Preparedness – ICS is Not Enough

Back in October I wrote a post about ICS training not being enough for EOC personnel.  You can give it a read to see my reasons, which essentially boil down to the specific role of the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) in the incident management structure and the unique processes which take place in an EOC both not being addressed in ICS (Incident Command System) training.

As I continue to work in various jurisdictions to enhance their preparedness, I am expanding my thoughts on ICS training not being enough – this time for all of preparedness.  In meeting with jurisdictions and discussing their current state of preparedness, many believe they are well prepared to respond to any incident simply because their personnel have received ICS training.  Why am I concerned by this?

Folks, in the grand scheme of things, ICS training alone does not teach you to do very much except how to function within a system.  First off, I’m a huge believer in ICS and the success it can help facilitate in incidents and events.  Not only have I seen it work, but I use it and advocate for it as a chief practice of emergency management.  I’ve been teaching ICS courses since 2001 and have led hundreds of course deliveries amongst the various levels.  That said, in seeing the faith that people are putting in ICS as their savior from disaster, I think that faith has become exaggerated and misplaced.  While ICS gives us guidance on structure, processes, and standards, it still doesn’t tell us HOW to manage the incident and its impacts – and it never well.

The structure, processes, and other standards that ICS provides – when properly applied – are greatly beneficial to our ability to manage a disaster.  Let’s not forget, though, everything else that is needed to be successful.  There is an abundance of training available for personnel to address identified needs to make them better at what they do and thus enhance the capabilities of the jurisdiction or entity.  Some of this may certainly include higher level and more functional training in ICS (i.e. position-specific and incident management team training), but we can’t forget that we must focus on our needs and developing to meet those needs.  More on identifying training needs here and here.

The best way of identifying those needs, comprehensively, is through our plans.  Planning is the cornerstone of preparedness and serves as the foundation of our response.  Planning to appropriate depth is not often performed and always needs to be enhanced (more training in the activities of planning is certainly an identified need!).  Once plans are in place, we need to train all stakeholders on the contents of those plans and of course exercise them.  The process of planning and the exercises we conduct will identify other gaps in preparedness efforts that the jurisdiction or entity should address.  These gaps are most easily analyzed through through five key elements – Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising (POETE).  More on POETE analysis here.

When a plan is being written or reviewed, we need to follow the bouncing ball for each of the identified activities.  Is it enough for the plan to say that certain stakeholders will be contacted when an incident occurs?  Of course not – we need to identify WHO will contact them, HOW they will be contacted, specifically WHEN they will contact and what is the trigger event, and WHAT they will be told.  Also, what happens if someone is unreachable?  What actions are they expected to take?  Do they then need to make any notifications?  If they are doing nothing with the information, WHY are we even contacting them?  This simple task requires planning (process and decision mapping as well as a specific procedure), organizing (identifying specific personnel and alternates to do this), equipping (the equipment needed for them to make contact; including access, maintenance, operation, and redundancies), training (training and job aids in the procedures and equipment), and exercising (to ensure that all the previous elements function appropriately).

The example above is simple, but shows how far-reaching and complex a seemingly simple activity can be.  ICS training won’t address this.  While ICS practices should be penetrating the deepest aspects of our incident response organization, ICS as a concept is fairly high-level and conceptual.  While it helps structure our tactical resources, ICS itself is not a tactical application – it is simply the structure we perform in.  The processes it provides are not tactical processes, they are incident management processes, but we still need to know about the incident and what to do – ICS will not provide those answers.  ICS is a great tool, but just like a carpenter we must have a variety of tools to do the job properly.

What needs have you identified?

If you need assistance with your preparedness – planning, training, exercising, or needs assessments – reach out to Emergency Preparedness Solutions!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC  

Capability Prioritization

The THIRA (Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment) process is the most comprehensive hazard analysis in emergency management and homeland security.  It provides more information than the traditional hazard analysis by examining each hazard through the lens of each of the 31 Core Capabilities which have been specifically defined by the stakeholders of the jurisdiction.  The end result of the THIRA is a snapshot of the hazards a jurisdiction faces and the identification of what is needed to handle that hazard within each of the five mission areas (Prevention, Protection, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation).  It can be a complex process, but well worth the investment of time for a jurisdiction.  More, however, can be learned and the THIRA should inform more than just your plans.

For states and UASIs (Urban Area Security Initiative jurisdictions), the process continues in the form of the SPR (State Preparedness Report).  The SPR uses the THIRA data and applies a POETE (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising) analysis to each capability.  The POETE analysis drills deeper into each capability, allowing the jurisdiction to better understand their strengths and weaknesses within each capability.  This is extremely valuable information and clearly there are benefits to more than just states and UASIs conducting a POETE analysis.  The SPR process also prompts jurisdictions to assign a priority to each capability – High, Medium, or Low.  All in all, this provides a depth of data, but what does it all mean?

While the SPR process expands on the THIRA foundation by prompting a more in-depth analysis of each capability, the end result is a multitude of data points.  Taken individually, a jurisdiction can examine details of a specific capability, but further analysis needs to be undertaken to see the big picture.  Many jurisdictions rate quite a few of the 31 Core Capabilities as a High priority.  So what do you focus on?  If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority!

In response to this, Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC has developed a proprietary Capability Prioritization which incorporates stakeholder-assigned priorities while also considering the ratings provided in the POETE analysis.  The results of the Capability Prioritization provide a relative priority ranking of the Core Capabilities for the jurisdiction which can give the jurisdiction a better view of the overall priorities for continued development of preparedness strategies across the POETE spectrum, policy issues, investment justification, and resource allocation.

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC is skilled and experienced in conducting THIRAs and POETE Analysis – plus we equip your jurisdiction with usable data and recommendations based on our findings.  Contact us today to jumpstart and focus your preparedness efforts.  The investment will pay off!  Be Proactive, Be Prepared! ™

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© 2014 – Timothy Riecker