Six Emergency Management Priorities for the Next Administration

New administrations get to identify their priorities for various areas of focus… this can be both good and bad. It’s not a simple thing. New priorities should embrace progress, while ensuring that certain existing priorities, programs, and projects remain. Yes, some existing programs may deserve to be scrubbed, but far too often we see administrations go ‘clean slate’ doing away wholesale with what has been implemented by their predecessor or their predecessor’s predecessor. Emergency management requires consistency, yet we also require progress. It has been frustrating through the years to see many good practices discarded simply because they were a priority of another administration, and new practices introduced that aren’t well thought through, simply because it was someone’s good idea or they wanted to put their name on something. Emergency management (and I suppose most others) is an area of practice that must embrace forward looking consistency if that makes much sense.  Sometimes tradition needs to be dragged along kicking and screaming, while new practices need to integrate with legacy implementations, lest we continue to create a never-ending complexity of stove piped programs with little to no connective tissue.

Before I jump into the pool, I also want to acknowledge that no one person can obviously be knowledgeable of all the issues facing an area of practice. It requires not just an advisor, but a team of advisors – practitioners with a range of experience and experiences as well as academics. Emergency management is not only a government activity. Emergency management is not only pulled out of the toolbox when a disaster occurs. Emergency management also has more connections to other program areas than arguably any other practice. There is a lot to see and a lot to contextualize.

So on to our show…

Coronavirus/COVID 19

Obviously, this is THE priority of the incoming administration. I’m not going to go on at length about this since I’m pretty sure we’re all aware of the issues, complexities, etc. What I will encourage here is thinking comprehensively. This is a public health crisis, but the solution is not just in the realm of public health. There needs to be a better recognition of the role of emergency management in addressing problems and being part of the solutions, including vaccine distribution. These kinds of logistics are a big part of what emergency management does, so they don’t need to be recreated. Given the scope of this effort, the private sector will be huge partners in this as well. A national-level effort for after action reviews for the pandemic will also be important. Yes, there are a lot of lessons learned that can be put over the whole nation (and even the world), but there are plenty of other lessons learned that may be more dependent upon geography, population, and operational sector. Not only should everyone be doing an after-action report, but a portal where the data (not just the document) can be entered would help the federal government collect this data, the analysis of which would most assuredly provide valuable insight. Speaking of lessons learned…

Public Health Preparedness

The pandemic has shown what works and what doesn’t work. We need to fix what is broken, boost what works, and not forget to examine the grey areas in between (such as our earlier assumptions on pandemic planning… they weren’t all necessarily wrong, they were just wrong for this pandemic). Public health preparedness needs to be re-prioritized, and the relationship with emergency management strengthened (we tried to do this about 18 years ago but fell well short of where it needed to be). Use what exists – there are public health capabilities which are well defined. Public health coalitions have been developed across the nation. We need to do better at supporting public health in meeting and maintaining needs – this needs to be a structured, deliberate effort. DO NOT just throw money at the problem and hope it will get solved. That’s bullshit governing and a waste of tax dollars.

Climate Change

Speaking of bullshit governing and wasting tax dollars, we need a GOOD strategy to integrate climate change issues across everything we do. No more shotgun approach. No more of ‘well that’s the best we can do’. We need a deliberate, coordinated effort. Anything less is a waste of time, money, and effort. Just as emergency management touches practically all other functions, as does climate change. The federal government must do a better job of forming operational coalitions – that is partnering federal agencies, the private sector, non-profits, and even some select state and local governments into functioning entities. (This should be a standard of practice in emergency management as well). The model I’m speaking of isn’t some think tank, group that meets on occasion, or blue-ribbon panel. I’m talking about something that’s operational, with actual employees (specialists) from agencies with responsibility for addressing areas of the problem given temporary duty assignments to an entity whose existence is to work that problem. This is done through identification of priorities and implementation pathways, utilization and allocation of grant funding, advocacy, torch carrying, interagency coordination, problem solving, etc. Just a few of the entities involved in climate change obviously include FEMA, DOT, HHS, DHS, NWS, and more. The best way to solve this is not just getting everyone on the same page or in the same room, but actually organized, led, and synchronized.

Economic Recovery

Economic recovery is an aspect of emergency management, but I’m no economist, so I’ll address it briefly. The pandemic has hit our economy hard. Yes, I think a lot of it will naturally heal as the pandemic comes to an end, but we also can’t just sit around and wait for that nor can we hope for the best and accept (or not) the outcome we get. Economic recovery needs to be deliberate and structured. And remember, in emergency management we don’t just ‘recover’ – we ‘build back better’. This is an opportunity to integrate resiliency into our economy, governments, businesses, and society as a whole.

Integrated Preparedness

I’ve long been complaining about the stove piped programs we see in emergency management. Perhaps from a program administration perspective, focused activity works, but at the state and local levels, practitioners need to see how these things come together so they can easily link efforts. To do it well requires more than crosswalk developed by some junior consultant. It takes a deliberate effort at the doctrinal level to not only demonstrate, but provide sensible pathways to implementation that show how disparate concepts such as NIMS, HSEEP, the National Preparedness Goal, CPG 101, Community Lifelines, etc. actually come together IN PRACTICE. These are all good things taken individually, yet so many either don’t think to combine them, don’t know how to combine them, or are too intimidated or lack the understanding of the benefits to care.

HSEEP has done away with the training and exercise planning workshop (TEPW) and introduced the integrated preparedness planning workshop (IPPW), which we hope would contribute to actual integrated preparedness, but how many know about this? How many actually care? How many know how to do it? Let’s face it… most used the TEPW solely to put exercises on a calendar. That’s all. The training aspect was largely ignored. Is the mention of an IPP in updated HSEEP doctrine alone going to get people to talk even more broadly about preparedness? Nope. If exercises aren’t part of someone’s responsibility (or if they don’t have the time or inclination to do them) they aren’t going to read the updated HSEEP doctrine. Even if they do, will they catch this pretty important change? Possibly not. FEMA held webinars on the IPP concept. These webinars communicated very little, and reinforced that integrated preparedness is an HSEEP concept rather than an EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT concept. You can’t bury something that is so broad reaching into such focused doctrine. Integrated preparedness needs to have its own doctrine and have its own effort – and with the understanding that most mid to large sized emergency management agencies have different parts of the organization responsible for each area of preparedness. If the feds don’t give it the attention it deserves, most state and local governments certainly won’t. We do have a National Integration Center, don’t we? Hmmmm….

Hazard Mitigation Programs, Grants, and Tools

Similar to the matter of integrated preparedness, we really need to do better at hazard mitigation. Hazard mitigation planning has turned into a bureaucratic mess, with jurisdictions spending a lot of money on plans every five years that they rarely reference, much less put into deliberate action. We need to do better.

Standards for hazard mitigation planning also need to be expanded. Rarely is an ‘all hazard’ hazard mitigation plan actually ‘all hazard’. Do they address cyber security? Active shooter/hostile event incidents? Most do not. We also need to see better and more consistent integration of societal data into hazard mitigation planning. There is usually heavy analysis of risk, but not vulnerability in these types of plans. Things like community vulnerability indices give a better perspective on the fragility of our populations. Without doing so, we really aren’t considering the whole community.

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So, these are my top six priorities as I see them. Each of these has lasting impact coupled with a more timely urgency. Certainly, there are other things that can be viewed as priorities, but if the list is exhaustive, it pretty much loses the concept of being priority. These are the primary emergency management efforts I would build an administration around. Obviously other activities must continue, but these form the areas of emphasis.  

In re-reading my post, I realized there is a word I used an awful lot… deliberate. I’m guessing it wasn’t accidental, more an influence of my sub-conscious emphasizing well planned and established activities instead of the hap-hazard and half-hearted efforts we often see. There is no sense in showing up to only play part of the game. We need to see it through to the end. That’s how we make a difference.

What thoughts do you have on emergency management priorities for the incoming administration?

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Finding Local Hazard Information

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

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

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

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

What are you doing to make hazard information more accessible?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠

Expanding Hazard Mitigation Plans to Truly Address All Hazards

Planning efforts and documents are incredibly central to everything we do in preparedness.  When we look at the spectrum preparedness elements of Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercises (POETE), ‘planning’ being first should be a reminder that everything goes back to planning.  Our organizations, equipment, training, and exercises should all reflect back on plans.  These aren’t just emergency operations plans, either, but should include all plans.

A fundamental plan for many jurisdictions is the hazard mitigation plan.  Most responders tend to ignore this plan as it’s not about response, but it has a great deal of valuable information.  Hazard mitigation plans are built on a lot of research and data analysis, trends, and science behind a variety of hazards that could impact the area.  For as much as hazard mitigation plans can get neck-deep into science, they are not only good references but can be built into good, actionable plans.  The leadership of practically every agency in a jurisdiction should be involved in the development and update of hazard mitigation plans and be knowledgeable of what they contain.  That said, there are a couple of issues I have with how hazard mitigation plans are done.

First of all, they should be developed to be more than a catalog of information, which is how many are built.  We should be able to do something with them.  FEMA’s standards for hazard mitigation planning have gotten better and better through the years, thankfully.  While their standards include the identification of potential projects for a jurisdiction to address hazards, I’ve seen many plans (and the firms that develop them) cut this section particularly short.  I’ve seen plans developed for major jurisdictions having only a handful of projects, yet I’ve had experience developing plans for much smaller jurisdictions and identifying a significant list of prioritized projects.  While the onus is ultimately on the stakeholders of the jurisdiction to identify projects, consulting firms should still be actually consulting… not just regurgitating and formatting what stakeholders provide them.  A good consultant will advise, suggest, and recommend.  If your consultant isn’t doing so, it’s probably time to find someone else.

The second issue I have with hazard mitigation plans is that so many truly aren’t ‘all-hazard’.  Many hazard mitigation plans address natural hazards and some human-caused hazards, such as damn failures and hazardous materials incidents.  Rarely do we see hazard mitigation plans addressing hazards such as cyber attacks or active shooter/hostile event response (ASHER) incidents.  There are some obvious issues with this.  First, the hazard mitigation plan is generally looked upon to have the best collection of data on hazards for the jurisdiction.  If it excludes hazards, then there is no one good place to obtain that information.  This is particularly dangerous when other plans, such as EOPs, may be based upon the hazards identified in the hazard mitigation plan.  As I mentioned at the beginning, if something isn’t referenced in our planning efforts, it’s likely not to be included in the rest of our preparedness efforts.  Second, if these other hazards aren’t in our hazard mitigation plans, where are we documenting a deliberate effort to mitigate against them?  While hazards like cyber attacks or ASHER incidents are generally seen to be mitigated through actions labeled ‘prevention’ or ‘protection’, they should still be consolidated into our collective mitigation efforts.  Those efforts may transcend traditional hazard mitigation activities, but why would we let tradition impede progress and common sense?  A fire wall should be listed as a hazard mitigation project just as flood control barrier is.  And bollards or large planters are valid hazard mitigation devices just as much as a box culvert.

Let’s be smart about hazard mitigation planning.  It’s a foundational element of our comprehensive preparedness activities.  We can do better.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Organizing

As a continuation of the Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness series (read the first one on Planning here), this post’s focus is on the POETE element of Organizing.  There are a number of ‘organizing’ efforts we engage in through our preparedness endeavors.  Some are temporary, like establishing working groups to solve a certain problem; while some are intended to be long-term, like forming an incident response team.

Why organize?  Most organizational efforts are fueled by the need to capitalize on the power of many.  What one person can do, more people can do better.  Problem solving, responding, etc.  Often our organizational efforts are internal, but, particularly in public safety, we coordinate with other agencies.  We might be building a professional response organization, such as an Incident Management Team (IMT), or perhaps we are building a community organization, such as a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

What costs are associated with organizational activities?  Foundationally, it’s simply the staff time needed to prepare for, attend, and perform follow up work from meetings and other organizational efforts.  Depending on how complex our efforts are, however, and the intent of our organizational efforts, this can take on full time duties.  You also have to consider who is being drawn into these efforts and what the ‘replacement cost’ is of their time – meaning, what is the cost of someone else performing their work while they are involved in the meetings, etc.?  We also need to identify what costs might be associated with organizing?  The remaining POETE elements (Planning, Equipping, Training, and Exercising) can probably lead you to identifying these.

What are the benefits (value) of organizing?In order to identify the return on our investment, we need to be able to ascertain the benefits our organizational efforts bring – some may be tangible and relatable in dollar figures, others may be more intangible and amorphic.

As with many preparedness efforts, we find ourselves needing to make reasonable assumptions to identify cost savings or value.  We need to follow the bouncing ball of our efforts.  As an example… If we create a CERT team, citizens will be better able to tend to their own needs in the event of a disaster.  This leads to less immediate need of limited resources (first responders), allowing them to focus on more critical needs (i.e. saving lives and protecting infrastructure).   In this example we can make some assumptions about the types of infrastructure to be impacted by a certain incident and the costs associated with it becoming incapacitated.

In regard to saving lives, it’s difficult for us to attach a dollar value to that.  We often say that lives are priceless, and while that may be true, we sometimes need to make an educated guess.  Depending on who you are reporting figures to, they may be satisfied with a reasonable number of lives being saved… others may want to actually compare apples to apples (that is, dollars to dollars).  If you engage the use of your favorite internet search engine and search ‘what is the value of a life’, or something similar, you will find a number of results.  In perusing some of these results myself, I found that the dollar figure assigned to a life is obviously subjective and very much related to the industry in which the question is being asked.  This particular article makes for an interesting read on the subject.  Spoiler alert: they peg the value of a human life at $5M USD (2011).

In the end, organizational efforts need to have a purpose providing a net value.  Even in routine matters and daily business, we should examine the cost of organizational efforts – particularly meetings.  Meetings are one of my biggest bugaboos, as they are often too long, have little purpose, and the objectives can be met in a much more efficient manner.

What ideas do you have on determining the return on investment for organizational activities?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

www.epsllc.biz 

Are You Really Considering All Hazards?

Natural hazards, such as flooding, tornados, wildfire, and earthquakes, bring about the greatest losses, calculated in nearly every metric possible, as compared to human-caused incidents.  Human-caused incidents, either accidental or intentional, still bring tremendous impact to communities world-wide on a daily basis.  While working to prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from natural hazards will always continue to be important, it seems that many still often forget about human-caused incidents despite all the conversations out there.

Human-caused incidents include a variety of hazards such as infrastructure failure, transportation accidents, hazardous materials incidents, and intentional attacks.  These are all things which we can fit into our traditional model of Prepare, Mitigate, Respond, and Recover.  The National Planning Goal introduced the model of the five Mission Areas – Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery – to help address our many of our major functions (Core Capabilities) for human-caused incidents (note that Preparedness is now a higher level concept that applies to all Mission Areas).  While this Mission Area model has helped bring these key activities into the greater fold of what we do, it has also kept them largely isolated through the thought that many human-caused incidents are only addressed through Prevention and Protection Mission Area activities.

Nowhere, it seems, do we see this more than in the area of hazard mitigation.  The vast majority of hazard mitigation plans which exist only address natural hazards (even at the state level).  Since many readers view this blog for my opinion, here it is – this is archaic and dangerous thinking!  We have all seen hazard mitigation plans which claim they are ‘all hazards’, yet only list natural hazards.  That’s fine, if by some unbelievable circumstance, your jurisdiction is only impacted by natural hazards.  This is a circumstance which I am highly doubtful of.  Some mitigation plans get a little more realistic and will address human-caused hazards such as dam failure and/or hazardous materials release, which were likely the greatest human-caused threats they may have been vulnerable to in the previous century.  In today’s world this still doesn’t quite get us to where we need to be.  There are a great many mitigation activities which we can leverage against human-caused incidents.

How do we fix this?  It’s easy – start with conducting a hazard analysis.  A hazard analysis, be it as a stand-alone activity or part of the THIRA process, should review all possible hazards which your jurisdiction, company, or organization is vulnerable to.  It should be comprehensive, not just limited to the set of natural hazards.  Along with infrastructure failure and hazardous materials incidents (both in-transit and fixed site), consider hazards such as active shooters, cyber attacks, improvised explosives, and civil unrest.  This may require bringing some additional subject matter experts into the room for your hazard analysis – like your IT director.  In a hazard analysis, each hazard is ranked (at a minimum) by its likelihood to occur and its severity of impact should it occur.

A well conducted hazard analysis provides the basis for everything we do in emergency management and homeland security.  It not only informs our activities such as planning, training, and exercises, it also helps assign priority to those hazards which require the greatest focus and allocation of resources.

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

WWW.EPSLLC.BIZ

Protecting NYC

This NBC News article brings about some great discussion and ideas on what can be done to protect areas like New York City from storm surge.  If you link to the article, be sure to watch the video.

Gates of a fictional seawall protecting NYC

First, I’ll put out there that I don’t completely agree with all the statements made in the article or the video.  I’m not completely sold on global climate change, but the fact of the matter is that near or below sea level areas on the coast, especially those with high populations, need better protection.  I also don’t agree with the scientist in the video that states there would have been no damage in NYC had these sea walls been in place… hurricane force winds and torrential rains cause plenty of damage all on their own.

The concept of these sea walls amazes me.  I’m certainly familiar with the smaller cousins of these structures, breakwaters, such as the one in my college town of Oswego, NY.  These sea walls, however, particularly the more high-tech versions such as the one illustrated for use around New York City in the video, appear to be extremely versatile and suitable for long-term use.  Just like we protect our infrastructure from acts of terrorism, we need to protect our infrastructure, and our people, from natural disasters.  If this project sees the light of day, it may very well be one of the largest hazard mitigation projects ever created.