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®

EMPG ROI 2022: Another Wasted Effort

The National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), the two most prominent membership organizations in the US for emergency managers, one again released their joint annual report: Emergency Management Performance Grant: An Evaluation of the Nation’s Return on Investment. I touched on last year’s report in a post I made about metrics and data analysis. Ironically, a couple months prior to that post, I wrote about measuring return on investment through the use of key performance indicators (KPI).

Clearly some of the people who SHOULD have read these didn’t. This year’s report on EMPG return on investment is pretty much the same as last year’s, simply with updated numbers. To call the content of the report an evaluation of return on investment of this important grant program is a considerable overstatement and does nothing to support emergency management. The numbers, such as x number of people trained or how much money was spent on plan development, are largely superficial and don’t really provide any analysis of return on investment. As mentioned in the articles I authored last year which are referenced above, we should be reporting on key performance indicators and drilling down to identify what needs have been met through the efforts and investments. Included in the report are a few anecdotes of ‘EMPG-Supported Success’ that tell more of a story and provide more valuable information than the scant bit of statistical analysis. But really, this report doesn’t tell me anything. It provides little to no benefit to state and local emergency managers, which are the majority membership of both organizations. As a dues-paying member of NEMA, I’m disappointed in this effort and expect better from them. As an emergency manager I continue to be frustrated that we, as a professional practice, continue to accept this kind of information and reporting. Let’s raise our expectations and demand better.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

EOC Management Support Teams

I almost always catch the releases of the draft FEMA/NIC resource typing definitions, yet I clearly missed the one released in late February for EOC Management Support. Feedback on the draft is due by COB tomorrow, Friday (April 1, 2022).

This release is actually a significant update from an original resource typing definition for EOC Management Support Teams released in 2005. I’m not even sure what they were thinking with the 2005 version, in which a Type 1 EOC Management Support Team only addresses EOC Management/Command Staff.

This new version addresses EOC Management Support more broadly, tackling the challenge of addressing differing EOC organizational models (ICS-based, Incident Support Model-based, or Department/ESF-based). For ICS-based and ISM-based models, they stick to a minimum of six personnel, composed of the EOC Director (I still prefer EOC Manager, personally), a PIO, and the General Staff positions. The Department/ESF-based model identifies an Emergency Manager as providing oversight (not sure why they aren’t sticking with an EOC Manager/Director title), and five departmental/ESF representatives, which they rightfully indicate should be selected based upon the needs of the incident.

Unfortunately, this resource typing definition is extremely short sighted, providing the same structure across Types 1 through 3, with the only noted differences from Type 3 to Type 1 being a small bit of computer and communications equipment. I’m not particularly happy about this and I think it’s a discredit to skilled, trained, and experienced EOC personnel. This also does a disservice to the fundamental purpose of resource typing, being that incidents which have more demands require resources with greater capability. The simple addition of some computer monitors and a sat phone doesn’t provide any greater capability of the knowledge and skills of the personnel being deployed. I’m not sure why Type 2 and Type 1 EOC Management Support Teams wouldn’t be required to provide additional staff (to account for 24-hour operations, work load, etc.).

This document alone also paints an incomplete picture, citing positions that aren’t themselves defined in the library by position qualifications and corresponding position task books. As such, there are no training and experience requirements outlined for the positions identified. There is no typing that exists for these positions at all, or really any definition within the NQS of these positions. I think this document should have been released as part of a full package that includes the position qualifications and task books for each position.

As a positive observation, I do appreciate that this new document specifies that while Incident Management Teams (IMTs) have been deployed to fulfil EOC Management Support roles, requests should be first filled by actual EOC Management Support Teams. I appreciate this recognition, especially considering that IMTs are not fundamentally designed to manage EOCs. While they often do, and are generally successful, this can be an underutilization of IMTs at best, and possibly the entirely wrong tool for the job.

All in all, while this is a step in the right direction for recognizing the need for personnel who specialize in aspects of EOC management, I’m disappointed with the lack of thought that has gone into this. It’s rather like ordering a new car and only being given four tires to start. There is no connection between those tires and nothing to make them go. There isn’t even a place to sit, much less any idea if those tires are suited for the vehicle you ordered. This is also long overdue. The effort to type resources by the National Integration Center is about as old as NIMS itself, yet this is the first REAL movement we have seen on defining and typing EOC personnel. EOCs are activated for most significant incidents, yet actually scoping these personnel has largely been ignored. Instead, time and effort has been put into position qualifications for positions which may certainly be important, but are rarely utilized. We need to do better and expect better.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Vulnerable Populations Behind Walls

There is finally meaningful and productive discussion and actions in emergency management circles about vulnerable and under-served populations. It’s a step in the right direction, though still has a long way to go, with many concerns yet found in regulation and bias which must be identified, assessed, and changed. There are, however, other vulnerable populations which are rarely spoken of – those behind walls. These are persons incarcerated in prisons and jails, those receiving mental health treatments at in-patient facilities, and those with physical and cognitive disabilities in group residential settings. Hospitals and nursing homes also have vulnerable populations in this regard, and while concerns still exist and progress must yet be made, these facilities seem largely to have made more progress than others when it comes to disaster preparedness for their facilities and those in their care.

Populations behind walls are often forgotten during disasters, either because it is assumed they are someone else’s responsibility, or because the facility itself seems to be overlooked as a part of the community. People also tend to have biases toward the populations of these facilities – especially jails and prisons; though plenty of bias also exists against those receiving mental health treatment and those with physical and cognitive disability. We also likely have subconscious impressions of the facilities themselves, especially larger jails and prisons, being physically formidable and resilient, therefore having less vulnerability to certain disasters. While that may be true for some hazards, it’s certainly not true for all. Rarely do we find these facilities identified in emergency operations plans, much less addressing the potential needs of their residents during disasters. These facilities, and their residents, are still part of your community.

Specific to prisons, the GAO recently cited the Federal Bureau of Prisons for lack of consistent data in this regard, and the National Institute of Prisons posted a paper published in December 2013 by Northeastern University which states that “prisons are not prepared to respond to and recover from disasters.” and that prisoners “seem to be a forgotten subset of our population when it comes to emergency management.” In fact, according to the Northeastern University paper, while the Federal Bureau of Prisons provides guidance and tools to support emergency management, they have few requirements.

Certainly, there are challenges associated with all these facilities, particularly in regard to emergency management; and I don’t envy the responsibility the owners and operators (sometimes government, sometimes private or non-profit) have for ensuring the wellbeing of residents. Facilities are generally more concerned with security and routine safety risks than disasters. Residents of all these facilities are, even if temporarily, wards of these facilities, with the owners and operators of these facilities being legally responsible for their protection and wellbeing.

One of the bigger concerns for any of these facilities is movement of residents. Relocating a number of residents within the same facility can be a significant enough challenge, but this pales in comparison to evacuating the entire population. That said, no one ever properly labeled emergency management as being ‘easy’. Movement of residents is only one of many concerns, however, as the residents have the same needs as any other people in our communities during a disaster. Staff must also be protected, and in times of disaster continuity of operations can also be a significant concern for these facilities if staff are not able to get to work.

What to do? Certainly, appropriate regulators and those having legal authority over these types of facilities need to reaffirm any existing requirements and move to create (and enforce) requirements where gaps exist. This would be the top-down approach. While I think we’d like to see owners and operators assume the responsibility themselves, that’s much less likely to happen due to costs. I think there is also an opportunity for emergency management to influence this. We should see state emergency management officials, especially State Directors, working with their governors and appropriate state agencies to influence change. Local emergency managers, likewise, should be reinforcing these needs to State Directors and elected officials, while also working with the facilities themselves to open communications and begin partnerships. Emergency management revolves around partnerships and addressing issues should always begin with a conversation.

When a gap is left untended, the consequences are not only borne by those directly responsible, but also by communities. If a facility is impacted by a disaster, the consequences may fall to the community to address. These types of facilities MUST undergo regular assessments, mitigate hazards, and appropriately prepare for all hazards. The communities they are in MUST be part of the process, likewise the facilities should also participate in these efforts with their communities. The sharing of information is critical for these efforts to be successful.

How is your relationship with these types of facilities in your community?

© 2022 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Mutual Aid Preparedness

Mutual aid is a great resource. We get help from our neighbors, or even those beyond our neighbors, providing additional numbers, capabilities, or support to aid our response to incidents and disasters. Mutual aid is mentioned in practically every emergency operations plan I’ve read, yet it’s clearly taken for granted. Most jurisdictions simply don’t have a plan for mutual aid, and most that do have a rather poor plan.

The fire service is by far the most frequent user of mutual aid. Most fire service mutual aid is for short-duration incidents, meaning that they’ve only scratched the surface in mutual aid management issues. Most fire departments don’t have their own mutual aid plans in place, instead relying on a county-based or regional plan. These also vary rather wildly in content and quality. It’s largely fine to use and be part of a county or regional plan, so long as SOMEONE is responsible for implementing the plan and all participants are familiar with it. Given issues of liability, there should also be a mutual aid agreement to which members are signatories consenting to the terms and conditions of the agreement as implemented by the plan.

The best mutual aid practitioners I’ve had experience with are utility companies, especially electric utilities. Be it hurricanes, winter storms, wildfires, or other hazards, most electric utility infrastructure is highly vulnerable to physical disruption. Even if not involved in managing or responding to an incident, we’ve all seen out-of-state utilities responding to our own areas for a major disruption, or utility trucks on the highway headed elsewhere toward a disruption. Utilities have highly detailed plans, often of their own as well as being part of regional consortiums. Those regional consortiums are then part of national-level mobilization plans. While the response details of the incident will change based on each deployment, the managers of every deployment know what to expect in terms of business operations. More strictly in the emergency management world, only the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), used for inter-state mutual aid, is as thorough and well-used on such a large scale.

The foundation of mutual aid, regardless of duration or resources shared, is a written agreement. This is something that emergency managers and first responders have been beaten over the head with for years, yet so few actually have written agreements in place. There is no downside to having written agreements. While they may be combined into a single document, agreements and plans really should be different documents, as they have entirely different purposes. Agreements are attestations to the terms and conditions, but plans describe the means and methods. The provisions in a plan, however, may be the basis for the agreement. FEMA provides the NIMS Guideline for Mutual Aid that identifies all the necessary elements of a mutual aid agreement (and plan). The development of a mutual aid plan, just like any other emergency operations plan, should utilize FEMA’s CPG 101: Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans to guide development. Yes, many FEMA preparedness documents are actually complimentary!

So what about mutual aid planning is so important? Consider that you are having a really big pot-luck party, with hundreds of people invited. Everyone wants details of course: when should they arrive, where should they go, where should they park, how long will the party run? What food should they bring? Is there storage for cold food? How about frozen food? Are there food allergies? Is there alcohol? Are kids welcome? Will there be activities? Can I show up late? Can I show up early? What if I have to leave early? What’s the best way to get there? Are there any hotels in the area? Can I set up a tent or a camper? Can I bring my dogs? What if the weather is bad? You get the point. While most of these questions aren’t the types of questions you will get in a mutual aid operation, some actually are likely, and there will be even more! These kinds of questions are fine and manageable when it’s a few people, but when there are hundreds, it feels like asking for help is an entirely different incident to manage – that’s because it is! Of course, good planning, training, and exercises can help address a lot of this.

Mutual aid plans should address receiving AND sending mutual aid. There are dozens if not hundreds of bad stories coming from incidents like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and other benchmark incidents that involve poor mutual aid management – on the part of the receivers as well as those providing resources. Every agency should have policies and procedures in place about responding to mutual aid requests. There were numerous departments on 9/11 that were left non-operational because personnel responded to NYC, Shanksville, or the Pentagon, taking so many resources with them that it crippled their home department’s ability to respond. I wrote about deployment issues back in 2021.

Who will be responsible for receiving dozens or hundreds of resources if you ask for them? I’m not just talking about appointing a Staging Area Manager (something else we do VERY poorly in public safety), but is your organization prepared to receive, support, and manage all these resources? If you expect the operation to be longer than several hours, you may need to consider lodging. How about food and water? Supplies? Specialized equipment? Will you be ready to assign them, or will they languish in a Staging Area for hours? If these aren’t volunteers, who is paying them? How will reimbursement for expenses work?

What if something breaks? What if someone gets hurt? These are important questions not only from the perspective of actions to be taken, but also liability. How will you handle HR types of issues (substance abuse, harassment, etc.) involving mutual aid personnel? Are you prepared to provide these resources with critical incident stress debriefings?

How will mutual aid resources be accounted for and credentialed? What authorities, if any, will mutual aid resources have? What documentation will they be responsible for? How will you communicate with them? Do you have the essential ability to integrate them into your operations?

The bottom line is that if you invite someone to your party, you are responsible for them. It’s a matter of operational necessity, legal liability, professionalism, and respect.

What best practices have you seen when it comes to preparedness for and management of mutual aid resources?

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

2021: Another Horrible National Preparedness Report

FEMA’s Christmas present to us in 2021, as with the past several years, was the National Preparedness Report. Before I dive in, a few of reminders. 1) You can find my reviews of the reports of prior years here. 2) To get copies of the reports of prior years, FEMA archives these in the unrestricted side of the Homeland Security Digital Library. 3) Each report is derived from data from the year prior, so this December 2021 report actually covers the calendar year of 2020.

The 2021 report covers risks and capabilities, as have the reports of past years. It also covers ‘Management Opportunities’ which “the Federal Government, SLTTs (state, local, territories, and tribes), and the private sector could use to build capability and address capacity gaps.” It offers a slightly different perspective than the prior year’s ‘Critical Considerations for Emergency Management’, but fundamentally offers the same type of constructive commentary.

Keeping in mind that through much of 2020, the US, as with nations across the globe, was managing the COVID 19 Coronavirus pandemic. An observation from this report is that the word ‘COVID’ comes up 222 times in the document. That is a LOT of focus on one particular hazard. While I’ll grant that it impacted everyone, had a number of cascading impacts, and there are some statements made in the document about other hazards and concurrent incidents, I fear that when nearly every paragraph mentions COVID, we seem to lose a sense of all-hazard emergency management in the document and thus in the state of the nation’s preparedness. What I do appreciate, as with FEMA’s new Strategic Plan and other recent documents, there is acknowledgement and discussion around inequities in disaster relief. This is an important topic which needs to continue getting exposure. Related to this they also reference the National Risk Index that was released in 2020, which includes indices of social vulnerability. This is a valuable tool for all emergency managers.

The information on Risk included in the 2021 report is much more comprehensive and informative than that in the 2020 report, though they once again miss an opportunity to provide metrics and displays of infographics. While words are valuable, well-designed infographics tell an even better story. Most numbers given in this section of the report were buried in seemingly endless paragraphs of text, and there certainly were no deep analytics provided. It’s simply poor story telling and buries much of the value of this section.

While the mention of climate change had been forbidden in the past few reports, I would have expected the 2021 report to have some significant inclusion on the matter. Instead, it’s highlighted in two pages covering ‘Emerging Risks’ with very little information given. Climate change isn’t emerging, folks, it’s here.

Capabilities are a significant focus of the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) and Stakeholder Preparedness Review (SPR) completed by states, Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funded regions, and others. As part of the THIRA/SPR process, stakeholders traditionally identify their own preparedness goals (capability targets) for each of the 32 Core Capabilities outlined in the National Preparedness Goal. For the 2021 report, FEMA limited the capability targets to a given set focused on pandemic-related capabilities. As mentioned earlier, while the pandemic is certainly a principal concern, and many of the capability targets can be leveraged toward other hazards, I think this was a failure of the all-hazards approach. Further, with this focus, the 2021 report fails to provide most of the metrics provided in reports of the past, identifying, in aggregate, where stakeholders assessed their own standing in each Core Capability. This is the most significant gauge of preparedness, and they provide so little information on it in this report that I feel the report fails at its primary goal.

I’ve mentioned in the past that the metrics provided in previous reports are superficial at best and provide little by way of analysis. Unfortunately, the metrics provided in the 2021 report are even more lacking, and what there is only provides a snapshot of 2020 instead of any trend analysis.

What is included in this section of the document that I appreciated were some infographics compiling information on some of the capability targets that FEMA pre-determined. Unfortunately, they didn’t even provide these infographics for all of the limited set of capability targets, and the information provided is still fairly weak. Again, this severely limits the value of this being a national report on preparedness.

The last major component of the document is Management Opportunities. This section similarly provides seemingly endless paragraphs of text, but does approach these management opportunities like a strategic plan, setting goals, objectives, and (some) possible metrics for each opportunity. These offer valuable approaches, which coincidentally dovetail well into the goals of FEMA’s new strategic plan and will hopefully provide some solid value to emergency management programs at all levels. I think this section is really the most valuable component of the entire report. Unfortunately, it’s the shortest. The opportunities identified in the report are:

  • Developing a Preparedness Investment Strategy
  • Addressing Steady-State Inequities, Vulnerabilities, and a Dynamic Risk Landscape
  • Strengthen Processes Within and Better Connect Areas of the National Preparedness System

Overall, while there are some pockets of good content, this is another disappointing report. FEMA still isn’t telling us much about the state of preparedness across the nation; and in fact this report tells us even less than prior reports, which I didn’t think was possible. They attempt to tell stories through some focused discussion on a few capability targets, which has some value, but are providing little to no information on the big picture; not the current state of preparedness and certainly not any analysis of trends. Even the section on Management Opportunities isn’t consistent in identifying metrics for each opportunity.

What remains a mystery to me is that it takes a full year to develop this report. The metrics I allude to throughout my commentary are largely easy to obtain and analyze, as much of this information comes to FEMA in quantifiable data; also making trend analysis a rather easy chore. Last year’s report, while still severely lacking, was formatted much better than this year’s, which lacked a vision for story telling and communication of data.

Simply put, emergency managers and other recipients of this report (Congress?) should not accept this type of reporting. Despite coming in at 94 pages, it tells us so little and in my mind does not meet the spirit of the requirement for a National Preparedness Report (this is defined in Presidential Policy Directive 8). States, UASIs, and others who complete and submit THIRAs and SPRs should be livid that their efforts, while certainly (hopefully) valuable to them, are being poorly aggregated, studied, analyzed, and reported as part of the National Preparedness Report. In fact I feel that the 2021 report is telling a story that FEMA wants to tell, supported by select data and case studies; rather than actually reporting on the state of preparedness across the nation, as informed by federal, state, local, territorial, tribal, private sector, and non-profit stakeholders.  

As always, the thoughts of my readers are more than welcome.

Happy New Year to everyone!

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®