conceptual position within the ICS Command Staff they call the ICS Improvement Officer.  The concept of this fascinating, if not a bit out of place in this paper given other topics of discussion.  Essentially, as they describe this position, it is someone at the Command Staff level who is responsible for providing quality control to the incident management processes and implementations of the organization.  While I’ve just recently read this paper and haven’t had a lot of time to digest the concept, I really can’t find any fault with the concept.  While the planning process itself is supposed to provide some measure of a feedback loop, there isn’t anyone designated in the organization to shepherd that process beginning to end and ultimately provide the quality control measures necessary.  In practice, I’ve seen this happen collaboratively, among members of the Command and General Staff of a well-staffed structure, as well as by the individual who has the best overall ICS insight and experience in an organization – often the Planning Section Chief.  The authors elude to this position also feeding an AAR process, which contributes to overall preparedness.  I like this idea and I hope it is explored more, either formally or informally.

Conclusion

There are a number of other topic areas of this paper which I haven’t covered here, but I encourage everyone to read on their own.  As mentioned earlier, I’d like to see more of the research papers that come from FEMA’s Emergency Management Executive Academy available for public review.  Agree or disagree with their perspectives, I think their discussions on various topics are absolutely worth looking at.  It’s these discussions like these which will ultimately drive bigger discussions which will continue to advance public safety.

I’m always interested in the perspectives of my readers.  Have you read the paper?  What do you think of the discussion topics they presented?

© 2017 – Timothy M Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

 

In a POETE State of Mind

One of the searches that has most often brought people to my blog over the last couple of years has been POETE.  In case you forgot, POETE stands for Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising.  If you conduct an internet search for POETE, there are very few relevant results.  Along with a few of my blog posts, there are a couple of articles published by others, and a few FEMA documents that include obscure references to POETE.  Sadly, there is nothing available that provides (official) guidance, much less doctrine.

Why is it that such a great tool has so few tangible references?  Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that.  I hope that will soon change.

POETE was most widely indoctrinated several years ago as an analysis step within the State Preparedness Reports (SPRs), which are annual submissions completed by every state, UASI (Urban Area Security Initiative-funded program), and territory.  Note: The SPR templates and guidance are generally not publicly posted, as they are sent directly to the points of contact for each jurisdiction – thus they generally don’t come up in internet search results.

The SPR is a step beyond the THIRA (Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Analysis), which is a very in-depth hazard analysis.  The SPR examines each jurisdiction’s level of preparedness for hazards, referencing the 32 Core Capabilities.  Each Core Capability is then analyzed through the lens of POETE.

As a conceptual example, let’s use the Operational Communications Core Capability.  The POETE analysis will examine the jurisdiction’s preparedness by examining:

  • Planning (are plans adequate? Have they been tested?  What improvements need to be made?);
  • Organizing (are there organizational barriers to success? What human operational communications resources are available?  Are there gaps?  Have teams been exercised? What improvements need to be made?);
  • Equipment (does the jurisdiction have equipment necessary for operational communications? What needs are there relative to the resource management cycle?);
  • Training (what training has been provided? What training gaps exist?  When/how will they be addressed?);
  • Exercises (what exercises have been conducted that include the operational communications Core Capability? What were the findings of the AAR/IPs?  What future exercises are scheduled that include this Core Capability?).

Along with answering a few questions on each element, jurisdictions are asked to rate their status for each POETE element for each Core Capability.  If they look at their reports submitted historically, they can see the measure of progress (or lack thereof) with each.  They also have a tracking of identified action items to help them improve their measure of preparedness.

While this analysis can be quite tedious, it’s extremely insightful and informative.  Often, stakeholders have conceptual ideas about the state of preparedness for each Core Capability, but absent conducting this type of in-depth analysis, they rarely see the details, much less have them written down.  Documenting these helps with recognition, awareness, tasking, tracking, and accountability.  It’s a valuable activity that I would encourage all jurisdictions and organizations to conduct.

What else can POETE be applied to?  In the past few years, POETE is being included in DHS preparedness grants.  They often want applicants to identify key tasks within the POETE structure, and awardees to chart progress along the same lines.

I’ve advocated in the past to use the POETE structure in improvement plans, which are a step beyond after action reports from exercises, events, and even incidents.  Having key activities identified across each POETE element for the Core Capabilities analyzed is extremely helpful, and ensures that issues are being identified comprehensively.

Using the POETE concept across all preparedness efforts helps to tie them together.  By documenting each element for each Core Capability, you will have full visibility and reference to your current status and what needs to be improved upon.  It helps drive accountability, a comprehensive approach, and reduces duplication of efforts – especially in larger organizations.  While implementing such a program will take some investment up front to begin to identify, organize, and chart progress and establish an organizational system to do so, I feel it’s an investment that will pay off.

I’m hopeful that the use of POETE continues to see adoption across all of emergency management and homeland security, and that it is further reinforced as a standard through DHS, FEMA, NFPA, and other organizations which hold sway for settings standards and/or requirements.

How does your organization, agency, or jurisdiction use POETE?

© 2017 – Timothy M Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Grading Preparedness Training

While there is an abundance of training available in public safety, emergency management, and homeland security, do we have enough training available on the foundational preparedness activities?  By which, I mean Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising – or POETE.  There is a wide variety of training available on tactics and application of skills, which is certainly important to our preparedness, but what is available (in the United States, by necessity of focusing this article) to help bolster our foundational preparedness skills?  Let’s look at each.

Exercises

For purposes of making comparisons throughout each of these preparedness elements, I actually want to start at the end of the POETE acronym, with Exercises.  At a glance, there seems to be a significant number of courses available to teach people how to design, conduct, and evaluate exercises.  To begin, there are a variety of exercise training courses available from FEMA’s Independent Study program, both foundational as well as hazard or function specific, such as those for radiological exercises or continuity of operations.  Independent Study courses provide an excellent overview of topics, but, by nature of the medium, generally don’t allow for an in depth analysis of the information or interaction with an instructor or other students.  So if you’ve taken the Independent Study courses and you need more information, what’s next?

Basic-level classroom-based training in exercises have all but disappeared.  Most of these programs, such as Exercise Design or the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) course were historically offered by the state emergency management offices, but are no longer listed by FEMA as available state-sponsored training, which is quite a shame since this is generally how the greatest needs are often met.  FEMA offers the new Exercise Design course, which is part of the Basic Emergency Management Academy, but is only offered directly through FEMA, either as a field delivered course or at the Emergency Management Institute.  FEMA also offers the HSEEP course as a ‘local delivery’, meaning that the course can be delivered at locations around the country, but this typically happens with much less frequency and volume than state-sponsored training, especially for a program that is so necessary to our preparedness efforts.  FEMA also offers the HSEEP course as an instructor-led webinar, which does help address some issues of accessibility and volume, but I feel misses the need for this being a classroom based course.  Some states are still conducting classroom versions of Exercise Design and HSEEP, along their own customized exercise-related training to meet needs which continue to exist in their states.  Technically they can, although FEMA isn’t supporting those courses with updated content.  There is also an issue with FEMA only permitting their own local or webinar-based deliveries of HSEEP to meet the prerequisite for the Master Exercise Practitioner (MEP) program.

MEP is designed to be an advanced program, with three week-long courses generally taken in-residence at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.  In full disclosure, I am not a MEP.  Not sure if I ever will be, but given the feedback I’ve received over the years about the program, I’m not likely to until it gets an overhaul.  While I’m sure the MEP is great for many who take it, the more experienced exercise practitioners I speak with have much concern about it not being advanced enough, mentioning that a lot of time is spent reviewing basics that should have been learned in courses prior.  And while many people mention that the out of class activities designing discussion-based and operations-based exercises are good, they do little to enhance learning for those who have been doing this for a while.  Granted, it’s understood that you can’t make everyone happy, and with an advanced class you always run the risk of people coming in who already have experience at the level of the course or higher.  That said, MEP has become an industry standard accomplishment, and I’d like to see the program exceed more people’s expectations.  Grade: B

Planning

Let’s now go back to the beginning of POETE with Planning.  There are a fair amount of courses out there that teach people how to plan.  Again, FEMA’s Independent Study program offers courses not only in foundational aspects of planning, but also those with consideration toward various hazards and functions.  At the next level, there are also quite a number of courses which are locally delivered, by state emergency management offices, FEMA, and other training partners such as TEEX or the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium; with courses cutting through various taxonomy levels and addressing foundational planning activities as well as those that are hazard and function specific.

There are courses available, both locally delivered, as well as in-residence at locations like EMI, CDP, or TEEX, to address a variety of planning related interests within the broad realm of public safety, emergency management, and homeland security.  A vast number of courses, which may not be specifically for planning, can certainly support planning efforts for certain populations, hazards, and functions.  Some states offer courses on emergency planning, either as self-sustained versions of the Emergency Planning course which is now only an Independent Study course and not supported by FEMA as a classroom delivery, or home grown courses.  Emergency planning is such an important and foundational topic that it must be more accessible.  While there are some courses on planning for recovery and mitigation, we need to support this as well – planning is not reserved solely for response.

The reason why I started the discussion of this post with Exercises is because they have the MEP program.  Regardless of the possibility of the program needing an overhaul, the concept of the MEP – that being an advanced level program – is certainly a best practice that should be reflected across these other preparedness elements.  I’ve heard a rumor of a Master Planner Program, similar to a MEP, being piloted within the last couple of years, but I’ve not seen anything official on it as of yet.  Overall, in regard to training courses for planning, I’d like to see a more cohesive approach, along with a ‘master level’ program.  Grade: B-

Organizing

Training on Organizing is not as direct of a topic as the others, but it is addressed, although I think this is another area that could be bolstered.  Most training on the topic of organization needs to dig not only into the foundational concepts of emergency management, which will aid in recognizing the resources and relationships that exist, but training in coordination, supervision, and management also need to better addressed.  FEMA does offer some very basic courses in their Professional Development Series which begin to address some of this.  There also exists the National Emergency Management Academies, but despite these being segregated into ‘Basic’, ‘Advanced’, and ‘Executive’, they are still largely offered only at EMI, which limits accessibility, especially at that area in the middle where most people need support.  We can also consider that the Incident Command System (ICS) provides us with some important support to the Organization capability element… take a look at my commentaries on available ICS training here.  Other training opportunities that support training for the organizational element can be found from non-emergency management sources, such as programs that address more traditional staff development and management concepts.  Often seen as ‘soft skills’, we shouldn’t ignore these training opportunities which help us to work within and understand organizations better.  Grade: C

Equipping

Training on Equipping is something else we don’t often seen as being offered by FEMA or the consortium entities.  Much of the training on equipment is and should be offered by the people who are specialists in the equipment or systems used.  This can range from the EOC management system you use to the interoperable communications equipment in your mobile unit.  The manufacturers and other subject matter experts should be delivering the initial training on this.  Ensure that training materials are provided so you can continue to train new staff or offer refresher training as needed.

If we look at the Equipping capability element in its broadest sense, however, we should consider the entire continuum of resource management.  This is an area where we see some training available from our traditional emergency management sources, including a few Independent Study courses and some classroom courses, including those addressing the responsibilities of the ICS Logistics Section.  It appears to me that there is a training gap here, as much of emergency management and incident management center on the resource management cycle, from preparedness through recovery.  While there exists an Independent Study course reviewing the concepts of resource management within NIMS, I have yet to see a solid, comprehensive, performance-level course on resource management that is practical for emergency management personnel.  Grade: D

Training

Training on Training… To my core, I’m a trainer, so I happen to have some strong feelings about how trainers and instructional designers (certainly different activities and not necessarily the same people) are trained and supported.  Broadly, in emergency services, the fire service has various levels of fire instructor courses and law enforcement has some courses available for instructor development.  Even in EMS we teach our instructors how to train.  Depending on the course, these programs can help refine platform delivery skills, or teach someone how to actually build curriculum (important note: a bunch of PowerPoint slides is NOT a training course… that’s a presentation).  In emergency management, there exists a state-delivered FEMA course on instructional presentation and evaluation skills, which is rarely seen delivered, but some states strongly use it to build and sustain their trainer cadre.  At a slightly more advanced level, FEMA offers the Trainer Program (formerly the Master Trainer Program).  Within this program are two tracks – the Basis Instructor Certificate and the Basic Instructional Design Certificate.

As a graduate of the Master Trainer Program, I was sad to see it go.  Despite some curriculum revisions and streamlining, the need wasn’t supported.  While I understand and somewhat agree with the initial intent of the course, the six courses that made up the program were a significant commitment.  The job of training also isn’t seen to be as sexy as exercises, so comparatively, the MEP program had fared better.  FEMA’s separation of instruction from instructional design was a wise move, as some jurisdictions don’t do much course development, but do need to develop platform instructors.  While advanced courses in training and instructional design are no longer available from FEMA, they can be obtained from sources like the Association for Talent Development (formerly the American Society for Training and Development), but at a not insignificant cost.  Grade: B-

Assessment

Just when you thought we might be done… I often like to include Assessment in with POETE.  I believe assessment is a necessary activity within preparedness to identify where we stand, where we need to be, and evaluate efforts on an ongoing basis.  Assessment is an interesting topic to identify training on.  Within the realm of emergency management training, there is really little that directly supports assessment, yet most courses can by providing us with better information on projects, concepts, and applications.  These provide us the context in which to assess, but there still isn’t much out there to tell us how to assess.  We need to assess our plans, our organization, equipment, training, and exercises.  Sometimes we find some guidance that can help us, such as broad planning standards in CPG 101 or specific checklists on evaluating hazard mitigation plans.  Guidance and job aids are great, but having a critical eye to assess programs and projects is something that must be trained.  Big gap here.  Grade: D

Where this leaves us…

Average Grade: C

While C is a passing grade, it’s not great.  It’s closer to failure than it is to excellence.  We have some great training programs out there, but there are certainly training gaps that exist in these key preparedness activities.  While standards have been established for some of these activities (standards should exist for all of them!), training must support this guidance to ensure that it is followed (historical perspective: some training programs took quite some time to incorporate standards, such as HSEEP).  Further, training must be kept current to ensure that best practices and improvements are embraced and communicated.  One-and-done training may not be suitable for these topics.  All of this informs training need, which we must constantly assess to identify what training is needed, for who, to what degree of expertise, and by what delivery method.  The bottom line is that for people to conduct these important preparedness activities, they need to know how to do it and they need to stay up to date on the standards of practice.  Those who set the standards and those funded to support implementation must always pay heed to the training needs surrounding them.  There must also be a balance in training… we need to minimize burdensome, extraneous training and instead maximize quality, practical training that will build capability.

Trends

A great deal of homeland security funds are spent on the development of training across the nation by state and local entities, resulting in some incredible and innovative courses (as well as some rather mundane ones) which meet local needs.  This is a great program and should certainly continue.  Things to watch out for, though…  Many of these courses can be utilized regionally or nationally to support needs, but they may require modifications.  Additionally, while I will rarely discourage any jurisdiction from meeting training needs they might have, we do run the risk of developing non-standardized training across the nation.

Over the past 15 years, we have certainly seen an increase in the variety and volume of courses available from FEMA and consortium entities.  The training they offer is generally fantastic, but now we are faced with the other side of standardization – some courses are too generic, as they need to be applied nation-wide.  Additionally, while scheduling of these courses, particularly the locally delivered ones, has become streamlined and easy through state training officers, many courses have a significant wait list, with some courses being scheduled out not just months, but years.  This significantly delays the progress of preparedness efforts in many areas across the nation.

Overall, the number of state-delivered courses supported by FEMA has appeared to steadily decrease over the past few years.  Certainly one reason for this is the lack of staff and staff time at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute to support these courses and keep content relevant.  This is generally no fault of EMI, as their funding allocations have not supported staffing for these purposes as of late.  As a former state training officer, I suggest that states and regions are in the best position to identify and track training needs and to deliver a great deal of courses, certainly at the awareness and performance/operations level, and some at higher levels.  These programs, however, need to be supported with expertise, funds, and regional collaboration.

Interested to hear your thoughts…

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC Your Partner in Preparedness

Preparing to Use the Incident Command System

For a bit of context, if you haven’t already read them, please take a look at these other ICS related articles I’ve posted:

Incident Command System Training Sucks

ICS Training Sucks… So Let’s Fix It

Preparedness – ICS is Not Enough

The crusade to improve ICS training and implementation continues…

We invest a lot of time and effort into training people in the use of the Incident Command System (ICS).  However, as a broad statement, the training we provide is massively inadequate.  We don’t actually train people to do anything – we simply tell them about ICS through an increasingly repetitive and complex series of courses.  At the risk of being repetitive myself, I refer you to the articles linked above for many of my foundational thoughts on the current state of ICS training.

The ICS core training curriculum aside, we – as both individuals and organizations – need to be better prepared to actually use ICS.  The thought that people are able to use ICS the minute they walk out of an ICS course is totally and completely false.  By ‘use ICS’, I don’t mean to simply function within an organizational chain of command that uses ICS, I’m referring to being a driving force within the system itself.  ICS isn’t something that happens automatically, it requires deliberate and constant actions.  This typically involves functioning at the Command or General Staff levels, but also within many of the subordinate positions which are absolutely critical to managing a complex incident and driving the system.

So how do we prepare to use ICS?  I often refer to the preparedness capability elements of POETE (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising) when I’m talking about preparedness activities.  These same concepts apply here.  We need to remember that planning is the foundation of all preparedness efforts.  If it’s not documented, then why are we doing it?  So we have to have plans, polies, and procedures which call for the implementation of ICS and direct us in the nuances of how we will manage an incident.  I’m sure everyone’s plan has taken a page from the NIMS Doctrine and includes language about the requirement to use NIMS and ICS.  That’s all well and good, but like many things in our plans, we don’t reinforce these things enough.

I’m not talking about simply giving NIMS and ICS lip service.  I’m talking about procedure level integration of these concepts.  This begins with good planning, which means plans that are implementation-ready.  Would you consider your plans implementation-ready?  Do they describe how to use the ICS structure and concepts to actually implement the plan?  Maybe yes, maybe no.   If not, your team has some plan updating to do.

Your organization must be ready to respond using ICS.  That means that everyone is familiar with their assigned roles and responsibilities.  Often ICS training falls short of this.  This article: Training EOC Personnel – ICS is Not Enough, details many of the reasons why, at least for an EOC environment.  Many of the points made in the article, however, can be reasonably applied to other environments and organizations.  While ICS provides us with overall concepts, the application of those concepts will differ for various organizations and locations.  Every location, county, region, and state have different protocols which must be integrated into incident management practices.  (Refer back to planning).  Our organizations, both those that are static as well as those which are ad-hoc (assembled for the response to a particular incident or event) need to be ready to act.  This means familiarity not only with ICS or our specific applications of it, but also with our plans.  How often do ICS courses actually talk about the implementation of emergency plans?  Rarely.  Yet that’s what we are actually doing.  Do you have people assigned to ICS roles?  Are they ready to take on the responsibilities within these roles?  Do you have backups to these positions?  I’m not necessarily talking about a formal incident management team (IMT), although that may be suitable and appropriate.  Absent an IMT, the responders within a jurisdiction or organization should have a reasonable expectation of the role/roles they will play.  This helps them and your organization to be better prepared.

The implementation of ICS generally doesn’t take much equipping, but there are some basics.  Responders love radios and we use them often.  How about people who aren’t traditional responders, but may be called on to function with your ICS organization?  Do they know how to use a radio?  Do you have a standing communication plan to help you implement their use?  How do you track incident resources?  I didn’t just ask about fire service resources – I mean all resources.  Do you have a system for this?  T-Cards are great, but take training and practice to use them – plus they require that all responders know their responsibilities for accountability.  The same goes with a computer-based solution.  For whatever equipment or systems you plan on using, you must ensure that they are planned through and that people are very familiar with how to use them.

Training… I think I’ve talked about the need for better ICS training quite a bit, so I’m not going to continue with that point here.  What I will mention is a need for refresher training and jurisdiction-specific training on incident management.  This isn’t necessarily ICS focused, but it is ICS based.  For many years now, FEMA has believed that by including three slides on NIMS in every training program that they are helping with NIMS compliance.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  You have to actually talk about how these concepts are key to implementing plans.  Responders need to be familiar with the emergency management system they are working within.  Train people to the plans and procedures.  Let them know who is in charge of what and when, who the decision makers are, and any other training needs identified in the earlier POETE activities.  Prepare them to implement ICS!

Lastly, exercises.  Incident management should be something that is practiced and tested in almost every exercise.  Applying these concepts is not something we do on a regular basis, therefore knowledge and skills erode over time.  Certainly we have to be familiar with the system, not just at an awareness level but at a functional and operational level.  Regardless of the state of the current curriculum, that involves practice.  Exercises don’t have to be elaborate, remember that they can range from discussion-based to operations-based.  Table top exercises are great to talk things through, drills are good for focused activities, and even full-scale exercises can be small and contained.  So long as the exercise is designed, conducted, and evaluated well, that’s what counts.  Don’t forget that evaluation piece.  The feedback to the entire system (plans, organization, equipment and systems, and training) is extremely important to continued improvement.

This is public safety, not a pick-up kick ball game.  We can do better.

Thanks for listening… what are your thoughts?

Does your organization or jurisdiction need help preparing to implement ICS?  Emergency Preparedness Solutions can help!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Training

This is my fourth article in a series examining how organizations can gauge their return on investment for various emergency management and homeland security preparedness projects.  These were inspired by an original article I wrote called Measuring Return on Investment in Emergency Management and Homeland Security: Improving State Preparedness Reports.  The POETE model (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, Exercising) helps us to identify all activities related to preparedness.  Thus far, we have covered:

Planning

Organizing

Equipping

If you haven’t already reviewed these articles, check them out for additional context and information.  Within each, I outline the general activities within the preparedness element, and identify the potential costs and benefits of these activities to the organization.  While some costs and benefits are direct (meaning we can readily identify them in terms of currency), most are not, and require some measure of analysis.

We put a lot of money (and faith) into training as a central preparedness activity.  And why shouldn’t we?  Training, by definition, is a transfer of learning.  We have a lot of information to communicate to our staff and other stakeholders, with the goal of that information collectively becoming a body of knowledge, and a vision of these people applying what they have learned to future circumstances.

In emergency management and homeland security we train quite a bit, with some training being required by organizational, local, state, national, international, or federal standards; while other training will help develop and advance staff.  We include HR-required training; soft skills like communication, leadership, decision making, and the like; as well as technical skills such as emergency planning, exercise design, and incident management.  Emergency management and homeland security are broad fields of practice, which intersect public safety, public health, and other essential government and social functions.  Most emergency management and homeland security practitioners have roots in one or more of these fields and typically continue receiving training relative to those as well.

Training comes from a variety of sources including our home organizations, local and county governments, state government, private and not for profit entities, and the federal government.  Particularly for training that is sponsored by a government entity, most training is ‘free’.  In the US, federal training entities, such as FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute, also reimburse travel expenses and provide lodging for all levels of government employees.  On the surface, the cost of most emergency management and homeland security training is fairly low.

Of course depending on perspective, the cost of training can vary.  As a former state training officer who managed all emergency management related training delivered across my state, I could identify our agency’s cost of training.  This would include our staff admin time for course prep and record keeping, the cost of duplicating participant manuals, any costs associated with the hosting facility (although we usually utilized no cost facilities), the cost of paying our instructors for their time and travel, and, if applicable, any lodging and/or meal costs for participants who may have traveled a distance.  These costs, however, are only part of the picture.

What about the cost to the organization that is sending people to be trained?  Directly, this is salary time in which little to no work is actually being accomplished for the organization.  The organization may also be footing the bill for travel costs for their participants.  Depending on who is sponsoring the training, there may be a fee for the course.  Indirectly, what is the cost of that employee being away?  Who is doing their work?  This often depends on the organization and the position the individual holds in that organization.  Firefighters, police officers, health care professionals, and others may be covering shifts that will still need to be filled, especially if policies or union contracts require certain staffing levels.  Sometimes this backfilling isn’t as simple as changing schedules, as most employees are already scheduled at full time status.  Therefore, someone may need to be paid overtime to fill this position for the duration of the training.  Perhaps the learner themselves is being paid overtime to tend to priority tasks outside of training hours.  Maybe others can simply absorb some extra tasks while this person is gone, or the learner will be swamped for some period of time once they return from training.  Each of these mechanisms, all dealing with productivity, has a cost associated to it.

Training can get expensive, which is why it’s often one of the first activities cut when an organization’s budget gets tight.  We try to minimize the cost of training through a variety of practices such as shorter training days, online training, and local training.  These, however, have various impacts on the organization’s ability to obtain the training as well as the overall effectiveness of the training.  Sometimes we simply defer the training, but the organization may have little choice, particularly with mandated training.

So what benefits can training provide?  As mentioned, I have quite a bit of background as a trainer and training manager.  I’d love to tell you that training has the greatest of all benefits, but that would be a complete lie. Just like any other preparedness activity, it has to be properly applied.  Training won’t fix everything.  I’ve written a lot of pieces on training in my blog… just search for ‘training’ and you will find plenty of articles about how training should/shouldn’t be applied.  With that caveat, training can have great benefit.  Not only can it make people more effective and efficient in their jobs and related tasks, it can also help defer liability from the organization.  Training also has benefits which more directly apply to the learner vs the organization, such as providing background for advancement and/or promotion (which can be internal or external to the organization).  There are many practices in emergency management and homeland security for which training aids in health and safety, not only of the staff member who took the training, but also of others.  In training, the impacts can go pretty far… you just have to follow the bouncing ball.  As an example: Jane gets trained in how to write emergency plans.  The emergency plans she writes will help the organization respond more effectively in the event of a disaster.  When the organization responds more effectively, lives and property are protected.  While this is a great ideal outcome, it makes for some difficulty in determining the benefits in terms of currency.

Often, the most direct benefits from training are rooted in compliance and proficiency.  Organizations have a variety of compliance matters they have to meet.  These obligations may be HR driven, required by an executive, a higher level of government, an accreditation body, or a funding source.  Safety matters are also usually linked with a compliance matter.  I often try to associate training activities to these requirements.  Sometimes we can directly link a financial benefit to these compliance matters, while other times compliance is simply factually stated.  Second is proficiency.  People need to stay current in essential skills.  This might require regularly recurring training for staff, well as training for new staff.  Staff need to be proficient in new procedures, software, and equipment operation.  Certain staff may need to be trained to more advanced levels.  Gauging the benefit in financial terms for proficiency is generally more difficult, although the need for the training is apparent.  The benefit simply needs to be extrapolated.  For instance, if the training is in a new process, what is the time and/or quality difference between the old process and the new?

As mentioned earlier, it is often times not easy to determine the financial return on investment for many of our activities.  We need to dig deep and identify quantifiable metrics which can be examined before and after we apply our preparedness activity.  We must assign reasonable currency figures to those metrics to help us and other decision makers better understand our investment and the benefits it will potentially bring.

Soon I’ll be wrapping up this series with the last key preparedness activity – exercises.  As always I’m happy to hear your thoughts on how we can better identify the returns on our investments in preparedness activities.  As a resource, I’d encourage you to search Training Magazine (trainingmag.com), which often has articles on analyzing the return on investment in training.

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Equipping

I’ve written previous posts on our preparedness investments and how we can gauge our return on those investments.  Following the POETE model (planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises), I’ve so far covered some considerations for Planning and Organizing.  This piece will focus on identifying our return on investment for Equipping.  Equipment can be anything from a new fire engine, to a generator, a UAV/drone, a radiological detection device, or incident management software.

Equipping is generally a preparedness activity in which we can more easily identify what our actual investment is.  Unlike Planning, which requires varying amounts of time from a number of people, or Organizational efforts which sometimes have rather esoteric costs, when we purchase or maintain equipment, we usually have a receipt in hand.

Functioning in the bureaucracies we do, however, we tend to add complexities.  We form committees to find the best equipment we can, we leverage our own staff time to keep it maintained, and we often have other associated costs, which reflect back on the other POETE elements… at least we should.  In addition to the cost of the equipment itself, let’s look at what the associated costs could be.

Every significant equipment purchase, first of all, should stem from an identified need.  Maybe it’s a critical element of a process, it’s called for in a plan, or the need was identified in an after action report.  Perhaps you are upgrading or expanding application of a certain piece of equipment?  Regardless, your organization must invest some time to ensure the equipment will meet your needs and how it will impact your operations.  This activity, generally referred to as Assessment, if often rolled into the Planning element.  Once we do obtain the equipment, we also need to plan.  We need to ensure the use of the equipment is accounted for in our plans.  Perhaps it’s as simple as adding it to a resource inventory, or as complex as creating processes or procedures that address its use.

Organizationally, you may need to task an individual or even assemble a team which will be responsible for the care and operation of the equipment.  This, logically, leads to Training.  People need to be properly trained in not only the use of the standard use of the equipment, but also the circumstances which it will be used as well as any processes or procedures for use which are unique to your organization.  Consider what degree of proficiency these individuals may need in the operation of the equipment.  Is it just basic operation, or is there a need for something more advanced?  Will recurring training be needed to maintain proficiency or to train additional people in the future?  Will anyone be trained in higher level maintenance of the equipment?

Exercising the equipment, its effectiveness, and the ability of your resources to use the equipment is essential.  Lastly, we often don’t consider the costs of maintaining and storing the equipment.  It may need replacement parts or regular servicing, which even done in-house, has an associated cost.  It may have certain storage requirements to ensure the safety and readiness of the equipment.

Now that we’ve outlined potential costs or investments, how do we know those investments have made a difference for your organization?  To determine this, we must first look at the original need.  What actually defined the need for the equipment?  Was it to replace something older and less reliable?  Was it to enhance response time?  Was it because of safety?  Did the need identify inefficiencies in previous practices and systems?  Did the new equipment meet that need?

To dig further, what was the value of that need?  To identify this, we should look at the metrics associated with that need.  If the new equipment replaced something aging, we can look at the maintenance costs and down time over a certain period of time for the older equipment.  If it was to shorten response time to get a certain capability on-scene, we should be able to identify the time metrics as well as the difference that equipment makes once it is on scene (eg. a fire department which previously had to call mutual aid to get jaws of life on scene, vs purchasing a set of jaws and having them on scene much faster).  We can associate a dollar-value cost to many of these metrics.

Was there any additional value which the equipment brought your organization?  Perhaps the added capability decreased your insurance rates or made you eligible for a particular industry certification?  Are there any indirect cost savings because of the new equipment?  Does the new equipment somehow aid in generating income?

There are many considerations when it comes to any of our investments to ensure that they are sound, responsible, and reasonable.  Often we need to identify the value of an investment before it is made, but we should certainly keep track of that value after the investment as well.

Need help with planning?  Gap analysis?  Resource inventories?  Maybe with the training or exercising associated with new equipment or other preparedness needs? Contact EPS!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC 

The POETE Analysis – Emergency Planning and Beyond

POETE stands for Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising. These are the five elements that each jurisdiction should be examining their own capabilities by. By examining their capabilities through each of these elements, a jurisdiction can better define their strengths and areas for improvement.

The POETE analysis, often completed as part of a THIRA (Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment) is actually a component of the State Preparedness Report (SPR), which incorporates THIRA data into this annual submission. When properly conducted, a POETE analysis will examine a jurisdiction’s capability targets. These capability targets, through the THIRA process, are individually defined by each jurisdiction, based upon the capability definitions of each of the 31 Core Capabilities. The Core Capabilities were identified in the National Preparedness Goal and are an evolution of the legacy Target Capabilities. Gone are the days when many jurisdictions struggled with the definitions of the Target Capabilities and trying to determine how they applied to jurisdictions large and small across the nation. The new Core Capabilities are divided amongst five mission areas – Prevention, Protection, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation. By referencing Core Capabilities in our preparedness efforts, we have a consistent definition of each area of practice.

When a jurisdiction’s stakeholders conduct a POETE analysis, each element is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 – a rating of 5 indicating that the jurisdiction has all the resources needed and has accomplished all activities necessary for that element within that capability area. Using the Core Capability of Fatality Management as an example the jurisdiction will identify a desired outcome and from that a capability target. CPG-201, the guidance published by DHS/FEMA for conducting a THIRA, outlines this process in detail and provides the following capability target for illustrative purposes:

“During the first 72 hours of an incident, conduct operations to recover 375 fatalities.”

The jurisdiction will examine their efforts and resources for each POETE element for this capability target. Below are thoughts on what could be considered for each element:

Planning: What is the state of their plans for mass fatality management? Do they have a plan? Is it up to date? Does it address best practices?

Organizing: Are all stakeholders on board with mass fatality preparedness efforts? Is there a member of the community yet to be engaged? Are lines of authority during a mass fatality incident clear?

Equipping: Does the jurisdiction have the equipment and supplies available to handle the needs of a mass fatality incident? Are MOUs and contracts in place?

Training: Do responders and stakeholders train regularly on the tasks associated with managing a mass fatality incident? Is training up to date? Is training conducted at the appropriate level?

Exercising: Have exercises been conducted recently to test the plans and familiarize stakeholders with plans and equipment? Has the jurisdiction conducted discussion-based and operations-based exercises? Have identified areas for improvement been addressed?

The jurisdiction’s responses to these questions and the subsequent ratings provided for each POETE element will help them identify areas for improvement which will contribute to the overall capability. From personal experience, I can tell you that the discussions that take place amongst stakeholders which reveal both the efforts applied for each element as well as the frustrations and barriers to progress for each are generally quite productive and great information sharing sessions. It is important to capture as many of the factual elements of this discussion as possible as they add context to the numerical value assigned. Having the right people participating in the effort is critical to ensuring that inputs are accurate and relevant.

Once the POETE analysis is completed, what’s next? As mentioned earlier, the POETE analysis is actually a required component of the annual State Preparedness Report, which must be submitted to FEMA/DHS by each state and territory. Ideally, the results of the POETE analysis should be translated from raw data (numbers) to a narrative, explaining the progress and accomplishments as well as future efforts and barriers; in other words, the ratings should be factually explained and these explanations should feed an actionable strategic plan. The priority rating inherent in the THIRA process will help establish relative priority for each Core Capability within the strategic plan. While this is a requirement for states and territories, a comprehensive strategic plan for any emergency management and homeland security program at any jurisdictional level is obviously beneficial and would reflect positively in an EMAP accreditation.

POETE elements should be incorporated into other emergency management activities as well. When needs are identified and defined based upon Core Capabilities, these should be outlined in the jurisdiction’s multi-year Training and Exercise Plan, which should serve as a guiding document for many preparedness activities. The focus that a POETE analysis provides for each Core Capability can help identify training objectives which can help maintain and improve capability

Consider integrating them into your evaluation of exercises. While the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) doctrine makes no mention of POETE, much of HSEEP is based upon capabilities. With a POETE analysis being an integral component of measuring our progress toward a capability, I would suggest including it into exercise evaluations. POETE elements can be included in Exercise Evaluation Guides (EEGs) to capture evaluator observations and should be outlined in the After Action Report (AAR) itself for each observation – giving suggestions for improvements based upon each POETE element. Consider how you could incorporate the POETE elements into an AAR as an outline identifying areas for improvement for the EOC management activities of the Operational Coordination Core Capability. As an example:

Planning: The jurisdiction should update the EOC management plan to incorporate all critical processes. Job aids should be created to assist EOC staff in their duties.

Organizing: Lines of authority were not clear to exercise participants in the EOC. Tasks were assigned to agencies but status of tasks was not effectively monitored.

Equipping: There were not enough computers for participating agencies. EOC management software did not facilitate tracking of resources.

Training: EOC agency representatives were not all trained in the use of EOC management software, creating delays in action and missed assignments. The EOC Manager and Planning Section Chief were well versed in the Planning Process and used it well to facilitate the Planning Process.

Exercising: Isolated drills should be conducted to test notification systems on a regular basis. Discussion based exercises will assist in identifying policy issues associated with suspension of laws and their impact on EOC operations.

The POETE analysis is a process which can help us identify strengths and areas for improvement within our emergency management and homeland security programs. While the POETE analysis can be time consuming, the information gathered for each Core Capability is valuable to any preparedness effort. With such a variety of federally-driven programs and requirements extended throughout emergency management and homeland security, we can find the greatest benefit from those which have the ability to cross multiple program areas – such as the Core Capabilities – allowing us to consolidate the evaluation of these programs into one system, providing maximum benefit and minimizing efforts.

Have you conducted a POETE analysis for your jurisdiction?  Did you find it a worthwhile process?

Looking for help with a POETE analysis?  Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC can help!  www.epsllc.biz 

© 2014 Timothy Riecker