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

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℠®

 

Incident Management – Beyond ICS

The Incident Command System (ICS) provides an important foundation to incident management.  ICS grounds us in standards, providing structure and processes which help mitigate against the fact that all incidents themselves are unique.  While ICS may not be perfect, and I have been and continue to be highly critical of ICS training, the Incident Command System has proven to be effective – when properly implemented.  One of our biggest stumbling blocks with the implementation of ICS is the human factor – something else I’ve written about on a few occasions.  The other obstacle to effective incident management is relying too heavily on ICS.  ICS is not the solution to incident management – it’s a tool.  For incident management to be truly effective, we need to think beyond ICS.

So aside from ICS, what do incident managers need to know and do to be more effective? (Note that I’m not using the term ‘incident commander’ here, as incident management, fundamentally, is a team sport.  I’m using the term ‘incident managers’ as a collective term for all personnel involved in the higher echelons of incident management).

First, good incident managers should have proven leadership and management skills.  I’m not going to go at this one in length… there are no fewer than a gazillion books written on leadership and management and the importance of effectively leading organizations.  Just like any other organization, someone in a position of incident management who can’t properly lead is not only going to fail themselves, but also the organization.

Second, good incident managers need to have a grasp of emergency management.  Not just an application of public safety, such as the fire service or law enforcement, or whatever field they happen to be performing response in (i.e. public health, transportation, etc.).  They should have a solid awareness of what each major participant in emergency management does and the major processes of emergency management.

Next, incident managers should understand the fundamentals of project management.  This one is really important.  The tactics we execute in our response to an incident are really a series of projects.  Not that a Gantt chart needs to be developed for each incident (although I’ve actually done this for prolonged incidents – and it is seriously insightful), but an understanding of tactical timeframes, progress toward completion, and what activities can be done simultaneously versus those that should be done in sequence can be a huge help.  It’s a great visual tool that can be easily developed with the help of ICS 204s.  Progress toward completion (i.e. how much of a tactic have we accomplished as part of the whole) helps us to measure effectiveness, gauge how long we continue to need certain resources, and will answer the questions ‘how are we doing?’ and ‘are we there yet?’.  In larger incidents (NIMS Type 3 and larger) this is incredibly important.  What’s the progress on evacuation?  How much longer until all the boom is deployed?  How much debris has been cleared?  Etc.  These aren’t just pain the ass questions asked by elected officials and the media… these are questions you should be asking as well.

Continuing on with project management (that’s how important I think it is), I’ll make a few more notes here.  First of all, field observers are really important to monitoring progress.  Don’t rely on the tacticians to do this.  First of all, the tacticians are too busy.  They need to be focused on getting things done.  Also, they may be too close to the situation to give an objective assessment (or in the case of the use of contractors, it’s simply good contract management).  Digging into your ICS knowledge, recall that field observers are an actual position (although one not used often) within the Planning Section assigned to the Situation Unit.  Their job is to monitor and report on tactical progress and other situational information.  Also consider that if you see issues with a slower than expected progress toward completion, that means that either your initial estimates were wrong or something is slowing down the operation.  This may justify a root cause analysis to determine why things are not progressing as they should be.  Perhaps there was more to accomplish than anticipated, or the wrong resources are being applied?

Next, the highest members of incident management (i.e. incident command, unified command, EOC manager, etc.) need to have some separation from the rest of the incident management staff, agency representatives, and tactical operations.  They can’t be ‘in the pit’, ‘on the floor’, ‘in the trenches’, or whatever other lingo you might use in your command post, EOC, or field operations – at least not as their usual place to be.  Yes, some measure of ‘management by walking around’ is good, but I’ve been in plenty of command posts, EOCs, and departmental operations centers that have command right in the mix of everything.  These places get noisy and there are a lot of distractions.  You can’t hold a productive meeting in this environment, much less concentrate.  People are also inclined to go directly to command with issues and problems… issues and problems that are likely best solved by someone else.  Even in the field, an IC shouldn’t be too close to the tactics on a large incident.  Pull back and think about incident management, not tactics.

That’s the list that I have for now.  It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while, so I plan on adding to it in the future.  I also expect to be doing some presentations in the near future as well.  What thoughts do you have on this?  What can we do to improve on incident management?

© 2018 – Timothy M. Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC ™

Preparing to Use the Incident Command System

For a bit of context, if you haven’t already read them, please take a look at these other ICS related articles I’ve posted:

Incident Command System Training Sucks

ICS Training Sucks… So Let’s Fix It

Preparedness – ICS is Not Enough

The crusade to improve ICS training and implementation continues…

We invest a lot of time and effort into training people in the use of the Incident Command System (ICS).  However, as a broad statement, the training we provide is massively inadequate.  We don’t actually train people to do anything – we simply tell them about ICS through an increasingly repetitive and complex series of courses.  At the risk of being repetitive myself, I refer you to the articles linked above for many of my foundational thoughts on the current state of ICS training.

The ICS core training curriculum aside, we – as both individuals and organizations – need to be better prepared to actually use ICS.  The thought that people are able to use ICS the minute they walk out of an ICS course is totally and completely false.  By ‘use ICS’, I don’t mean to simply function within an organizational chain of command that uses ICS, I’m referring to being a driving force within the system itself.  ICS isn’t something that happens automatically, it requires deliberate and constant actions.  This typically involves functioning at the Command or General Staff levels, but also within many of the subordinate positions which are absolutely critical to managing a complex incident and driving the system.

So how do we prepare to use ICS?  I often refer to the preparedness capability elements of POETE (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising) when I’m talking about preparedness activities.  These same concepts apply here.  We need to remember that planning is the foundation of all preparedness efforts.  If it’s not documented, then why are we doing it?  So we have to have plans, polies, and procedures which call for the implementation of ICS and direct us in the nuances of how we will manage an incident.  I’m sure everyone’s plan has taken a page from the NIMS Doctrine and includes language about the requirement to use NIMS and ICS.  That’s all well and good, but like many things in our plans, we don’t reinforce these things enough.

I’m not talking about simply giving NIMS and ICS lip service.  I’m talking about procedure level integration of these concepts.  This begins with good planning, which means plans that are implementation-ready.  Would you consider your plans implementation-ready?  Do they describe how to use the ICS structure and concepts to actually implement the plan?  Maybe yes, maybe no.   If not, your team has some plan updating to do.

Your organization must be ready to respond using ICS.  That means that everyone is familiar with their assigned roles and responsibilities.  Often ICS training falls short of this.  This article: Training EOC Personnel – ICS is Not Enough, details many of the reasons why, at least for an EOC environment.  Many of the points made in the article, however, can be reasonably applied to other environments and organizations.  While ICS provides us with overall concepts, the application of those concepts will differ for various organizations and locations.  Every location, county, region, and state have different protocols which must be integrated into incident management practices.  (Refer back to planning).  Our organizations, both those that are static as well as those which are ad-hoc (assembled for the response to a particular incident or event) need to be ready to act.  This means familiarity not only with ICS or our specific applications of it, but also with our plans.  How often do ICS courses actually talk about the implementation of emergency plans?  Rarely.  Yet that’s what we are actually doing.  Do you have people assigned to ICS roles?  Are they ready to take on the responsibilities within these roles?  Do you have backups to these positions?  I’m not necessarily talking about a formal incident management team (IMT), although that may be suitable and appropriate.  Absent an IMT, the responders within a jurisdiction or organization should have a reasonable expectation of the role/roles they will play.  This helps them and your organization to be better prepared.

The implementation of ICS generally doesn’t take much equipping, but there are some basics.  Responders love radios and we use them often.  How about people who aren’t traditional responders, but may be called on to function with your ICS organization?  Do they know how to use a radio?  Do you have a standing communication plan to help you implement their use?  How do you track incident resources?  I didn’t just ask about fire service resources – I mean all resources.  Do you have a system for this?  T-Cards are great, but take training and practice to use them – plus they require that all responders know their responsibilities for accountability.  The same goes with a computer-based solution.  For whatever equipment or systems you plan on using, you must ensure that they are planned through and that people are very familiar with how to use them.

Training… I think I’ve talked about the need for better ICS training quite a bit, so I’m not going to continue with that point here.  What I will mention is a need for refresher training and jurisdiction-specific training on incident management.  This isn’t necessarily ICS focused, but it is ICS based.  For many years now, FEMA has believed that by including three slides on NIMS in every training program that they are helping with NIMS compliance.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  You have to actually talk about how these concepts are key to implementing plans.  Responders need to be familiar with the emergency management system they are working within.  Train people to the plans and procedures.  Let them know who is in charge of what and when, who the decision makers are, and any other training needs identified in the earlier POETE activities.  Prepare them to implement ICS!

Lastly, exercises.  Incident management should be something that is practiced and tested in almost every exercise.  Applying these concepts is not something we do on a regular basis, therefore knowledge and skills erode over time.  Certainly we have to be familiar with the system, not just at an awareness level but at a functional and operational level.  Regardless of the state of the current curriculum, that involves practice.  Exercises don’t have to be elaborate, remember that they can range from discussion-based to operations-based.  Table top exercises are great to talk things through, drills are good for focused activities, and even full-scale exercises can be small and contained.  So long as the exercise is designed, conducted, and evaluated well, that’s what counts.  Don’t forget that evaluation piece.  The feedback to the entire system (plans, organization, equipment and systems, and training) is extremely important to continued improvement.

This is public safety, not a pick-up kick ball game.  We can do better.

Thanks for listening… what are your thoughts?

Does your organization or jurisdiction need help preparing to implement ICS?  Emergency Preparedness Solutions can help!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

www.epsllc.biz 

The Need for Practical Incident Command Training

I’ve written a couple of articles in past few months (See: Preparedness – ICS is Not Enough; and Training EOC Personnel – ICS is Not Enough) where I’ve been a little rough on the Incident Command System (ICS), or rather the trust that people put in it as a magic pill to cure all their incident management ills.  As it turns out, there is no apologia; rather I’m going to continue challenging the status quo, this time as it relates to how ICS training is conducted.

The driving force behind this is the realization of a gap that exists in ICS training and the ability of learners to apply what they have learned to a reasonable degree within an emergency response environment.  The foundational ICS courses (ICS 100 – 400) provide learners with a progressive understanding of the concepts, terms, organizational elements, and primary processes within ICS, but provide little opportunity to practically apply what they have learned.  Progressive instructional design methods through course revisions have added more hands-on activities within these courses to enhance learning, but these courses still fall short of providing the kind of practical exercising needed for learners to have any degree of confidence or proficiency.  That said, these courses accomplish exactly what they are intended to.  They are not designed to provide much practical application.

To the other side of the ICS training spectrum is training for Incident Management Teams (IMTs), which provides intensive and in depth training, mostly focused on the individual positions within an incident command organization, and the key activities and responsibilities of those positions.  IMT training also includes capstone courses in which IMTs complete a combination of didactic and hands-on instruction in a team environment.  Much of this training is coordinated by FEMA and the US Fire Administration through the NIMS ICS All-Hazards Position Specific Training Program with their focus primarily on building capability at the Type III (extended operations) level, with training at the higher (Type II and I) levels available through appropriately intensive efforts.  While some training is available for Type IV and V IMTs, this is often not taken advantage of because rural areas may not be able to assemble enough personnel for a functional team.  The training is also still fairly intensive, even at this level, and requires a number of courses, each with a team of instructors.  This comes at a high cost of time and dollars.  The need for local personnel to function within an incident command structure at the local level still exists, but goes largely unaddressed with performance level training being focused on IMTs.

Certainly exercises can provide an opportunity for individuals to work together as an ad-hoc team to resolve an incident.  While exercises provide for great practice, instructive feedback usually doesn’t occur at all, with usually only a few out of context comments coming until well after the experience by way of an After Action Report.  Structured learning environments which provide a series of simulations where individuals can practice what they have learned are ideal, particularly when immediate hotwashes are provided after each scenario, allowing learners to grow and apply what they have learned in the next scenario.

Of the learning opportunities that current exist, the Enhanced All-Hazards Incident Management/Unified Command course (MGT 314) from TEEX comes closest to this type of experience.  I have direct experience taking this course at the TEEX location several years ago and found it to be a great experience.  Because of the technology used to facilitate the course it is only offered as a resident program at TEEX and seats fill quickly.  While this is a great program, we need more like it and an ability to reach down to small local governments where there is an urgent need for this type of practical training.

Several years ago colleagues and I developed a course called the ‘IAP Workshop’, which is a daylong scenario-driven training where students practice working the ICS planning process and ultimately developing an IAP.  Through the day of training, participants go through this process several times in a crawl-walk-run progression with feedback provided by facilitators.  Participants are required to have completed the ICS 300 course as a prerequisite.  This course has proven successful, despite naysayers and traditionalists who default to the ICS curriculum fulfilling all ICS training needs.  That said, there is more to ICS and ICS application than the planning process.

Practical training in any subject, particularly the Incident Command System, builds confidence and improved application of knowledge and skills.  Since most incidents are best managed locally, we need to invest in better training to enhance local capabilities.  The foundational ICS courses are just that – foundational.  IMT training may simply not be the best solution to meet this need.  Let’s talk about the ICS training gap and find some solutions.

What ICS training gaps have you identified?  Have you discovered or designed any solutions?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

www.epsllc.biz