Using PPOST to Address Incident Priorities

In incident management we talk a lot about objectives, strategies, and tactics. Objectives being an identification of what needs to be accomplished; strategies outlining our approaches in how to achieve any given objective; and tactics providing the details of who, what, when, and where along with specific applications to support a specific strategy. With most responses being reasonably routine, many experienced responders go from objectives to tactics in the snap of a synapse. This is based on experience, training, standards, and lessons learned that are so practiced and ingrained in what we do, it’s practically an automatic response. But what of more complex incidents which challenge us with anything but the routine?

An extraordinary response often requires us to step back, take a breath, and think things through. The challenges are complex and necessitate that we approach things with deliberate procedure, and certainly documenting our outcomes, if not our entire thought process. While the formula of objectives, strategies, and tactics still inherently works, some are understandably so overwhelmed with what they face, that even developing objectives can seem to be too much in the weeds at the onset. For the solution, I turn to my northern neighbors – Canada.

While I’m not sure who to actually credit with the PPOST acronym, I know it’s most commonly cited in incident management practices, plans, and training in Canada. PPOST stands for:

  • Priorities
  • Problems
  • Objectives
  • Strategies
  • Tactics

Using PPOST in your approach can better help you to focus on what needs to be done. We know from ICS training and other courses that our immediate incident management priorities are:

  • Life safety
  • Incident stabilization
  • Property conservation

While additional priorities can be added later in the timeline of the incident these are the principle three we need to address. These priorities are fairly straightforward and help us to identify and classify our problems, placing them into the buckets of each of these priorities.

When we open our senses to a complex incident, we are often overwhelmed with problems. It can be difficult to figure out where to start brining order to the chaos. Fundamentally, list out every problem you identify. As you identify each problem, figure out which bucket (priority) it belongs in. Particularly at the onset of an incident, if it doesn’t relate to one of these three priorities, it’s not a problem that needs to be addressed (at least right now).

Now take a look at the problems you identified as being life safety issues. These are your first priority to address. It doesn’t mean you can’t also work on the problems identified in other priorities… that of course comes down to the resources you have available, though the second priority should of course be incident stabilization, followed by property conservation.

Even within these priority buckets, there are some problems which will have higher priority. A simple example: It may not be possible to affect a rescue of people until a fire is suppressed. So once we have a priority assigned to each of our problems, we still need to identify those problems which hold the greatest urgency within each of the priority areas.

To tackle the problems, we now develop objectives, strategies, and tactics for each, addressing them in order of priority and urgency.

If you are looking for additional information on PPOST, be sure to make ICS Canada your first stop.

Be smart and stay safe.

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Properly Leveraging the EOC Safety Officer

One of my Twitter connections tweeted over the weekend about the importance of the Safety Officer in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during the pandemic response.  This is absolutely true, but it’s not the only time the EOC Safety Officer should be engaged.  There is a significant role for them in many EOC activations, but they are historically underutilized, often relegated to monitoring for trip hazards in the EOC and making sure that no one hits their head on the desk when they fall asleep on those long wind-down shifts. 

While the Safety Officer in an Incident Command Post has a great deal of work to do, monitoring tactical hazards and implementing mitigative measures, we often think that with the EOC’s hands-off approach to tactics (something else that is also a myth in incident management) that there is little for an EOC Safety Officer to do.  Obviously, the potential of an EOC Safety Officer depends on the specific circumstances of the incident and the scope of support being provided by the EOC, especially if it’s staffed with the proper personnel. 

Remember that the Safety Officer is a member of the Command (or EOC Management) staff, and therefore can have assistants to support technical needs as well as a volume of work.  While ideally we want people trained as Safety Officers (in accordance with the NIMS position-specific curriculum), let’s face it – most of pool of position-trained personnel come from the fire service.  While on the surface there is obviously nothing wrong with that – fireground safety applications are incredibly detailed and require a very specific know-how – we need to leverage people with the proper background based on the incident we are dealing with.  That could be someone with a fire background, but, for example, a public health incident likely requires a Safety Officer (or advising assistant Safety Officer) to have a public health background; just as an emergency bridge replacement likely requires someone with an engineering background to be the Safety Officer. 

Through my experience, I’ve found that occupational health and safety personnel (either OSHA-proper from the US Dept of Labor or State/Local Occupational Health and Safety personnel) are great for this position, and even better if they have the proper ICS training.  On one hand, I’d call them generalists, because you can utilize them for darn near any incident, but calling them generalists almost feels insulting, as their knowledge of laws, regulations, and guidelines is often very extensive, and if they don’t know, they know where to find the information.  They also work well with hazard-specific specialists who can be integrated as assistants.  They can also call upon a small army of other OSHA-types to support field monitoring of safety matters. 

I will mention a word on using ‘regulators’ as Safety Officers.  Some may be reluctant to do so.  Reflecting again on my experience, I’ll say that Federal/State/Local OSHA-types are great to work with in this regard.  They are often willing to be flexible, developing and implementing an incident safety plan that can be phased, with safety personnel initially providing guidance and correction (when appropriate) and enforcing later. 

In looking at the scope of responsibility for an EOC Safety Officer, we do need to consider the scope of responsibility for any Safety Officers working from Incident Command Posts to ensure the work is complimentary, with minimal duplication of effort, but enough overlap for continuity.  The Safety Officers in an ICP will be primarily focused on the operating area of their ICP.  They are less likely to be concerned with safety matters off-site. 

For an ‘intangible’ incident, such as the current pandemic, we are more apt to find EOCs running the show vs incident command posts.  Obviously, this greatly expands the responsibility of the Safety Officer – in a jurisdiction’s primary EOC, as well as the Safety Officers in departmental operations centers (DOCs) – as many tactical operations are truly being managed from the EOC.  Considerations such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and operating guidelines for all areas of operation and all tactics are likely to be coming from the EOC Safety Officer.  If DOCs or other incident management facilities are involved, the Safety Officer of the jurisdiction’s primary EOC may be collaborating with the Safety Officers from these other facilities to ensure a common operating picture in regard to safety, a unified safety plan, and consistent monitoring and enforcement.  A Safety Officer operating in this capacity needs to be comprehensive in their scope, not just looking at the hazards associated with the primary issue (i.e. an infectious disease), but examining all tactics and considerations, ranging from people operating equipment, to emerging weather hazards.

For an incident with more traditional EOC involvement, a Safety Officer still has a full range of responsibilities, though the actual range of these are still dictated by the scope of the incident.  If an EOC is primarily serving as a resource ordering point, the EOC Safety Officer should be communicating with the Safety Officer at the ICP to ensure an understanding of the hazards in general operating area as well as the specific hazards and PPE needs of the application each resource will be assigned to.  The EOC Safety Officer should be ensuring that responding resources are aware of these safety requirements, as well as potential safety concerns while in transit.  The EOC Safety Officer may be providing the ICP Safety Officer with specialized safety support, analysis, and resources, including supplies and equipment (in coordination with EOC Logistics). 

An EOC supporting multiple ICPs (and even coordinating with several DOCs) should have a more involved and proactive Safety Officer, as they need to be coordinating safety matters across each of these incident management structures.  This includes ensuring a common operating picture in regard to safety, a unified safety plan, and consistent monitoring and enforcement.  They are also likely to be involved in working with EOC Logistics to ensure the proper supplies and equipment.  They should be watching for tactical applications or resource movements of each incident management structure to ensure there are no conflicts or impacts in regard to safety. 

An EOC more significantly engaged is likely to be providing mission support (a topic I’ll be writing about in the near future).  In summary, EOC mission support are generally tactical applications which are developed and managed by an EOC to address matters that are beyond the scope of the ICP or those which the Incident Commander can’t presently deal with.  EOC mission support could include things like sheltering, points of distribution, or a family assistance center.  Once up and running, each of these examples should have their own management structure including a Safety Officer to address their specific needs, but the EOC Safety Officer should be heavily involved in the planning and development stages of these missions, as well as coordinating and supporting safety matters to each of them, similar to what has been mentioned previously. 

Lastly, I’ll suggest that an EOC Safety Officer may also be working with third parties, to include non-government organizations, the private sector, and the public.  Depending on the activity of any of these, the EOC Safety Officer should be keeping tabs on what the safety issues are and communicating with these parties.  The role of the EOC Safety Officer could even include public education.  A great example of this was the October 2006 snowstorm in Erie County, NY.  The Safety Officer from the County EOC (staffed by US DOL/OSHA) coordinated several chainsaw safety courses for the public, knowing that despite the number of safety messages distributed via the Public Information Officer, homeowners, who perhaps never used a chainsaw or hadn’t used one in years, would be out in their yards clearing debris from fallen trees.  These courses were incredibly effective and appreciated by the public. 

To be honest, I’m in favor of breaking tradition within EOCs and designating EOC safety matters, such as trip hazards and signage for mopped floors, to those who are managing EOC facility needs (i.e. the Center Support Section if you are using the Incident Support Model).  This assignment more appropriately corresponds with the focus of the Center Support Section and allows the EOC Safety Officer to maintain focus on what’s going on outside the EOC. 

So there is some food for thought on how to properly use an EOC Safety Officer.  Don’t continue to let it be a lame position as so many have in the past.  It has incredible importance when properly utilized and staffed.  I’m interested in hearing about how you have leveraged EOC Safety Officers, or if you are a Safety Officer, what activities you have performed from an EOC. 

Be safe out there. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

ICS Training Sucks: A Revival

It’s sad to say that in the past four and a half years of stumping for changes in ICS training, we have seen little progress.  I was recently sent a response org chart developed by an agency that completely tore apart ICS and rebuilt it in a fundamentally different image.  ICS is a standard.  It shouldn’t be changed.  Once you change it, especially at fundamental levels, you no longer have a standard.  It has innate flexibility, but those are applied without changing the fundamentals.  I vented some of my frustration about this last night on Twitter, to a mix of celebration and naysayers, as expected.  Some of those naysayers think the system simply doesn’t work. Others think the system simply can’t accommodate their type of agency.

(note that I’m using the word ‘agency’ here to mean any type of government, non-government, or private sector organization.  I decided to use it since I’m also heavily using the term ‘organization’ in regard to the structure we apply for a response)

So let’s back up a bit.  Why is this happening?  It starts with people having some knowledge of ICS and, with good intentions, wanting to adapt it to their agency and their circumstances.  But there is simply no reason to do any adaptation.  The functions outlined in ICS are all you need in a field-level response.  I’ve heard all the excuses – “We need to make it work for us.”  “FEMA needs to build an ICS for our type of agency.”  “It’s not you, it’s me.” I’ve worked with a lot of stakeholders across a lot of sectors across the whole country, and I have yet to find a field-level response that I can’t organize without violating the fundamentals of ICS.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but adhering to the standard is important because if we don’t adhere to a standard, we are out of the loop.  If enough people don’t adhere to a standard, it’s no longer a standard.  Either way, the benefits of having a standard are crumpled up and thrown away.

One problem is that a lot of entities, particularly large agencies with multiple components, like to ensure that every function or department within their static structure is represented in an ICS model.  This isn’t what ICS is built for.  If you are seeking specific representation, you can assign agency representatives to the ICP or the EOC, or use a department-based EOC model, but the foundational ICS structure itself isn’t intended to reflect your static organization.  You have an animal control officer.  Do they need to be represented in your pre-planned ICS org chart?  No, they are brought in as a resource if needed, likely in Operations.  You have an IT department.  Do they need to be represented in your pre-planned ICS org chart?  Not as a department. But their capability is identified, likely for assignment within Logistics.  It’s not about recreating ICS to fit your static organization.  It’s about knowing the capabilities of your static organization and applying them within the established ICS structure when and how they are needed. 

Let’s put this out there… ICS isn’t just for you, it’s for everyone.  What I mean is that the greatest benefit of ICS (the prime reason it was actually devised) is for multi-agency operations.  In a local incident of any significance, your agency is likely to be part of a multi-agency response.  Depending on the type of incident, scope, location, and other factors, certain positions will be staffed with personnel selected from the agencies with primary responsibility and, hopefully, with qualified staff.  So that carefully crafted org chart you have developed for your agency’s response is largely irrelevant in a multi-agency operation.  Yes, your agency certainly should have a go-to model for single-agency responses, but consider that a single-agency response probably isn’t going to need a full-blown org chart.

There is a difference, though… and that’s for EOCs, or more specifically departmental emergency operations centers.  These are, by definition, not multi-agency, and established to support your own agency’s needs for deployment, sustainment, internal coordination, and matters that may not be addressed at the field-level.  EOCs have a variety of organizational models available to them, which don’t necessarily need to be ICS.   A problem I often see is agencies trying to accomplish everything in one org chart.  They are trying to fit executive level positions in with field response.  Stop.  Take a breath and figure out what you are trying to accomplish.  It’s OK (and perhaps necessary) for your agency to have two organizational models to accomplish what you need, depending, of course, on your agency’s role, responsibilities, and capabilities.  You may need a field-level organization that addresses a tactical response (this is ICS-based) and an EOC organization that supports that response and the needs of your agency as a whole in regard to the incident (again, lots of options for the EOC organization).  Also consider, depending on your agency, that a policy group may be necessary to guide things.  A policy group is non-operational and they essentially exist to make the broad-reaching decisions on behalf of the organization.

Why are we seeing such extensive mis-applications of ICS?  First, people still don’t understand ICS.  Second, they aren’t truly considering the needs of their agencies.  The irony is that many of the people doing this DO think they understand ICS and that they are making changes to it to better serve the needs of their agencies.  So… we’re still maintaining that ICS Training Sucks.  Do I have a total solution to that problem?  No. But in the articles you find in that link, I certainly have some ideas.  I’ve also found a great many kindred spirits in this whole crusade that agree with the need for change in how we train people in ICS.

What I do know is that the solution isn’t as straight forward as we would like it to be.  Considerations:

First, we are considerably tainted by our knowledge of current and past ICS curricula.  When talking with people about how to fix ICS training, I have to regularly remind myself to push that knowledge aside and look at the problem with fresh eyes.  Lessons learned aside; we can’t move forward when we are still planting ourselves in what is in use now.

Second, we need to consider that there may not be a single solution that fits all needs.  I still think we may need a curriculum structure similar to that used for HazMat training, which addresses the needs of different user groups (i.e. Awareness, Operations, Technician, Planner, Commander).

Third, we need to actually teach people how to apply ICS.  At present, with only a bit of exception, true application of ICS isn’t deliberately instructed until someone takes position-specific and incident management team training.  This in no way meets the needs of most agencies, many of which are volunteer, and have limited availability to go away for several weeks to get the training they need.

Fourth, recognize that if you aren’t using ICS regularly (and I mean at a large scale), your knowledge and skill degrades.  Refresher training should be required and scenario-based learning should be incorporated across the curriculum.

Fifth, stop trying to re-develop ICS.  Trust me, all the needed capabilities of your agency for a field-level response fit within an ICS org chart.  It’s not about your static organization, it’s about capabilities.  Identify and assign capabilities.

I love the continued dialog and attention this topic gets.  The only way we will see positive change is by continuing that dialog.  Please share these blogs and your ideas with colleagues.  Let’s keep spreading this and striving for change.

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEPD

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

~~

In memoriam: I humbly dedicate this post to a friend and colleague who recently lost a battle with cancer.  Phil Politano is known by many for his good nature, his gregarious laugh, and his incredible knowledge as a Public Information Officer.  I’ve known Phil since about 2002, and had worked with him on incidents, taught classes with him, and learned a lot from him.  Phil eventually left Central NY and moved his family a bit south, taking a job with FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.  There, his talents were applied to their greatest extent.  He reshaped PIO training, spread that gospel to people from all around the world, and supported large scale responses with his knowledge, skills, and abilities.  He was a master in his craft and shared his mastery with anyone who wanted to learn.  He was an incredible practitioner, a great friend, and a wonderful person.  He made us all better simply by knowing him.   He is missed by so many.  Rest well.

 

 

An Updated Community Lifelines Toolkit and Relationships to Incident Management

Earlier this year, FEMA released guidance on the Community Lifelines.  I wrote a piece in the spring about integrating the concept into our preparedness and response activities.  Last month, FEMA issued updated guidance for Community Lifeline Implementation through Toolkit 2.0.  In this update, FEMA cites some lessons learned in actually applying the Lifeline concept in multiple exercises across the nation, as well as from feedback received by stakeholders. Based on these lessons learned and feedback, they have made some adjustments to their toolkit to reflect how they understand, prioritize, and communicate incident impacts; the structure and format for decision-making support products. And planning for these impacts and stabilization prior to and during incidents.  They have also made some changes based upon the updated National Response Framework.  The documents associated with the updated Community Lifelines all seem to reflect an inclusion in the efforts of the National Response Framework.  It’s great to see FEMA actually tying various efforts together and seeking to provide grounded guidance on application of concepts mentioned in doctrine-level documents.

The biggest addition to the Community Lifelines update is the inclusion of the FEMA Incident Stabilization Guide.  The ‘operational draft’ is intended to serve as a reference to FEMA staff and a resource to state, local, and tribal governments on how “FEMA approaches and conducts response operations”.  It’s a 77-page document the obviously leans heavily into the Community Lifelines as a standard for assessing the impacts to critical infrastructure and progress toward restoration, not only in response, but also into recovery operations.  It even reflects on bolstering Community Lifelines in resilience efforts, and ties in the THIRA and capability analysis efforts that states, UASIs, and other governments conduct.  I’m not sure the document is really a review of how FEMA conducts operations, as they say, but it does review the ideology of a portion of those operations.  Overall, there is some very useful information and references contained in the document, but this brings me to a couple of important thoughts:

  1. The utility of this document, as with the entire Community Lifelines concept, at the state and local level is only realized through integration of these concepts at the state and local levels.
  2. We finally have guidance on what ‘incident stabilization’ really entails.

To address the first item… In my first piece on Community Lifelines, I had already mentioned that if states or communities are interested in adopting the concept of Community Lifelines, that all starts with planning.  An important early step of planning is conducting assessments, and the most pertinent assessment relative to this initiative would be to identify and catalog the lifelines in your community.  From there the assessment furthers to examine their present condition, vulnerabilities, and align standards for determining their operational condition aligned with the Community Lifelines guidelines.  I would also suggest identifying resiliency efforts (hopefully these are already identified in your hazard mitigation plan) which can help prevent damages or limit impacts.  As part of your response and short-term recovery lexicon, procedures should be developed to outline how lifeline assessments will be performed, when, and by who, as well as where that information will be collected during an incident.

As for my second item, the concept of incident stabilization has an interesting intersection with a meeting I was invited to last week.  I was afforded the opportunity to provide input to an ICS curriculum update (not in the US – more on this at a later time), and as part of this we discussed the standard three incident priorities (Life Safety, Incident Stabilization, and Property Conservation).  We identified in our discussions that incident stabilization is incredibly broad and can ultimately mean different things to different communities, even though the fundamental premise of it is to prevent further impacts.  This Incident Stabilization Guide is focused exclusively on that topic.  In our endeavor to make ICS training better, more grounded, less conceptual, and more applicable; there is a great deal of foundational information that could be distilled from this new document for inclusion in ICS training to discuss HOW we actually accomplish incident stabilization instead of making a one-off mention of it.

Going a bit into my continued crusade against the current state of ICS training… I acknowledge that any inclusion of this subject matter in ICS training would still be generally brief, and really more of a framework, as implementation still needs to be grounded in community-level plans, but this document is a great resource.  This also underscores that “learning ICS” isn’t just about taking classes.  It’s about being a professional and studying up on how to be a more effective incident manager.  ICS is simply a tool we use to organize our response… ICS is NOT inclusive of incident management.  Not only are we teaching ICS poorly, we are barely teaching incident management.

While I’ve been away for a while working on some large client projects, I’m looking forward to ending the year with a bang, and getting in a few more posts.  It’s great that in my travels and interactions with colleagues, they regularly mention my articles, which often bring about some great discussion.  I’m always interested in hearing the thoughts of other professionals on these topics.

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

A New Vision for ICS Training

Yep, I’m still at it.  It seems with every post about the condition of Incident Command System training as we know it, I’m able to draw more people into our cause (aka the Crusade).  While I’ve never espoused there to be an easy solution, the training that we currently provide for ICS falls well short of doing us any favors.  People walk out of each subsequent training course with a marginally increased understanding of the system and how to use it.  And that’s really the fundamental problem, isn’t it?

Perhaps at some point, someone had the idea of developing ICS 100-400 to be knowledge-based courses, with position-specific training to be more about application.  Unfortunately, that’s a significant disservice to responders and the populations they serve, which was further exacerbated by the NIMS training requirements, creating a type of a false sense of security in which people believed that they have ‘been trained in ICS’, therefore all is well in the world.  Responders, in the broadest sense, at supervisory levels within every community should be trained not only in what ICS is but also how to implement it.  Not every community, for a variety of reasons, has reasonable access to position-specific training, so the core ICS curriculum absolutely MUST do a better job in teaching them how to implement the system.

This also goes further than just training.  ICS, like so many other things, is a knowledgebase that tends to degrade over time.  Without practice, you tend to lose the skills.  This is how people who are on Incident Management Teams or those who work regularly in an ICS-based Emergency Operations Center are so well practiced in the system.  In the absence (hopefully!) of actual incidents, planned events and exercises go a long way to keeping skills sharp.  Even those, however, can get costly and time-consuming to design and conduct.  Enter the hybridization of scenario-based training, which is something I’ve written on in the past.  Not only do we need to include more scenario-based training in everything, we need to include a scenario-based ICS skills refresher course as part of the core ICS curriculum.

While I continue to have various thoughts on what there is to be done with the ICS curriculum as a whole, here is my current vision…

ICS-100: (What is ICS?)  Pretty much keep this as is, with options for on-line and classroom delivery.  The purpose of this course is to serve as an introduction to ICS concepts for those who are likely to come into contact with it and work in lower levels within the system.  This is levels one (knowledge) and two (comprehension) of Bloom’s taxonomy.  It shall serve as a prerequisite to further ICS classes as it provides much of the fundamental terminology.

ICS-200: (How do I work within the system?)  Tear down/burn down/nuke the on-line version and never look back.  Simply making it ‘more accessible’ doesn’t mean that it’s good (it’s not).  The purpose of this course is to expand on knowledge and begin to approach functionality.  I expect content to reach deeper than what is currently within the course.  Without looking at specific content areas, I envision this course to be mostly level two (comprehension) of Bloom’s taxonomy with some touches on level three (application).  Perhaps the only level one content that should be introduced in this course are some fundamentals of emergency management.  Some of the content areas currently in the ICS 300 absolutely need to be moved into the ICS 200 to not only make the ICS 200 more impactful, but to also set up the ICS 300 as being fully focused on implementation of the system.  Expanded content may mean taking this course to a duration of up to three days (it even feels taboo writing it!). ICS 100 (taken within six months) is a prerequisite.

ICS-300: (How do I manage the system?) The most recent update of the ICS 300 course begins to approach the vision for what we need, but more work needs to be done.  This course needs to be much less about the system and more about how to IMPLEMENT and MANAGE the system.  This course is firmly rooted in level three (application) of Bloom’s taxonomy, with perhaps some level four objectives, which gets into analysis (troubleshooting and creative solutions… because that’s what emergency management is really all about!).  Much of this course is scenario-based learning centered on implementation and management of an incident through the use of ICS.  Less instruction, more guidance.  And because, at this point, ICS isn’t the only thing at play in real life, concepts of broader incident management are also applied.  ICS 200 is naturally a prerequisite, and should have been taken within a year.

ICS Implementation Refresher Course: This would be designed as a post- ICS 300 course, taken every year or two.  Reasonably, this can be accomplished in a day of intensive scenario-based training.

ICS-400: (A prerequisite for position-specific training).  Eliminate this from the core curriculum.  Seriously.  Most of the current content of this course is not needed in the core ICS curriculum.  Time is better spent in a more intensive ICS 300 course than teaching people about some (largely) obscure applications of ICS which are usually only ever performed by incident management teams.  The current content is largely fine, it just has such little impact on local implementation of ICS and is really rather awkward within the continuity of the curriculum.

Thoughts and feedback are always appreciated.  If we are to succeed and build a better mouse trap, it will be through dialogue and sharing of ideas.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

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℠®

 

Reviewing FEMA’s New ELG 2300 EOC Intermediate Course

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the new EOC training courses released by FEMA.  Last week I acquired some additional information on these through a webinar conducted by the course managers from FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI).  In this webinar, they covered the updated ELG 191 (ICS EOC Interface), G 402 (NIMS Overview for Officials), IS 2200 (Basic EOC Operations), and ELG 2300 (Intermediate EOC Operations).  Similar to the rollouts for the new ICS courses, they walked us through comparisons for these new/updated courses (where they exist) and gave some information on the course structure and general content areas.  They also provided plans of instruction, which, for those of you who aren’t instructional designers, are documents foundational to the instructional design process, laying out everything from course objectives, target audience, and materials needed, as well as outlining the content areas for each unit within the course.

First, it’s important to note that EMI stressed these courses being part of a new EOC training track, intended as an analog to the foundational ICS courses, with the vision being that, depending on what the assignment of personnel might be, they may be better suited to take one or the other.  Of course there are some staff that would certainly benefit from both.  I think this is a great move by EMI.  For decades we have been using ICS courses supplemented by home grown courses to produce meaningful training.  Depending on the structure and processes of the EOC, we often had to tell people to ignore parts of the ICS training they had because of how differently the EOC operates.  That said, while these new courses build a much better foundation for EOC training, there will still be a need for some locally developed training to address the specifics of your own EOC.  This is incredibly important… don’t be lazy about this.

The course I had greatest interest in during this webinar was the ELG 2300 – EOC Intermediate course.  This course actually replaces the G 775 EOC course, which I wouldn’t say is equivalent to the new course, but in creating these new courses, the old courses are being fully demobilized.  The course runs for three full days in the classroom, covering EOC skillsets, incident planning, situational awareness, resource management, and the ever-awkward transition to recovery.  Pilot offerings of the course have demonstrated it to be a very full three days, with didactic material reinforced by activities.

From reviewing the Plan of Instruction, here are the items I appreciate in this course:

  • They address an EOC as a nexus of activity within the greater context of emergency management, covering topics such as incident management teams, potential roles, multi-agency coordination, preparedness, and maintaining readiness.
  • Developing EOC plans and standard operating procedures
  • A lot of emphasis on situational awareness
  • They accept the challenge of discussing the different possible EOC organizational models within major topic areas
  • The importance of structured recovery operations and the role of the EOC in these

There are two things I see through the lens of the plan of instruction that I’m not a fan of.  First of all, the first few units seem to have reiterative content.  While it may be with a different focus, topics such as the ICS/EOC interface don’t need to be explained over and over again in each unit.

The second item is a big one, and this brings me back a few years to my first critical piece on ICS training.  This issue is that the course objectives simply don’t line up with what the course needs to be.  Each of the terminal learning objectives of the course center on explain or identify, which reflect a low domain of learning in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Yet the ‘overall course objective’ as stated in the plan of instruction is for students to ‘demonstrate the managerial and operational roles of the modern-day EOC’.  Demonstrate is a higher, application-level domain within the taxonomy, which is absolutely where we should be for a three-day intermediate level course.  The course terminal objectives, however, don’t reflect this higher domain.  Not seeing the actual course material, I’m not able to ascertain if this is a reflection of poor instructional design (not properly aligning the objectives with appropriate course content) or if the content is actually written in accordance with the terminal objectives, thus not meeting the intent of the ‘overall course objective’.

I’m a big proponent of the need for the courses in series to be developmental; with foundational, rote information provided in a basic or awareness level course and a progression to more practical learning occurring at intermediate and advanced levels.  While this course, as I see it, certainly comes a long way to improve our collective preparedness for emergency operations centers, most jurisdictions are not going to commit to sending their staff to three days of training just so they can do a better job of talking about what an EOC is and should do.  They should be coming back with an increased ability to perform.   Given the range of skills and ideal learning outcomes we are really striving for, perhaps we need to transcend the basic-intermediate-advanced training levels and examine the role-based model of awareness-operations-technician-management/command-planning.  This allows for better targeting of learning outcomes based upon what people need.  Just a thought.

Despite my misgivings, we needed to start somewhere with a jumpstarted EOC training program.  This is a great start and I’m sure as this course gets some exercise, there will be some identification of opportunities to improve and better meet the needs of the variety of audiences out there.  I’m looking forward to seeing the course material sometime in the near future.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

©2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

New FEMA EOC Training Courses Announced

Last night FEMA issued a NIMS Alert (13-19) announcing the release of some new and revised Emergency Operations Center (EOC) training courses.  These include:

E/L/G 191 – Emergency Operations Center/Incident Command System Interface

IS 2200 – Basic Emergency Operations Center Functions

E/L/G 2300 – Intermediate Emergency Operations Center Functions

This is also including an updated G 402 NIMS Overview for Senior Officials.

FEMA is hosting a series of webinars on these courses next week.  Information can be found at the bottom of this post.

First, a bit of background on the nomenclature, for those who might not be familiar.

  • E-coded courses are those offered ‘in residence’ by FEMA, typically at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI)
  • L-coded courses are those delivered by FEMA at various locations, typically at the request of state and local governments
  • G-coded courses are those able to be delivered by state emergency management offices
  • IS-coded courses are independent study courses available from training.fema.gov

Providing a bit of context to these courses.  First, the E/L/G 191 course.  This course has been in dire need of a re-write for a very long time.  While FEMA/EMI certainly have a challenge of developing courses that are applicable to most jurisdictions, I’ve long found the 191 course to be inadequate for most.  Interestingly enough, I found the content of the new IS 2200 course alone to be far superior to any previous content of the 191 course.  That said, I’m interested in seeing what the redesign has brought for the 191 course, hopefully increasing the utility of this course to participants.

Speaking of the IS 2200 course, I just completed this course on EMI’s Independent Study website.  Overall, I found the course to be solid, addressing all the foundational information needed by stakeholders to understand what an EOC is a does, in general terms, how it might be organized, and what it’s primary tasks are.  The course has heavy reference to NIMS, as expected, and provides several hyperlinks to additional resources of relevant interest.  While the course does reflect much of the EOC content from the updated NIMS document, the materials were thoughtfully organized with a fair amount of supplement and context, examples, and even small scenario-driven activities to support a better understanding of EOCS.  As indicated previous, it has a fair amount of information on the concepts of the ICS/EOC interface, which I think are of significant value to people who are new to the world of EOCs.  The course also stresses the value of emergency operations plans, something that had been missing from ICS courses for years prior to an earlier update.

There are some areas where I find the IS 2200 course to be lacking.  First of all, there were some typos and grammatical errors in the product.  While this might not seem like a big deal to some, quality counts.  Similarly, many of the photos used in the course are recycled from many years back of training and are of poor quality and resolution.  Granted, photos from EOCs are generally not exciting or sexy, but higher quality and updated hair styles do contribute to quality.  The traditional Planning P was referenced quite a bit in the course, with the caveat that the EOC should develop its own planning cycle.  I found this to be a bit lazy and would have liked to see some guidance on an EOC-oriented Planning P.  Lastly, I would have liked to see some material on departmental EOCs (DOCs) as well as the interface between a dispatch/public safety answering point (PSAP) and a local EOC.  Perhaps we will see this latter topic addressed in either the 191 course or the Intermediate EOC course.

E/L/G 2300 is the Intermediate EOC course.  I’m very curious to learn more about this course when I sit in on one of next week’s webinars.  The biggest challenge that FEMA has in this course, as I see it, is that there are several organizational models which can be used by EOCs, including the ICS-based model, the incident support model, the departmental model, and the emergency support function model.  This variety, which I think is good to have to help jurisdictions and agencies manage in the way that is most comfortable for them, does create significant difficulty to teach how, in any significant detail, an EOC should function.  While I would love for this course to dive into the EOC’s planning process and key in on roles and responsibilities of positions similar to the ICS 300 course, I think that detail might need to be reserved for a customized course, which I’ve built for various entities through my career.  That said, I’ll be sure to report out following the webinars on my thoughts on the information we are provided.


Additional information is available on these offerings through a series of webinars hosted by FEMA.  The dates and times of the webinars:

  • May 28, 2019 at 11:00 am (EST)
  • May 28, 2019 at 3:00 pm (EST)
  • May 30, 2019 at 11:00 am (EST)
  • May 30, 2019 at 3:00 pm (EST)

 The webinars will be presented through their NIMS ICS Training Forum – Adobe Connect platform here:

The Adobe Connect platform is for displaying visuals and for chatroom only. Audio will be provided using the following conference call line and pin #:

  • Conference Telephone #: 800-320-4330
  • Pin #: 884976

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Considerations for Your EOC

Many jurisdictions, agencies, and organizations have emergency operations centers (EOCs) identified in their emergency plans to support incident response and recovery operations.  Through my career, I’ve seen all manner of EOCs, used to support entire incidents or just specific missions, ranging in size from just a handful of people to well over 100 people, various organizational models, and even varying degrees of successful implementation.  I’ve also seen many different locations for EOCs.

An EOC can be established anywhere, but just like any broad statement, there are a number of caveats to that.  Here are 10 things to consider in identifying a location for your EOC:

  1. Out of harm’s way

While it’s difficult to determine where an incident will strike, most jurisdictions have areas that may be less susceptible than others.  While it’s certainly convenient to have your EOC off a major highway, consider that a significant accident on that highway will impact access to your facility.  Locating your EOC near an industrial district or in a flood plain is just asking for trouble.  Be smart about where you locate your EOC relative to your geographic risk profile.

  1. Plenty of parking and accessibility

Few things are more frustrating than arriving to an EOC and not having a place to park.  That’s simply a silly problem to have and reflects greatly on shortsightedness.  If you are stuck in a certain location, plan for an overflow lot, signage, and a shuttle.  Also make sure your building is accessible.  I’ve seen far too many EOCs located either in basements or upper floors without any elevators or other ability for access for people with disabilities.

  1. Utility services and communications with redundancies

It practically goes without saying in our current age of technology, but we need to ensure full utility service in our EOCs.  This includes the basics like electricity, HVAC, and water, but also internet, terrestrial telephone, cellular service, television service (either cable or satellite), and radio communications.  The best facilities will have redundancies in these services to the greatest extent possible.  Generators (with fuel) are rather essential.  Engage your IT staff to ensure maximum flexibility and connectivity with wifi and wireless printing, while still maintaining secure networks.  Each work space should also be able to easily access outlets without running an excess of extension cords (but always have some on hand!).

  1. Meal and break rooms

Constant engagement fuels stress and exhaustion which leads to degradation of our ability to perform.  While work in an EOC may not be so physically strenuous, it can be mentally draining and having respite locations are important.  Both for respite and the sake of keeping work spaces clean, you want to have a separate dining area that can accommodate seating for everyone (at least in shifts), a place to wash hands, refrigeration of food and beverages, potable water and coffee/tea, and space for prepared food to be delivered and maintained within safe temperatures.

  1. Seating and tables

It seems odd to have to say this, but adequate seating is quite important.  I’ve been in EOCs that simply didn’t have it.  While I appreciate the ability of a jurisdiction to set up an ad-hoc EOC, a single six foot table and a few folding chairs aren’t likely to meet your needs.  If you don’t have a dedicated EOC (not everyone needs one!), meeting and conference rooms may have plenty of seating, though if they are too small, you will be extremely limited.  Thankfully folding tables and chairs are reasonably inexpensive and easy to store.  Consider the functional spaces you need to accommodate your EOC’s organization, be it ICS-based, Incident Support Model-based, or Emergency Support Function-based.  Functional groups should have their own work spaces and the arrangement and workspaces they need to accommodate and facilitate their functions.  Always plan for more people than you expect!

  1. Away from distractions

Your EOC shouldn’t be in a space that other wise will receive a lot of foot traffic.  While co-location of facilities can seem like a great idea before an incident, having your EOC in the same building as a shelter or your fire department is probably a bad idea.  It’s not only distracting, but also infringes on utility and communication usage, and even security.

  1. Security

Speaking of security, ensure that access to your EOC is limited only to those who should be there.  Generally, personnel not working in or serving the EOC should not have access to it.  It’s a pain to have civilians, the media, or other random persons wandering into an EOC, especially when they want immediate answers to complicated questions or feel their needs should be addressed first.  Along with ensuring access controls, security procedures should be in place, including a staffed reception desk and sign-in.  Personally, I also prefer armed security (law enforcement) for most EOCs.

  1. Meeting and briefing space

Meetings and briefings are a necessity in incident management.  It’s a way in which we share information, work through problems, and make decisions.  Of course there is always the danger of personnel getting stuck in a perpetual meeting, but that’s a topic for another blog post.  Ideally, your EOC should have adequate breakout space for these meetings and briefings.  An open space with a podium may be necessary for media briefings, and meeting rooms with conference call and video conference capabilities may also be required.  Having a separate space allows a meeting to take place without distraction from the general EOC activity while also being able to discuss sensitive information.

  1. Display space

One of the hottest commodities in an EOC is display space.  Space to project with an LCD projector, hang chart paper or maps, and write on with a dry-erase marker is pretty essential to helping ensure that people are informed and information is tracked.  Higher-tech EOCs may elect to have flat screen monitors mounted on the wall, as well.  Easel stands and portable white boards can augment this and make your space more flexible as well.

  1. A good backup site

One of the best tips I can provide about having a great space for an EOC is to have two!  You will be thankful you have that second space identified and planned for in a continuity situation.  If you don’t need it, it can always be used for something else, but if you do need and don’t have it, you will be scrambling to find a location, get your personnel there, and ensure you have supplies, equipment, and other needs addressed.

 

There are certainly a number of other considerations for EOCs, but paying heed to these ten will get you far.  Your EOC doesn’t need to be a dedicated facility.  It can be any reasonably flexible open space, such as town hall, a large meeting space, a training facility, a hotel conference space, or even a warehouse – your needs should determine your space.  Once you have identified your space, make it functional and ensure that you have an EOC plan and procedures. Train staff, develop job aids to support their tasks, and exercise your plans regularly!

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠