Spreading the Word

Some of you may have noticed that Lucien Canton, who writes the monthly Emergency Management Solutions newsletter, has featured some of my articles over the past few months.  (Thanks Lu!)

While Lu and I have never met, we have periodically corresponded over the past several years.  He is a highly experienced emergency manager and consultant, speaker, and author in the field, who, like me, has a passion for writing.  He covers a variety of topics in his newsletters and articles, from emergency management, to business acumen, and more.  Lately, he has been kind enough, in the collaborative nature of emergency management, to feature other bloggers, such as me, in his newsletter as well.

You can check out his current and past newsletters and featured articles here, along with other services and materials he offers.  Be sure to subscribe to this newsletter, which has great information every month!


ICS: Let’s Keep Talking

I find it interesting that a topic so seemingly mundane – that of the incident command system (ICS) has seen an increase of discussion lately.  The NIMS Refresh seems to have fueled some of that, but other writings and conversations have also been taking place.  While I’ve certainly been critical of the national ICS training program in several of my writings, there have been other thoughts posted on ICS, some you absolutely must take a look at:

Are We Overthinking ICS?  This article, posted by noted emergency management consultant Lucien Canton has some great thoughts on the proposed NIMS Refresh.  He brings up an excellent point about the disappearance of Multi-Agency Coordination Systems (MACS) – something I had myself completely missed in my review.  A must read.

ICS and ESF: An Unhappy Marriage?  Another article by Lu Canton.  This piece gives a concise review of the differences between ICS and FEMA’s Emergency Support Function (ESF) structure and gives some ideas on how the two can be brought together.  I’ve seen the things Lu suggests in action, and I promise you, they can work.

Where Incident Management Unravels.  This article by Charles Bailey in the August edition of the Domestic Preparedness Journal took me on a wild ride, for which I’ll have some extended commentary here… I’ve read and reread this article several times, each time having different reactions and responses.  Through my first read, I saw this piece as being highly critical of ICS. Then I read it again, and I began to understand.  While I don’t agree with all Chief Bailey’s points, I respect everything he is saying and absolutely appreciate the thoughts and ideas this article offers.  I’ll leave you to read the article for yourself and form you own opinions.  The bottom line is the importance of early efforts to gain control over the chaos of the incident.  NIMS/ICS doesn’t provide us with all the answers for how to do that – something that I think needs to be reflected in better instruction of the principles of ICS.  Chief Bailey mentions toward the end of his piece the need to create ‘nimble response paradigms’ for initial response – a concept I fully agree with.  I also think that Chief Cynthia Renaud has some incredible insights on this matter in her Edge of Chaos paper.

I’m excited about the volume of discussion over NIMS and ICS lately.  It’s the system we rely on to manage incidents, coordinate resources, and ultimately save lives.  It’s kind of a big deal.  It should be good, and we should do it right.  While it’s the best we currently have, that doesn’t mean the system is perfect, nor will it ever likely be.  Similarly, the human elements involved in training, interpretation, and implementation of the system means that we will rarely do things ‘by the book’, but we are never handed disasters ‘by the book’, either, which emphasizes the number of variables involved in incident management.  The system must continue to evolve to be effective and to reflect our new and changing ideas on incident management.  We need to regularly examine the system critically and as realists and implement positive changes.  That said, change needs to be carefully administered.  We can’t make change for the sake of change, and we must be mindful that constant change will itself create chaos.

Have you read any other great articles on ICS lately?  What thoughts do you have on ICS, ICS training, and the need for ICS to evolve?  What’s missing?

© Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

Training EOC First-Timers

If you’ve worked in an EOC, you’ve certainly seen it.  The deer-in-the-headlights stare of an EOC first-timer.  There is so much to take in and a lot going on.  A room full of work stations with people typing, people on the phone, and others talking to each other.  While all these people might be wearing vests or name badges, some are in a shirt and tie, some lost the tie hours ago, some in a polo shirt, and others are in uniforms.  Walls are covered in screens, some showing the news, some weather, and some with a list of information on shelters or road closures.  Where do I sit?  What do I do?  How do I dial an outside line???

Remember, though, we were all once that first-timer, too.

Lucien Canton, one of the most prolific consultants and bloggers in the field of emergency management, just posted a great article in his regular newsletter titled ‘Just in Time Training: Tips for Orienting EOC Newcomers.’.  In it, he lists some great ideas on how we can better prepare for these inevitable first-timers and help ensure they become productive members of the EOC team quickly.  Check it out.  Oh, and if you aren’t subscribed to his newsletter (you should be!), info can be found here.

– TR

What Planning Format To Use?

Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101 (CPG 101) describes three format options for your emergency operations plan (EOP): The traditional functional EOP format, the Emergency Support Function (ESF) format, and the agency/department focused format.  As mentioned in CPG 101 the traditional functional EOP format is the most popular and widely used.  It generally provides for three major sections – the basic plan, functional annexes, and hazard specific annexes.  The traditional format provides for the greatest flexibility and allows a jurisdiction or organization to easily evolve their plan as the need for addressing additional issues or hazards is recognized.  Continuity of Government/Continuity of Operations (COG/COOP) plans are easily integrated as annexes as our newer concepts such as resiliency plans and climate change plans. 

Agency/department focused EOP formats provide utility for those folks that like to crack open the book looking to answer the question ‘what is expected of me?’.  This format offers some flexibility, but under most occurrences where the need to address a new issue arises edits need to be made through much of the plan to identify and address each agency’s involvement in said issue.  It can also be awkward to include other associated plans, such as the afore mentioned COOP and COG plans.  It does work for smaller communities, though, whose hazards and other planning areas stay fairly static. 

The ESF EOP format is modeled after the National Response Framework (NRF) (originally the Federal Response Plan) which addresses functions by grouping agencies and organizations with responsibility and resources to address those functions.  This model has worked fairly well for the federal government given their structure and the general federalist approach of most agencies (aside from those agencies with direct authorities such as the US Coast Guard).   There is some flexibility in this model with the ability to include both support and hazard specific annexes, but one must be cautioned not to confuse the ESF annexes with the support annexes.  The key word in the format is ‘support’, which is largely what the federal government does in response to a disaster. 

Last week Lucien Canton posted an article Emergency Support Functions: Misunderstood and Misapplied.  Read this!  As usual, Lu states his point expertly as he discusses the pros, cons, and uses for the ESF structure.  Many jurisdictions, in an effort to mirror a system which seems to work for the federal government, create their EOP in an ESF format.  I’ve rarely ever seen it well applied – at least not in the form that the feds use.  Understanding that the feds structure their ESFs to address policy and coordination, these same needs may not exist at a state or local level.  Therefore states and locals change the ESF structure.  While there is certainly no requirement to use only those ESFs which are used in the NRF, using a different format can cause great confusion.  For example, what is ESF #12 (Energy) in the NRF may be an ESF for economic recovery for a city or county.  Now we have what we’ve been trying to avoid in incident management – a lack of common terminology. 

Each jurisdiction and organization should choose which format works best for them.  I would strongly recommend the traditional format which is the easiest to shape to meet your needs rather than trying to work within an awkward planning framework.  Remember that no plan is ever perfect, but requires regular attention to ensure that it evolves with and addresses your needs.  Don’t try to tackle it all at once, either, or on your own.  Proper planning is a team effort requiring input from multiple stakeholders in your jurisdiction or organization.  CPG 101 references ‘whole community’ planning which is a great idea to ensure that you capture multiple perspectives and that all stakeholders are bought into the process and the product.  Take on your planning work in small bites, one component at a time.  First work on the base plan – the most essential part.  Then identify those functional and hazard specific annexes which are most important – accomplish those next.  To help guide your work it will help to create a project chart for your planning efforts identifying timelines and benchmarks, stakeholders, and needed inputs.  Finally, don’t forget to exercise your plans to validate them! 

Lastly, my marketing plug – If you need help planning please contact Emergency Preparedness Solutions!  EPS is experienced in working with governments, private sector, and not for profits in all facets of preparedness including assessment, planning, training, and exercises.  We are happy to discuss your needs and determine the best way to meet them. 

What planning format do you prefer and why?

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker




Creating Operational Emergency Plans

I was inspired for this article from an email I received earlier today from Lu Canton, a rather prolific emergency management consultant who has branched a bit into consulting consultants.  His email today (a forward from his blog) was about making emergency plans ‘real’.  His point was that many planners focus on checking the boxes of the list of planning requirements (those prescribed by law, regulation, etc.) rather than focusing on ensuring that you have a plan that can actually be implemented.  He conducted a webinar over a year ago which I had blogged about.

Planning requirements are important, as they largely stem from lessons learned from earlier incidents.  Granted, some of these requirements come about being translated through the eyes and ears of politicians whose staffers write the legislation and don’t understand emergency management at all – resulting in convoluted, contradictory, and poorly focused requirements.  Requirements lead to standards, helping to ensure that emergency managers are addressing the needs of their jurisdiction and best practices in the industry.  To help guide us through this, many higher level agencies provide templates.  I’ve pontificated in the past about the danger of templates, which have a place in reminding us of these requirements and help us with format and flow, but are often misused by individuals who simply seek to fill in the blank with the name of the jurisdiction and claim they have a finalized plan.

How do we avoid falling into this trap?  Follow the planning process!  FEMA’s Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101 provides an overview of this process for creating emergency operations plans.  The two initial steps – forming a planning team and conducting a hazard analysis – are absolutely critical to the integrity of the process and ensuring a quality plan that meets the needs of your jurisdiction by addressing your threats and hazards.  Planning teams then need to consider these threats and hazards, make reasonable assumptions about their impacts (using a credible worst case scenario), then identify resources and strategies the jurisdiction will undertake to solve the problems they will face.

Does all this mean that a plan needs to be written from scratch?  Of course not!  In fact I strongly encourage people against it.  It’s practically guaranteed that you will forget a critical element.  One of the greatest things in the emergency management community is how we learn from each other.  You can reference templates you find, examine plans of your neighboring jurisdictions or jurisdictions similar to you, check out what is on LLIS.  There is plenty of great content you can examine and apply for your own use.  Just ensure that you carefully review and consider how it applies to you.

As you write the plan, think the details through.  This will help ensure that your plan is operational, not just meeting requirements.  Discuss with your planning team what is expected of each assisting and cooperating agency for each incident type.  Who will be in charge?  What resources will be necessary and where will you get them from?  What would the objectives be and what processes and decision points must be conducted to accomplish those objectives.  As you create the plan, map out these processes and ensure that you’ve considered the who, what, where, when, and how of each step in each process.  Recall that you are planning at a strategic level, not a tactical level.  Planning at a tactical level is nearly impossible with a pre-incident (aka ‘deliberate’) plan.  Tactics will be addressed during the actual response, hopefully referencing the EOP/CEMP you are writing now, and implemented through an incident action plan (IAP).

Remember, though, the proof is in the pudding, as they say.  Your plan needs to be tested to ensure viability.  Use a table top exercise to test policy and decisions, then a functional exercise to test the implementation of the plan and higher level tactics.  Full scale exercises and drills can test the tactical implementation of plans.  Good evaluation of the exercises will lead to planning improvements.  For insight on the exercise process, you can check out my exercise management series of posts referenced here.

Remember: when it comes to planning – keep it real!

Tim Riecker

Lucien Canton Webinar Recording: Are Your Emergency Operations Plans Realistic?

Last week EM Forum hosted one of the better webinars I’ve attended recently.  The presenter was Lucien Canton, CEM, a fellow Emergency Management Consultant.  His topic was “Are your emergency operations plans realistic?  A group discussion on planning assumptions”.  This presentation was in obvious response to his excellent blog article, Paper Plans and Fantasy Documents, which I blogged about a few weeks ago.  In both his article and the webinar, Lu talks about the need to ensure that plans make sense and can actually be implemented, not just cover legal requirements.

For ease, I’ve pasted the EMForum follow up email here, which provides a link to the webinar recording in various formats.  Highly recommended if you didn’t catch the original airing!


The Webinar recording of the February 13th EMForum.org program, “Are Your Emergency Operations Plans Realistic? A Group Discussion on Planning Assumptions,” with emergency management consultant, Lucien G. Canton CEM®, is now available. This is a large file and requires Windows Media Player or Windows Media Components for QuickTime or a similar product to view. The recording is also available in MP4 format for mobile users. The TranscriptAudio Podcast, as well as Ratings and Comments are available from the Background Page. The Audio Podcast and MP4 recordings are also available from the iTunes Store.

Planning in Perspective

planI just finished reading an article by Lucien Canton, CEM – who is a well-respected and often published emergency management professional.  He maintains a blog, which he posts to often, and provides great insight to various EM-related topics.  The article that struck my interest was ‘Paper Plans and Fantasy Documents’.  Canton poses the question as a subtitle to his article – ‘Are we over-thinking planning?’.  In all actuality, based on his article and my own experiences, no – in fact we’re under-thinking it by maintaining a cookie cutter approach across the entire nation.

Canton’s commentary is similar to the thoughts I had in an earlier post on the (mis)use of templates in emergency planning.  Standards are good to have in every industry, certainly in emergency management and homeland security.  There are folks who become true experts through a great deal of experience, research, and trial and error.  The best ones share their expertise with the rest of the world in the hopes that we can all benefit.  Eventually, these standards become embraced by ‘standard setters’ – those in government or regulatory bodies who can pass laws, regulations, or codes to compel others to adhere to these standards.  This is all absolutely necessary – but, as Canton mentions, these standards become the basis for how people plan.

Just like I often write in my training-related posts, it’s all about the audience.  Our planning priority must be to meet the needs of the jurisdiction/company/organization who will be using the plan.  The plan must have utility – i.e. it must be usable.  Just because a plan meets established standards, does not mean that it can be operationalized.  Obviously our plans must still meet standards, but that really is a secondary concern to usability.  I think we are missing the forest for the trees and need to seriously re-think how we plan.

Any ideas?