Reviewing The 2018 National Preparedness Report

The 2018 National Preparedness Report was released last week.  For the past few years, I’ve provided my own critical review of these annual reports (see 2017’s report here).  For those not familiar with the National Preparedness Report (NPR), it is mandated by the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA).  The information is compiled by FEMA from the State Preparedness Reports (SPR), including the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) data submitted by states, territories, and Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) – funded regions.  The data presented is for the year prior.  The SPRs and NPR examine the condition of our preparedness relative to the 32 Core Capabilities identified in the National Preparedness Goal.

Overall, the NPR provides little information, certainly nothing that is really shocking if you pay attention to the top issues in emergency management.  Disappointingly, the report only covers those Core Capabilities identified for sustainment or improvement, with no more than a graphic summary of the other Core Capabilities.

Core Capabilities to Sustain

Operational Coordination was identified as the sole Core Capability to sustain in this year’s report.  I’ve got some issues with this right off.  First of all, they summarize their methodology for selecting Core Capabilities to sustain: ‘To be a capability to sustain, the Nation must show proficiency in executing that core capability, but there must also be indications of a potentially growing gap between the future demand for, and the performance of, that capability.’  To me, what this boils down to is ‘you do it well, but you are going to have to do it better’.  I think most EM professionals could add to this list significantly, with Core Capabilities such as Planning; Public Information and Warning; Public Health, Healthcare, and EMS; Situational Assessment; and others.  Distilling it down to only Operational Coordination shows to me, a severe lack of understanding in where we presently are and the demands that will be put on our systems in the future.

Further, the review provided in the report relative to Operational Coordination is pretty soft.  Part of it is self-congratulatory, highlighting advances in the Core Capability made last year, with the rest of the section identifying challenges but proving little analysis.  Statements such as ‘Local governments reported challenges with incident command and coordination during the 2017 hurricane season’ are put out there, yet their single paragraph on corrective actions for the section boils down to the statement of ‘we’re looking at it’.  Not acceptable.

Core Capabilities to Improve

The 2018 report identifies four Core Capabilities to improve:

  • Infrastructure Systems
  • Housing
  • Economic Recovery
  • Cybersecurity

These fall under the category of NO KIDDING.  The writeups within the NPR for each of these superficially identifies the need, but doesn’t have much depth of analysis.  I find it interesting that the Core Capability to sustain has a paragraph on corrective actions, yet the Core Capabilities to Improve doesn’t.  They do, instead, identify key findings, which outline some efforts to address the problems, but are very soft and offer little detail.  Some of these include programs which have been in place for quite some time which are clearly having limited impact on addressing the issues.

What really jumped out at me is the data provided on page 9, which charts the distribution of FEMA Preparedness grants by Core Capability for the past year.  The scale of their chart doesn’t allow for any exact amounts, but we can make some estimates.  Let’s look at four of these in particular:

  • Infrastructure Systems – scantly a few million dollars
  • Housing – None
  • Economic Recovery – Less than Infrastructure Systems
  • Cybersecurity – ~$25 million

With over $2.3 billion in preparedness funding provided in 2017 by FEMA, it’s no wonder these are Core Capabilities that need to be improved when so few funds were invested at the state/territory/UASI level.  The sad thing is that this isn’t news.  These Core Capabilities have been identified as needing improvement for years, and I’ll concede they are all challenging, but the lack of substantial movement should anger all emergency managers.

I will agree that Housing and Cybersecurity require a significant and consolidated national effort to address.  That doesn’t mean they are solely a federal responsibility, but there is clear need for significant assistance at the federal level to implement improvements, provide guidance to states and locals, and support local implementations.  That said, we can’t continue to say that these areas are priorities when little funding or activity is demonstrated to support improvement efforts.  While certain areas may certainly take years to make acceptable improvements, we are seeing a dangerous pattern relative to these four Core Capabilities, which continue to wallow at the bottom of the list for so many years.

The Path Forward

The report concludes with a two-paragraph section titled ‘The Path Forward’, which simply speaks to refining the THIRA and SPR methodology, while saying nothing of how the nation needs to address the identified shortcomings.  Clearly this is not acceptable.

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As for my own conclusion, while I saw last year’s NPR as an improvement from years previous, I see this one as a severe backslide.  It provides little useful information and shows negligible change in the state of our preparedness over the past year.  The recommendations provided, at least of those that do exist, are translucent at best, and this report leaves the reader with more questions and frustration.  We need more substance beginning with root cause analysis and including substantial, tangible, actionable recommendations.  While I suppose it’s not the fault of the report itself that little improvement is being made in these Core Capabilities, the content of the report shows a lack of priority to address these needs.

I’m actually surprised that a separate executive summary of this report was published, as the report itself holds so little substance, that it could serve as the executive summary.  Having been involved in the completion of THIRAs and SPRs, I know there is information generated that is simply not being analyzed for the NPR.  Particularly with each participating jurisdiction completing a POETE analysis of each Core Capability, I would like to see a more substantial NPR which does some examination of the capability elements in aggregate for each Core Capability, perhaps identifying trends and areas of focus to better support preparedness.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.  Was there anything you thought to be useful in the National Preparedness Report?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Grading Preparedness Training

While there is an abundance of training available in public safety, emergency management, and homeland security, do we have enough training available on the foundational preparedness activities?  By which, I mean Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising – or POETE.  There is a wide variety of training available on tactics and application of skills, which is certainly important to our preparedness, but what is available (in the United States, by necessity of focusing this article) to help bolster our foundational preparedness skills?  Let’s look at each.

Exercises

For purposes of making comparisons throughout each of these preparedness elements, I actually want to start at the end of the POETE acronym, with Exercises.  At a glance, there seems to be a significant number of courses available to teach people how to design, conduct, and evaluate exercises.  To begin, there are a variety of exercise training courses available from FEMA’s Independent Study program, both foundational as well as hazard or function specific, such as those for radiological exercises or continuity of operations.  Independent Study courses provide an excellent overview of topics, but, by nature of the medium, generally don’t allow for an in depth analysis of the information or interaction with an instructor or other students.  So if you’ve taken the Independent Study courses and you need more information, what’s next?

Basic-level classroom-based training in exercises have all but disappeared.  Most of these programs, such as Exercise Design or the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) course were historically offered by the state emergency management offices, but are no longer listed by FEMA as available state-sponsored training, which is quite a shame since this is generally how the greatest needs are often met.  FEMA offers the new Exercise Design course, which is part of the Basic Emergency Management Academy, but is only offered directly through FEMA, either as a field delivered course or at the Emergency Management Institute.  FEMA also offers the HSEEP course as a ‘local delivery’, meaning that the course can be delivered at locations around the country, but this typically happens with much less frequency and volume than state-sponsored training, especially for a program that is so necessary to our preparedness efforts.  FEMA also offers the HSEEP course as an instructor-led webinar, which does help address some issues of accessibility and volume, but I feel misses the need for this being a classroom based course.  Some states are still conducting classroom versions of Exercise Design and HSEEP, along their own customized exercise-related training to meet needs which continue to exist in their states.  Technically they can, although FEMA isn’t supporting those courses with updated content.  There is also an issue with FEMA only permitting their own local or webinar-based deliveries of HSEEP to meet the prerequisite for the Master Exercise Practitioner (MEP) program.

MEP is designed to be an advanced program, with three week-long courses generally taken in-residence at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.  In full disclosure, I am not a MEP.  Not sure if I ever will be, but given the feedback I’ve received over the years about the program, I’m not likely to until it gets an overhaul.  While I’m sure the MEP is great for many who take it, the more experienced exercise practitioners I speak with have much concern about it not being advanced enough, mentioning that a lot of time is spent reviewing basics that should have been learned in courses prior.  And while many people mention that the out of class activities designing discussion-based and operations-based exercises are good, they do little to enhance learning for those who have been doing this for a while.  Granted, it’s understood that you can’t make everyone happy, and with an advanced class you always run the risk of people coming in who already have experience at the level of the course or higher.  That said, MEP has become an industry standard accomplishment, and I’d like to see the program exceed more people’s expectations.  Grade: B

Planning

Let’s now go back to the beginning of POETE with Planning.  There are a fair amount of courses out there that teach people how to plan.  Again, FEMA’s Independent Study program offers courses not only in foundational aspects of planning, but also those with consideration toward various hazards and functions.  At the next level, there are also quite a number of courses which are locally delivered, by state emergency management offices, FEMA, and other training partners such as TEEX or the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium; with courses cutting through various taxonomy levels and addressing foundational planning activities as well as those that are hazard and function specific.

There are courses available, both locally delivered, as well as in-residence at locations like EMI, CDP, or TEEX, to address a variety of planning related interests within the broad realm of public safety, emergency management, and homeland security.  A vast number of courses, which may not be specifically for planning, can certainly support planning efforts for certain populations, hazards, and functions.  Some states offer courses on emergency planning, either as self-sustained versions of the Emergency Planning course which is now only an Independent Study course and not supported by FEMA as a classroom delivery, or home grown courses.  Emergency planning is such an important and foundational topic that it must be more accessible.  While there are some courses on planning for recovery and mitigation, we need to support this as well – planning is not reserved solely for response.

The reason why I started the discussion of this post with Exercises is because they have the MEP program.  Regardless of the possibility of the program needing an overhaul, the concept of the MEP – that being an advanced level program – is certainly a best practice that should be reflected across these other preparedness elements.  I’ve heard a rumor of a Master Planner Program, similar to a MEP, being piloted within the last couple of years, but I’ve not seen anything official on it as of yet.  Overall, in regard to training courses for planning, I’d like to see a more cohesive approach, along with a ‘master level’ program.  Grade: B-

Organizing

Training on Organizing is not as direct of a topic as the others, but it is addressed, although I think this is another area that could be bolstered.  Most training on the topic of organization needs to dig not only into the foundational concepts of emergency management, which will aid in recognizing the resources and relationships that exist, but training in coordination, supervision, and management also need to better addressed.  FEMA does offer some very basic courses in their Professional Development Series which begin to address some of this.  There also exists the National Emergency Management Academies, but despite these being segregated into ‘Basic’, ‘Advanced’, and ‘Executive’, they are still largely offered only at EMI, which limits accessibility, especially at that area in the middle where most people need support.  We can also consider that the Incident Command System (ICS) provides us with some important support to the Organization capability element… take a look at my commentaries on available ICS training here.  Other training opportunities that support training for the organizational element can be found from non-emergency management sources, such as programs that address more traditional staff development and management concepts.  Often seen as ‘soft skills’, we shouldn’t ignore these training opportunities which help us to work within and understand organizations better.  Grade: C

Equipping

Training on Equipping is something else we don’t often seen as being offered by FEMA or the consortium entities.  Much of the training on equipment is and should be offered by the people who are specialists in the equipment or systems used.  This can range from the EOC management system you use to the interoperable communications equipment in your mobile unit.  The manufacturers and other subject matter experts should be delivering the initial training on this.  Ensure that training materials are provided so you can continue to train new staff or offer refresher training as needed.

If we look at the Equipping capability element in its broadest sense, however, we should consider the entire continuum of resource management.  This is an area where we see some training available from our traditional emergency management sources, including a few Independent Study courses and some classroom courses, including those addressing the responsibilities of the ICS Logistics Section.  It appears to me that there is a training gap here, as much of emergency management and incident management center on the resource management cycle, from preparedness through recovery.  While there exists an Independent Study course reviewing the concepts of resource management within NIMS, I have yet to see a solid, comprehensive, performance-level course on resource management that is practical for emergency management personnel.  Grade: D

Training

Training on Training… To my core, I’m a trainer, so I happen to have some strong feelings about how trainers and instructional designers (certainly different activities and not necessarily the same people) are trained and supported.  Broadly, in emergency services, the fire service has various levels of fire instructor courses and law enforcement has some courses available for instructor development.  Even in EMS we teach our instructors how to train.  Depending on the course, these programs can help refine platform delivery skills, or teach someone how to actually build curriculum (important note: a bunch of PowerPoint slides is NOT a training course… that’s a presentation).  In emergency management, there exists a state-delivered FEMA course on instructional presentation and evaluation skills, which is rarely seen delivered, but some states strongly use it to build and sustain their trainer cadre.  At a slightly more advanced level, FEMA offers the Trainer Program (formerly the Master Trainer Program).  Within this program are two tracks – the Basis Instructor Certificate and the Basic Instructional Design Certificate.

As a graduate of the Master Trainer Program, I was sad to see it go.  Despite some curriculum revisions and streamlining, the need wasn’t supported.  While I understand and somewhat agree with the initial intent of the course, the six courses that made up the program were a significant commitment.  The job of training also isn’t seen to be as sexy as exercises, so comparatively, the MEP program had fared better.  FEMA’s separation of instruction from instructional design was a wise move, as some jurisdictions don’t do much course development, but do need to develop platform instructors.  While advanced courses in training and instructional design are no longer available from FEMA, they can be obtained from sources like the Association for Talent Development (formerly the American Society for Training and Development), but at a not insignificant cost.  Grade: B-

Assessment

Just when you thought we might be done… I often like to include Assessment in with POETE.  I believe assessment is a necessary activity within preparedness to identify where we stand, where we need to be, and evaluate efforts on an ongoing basis.  Assessment is an interesting topic to identify training on.  Within the realm of emergency management training, there is really little that directly supports assessment, yet most courses can by providing us with better information on projects, concepts, and applications.  These provide us the context in which to assess, but there still isn’t much out there to tell us how to assess.  We need to assess our plans, our organization, equipment, training, and exercises.  Sometimes we find some guidance that can help us, such as broad planning standards in CPG 101 or specific checklists on evaluating hazard mitigation plans.  Guidance and job aids are great, but having a critical eye to assess programs and projects is something that must be trained.  Big gap here.  Grade: D

Where this leaves us…

Average Grade: C

While C is a passing grade, it’s not great.  It’s closer to failure than it is to excellence.  We have some great training programs out there, but there are certainly training gaps that exist in these key preparedness activities.  While standards have been established for some of these activities (standards should exist for all of them!), training must support this guidance to ensure that it is followed (historical perspective: some training programs took quite some time to incorporate standards, such as HSEEP).  Further, training must be kept current to ensure that best practices and improvements are embraced and communicated.  One-and-done training may not be suitable for these topics.  All of this informs training need, which we must constantly assess to identify what training is needed, for who, to what degree of expertise, and by what delivery method.  The bottom line is that for people to conduct these important preparedness activities, they need to know how to do it and they need to stay up to date on the standards of practice.  Those who set the standards and those funded to support implementation must always pay heed to the training needs surrounding them.  There must also be a balance in training… we need to minimize burdensome, extraneous training and instead maximize quality, practical training that will build capability.

Trends

A great deal of homeland security funds are spent on the development of training across the nation by state and local entities, resulting in some incredible and innovative courses (as well as some rather mundane ones) which meet local needs.  This is a great program and should certainly continue.  Things to watch out for, though…  Many of these courses can be utilized regionally or nationally to support needs, but they may require modifications.  Additionally, while I will rarely discourage any jurisdiction from meeting training needs they might have, we do run the risk of developing non-standardized training across the nation.

Over the past 15 years, we have certainly seen an increase in the variety and volume of courses available from FEMA and consortium entities.  The training they offer is generally fantastic, but now we are faced with the other side of standardization – some courses are too generic, as they need to be applied nation-wide.  Additionally, while scheduling of these courses, particularly the locally delivered ones, has become streamlined and easy through state training officers, many courses have a significant wait list, with some courses being scheduled out not just months, but years.  This significantly delays the progress of preparedness efforts in many areas across the nation.

Overall, the number of state-delivered courses supported by FEMA has appeared to steadily decrease over the past few years.  Certainly one reason for this is the lack of staff and staff time at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute to support these courses and keep content relevant.  This is generally no fault of EMI, as their funding allocations have not supported staffing for these purposes as of late.  As a former state training officer, I suggest that states and regions are in the best position to identify and track training needs and to deliver a great deal of courses, certainly at the awareness and performance/operations level, and some at higher levels.  These programs, however, need to be supported with expertise, funds, and regional collaboration.

Interested to hear your thoughts…

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

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