Understanding and Using the Core Capabilities

One of the great features of WordPress (my blogging platform) is that it identifies various statistics and sets of data for me.  One of those bits of data is search terms used to find my blog.  Yesterday there were three that caught my eye:

  • Which of the 31 core capabilities are useless
  • How many of the 31 core capabilities do we really need
  • Are there any of the 31 core capabilities that we can do without

Obviously there is some interest in the Core Capabilities.  These searches are so similar they are very likely from the same person or a group of people, such as college students.  As a side, I have been flattered to find that many of my blog posts have been cited in college papers.  It’s quite an honor.

On to the Core Capabilities.  First of all, with the release of the second edition of the National Preparedness Goal, there are now 32 Core Capabilities.  The Core Capabilities can be viewed as key areas of activity.  Mass Care Services, for example, involves a broad array of activities including sheltering, feeding, hydration, mental and spiritual care, and others.  Each of the 32 Core Capabilities have applicability, although that applicability will vary from location to location.

32 Core Capabilities

NPG 32 Core Capabilities

My company recently completed a state-wide homeland security and emergency management assessment for a client.  This assessment was based upon the Core Capabilities, as they provide consistent definitions of these activity areas and are comprehensive, incorporating all key activities in all phases of emergency management and homeland security and are generally not hazard-specific.

We met face to face with a number of jurisdictions, large and small, to gather input on each Core Capability.  It was no surprise that certain Core Capabilities, specifically Planning, Operational Coordination, and Public Information and Warning were consistently identified as top concerns for stakeholders.  These three Core Capabilities, by the way, are applicable across all five Mission Areas identified in the National Preparedness Goal.

In our study, there were other Core Capabilities which we found to be important to some, but not to others.  Many smaller jurisdictions, especially those without their own law enforcement, saw little applicability to them of those Core Capabilities which are contained within the Prevention and Protection Mission Areas.  As these two Mission Areas are generally focused on criminal and homeland security issues, we found that those not in law enforcement tended to be dismissive of their importance.  Even some law enforcement professionals, at least in the state we were working in, viewed some of these Core Capabilities as being a responsibility of the State Police and generally not a local police activity.

Potential application of the Core Capabilities is quite broad with many possibilities.  Unfortunately, FEMA doesn’t seem to be marketing their applicability very well, which makes the questions about their usefullness quite understandable.  Going back about ten years, FEMA provided us with the predecessor to the Core Capabilities – these were the Target Capabilities.  The Target Capabilities were a good start, albeit a bit complex and unrefined.  The Core Capabilities are a great evolution of the same concept.  When the Target Capabilities were released, there was a big push for their integration into all aspects of preparedness.  FEMA encouraged their consideration in planning efforts, they encouraged training courses to identify what Target Capabilities were being trained to, and for exercises to identify what Target Capabilities were being exercised.  While much of that encouragement has seemed to disappear, there is no reason why we can’t still do it with the Core Capabilities.  And we should.

The most direct application of the Core Capabilities is in the THIRA process.  THIRA stands for Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment.  Many discussions on THIRA can be found here.  The annual completion of a THIRA is required of every state, territory, and Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funded program.  The THIRA is essentially a very thorough and in-depth hazard analysis that other jurisdictions should consider conducting.  The insights revealed from the process and the end product are widely applicable and can fully change the basis for an emergency management program.  The THIRA process centers on the Core Capabilities.

Other preparedness efforts can certainly reference the Core Capabilities, and easily so.  The greatest benefit of the Core Capabilities, from my experience, is consistency.  They provide a concise definition of these key activities.  The definition is broad enough to find applicability to any jurisdiction, which then uses that definition to identify their own capability targets.  Capability targets define how the jurisdiction is going to accomplish each Core Capability.  That is the brilliance of the system – national-level definitions for key activity areas which are then refined by each jurisdiction to identify how they will best apply them.  While the creation of capability targets is part of the THIRA process, any jurisdiction can do it.  These targets help define what they want to accomplish in their emergency management programs.

As with the Target Capabilities, the Core Capabilities can be referenced in planning, training, exercises, assessments, and other activities.  Many of the Core Capabilities may warrant their own planning efforts for many jurisdictions.  Things like Mass Care Services, Fatality Management, Situational Assessment, and Housing can all be planning annexes to a more comprehensive emergency management planning effort.  The HSEEP process still calls for the identification of Core Capabilities early in the exercise design process.  This identification, along with the creation of good exercise objectives, helps define the scope of the exercise and maintain focus.  The same application works for training programs.  From a program management perspective, Core Capabilities should be used to identify areas of focus in a Training and Exercise Plan (TEP).

The definitions that Core Capabilities provide, along with the benefit of jurisdiction-specific capability targets, can help broadly identify what emergency management and homeland security programs are focused on.  The consistency allows for increased understanding, prioritization, and connectivity between activities and programs.  Integrating the Core Capabilities into EM and HS programs is relatively easy and scalable, it just simply requires a slightly different perspective.

Questions?  Comments?

Thanks, as always, to my readers.  As mentioned, my company, Emergency Preparedness Solutions, has great experience using the Core Capabilities and applying them to all areas of preparedness.  Need help?  Give us a call!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Are You Really Considering All Hazards?

Natural hazards, such as flooding, tornados, wildfire, and earthquakes, bring about the greatest losses, calculated in nearly every metric possible, as compared to human-caused incidents.  Human-caused incidents, either accidental or intentional, still bring tremendous impact to communities world-wide on a daily basis.  While working to prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from natural hazards will always continue to be important, it seems that many still often forget about human-caused incidents despite all the conversations out there.

Human-caused incidents include a variety of hazards such as infrastructure failure, transportation accidents, hazardous materials incidents, and intentional attacks.  These are all things which we can fit into our traditional model of Prepare, Mitigate, Respond, and Recover.  The National Planning Goal introduced the model of the five Mission Areas – Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery – to help address our many of our major functions (Core Capabilities) for human-caused incidents (note that Preparedness is now a higher level concept that applies to all Mission Areas).  While this Mission Area model has helped bring these key activities into the greater fold of what we do, it has also kept them largely isolated through the thought that many human-caused incidents are only addressed through Prevention and Protection Mission Area activities.

Nowhere, it seems, do we see this more than in the area of hazard mitigation.  The vast majority of hazard mitigation plans which exist only address natural hazards (even at the state level).  Since many readers view this blog for my opinion, here it is – this is archaic and dangerous thinking!  We have all seen hazard mitigation plans which claim they are ‘all hazards’, yet only list natural hazards.  That’s fine, if by some unbelievable circumstance, your jurisdiction is only impacted by natural hazards.  This is a circumstance which I am highly doubtful of.  Some mitigation plans get a little more realistic and will address human-caused hazards such as dam failure and/or hazardous materials release, which were likely the greatest human-caused threats they may have been vulnerable to in the previous century.  In today’s world this still doesn’t quite get us to where we need to be.  There are a great many mitigation activities which we can leverage against human-caused incidents.

How do we fix this?  It’s easy – start with conducting a hazard analysis.  A hazard analysis, be it as a stand-alone activity or part of the THIRA process, should review all possible hazards which your jurisdiction, company, or organization is vulnerable to.  It should be comprehensive, not just limited to the set of natural hazards.  Along with infrastructure failure and hazardous materials incidents (both in-transit and fixed site), consider hazards such as active shooters, cyber attacks, improvised explosives, and civil unrest.  This may require bringing some additional subject matter experts into the room for your hazard analysis – like your IT director.  In a hazard analysis, each hazard is ranked (at a minimum) by its likelihood to occur and its severity of impact should it occur.

A well conducted hazard analysis provides the basis for everything we do in emergency management and homeland security.  It not only informs our activities such as planning, training, and exercises, it also helps assign priority to those hazards which require the greatest focus and allocation of resources.

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


Keeping Up With Changes in Emergency Management

As with many things in life, the field of emergency management has changed and will continue to do so.  Much of this change is an evolution – generally positive and productive adjustments to make us more effective and efficient in what we do supported by doctrine and models to guide our actions and provide consistency of application.  Sometimes changes are made which simply give the illusion of progress or are applied much like a Band-Aid as a knee-jerk stop-gap measure which usually fail unless a better implementation is put in place.  Many of the better thought out applications, however, do tend to stick.  While we have seen a great deal of change in the field over the last 14 years, we have largely seen a clear progression with practitioners and policy makers learning from previous programs. 

Yesterday I encountered two separate instances which did not apply current practices and policies. The first was an advertisement for a training program which discussed the four phases of emergency management.  The second was an article in which the author stated that ‘…preparedness is no longer part of the (emergency management) lexicon…’.  The two items, while different, are related in that they both indicate a lack of understanding in the evolution we have made from the four phases of emergency management – mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. 

In a nutshell, these long standing phases began to change soon after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 with the integration of homeland security with emergency management resulting in the inclusion of ‘prevention’ into the emergency management phases – thus prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.  As minor as this seems, it was quite a change for those of us who had been in the world of the four phases for a while and was a difficult pill to swallow.  Along with the human nature of resistance to change there was still a feeling that the matter wasn’t quite fully settled – in other words, more change would come. 

For several years different models were kicked around but none really gained traction until the issuance of Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD8), which created the National Preparedness Goal and the National Preparedness System.  These begat things like the Core Capabilities (a revamping of the predecessor Target Capabilities) and the introduction of the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) as well as a new way of viewing the major activities within emergency management and homeland security – the five mission areas of prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.  These five mission areas have re-defined, or perhaps more accurately defined what it is that we do in emergency management and homeland security. 

The traditional four phases were often depicted in a cycle.  Taken literally, this meant that you progressed from one phase to the next in a series.  The truth of the matter was that each of the four phases could actually run simultaneously.  There was also a misunderstanding that preparedness was an isolated activity, when in actuality our preparedness efforts applied to all activities.  With the further evolution of homeland security the foundational activities of prevention and then protection were identified and defined.  Pulling together these five mission areas – prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery – the National Preparedness System provides for distinct preparedness activities identified for each mission area, an organization of the Core Capabilities within each mission area, and national planning frameworks which identify the role and goals of each mission area in achieving the national preparedness goal.  Not only has preparedness not gone away, but it has been elevated in status. 

PPD8 was probably the presidential directive with the greatest and broadest impact on our field of practice since Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD5) in 2003 which drove the implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS).  Keeping up with critical changes in our evolution such as these is absolutely imperative for practitioners.  Not only do these policy changes impact how we do our jobs individually and programmatically, but they impact how we coordinate with each other, which is and always will be the foundational essence of emergency management. 

How do you keep up with changes in our field of practice?

© 2014 Timothy Riecker