Conduct of the New ICS 300 and 400 Courses

Last month a colleague and I delivered the new ICS 300 and 400 courses for a client.  If you’ve missed them, I have some early review notes and overall thoughts posted.  Nothing gets you into the curriculum like teaching it, though.

First, some credit to our course participants, who were extremely supportive in this delivery.  They were patient with our occasional need to double check the instructor guide and even helped to point out some inconsistencies.  While we each have about fifteen years of experience in teaching the courses, the first few times out with a new flow and format, along with new activities takes a bit of getting used to.  The courses also offered some challenges that had to be overcome in our course prep and delivery.

Leading off with the good foot, both courses reflect a positive direction of change.  It’s not the wholesale change that I’ve been stumping for, so expect to continue to see me championing more changes, but we are seeing positive movement in the right direction, at least with the ICS 300 course.  (I still hold out that most of the content of the ICS 400 course isn’t necessary for most who take it.  Time would be far better spent with grounding the concepts of ICS and supporting implementation of the aspects that are most likely to be used.)

Both courses continue a trend of scenario-based learning reinforcement, with the ability to utilize a progressive scenario threaded throughout the ICS 300 course and scenarios within the ICS 400 that help demonstrate when and how these concepts might be used.  While the ICS 300 materials provide several new scenarios for use, we actually didn’t use their progressive scenarios as our client had some specific needs, requiring us to build a localized scenario for them.  That said, the scenarios provided in the ICS 300 are easily adaptable to meet your needs.  Just be aware of the intent of each phase of the scenario and don’t alter the overall concept.

The endeavor to ground ICS as an operational tool is emphasized in Unit 4 of the ICS 300, Implementing an Operational Process.  This unit really seems to pull together the whole reason for being for ICS, especially in an extended operation, and is a good introduction to the Planning Process.  This unit was very well designed and is one of the most progressive changes in the course.

Not a lot was substantially changed in the ICS 400.  Aside from my earlier comment on the questionable necessity for most of the content, the course, as designed, is good enough to address what is intended, even if that intent seems misguided.  Much of the course was kept the same as the previous version, but there were a few tweaks and adjustments throughout.  The activity in Unit 2, the Fundamentals Review is multi-tiered and is very effective.  Unit 5 provides a lot of content on EOCs which wasn’t previously included as much, as well as introducing disaster recovery topics, which at this level incident the leadership of organizations (i.e. those taking this course) need to be aware of.  This is largely ‘bonus content’ which I had provided in the course off script in the past, as it wasn’t included.  I’m very happy to see this as part of the course now. The capstone exercise is the same as the previous version of ICS 400 and is still very well structured and produces great outcomes for participants.

On the down side… well, there is some substantial down side. I provided a fairly detailed list (of both positives and areas for improvement) to EMI.  Taking the course at face value – that is looking at what we have, not what I think it should be, most of the issues I had with this course have to do with faulty instructional design.  There is no way around saying that it was done very poorly.  There was significant lack of attention to detail… so many mis-spellings (spell check is a free feature included in every word processing program – FYI), inconsistencies between the Student Manual and Instructor Guide, problems with scenarios which are not part of the progressive scenario, graphics so small they are not visible for participants in the student manual, and some issues of course flow and organization.

Unit 3 in the ICS 300 course is titled Initial Actions for Unified Command.  So much of the unit is built on the premise that a unified command is formed in the initial response of an incident, practically exclusive of even the possibility of a single command.  This is insanely misleading and required some significant extended explanation on the part of our instructional team to temper that content.

Earlier I complemented unit 5 of the ICS 400, particularly for the additional material provided on various types of EOCs and extending the discussion into recovery.  While these are great, the unit should be organized earlier in the material, especially with several earlier references to EOCs without explanation of what they are.  Practically speaking, the concept of the EOC has far more actual use than any of the other concepts discussed in the course.  There is also way too much material on federal-level EOCs, most of which are so far removed from incident management that most emergency managers have no interaction at all with them.  I think this content should speak about EOCs in general terms.

I think Central City needs to be erased from all memory, and a new fictional jurisdiction developed.  The maps for Central City, et al, keep getting recycled and are small in print, confusing in design, and clearly dated.

The final exams for both courses were very bad.  They each had questions that our instructional team agreed to throw out, as they were poorly worded or ambiguous and nearly every participant got them wrong.  Even most of the valid questions and answers simply aren’t suitable for short-duration training, and certainly not with a closed book exam.

In all, I provided three pages of comments back to EMI. I’m appreciative of EMI being so receptive to the feedback and candid about certain issues they had in the development of these courses.  In respecting their candor, I’m not going to get into some of the points brought up, but it certainly appears as though they are disappointed with the condition in which these courses went out the door and they have a desire to improve them.  Hopefully it won’t be too long until you see another update of the course materials with most of these issues addressed.

I look forward to hearing from others about their experiences with delivering these updated courses.  As such a central topic to the greater public safety and emergency management community, we need to do better with teaching incident management and ICS as the primary tool we use for incident management.  As a community of practice, we need to get behind this initiative and support the need for significant improvement.  Of course if you aren’t familiar with my crusade on the matter, check out the series of ICS Training Sucks articles I’ve posted over the past few years.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Teaching ICS – We’re not there yet

Over the past week I’ve been neck deep in the updated ICS-300 and ICS-400 curriculum as I prepare to deliver these courses for a client.  While these courses, especially the ICS-300, have made some significant improvements from past versions, I’ve found what I perceive to be another challenge, perhaps a gap, in our collective approach to teaching incident management.

While ICS training should obviously focus on ICS, it seems we are missing an opportunity to provide some critical knowledge on emergency management (at least the response functions of EM) and incident management as an overall concept, especially when we get to the level of ICS-300.  I’m betting that most people taking the ICS-300 class know very little about emergency management and even less about the overall concepts of incident management.  While the ICS-300 is a good and worthwhile course for a great many supervisors within the ranks of public safety, it seems the requirement for ICS training puts a lot of this out of context.

While this might be fine for the ‘typical’ tactician, or even most unit leaders operating within an ICS organization, knowledge of what emergency management is and does, as well as the underlying concepts of incident management, will improve the ability of the response organization as a whole to function.  I echo this same sentiment for the EOC courses that have been developed.

While we strive to have the growth of many public safety professionals to include ICS position-specific training, we also have to be realistic in recognizing that most jurisdictions simply don’t have the capacity to make this happen.  Instead, they rely on a more ad-hoc incident management approach, which will generally serve them well.  Of course, the most challenging time is transitioning from the more ‘routine’ type 5 and 4 incidents into the larger extended response operations of a type 3 incident.  This is when people need to think beyond the normal approach of a largely tactics-focused response, to a system which still necessarily includes tactics, but builds a response organization meant to support and sustain those tactical operations.  What they learn from the ICS-300 may be the most amount of training they have outside of tactical applications.

In such an ad-hoc system, someone put into Logistics, or even more specifically the Supply Unit Leader, may be left wondering how to obtain resources when the answer to that question has always been dispatch.  It may not readily dawn on them to open the phone book (digitally or physically) or to contact the emergency management office to find the resources they need.  It seems silly, but in the context of incident management, dispatch may be all they know.  Similarly, someone assigned as the Situation Unit Leader may be re-creating the wheel when it comes to identifying what information is needed, where to get it from, what analysis needs to take place, and how to tie it all together.  Why?  Because they may not have been made aware of the greater system they function within. Their mental default is the job they usually do for the agency or department they work for.

On a whim, I did some key word searches within the new ICS-300 course student manual.  The term ‘incident management’ comes up with a few hits, mostly centered around NIMS-oriented content or included in the broader term of ‘incident management team’.  Very little explanation is really given on what incident management is.  Rather, the term is just put out there, seemingly with the expectation that the student knows what it is.   A search for the term ‘emergency management’ only comes up with two hits, one being part of ‘Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC)’ (note: no context is given for what this is), and the other use is a rather throwaway use when discussing demobilization.  Emergency management as a function is actually never discussed.

The Reader’s Digest version of all this is that we aren’t including critical contextual information about the systems ICS functions within when we teach more advanced ICS courses.  This inadvertently can close people’s minds to opportunities to improve incident management by extending their thinking beyond tactics and beyond the scope of their home agency.  A podiatrist must still learn about the systems of the whole body before they focus on the foot.  Teaching people, especially at the threshold of ICS-300, about the system of emergency management and the concepts of incident management are critical before we start teaching them the specifics of a particular tool.  Doing so will make their understanding and use of this tool far more effective.

Some may wonder if I will ever be happy with how we teach ICS (really, incident management as a whole).  That day may yet come, but to get there I think we first need to reassess the actual learning needs of practitioners, and do so with fresh eyes instead of trying to mark up the same materials.  I know over the years of my criticisms of ICS training I’ve stimulated a lot of discussion, not only nationally, but internationally.  Many have been hugely supportive of the ideas I’ve put forward, and some have contributed to the dialogue.  Of course, there are some who have been resistant and defensive.  I’m thankful to those who have been receptive and I’m happy to have contributed to the energy behind changes that have been made, and will continue to do so until we, as a collective, are satisfied that the best possible training is being made available.  Change is often times progressive and incremental. It doesn’t happen overnight.

As usual, I’m happy to receive any comments and feedback you might have on these ideas.  Please spread the word and encourage feedback from those who might not be aware.  Emergency management is an ever-evolving practice.  Though we may not have answers, we must continue asking questions.

©2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

 

Updated ICS Training Courses – a Critical Review

It’s been quite a while since I’ve last posted, but, as I’m sure many of my followers expected, the updated ICS training materials would bring me out of my absenteeism.  For those not aware, in March of this year, FEMA released IS-200.c, an updated Basic ICS course; and earlier this week released updated ICS 300 and ICS 400 courses.  Let’s take a look at them…

First, ICS 200.  The biggest indicator of what a course is about is the course objectives, so let’s compare.

ICS 200.b Objectives ICS 200.c Objectives
Describe the Incident Command System organization appropriate to the complexity of the incident or event Describe how the NIMS Management Characteristics relate to Incident Command and Unified Command.
Use ICS to manage an incident or event Describe the delegation of authority process, implementing authorities, management by objectives, and preparedness plans and objectives.
  Identify ICS organizational components, the Command Staff, the General Staff, and ICS tools.
  Describe different types of briefings and meetings.
  Explain flexibility within the standard ICS organizational structure.
  Explain transfer of command briefings and procedures.
  Use ICS to manage an incident or event.

Obviously, the updated course has more objectives.  Is this better?  When we compare the relative content of the two courses, it’s pretty clear, first of all, that ICS 200.b only having two terminal learning objectives was the result of poor instructional design.  What is laid out in ICS 200.c is really how the previous version should have been.  The content between the two courses is largely the same, with the major exception of the updated course having a capstone activity.  Comparing the classroom time-plan, the previous version clocks in at 735 minutes (without breaks), while the updated version is almost two hours longer at 845 minutes, bringing the new course to a full two days of course delivery vs the day and one half which the course has been throughout its history.  The inclusion of a capstone activity as a standard in this course absolutely makes sense, helping the material become more relevant to students and starting to bring us into the Application domain of learning.

What concerns me considerably is the time plan for independent study, which totals 240 minutes (four hours).  I still don’t understand how such a difference in time can be justified when the two delivery formats are supposed to be equivalent in learning outcomes.  We all know they aren’t.  More on this in a bit…

On to ICS 300.  As before, let’s look at the objectives first.

ICS 300 (2013) ICS 300 (2019)
Describe how the NIMS Command and Management component supports the management of expanding incidents Given a simulated situation, identify roles and reporting relationships under a Unified Command that involves agencies within the same jurisdiction and under multijurisdictional conditions.
Describe the incident/event management process for supervisors and expanding incidents as prescribe by ICS Develop incident objectives for a simulated incident.
Implement the incident management progress on a simulated expanding incident Create an ICS Form 215, Operational Planning Worksheet, and an ICS Form 215A, Incident Action Plan Safety Analysis, using a given scenario.
Develop an incident action plan for a simulated incident Create a written IAP for an incident/event using the appropriate ICS forms and supporting materials and use the IAP to conduct an Operational Period Briefing.
  Explain the principles and practices of incident resources management.
  Identify demobilization considerations for a given scenario.

Note the big difference here in the increased use of verbs of higher learning domains such as develop and create in the updated course.  It certainly makes me wonder if the folks behind the ICS 300 update had read my post from 2015 ICS Training Sucks and other related posts, as this was one of the primary issues I focused on.  While there are, again, more terminal learning objectives, many of the general content areas of the ICS 300 remain the same, though when we look at the details, it seems the content is refined and more focused on implementation, especially in regard to breaking down the planning process into more digestible pieces.

One of the most notable differences in structure is seen in Unit 2, which serves as the ICS fundamentals review.  Previously, this was largely a didactic unit, with the instructor leading the review.  The module now is a bit longer, but oriented toward student-led learning as a scenario is provided up front and used to support a refresh on what is essentially the learning which should have been obtained in ICS 200.  Interestingly enough, in the webinar hosted by EMI about this update, the facilitator stressed the obvious differences in learning outcomes between the online version and classroom version of ICS 200, even going so far as saying that people should be taking the classroom version and not the online version.  SO WHY IS IT STILL BEING OFFERED???  I really won’t accept the excuse of convenience, either.  This is public safety and we need to take our training more seriously.

Another difference in the overall structure of the new ICS 300 delivery is the inclusion of a pre-test.  This has long been a standard in DHS Consortium training and helps to identify how much learning took place and in what areas.  It also helps identify weak areas in instructional design, supporting more meaningful future updates.  The new course is 21 hours long, upping the time of delivery from 18 hours.  This brings us to a full three days, much of which provides greater practical application.  As with the previous version, they provide a slate of scenarios from which to draw upon throughout the course, providing relevant context based on your local hazards and the response focus of your audience.  I’ll be delivering this new course in the summer and am very much looking forward to it.

Lastly, the ICS 400 course was also updated.

ICS 400 Objectives (2013) ICS 400 Objectives (2019)
Explain how major incidents pose special management challenges Given a scenario and review materials, apply key NIMS doctrine concepts (NIMS Management Characteristics, Unified Command, Incident Command System structure and functional area responsibilities, IAP Preparation and the Operational Period Planning Cycle, and incident complexity) to the management of a complex incident or event.
Describe the circumstances in which an area command is established Apply the appropriate structural option to manage a complex incident.
Describe the circumstances in which multiagency coordination systems are established Given a scenario, develop an Area Command organization.
  Identify the complex incident management issues that can result from a lack of multiagency coordination.

This revision comes at you with much more confident and meaningful objectives.  You can see that the scope is similar, but the taxonomy is at a higher level.  Time-wise, the updated course is just an hour longer at 16 hours vs 15.  They again implement a pre- and post-test and use a scenario to facilitate the Unit 2 review.  The multi-agency coordination unit is replaced with one that describes not only multi-agency coordination, but also discusses the interconnectivity of NIMS command and coordination structures, which is absolutely relevant, as the use of various commands, operations centers, and other incident facilities can be confusing during a disaster, even for those of us in the know!

I’ll also be delivering this course later in the summer and am excited to see how much better it is received than previous versions.

This rollout also accompanies a new Planning P video, which I’ve not yet looked at but will be using in my upcoming deliveries.

While I reserve more detailed commentary for once I’ve had an opportunity to examine specific content more closely and deliver the courses, what I’m already seeing is quite encouraging.  I’m hopeful that these courses can support development of local capability to use the concepts provided to better manage incidents and events.  If designed and instructed well, this training, combined with quality plans and exercises, has the potential to make a big difference.  Thanks to FEMA and EMI for listening!

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

ICS Training Sucks… So Let’s Fix It

A great many of you are familiar with the piece I wrote in June called Incident Command System Training Sucks.  In it, I identify that the foundational ICS courses (ICS-100 through ICS-400 – but especially ICS-300 and ICS-400) simply do not provide the skills training that emergency managers across all disciplines require to utilize the system efficiently, effectively, and comfortably.  ICS Training Sucks turned out to be a popular piece which had a great deal of support from the first responder and emergency management community – which I am very grateful for.  The amount of comments and feedback was indicative to me that I was on the right track and that I need to revisit the topic and explore more.

At the center of my argument stands Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Bloom’s is a learning hierarchy which helps to identify the depth of instruction and learning.  Here is Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.  We’ll be referencing it a bit in the examples I provide.

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

Take a moment to read through the descriptions of each of the ‘orders of thinking’ in Bloom’s.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Done?  Good.  Most would agree that courses such as ICS-300 and ICS-400 should attempt to convey learning at the Apply level, correct?  Unfortunately, that perception, while wildly popular, is wrong.  Most of the learning objectives of the two courses (objectives are our reference points for this) are at the Understand and Remember levels.  Yeah, I was a bit surprised, too.

In ICS Training Sucks, I provided a greater detail of the background analysis (it summarized the narrative of a Master’s research paper I wrote), so if you want more, simply go back and check it out.  While I make a few broad recommendations in that piece, there has been a need to examine our path to fixing this more closely.

In the development of curriculum, there exist several models.  The most commonly used model is the ADDIE model, which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  The first step, Analysis, is really the most important, although often the most ignored or cut short.  People think they know what the need is, but often don’t really understand it.  If you are interested, I’ve written a piece on the topic of Analysis for Training Magazine last year.

Even though we are suggesting a re-write of the ICS curriculum, or parts thereof, Analysis is extremely important.  The roots of the current curriculum we use goes back to circa 1970s wildfire ICS courses.  These are good courses, and while I’m not sure if they fully met the need then (although they did advance us quite a bit), their evolved versions certainly DO NOT now.  There is no sense in repackaging the same product, so let’s first figure out what people need to know to do their jobs effectively.  Essentially, this leads us to identifying a list of key core competencies in ICS.  Core competencies will define the level of competence needed in a particular job or activity.  We can easily use the levels of Bloom’s as our reference point to establish common definitions for the levels of competence.  What am I talking about?

Let’s pick one key activity in ICS to examine.  Resource Management is a great example as it shows the disparity between what exists and where we need to be.  Resource Management is discussed in Unit 6 of the ICS-300 course.  I think most would agree that we expect most every jurisdiction to be able to implement sound resource management practices.  Implement is the key word.  Implementation is indicative of the Apply level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  When looking at unit objectives in the ICS-300 course for unit 6, the key words are identify and describe.  Identify is indicative of the Remember level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, while describe is indicative of the Understand level.  Both fall short of application.  While we aren’t looking for this curriculum to create incident management teams, we still expect most jurisdictions to be able to manage resources, which is certainly a core competency of incident management.

I think the NIMS doctrine provides a good starting point for identifying core competencies.  In an effective study, there may be other competencies identified – perhaps topics such as leadership, that may not necessarily be found in a revised ICS curricula, but can be obtained through other training courses.  This could lead to an important differentiation between core competencies (those that MUST be included in ICS training) and associated competencies which can be sourced elsewhere.

Further, we can capitalize on what we have learned through implementation of the current ICS curriculum and previous iterations.  We know that multidisciplinary training is most effective since larger incidents are multidisciplinary.  We also know that training must be interactive and maximize hands-on time.  The past few updates to the ICS courses have done a great job of encouraging this, but we need more.

Making more detailed recommendations on fixing ICS training will take time and effort, as a solid Analysis must first be done.  Once core competencies can be identified and defined, then a strategy for revamping ICS training can be developed.  As mentioned in ICS Training Sucks, this approach should be multi-faceted, using both new and (good) existing courses to support it. Let’s not be bound by what currently exists.  We don’t necessarily have to create a ‘new’ ICS-300 or ICS-400 course.  Let’s create courses within a broader program that meets the needs of the emergency management community.  They may no longer be called ICS-300 and ICS-400.  Perhaps these two will be replaced by four smaller courses?  Who knows where this path will take us? The bottom line is that we need to be responsive to the needs of the learners, not bound by “the way we’ve always done it.”

As always, feedback is appreciated.  Perhaps there exists an institution that has the desire and funding to pursue this further?  I’m fully onboard!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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