Must Read – Evaluating Preparedness at Different Levels of Analysis by Brandon Greenberg

In the past I’ve made references to the DisasterNet blog written by Brandon Greenberg.  If you aren’t reading his blog, you certainly should be, as he routinely posts great material.  Yesterday’s post was no exception.

Brandon has been doing some research on evaluating preparedness, which is a topic I’ve also written about in the past and I feel is of great importance to continued improvements in emergency management.  His article, Evaluating Preparedness at Different Levels of Analysis provides a number of insightful thoughts and information which are certainly going down the right path.  With all hope, Brandon’s continued work may help us find better ways to evaluate preparedness.





Planning for Preparedness

Yes, planning is part of preparedness, but organizations must also have a plan for preparedness.  Why?  Preparedness breaks down into five key elements  – remember the POETE mnemonic – Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising.  I’m also in favor of including assessment as a preparedness element.  Needless to say, we do a lot when it comes to preparedness.  Each of these elements alone involves significant activity, and together there are opportunities for activities to be synchronized for maximum benefit.  In smaller organizations, these elements may be addressed by one or two people, which itself can be challenging as these are the same people running the organization and addressing myriad other tasks.  In larger organizations each element alone may be addressed by a number of people, which also provides a complication of synchronizing tasks for maximum benefit.  Either way, as with all project and program management, without a plan of action, we may forget critical tasks or do things out of order.

By establishing a preparedness plan, we can address many of these issues.  The plan can be as detailed as necessary, but should at least identify and address requirements (internally and externally imposed) as well as benchmarks to success.  But what do we plan for?

Assessment – Yes, I’m including this as an element.  Assessment is something we should constantly be doing.  Just as we strive to maintain situational awareness throughout an incident, we have to be aware of and assess factors that influence our state of readiness.  There are a variety of assessments that we do already and others that can be done as they relate to the other five elements.  In fact, assessments will inform our preparedness plan, helping us to identify where we are and where we need to be.  We can review after action reports from incidents, events, and exercises to determine what improvements must be made.  We can research best practices and examine funding requirements, legal requirements, and standards such as EMAP or NFPA 1600 which can broadly influence our programs.  We assess current plans to identify what our gaps are and what plans need to be revisited.  We can assess our organization to determine if staffing is maximized and that policy, procedure, and protocol support an agile organization.  The status of equipment can be assessed to determine what is operational and ready to deploy.  We can conduct a training needs assessment to identify what training is needed; and lastly, we can assess opportunities to exercise.  Not only should our assessments inform what needs to be accomplished for each of the POETE elements, but regular assessment check ins and activities should be identified, nay planned for, within our preparedness plan.  Consider what else can inform our preparedness plan.  A recent hazard analysis, THIRA, or state preparedness report (SPR) can feed a lot of information into a preparedness plan – especially the state preparedness report, as it is specifically structured to identify POETE gaps.

Planning – We should always examine what we have.  If plan reviews aren’t scheduled, they often fall to the wayside.  Plan review teams should be identified for each plan, and a review schedule or cycle established.  Benchmark activities for plan review activities should also be identified.  The need for new plans should also be highlighted.  Based on standards, requirements, best practices, or other need, what plans do you organization need to assemble in the next year or two?  Again, identify benchmarks for these.

Organization – Assessments of your organization, either as direct efforts or as part of after action reports or strategic plans can identify what needs to be accomplished organizationally.  Maybe it’s a reorganization, an increase in staffing levels, an impending change in administration, expected attrition, union matters, or something else that needs to be addressed.  As with many other things, some matters or organization are simple, while others are very difficult to navigate.  Without a plan of action, it’s easy to allow things to fall to the wayside.  What changes need to be made?  Who is responsible for implementing them?  Who else needs to be involved? What’s a reasonable timeline for making these changes happen?

Equipping – Many logisticians are great at keeping accurate records and maintenance plans.  This measure of detail isn’t likely needed for your preparedness plan, but you still should be documenting the big picture.  What benchmarks need to be established and followed?  Are there any large expenditures expected for equipment such as a communications vehicle?  Is there an impending conversion of equipment to comply with a new standard?  Are there any gaps in resource management that need to be addressed?

Training – Informed by a training needs assessment, a training plan can be developed.  A training plan should identify foundational training that everyone needs as well as training needed for people functioning at certain levels or positions.  Ideally, you are addressing needs through training programs that already exist, either internally or externally, but there may be a need to develop new training programs.  A training plan should identify what training is needed, for who, and to what level (i.e. to steal from the hazmat world – Awareness? Operations? Technician?).  The plan should identify who will coordinate the training, how often the training will be made available, and how new training will be developed.

Exercises – We have a standard of practice for identifying exercises into the future – it’s called the multi-year training and exercise plan (MYTEP).  While it’s supposed to include training (or at least training related to the identified exercises), training often falls to the wayside during the training and exercise planning workshop (TEPW).  The outcomes of the TEPW can be integrated into your preparedness plan, allowing for an opportunity to synchronize needs and activities across each element.

Just as we do with most of our planning efforts, I would suggest forming a planning team to shepherd your preparedness plan, comprised of stakeholders of each of the elements.  I envision this as a group that should be in regular communication about preparedness efforts, with periodic check-ins on the preparedness plan.  This engagement should lead to synchronization of efforts.  Identify what activities are related and how.  Has a new plan been developed?  Then people need to be trained on it and the plan should be exercised.  Has new equipment been procured?  Then people should be trained in its use and plans should account for the new or increased capability.

Like any effort, endorsement from leadership is necessary, especially when multiple stakeholders need to be brought together and working together.  Many emergency management and homeland security organizations have positions responsible for preparedness, often at the deputy director level.  The formation and maintenance of a comprehensive preparedness plan should be a foundation of their efforts to manage preparedness and forecast and synchronize efforts.

Does your organization have a plan for preparedness beyond just a multi-year training and exercise plan?  What elements do you tie in?  Do you find it to be a successful endeavor?

Do you need assistance in developing a preparedness plan?  Contact us!

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

Emergency Management: Why Failure is Necessary

One of the many podcasts I listen to is the TED Radio Hour from NPR.  For the uninitiated, the TED Radio Hour is a compilation of highlights from several TED Talks (you know what these are, right?) arranged around certain topics.  I like the topical arrangement and the sampling they do of the presentations, as well as the inclusion of interviews with many of the presenters.  Yesterday I listed to one from July 29, 2016 titled Failure is an Option.  In it, I was most drawn to the points made by Tim Hartford, an economist, and began to think that this guy needs to speak at some emergency management conferences.  What can an economist tell emergency managers?  His TED Talk is titled Trial, Error, and the God ComplexIt’s worth checking out.

How often do you hear someone in public safety proclaim that they don’t know about a certain topic or how to handle a certain situation.  Not very often.  Certainly we have a lot of confident, Type A people (myself included) who will not be stopped by a problem, even if we don’t know right off how we will solve it.  At the extreme end of this are those who refuse to plan.  Why?  Maybe they don’t want to be constrained by a plan, or maybe they don’t want something put in writing.  Maybe they simply don’t know right now what they will do, either a) hoping that it never happens, or b) assuming they will figure it out when it does.  Determination and persistence is good, but we can’t become ignorant despite it.  As I often mention in my posts, this is public safety, not a pick-up game of kick ball.  To me, there is nothing more serious.

Our egos drive us to feel that everything is on the line all the time.  While some may refuse to plan, others do plan, but the approach may not be realistic.  We’ve all seen plans that begin with one, two, maybe even three pages of assumptions.  That’s a lot of assuming for an emergency or disaster situation, which we all know is uncertain and dynamic.  Those long lists make me uncomfortable, as they should you.  Why do we do it?  Sure there are some things we can expect, but otherwise we are trying to dictate terms to the disaster.  Trust me, the disaster doesn’t give a damn about the plan you wrote or the terms and conditions you try to lay out for it.  But it makes us feel better by putting the disaster in a very defined box.  I know I’ve been guilty of this.

Let’s remove the ego.  Let’s proclaim that maybe we have no idea, or we have a few ideas but we aren’t sure which one is best.  Preparedness should be collaborative.  Get lots of ideas from people.  Talk though them and figure out which ones are the most viable.  Get these ideas down on paper, even loosely, and try them out.  We need to take advantage of our preparedness work to figure out the things we don’t know.

A number of years ago, it was identified through feedback and after action reports of incidents that the flow of information and resource requests in a certain EOC simply wasn’t working the way it was intended.  While I’m a big fan of the application of ICS in an EOC, the specific role an EOC plays as a multi-agency coordination center, the cross functions of some staff, and the politics involved aren’t really accounted for in ICS, so the strictest applications of ICS sometimes don’t apply well.  A small group of us were tasked to fix it.  While we each had some theories, none of really knew why the current processes weren’t working.  So we set up a small exercise solely for this purpose.  Our observations helped us identify the root cause of the problem.  The members of our group, all experienced EOC personnel, had different theories on how to solve the problem.  We went again to exercises, this time a series of small ones.  We ushered some people into the EOC, each time giving them a flow chart and some narrative on what each person should be doing relative to the processes we devised.  The injects flowed and we observed the outcomes.  We saw what worked and what didn’t.  We then assembled an amalgamation of the best traits of each methodology into a new process.  Then guess what we did – we exercised that – and it worked.  Not only did we have a great scientific and structured approach, we also had validation of our final product – one that stood up to further exercises and actual incidents.

Does trial and error take time?  Sure it does.  Does it always yield results?  Yes – although not always positive ones – but those are still results.  It’s important to remember to collect data on each of our attempts.  Just like an exercise we want to evaluate and document.  Sometimes our ideas turn out to be epic failures, and that’s OK.  Had we not found this out during our trial and error, just like an exercise, it could have been devastating and costly in a real life application.  A severe mistake during an incident can be career ending for you, and life ending for those you are sworn to protect.

The bottom line is that it’s OK to fail – just try to control when and how you fail.  In order to accept that premise, however, we need to let go of the super Type A hero/god/ego thing.  Yes, we can learn from successes, but we learn more from failure, especially with a little root cause analysis.  Sometimes things look great on paper, but unless you actually try them out, you’ll never know.  In your trial and error, also consider different variables which may have influence on the outcomes.  It’s great to plan for a response and practice it on a sunny day, but what about pouring rain, freezing temperatures, or high winds?  How does this impact your plan?  Often we can make assumptions (remember those?), but we’ll never really know unless we try.

Do you buy into this?  Thoughts appreciated.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

ICS Training (Still) Sucks… One Year Later

Just over a year ago, I posted my article Incident Command Training Sucks, which to date has been viewed almost 2000 times on the WordPress blog platform, alone.  Since then, I’ve written several more times on the necessity to change the foundational ICS training curriculum in the US to programs that are focused on application of ICS in initial and transitional response instead of just theory and vague instruction.  I am greatly appreciative of all the support these articles have received and the extra effort so many have taken to forward my blog on to the attention of others.  These posts have led to some great dialogue among some incredible professionals about the need to update ICS training.  Sadly, there is no indication of action in this direction.

A recent reader mentioned that it often ‘takes guts to speak the truth’.  It’s a comment I appreciate, but I think the big issue is often complacency.  We settle for something because we don’t have an alternative.  Also, I’ve found that people are reluctant to speak out against the current training programs because there are so many good instructors or because the system, foundationally, is sound.  My criticisms are not directed at instructors or the system itself – both of which I overwhelmingly believe in.  I’m also not being critical of those who have participated in the creation of the current curriculum or those who are the ‘keepers’ of the curriculum.

Much of the existing curriculum has been inherited, modified from its roots in wildfire incident management, where it has served well.  While adjustments and updates have been made through the years, it’s time we take a step away and examine the NEED for training.  Assessment is, after all, the first step of the ADDIE model of instructional design.  Let’s figure out what is needed and start with a clean slate in designing a NEW curriculum, instead of making adjustments to what exists (which clearly doesn’t meet the need).

Another reader commented that ‘The traditional ICS courses seem to expect the IC to just waive their hands and magically the entire ICS structure just would build beneath them’.  It is phrases we find in the courses such as ‘establish command’ or ‘develop your organization’ that are taken for granted and offer little supporting content or guides to application.  The actions that these simple phrases point to can be vastly complicated.  This is much of the point of Chief Cynthia Renaud’s article ‘The Missing Piece of NIMS: Teaching Incident Commanders to Function on the Edge of Chaos’.  We need to train to application and performance – and I’m not talking about formal incident management teams, I’m talking about the responders in your communities.  The training programs for incident management teams are great, but not everyone has the time or ability to attend these.

I’m hoping that my articles continue to draw attention to this need.  Perhaps the changes that come as a result of the final NIMS refresh will prompt this; hopefully beyond just a simple update to the curriculum giving us a real, needs-based rewrite.  As I’ve mentioned before, this is public safety, not a pick-up game of kickball.  We can do better.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

How Prepared are US Households?

Within the 2013 American Housing Survey, the United States Census Bureau asked US residents how prepared they were for disasters.  They assembled a great infographic on their findings, which can be found here.  Thanks to Jason S for posting this on LinkedIn last week! (commentary below)

Measuring America: How Ready Are We?

I find many of the numbers to be interesting, and am quite honestly skeptical of several of them.  I’m sure the methodology of the Census Bureau’s survey is sound, but I question some of the results based upon my own interactions with the public regarding preparedness.  I’d be interested in seeing the questions.  I did a bit of digging around and found the Census website for the American Housing Survey, which is located here.  There are a variety of data tables available, including breakdowns related to these preparedness questions, but nothing that I can find that specifically provides the questions.  From what I’ve seen, it appears the survey was only conducted in major metropolitan areas around the US.

Emergency Water Supply: 54.3% of households state that they have at least three gallons of water for each person in the household.  This number seems high to me.  I’m left wondering if some people may have thought this included tap water?

Non-Perishable Emergency Food: 82% of households said they have enough non-perishable food to sustain their family for three days.  Have you looked in your pantry lately?  I fully agree with this number.  You may not be able to make full meals or have them be nutritionally balanced, but I do believe that most pantries can provide adequate sustenance for a family for three days.

Prepared Emergency Evacuation Kit: 51.5% of households say they have one.  Really?  I’m not convinced.

Emergency Meeting Location: 37.4% of households say they have an identified emergency meeting location.  While the number still might be a little high, I think it’s within a realistic range.

Communication Plan: 33% of households say they have a communication plan which includes a contingency for the disruption of cell service.  Same as the previous item, perhaps a little high, but I think it’s in the ballpark.

Evacuation Vehicles: 88.6% of households say they have a vehicle or vehicles able to carry all household members, pets, and supplies up to 50 miles away.  I did a bit of digging around, and this number seems accurate, as about 90% of US households have vehicles.  I’m a bit surprised about how high the number is considering that this survey canvassed major metropolitan areas, though.

Evacuation Funds: 69.8% of households said they have access to up to $2000 in the event of evacuation.  In all, between cash and credit, I can believe this number.  They may have to get out of the disaster area, however, to access funds electronically.

House or Building Number Clearly Visible: 77.5% of households said they have this.  Having worked as a firefighter and EMT for many years, I’d agree that somewhere between 2/3 to ¾ of building numbers are visible.

Generator Present: 18.3% of households say they have a generator present.  All in all a sound number, I believe, but perhaps a bit high for urban areas.

Access to Financial Information: 76.8% of households say they have access to their financial information.  This is a question I’d like to see the wording on, but aside from taking time to dig through old bills, I’m skeptical.  Emergency Financial First Aid Kits are a great idea and should be maintained regularly.

I’m hopeful that many of these numbers are reflections of reality, but even if they are we have a long way to go.  One of the best resources out there is WWW.READY.GOV.  Everyone should check it out and make some progress toward individual and family preparedness.  First responders and emergency managers – this means you, too!

What are your thoughts on these statistics?  Those of you in other nations – what kind of preparedness data have you seen for your country?

Stay safe!

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness


Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Equipping

I’ve written previous posts on our preparedness investments and how we can gauge our return on those investments.  Following the POETE model (planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises), I’ve so far covered some considerations for Planning and Organizing.  This piece will focus on identifying our return on investment for Equipping.  Equipment can be anything from a new fire engine, to a generator, a UAV/drone, a radiological detection device, or incident management software.

Equipping is generally a preparedness activity in which we can more easily identify what our actual investment is.  Unlike Planning, which requires varying amounts of time from a number of people, or Organizational efforts which sometimes have rather esoteric costs, when we purchase or maintain equipment, we usually have a receipt in hand.

Functioning in the bureaucracies we do, however, we tend to add complexities.  We form committees to find the best equipment we can, we leverage our own staff time to keep it maintained, and we often have other associated costs, which reflect back on the other POETE elements… at least we should.  In addition to the cost of the equipment itself, let’s look at what the associated costs could be.

Every significant equipment purchase, first of all, should stem from an identified need.  Maybe it’s a critical element of a process, it’s called for in a plan, or the need was identified in an after action report.  Perhaps you are upgrading or expanding application of a certain piece of equipment?  Regardless, your organization must invest some time to ensure the equipment will meet your needs and how it will impact your operations.  This activity, generally referred to as Assessment, if often rolled into the Planning element.  Once we do obtain the equipment, we also need to plan.  We need to ensure the use of the equipment is accounted for in our plans.  Perhaps it’s as simple as adding it to a resource inventory, or as complex as creating processes or procedures that address its use.

Organizationally, you may need to task an individual or even assemble a team which will be responsible for the care and operation of the equipment.  This, logically, leads to Training.  People need to be properly trained in not only the use of the standard use of the equipment, but also the circumstances which it will be used as well as any processes or procedures for use which are unique to your organization.  Consider what degree of proficiency these individuals may need in the operation of the equipment.  Is it just basic operation, or is there a need for something more advanced?  Will recurring training be needed to maintain proficiency or to train additional people in the future?  Will anyone be trained in higher level maintenance of the equipment?

Exercising the equipment, its effectiveness, and the ability of your resources to use the equipment is essential.  Lastly, we often don’t consider the costs of maintaining and storing the equipment.  It may need replacement parts or regular servicing, which even done in-house, has an associated cost.  It may have certain storage requirements to ensure the safety and readiness of the equipment.

Now that we’ve outlined potential costs or investments, how do we know those investments have made a difference for your organization?  To determine this, we must first look at the original need.  What actually defined the need for the equipment?  Was it to replace something older and less reliable?  Was it to enhance response time?  Was it because of safety?  Did the need identify inefficiencies in previous practices and systems?  Did the new equipment meet that need?

To dig further, what was the value of that need?  To identify this, we should look at the metrics associated with that need.  If the new equipment replaced something aging, we can look at the maintenance costs and down time over a certain period of time for the older equipment.  If it was to shorten response time to get a certain capability on-scene, we should be able to identify the time metrics as well as the difference that equipment makes once it is on scene (eg. a fire department which previously had to call mutual aid to get jaws of life on scene, vs purchasing a set of jaws and having them on scene much faster).  We can associate a dollar-value cost to many of these metrics.

Was there any additional value which the equipment brought your organization?  Perhaps the added capability decreased your insurance rates or made you eligible for a particular industry certification?  Are there any indirect cost savings because of the new equipment?  Does the new equipment somehow aid in generating income?

There are many considerations when it comes to any of our investments to ensure that they are sound, responsible, and reasonable.  Often we need to identify the value of an investment before it is made, but we should certainly keep track of that value after the investment as well.

Need help with planning?  Gap analysis?  Resource inventories?  Maybe with the training or exercising associated with new equipment or other preparedness needs? Contact EPS!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC 

Dig Deeper – Ask ‘Why?’ Five Times

Be an archaeologist and DIG DEEPER!

Be an archaeologist and DIG DEEPER!

An old boss of mine once told me that to find the real root of any problem you should ask ‘Why?’ five times.  This sage Yoda-like advice has served me well ever since.  Of course it’s not always necessary to ask it the full five times; in fact you often find the foundational cause sooner.  Nonetheless, this approach will inevitably guide you toward discovering what needs to be fixed.

Those who follow my blog know that I post mostly within two thematic areas – emergency management or training.  The ‘ask why’ methodology applies to both of these areas and darn near anything else I can think of.  My thoughts are below on both themes.  Of course training in the field of emergency management is a combination of the two!

In Emergency Management

I’ve posted numerous times on topics such as hazard analysis, Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA), and other similar topics in emergency management.  It is so incredibly necessary for us to identify needs and vulnerabilities, and to understand our community’s capabilities in order to properly prepare for future disasters and emergencies.  I’ve learned that in public safety, when asking a question, you often get a story and that story is often related to a past incident.  While the story may be elaborate, it usually gives you little substance.  Anecdotes aren’t enough.  You need to dig deeper.

As a culture within public safety we are still trying to drive practitioners to be more analytical.  Quality after action reports are a big step in the right direction.  The benefits of after action reports for incidents, not just exercises, are huge.  After action reports should lead to improvement plans, but without identifying the real reason behind what went wrong we can’t fix the problems.  After action reports require an analysis to dig deeper into the observed action to discover what really needs to be addressed.

In Training

In November I published an article in Training Magazine titled The Importance of Analysis to Identify Root Cause.  While I didn’t reference the ‘ask why’ methodology directly, the subject matter of the article lends itself to this approach.  As a trainer, when a problem is presented to you to ‘fix with training’, you need to figure out what the real issues are so that 1) you can confirm that it is in fact a training issue, and 2) you can determine what the objectives and methodologies of the training need to be.  Without properly identifying and defining the needs you are doomed to fail and will likely be putting forth a lot of effort with little gain.  While the results may put some people on the defensive, they can point the organization in the right direction to address inefficiencies and performance problems.

In any needs assessment, don’t simply accept the first answer given to you – dig deeper!  It’s amazing what you will find!

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

Examining Needs-Based Emergency Planning

For the past decade and one half we have seen documents such as Civil Preparedness Guide (CPG) 1-8 (1990), State and Local Guide (SLG) 101 (1996), and two versions of Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101 (2009 and 2010) provide us with continually advancing standards and guidance for emergency planning.   We have seen the focus points of planning evolve from assumption-based, to threat and risk-based, to capability-based planning through each of these iterations.  With the release of each new standard, however, the lessons learned from the previous have been preserved, bringing with them remnants of the earlier standards.  Our current standard, Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101 (2010), maintains a focus on capability-based planning but still stresses the importance of formulating assumptions in our planning as well as identifying threats and risks.  Each of these elements is important, but in these examinations we seem to be forgetting something very important – what is the need?

Planning assumptions, risk and threat, and capabilities assessments are all important informers of emergency planning and must remain in the lexicon for us to be successful.  It seems, though, that while these elements contribute to our planning efforts, they still don’t define the true need.  In examining the real need in any jurisdiction, we need to identify these other elements but we can’t take the jurisdiction itself for granted.  Identifying the needs of the jurisdiction will help us, along with the other elements, to identify what the impacts of a disaster will be and how prepared we are to address them.  Too often we see emergency planning efforts which are very rote, paying little attention to the real needs of the jurisdiction.

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you likely recall that I am a huge proponent of needs assessments.  As a trainer, a proper needs assessment is everything.  It leads us to the identification of what the desired behavior is and is a critical first step in determining how we will effectively train individuals to achieve it.  Earlier this month I had an article published in Training Magazine on the Importance of Analysis to Identify Root Cause.  The same principles of needs assessment can be easily applied to emergency planning.  Very simply, needs drive objectives.

The identification of needs for a jurisdiction involves an examination of both the physicality of the jurisdiction as well as the population.  Elements of the physicality of the jurisdiction include size and geography, accessibility of areas within the jurisdiction, and critical infrastructure and key resources contained within the jurisdiction.  Examining the population demographics includes age ranges, income levels, disability, vulnerable and at risk populations (the CDC Social Vulnerability Index is a great resource), languages, cultures, religions, population densities, and the ratios of full time residents to transients/visitors, and commuters.  GIS can provide us with much of this information both individually and in aggregate.

Once we collect this data, an analysis is important to identify what it all means (aka defining the need).  Where are there vulnerabilities within the jurisdiction in a steady state?  Under which scenarios exist increased vulnerabilities – such as a bridge that provides the only access to an area of the jurisdiction being washed out.  What religious and cultural matters must be considered in disaster response?  What needs exist for communicating with those with limited English proficiency?  The answers to these questions will inform strategies contained in our emergency plans and annexes.

Good planners dig to these depths and produce quality operational plans – but most don’t.  Plans which have not been written with this detailed process are doomed to fail as the needs of the jurisdiction have not been weighed with our assumptions, threats and risks, and capabilities.  The THIRA process helps to move us in the right direction by asking us to provide threats and hazards with context (our planning assumptions) and then establishing capability targets which will address these impacts.  Still, it’s not direct or detailed enough to provide us with all the information we need.

While CPG 101 guides us to know our communities and to understand the consequences of a potential incident, the current focus on capabilities, while important, is a focus on us – public safety.  The focus must be on the jurisdiction as a whole and an identification and understanding of potential impacts and the resultant needs of the jurisdiction.  It’s not so much a change in process as it is a change in emphasis.  We must first understand needs before we can plan to address them.


© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Management and Considerations for Visiting Populations

Radar loop, Labor Day 1998 Upstate New York.  This storm impacted the New York State Fair.

Radar loop, Labor Day 1998 Upstate New York. This storm impacted the New York State Fair.

The inspiration for this blog was a paper posted to LLIS by Dr. Susanne Becken, Professor of Sustainable Tourism at Griffith University (Australia) and Lincoln University (New Zealand).  The paper is titled The Christchurch Earthquake and the Visitor Sector, which is also available from this link if you don’t have LLIS access.

Dr. Becken highlights the Christchurch earthquake of February 22, 2011, which killed 185 people from more than 20 nations, 80 of which were listed as visiting, rather than residing in, Christchurch.  She states that as a result of this M 7.1 earthquake infrastructure was badly damaged, accommodation capacity was reduced by half, and the number of international visitors dropped by almost 30 percent in the aftermath.  Dr. Becken identifies many of the challenges visitors had, including loss of travel documentation and other important items, and the value of the tourism industry in the area to assist response efforts (such as providing lodging for displaced citizens as well as responders from out of the area).

This paper brings to mind the vast amounts of visitors and transient populations that are found in many communities across the nation.  When visiting an attraction such as an amusement park, where tens of thousands of people congregate on any given summer day, take a look around.  Many of the amusement parks I know of are in fairly rural areas.  These towns are likely to have small volunteer fire departments and may not even have their own police services, instead relying on a county Sheriff’s Department or State Police.  How about a small city that has popular attractions at certain times of the year, such as horse tracks or other sporting events?  These events will also draw tens of thousands of people from near and far, staying in hotels, motels, and campgrounds.  Sure, these small cities might have a 24-hour staffed fire department, and probably even a small police force.  But how prepared are these types of areas for an incident that can cause mass casualties and fatalities?

Incidents such as this underscore the need for our preparedness to be through and needs-based.  As part of our Threat and Hazard Identification and Assessment (THIRA), which is the latest evolution of the traditional hazard analysis (see CPG-201), we must be sure to recognize visitors and transient populations and the events that bring them to our areas.  We should consider tourist attractions, field days, concerts and performances, large conventions, sporting events, and even college populations.  The potential impacts, in the event of a disaster, are certainly greater with these populations given that they are likely to be unfamiliar with the area, don’t reside locally and probably have no local contacts, and aren’t familiar with the threats.  Given the nature of the event they are attending, they may very well be consuming alcohol, as well.  All this makes for a rather fragile and dependent population in the event of disaster.

Planning on the macro (community) level should consider the specifics mentioned above.  With this information you can estimate the resources needed for certain scenarios (this is part of your THIRA), which will lead you determine gaps which you then plan to address.  Take some time to examine the demographics of the visiting populations.  These demographics will help determine their level of need in the event of a disaster and some areas of support you may need to provide.  Your local chamber of commerce and/or tourism authority can be an important planning partner for this information and other purposes.  Certainly consider the nature of the events and the age range of the attendees.  Are there language or cultural issues that should be prepared for?  Much of this specific information can be obtained event by event, looking at the micro (event-specific) level of planning for these events.  In New York State, a mass gathering permit is supposed to be issued for any event estimating attendance over a certain number.  The primary purpose of these permits is to ensure that officials are aware of the event and that potable water and sanitation is appropriately available, as well as other caveats.  Most states have a similar type of permitting requirement.  Become familiar with it and use it to your advantage.

In any of these events, how will you handle alert and notification in the event of a disaster?  You may have sirens in place, but would a visitor know what it means?  Given that such a high percentage of people have cell phones, use of area blast messaging may be an appropriate consideration.

A lesson learned from airline crashes can and should be brought into your planning: family assistance centers.  Family assistance centers were brought about in the aftermath of the crash of TWA Flight 800, realizing the importance of providing support and information to the families and loved ones of victims.  This concept has been applied as a standard to other mass fatality incidents since then and has proven to be beneficial to all parties.

Be sure to conduct preparedness exercises on these plans, and include members of your local hospitality and tourism industry as they will certainly be involved in some aspect of the greater response should an incident occur.

Sometimes local communities view visiting populations as a hassle, particularly when they don’t have the care for the host community that the locals do.  These populations are usually important to the economy of the local area and, depending in the event, will be back year after year.  No matter what your take is on that argument, you must consider the safety of any visitors or tourists as if they were your own citizens.  Be prepared through regular planning, training, and exercising activities and be sure to include your local chamber of commerce, tourism and hospitality industry as they are not only stakeholders, but they have a great deal of support and information to provide.  Most importantly, remember that all good preparedness efforts begin with a solid needs assessment.  Conduct a THIRA for your community, you might be surprised with what you discover!

What experiences do you have with planning for visiting populations?

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?