Federal Coordination of All-Hazard Incident Management Teams

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Incident Management is a Technical Skill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

NIMS Change – Information and Communications Technology Branch

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Certificates and Certifications

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Legislative Advocacy in Emergency Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s take control of our practice.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

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

Applying What We’ve Learned

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Putting Together an Emergency Plan That’ll Prepare You for When Disaster Strikes

Back in April of 2020, Carla Lopez guested on my blog, writing Thriving After Your Small Business Closes, which gave some tips for dealing with the hard truths many small businesses experienced during the pandemic. Carla has returned with a new post about emergency planning with an eye on small businesses. My thanks to Carla for referencing EPS in her article! – TR

About Carla – Carla Lopez kept her entrepreneurial spirit even after retiring a couple years ago. She created Boomerbig.org for retirees who still desire to work and achieve – a site that offers business resources for people in their golden years.

As per the news reports, it’s become more and more apparent that natural disasters are occurring more frequently than ever before, largely in part due to climate change. As such, one can never be too prepared if a natural disaster should happen to you and your family. Here are some tips from Emergency Preparedness Solutions on how to prepare for the worst.

Keep on top of the potential hazards that could occur in your area

Because natural disasters are so varied in nature, ranging from tornadoes to earthquakes to flooding, it makes sense, then, to keep on top of the potential hazards that are unique to your area.

Stock up your disaster kit

Make sure to stock up on a disaster supply kit that’s ready to go at all times. Basically, this kit should include the most essential items that will keep you going for at least a few days should things suddenly come to a complete standstill. Items that you should pack ahead of time in one or two backpacks should include important documents such as your identification documents, insurance policies, passports, medical records, etc. And be sure to pack them away in such a way that it is safe from water damage. Other essential items to think about include a pair of spare clothing, toiletries, chronic medication, extra cash, sleeping bags, a first aid kit, etc.

Plan your escape route

SafetyCulture points out that you should establish an evacuation plan for every eventuality or for what’s most applicable to your country’s most probable disaster. In it, you could include details pertaining to where you would find the most protection in your home in the case of a tornado, how to find your quickest route out of the home in the case of a fire, and alternative routes out of your town if you had to evacuate quickly and the main roads were no longer accessible.

Protect your business

Make sure to confirm with your insurers that your home business will also be covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy should your home be destroyed in a natural disaster. And if your current insurance policy isn’t designed to protect your business assets if you work from home, then be sure to find out what will be by getting a policy that’s specifically for your business. Or if you would prefer to group everything under a single policy, you could try to get an endorsement on your existing policy to include cover for your home office.

Stay in touch-always

In the case of a natural disaster occurring, you should establish multiple ways of staying in contact with your loved ones if the signal is down, such as making use of a central point of contact who can vouch for your whereabouts if your family or friends can get a hold of you and vice versa.

Make a plan for your beloved animals too

If you’re a pet lover, you wouldn’t dream of leaving your pets behind in the midst of grabbing your essentials and rushing out the door to safety. That’s why it is also important to plan what the safety steps would be for your pet, too.

Familiarize yourself with the processes

You should also ideally practice the steps covered in the plan beforehand so that when the time comes it is instinctual as opposed to chaotically looking for solutions, which can lead to catastrophic mistakes at a time when your mind has to be at its clearest.

In summary

You can never be too prepared for the unexpected when the unexpected is what we’ve come to expect. Therefore, having a well-thought-out plan in place that can help to prepare you for every outcome is a great place to start when you’re faced with a scary event that’s beyond your control.

Image via Pexels

The Value of a Plan

Lately I’ve seen things circulating yet again which reflect on the old adage, one I’ve even used myself, that ‘plans are worthless, but planning is everything’. I believe this original quote is credited to Dwight D. Eisenhower, though the quote has been paraphrased and altered through the years. A point being made by this quote is that there is great value in the process of planning. The coordination between parties. The effort put into considering strategies and analyzing variables. Meeting people at the planning table for the first time instead of the heat of battle (or a response). And that such activity can have greater value than the documented outcome.

In recognition of these points, and with all due respect to Ike, I’ve grown tired of this quote and all derivations thereof. Why? Because plans are NOT worthless.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, plans CAN be worthless. I’ve seen plenty that fit this definition. But to lay a blanket over all plans, I think is an overgeneralization. In fact, it’s rather insulting to the time and effort put forth by the planning team and the plan writers and an insinuation of a waste of funds which may have been spent to support the process. If your plan is really that worthless, this is likely to be a reflection of a terribly executed planning process – which then really negates the spirt of the quote in the first place.

Yes, there is great value in the planning process WHEN DONE PROPERLY. But a well-executed planning process should also bring about a valuable plan. While I’ve never seen a plan address all circumstances of an incident with even moderate complexity, a well written plan should get you most of the way there. It should also lay the groundwork for getting you the rest of the way through moderate deviations from the plan and some improvisation. If you think of your plan as a roadmap, you need to anticipate and plan for the potential for multiple detours, GPS outages, potty breaks, and a flat tire or two. It’s a fundamental principle of emergency management that we need to expect the unexpected, which makes the unexpected not so unexpected after all.

If you approach planning with the anticipation that an incident will force you to deviate from your plan, accommodate that in the plan. As I’ve told people for years, don’t plan yourself into a corner. Give yourself outs. Identity contingencies and alternate strategies. Even if you don’t plot the entirety of the detour, identify the exits and give guidance for how the unknown might be navigated. Extreme detail for all possible alternatives will give us plans with hundreds or thousands of pages which no one will ever use.

Speaking of using plans, the disuse of plans might actually be the largest failure. It’s unfortunately a rare occasion I’ve ever seen anyone reference a plan during a response. A very early question should be ‘what does the plan say?’. We need to analyze our current circumstances and see how they apply to the plan assumptions, then use the guidance formulated in the plan the best way possible. For more on emergency planning, check out this post authored by me and this one authored by Ashley Morris.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Bring MAC Back

Multi Agency Coordination, or MAC, is a concept most frequently applied to incident management. MAC Groups are the most commonly defined, being a collection of executives from various agencies, organizations, and/or jurisdictions who may commit the resources of their respective agencies, and often provide high-level decision-making and policy coordination to support an incident. Multi Agency Coordination Systems (MACS) have also been commonly defined, essentially as the combination of resources assembled to support the implementation of multi agency coordination. Multi agency coordination, as a concept, however, transcends MAC Groups and MAC Systems. In incident response we see multi agency coordination occur at the field level and in emergency operations centers (EOCs), the latter of which is generally viewed as an operational extension of the MAC Group. We even see the concept of multi agency coordination specifically extended into Joint Information Systems and Joint Information Centers. Multi agency coordination can and often does also exist across all phases and mission areas associated with emergency management. This is simply a reinforcement that emergency management is a team sport, requiring the participation and input of multiple organizations before, during, and after a disaster as well as in steady-state operations. MAC can be applied in many effective ways to support all of this.

But where did MAC (the more formal version) go? MAC was one of the foundational aspects of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) at one time. But now if you look for information on MAC, you will be pretty disappointed. The NIMS doctrine provides barely a single page on MAC, which might be fine for a doctrinal document if there were supplemental material. Yet, when looking through FEMA’s page for NIMS Components, there are no documents specifically for MAC. There used to be a pretty decent independent study training course for MAC, which was IS-701. That course, and the materials provided, no longer exist as of September 2016. (side note… lots of states and other jurisdictions assembled NIMS Implementations Plans. Many of those have not been updated in years and still reference this as a required training course). You will find only scant references to MAC in some of the ICS and EOC courses, but not with the dedicated time that once existed.

So why is this a problem? MAC as a concept is still alive and well, but without doctrine, guidance, and training to reinforce and support implementation, it will fall into disuse and poor practice. Just in the past two weeks alone, I’ve had direct conversations about MAC with three different clients: one in regard to a state COVID AAR; the other for all hazard planning, training, and exercises; and the other for state-level coordination of a response to invasive species. Superficially, MAC seems an easy concept. You get a bunch of executive-level stakeholders in a room, on a call, or in a video chat to talk about stuff, right?  Sure, but there are right and wrong ways to go about it and best practices which should be embraced. There is no single true model for MAC, which is appropriate, but absent any reasonable guidance, MAC may be misapplied, which could become an impediment to a response – something we’ve certainly seen happen.

All that said, we need to bring significant MAC content and guidance back. One of the better resources I’ve found out there comes from Cal OES. It’s a bit dated (2013) but still relevant. While it does have some language and application specific to California, it is an all-hazards guide (actually adapted from a wild-fire oriented FIRESCOPE document). The document is good, but I’d like to see a national approach developed by FEMA (properly the National Integration Center). MAC is an incident management fundamental, with application even broader than response. Their importance for response, especially larger more complex incidents, is huge, yet the information available on MAC is fairly dismissive. While some content exists in training courses, most of the courses where the content is found are not courses which many MAC Group members would be taking. We must also not confuse training with guidance. One does not replace the other – in fact training should reflect guidance and doctrine.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP – The Contrarian Emergency Manager

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Guides for Senior Officials – Finding the Right Tool

In late March, FEMA released the ‘Local Elected and Appointed Officials Guide’ for national engagement review and feedback. My first thought before even looking at the document is that there are already so many of these in existence. Not necessarily from FEMA (though they have released some, such as a NIMS guide for elected officials), but the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) has one (actually two), and most state emergency management offices have developed and published their own guides suitable for local emergency managers.

Each guide out there has pros and cons. The draft FEMA guide is very… FEMA. It has the same look and feel of every other FEMA publication out there, which is both good and bad. While it offers a lot of references, external links, and has placeholders for case studies, it’s in smaller print and still comes in at 62 pages including the cover. While it has good information, I feel this is way too long for most elected and appointed officials to spend time on – plus it’s still incomplete in many ways because these officials need to learn about their own state systems, standards, and laws.

The NEMA elected official’s guide is much shorter, at 6 pages cover to cover. While this is a good marketing piece championing emergency management, it doesn’t provide any resources or state-specific information. I do appreciate the marketing aspect of it, though, as in many cases what we often need most is for elected and appointed officials to know what emergency management is and does, along with who their emergency manager is (or encouraging them to hire one).

NEMA also publishes a State Director Handbook. This comes in at 129 pages, but has a very specific target audience. Despite its length (and smaller print), it is well organized and has solid information for State Directors, including plenty of references. Their document (as of this post) is dated 2019, which while not very old, does need some updates in this dynamic environment.

As mentioned, many states produce their own documents. New York State has regularly published and updated a guide for elected officials. The current version comes in at 32 pages with larger print and all the relevant state-specific information needed, included contact information for regional emergency management personnel. Nebraska publishes a guide with 15 pages, though I find it missing some important information, such as contact information. Maryland publishes a guide that is 28 pages long and seems to have a lot of the right info.

While quantity doesn’t necessarily reflect quality, I think the goal is to have a shorter guide that gives the right information. FEMA’s draft guide has great information, but goes on with far too many paragraphs of information. I think the best value for elected and appointed officials (who are mostly at the local government level) is a guidebook coming from their state emergency management office. I think FEMA’s best approach is to provide tools and information for state emergency management offices to use, by way of a library of graphics and succinctly formatted prose, for the development and maintenance of their own guides.

As with all engagement efforts, FEMA is seeking feedback and is hosting a series of webinars to discuss the draft. Information can be found here.

As with all forms of communication, we need to find the right tools for the audiences we are trying to reach. Content, length, formatting, resources, and even things like font size and graphics all need to be considered. Someone may be great at document development, but poor at marketing – and in some situations we may need the perspective of both talents. We also need to consider if we are the right people to be providing certain information or if it’s best coming from another source, perhaps with our input.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®