Planning for Preparedness

Yes, planning is part of preparedness, but organizations must also have a plan for preparedness.  Why?  Preparedness breaks down into five key elements  – remember the POETE mnemonic – Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising.  I’m also in favor of including assessment as a preparedness element.  Needless to say, we do a lot when it comes to preparedness.  Each of these elements alone involves significant activity, and together there are opportunities for activities to be synchronized for maximum benefit.  In smaller organizations, these elements may be addressed by one or two people, which itself can be challenging as these are the same people running the organization and addressing myriad other tasks.  In larger organizations each element alone may be addressed by a number of people, which also provides a complication of synchronizing tasks for maximum benefit.  Either way, as with all project and program management, without a plan of action, we may forget critical tasks or do things out of order.

By establishing a preparedness plan, we can address many of these issues.  The plan can be as detailed as necessary, but should at least identify and address requirements (internally and externally imposed) as well as benchmarks to success.  But what do we plan for?

Assessment – Yes, I’m including this as an element.  Assessment is something we should constantly be doing.  Just as we strive to maintain situational awareness throughout an incident, we have to be aware of and assess factors that influence our state of readiness.  There are a variety of assessments that we do already and others that can be done as they relate to the other five elements.  In fact, assessments will inform our preparedness plan, helping us to identify where we are and where we need to be.  We can review after action reports from incidents, events, and exercises to determine what improvements must be made.  We can research best practices and examine funding requirements, legal requirements, and standards such as EMAP or NFPA 1600 which can broadly influence our programs.  We assess current plans to identify what our gaps are and what plans need to be revisited.  We can assess our organization to determine if staffing is maximized and that policy, procedure, and protocol support an agile organization.  The status of equipment can be assessed to determine what is operational and ready to deploy.  We can conduct a training needs assessment to identify what training is needed; and lastly, we can assess opportunities to exercise.  Not only should our assessments inform what needs to be accomplished for each of the POETE elements, but regular assessment check ins and activities should be identified, nay planned for, within our preparedness plan.  Consider what else can inform our preparedness plan.  A recent hazard analysis, THIRA, or state preparedness report (SPR) can feed a lot of information into a preparedness plan – especially the state preparedness report, as it is specifically structured to identify POETE gaps.

Planning – We should always examine what we have.  If plan reviews aren’t scheduled, they often fall to the wayside.  Plan review teams should be identified for each plan, and a review schedule or cycle established.  Benchmark activities for plan review activities should also be identified.  The need for new plans should also be highlighted.  Based on standards, requirements, best practices, or other need, what plans do you organization need to assemble in the next year or two?  Again, identify benchmarks for these.

Organization – Assessments of your organization, either as direct efforts or as part of after action reports or strategic plans can identify what needs to be accomplished organizationally.  Maybe it’s a reorganization, an increase in staffing levels, an impending change in administration, expected attrition, union matters, or something else that needs to be addressed.  As with many other things, some matters or organization are simple, while others are very difficult to navigate.  Without a plan of action, it’s easy to allow things to fall to the wayside.  What changes need to be made?  Who is responsible for implementing them?  Who else needs to be involved? What’s a reasonable timeline for making these changes happen?

Equipping – Many logisticians are great at keeping accurate records and maintenance plans.  This measure of detail isn’t likely needed for your preparedness plan, but you still should be documenting the big picture.  What benchmarks need to be established and followed?  Are there any large expenditures expected for equipment such as a communications vehicle?  Is there an impending conversion of equipment to comply with a new standard?  Are there any gaps in resource management that need to be addressed?

Training – Informed by a training needs assessment, a training plan can be developed.  A training plan should identify foundational training that everyone needs as well as training needed for people functioning at certain levels or positions.  Ideally, you are addressing needs through training programs that already exist, either internally or externally, but there may be a need to develop new training programs.  A training plan should identify what training is needed, for who, and to what level (i.e. to steal from the hazmat world – Awareness? Operations? Technician?).  The plan should identify who will coordinate the training, how often the training will be made available, and how new training will be developed.

Exercises – We have a standard of practice for identifying exercises into the future – it’s called the multi-year training and exercise plan (MYTEP).  While it’s supposed to include training (or at least training related to the identified exercises), training often falls to the wayside during the training and exercise planning workshop (TEPW).  The outcomes of the TEPW can be integrated into your preparedness plan, allowing for an opportunity to synchronize needs and activities across each element.

Just as we do with most of our planning efforts, I would suggest forming a planning team to shepherd your preparedness plan, comprised of stakeholders of each of the elements.  I envision this as a group that should be in regular communication about preparedness efforts, with periodic check-ins on the preparedness plan.  This engagement should lead to synchronization of efforts.  Identify what activities are related and how.  Has a new plan been developed?  Then people need to be trained on it and the plan should be exercised.  Has new equipment been procured?  Then people should be trained in its use and plans should account for the new or increased capability.

Like any effort, endorsement from leadership is necessary, especially when multiple stakeholders need to be brought together and working together.  Many emergency management and homeland security organizations have positions responsible for preparedness, often at the deputy director level.  The formation and maintenance of a comprehensive preparedness plan should be a foundation of their efforts to manage preparedness and forecast and synchronize efforts.

Does your organization have a plan for preparedness beyond just a multi-year training and exercise plan?  What elements do you tie in?  Do you find it to be a successful endeavor?

Do you need assistance in developing a preparedness plan?  Contact us!

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

Water System Preparedness

For at least the past eight years or so, I’ve kept tabs on what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been doing for emergency preparedness for water systems.  Their efforts, spearheaded from their Water Security Division, include information on comprehensive emergency management activities – mitigation and resilience, surveillance and response, preparedness, and more.  Their website offers a plethora of resources, not only for water utilities and systems operators, but for others as well.  These resources include tools and guidance for conducting risk assessments, creating emergency plans, building resilience, developing a training and exercise plan, and conducting exercises.  These resources and tools all help to de-mystify emergency management systems and help to build a bridge into the emergency management world.  While they provide information on certain hazards, such as flooding or criminal activity, their approach, overall is all-hazards.  The EPA includes links to ICS and other FEMA training, as well as other agencies, and encourages water systems to interact with other agencies at the local, state, and federal level.

Back in November of last year, I gave a review of the TEEX course MGT: 342 Strategic Overview of Disaster Management for Water and Wastewater Utilities.  Those who work with or for water utilities would certainly benefit from attending this training and reviewing the EPA’s Water Security Division website.  Water is an important component of our Critical Infrastructure, with dependencies cascading across all other sectors.  These resources strengthen and support our continued preparedness within these sector, while also adding to whole community preparedness.

The EPA Water Security Division provides a quarterly e-newsletter, to which you can subscribe to stay abreast of their tools, resources, and information.

© 2016 – Timothy M. Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC Your Partner in Preparedness

Five Guidelines for Creating Effective Disaster Exercise Injects

While there is a lot of important and necessary planning that takes place before the development of exercise injects can even be considered, injects themselves are where the proverbial rubber meets the road.  How we craft those injects can often times make or break the conduct of the exercise.  Injects provide context, as if the events of the exercise were occurring in real life.  While we try to avoid delivering injects that directly prompt player responses, injects will often provide information which will lead players to react to the information provided.  Here are five guidelines to help you develop effective exercise injects:

  1. Injects must be purposeful and each one must relate back to one or more exercise objectives. Far too often we see injects that have no real bearing on the objectives of the exercise.  These are simply distractions and lead to busy work.  Keep things focused.  Just a few well-crafted injects can engage a number of players in active discussion or activity.
  2. Realistic injects are a must. While there will always be a grumble from some people claiming that something would ‘never happen that way’, due diligence must go into ensuring that injects are as realistic and grounded as possible.
  3. Be aware of who an inject would actually originate from. A common mistake I see is injects being scripted to originate from inappropriate sources.  This distracts from reality.  Also, injects should never originate from a player.
  4. Be flexible and aware. Sometimes players accomplish what they need to without an inject.  In that event, there may not be a need to use that inject.  Similarly, players may not respond to an inject as expected, so further action on the part of the Facilitators/Controllers/Simcell may be needed.
  5. Always have backups! As you build your Master Scenario Events List (MSEL), maintain a side list of contingency injects that can be used to speed up or slow down the exercise, or to address occurrences where players did not respond as expected.

Thoughts and ideas on these and other guidelines are always welcome!

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC Your Partner in Preparedness!

ICS Training (Still) Sucks… One Year Later

Just over a year ago, I posted my article Incident Command Training Sucks, which to date has been viewed almost 2000 times on the WordPress blog platform, alone.  Since then, I’ve written several more times on the necessity to change the foundational ICS training curriculum in the US to programs that are focused on application of ICS in initial and transitional response instead of just theory and vague instruction.  I am greatly appreciative of all the support these articles have received and the extra effort so many have taken to forward my blog on to the attention of others.  These posts have led to some great dialogue among some incredible professionals about the need to update ICS training.  Sadly, there is no indication of action in this direction.

A recent reader mentioned that it often ‘takes guts to speak the truth’.  It’s a comment I appreciate, but I think the big issue is often complacency.  We settle for something because we don’t have an alternative.  Also, I’ve found that people are reluctant to speak out against the current training programs because there are so many good instructors or because the system, foundationally, is sound.  My criticisms are not directed at instructors or the system itself – both of which I overwhelmingly believe in.  I’m also not being critical of those who have participated in the creation of the current curriculum or those who are the ‘keepers’ of the curriculum.

Much of the existing curriculum has been inherited, modified from its roots in wildfire incident management, where it has served well.  While adjustments and updates have been made through the years, it’s time we take a step away and examine the NEED for training.  Assessment is, after all, the first step of the ADDIE model of instructional design.  Let’s figure out what is needed and start with a clean slate in designing a NEW curriculum, instead of making adjustments to what exists (which clearly doesn’t meet the need).

Another reader commented that ‘The traditional ICS courses seem to expect the IC to just waive their hands and magically the entire ICS structure just would build beneath them’.  It is phrases we find in the courses such as ‘establish command’ or ‘develop your organization’ that are taken for granted and offer little supporting content or guides to application.  The actions that these simple phrases point to can be vastly complicated.  This is much of the point of Chief Cynthia Renaud’s article ‘The Missing Piece of NIMS: Teaching Incident Commanders to Function on the Edge of Chaos’.  We need to train to application and performance – and I’m not talking about formal incident management teams, I’m talking about the responders in your communities.  The training programs for incident management teams are great, but not everyone has the time or ability to attend these.

I’m hoping that my articles continue to draw attention to this need.  Perhaps the changes that come as a result of the final NIMS refresh will prompt this; hopefully beyond just a simple update to the curriculum giving us a real, needs-based rewrite.  As I’ve mentioned before, this is public safety, not a pick-up game of kickball.  We can do better.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

How Prepared are US Households?

Within the 2013 American Housing Survey, the United States Census Bureau asked US residents how prepared they were for disasters.  They assembled a great infographic on their findings, which can be found here.  Thanks to Jason S for posting this on LinkedIn last week! (commentary below)

Measuring America: How Ready Are We?

I find many of the numbers to be interesting, and am quite honestly skeptical of several of them.  I’m sure the methodology of the Census Bureau’s survey is sound, but I question some of the results based upon my own interactions with the public regarding preparedness.  I’d be interested in seeing the questions.  I did a bit of digging around and found the Census website for the American Housing Survey, which is located here.  There are a variety of data tables available, including breakdowns related to these preparedness questions, but nothing that I can find that specifically provides the questions.  From what I’ve seen, it appears the survey was only conducted in major metropolitan areas around the US.

Emergency Water Supply: 54.3% of households state that they have at least three gallons of water for each person in the household.  This number seems high to me.  I’m left wondering if some people may have thought this included tap water?

Non-Perishable Emergency Food: 82% of households said they have enough non-perishable food to sustain their family for three days.  Have you looked in your pantry lately?  I fully agree with this number.  You may not be able to make full meals or have them be nutritionally balanced, but I do believe that most pantries can provide adequate sustenance for a family for three days.

Prepared Emergency Evacuation Kit: 51.5% of households say they have one.  Really?  I’m not convinced.

Emergency Meeting Location: 37.4% of households say they have an identified emergency meeting location.  While the number still might be a little high, I think it’s within a realistic range.

Communication Plan: 33% of households say they have a communication plan which includes a contingency for the disruption of cell service.  Same as the previous item, perhaps a little high, but I think it’s in the ballpark.

Evacuation Vehicles: 88.6% of households say they have a vehicle or vehicles able to carry all household members, pets, and supplies up to 50 miles away.  I did a bit of digging around, and this number seems accurate, as about 90% of US households have vehicles.  I’m a bit surprised about how high the number is considering that this survey canvassed major metropolitan areas, though.

Evacuation Funds: 69.8% of households said they have access to up to $2000 in the event of evacuation.  In all, between cash and credit, I can believe this number.  They may have to get out of the disaster area, however, to access funds electronically.

House or Building Number Clearly Visible: 77.5% of households said they have this.  Having worked as a firefighter and EMT for many years, I’d agree that somewhere between 2/3 to ¾ of building numbers are visible.

Generator Present: 18.3% of households say they have a generator present.  All in all a sound number, I believe, but perhaps a bit high for urban areas.

Access to Financial Information: 76.8% of households say they have access to their financial information.  This is a question I’d like to see the wording on, but aside from taking time to dig through old bills, I’m skeptical.  Emergency Financial First Aid Kits are a great idea and should be maintained regularly.

I’m hopeful that many of these numbers are reflections of reality, but even if they are we have a long way to go.  One of the best resources out there is WWW.READY.GOV.  Everyone should check it out and make some progress toward individual and family preparedness.  First responders and emergency managers – this means you, too!

What are your thoughts on these statistics?  Those of you in other nations – what kind of preparedness data have you seen for your country?

Stay safe!

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

 

2016 National Preparedness Report Released

The fifth National Preparedness Report has been released by FEMA.  The National Preparedness Report is based upon, as the report states, input of more than 450 data sources and 190 stakeholders, including 66 non-federal organizations (which would account for state preparedness report submissions and information from Urban Area Security Initiative regions).  The report is intended as a summary of where the nation stands in regard to each of the 32 Core Capabilities outlined in the National Preparedness Goal.

As mentioned, this is the fifth National Preparedness Report to hit the streets.  While they have some value and demonstrate that the data collection that is done is actually collated, I feel that through the years they are offering less meat and more potatoes.  I appreciate the highlighting of best practices for each mission area, but, to me, there is a missed opportunity if a report is simply providing data and not recommendations.  While it’s understood that the goal of the National Preparedness Report is not to provide recommendations (it would also take longer to publish the report, and the people pulling the data together do not likely have the expertise to create recommendations), I’d like to see FEMA (and stakeholders) have follow up efforts to provide recommendations in each mission area and not miss this valuable opportunity to then apply the findings and look forward.

Below, I’ve included their overall findings with a bit of my own commentary.  Overall, I will say that there is nothing eye opening in this report for anyone who pays attention.  It’s pretty easy to guess those Core Capabilities which are at the top and those which are at the bottom.

  • Planning; Public Health, Healthcare, and Emergency Medical Services; and Risk and Disaster Resilience Assessment are the three Core Capabilities in which the Nation has developed acceptable levels of performance for critical tasks, but that face performance declines if not maintained and updated to address emerging challenges.
    • My commentary: BULLSHIT.  If these Core Capabilities are at ‘acceptable levels’, then our standards must be pretty low.  Planning is the one that disturbs me most.  We continue to see plenty of poor plans that are not realistic, can’t be operationalized, and are created to meet requirements (which are typically met by formatting and buzzwords).  Have we improved?  Sure.  But I wouldn’t say we are at ‘acceptable levels’.  As for Public Health, Healthcare, and Emergency Medical Services, we are struggling in certain areas to simply keep our heads above water.  While we are fairly solid in some areas of public health, one only needs to look at the Ebola incident to view how fragile our state of readiness is.  The findings for Planning and Public Health, to me, are nothing but shameful pandering and we need to get realistic about where we are at and the challenges we face.  Gold stars won’t stand up to the next disaster.  As for Risk and Disaster Resilience Assessment I have admittedly less experience personally.  I do know that we have some pretty incredible tools available that can help us determine impacts of various hazards for any given area under a variety of conditions, which is an amazing application of technology.  My concerns here are that there are still many who don’t know about these tools, don’t use them, and/or don’t follow the findings of information from these tools in their hazard mitigation actions.
  • Cybersecurity, Economic Recovery, Housing, and Infrastructure Systems remain national areas for improvement. Two additional Core Capabilities – Natural and Cultural Resources, and Supply Chain Integrity and Security – emerged as new national areas for improvement.
    • My commentary: NO KIDDING. While we have made a great deal of progress on Cybersecurity, we are still far behind the criminal element in most respects.  It also needs to be fully recognized in the National Preparedness Goal that Cybersecurity is a Core Capability common to all five mission areas.  Economic Recovery will always be a challenge, as every community impacted by an incident has a certain way it heals, essentially along the lines of Maslow’s Hierarchy.  A strong local economy is important to this healing, ensuring that the community has access to the resources it needs to rebuild and a return to normalcy.  While I’m sure studies have been done, we need to examine more closely how the economic recovery process evolves after a disaster to identify how it can be best supported.  Housing is the absolutely most challenging Core Capability in the National Preparedness Goal.  While I don’t have a solution for this, I do know that our current approaches, philosophies, and ways of thinking haven’t moved us an inch toward the finish line on this one.  We need to change our current way of thinking to be successful.  As for Infrastructure Systems, I could go on for days about this.  I’ve written previously, several times, (as have many others) on the critically fragile state of our infrastructure.  It’s no big secret.
  • States and territories continue to be more prepared to achieve their targets for Response Core Capabilities, while they are least prepared to meet their targets in the Recovery Mission Area.
    • This is another NO KIDDING. While we must always have a greater focus on Response, as that’s where lives are saved and the immediate danger is addressed, we can’t lose sight of Recovery.  Some recovery activities are more clear cut than others, and FEMA often muddies the waters more by inadvertently intimidating state and local governments when it comes to disaster recovery, as the focus becomes centered more on reimbursable activities vs doing what needs to be done.  The report included some interesting findings (take a look in the Recovery Mission Area drop down on the web site) on ‘mixed trends in exercising recovery capabilities’.  Again, this is nothing earth shattering, but it’s nice to see the matter addressed.  Yes, we clearly need to exercise Recovery Mission Area Core Capabilities better and more often.

These reports are always worth looking through, even though much of the information is generally known by those of us in the profession.  There are always little nuggets of learning available, and data from the report may be used to support your own endeavors for additional funding or resources for your own program.

As always, I’m interested in your insights and thoughts on this post and the National Preparedness Report.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – Your Partner in Preparedness

 

Exercising the Recovery Mission Area

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I get pretty excited about it – I got a blog request!  Last week, Darin, a LinkedIn connection, messaged me with a request to post my thoughts on exercising the recovery phase (or mission area) of emergency management.  His idea, as he expressed it to me, came from discussion at a Public Health Preparedness conference he was attending, where they were discussing ESF 8 (Public Health and Medical Services) continuity of operations and recovery exercises.  Challenge accepted!

When it comes to Recovery exercises, my first thought is that they are horribly underutilized.  We conduct a lot of exercises in the Response mission area, but it’s a rare occasion that we even mention Recovery.  The reasoning here is pretty easy – Response is sexy.  It’s the lights and sirens, saving lives, put out the fire, pull people from the wreckage kind of stuff that makes a big impact.  Recovery is often viewed as slow, tedious, bureaucratic, engineering kind of stuff.  Well… yeah… but there is a lot more to it.  Since when we plan exercises, one of the first things we do is to identify what Core Capabilities will be tested, let’s look at the Core Capabilities of the Recovery Mission Area.  Within each, I’ll mention some ideas you can incorporate into exercises.

The Big Three – Planning, Operational Coordination, and Public Information and Warning.  These Core Capabilities are found in every mission area and are sometimes applied differently.

  • Planning – Yeah, we should have recovery plans. I would argue that we have entered the recovery phase when all or most of the first two incident management priorities have been addressed – Life Safety and Incident Stabilization.  Sometimes these are resolved quickly, sometimes they take some time.  There are some fairly complex issues to be addressed in the recovery phase (many of which we will identify through the Core Capabilities), and we don’t do them often, therefore we should most certainly plan for them.  Remember, we exercise plans and capabilities – therefore our plans (and policies and procedures) are a significant focus when it comes to Recovery exercises.    This Core Capability is where continuity of operations plans will also fall.  Can your organization survive the lasting impacts of a disaster?
  • Operational Coordination – Recovery activities often involve organizations that had little to no activity during the Response phase. Most of these organizations are non-traditional responders who don’t usually operate under more strict command and control models, such as ICS, but in the Recovery phase of a disaster, I certainly advocate that they do.  Many of these agencies, typically the human services types of organizations, are very good at coordination and cooperation, as their daily priorities dictate that working with others is how needs are addressed.  The big challenge we often see here, though, is the introduction of some other organizations – typically those with regulatory responsibilities.  Regulation usually requires bureaucracy.  Bureaucracy usually requires time – lots of time – especially when exceptions are requested.  It’s really important to consider all stakeholders when planning an exercise to ensure that you get a chance to see how they interact, what the information flow and chain of authority looks like, what benefits they bring, and how they can work together in a timely fashion for the common good.
  • Public Information and Warning – We often take for granted the role of public information and warning in the Recovery phase. There are many benefits to keeping external stakeholders informed of what’s going on during Recovery.  Consider elected officials, business and industry, and special interest groups, along with the general public.  Your PIO and possibly your JIC should be just as involved in Recovery phase exercises as they are in those for the Response phase.

Aside from the ‘big three’, the Recovery mission area shares a Core Capability with the Response mission area – Infrastructure Systems.  Long-term restoration and rebuilding of infrastructure can lead to lengthy discussions in a Recovery-focused workshop or tabletop exercise.  What are the priorities for rebuilding?  Who will do it?  How will it be funded?  What are the completion timelines?  Will it be rebuilt the same or differently?  What are the impacts of doing it differently?  Who is impacted by this?  What do we do while we are waiting for it to be rebuilt?  Who makes decisions?  All important things to consider.

The first unique Core Capability in the Recovery mission area is Economic Recovery.  I was recently asked to present at a conference for a niche professional association comprised of professionals found in government, private sector, and non-profits.  While we will be covering topics in Hazard Mitigation and Preparedness, the biggest focus will fall within Economic Recovery.  Economic Recovery involves businesses reopening and people getting back to work to serve customers, make money, and become customers themselves.  After a disaster, it is absolutely vital for a community to get back on its feet, and the center of that is the local economy.  While many disaster impacts may be a relative drop in the bucket for larger companies, smaller businesses may have a hard time recovering – the central pieces of this are infrastructure restoration (see previous paragraph) and cash flow.  The SBA, USDA, and even IRS have mechanisms to assist with cash flow issues.  And don’t forget insurance!  Bring these and other stakeholders to the table to discuss economic recovery.  Consider priorities and mechanisms that must be in place to meet needs to support these priorities.  Your local chamber of commerce and other business associations will certainly want to be part of these exercises.  Does your jurisdiction have a business operations center (BOC)?  If not, consider it.  If you do, exercise it!

Health and Social Services.  This is the heart of all matters related to ESF 8 (Public Health and Medical Services), which Darin mentioned.  While this Core Capability is an extension of the Response mission area Core Capability of Public Health, Healthcare, and Emergency Medical Services; it is also so much more.  ESF 8 activity after disasters can last months or even years, particularly with ongoing issues such as medical monitoring and psychological impacts.  Eventually many of these services are absorbed into the system of regular service providers, but for a time the circumstances of the disaster may require some special coordination or monitoring.  The coordination needed involves an amalgamation of organizations at all levels of government, not for profits, and the private sector.  This can involve ongoing coordination with insurance companies, general practitioners and specialists; and must address the needs of everyone fairly and consistently, regardless of any differences, including their own financial resources or insurance coverage.  Tracking data related to the care and services provided is often important, but consideration must be given to HIPAA and other privacy laws.  Exercises can benefit from scenarios, such as exposures to radiological, biological, or chemical sources, which will drive discussion on the types of services to be provided, who will provide them, at whose cost, and for how long.  Many of these discussions should include topics of how to avoid social stigmatization of clients, sharing information between organizations, and the full range of social services that individuals and families may require.

Housing is typically the hardest nut to crack in all of disaster recovery.  Relative to need, there is little government owned housing stock available.  What is available may require waiting lists and relocation to access.  While many home owners are insured, we know that it takes some time for home owners to receive payment from insurance companies, and insurance is rarely at 100% coverage for losses.  Those that don’t own their own homes are often the left with the most dire situations.  While ‘FEMA trailers’ have provided some medium-term solutions, there are many issues to address.  I posit that plans at all levels are inadequate to address housing needs after a disaster.  If you have a plan, get a good exercise team to write a great scenario to test it.  If you don’t have a plan, conducting a workshop to identify and address major planning issues is the way to go.  A housing exercise is probably going to be one of the more eye opening yet depressing exercises you’ve ever done.

Lastly is the Core Capability of Natural and Cultural Resources, which focuses on the recovery of libraries and museums, documents and art, as well as helping to restore our own environment after a disaster.  Activities can range from restoring a historical landmark to major engineering projects to restore a wetland.  These activities can involve a great deal of technical expertise as well as regulation.  FEMA, the EPA, and the National Parks Service are often big players in these types of activities.

As for what types of exercises to conduct, that’s largely dependent upon the status of your plans and if you have conducted exercises on these plans before.  I always suggest starting with discussion-based exercises.  We often forget about seminars, which are more about conveying information than obtaining feedback, but are still valuable for discussing initiatives and new plans.  Workshops not only support the planning process to develop plans, they can also serve to facilitate a detailed review of a plan in its final draft stages.  Most Recovery exercises I have experience with have been tabletop exercises, which use a scenario to provide context to discussion questions for a group of stakeholders.  This is a great way to exercise decision making and to talk through the key tasks associated with plans.  Disaster recovery involves a lot of policy-level decision making, which is ideal for a tabletop.

Operations-based exercises for disaster recovery are found much less often.  Drills can certainly be conducted to test focused aspects of plans and procedures.  Drills in Recovery can help identify strengths and weaknesses of our processes, both for ourselves and for those we are trying to serve.  Functional exercises are broader and more encompassing than drills.  Much can be gained from a Recovery mission area functional exercise, but make sure that it’s grounded in reality.  Most jurisdictions don’t have an EOC activated for Recovery mission area activities. If you don’t, don’t try to run an exercise within that environment.  Some functions, however, may be run, at least for a time, from some sort of operations/coordination center, such as a health operations center (HOC).  With a good scenario focusing on addressing longer-term issues in the aftermath of a response, they can be done successfully.  Be sure to develop a pretty solid ‘ground truth’, however, to support the exercise, as much of Recovery is dependent upon what was done in Response, so players will need this context.  With a bit more complication, a functional exercise could be run virtually, with people participating from their own regular work stations as they often do during Recovery operations.  Testing Recovery plans in full scale exercises is significantly challenging based on the array and type of activities.  Because of the focus of activities, continuity of operations plans are likely among the most suited for full scale Recovery mission area exercises.

I’m curious to hear about your experiences exercising Recovery mission area plans and capabilities.  What ideas do you have?  What best practices have you found?

As always, thanks for reading!

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – Your Partner in Preparedness!

Course Review – RDPC Isolation and Quarantine

IQLast week I had the opportunity to take two courses sponsored by the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium (RDPC), MGT 433: Isolation and Quarantine for Rural Communities and PER 308: Rural Isolation and Quarantine for Public Health and Healthcare Professionals.  These courses together were completed in one day.

First came MGT 433.  This course covered a variety of topics associated with isolation and quarantine, including:

  • Case studies
  • Legal and ethical issues
  • Agencies and entities involved
  • Planning priorities
  • Resources

While the course is intended for rural audiences, which my home area generally is, the issues and considerations associated with isolation and quarantine are still largely the same for more densely populated areas.  While weaving through the various course topics, they mostly all related back to understanding the reasoning behind the use of isolation and/or quarantine as tools to limit the spread of certain communicable diseases and the planning and implementation associated with these activities.  The course did elevate my rather foundational knowledge of isolation and quarantine, and provided some great references for future application.

The second course, PER 308, didn’t really provide much more information than the previous course did, although it allowed an opportunity for a greater degree of analysis and discussion through a guided tabletop exercise.  The tabletop information from the participant manual was supplemented with several video segments which were produced with reasonable quality and help set the stage for many of the issues one would expect from dealing with an isolation/quarantine event.

Both courses were pretty solid, with only a few little tweaks or updates which I provided feedback on to the instructor.  As with most RDPC courses, those from larger agencies and more populated areas shouldn’t be dissuaded from participating – the foundational concepts they present are applicable to any area, rural or otherwise.

The instructor was very personable, professional, and knowledgeable of the course content.  While he didn’t have a public health background, which surprised me given the course topics, he clearly has a great cooperative public safety background.  I’ve found that the RDPC tends to prefer sending only one instructor to teach a course, along with an assistant to handle administrative matters.  While it’s certainly viable to handle the course alone, it’s challenging for both the instructor and the audience.

All in all, these are good courses, and I do recommend you keep a look out for them in your area.  Both courses are excellent for furthering your understanding of isolation and quarantine, when to use them, how to use them, and who to involve.  They are particularly good courses for public safety leadership and public health leadership and preparedness staff.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

The NIMS Refresh – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The current National Incident Management System (NIMS) doctrine document, dated December 2008, has guided NIMS for over seven years.  This iteration, as I recall, wasn’t much of a change from its predecessor (2004), with the most significant updates being some changes to the NIMS components and the inclusion of the concept and arrangement of the Intelligence function within ICS.  We now have a new draft NIMS document which has been posted for a national engagement period.  If you haven’t had a chance to review the document, it can be found here.

While I certainly intend on providing my comments directly to FEMA through their feedback mechanism (which I encourage you all to do), I wanted to provide a bit of an overview of the draft document to my readers, which of course will include some of my opinions on the changes they are proposing.  I remain a huge proponent of NIMS and fully believe in the positive impact it has had, although I have been quite outspoken (and will remain so) about the issues associated with ICS training.

In this NIMS refresh, as they are calling it, there are some significant changes to certain areas while largely maintaining the foundations of the system.  The significant changes include:

  • NIMS has consolidated its five components to three, dropping the components of Preparedness and Ongoing Management and Maintenance.
  • The introduction of the Center Management System (CMS) as part of the restructured Management and Coordination (formerly Command and Management) component
  • Incorporation of the NIMS Intelligence and Investigations Function Guidance

First off, the consolidation of the five NIMS components to three.  While I’m disappointed with the preparedness component being deemphasized, especially with so much preparedness work to always be done, I found many of the concepts of preparedness to be sprinkled throughout the document, including a nod to the National Preparedness Goal (NPG) in the introduction of the draft document.  The NPG should certainly be the guiding document of all preparedness efforts related to emergency management.  While there are some aspects that are NIMS-specific, I’m fairly confident they won’t get lost in the shuffle.  Withdrawing the Ongoing Management and Maintenance component, similarly has seen some of these activities being mentioned elsewhere in the document, although only a few of them, with some of the important elements simply not being apparent.

In my review of the document, I was pleased with the inclusion (albeit small) of the concept of Unity of Effort as a newly introduced guiding principal of NIMS.  Unity of Effort is an concept essential to the success to all components of emergency management and homeland security and certainly in incident management.  This is definitely a positive.

Credentialing – the first major component discussed in the document is Resource Management.  Within Resource Management is the concept of credentialing.  Despite an intent of the document being to emphasize that NIMS isn’t just about ICS, the narrative on credentialing essentially focuses only credentialing through use of a position task book – which is generally only used for ICS positions.  While this is an important element of personnel qualifications, credentialing of personnel within ICS positions is not the only aspect of personnel qualifications.

Based upon the content of the NIMS Intelligence and Investigation function guidance published a few years ago, the NIMS refresh has officially decreed that the Intelligence and Investigations function will reside at the general staff level.  You might recall that the previous version of NIMS allowed for several options, including general staff, command staff, or imbedded within Planning or Operations.  While the flexibility of ICS is one of its greatest benefits, people didn’t seem comfortable with all those options.  It’s not to say those options still can’t be employed for incidents involving much smaller or potential criminal components, as the option of placing a technical specialist in any of those positions is still available.

Next up, the long awaited Center Management System (CMS).  To be honest, I’m not crazy about the name, and I’m not sure we need fully developed separate guidance on operations/coordination centers.  I feel that specific application of ICS concepts to an operations/coordination center should be kept simple and would be an addendum to the ICS portion of the NIMS document.  That said, the NIMS refresh has saw fit to include a whole section on the CMS as part of the revamped Management and Coordination component, so we’ll break down some of the highlights.  It’s important to note that the CMS is expected to be guidance and not a requirement.

While I can live with the introduction of a formal Center Management System, they have chosen to declare the title of the individual in charge of an operations/coordination center a Center Director.  If there is anything that I 100% disagree with in this document, it’s this title.  Let’s step back and look at the principles of ICS, which, thankfully ,the CMS is largely based upon.  From our common organizational terminology, we know that those in charge of facilities (which an operations/coordination center is) are called managers, not directors.  Directors are found at the branch level.  It’s for this reason I have always been in favor of the Center Manager title and will continue to be.

A positive about the CMS narrative is the important mention of a policy group, as a MAC concept, as those providing advice or direction to the Center Director.  Not only is the policy group a reality in many jurisdictions, inclusion of this in the CMS is an excellent compromise to those systems which centered on a policy group and operations group as their EOC organization.

Within discussion of the CMS, the NIMS refresh identifies primary functions or reasons a center might activate.  While they are headed in the right direction, they need their explanations to be a bit more inclusive of other options.  They only make a minor mention of the possibility of an incident actually being run from an operations/coordination center, such as a public health incident, which could be a departmental operations center or some type of a multi-agency operations center.  I just think this needs to be shored up some.  It should also be mentioned that EOCs may take primary responsibility for actions that are decided to be outside the scope of incident command, which may desire to remain focused on incident suppression activities.  Activities such as sheltering/mass care, evacuation, or assessment and evaluation may be run out of an EOC instead of an ICP.

Now on to the CMS organization.  Along with the Center Director, the NIMS refresh has tried to make several other positions distinct from their ICS counterparts (although not all of them).  While I certainly acknowledge that the focus of an operations/coordination center is often different than that of an ICP, I see little reason to change the titles of some of these positons.  I think this has more potential to add to confusion rather than detract from it.  While the command staff (yes, still being called ‘command staff’) positions have remained the same, the following has been identified as the CMS general staff positions:

  • Strategic Operations Section
  • Intelligence/Investigations Section
  • Information and Planning Section
  • Resource and Center Logistics Section
  • Finance/Administration Section

As for some of the specific language within the sections, there are some positives.  Two particular ones are the inclusion of ‘future planning’ within the Information and Planning Section, and the acknowledgement that in most EOCs, the Logistics Section/Resource and Center Logistics Section tends to handle tracking of resources.

There is additional and expanded information on the CMS found in Appendix B.  These show some different organizational arrangements, particularly within the Information and Planning Section and the Resource and Center Logistics Section.  All in all, I think these proposed arrangements are practical and a reflection of reality in most operations/coordination centers.  Well done.

Lastly, Communications and Information Management has included mentions of different reports which may be required, including flash reports, status reports, and situation reports.  This is a good reflection of reality. They have also listed important considerations for elements of essential information (EEI) (I’d love to see this list added to a field operations guide!), which must be constantly monitored for the maintenance of situational awareness, and they have bolstered the incident information portion of this component.  All great positives!  Interesting to note that the term ‘common operating picture’ has been significantly de-emphasized.

After reviewing this document, I’m overall encouraged with the direction NIMS is taking, although I obviously have some reservations.  I’m confident that, over time, the kinks will shake out as they have done with other aspects of NIMS.  I’m looking forward to some of the other changes that will spin off of this central document, such as new planning guidance and training.

As always, I’m interested in your feedback on my ideas as well as your own reactions and analysis of the NIMS refresh.

Thanks for reading!

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness SolutionsYour Partner in Preparedness

7 Emergency Management Priorities for the Next Administration

Heritage.org recently published a piece outlining the top four homeland security priorities for the next administration, which can be found here.  It’s a thought provoking article that certainly identifies some important issues.  In the same spirit, I’d like to offer what I think are the emergency management priorities for the next administration.

1) Support an Effective FEMA Organizational Model

The Heritage.org model pointed out several issues with the DHS organization that need to be addressed sooner rather than later.  I’d like to add some FEMA-specific items to their suggestions, regardless of if FEMA is kept within DHS or not (honestly, I think that ship has sailed and FEMA is there to stay).

In building a bit of background for this article, I took a look at FEMA’s current strategic plan, knowing that the document already identifies some of their priorities.  Within in that list of priorities, they mention mission and program delivery, becoming an expeditionary organization, posturing and building capability for catastrophic disasters, and strengthening their organizational foundation.  To me, these four all directly relate to their organizational model.

Along with having a strong central administration of programs, FEMA needs to have agility in their program delivery.  This is best accomplished through the FEMA regional offices, which act as an extension of the ‘central administration’ by coordinating directly with states and neighboring regions to apply those programs in the best possible manner within the guidelines of the program.  While this is currently performed, it is not performed to the greatest extent possible.  John Fass Morton provides some great perspective on this approach in his book ‘Next-Generation Homeland Security’.  Info on the book can be found here.

2) Bolster Risk Reduction Programs

I write often about preparedness, as that has always been a focus of my career.  Risk reduction, however, is essential to eliminating or reducing the impacts of hazards on communities.  Risk reduction includes all aspects of hazard mitigation and resilience, which are ideally applied at the local level but supported by state and federal programs, policies, and resources.

While the National Weather Service has implemented and promoted the StormReady program, which encourages community resilience, the best program we have ever had in our field is Project Impact.  I’d love to see a revival of Project Impact (call it that or something else – I don’t really care), incorporating the concepts of StormReady as well as other best practices in risk reduction.  A big part of this program MUST be incentivization, especially access to funds that can be applied for in the present for hazard mitigation activities.

3) Build a Better Cybersecurity Program

This item was added to the list by a colleague of mine.  It’s also found on the Heritage.org list.  It must be pretty important, then.

Yes, there are a LOT of initiatives right now involving cybersecurity, but I think there can be more.  Jon, the same colleague who suggested this for my list has also stated repeatedly that cybersecurity is really a Core Capability that cuts across all mission areas – Prevention, Protection, Response, Mitigation, and Recovery.  The recent update of the National Preparedness Goal suggests this, but sadly doesn’t commit.

What do we need in regard to cybersecurity?  First of all, we need to demystify it.  There are plenty of people out there who have just enough tech savvy to turn on their computer, send some email, and post to Facebook.  While that may work for them, they are likely intimidated by talk of cybersecurity, hackers, and the like.  We need to continue programs in plain speak that will help to inform the average consumer about how to protect themselves.

Better coordination with the private sector will pay off heavily when it comes to cybersecurity.  Not only is the private sector generally better at it, they also have a tendency to attract experts through better incentives than the government can offer, such as higher pay.  Cybersecurity also impacts everyone.  We’ve seen attacks of all types of systems.  The only way to stop a common enemy is to work together.  Let’s think of it as a virtual whole-community approach.

4) Prepare for Complex Coordinated Attack

Another of Jon’s suggestions.  While terrorism is often quickly shoved into the category of homeland security, there is a lot that emergency management can assist with.  These types of attacks (think Mumbai or Paris) have a significant impact on a community.  They require a multi-faceted approach to all mission areas – again, Prevention, Protection, Response, Mitigation, and Recovery.  While law enforcement is clearly a lead, they must be strongly supported by emergency management as part of a whole-community approach to be successful. Preparedness across all these mission areas must be defined and supported by federal programs.

5) Infrastructure Maintenance

We have roads, bridges, rail, pipes, and other infrastructure that MUST be maintained.  Maintenance (or replacement) will not only prevent failure of the infrastructure as a disaster itself, but will also make it more resilient to impacts from other disasters.  Yes, these are projects with huge price tags, but what alternative do we have?

6) Continuity of Existing Model Programs

There are few things more infuriating than a new administration wiping the slate clean of all predecessor programs to make room for their own.  While every administration is entitled to make their own mark, getting rid of what has been proven to work is not the way to do that.  Eliminating or replacing programs has a significant impact all the way down the line, from the federal program administrators, to the state program people, to the local emergency managers who are often understaffed and underfunded to begin with.

Changing gears is not as simple as using a different form tomorrow, it requires research and training on the new program and costs time to re-tool.  While I would never say there is nothing new under the emergency management sun, as I believe we are still innovating, I’m pretty skeptical of some new appointee walking into their job and making wholesale changes.  While improvements can certainly be made, summary execution of successful programs does no one any good.  Let’s not make change simply for the sake of change.

Related to this, I fully support the efforts of FEMA in the last few years to gain comprehensive input on changes to documents and doctrine through the formation of committees and public comment periods.  This approach works!

7) Pull Together Preparedness Programs

NIMS, HSEEP, NPG, THIRA, etc… While each of these programs have their own purpose and goals, more  can be done to bring them together.  I’m not suggesting a merger of programs – that would simply make a huge mess.  What I’m suggesting is to find the connections between the programs, where one leads to another or informs another, and highlight those.  Things like better application of the Core Capabilities within HSEEP exercises to have a more effective evaluation of NIMS capabilities (I suggested this while being interviewed for a GAO report), or referencing the THIRA when building a multi-year training and exercise plan.  While some jurisdictions may already do this, these are best practices that should be embraced, promoted, and indoctrinated.  These links typically don’t add work, in fact they capitalize on work already done, allowing one project/program/process to be informed or supported by another, creating efficiencies and supporting a synchronization of efforts and outcomes.

There is my list of seven.  What are your thoughts on the list?  There are certainly plenty of other ideas out there.  If you had the ear of the next President, what would you suggest be their administration’s emergency management priorities?

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness