It’s Not Too Late To Prepare

The phrase I’ve been using lately when I speak to people has been “It’s not too late to prepare”.  Many people perceive that in the middle of a disaster we are unable to prepare.  Quite the contrary, we have the potential to integrate all of our preparedness steps into a response.  Because we have problems in front of us that need to be addressed, we have an opportunity to continuously improve, ensuring that organizationally we are offering the very best we can. 

There is a reason why there isn’t a mission area for preparedness in the National Preparedness Goal.  This is because preparedness is ongoing.  It’s not a separate or distinct activity.  Rather it is comprised of activities that support all mission areas, no matter when they are actioned.  Preparedness is continuous.

Assessment

Assessment is a key activity within preparedness.  In fact, assessment is foundational in understanding what’s going on.  During a disaster, good management practices dictate that we should be monitoring our response and adjusting as needed.  What exactly should we be monitoring?  Similar to evaluating an exercise, consider the following:

  • What was the effectiveness of deliberate planning efforts? 
    • Were planning assumptions correct?
    • Was the concept of operations adequate in scope and detail? 
    • What was lacking?
    • What worked well?
  • What was the effectiveness of plan implementation?
    • If aspects of plan implementation need improvement, what was the reason for the shortfall?
      • A poor plan
      • Lack of job aids
      • Lack of/poor/infrequent training
      • Lack of practice
      • Lack of the proper resources or capabilities
      • The plan wasn’t followed
  • Did resources and capabilities meet needs?  If not, why?

Planning

While some planning gaps will require a longer time period to address, I’m aware of many jurisdictions and organizations which have been developing plans in the midst of the pandemic.  They recognized a need to have a plan and convened people to develop those plans.  While some of the planning is incident-specific, many of the plans can be utilized in the future we as well, either in the form they were written or adjusted to make them more generally applicable without the specific details of this pandemic.  I’d certainly suggest that any plans developed during the pandemic are reviewed afterwards to identify the same points listed above under ‘assessment’ before they are potentially included in your organization’s catalogue of plans. Also consider that we should be planning for contingencies, as other incidents are practically inevitable.

Training

Training is another fairly easy and often essential preparedness activity which can performed in the midst of a disaster.  Many years ago FEMA embraced the concept of training during disasters.  FEMA Joint Field Offices mobilize with training personnel.  These personnel not only provide just in time training for new personnel or to introduce new systems and processes, but they provide continuing training a variety of topics throughout response and recovery, providing a more knowledgeable workforce.  I’ve seen some EOCs around the country do the same.  Recently, my firm has been contracted to provide remote training for the senior leadership of a jurisdiction on topics such as continuity of operations and multi-agency coordination, which are timely matters for them as they continue to address needs related to the pandemic. 

Exercises

While assessments, planning, and training are certainly activities that may take place during a disaster, exercises are probably less likely, but may, if properly scoped and conducted, still have a place.  Consider that the military will constantly conduct what they call battle drills, even in active theaters of war, to ensure that everyone is familiar with plans and protocols and practiced in their implementation.  Thinking back on new plans that are being written in the midst of the pandemic, it’s a good idea to validate that plan with a tabletop exercise.  We know that even the best written plans will still have gaps that during a blue-sky day we would often identify through an exercise.  Plans written in haste during a crisis are even more prone to have gaps simply because we probably don’t have the opportunity to think everything through and be as methodical and meticulous as we would like.  A tabletop exercise doesn’t have to be complex or long, but it’s good to do a talk through of the plan.  Depending on the scope of the plan and the depth of detail (such as a new procedure, conducting a walk-through of major movements of that plan (that’s a drill) can help ensure validity of the plan and identify any issues in implementation.  While you aren’t likely to go the extent of developing an ExPlan, an evaluator handbook, or exercise evaluation guides (yes, that’s totally OK), it’s still good to lay out a page of essential information to include objectives and methodology since taking the time to write these things down is one more step to ensure that you are doing everything you need for the validation to be effective.  Documentation is still important, and while it can be abbreviated, it shouldn’t be cut out entirely.  It’s also extremely important to isolate the exercise, ensuring that everyone is aware that what is being performed or discussed is not yet part of the response activity.  Evaluators should still give you written observations and documented feedback from participants.  You probably don’t need a full AAR, especially since the observations are going to be put into an immediate modification of the plan in question, but the documentation should still be kept together as there may still be some observations to record for further consideration. 

Evaluation and After Action

Lastly, incident evaluation is something we shouldn’t be missing.  We learn a lot about incident evaluation from exercise evaluation.   I’ve written on it before, which I encourage you to look at, but the fundamentals are ensuring that all actions and decisions are documented, that a hotwash is conducted (or multiple hotwashes to capture larger numbers of people or people who were engaged in very different functions), and that an after action report is developed.   Any incident should provide a lot of lessons learned for your organization, but the circumstances of a pandemic amplify that considerably.  Ensure that everyone in your organization, at all levels, is capturing observations and lessons learned daily.  Ensure that they are providing context to their observations as well, since once this is over, they may not recall the details needed for a recommendation. You may want to consider putting together a short form for people to capture and organize these observations – essentially identifying the issue, providing context, and putting forth a recommendation to address the issue. Don’t forget to encourage people to also identify best practices.  In the end, remember that if lessons learned aren’t actually applied, nothing will change. 

I welcome any insight on how we can continue to apply preparedness in the midst of a disaster. 

Be smart, stay safe, stay healthy, and be good to each other. 

©2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

8 Predicted Changes to Emergency Management Post-Pandemic

In public safety we learn from every incident we deal with.  Some incidents bring about more change than others.  This change comes not just from lessons learned, but an effort to apply change based upon those lessons. In recent history, we’ve seen significant changes in emergency management practice come from disasters like the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, with many of the changes so significant that they are actually codified and have led to new doctrine and new practices at the highest levels.  What changes can we expect from the Coronavirus pandemic?

Of course, it’s difficult to predict the future.  We’re also still in the middle of this, so my thoughts may change a month or two into the future.  Any speculation will begin with idealism, but this must be balanced with pragmatism.  Given that, the items I discuss here are perhaps more along the lines of changes I would like to see which I think have a decent chance of actually happening. 

  1. Legislation.  Similar to the aforementioned major disasters, this too will spawn legislation from which doctrine and programs will be derived.  We are always hopeful that it’s not politicians who pen the actual legislation, but subject matter experts and visionaries with no political agendas other than advancing public health preparedness and related matters. 
  2. More public health resources. This one, I think, is pretty obvious.  We need more resources to support public health preparedness, prevention, and detection efforts.  Of course, this begins with funding which will typically be spawned from the legislation mentioned previous.  Public health preparedness is an investment, though like most preparedness efforts, it’s an investment that will dwindle over time if it’s not properly maintained and advanced to address emerging threats and best practices.  Funding must address needs, programs to address those needs, and the resources to implement those programs. 
  3. Further integration of public health into emergency management.  Emergency management is a team sport.  Regardless of the hazard or the primary agencies involved, disasters impact everyone and many organizations and practices are stakeholders in its resolution and can contribute resources to support the resolution of primary impacts and cascading effects.  Despite some gains following 9/11, public health preparedness has still been treated like an acquaintance from another neighborhood. The legislation, doctrine, programs, and resources that we see MUST support an integrated and comprehensive response.  No longer can we allow public health to be such an unfamiliar entity to the rest of the emergency management community (to be clear – the fault to date lies with everyone). 
  4. Improved emergency management preparedness.  Pulling back to look at emergency management as a whole, we have certainly identified gaps in preparedness comprehensively.  Plans that were lacking or didn’t exist at all.  Equipment and systems that were lacking or didn’t exist at all.  People who didn’t know what to do.  Organizations that weren’t flexible or responsible enough.  Processes that took too long.  Poor assumptions on what impacts would be. We can and must do better.
  5. An increase in operational continuity preparedness.  We’ve been preaching continuity of operations/government for decades, yet so few have listened. The Coronavirus pandemic has shown us so many organizations jumping through their asses as they figure it all out for the first time.  By necessity they have figured it out, some better than others.  My hope here is that they learned from their experience and will embrace the concepts of operational continuity and identify a need to leverage what they have learned and use that as a basis for planning, training, exercises, and other preparedness efforts to support future continuity events. 
  6. Further expansion of understanding of community lifelines and interdependencies of critical infrastructure.  This pandemic gave us real world demonstrations of how connected we are, how vulnerable some of our critical infrastructure is, and what metrics (essential elements of information) we should be monitoring when a disaster strikes.  I expect we will see some updated documents from DHS and FEMA addressing much of this. 
  7. More/better public-private partnerships.  The private sector stepped up in this disaster more than they previously ever had. Sure, some mistakes were made, but the private sector has been incredibly responsive and they continue to do so.  They have supported their communities, customers, and governments to address needs they identified independently as well as responding to requests from government.  They changed production.  Increased capacity.  Distributed crisis messages.  Changed operations to address safety matters.  Some were stretched to capacity, despite having to change their business models.  Many companies have also been providing free or discounted products to organizations, professionals, and the public.  We need to continue seeing this kind of awareness and responsiveness.  I also don’t want to dismiss those businesses, and their employees, that took a severe financial hit.  Economic stabilization will be a big issue to address in recovery from this disaster, and I’m hopeful that our collective efforts can help mitigate this in the future. 
  8. An improved preparedness mindset for individuals and families.  Despite the panic buying we saw, much of the public has finally seemed to grasp the preparedness messaging we have been pushing out for decades.  These are lessons I hope they don’t forget. Emergency management, collectively, absolutely must capitalize on the shared experience of the public to encourage (proper) preparedness efforts moving forward and to keep it regularly in their minds. 

In all, we want to see lasting changes – a new normal, not just knee-jerk reactions or short-lived programs, that will see us eventually sliding backwards.  I’m sure I’ll add more to this list as time goes on, but these are the big items that I am confident can and (hopefully) will happen.  I’m interested in your take on these and what you might add to the list.

Be smart, stay safe, stay healthy, and be good to each other. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Operational Readiness in Emergency Management

Back in 2017 I wrote a piece on defining operational readiness.  It’s a topic, which, after some recent discussion with a colleague, I think bears revisiting and expanding upon.  Specifically, how we apply it in emergency management, or not.  Readiness is really a final comprehensive perspective of preparedness.  That is, once you have reached a certain level of preparedness, you can be ready, but being prepared doesn’t necessarily make you ready.  Preparedness is generally perceived as an ongoing process, though a state of readiness is typically a snapshot in time.

It struck me that the military tends to have more of a focus on readiness, while emergency management has a focus on preparedness.  While you will find both concepts within the doctrine of emergency management and military, the actual applications are considerably skewed.  After my discussion, I began to wonder why there this difference exists and what we can learn from it.

Having worked a considerable amount with various National Guard elements, I’ve come to highly respect their processes and their endeavor for readiness.  Not that we don’t have similar rigor in emergency management, but the focus seems to be more on the processes of preparedness rather than a state of operational readiness.  Sometimes the differences are so subtle that I have to sit back and think them through, but they are certainly there, and they are meaningful.  Given the military’s focus on operational readiness, they serve as a good source of information, though it needs to be properly filtered for application to emergency management.

As I’ve applied more thought to this, I’ve assembled a refined definition of readiness as it applies to emergency management, that being:

[Readiness is the nexus of benchmark outcomes of preparedness matched with the needs of a specific kind and type of response. A state of operational readiness is achieved when all applicable preparedness benchmarks are met and the organization is willing and able to adequately leverage the resulting capabilities against a corresponding threat or hazard.]

I’ve put together a graphic I think reasonably represents this relationship below.  Readiness is represented by a cloud because, as I explore further in this writing, it is itself rather amorphic and complex.

Readiness

To explain the components of my definition…  Readiness comes from a culmination of outcomes from preparedness activities, but only when each of these outcomes achieves a specific benchmark state.  The achievement of benchmarked preparedness activities define a measure of capability.  These capabilities are associated with a specific threat(s) or hazard(s).  As such, that state of readiness is only applicable to a specific kind (threat or hazard) and type (size and complexity) incident.  To help illustrate my points, here are a couple of examples using field response scenarios:

We can assume that a volunteer fire department is prepared to handle a room and contents fire.  They should have all the elements needed to do so, and in fact, these elements have standards (benchmarks) defined by the NFPA and state fire marshals.  Does this mean they have achieved readiness?  Hopefully yes, but perhaps not.  Given the rather extensive crisis of low membership in volunteer fire departments, the department in question may not have adequate staff to respond to this fire if it occurs, for example, in the middle of a week day.  This gives them a measure of degraded, or even negligible readiness.

Similarly, if we take the same fire department, having accomplished the benchmarks of preparedness for response to a room and contents fire, and even given adequate staff to do so, they may not have a state of readiness to fully address a hazardous materials incident.  While many of the elements of preparedness apply to both types of incidents, there are some critical differences which they would have to overcome to establish a state of readiness for a different type of incident.  Likewise, we could revert back to the room and contents fire and make it bigger – say a fully involved structure fire. While the department might have operational readiness to address the room and contents fire, they may not have the operational readiness to address a structure fire.

I think it’s fair to say that we can be prepared for something without having operational readiness for it.  Years ago, when there was a planetary ‘near miss’ by a meteor, a news outlet contacted our state OEM PIO.  They asked if we had a plan for a meteor strike.  The PIO acknowledged that we didn’t have a plan specific to that, but we did have a comprehensive emergency management plan, through which, and supported by various functional annexes, we were prepared to respond to such an incident and its effects should it occur.  Was the PIO wrong?  Not at all.  Assuming the other elements of preparedness were reasonably in place (and they were), it would be fair to say we were generally ‘prepared for anything’.  Were we ready, however?  Absolutely not.  The operational readiness needs for such an extraordinary, high impact incident are near-impossible to achieve.

When we examine this, it’s important to identify that a state of readiness can wax and wane, based on our ability to apply the identified preparedness measures to the incident in question. Considering the first example of the fire department and the room and contents fire, the department has a state of operational readiness when, as included in the definition I gave, all the preparedness benchmarks are met and they are willing and able to adequately leverage the resulting capabilities against a corresponding threat or hazard.  Changes in capability and/or the willingness or ability to apply those capabilities will result in degradation of readiness.  Depending on the factor in question, it may fully disqualify their readiness, or it may decrease their readiness by some measure.

So why is readiness important?  Readiness is the green light.  If we accomplish a state of operational readiness, we increase our chances of success in addressing the threat or hazard in question.  If we haven’t achieved readiness, we still can obviously be successful, but that success may come at a greater cost, longer period of time, and/or increased error.

How do we achieve readiness?  The current approach we have in emergency management certainly isn’t enough.  While some efforts may culminate in operational readiness, there is, as a whole, a significant lack of focus on operational readiness.  This seems to largely be a cultural issue to overcome.  In general, we seem to have the attitude that preparedness equates to readiness, and that preparedness itself is an end state. Even though we intuitively, and doctrinally, know that preparedness is a cycle, we seem to take comfort in ‘completing’ certain tasks among the preparedness elements – planning, organizing, equipping, training, exercises, and improvement – and then assuming readiness.  Readiness itself is actually the end state, though it is a dynamic end state; one that we can easily lose and must constantly strive to maintain.  To accomplish and maintain operational readiness, it is imperative that we aggressively and rigorously pursue activity in each of the elements of preparedness.  We must also continually monitor our ability to execute the capabilities we are preparing.  That ability, ultimately, is our measure of readiness.

The scale and unit of measuring readiness is something I’m not exploring in depth here (it really warrants its own deliberate effort), but expect to revisit in the future.  I surmise that the factors may be different based upon the various capabilities, and types and kinds of threats/hazards we are trying to address.  We need to examine capability requirements at a granular (task) level to truly assess our current state of readiness and identify what we need to address to increase our readiness.  I also assume that there is a somewhat intangible factor to readiness, one that likely revolves around the human factor. Things like leadership, decision-making, confidence, and ability to improvise. The measure of readiness may also involve certain external factors, such as weather.  The measurement of readiness certainly is complex and involves numerous factors.

I do know that practice is a significant factor in operational readiness.  Earlier I mentioned my experience with the National Guard.  Much of that revolves around exercises, which is one of the best (though not the only) measures of readiness.  Operational military units seem to constantly exercise.  Sometimes small scale, sometimes large.  They exercise different aspects, different scenarios, and different approaches.  It’s the regular repetition that builds competence and confidence, along with identifying shortfalls within the capability such as planning gaps, equipment failures, and the need to anticipate and prepare for certain contingencies.  While we exercise a fair amount in emergency management, we still don’t exercise enough.  I see a lot of people in emergency management leadership develop a complacency and virtually declare that ‘close enough is enough’.  It’s absolutely not enough to exercise a plan or capability once a year, which is something we often see (and often at best).

Preparedness is not something we achieve, it’s something we do; but through it we strive to achieve and maintain readiness.

It’s interesting to note that at the level of federal doctrine, we have a National Preparedness Goal.  We need to recognize that preparedness isn’t the goal – Readiness is.  A possible starting point for change would be the assembly of a blue-ribbon panel, likely by FEMA, to explore this topic and provide recommendations on a unified way ahead for emergency management to recognize the need for operational readiness, including purposeful changes in doctrine and culture to emphasize this desired end state.  We need a solid definition, means of measurement, guidelines for implementation, and an identification of the barriers to success with recommendations on how to overcome them (yep, I already know money and staff are the big ones).

I hope I’ve given some food for thought in regard to readiness.  The simple act of writing this and the bit of associated reading and thinking I’ve done on the topic certainly has me thinking about things differently.  As always, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on operational readiness, what it means to you, and what we can do to achieve it.

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

 

 

 

NEW: 2020 HSEEP Revision

Earlier today FEMA dropped the latest version of the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) doctrine.  Doing a quick comparison between this new version and the previous (2013) version, I’ve identified the following significant changes:

  • They replaced the ‘Elected and Appointed Officials’ mentions within the document with ‘Senior Leaders’. This makes sense, since often the elected and appointed officials simply aren’t involved in many of these activities.  The previous terminology is also exclusionary of the private sector and NGOs.
  • The document specifically references the Preparedness Toolkit as a go-to resource.
  • A big emphasis through the document is on the Integrated Preparedness Cycle (see the graphic with this post). The Integrated Preparedness Cycle covers all POETE (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising) elements plus Evaluate/Improve.  The graphic also eludes to these activities not necessarily happing in a specific order, as well as the consideration of Preparedness Priorities and Threats, Hazards, and Risks.  Developing a preparedness plan is something I wrote about back in 2016.
  • Integrated Preparedness Cycle
    • Going along with the Integrated Preparedness Cycle, they have done away with the Training and Exercise Plan (TEP) and replaced it with the Integrated Preparedness Plan (IPP), which is developed through input obtained during an Integrated Preparedness Planning Workshop (IPPW). I serious HOPE this shift is successful, as I’ve mentioned in the past how often the training aspect of the TEP was ignored or phoned in.  This approach also does a lot to integrate planning, organizing, and equipping (but ESPECIALLY planning) into the effort.  This is all tied together even more if a jurisdiction has completed a THIRA.  The Integrated Preparedness Cycle and IPP are the things I’m happiest about with the updated document.
  • The new document provides easier to find and read layouts for information associated with exercise types and each of the planning meetings.
  • For years, HSEEP doctrine has suggested (though thankfully not required) an ICS-based organization for exercise planning. I’ve never used this as I found it awkward at best (though I know others often use it and have success in doing so).  The update provides a different suggestion (better, in my opinion) of a functionally organized planning team organization.  Consider that this is still a suggestion, and that you can use it, or a version of it, or an ICS-based one, or anything else you desire.
  • The update provides better delineation between the planning and conduct needs of discussion-based exercises vs those of operations-based exercises. Those of us who have been doing it for a while know, but for those who are new to exercises this should be very helpful.
  • Lastly, the document suggests making corrective actions SMART, as these are really objectives.

FEMA is hosting a series of webinars (listed on the HSEEP website) to discuss these changes.

I’m very happy with the changes made to the doctrine.  It’s a great continued evolution of HSEEP and preparedness as a whole.  For as much as I’m a champion of the Integrated Preparedness Plan, though, having it (thus far) only included in the HSEEP doctrine makes it easy to miss or dismiss by some.  I’m hopeful broader promotion of this concept, perhaps even including it as an emergency management performance grant requirement, will help adoption of this concept.

What are your thoughts?

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

A FEMA Pilot Program? Maybe?

A few days ago, Homeland Security Today posted an article titled FEMA Creates Pilot Program for Long-term Emergency Management.  It seemed intriguing, so I took a look.  The article is pretty much verbatim (no fault of HS Today) from the press release posted by FEMA of the same title (linked to in the article).  Needless to say, I’m confused.

The press release states that FEMA has developed a pilot program to provide free training to local emergency managers across Puerto Rico to better prepare their disaster response capabilities.  There is an out of place name drop of sorts of the Incident Command System in the release, as well as a statement that the trainings ‘aim to improve capabilities of Puerto Rico Bureau of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration staff’, yet earlier the emphasis was on local emergency managers.

The training they are offering is certainly great and wholly appropriate, covering topics such as emergency planning, debris management planning, points of distribution, and threat and hazard identification and risk assessment (THIRA), as well as courses in American Sign Language.  The release also cites a train the trainer course to be delivered, but doesn’t indicate if it is specific to any of these courses or a general instructor development course.

Are you as confused as I am?  Perhaps it’s because the press release is incredibly poorly written, or maybe because this ‘pilot program’ is poorly conceived. A few thoughts…

  • I’m not sure what this is a pilot program of. Aside from the ASL training (which I think is a great addition, though I hope they realize that someone going through one ASL course still isn’t going to know squat, so hopefully it’s more than that) these courses are a regular part of FEMA’s training repertoire, which are typically provided at no charge.
  • While training certainly contributes to increased preparedness, I would have hoped that an area as vulnerable as Puerto Rico would get more than just training. Preparedness, comprehensively, is comprised of planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises (POETE), with continued assessments throughout.  Training is absolutely important, and I agree with the premise of supporting activities by teaching people how to do them for themselves.  While I understand that other resources have been provided to PR, especially in the wake of 2017’s hurricane impacts, this release awkwardly isolates the training efforts.
  • I’m still stuck on the mention of ICS in this release. It’s completely out of context, especially since there is no indication of any ICS training being provided.

Perhaps I’m being a bit nit-picky with this, but if you are going to advertise an effort, there are a spectrum of right and wrong ways to do so.  While every organization is flawed, I’m a big fan of FEMA, including many of their training programs (ok… maybe with the exception of ICS training).  Further, as a former State Training Officer, I’m big on needs-driven training and training being part of a comprehensive preparedness program.  It’s certainly very appropriate that FEMA is helping to support and boost preparedness in PR, but this release is either misleading, misinformed, or poorly written.

I know that a lot of FEMA folks, including some from EMI, read my blog.  Can anyone provide some clarification on this?  I’ll be happy to post an update!

– Tim Riecker, CEDP

10 Strategies for Improving Emergency Management

I recently listened to an interview with author and professor Sean McFate.  In the interview he discusses the changing landscape of warfare and what the US must do to keep up, particularly since we are still largely stuck in a mindset of conventional warfare.  For those interested in this very insightful interview, it was on The Security Studies Podcast.

Obviously, a great deal has changed over the decades in warfare, but many philosophies and perspectives have remained the same.  As I listened to the interview, I found McFate’s words to ring true for emergency management as well.  We have had some changes in focus from civil defense, to natural hazards, to terrorism, and now toward what seems to be the most comprehensive all-hazards perspective we’ve ever had.  We’ve also had changes in technology and methodologies, but we still seem stuck in a lot of old ways of thinking.  Emergency management isn’t linear.  In fact the lines are blurred so much that it’s hardly cyclical (another old way of thinking).

McFate espoused that high-level warfare strategies should span administrations and leadership changes.  They should be durable and adaptable.  In the interview he discussed 10 new rule of war, which were summarized from his new book.  As such, I offer 10 strategies for improving emergency management.  You will see that most of these items aren’t radical.  The fundamentals of what we do in emergency management must certainly persist, but some perspectives do need to change.  Here’s what I have to offer:

  1. More incentivization for data-driven hazard mitigation and resilience

There are a few items to unpack in this one.  First of all, fully bringing the concept of resilience on board and marrying it up hazard mitigation.  Where there is some overlap in the two, there are also distinct differences.  Ultimately, however, the ideal end state for the two is the same: eliminate or significantly reduce hazards and impacts from those hazards.  The more we start discussing hazard mitigation and resilience together, the more we will see the linkages between the two.  Hazard mitigation funding, likewise, needs to be broadened to incorporate concepts of resilience.

Another key item here is making these projects data-driven.  Let’s do a better job of quantifying risk in relatable terms.  Risk needs to include not only immediate potential impacts, but also cascading effects.  Once we have that impact data, then root cause analysis is important.  Some of this is regulation, some engineering, some human behavior.  Also keep in mind that this needs to truly be all-hazards.

Lastly, incentivization.  Incentivization isn’t just funding, and gold stickers are not tangible incentives.  Make it meaningful.  Also make these incentives more immediate.  It’s great that mitigation measures can result in a locality paying a lower percentage in the event of a future public assistance declaration, but that could happen years from now, or it might not.  That’s still good to include, but let’s be real – tax payers and law makers don’t just want to dream about the reward, they want to enjoy it now.

  1. Ground preparedness in reality

I’ve seen a lot of preparedness activities (planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises) based on someone’s “good ideas” instead of actual data and needs.  It’s no coincidence that I just mentioned data in the previous point.  How many jurisdictions actually use all that data from their hazard mitigation plan, generally synthesized at significant expense, for other emergency management needs?  It’s quite a rare occasion.  Why?  Most practitioners view hazard mitigation to be a totally different animal.  It’s not sexy response stuff, so they don’t see a need to pay attention to it.  Instead, they fully dismiss what was done for hazard mitigation planning and do their own hazard analysis.  It seems to be a no-brainer that we should do better at developing one system to meet both needs.

Needs assessments take time and that has a cost, but leadership should be making informed decisions about what preparedness needs exist.  Absent conducting a needs assessment, the wrong decisions can easily be made, which results in a waste of time and money.  Most every emergency management agency has a story of time and money wasted on knee-jerk reactions.

Needs assessments should be applied to every aspects of preparedness.  In planning, we want to minimize assumptions and maximize data.  If an incident of the type you are looking at has never happened in your jurisdiction, make comparisons other similar jurisdictions.  Training programs should be based on identified needs, and individual courses should be developed based upon identified needs.  Probably a good opportunity for me to mention that ICS Training Sucks (but a realistic training needs assessment would fix it).  Similarly, the objectives we identify for exercises should be grounded in recognizing what capabilities and plans we need to validate.

Observation: When we look at the 32 Core Capabilities from the National Preparedness Goal, Threat and Hazard Identification is a Core Capability sitting in the Mitigation mission area.  If threat and hazard identification is so fundamental to what we do across all of emergency management, why isn’t it a common capability along with Planning, Operational Coordination, and Public Information and Warning?  Perhaps that needs to change?

  1. Boost regional efforts and coalitions

It’s interesting that everyone talks about how emergency management is a collaborative effort, yet in practice so many are resistant, reluctant, or negligent in working collaboratively.  Sure, it’s often easier to write a plan yourself, but the end result likely isn’t as good as it would be from a group effort.  In healthcare preparedness (yep, that’s a part of emergency management, too), they have been using regional healthcare coalitions.  These coalitions cover all aspects of healthcare, from hospitals, to clinics, to private practices, nursing homes, and EMS, along with health departments.

There is certainly precedent in emergency management to work collaboratively.  There are required collaborations, such as Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), as well as those emphasized in practice, such as in plan development.  LEPCs are great, and often under-utilized in a lot of areas.  In some areas, especially those with heavy industry, they are large and busy, and can’t really take on any more than they already do, but in other areas they have much less to do and could certainly work with a dual purpose as a standing emergency management coordination or advisement entity.  Regardless of how it’s done, build a local or regional EM coalition.  The relationships and perspectives, if properly organized and tasked, will reap some great benefits.  Don’t forget to make them regional, if that makes sense for you.  Disasters don’t give a damn about the funny lines we draw on maps.  And don’t just make these groups about meetings… actually engage them in meaningful preparedness activities and other aspects of emergency management.

  1. Embrace scholar-practitioners

One of the items McFate mentioned in his interview was embracing scholar-practitioners. Now I’m not the kind of person to espouse that a practitioner is any better than a scholar, or vice versa.  They each have an important role, especially in a profession like emergency management, where there is a lot of theory (more than most people realize) and a lot of application.  That said, we don’t have to pick a side.  You can be whoever you want, in fact you can even do both.  Does being a practitioner mean that you have to be a full-time emergency manager? Nope.  Being a scholar doesn’t necessarily mean you must be a professor or a student pursuing an advanced degree, either.  I would absolutely argue that regularly reading some research papers or a book on related topics, or even this blog, makes you a scholar.  If you have interest beyond just direct application, and like to think or discuss broader ideas in emergency management, that makes you a scholar.

I think it is scholar-practitioners that have that capacity to advance our profession more than others.  Not only is this group doing, but they are thinking about how to do it better.  If they come up with an idea of how to do it better, they have the greatest chance of actually giving their idea a try.  They are also the ones most prone to share their lessons learned, both successes and otherwise.

  1. Understand emergency management as a social science

Speaking of theory, we need to recognize emergency management for what it is.  While specific applications of emergency management may be within niche areas of practice and academic disciplines, most of emergency management is really a social science.  Social science is fundamentally about the relationships of people.  That is what we do in emergency management.  There are aspects of social science that may apply more than others, such as sociology or public health, but we also need to embrace political science.

In application, emergency managers need to become more astute in politics.  Not the partisan running for office type of politics, but politics as an aspect of governance, policy, and relationship building.  As an emergency manager, it’s your job to understand what every agency and department does in your jurisdiction, and how they fit into the function of emergency management.  Yes, you can espouse the benefits of emergency management and business continuity to them, but how do they fit into emergency management?  Some connections are easy to make, especially the public safety ones or extensions of that such as transportation, public works, and public health.  But many are quick to dismiss administrative, support, and social welfare agencies.  The better you understand them and are able to champion their involvement in emergency management, the stronger coalition you will build.

  1. Mindset: always in the disaster space

I mentioned in the introduction that the lines between the phases of emergency management are blurred.  We used to teach (and some still do) of distinct phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.  Sure it’s easier to teach about these when we put them in their own box, but that gives the impression to many that we only do one at a time.  The reality is that most jurisdictions are certainly doing mitigation, preparedness, and recovery right now – and maybe even some element of response.

The main point here is that we need to change mindsets of people.  I’ve had plenty of people ask me what emergency managers do when there isn’t an active disaster.  I certainly have no problem satisfying this common curiosity, but the simple fact that they ask means that we aren’t promoting enough of what we do.  We need put ourselves and others in the mindset that are always operating in the disaster space.  It doesn’t need to mean that there is always a disaster response we are involved in, but we need to be very clear that we are active every single day in disaster-related work.

I’ll take this one step further, and that’s to suggest that the primary function of every government agency is emergency management.  Consider that we have roads not only for ease of everyone’s transportation, but so that we can more quickly and efficient respond to save lives and property.  Our public works departments provide potable water and sewage systems for public health purposes, which is part of the greater emergency management family.  I could give examples for every government agency.  The administrative departments support those agencies and the implementation of their missions.

It’s also worth mentioning here that since several of these agencies have involvement in our infrastructure that we need to seriously step up our investments in infrastructure, which not only make it better and more effective and efficient, but also more resilient (tying back to my first point)

  1. Step away from tactics

Far too many emergency managers still focus on tactics.  In defense of that, it’s easy to do, especially if you come from a public safety background.  I still think it’s important to understand tactics.  That said, an effective emergency manager needs to think less about implementation and more about strategy and relationships. There are plenty of tacticians out there.  One more isn’t needed.  What is needed is someone who can step back and see the forest for the trees, as they say.

  1. Private citizens won’t prepare, but volunteers can be engaged

We need to let citizen preparedness go.  I’m not saying we should give up on our message of individual and family preparedness, because it can make a difference, but we need to recognize that most citizens simply won’t do it.  This is a concept that has largely evolved out of society.  In the days of civil defense we were engaging a different generation of people.  We also presented them with a credible and scary threat that was being put in their face all the time.  Now is not that time.  Sure, there are models of citizen preparedness that still work to extraordinary lengths, such as in Cuba, but government oppression and a cold war mentality contribute significantly to that.  Our society has evolved to an extent of individuals not having the time, wherewithal, or interest in preparing themselves.  Sure there are exceptions to every rule, but largely, society has an expectation of being provided for by the government.

Citizen engagement, on the other hand, is still a great reserve that we can spend more effort tapping.  Trained, organized volunteers can accomplish an incredible extent of activity.  Volunteer management is no easy task, though.  Programs need to be developed and promoted, volunteers recruited and trained, and organizations sustained.  Volunteers must be given purpose and don’t forget about the critical link with government… how will this happen.  Religious institutions, corporate and union volunteer groups, and entities such as CERT are all great.  We just need to do a better job at incentivizing, managing, and engaging.

  1. Plan better for recovery

Ah, recovery.  Everyone talks about how we need to do it better, but too few resources are applied to making that happen.  Remember that preparedness starts with a needs assessment and planning.  We can identify estimates of disaster impacts from which we then extrapolate reasonable benchmarks of performance within the core capabilities of recovery.  The problem is that most recovery plans are written at too high a level and generally not followed through on.  Why? Maybe because the emphasis is always on the life safety aspect of response plans.  Certainly that’s important (and we can still do so much better with our response plans), but most recovery oriented plans fall incredibly short.  It seems that most governments that even bother to write recovery plans only do so to the extent of the plan being a framework.  They identify what the goals are, what agencies are involved, and provide some high-level objectives.  Typically no strategy is provided and the management of the recovery function is rarely mentioned, despite such a focus that we have on incident management.

I just recently had a discussion with a client about recovery exercises.  They were approached about the need to conduct more of them.  Smartly, they responded by putting the focus back on the requester by asking if the recovery plans were ready to be exercised.  Once the requestor took a moment to consider, their answer was no.  Remember that (in most cases) exercises validate plans.  We can conduct an exercise in the absence of a plan, but generally that only confirms the lack of a plan.  Plans establish the standards of performance that we use in exercises and in real life.

  1. Use technology to the greatest extent, but prepare for austerity

Ah, technology.  It’s a wonderful thing, until it doesn’t work.  I’m a big fan of the efficiencies that technology provide, especially when technology is developed to solve a specific problem, not to create new ones.  Processes should dictate technology needs, not the other way around.

Technology is mostly a data tool.  It helps us to communicate more quickly and efficiently; access, organize, and transmit data; visualize data; and collect data.  More specifically, we use technology platforms such as EOC management systems and GIS.  These have allowed us to make significant strides in what we do and how we do it.  I’ve used dashboards, databases, maps, 3D models, simulators, and more to do my job.

I’ve seen some emergency managers simply not embrace technology.  And I mean at all.  Not even a computer.  I understand how they are able to function, and though they may have brilliant minds for emergency management, they are simply not able to do much without an assistant to research, type, print, and even communicate for them.  While I’m seeing this less and less, there are still some of these folks out there, and it’s not just older generations, either.

There are many who have a reasonable literacy of technology, but still aren’t embracing inexpensive or even free resources that would make them more effective.  This is even more important for the majority of emergency managers, who are typically one-person offices with few resources.   Maybe listing some of these resources will occur in a future post of mine.

Despite the wonders of technology, I often advocate procedures for going dark (i.e. when your technology fails).  After all, we are emergency managers, are we not?  Every EOC that uses a technology tool to manage functions within their EOC should absolutely have a low tech back up, procedures and training in how to implement it, and an annual exercise to test those procedures and keep people in practice.  Carbon paper and gas station maps are your friends.

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Well there they are: 10 strategies for improving emergency management.  As I stated in the introduction, there really isn’t anything revolutionary here, although some concepts might be a bit controversial, which I am happy to embrace.  Perhaps I missed an important point or have a poor perspective on something.  I absolutely welcome your comments and feedback, as always.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

 

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

Expanding Hazard Mitigation Plans to Truly Address All Hazards

Planning efforts and documents are incredibly central to everything we do in preparedness.  When we look at the spectrum preparedness elements of Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercises (POETE), ‘planning’ being first should be a reminder that everything goes back to planning.  Our organizations, equipment, training, and exercises should all reflect back on plans.  These aren’t just emergency operations plans, either, but should include all plans.

A fundamental plan for many jurisdictions is the hazard mitigation plan.  Most responders tend to ignore this plan as it’s not about response, but it has a great deal of valuable information.  Hazard mitigation plans are built on a lot of research and data analysis, trends, and science behind a variety of hazards that could impact the area.  For as much as hazard mitigation plans can get neck-deep into science, they are not only good references but can be built into good, actionable plans.  The leadership of practically every agency in a jurisdiction should be involved in the development and update of hazard mitigation plans and be knowledgeable of what they contain.  That said, there are a couple of issues I have with how hazard mitigation plans are done.

First of all, they should be developed to be more than a catalog of information, which is how many are built.  We should be able to do something with them.  FEMA’s standards for hazard mitigation planning have gotten better and better through the years, thankfully.  While their standards include the identification of potential projects for a jurisdiction to address hazards, I’ve seen many plans (and the firms that develop them) cut this section particularly short.  I’ve seen plans developed for major jurisdictions having only a handful of projects, yet I’ve had experience developing plans for much smaller jurisdictions and identifying a significant list of prioritized projects.  While the onus is ultimately on the stakeholders of the jurisdiction to identify projects, consulting firms should still be actually consulting… not just regurgitating and formatting what stakeholders provide them.  A good consultant will advise, suggest, and recommend.  If your consultant isn’t doing so, it’s probably time to find someone else.

The second issue I have with hazard mitigation plans is that so many truly aren’t ‘all-hazard’.  Many hazard mitigation plans address natural hazards and some human-caused hazards, such as damn failures and hazardous materials incidents.  Rarely do we see hazard mitigation plans addressing hazards such as cyber attacks or active shooter/hostile event response (ASHER) incidents.  There are some obvious issues with this.  First, the hazard mitigation plan is generally looked upon to have the best collection of data on hazards for the jurisdiction.  If it excludes hazards, then there is no one good place to obtain that information.  This is particularly dangerous when other plans, such as EOPs, may be based upon the hazards identified in the hazard mitigation plan.  As I mentioned at the beginning, if something isn’t referenced in our planning efforts, it’s likely not to be included in the rest of our preparedness efforts.  Second, if these other hazards aren’t in our hazard mitigation plans, where are we documenting a deliberate effort to mitigate against them?  While hazards like cyber attacks or ASHER incidents are generally seen to be mitigated through actions labeled ‘prevention’ or ‘protection’, they should still be consolidated into our collective mitigation efforts.  Those efforts may transcend traditional hazard mitigation activities, but why would we let tradition impede progress and common sense?  A fire wall should be listed as a hazard mitigation project just as flood control barrier is.  And bollards or large planters are valid hazard mitigation devices just as much as a box culvert.

Let’s be smart about hazard mitigation planning.  It’s a foundational element of our comprehensive preparedness activities.  We can do better.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

An Updated Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 201 (THIRA/SPR)

In late May, FEMA/DHS released an updated version of Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 201.  For those not familiar, CPG 201 is designed to guide communities and organizations through the process of the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA).  This is the third edition of a document that was originally released in April 2012.  This third edition integrates the Stakeholder Preparedness Review (SPR) into the process.  Note that ‘SPR’ has commonly been an acronym for State Preparedness Report, which is also associated with the THIRA.  The goal of the Stakeholder Preparedness Review appears to be fundamentally similar to that of the State Preparedness Report which some of you may be familiar with.

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First of all, a few noted changes in the THIRA portion of CPG 201.  First, FEMA now recommends that communities complete the THIRA every three years instead of annually.  Given the complexity and depth of a properly executed THIRA, this makes much more sense and I fully applaud this change.  Over the past several years many jurisdictions have watered down the process because it was so time consuming, with many THIRAs completed being more of an update to the previous year’s than really being a new independent assessment.  While it’s always good to reflect on the progress relative to the previous year, it’s human nature to get stuck in the box created by your reference material, so I think the annual assessment also stagnated progress in many areas.

The other big change to the THIRA process is elimination of the fourth step (Apply Results).  Along with some other streamlining of activities within the THIRA process, the application of results has been extended into the SPR process.  The goal of the SPR is to assess the community’s capability levels based on the capability targets identified in the THIRA.  Despite the THIRA being changed to a three-year cycle, CPG 201 states that the SPR should be conducted annually.  Since capabilities are more prone to change (often through deliberate activities of communities) this absolutely makes sense. The SPR process centers on three main activities, all informed by the THIRA:

  1. Assess Capabilities
  2. Identify and Address Gaps
  3. Describe Impacts and Funding Sources

The assessment of capabilities is intended to be a legacy function, with the first assessment establishing a baseline, which is then continually reflected on in subsequent years.  The capability assessment contributes to needs identification for a community, which is then further analyzed for the impacts of that change in capability and the identification of funding sources to sustain or improve capabilities, as needed.

An aspect of this new document which I’m excited about is that the POETE analysis is finally firmly established in doctrine.  If you aren’t familiar with the POETE analysis, you can find a few articles I’ve written on it here.  POETE is reflected on several times in the SPR process.

So who should be doing this?   The document references all the usual suspects: state, local, tribal, territorial, and UASI jurisdictions.  I think it’s great that everyone is being encouraged to do this, but we also need to identify who must do it.  Traditionally, the state preparedness report was required of states, territories, and UASIs as the initial recipients of Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) sub-grants.  In 2018, recipients of Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program funds will be required to complete this as well.  While other jurisdictions seem to be encouraged to use the processes of CPG 201, they aren’t being empowered to do so.

Here lies my biggest criticism…  as stated earlier, the THIRA and SPR processes are quite in-depth and the guidance provided in CPG 201 is supported by an assessment tool designed by FEMA for these purposes.  The CPG 201 website unfortunately does not include the tool, nor does CPG 201 itself even make direct reference to it.  There are vague indirect references, seeming to indicate what kind of data can be used in certain steps, but never actually stating that a tool is available.  The tool, called the Universal Reporting Tool, provides structure to the great deal of information being collected and analyzed through these processes.  Refined over the past several years as the THIRA/SPR process has evolved, the Universal Reporting Tool is a great way to complete this.  As part of the State Preparedness Report, the completed tool was submitted to the FEMA regional office who would provide feedback and submit it to HQ to contribute to the National Preparedness Report.  But what of the jurisdictions who are not required to do this and wish to do this of their own accord?  It doesn’t seem to be discouraged, as jurisdictions can request a copy from FEMA-SPR@fema.dhs.gov, but it seems that as a best practice, as well as a companion to CPG 201, the tool should be directly available on the FEMA website.  That said, if the THIRA/SPR is being conducted by a jurisdiction not required to do so, the tool would then not be required – although it would help.

Overall, I’m very happy with this evolution of CPG 201.  It’s clear that FEMA is paying attention to feedback received on the process to streamline it as best they can, while maximizing the utility of the data derived from the analysis.  A completed THIRA/SPR is an excellent foundation for planning and grant funding requests, and can inform training needs assessments and exercise program management (it should be used as a direct reference to development of a Training and Exercise Plan).

For those interested, EPS’ personnel have experience conducting the THIRA/SPR process in past years for a variety of jurisdictions and would be happy to assist yours with this updated process.  Head to the link below for more information!

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC ™

Hurricane Harvey AAR – Lessons for Us All

Harris County, Texas has recently released their After Action Report (AAR) for Hurricane Harvey that devastated the area last year.  I applaud any AAR released, especially one for an incident of this magnitude.  It requires opening your doors to the world, showing some incredible transparency, and a willingness to discuss your mistakes.  Not only can stakeholders in Harris County learn from this AAR, but I think there are lessons to be learned by everyone in reviewing this document.

First, about making the sausage… The AAR includes an early section on the means and methods used to build the AAR, including some tools provided in the appendix.  Why is this important?  First, it helps build a better context for the AAR and lets you know what was studied, who was included, and how it was pulled together.  Second, it offers a great example for you to use for future incidents.  Developing an AAR for an incident has some significant differences from developing an AAR for an exercise.  Fundamentally, development of an AAR for an exercise begins with design of the exercise and is based upon the objectives identified for that exercise.  For an incident, the areas of evaluation are generally identified after the fact.  These areas of evaluation will focus the evaluation effort and help you cull through the volumes of documentation and stories people will want to tell.  The three focus areas covered in the AAR are Command and Control, Operations, and Mass Care and Sheltering.

Getting into the Harvey AAR itself… My own criticism in the formatting is that while areas for improvement in the AAR follow an Issue/Analysis/Recommendation format, identified strengths only have a sentence or two.  Many AAR writers (for incidents, events, or exercises) think this is adequate, but I do not.  Some measure of written analysis should be provided for each strength, giving it context and describing what worked and why.  I’m also in favor of providing recommendations for identified strengths.  I’m of the opinion that most things, even if done well and within acceptable standards, can be improved upon.  If you adopt this philosophy, however, don’t fall into the trap of simply recommending that practices should continue (i.e. keep doing this).  That’s not a meaningful recommendation.  Instead, consider how the practice can be improved upon or sustained.  Remember, always reflect upon practices of planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises (POETE).

As for the identified areas for improvement in AAR, the following needs were outlined:

  • Developing a countywide Continuity of Operations Plan
  • Training non-traditional support personnel who may be involved in disaster response operations
  • Transitioning from response to recovery operations in the Emergency Operations Center
  • Working with the City of Houston to address the current Donations Management strategy

If anything, for these reasons alone, the AAR and the improvement planning matrix attached should be reviewed by every jurisdiction.  Many jurisdictions that I encounter simply don’t have the POETE in place to be successful in addressing these areas.

What is your biggest take away from this AAR?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC™