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™

2017 National Preparedness Report – A Review

With my travel schedule, I missed the (late) release of the 2017 National Preparedness Report (NPR) in mid-October.  Foundationally, the findings of the 2017 report show little change from the 2016 report.  If you are interested in comparing, you can find my review of the 2016 NPR here.

The 2017 NPR, on the positive side, provided more data and more meaningful data than its predecessor.  It appeared to me there was more time and effort spent in analysis of this data.  If you aren’t familiar with the premise of the NPR, the report is a compilation of data obtained from State Preparedness Reports (SPRs) submitted by states, territories, and UASI-funded regions; so the NPR, fundamentally, should be a reflection of what was submitted by these jurisdictions and regions – for the better or worse of it.  The SPR asks jurisdictions to provide an honest analysis of each of the core capabilities through the POETE capability elements (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising).

From the perspective of the jurisdictions, no one wants to look bad.  Not to say that any jurisdiction has lied, but certainly agendas can sway subjective assessments.  Jurisdictions want to show that grant money is being spent effectively (with the hopes of obtaining more), but not with such terrific results that anyone would think they don’t need more.  Over the past few years the SPRs, I believe, have started to normalize and better reflect reality.  I think the authors of the NPR have also come to look at the data they receive a little more carefully and word the NPR to reflect this reality.

The 2017 NPR (which evaluates 2016 data from jurisdictions) identified five core capabilities the nation needs to sustain.  These are:

  • Environmental Response/Health and Safety
  • Intelligence and Information Sharing
  • Operational Communications
  • Operational Coordination
  • Planning

I’m reasonably comfortable with the first two, although they both deal with hazards and details that change regularly, so keeping on top of them is critical.  Its interesting that Operational Communication is rated so high, yet is so commonly seen as a top area for improvement on after-action reports of exercises, events, and incidents.  To me, the evidence doesn’t support the conclusion in regard to this core capability.  Operational Coordination and Planning both give me some significant concern.

First, in regard to Operational Coordination, I continue to have a great deal of concern in the ability of responders (in the broadest definitions) to effectively implement the Incident Command System (ICS).  While the implementation of ICS doesn’t comprise all of this core capability, it certainly is a great deal of it.  I think there is more room for improvement than the NPR would indicate.  For example, in a recent exercise I supported, the local emergency manager determined there would be a unified command with him holding ‘overall command’.  Unfortunately, these false interpretations of ICS are endemic.

I believe the Planning core capability is in a similar state inadequacy.  Preparedness lies, fundamentally, on proper planning and the assessments that support it. While I’ve pontificated at length about the inadequacy of ICS training, I’ve seen far too many plans with gaps that you could drive a truck through.  I’ve recently exercised a college emergency response plan that provided no details or guidance on critical tasks, such as evacuation of a dormitory and support of the evacuated students.  The plan did a great job of identifying who should be in the EOC, but gave no information on what they should be doing or how they should do it.  The lack of plans that can be operationalized and implemented is staggering.

The NPR identified the top core capabilities to be improved.  There are no surprises in this list:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Economic Recovery
  • Housing
  • Infrastructure Systems
  • Natural and Cultural Resources
  • Supply Chain Integrity and Security

Fortunately, I’m seeing some (but not all) of these core capabilities getting some needed attention, but clearly not enough.  These don’t have simple solutions, so they will take some time.

Page 10 of the NPR provides a graph showing the distribution of FEMA preparedness (non-disaster) grants by core capability for fiscal year 2015.  Planning (approx. $350m) and Operational Coordination (approx. $280m) lead the pack by far.  I’m curious as to what specific activities these dollars are actually being spent on, because my experience shows that it’s not working as well as is being reported.  Certainly there has been some positive direction, but I’m guessing that dollars are being spent on activities that either have negligible impact or actually have a negative impact, such as funding the development of some of the bad plans we’re seeing out there.

I’m curious as to what readers are seeing out in real life.  What capabilities concern you the most?  What capabilities do you see successes in?  Overall, I think everyone agrees that we can do better.  We can also get better and more meaningful reports.  This NPR was a step in the right direction from last year’s, but we need to continue forward progress.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Exercises: Simple is Usually Better

I find often that people want to run exercises they aren’t quite ready for.  Sometimes those exercises are too complex, or they simply aren’t the appropriate type.  Most often, we run exercises to test plans, policy, and procedures; but sometimes those plans, policies, and procedures aren’t quite ready to be tested.  Last year I advised a client to run a workshop instead of a tabletop exercise.  The initial goal of the tabletop was to validate a new plan, but this plan wasn’t ready to be validated.  The problem was that many stakeholders hadn’t yet seen the plan, and the review of that plan by our team in preparedness for the exercise wasn’t favorable.  The plan had much of the needed content, but it was disjointed and didn’t have any logical flow.  By conducting a scenario-based workshop, we were able to identify not only the ideal flow of the plan by flagging benchmark activities, but we were also able to discuss expectations of and for each stakeholder agency in the plan.  The client was then able to apply the results of the workshop to restructure their plan and make some needed substantive changes.

Similarly, I’ve encouraged a current client to conduct a workshop instead of a tabletop.  The initial goal of this tabletop was to identify how a new group of stakeholders could integrate into an existing plan.  In this situation, the tabletop would have been less than effective as the new stakeholder group isn’t yet identified in the plan.  The outcome of the workshop will be to identify how this integration can occur.

I think that sometimes people gravitate to certain exercises simply because they are more popular in a certain application.  That preconceived notion might be too complex or simply a poor choice for what you really need to accomplish.  When it comes to discussion-based exercises, most people default to a tabletop.  With operations-based exercises, it can vary.  Drills are often used for tactical applications, but we don’t see them as much in EOCs.  Drills certainly have a place in an EOC if you are looking to test a very specific function or activity.  While full-scale exercises are fun and sexy, I’ve been to the site of plenty that are total chaos because the fundamental premise of certain plans hasn’t been worked out (or some stakeholders aren’t familiar with them), which perhaps should have been done through a discussion-based exercise or a drill or functional exercise first.  Running a drill to test and familiarize the process of setting up key equipment prior to doing it for the first time in a full scale will pay a lot of benefits, and certainly prevent dozens or hundreds of other people being held up in a full scale.

Another issue I often see with exercises is very long and complex Master Scenario Events Lists (MSELs).  The MSEL is essentially the timeline or script of the exercise.  Along with listing all injects, it also identifies all benchmarks in the management of the exercise, such as StartEx and EndEx, and the introduction of new elements or transition to a different segment.  While there is no particular rule of thumb for how many injects are needed for different exercise types, everything needs to associate back to the objectives of the exercise.  I hate injects that are crafted simply for ‘noise’ (unless it’s an intel exercise), or injects intended to just give someone something to do.  Arguably, if the participants take an exercise seriously, such as a functional exercise, and play out the situation as they would in real life, you can engage an entire EOC for a few hours with even ten well-crafted injects.  While some functions are very focused, consider that the vast majority of what we do in emergency management requires coordination among a variety of elements and functions.  Capitalize on that.  One inject may engage multiple agencies or functions because of the need to coordinate and problem solve.  It’s not enough to identify a solution to the problem, but work through where the resources will come from, how they will get to where they need to go, and what support is needed for them and how long.  That’s a lot of problems to solve and will often transcend every function within the incident command system.  Exercises don’t need to be complex to be effective.  Create a handful of objectives and make sure everything relates back to them.  Simplicity can work.

My last recommendation is to keep your exercise planning team a manageable size.  I’ve been the lead planner for some very large exercises.  These exercises, largely due to their sponsors, ended up involving massive exercise planning teams – and by massive I mean over five or six dozen people – or more.  These are just sheer insanity.  Not every agency or organization involved in the exercise needs to be directly represented, nor does each organization need to send a small army of people.  What you do need is consensus from those organizations on the objectives and their scope of play.  That doesn’t mean they have to be involved in every aspect of planning the exercise.  Just like any other meeting or group project, a large exercise planning team can be cumbersome and management by committee is never efficient.  If need be, stakeholder groups can be developed based upon function.  For example, a fire service exercise planning team would develop their contributions to the exercise.  Just make sure that these groups are well coordinated and the overall exercise planning effort is unified, otherwise you’ll end with a disjointed exercise effort.

In the end, simplicity rules.  As you begin planning your exercise, consider, in every step if it can or should be simplified.  Always refer back to your intent and your objectives.  Chances are you can create a simpler exercise that is just as impactful, or perhaps more impactful.  When our inclination is to make things overly complicated, we often miss the point entirely.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

 

 

NIMS is Worthless, Unless You Put it into Action

It’s so often that I hear people proclaim in response to a problem that NIMS will fix it.  I’ve written in the past that many organizations reference the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS) in their plans, as they should, but it’s often a reference with no substance.  The devil is in the details, as the saying goes; and the details of implementation are necessary to ensure that difficulties can be overcome.

The premise is simple… NIMS is a doctrine, only as valuable as the paper you print it on.  So fundamentally, NIMS has no value – unless it is implemented.  This human factor is the biggest hurdle organizations and jurisdictions must face, yet so many are lulled into a false sense of security because they cite it in their plans and they’ve taken some ICS courses.  I encourage every organization to review the NIMS doctrine and give your organization an honest assessment of how you are actually following it.  It’s bound to be pretty eye opening for many.

nims_document

We also have to keep in mind that NIMS isn’t just for your own organization.  While there are plenty of great practices in NIMS for your own organization, the greatest value in it is for multi-agency responses.  These don’t have to be to the extent of Hurricane Katrina or a massive wildfire, either.  Multi-agency responses occur in most jurisdictions every day – even what we regard as some of the most simple or routine incidents require multiple agencies to respond.  While the actions and responsibilities of these agencies are fairly rote and well-practiced, a slight increase in complexity can cause significant changes.

Consider that different agencies, even those within the same discipline have some different ways of doing things.  These can be simply in the mechanics of what they do, or they can be driven by procedures, equipment, or personality.  Some of this may be in writing, some may not.  Where this matters is in tactics.  NIMS won’t solve differences in tactical application or ensuring interoperability.  Only preparedness can accomplish that.  Before an incident occurs, we need to be having regular conversations with other agencies within our jurisdiction and outside of it.  How often do you exercise with your mutual aid partners?  I mean really exercise with them…  It’s great that you all arrive to the exercise site and set up your own stuff, but how about mixing and matching equipment?  What will work?  What won’t?  How will it impact tactical application?  These are some of the most meaningful lessons learned.

Bottom line – don’t try to pencil-whip NIMS as the solution to your problems.  It’s meaningless unless it’s actually put into action – and the way to proactively do that is through preparedness efforts.   Work together through POETE activities – Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercises.  Once you put the concepts of NIMS into action, then it will work for you!

How has your organization implemented NIMS concepts?

© 2017 –  Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Operational Readiness – What is It?

A recent project I’ve been working on references ‘operational readiness’ as a key element of the training course.  We all know what operational readiness is, right?  We use the term all the time.  Surely, we must be able to find it defined in some key doctrine of FEMA.  Surprisingly not (and please, don’t call me Shirly).

Ah the internet… you’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Searches for the definition of operational readiness reveal two different concepts.  The first is a corporate perspective on operational readiness, which focuses on an organization’s ability to do what it is supposed to do on a daily basis.  This definition also seems to be adopted by hospitals.  While tangential, the focus on daily operations isn’t really what we are looking at relative to emergency management.  The second is of military derivation.  Drawn akin to combat readiness, the definition speaks to the capability of a unit, system, or equipment to perform the function for which it was designed.  Yes, this gets a lot closer; such as operational readiness of an EOC to perform as intended when it is activated.  I find it interesting, however, that such a simple, yet powerful concept isn’t defined within our own area of practice.

Edit: A few days after publishing this article I did find a definition of operational readiness in the context of emergency management.  The source is Title 6 (Domestic Security) of the US Code § 741 (National Preparedness System).  Title 6 is essentially the codification of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.  The definition provided therein is largely akin to the definition provided previous of  military derivation, but at least we have something linked directly to emergency management.  See https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/6.  

If we examine the definitions of each word, there is a bit of redundancy.  One of the definitions of the word operational (an adjective), provided by Merriam-Webster, states ‘ready for or in condition to undertake a desired function’.  A definition provided by the same source for readiness (a noun) states ‘ready for immediate use’.  (weren’t we always taught to not use the word we were defining in the definition?).  Anyhow, this doesn’t seem particularly helpful to us.

Let’s consider what our expectations are of operational readiness in the context of emergency management and homeland security.  Fundamentally (and reinforced by what we covered in the previous paragraph), both words, operational and readiness, imply an ability to perform within defined parameters at any time.  Readiness is often seen as a synonym of preparedness, although I would suggest that in this context, readiness is achieved through preparedness.  If we don’t have each of our POETE elements in order, our state of readiness is likely to be severely diminished.

The context of the term operational readiness generally focuses on a goal we want to achieve and maintain.  We want units, systems, and equipment (reasonably drawn from the militarily-derived definition) to perform in an emergency response to accomplish intended results.  I like to emphasize a difference from the military definition in that last part.  While we have expectations of resources to perform as they were designed to, in emergency management we do on occasion call upon resources (units, systems, and equipment) to perform, not necessarily as they were designed or originally intended, but in creative ways, either pre-planned or ad-hoc.  I think that our definition of operational readiness must leave room for innovation – which is application (and thus readiness) at a higher taxonomy level.

All that aside, I’m not intending to create a definition for the term here, but largely wanted to raise awareness of the lack of a definition within our own area of practice and provide some consideration for what we expect the term to mean through our regular usage.  There is certainly discussion that can be had on measuring operational readiness, which is a separate topic that I’ve largely explored (although not using that particular phrasing) through posts on preparedness and POETE assessments (see the previous link provided).

What thoughts do you have on operational readiness as a term and a concept? Have you come across a definition in emergency management or homeland security doctrine that I might have missed?

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Measuring Preparedness – An Executive Academy Perspective

A recent class of FEMA’s Emergency Management Executive Academy published a paper titled Are We Prepared Yet? in the latest issue of the Domestic Preparedness Journal.  It’s a solid read, and I encourage everyone to look it over.

First off, I wasn’t aware of the scope of work conducted in the Executive Academy.  I think that having groups publish papers is an extremely important element.  Given that the participants of the Executive Academy function, presently or in the near future, at the executive level in emergency management and/or homeland security, giving others the opportunity to learn from their insight on topics discussed in their sessions is quite valuable.  I need to do some poking around to see if papers written by other groups can be found.

As most of my readers are familiar, the emphasis of my career has always been in the realm of preparedness.  As such, it’s an important topic to me and I tend to gravitate to publications and ideas I can find on the topic.  The authors of this paper bring up some excellent points, many of which I’ve covered in articles past.  They indicate a variety of sources, including literature reviews and interviews, which I wish they would have cited more completely.

Some points of discussion…

THIRA

The authors discuss the THIRA and SPR – two related processes/products which I find to be extremely valuable.  They indicate that many believe the THIRA to be complex and challenging.  This I would fully agree with, however I posit that there are few things in the world that are both simple and comprehensive in nature.  In particular regard to emergency management and homeland security, the inputs that inform and influence our decisions and actions are so varied, yet so relevant, that to ignore most of them would put us at a significant disadvantage.  While I believe that anything can be improved upon, THIRA and SPR included, this is something we can’t afford to overly simplify.

What was most disappointing in this topic area was their finding that only a scant majority of people they surveyed felt that THIRA provided useful or actionable information.  This leaves me scratching my head.  A properly done THIRA provides a plethora of useful information – especially when coupled with the SPR (POETE) process.  Regardless, the findings of the authors suggest that we need to take another look at THIRA and SPR to see what can be improved upon, both in process and result.

Moving forward within the discussion of THIRA and SPR, the authors include discussion of something they highlight as a best practice, that being New York State’s County Emergency Preparedness Assessment (CEPA).  The intent behind the CEPA is sound – a simplified version of the THIRA which is faster and easier to do for local governments throughout the state.  The CEPA includes foundational information, such as a factual overview of the jurisdiction, and a hazard analysis which ranks hazards based upon likelihood and consequence.  It then analyses a set of capabilities based upon the POETE elements.  While I love their inclusion of POETE (you all know I’m a huge fan), the capabilities they use are a mix of the current Core Capabilities (ref: National Preparedness Goal) and the old Target Capabilities, along with a few not consistent with either and a number of Core Capabilities left out.  This is where the CEPA falls apart for me.  It is this inconsistency with the National Preparedness Goal that turns me off.  Any local governments looking to do work in accordance with the NPG and related elements, including grants, then need to cross walk this data, as does the state in their roll-up of this information to their THIRA and SPR.

The CEPA continues with an examination of response capacity, along the lines of their response-oriented capabilities.  This is a valuable analysis and I expect it becomes quite a reality check for many jurisdictions.  This is coupled with information not only on immediate response, but also sustained response over longer periods of time.  Overall, while I think the CEPA is a great effort to make the THIRA and POETE analysis more palatable for local jurisdictions, it leaves me with some concerns in regard to the capabilities they use.  It’s certainly a step in the right direction, though.  Important to note, the CEPA was largely developed by one of the authors of the paper, who was a former colleague of mine working with the State of New York.

The Process of Preparedness

There are a few topic areas within their paper that I’m lumping together under this discussion topic.  The authors make some excellent points about our collective work in preparedness that I think all readers will nod their heads about, because we know when intuitively, but sometimes they need to be reinforced – not only to us as practitioners, but also to other stakeholders, including the public.  First off, preparedness is never complete.  The cycle of preparedness – largely involving assessment, planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercising – is just that – a cycle.  It’s endless.  While we do a great deal of work in each of these, our accomplishments are really only temporary.

The authors also mention that our information is not always precise.  We base a lot of what we do in preparedness on information, such as a hazard analysis.  While there are some inputs that are factual and supported by science, there are many that are based on speculation and anecdote.  This is a reality of our work that we must always acknowledge.  As is other of their points – there is no silver bullet.  There is no universal solution to all our woes.  We must constantly have our head in the game and consider actions that we may not have ever considered before.

ICS Improvement Officer

The authors briefly discuss a conceptual position within the ICS Command Staff they call the ICS Improvement Officer.  The concept of this fascinating, if not a bit out of place in this paper given other topics of discussion.  Essentially, as they describe this position, it is someone at the Command Staff level who is responsible for providing quality control to the incident management processes and implementations of the organization.  While I’ve just recently read this paper and haven’t had a lot of time to digest the concept, I really can’t find any fault with the concept.  While the planning process itself is supposed to provide some measure of a feedback loop, there isn’t anyone designated in the organization to shepherd that process beginning to end and ultimately provide the quality control measures necessary.  In practice, I’ve seen this happen collaboratively, among members of the Command and General Staff of a well-staffed structure, as well as by the individual who has the best overall ICS insight and experience in an organization – often the Planning Section Chief.  The authors elude to this position also feeding an AAR process, which contributes to overall preparedness.  I like this idea and I hope it is explored more, either formally or informally.

Conclusion

There are a number of other topic areas of this paper which I haven’t covered here, but I encourage everyone to read on their own.  As mentioned earlier, I’d like to see more of the research papers that come from FEMA’s Emergency Management Executive Academy available for public review.  Agree or disagree with their perspectives, I think their discussions on various topics are absolutely worth looking at.  It’s these discussions like these which will ultimately drive bigger discussions which will continue to advance public safety.

I’m always interested in the perspectives of my readers.  Have you read the paper?  What do you think of the discussion topics they presented?

© 2017 – Timothy M Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

 

Grading Preparedness Training

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

Exercises

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

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

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

Planning

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

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

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

Organizing

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

Equipping

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

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

Training

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

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

Assessment

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

Where this leaves us…

Average Grade: C

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

Trends

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

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

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

Interested to hear your thoughts…

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

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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.

-TR