FEMA and NOAA are NOT Leaderless

VMS Vulnerabilities Can Have Serious Consequences

Few things piss me off more than headlining incorrect information.  Right or wrong, headlines ARE the news for many members of the public who choose to not consume the content of the article.  As either a cause or symptom of our politically divisive climate, many seem to be dismissive of facts and jump to conclusions.  Within the past week, I’ve seen several news articles and Twitter posts claiming that FEMA and/or NOAA are ‘leaderless’. The one that finally did me in was this article from Emergency Management Magazine.

Without venturing into politics, I think it’s very unfortunate that permanent heads of these two agencies have yet to be appointed and confirmed.  Having these posts filled is as important to these agencies psychologically as it is practically.  That said, processes and progress are not stopping at either of these agencies because new heads have yet to be appointed.

First of all, each agency has an acting head.  At FEMA, Bob Fenton is the acting Administrator.  He has a history with FEMA going back to 1996, including a number of high-level leadership roles.  Despite rumors on social media, federal assistance will occur without an appointed FEMA Administrator – and in fact federal assistance, including disaster declarations, have been occurring since Fenton took over as acting Administrator on January 20.  Similarly, NOAA is not without an agency head.  Benjamin Friedman has been performing the duties of NOAA Administrator and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.  Similar to Fenton, Friendman has a significant leadership history within NOAA and has continued to lead the agency on an interim basis.

Second, both philosophically and practically, organizations have leaders within, not just at the top of the org chart.  There are a number of principals and deputies, program managers, and other functionaries – appointees and civil servants alike – within both organizations that continue to do what they do every day to turn on the lights and provide services to the public and other agencies.  They provide leadership within their areas of responsibility and get work done.

While I understand and agree with the premise of the concern that these agencies don’t have fully appointed agency heads, it’s misleading to the public and insulting to their acting administrators as well as the professionals within these agencies to say they are leaderless.  We continue to see the work we would expect from these agencies, such as new NIMS content and preparedness grants, and diligent weather information, as well as plenty of behind the scenes work that provides us with services every day.  Speak out about the lack of fully appointed agency heads if you like, but don’t say these agencies are without leadership.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

ICS and the Human Factor

A number of my articles have mentioned the unpredictable human factor in executing emergency plans and managing incidents, particularly for complex incidents.  We can build great plans and have a great management system to facilitate the incident management process, but the human factor – that largely intangible level of unpredictability of human behavior – can steer even the best emergency plan astray or derail an incident management process.

An article published in the Domestic Preparedness Journal yesterday, written by Eric McNulty, reflects on this.  Mr. McNulty cites several human factors which have relevance within incident management and encourages leaders to understand these factors within themselves and others to bring about more effective leadership.  The introductory paragraph of his article suggests the need for integrating behavior training into ICS training to ‘improve performance and outcomes’.  Given the impact of behavior factors on how we respond, this is a concept I can certainly endorse for a much-needed rewrite of the ICS curriculum.

I’ve heavily referenced Chief Cynthia Renaud’s paper, The Missing Piece of NIMS: Teaching Incident Commanders How to Function in The Edge of Chaos, in the past and continue to hold her piece relevant, especially in this discussion.  Chief Renaud’s suggestions draw lines parallel to behavioral factors, which suggest to me that we certainly need to integrate leadership training into ICS training.  The current ICS 200 course attempts to do so, but the content simply panders to the topic and doesn’t address it seriously enough.  We need to go beyond the leadership basics and explore leadership training done around the world to see what is the most effective.

Incident management is life and death – not a pick-up game of stick ball.  Let’s start taking it more seriously and prepare people better for this responsibility.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

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