A Deeper Review of FEMA’s E/L/G 2300 EOC Intermediate Course

A couple months ago I got my hands on the materials for the ELG 2300 EOC Intermediate course.  Back in early June I gave an initial review of this course, based on information from a webinar and the course’s plan of instruction.   Unfortunately, upon reviewing the actual course materials, my initial concerns have been reinforced.

First, I’ll start off with what I think are the positives of this course. The course doesn’t stray from NIMS, and applies a practical integration of the NIMS management concepts, which we are mostly used to seeing in ICS, into the EOC environment.  This is 100% appropriate and should always be reinforced.  The course also references the EOC National Qualification System skillsets.  It’s great to see the NQS referenced in training as they otherwise receive very little attention, which actually brings about a lot of concern as to their overall adoption.  Two units within the course provide some incredibly valuable information.  Those are Unit 5 (Information and Intelligence Management) and Unit 7 (EOC Transition to Recovery).

On to the down side of things… As mentioned in my review a couple months back, the course objectives simply don’t line up with what this course needs to do – that is, it needs to be teaching people how to work in an EOC.  So much of the content is actually related to planning and other preparedness activities, specifically Units 3, 4, and 8. Unit 3 dives into topics such as position tack books, organizational models, EOC design, staff training and qualifications, exercises and more.  Though, ironically enough, there is little to no emphasis on deliberate PLANNING, which is what all this relates to.  This isn’t stuff to be thinking about during an EOC activation, but rather before an activation.  Unit 4, similarly, gets into triggers for activation, how to deactivate the EOC, and other topics that are planning considerations.  Unit 8 dives more into design, technology, and equipment.  While it’s valuable for people to know what’s available, this is, again, preparedness content.

There is a lot of repetitive content, especially in the first few units, along with some typos, which is really disappointing to see.  There are also some statements and areas of content which I wholeheartedly disagree with.  Here are a few:

  • There is ‘no common EOC structure’.   There are actually a few.  Hint: they are discussed in the NIMS document.  I think what they are getting at with this statement is that there is no fixed EOC structure.
  • ‘EOC leaders determine the structure that best meets their needs’. False. Plans determine the structure to be used.  While that organizational model is flexible in terms of size of staff and specific delegations, the lack of context for this statement seems to indicate that the EOC Manager or Director will determine on the fly if they will use the ICS-based model, the Incident Support Model, or another model.
  • One slide indicates that use of the ICS-based model doesn’t require any additional EOC training beyond ICS for EOC staff. Absolutely false!  In fact, this sets you up for nothing but failure.  Even if the model being applied is based on ICS, the actual implementation in an EOC is considerably different.  I’ve written about this in the past.
  • The Incident Support Model ‘is not organized to manage response/recovery efforts’. Wrong again.  With the integration of operations functions within the Resource Support Section, response and recovery efforts can absolutely be managed from the EOC.

There is another area of content I take particular exception with.  One slide describes ‘incident command teams’, and goes on to describe the Incident Command Post (which is a facility, not a team), and an Incident Management Team, with the formal description of a rostered group of qualified personnel.  Not only is this slide wrong to include an Incident Command Post as a ‘team’, they are fundamentally ignoring the fact that ‘incident command teams’ are comprised every damn day on the fly from among responders deploying to an incident.  These are the exact people I espouse the need to train and support in my discussions on ICS.

My conclusions… First of all, this course does not do as it needs to do, which is training people how to work in an EOC.  While the preparedness information it gives is great, operators (people assigned to work in an EOC) will be taking this course expecting to learn how to do their jobs.  They will not learn that.  I’ve advocated before for most training to be set up similar to HazMat training, utilizing a structure of Awareness, Operations, Technician, Management, and Planning focused courses which are designed to TEACH PEOPLE WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW based upon their function.  Largely, this course is a great Planning level course, that is it’s ideal for people who will be developing EOC operational plans, standard operating guidelines, position qualification standards, and other preparedness material.  I think that Operations, Technician, and Management level training is going to be left to jurisdictions to develop and implement, as it certainly isn’t found here.

I urge a lot of caution to everyone before you decide to teach this course.  Take a look at the material and decide if it’s really what your audience needs.

What are your thoughts on this course?  Will your jurisdiction get use out of it?

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Conduct of the New ICS 300 and 400 Courses

Last month a colleague and I delivered the new ICS 300 and 400 courses for a client.  If you’ve missed them, I have some early review notes and overall thoughts posted.  Nothing gets you into the curriculum like teaching it, though.

First, some credit to our course participants, who were extremely supportive in this delivery.  They were patient with our occasional need to double check the instructor guide and even helped to point out some inconsistencies.  While we each have about fifteen years of experience in teaching the courses, the first few times out with a new flow and format, along with new activities takes a bit of getting used to.  The courses also offered some challenges that had to be overcome in our course prep and delivery.

Leading off with the good foot, both courses reflect a positive direction of change.  It’s not the wholesale change that I’ve been stumping for, so expect to continue to see me championing more changes, but we are seeing positive movement in the right direction, at least with the ICS 300 course.  (I still hold out that most of the content of the ICS 400 course isn’t necessary for most who take it.  Time would be far better spent with grounding the concepts of ICS and supporting implementation of the aspects that are most likely to be used.)

Both courses continue a trend of scenario-based learning reinforcement, with the ability to utilize a progressive scenario threaded throughout the ICS 300 course and scenarios within the ICS 400 that help demonstrate when and how these concepts might be used.  While the ICS 300 materials provide several new scenarios for use, we actually didn’t use their progressive scenarios as our client had some specific needs, requiring us to build a localized scenario for them.  That said, the scenarios provided in the ICS 300 are easily adaptable to meet your needs.  Just be aware of the intent of each phase of the scenario and don’t alter the overall concept.

The endeavor to ground ICS as an operational tool is emphasized in Unit 4 of the ICS 300, Implementing an Operational Process.  This unit really seems to pull together the whole reason for being for ICS, especially in an extended operation, and is a good introduction to the Planning Process.  This unit was very well designed and is one of the most progressive changes in the course.

Not a lot was substantially changed in the ICS 400.  Aside from my earlier comment on the questionable necessity for most of the content, the course, as designed, is good enough to address what is intended, even if that intent seems misguided.  Much of the course was kept the same as the previous version, but there were a few tweaks and adjustments throughout.  The activity in Unit 2, the Fundamentals Review is multi-tiered and is very effective.  Unit 5 provides a lot of content on EOCs which wasn’t previously included as much, as well as introducing disaster recovery topics, which at this level incident the leadership of organizations (i.e. those taking this course) need to be aware of.  This is largely ‘bonus content’ which I had provided in the course off script in the past, as it wasn’t included.  I’m very happy to see this as part of the course now. The capstone exercise is the same as the previous version of ICS 400 and is still very well structured and produces great outcomes for participants.

On the down side… well, there is some substantial down side. I provided a fairly detailed list (of both positives and areas for improvement) to EMI.  Taking the course at face value – that is looking at what we have, not what I think it should be, most of the issues I had with this course have to do with faulty instructional design.  There is no way around saying that it was done very poorly.  There was significant lack of attention to detail… so many mis-spellings (spell check is a free feature included in every word processing program – FYI), inconsistencies between the Student Manual and Instructor Guide, problems with scenarios which are not part of the progressive scenario, graphics so small they are not visible for participants in the student manual, and some issues of course flow and organization.

Unit 3 in the ICS 300 course is titled Initial Actions for Unified Command.  So much of the unit is built on the premise that a unified command is formed in the initial response of an incident, practically exclusive of even the possibility of a single command.  This is insanely misleading and required some significant extended explanation on the part of our instructional team to temper that content.

Earlier I complemented unit 5 of the ICS 400, particularly for the additional material provided on various types of EOCs and extending the discussion into recovery.  While these are great, the unit should be organized earlier in the material, especially with several earlier references to EOCs without explanation of what they are.  Practically speaking, the concept of the EOC has far more actual use than any of the other concepts discussed in the course.  There is also way too much material on federal-level EOCs, most of which are so far removed from incident management that most emergency managers have no interaction at all with them.  I think this content should speak about EOCs in general terms.

I think Central City needs to be erased from all memory, and a new fictional jurisdiction developed.  The maps for Central City, et al, keep getting recycled and are small in print, confusing in design, and clearly dated.

The final exams for both courses were very bad.  They each had questions that our instructional team agreed to throw out, as they were poorly worded or ambiguous and nearly every participant got them wrong.  Even most of the valid questions and answers simply aren’t suitable for short-duration training, and certainly not with a closed book exam.

In all, I provided three pages of comments back to EMI. I’m appreciative of EMI being so receptive to the feedback and candid about certain issues they had in the development of these courses.  In respecting their candor, I’m not going to get into some of the points brought up, but it certainly appears as though they are disappointed with the condition in which these courses went out the door and they have a desire to improve them.  Hopefully it won’t be too long until you see another update of the course materials with most of these issues addressed.

I look forward to hearing from others about their experiences with delivering these updated courses.  As such a central topic to the greater public safety and emergency management community, we need to do better with teaching incident management and ICS as the primary tool we use for incident management.  As a community of practice, we need to get behind this initiative and support the need for significant improvement.  Of course if you aren’t familiar with my crusade on the matter, check out the series of ICS Training Sucks articles I’ve posted over the past few years.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Improv in Emergency Management

In emergency management we put a lot of emphasis on planning and training, and rightfully so.  Deliberate planning establishes a foundation for our actions, thought out well ahead of any incident or disaster we might deal with.  Further, most training we receive is necessarily sterile.  We are trained how to respond to, organize, and manage incidents and the various facets of them.  To learn the elements and procedures being taught, we must first learn them in their most raw form, free of other distractions.  We also know that in reality, our plans and training only get us so far.

I’ve recently been reading American Dunkirk: The Waterborne Evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11 by James Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf.  This is an incredible book, the story of which I only knew small pieces of.  It tells of boat operators and waterfront workers who supported the mass evacuation of people from Manhattan as well as the delivery of responders, equipment, relief supplies, and services proximate to ground zero.  This book is well researched and supported by a multitude of interviews and other accounts of the heroism and actions taken following the attacks.

One of the themes that struck me early in the book was that of improvisation.  For over a year now, I’ve been taking improv classes and doing some performances.  We have an outstanding group of people and I’ve learned a lot, not only on the stage, but skills that I can apply across various aspects of my life, from work and podcasting to social situations.  While I’ve always intuitively known that our emergency plans only get us so far and then we basically have to make things up, I never actually labeled it as ‘improv’.

Kendra and Wachtendorf state “Since it is difficult to anticipate everything, communities need to be able to improvise as well as plan ahead.” They further elaborate that “Theatrical improvisers exercise skills that allow them to perform skits and routines spontaneously.  They are making things up as they go, but they know which principles to pull together.  They know how to make use of props and cues and the environment closest to them.  Instead of following a scripted plan, improv performers match what they know and what they have at hand.”  Consider this in the context of emergency management.  Does it sound familiar?  It certainly should.

We use our plans as a foundation.  We should continue to endeavor to make those plans as solid as possible without being unwieldy, while still recognizing that for a period of time, certainly early in the incident and very likely at other periodic times throughout, chaos rules.  Circumstances take us away from the pages of the plan, but that doesn’t mean that we have lost control, it simply means that we need to improvise to bring the incident back into line with our assumptions, or, if it’s not possible, we are developing a new plan in the moment.  Even if we have deviated from the plan, the principles contained within the plan still hold incredible value.  They become touchstones for us, reminding us what must be accomplished and what our principles for managing the disaster are.

Collectively, I challenge everyone to flex some improv muscles.  This can tie to several things.  First, take some improv classes.  Many larger urban areas have them available.  Don’t be afraid to try something different.  Next, find opportunities where you can use your plans as a foundation, but with scenarios that may deviate from the plan.  Even if it’s a zombie attack scenario, which may sound silly, but when you break it down to many of the fundamental impacts (infrastructure, public health, mass care, civil unrest, etc.) many jurisdictions already have a lot of the planning in place.  Some creativity with a scenario like this or another, forces people to think outside the box and work together to solve problems, which is what improv is all about.

As always, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the topic.

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC ℠®

We Only Need One ICS

I came across an article yesterday posted on EMS1/AMU’s blog about EMS adopting an incident command system.  It’s an article that leaves me with a lot of questions.

I want to examine some individual statements within the article.

  1. “Many EMS providers lack training and awareness about implementing an incident command structure.”

 

This is 100% true, but I’ll also expand this statement across much of public safety and emergency management.  Aside from well-experienced practitioners of ICS, which there are relatively few compared to the greater public safety/EM community, most simply aren’t equipped to implement a significant incident management system.  The biggest reason is that ICS training sucks.

 

  1. “EMS organizations have only recently recognized the value and need for such a command structure as part of their response strategy.”

 

I would suggest that this is partly true, but in many parts of the nation, requirements and standards have been established by way of executive order, state and regional EMS protocols, and other means for EMS to use ICS.  Many of these have been in place since the 90s, before HSPD-5 and NIMS requirements, but certainly with the emergence of NIMS in 2003, this has largely been a standard of practice for EMS, if not a requirement in many places (and under specific circumstances, such as required through OSHA 1910.120).  While I understand that ‘standards’ and ‘requirements’ don’t necessary define value, they essentially dictate a need.

 

  1. There was a recognition that “EMS providers were having difficulty applying fireground incident command practices to EMS calls.”

 

While I agree with what I think is the spirit and intent of this statement and bring this back to my comments on item 1 above, I’m still cringing at the ‘fireground incident command’ phrase in this statement.  ICS isn’t just for the fireground. While it may have been born in wildfires, that was decades ago.  We are now officially in 2019 and should be well past this concept that ICS is only for the fireground.  Even if we disregard, for the sake of discussion, the requirements for all responders to use ICS, such as those in OSHA 1910.120, which predate NIMS, HSPD-5 was signed almost 17 years ago!  Nothing in HSPD-5 or the original NIMS document elude to the current implementations of ICS being a fireground system.  It was to be applied to all responders.

 

  1. “During a response, providers did not establish a formal command structure”

 

Totally true.  This applies, however, not just to EMS, but to most of public safety.  See my comment for item 1.

 

  1. “In 2012… they began to research various fire and EMS command models that were scalable and practical for all types of critical EMS calls.”

 

I’m not sure why there is a need to look past NIMS ICS.  Perhaps we are stepping back to my comment on item 1 again, but if you understand the system, you can make it work for you.

~

It is absolutely not my intent to throw negativity on the author or the people who spearheaded the implementation of an EMS-specific ICS as cited in this article.  They clearly identified what they perceived to be a need and tried to address it.  I give them credit for that.  It should be seen, though, that they identified many of the same needs that ICS was developed to address in the first place.  They then created a system (which has many of the same qualities of ICS) that is focused on EMS needs during an incident.  The issue here is bigger than this article, and certainly more endemic.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t really provide much detail on their ‘provider in command’ model, but what they describe can all be accomplished through NIMS ICS if properly utilized.  They even identify objectives of their model, which are really just pre-identified incident objectives.  They certainly don’t require a different model.  I think, however, what they largely accomplished was an audience-specific training program to show how elements of ICS can be implemented.  I just don’t think they needed to change the model, which is what the article seems to indicate.

Sadly, trying to make customized adaptations of ICS is nothing new.  For years, some elements of the fire service have dug in with certain models which are fire-ground centric.  Other disciplines have dome similar things.  It’s worth mentioning that FEMA had developed a number of discipline-specific ICS courses, such as ICS for Public Works or ICS for Healthcare.  While the intent of these courses is to provide context and examples which are discipline-specific (which is a good practice) rather than new models specific to these disciplines, I think that has inadvertently given some the impression that there are different systems for different disciplines.  ICS is ICS.

Once again, I put the blame on poor training curriculum.  When a system is developed and proven to work under a wide variety of circumstances and for a wide variety of users, yet users keep feeling a need to develop adaptations for themselves, this is not a failure of the system or even the users, it’s a failure of the training.

There are facets of public safety and emergency management that are generally not using ICS as well or as often as they should.  EMS is one of them.  As an active EMT for over a decade (including time as a chief officer), I can attest that (in general) ICS training for EMTs is abysmal.  The text books tend to skim over the pillars of ICS and focus on the operational functions of triage, treatment, and transport.  While these are important (for a mass casualty incident… not really for anything else), they fail not only in adequately TEACHING the fundamental principles of ICS (which can and should be used on a regular basis), but they fall well short of actually conveying how to IMPLEMENT ICS.  Further, much of the training provided includes a concept of ‘EMS Command’, which is opposed to what is in ICS doctrine.  We shouldn’t be encouraging separate commands and ICS structures at the tactical level of the same incident.

A few years ago I had started a crusade of sorts to get a better ICS curriculum developed.  There was a lot of support for this concept across the public safety and EM community, not only in the US but other nations as well.  Perhaps with the coming of the new year that effort needs to be reinvigorated?

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

A Discussion on Training Needs for the EOC Incident Support Model

Last week I wrote a piece on the Incident Support Model for Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs).  The article got a good amount of attention which prompted some dialogue both on and off line with a variety of practitioners.  So for those who might be integrating this model into their plans, let’s consider what training might be needed to support implementation.

First, I’ll say that I feel foundational ICS training (hopefully we’ll eventually have something better than what we have now since ICS training still sucks) is still necessary, even though the Incident Support Model deviates significantly from the traditional ICS model.  A couple of reasons… first, others are still using ICS, be it in EOCs or in the field.  Second, the principles and concepts of ICS still largely apply to the Incident Support Structure, regardless of the differences in organizational composition.  Perhaps only to the ICS 200 level is necessary since those functioning in an Incident Support Model organization only need be aware of it.

Next, I think we then need an overall Incident Support Model course.  I would envision this similar to an ICS-300 course, which has a more in-depth exploration of the entire organizational structure of the Incident Support Model and discusses the processes inherent in the system, such as the planning process, which would see some revisions to at least the positions involved under this model as compared to that for ICS.

Position-specific training is important, be it for an in-house EOC team(s) or for incident management teams which may be deployed to EOCs using this model.  While many of the position-specific courses in existence for a traditional ICS model are analogous to what we see in the Incident Support Model, there are significant enough changes, I think, to require different training specific for this model if we expect a professionally functioning organization (and we do).

One thing currently missing in the position specific courses is an EOC manager course.  While there is an Incident Commander course, which provides a lot of great information, there are significant enough differences between running an EOC and running an incident command post.  That said, I’m not so sure we need an entirely different course.  Given the propensity for incident management teams (IMTs) to work in EOCs, I think an additional module in the IC training may suffice to ensure that ICs are equipped to work in all environments.

Looking at the composition of the general staff of the Incident Support Model, we can first start with the Situational Awareness Section Chief.  From the ICS IMT model, we have great training for Situation Unit Leaders, which can largely apply to this position in the Incident Support Model with just a few changes, mostly addressing the expansion and elevation of the role.

The new Planning Support Section Chief would require very different training from what current exists for the IMTs. While in-depth training on the planning process is still relevant (with changes to make it specific to this model), as is training on demobilization planning, new training is required to address future planning, which doesn’t have as much content in the current Planning Section Chief course as needed.

Center and Staff Support Section Chief training is largely internal logistics, so really just requires a course that is narrowed in scope from the traditional Logistics Section Chief course, with perhaps some additional content on occupational and facility support matters.

Lastly, the Resource Support Section Chief.  This one is a monster.  It’s really an amalgamation of the Operations Section Chief, the Logistics Section Chief, and the Resource Unit Leader, along with Finance/Admin (if you subscribe to putting it in this section).  There is clearly a lot going on here.  Very little of the traditional ICS IMT courses really apply to this in an EOC environment given the difference in scope and mission for an EOC.  This largely requires completely new training based on functional coordination, mission assignments, and support to deployed resources.  This is a course that will require a lot of work to ground it in reality while also providing enough flexibility to allow for how each EOC may organize within this section.  Similar to the Operations Section in a traditional ICS model, this section may have the most variety from facility to facility and incident to incident.

Certainly other training may be needed, but the command and general staff positions are probably the most urgent to address.  In lieu of FEMA providing this training, some are developing their own training to support implementation of this model.  I’d love to hear about what has been done, the challenges faced, and the successes had.  Given my own passion and interest, I’d certainly love an opportunity to develop training for the Incident Support Model.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Emergency Management and Succession

Earlier this month, Emergency Management Magazine posted an article by Jim McKay titled ‘Is a Lack of Institutional Knowledge Plaguing Emergency Management?’.  It’s a thought-provoking article on a topic that is relevant to a great many professions.  This is an issue that deals primarily with retirements, but broadly any matter that involves a line of succession.  Not only might someone retire, which is usually, but not always an anticipated event, but they may take or get transferred to a new position, require an extended sick leave, get fired, or even have an untimely death.  In any event, I’m a firm believer that succession should be planned for any situation, and for nearly every position – especially one that’s grown and evolved over time with the individual occupying that position.

If it’s anticipated that someone will be retiring or otherwise leaving, organizations may have the ability to hire or identify a replacement while the person is still there, providing an opportunity for a mentorship.  For as rare as this is, it’s even more rare for that mentorship to be structured or anything but throwing a bunch of paperwork, files, and brain-dumping knowledge at the replacement.  If the departure of the individual isn’t planned, the organization can be left in the lurch.  People hopefully know what that person does, but likely not how they do it.  What are the priority tasks?  How often do they need to be completed?  What is the standard of performance for these tasks?  Who are the primary contacts?  Where can critical files be found?  What do I do if…???

Organizations have an opportunity to hedge against this.  Just as we prepare for disasters, we can prepare for someone vacating a position.  We know it will inevitably happen, so there is no excuse to not prepare for it.  Organizational leadership should promote this effort, spearheaded by human resources.  Checklists and guidance should be developed that cover all aspects of transferring institutional knowledge – from the mundane and practical, to the applied work.  This is a deliberate effort, just like developing an emergency operations plan, and an effort that nearly all positions should be involved in.

For a planned departure, two viable options are a job-share or a structured mentorship.  Both obviously require the organization to commit to overlapping staffing for this position for a period of time since the outgoing and incoming individuals need to work together.  This provides the most effective means of transferring institutional knowledge.  As indicated earlier, these efforts need to be structured, not just a daily data dump.  Use the ‘crawl, walk, run’ concept, giving the incumbent foundational information at first and building from there.  While process is important, there may be some processes that really fall to individual style, so the focus should be more on intent, sources of information, deliverables, and collaboration.  Hands-on experience, as many of us know, is extremely valuable.  The new individual should be going to meetings with the outgoing person, conducting site visits, and participating in other activities.  This also offers an opportunity for introductions to be made to important colleagues and other contacts.

The incumbent should also have face time with their new boss, direct reports, and other interested parties.  This is important to ensuring that expectations of these important stakeholders are communicated directly to the person who will be working with them.

An important tool that should be developed by almost every position is a job book.  This is a written document that outlines every critical aspects of a position.  Starting with the job description and working forward from there.  Fundamentally, this is a simple task, but can take some time over a period of months to develop, and of course it should be kept up to date.  It should identify priority tasks and how they are accomplished, key interactions and contacts, reporting relationships, standards and templates, information sources, deliverables, and due dates.  Each individual should step outside their position and imagine that someone new, who knows little about the position, will walk in tomorrow to take over.  This document should take that person through all important tasks.

The job book has several benefits.  First, it helps provide structure to any possible mentorship or job share that might take place for a planned departure.  It strongly supports an unplanned departure as well as an organization that might not be able to provide for any type of overlap between the outgoing and incoming individuals.  Job books are something I recommend not just for managers, but for most staff, even administrative support staff – It’s amazing how many organizations come to a screeching halt when a key administrative specialist leaves.

Lastly, beyond the process-driven and official things, never underestimate the value of social interactions.  There is a great deal of knowledge transfer that comes from the time of enjoying a meal or a beverage with someone.  While this time might be ‘off the books’, it should absolutely be encouraged and shouldn’t be a single occurrence.  These offer good opportunity for some ‘war stories’ and open conversations outside of the office environment in which a great deal can be learned.

Bottom line – organizational succession should be viewed as an aspect of continuity of operations.  It requires planned and deliberate activities to be most successful.

What kind of program does your organization have?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC™

Responder Depression, PTSD, and Suicide

This week the world lost two celebrities to suicide. These losses are absolutely tragic, and even if you didn’t know them personally, it raises awareness of mental health matters. In the last few days the world also lost many people to suicide that so many of us don’t know, but they were a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, spouse, lover… Some of those were also responders, dispatchers, doctors, nurses, or others that deal with tragedy every day and make our communities safer. They may have been a coworker or colleague. A brother or sister on the line.

Despite a lot of efforts to change perspectives, depression, PTSD, and suicide are still labels that are associated with shame and weakness. There is nothing shameful or weak about them. They are a reality of life. If you haven’t been effected by them directly, you know someone who has.

When you work in public safety, you deal with some pretty bad shit. Not just once, but over and over. You see people at their worst. Your see death and devastation. You see hopeless and desperate people. Broken people. Sadness and anger. We see more than most people do. On top of that, we deal with our own personal issues. Maybe a divorce, illness of a family member, or death of a pet. Finances might be tight.

How do we deal with it? We build walls. We make it impersonal. We stay professional and work in the moment, focusing on what needs to be done. But what do you think about after the call? Or the next day? Or even years after? Sometimes it doesn’t hit you right away. Sometimes it’s something completely different that triggers memories and emotions. What then? Maybe we shrug it off, or maybe we shut down for a while and have a bad day. But that bad day turns into another and another. Soon you may not be able to remember happiness.

What should we be doing? Talk to people. Maybe a coworker, a friend, or a mental health professional. If you are in a paid service, you may have an employee assistance program. Fuck the stigma, the shame, and the macho bullshit. This is as serious as cancer or a heart condition. You can’t ignore it and expect it to go away.

Maybe it’s not you, but a friend or coworker. You notice changes. Irritability. A lack of focus. Dramatic loss or gain of weight. Alcohol and drug abuse. Talk to them. Find a professional to talk to them. Yeah, it’s a tough call to make, but it could save their life.

Depression, PTSD, and suicide suck. We can’t ignore their impact on society and on public safety professionals. We need to work harder to end the stigma and ensure better access to services so people can get the help they need and stop suicides.

©️ 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

A New NFPA Standard for Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has recently published a new standard for Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) programs.  NFPA 3000 is consistent with other standards we’ve seen published by the organization.  They don’t dictate means or methods, leaving those as local decisions and open for changes as we learn and evolve from incidents and exercises.  What they do provide, however, is a valuable roadmap to help ensure that communities address specific considerations within their programs.  It’s important to recognize that, similar to NFPA 1600: Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity/Continuity of Operations Programs, you aren’t getting a pre-made plan, rather you are getting guidance on developing a comprehensive program.  With that, NFPA 3000 provides information on conducting a community risk assessment, developing a plan, coordinating with the whole community, managing resources and the incident, preparing facilities, training, and competencies for first responders.

NFPA standards are developed by outstanding technical committees with representation from a variety of disciplines and agencies across the nation.  In the development of their standards, they try to consider all perspectives as they create a foundation of best practices.  While the NFPA’s original focus was fire protection, they have evolved into a great resource for all of public safety.

I urge everyone to take a look at this new standard and examine how you can integrate this guidance into your program.  The standard is available to view for free from the NFPA website, but is otherwise only available by purchase.  Also available on their website is a fact sheet and information on training for the new standard.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Active Shooter Drills with Students – Good Idea or Bad?

While school shootings, unfortunately, are nothing new, we are seeing them occur with greater frequency.  Without getting into my thoughts on firearms, I will say that preparedness, prevention, and mitigation for mass shooting incidents in schools and other soft targets of opportunity, are multi-faceted.  Shooters are just as much of a persistent threat as hurricanes, tornadoes, or flooding; amplified by the will of the shooter(s) to do harm and their ability to reason through paths of deterrence.  While a number of measures can and should continue to be implemented to prevent and protect soft targets, just as we do with natural hazards, we must continue to prepare for an attack that slips past or through our preventative measures.

Readers will know that I’m a huge advocate of exercises in the emergency management/public safety/homeland security space.  While the primary purpose of exercises is to validate plans, policies, and procedures; we also use them to practice and reinforce activities.  Certainly every school, college, shopping mall, office building, and other mass gathering space should hold active shooter drills.  Many of these facilities already conduct regular fire evacuation drills, and shooter drills should also be added to the mix.

Where to start?  First of all, you need a plan.  ALL EXERCISES START WITH A PLAN.  The sheer number of exercises I’ve seen conducted with no plan or a knowingly poor plan in place is staggering.  If people don’t know what to do or how to do it, the value of the exercise is greatly diminished.  If you are a responsible party for any of these spaces, reach out to your local law enforcement and emergency management office for assistance in developing an active shooter protection plan.  If you are a regulated facility, such as a school or hospital, the state offices that provide your oversight are also a resource.  You can find some planning guidance here and here.   While your focus with this activity is an active shooter protection plan, recognize that you will also need to re-visit the public information component of your emergency operations plan (you have one, right?) and your business continuity plan, as I guarantee you will need to reference these in the event of a shooting incident.  A final note on planning… don’t do it in a vacuum!  It should be a collaborative effort with all relevant stakeholders.

As for exercises, consider what you want to accomplish and who needs to be involved.  In a mall, it’s not wise to include shoppers in exercises since they are a transient audience and forcing their involvement will very likely be some bad PR and impact stores financially.  That said, you need to anticipate that mall shoppers won’t know what to do or how to react to a shooter, therefore mall staff need to be very forceful and persistent in how they deal with patrons in such an incident.  Therefore, involving mall staff along with law enforcement and other stakeholders in an off-hours exercise is a great idea.

Schools, however, are a different situation, as their populations are static for an extended period of time.  While school faculty and staff should exercise with law enforcement, there are different thoughts on how and when to involve kids in these exercises.  There are some that advocate their involvement, while there are some who are adamantly opposed.  I reflect back on fire evacuation drills, which occur with regularity in schools. These drills reinforce procedure and behavior with students.  They know they need to line up and proceed calmly and well behaved along a designated path to exit the building, proceeding to a meeting spot where teachers maintain order and accountability.  These are behaviors that stick with many into adulthood if they find themselves in a fire evacuation (drill or otherwise) – so it’s also a learning experience.  The same holds for tornado and earthquake drills, which are held regularly in many areas around the country.  Fundamentally, for a shooter situation, we also need to reinforce procedure and behavior with students.  They need to know what to do in lockdown, lockout, and evacuation.

The prospect of a shooter is a horrible thing for anyone to deal with, much less a child.  I’ve spoken to parents who, themselves, are horrified about the prospect of speaking to their children about a shooter in their school.  In every occasion, I’ve said this: You damn well better talk to them about it.  This is a discussion with perhaps greater importance than talks about strangers, drugs, alcohol, or sex; and it needs to begin with children from kindergarten on up.  Schools need to teach students what to do when the alert occurs for an active shooter – typically this involves getting them safely out of view from someone who might be in the hallway while teachers lock or barricade the door and turn off lights.  Students need to understand the gravity of the situation and remain still and quiet.  Evacuation will generally only occur under someone’s direction.  There will be loud noises and it’s likely the police won’t speak kindly as they are clearing rooms, looking for a shooter and potential devices.  To be certain, it’s scary for adults and I wish our children didn’t have to endure such a thing, but practicing and reinforcing procedures and behavior will save lives.  I’ll offer this article, that discusses some of the potential psychological impacts of shooter drills on kids.  These impacts are a reality we also need to deal with, but I think the benefits of the drills far outweigh the costs.

Mass shootings, like most aspects of public safety, underscore the need for us to do better not only in public safety response, but also as a society.  The answers aren’t easy and there is no magic pill that will provide a solution to it all.  It requires a multifaceted approach on the part of multiple stakeholders, sadly even those as young as four years old, to prepare, prevent, and protect.

© 2018 – Timothy M. Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Defining Terrorism

It seems odd that in 2017 we still need to be clear about what constitutes an act of terrorism.  For context, last night, the horrible shooting in Las Vegas occurred.  At the time of writing this, it’s already been the most fatal shooting in US history.  This is a horrible incident that, as usual, I’m not going to Monday morning quarter-back, as so much is still developing in the aftermath.

What I will comment on are statements by media outlets and ‘experts’, many of which proclaimed once it was released that the perpetrator of this crime was an older white guy local to the Las Vegas area, that this was not an act of terrorism.  So let’s clarify against stupidity, ignorance, and general bullshit.  While there are a variety of definitions of terrorism that can be found, no definition worth its salt includes any pre-determined profile based upon race, age, gender, religion, sexuality, nationality, or skin color.  Those factors alone have nothing to do with determining if an act was or was not terrorism.

The most common definition referenced in the US is what is known as the ‘FBI definition’.  This definition actually comes from a section of the US Code of Federal Regulations (28 CFR 0.85) which outlines the general functions of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  In the Code, terrorism is defined as ‘the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in the furtherance of political or social objectives’.

It seems easy in these times to decry any act of violence as terrorism or, similarly, to dismiss certain acts because they are perpetrated by some old white guy with no known agenda.  Both of these actions would be wrong without further evidence.  The FBI definition focuses on motive and intent.  While the results of the incident may certainly be intimidating or coercive, the motivation may not have been to accomplish that – it may have been, not to understate any act of violence, simply to kill people.  It may not have necessarily been motivated by any specific social, political, or religious extremism.  At this moment, there has been no publicly-released information indicating that this person acted to ‘intimidate or coerce a government, civilian population, or segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.’  But that could change at any moment.

In the hours and days ahead, more details will be uncovered on the perpetrator of this crime and their possible motives.  Some people simply want to call it terrorism so they have a label for it or because they think that the crime is somehow elevated by calling it terrorism.  Over 50 were killed and over 500 were injured.  Whatever label you apply doesn’t make the crime any better or worse.  It’s still horribly tragic.  Some people, particularly those with pre-conceived notions of what is or is not terrorism, will hold that this couldn’t possibly be terrorism because it was committed by an older, local, white guy; and not a radicalized individual from the middle east.  Assumptions either way are dangerous.

Regardless of how the investigation shakes out and what labels may be applied to this act, the loss of life and impact to families and loved ones is horrific.  Let us all take some time to consider that and what must be done to prepare for and prevent further mass shootings such as this.

No matter what the disaster is, be informed!

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC