NIMS Guidance – Resource Management Preparedness

Last week FEMA issued a national engagement period for updated NIMS guidance on resource management preparedness. This is the first version of such a document, with most material on the subject matter, to date, being included in the NIMS doctrine and a few other locations. I regularly participate in the national engagement periods and encourage others to do so as I think it’s a great opportunity for practitioners and subject matter experts to provide input.

Some observations:

  1. The footer of the document states that it’s not for public distribution. I’m guessing that was an error.
  2. The phrase of ‘resource management preparedness’ rubs me the wrong way. While I understand that there are resource management activities that take place within the preparedness phase of emergency management, we’re not preparing to manage resources. All the activities outlined in the document are actually part of resource management. If they want to put a time stamp on this set of activities, they can refer to them as ‘pre-incident’, but inventorying, typing, etc. are all actually part of the resource management cycle.
  3. I’d prefer to see a comprehensive NIMS Resource Management guide that addresses all aspects of resource management. Considering that resource management is a cycle, let’s actually cover the entire cycle. I think there will be far more value in that. Hopefully that’s eventually where this will go.
  4. The document is too stuck in NIMS. What do I mean by this? It seems that more and more people seem to forget that NIMS is a doctrinal component of incident management. While the document is focused on NIMS, it would have greater value if it addressed pre-incident resource management activities that might not found in the NIMS doctrine (though some are), but are none-the-less best practices in resource management. Many of these practices begin pre-incident.
  • One of the biggest things is resource tracking. Yes, resource tracking is a concept found in NIMS, but it’s not at all addressed here. How many jurisdictions struggle to figure out how to track resources in the middle of an incident (answer: most of them). The best time to figure out the means and methods of tracking resources is before an incident ever occurs. Resource tracking has a fair amount of complexity, involving the identification of what will be tracked, how, and by who; as well as how changes is resource status are communicated. Data visualization and dashboarding is also big. People want to see maps of where major resources are, charts that depict utilization, and summaries of resource status. All things best determined before an incident.
  • Resource inventories should identify operating requirements, such as maintenance and service. This is vaguely referenced in the guidance, but not well. Before any resource is deployed, you damn well better have the ability to operate and support that resource, otherwise it’s nothing more than a really large expensive paperweight. Do you only have one operator for that piece of equipment? That’s a severe limitation. All things to figure out before an incident.
  • How will resource utilization be tracked? This is important for cost controls and FEMA reimbursement. Figure that one out now.
  • What consumables are stockpiled or will be needed? What is the burn rate on those under various scenarios? (We’ve learned a lot about this in the pandemic)
  • What about resource security? When it’s not being used where and how will it be secured? What if the resource is left unattended? I have a great anecdote I often tell about a portable generator used in the aftermath of a devastating snow storm to power the traffic lights at a critical intersection. The maintenance crew doing their rounds found it to be missing, with the chain cut. Luckily the state’s stockpile manager had GPS trackers on all of them. It was located and re-acquired in little time, and the perpetrators charged. This success was due to pre-incident activity.
  • Resource ordering processes must also be established. What are the similarities and differences in the process between mutual aid, rental, leasing, or purchasing? What are your emergency procurement regulations and how are they implemented? How are the various steps in the ordering process assigned and tracked? This is highly complex and needs to be figured out before an incident.
  1. Resource typing. I honestly think this is the biggest push in emergency management that isn’t happening (maybe perhaps second to credentialing). Resource typing has been around for a long time, yet very very few jurisdictions I’ve worked with or otherwise interacted with have done it and done it well. I find that most have either not done it at all, started and gave up, or have done it rather poorly. I’ve been involved in resource typing efforts. It’s tough and tedious. I’ve done it for resources that we’re yet typed at the national level, leaving agencies and jurisdictions to define their own typing scheme. This literally can devolve into some heated discussions, particularly fueled by the volume of rather heavy customization we tend to do with resources as technology evolves, giving resources that may fundamentally appear to have similar capability to in reality be quite different. I’ve also done it for resources that have been typed at the national level. This certainly helps, as you aren’t first having to figure out your own thresholds, but it can still be challenging to pigeon hole resources that, again, may be heavily customized and don’t cleanly fit within a certain pre-defined category. It’s even more frustrating to have developed your own typing scheme in the absence of a national one, only to have national guidance issued a couple years later and needing to go back to those discussions.

I’m not saying resource typing is bad, in fact the benefits, both internally and externally, can be incredibly helpful. That said, it’s a time-consuming effort that, in the broader sense of limited time and other assets available to most emergency managers, is perceived to pay a lesser dividend than other activities such as developing and updating plans, training people on the implementation of those plans, and exercising those plans. It also can be difficult convincing agencies that it should be done. I can’t tell you how many times I get the response of ‘We know what we have’. I know that’s not the point, but that’s how the effort of typing resources is perceived. Even after some explanation of the benefits, most agencies (and I think rightfully so) would rather invest their time and effort into preparedness activities are that are seen as more beneficial. It leaves me wondering… is there a better way?

While it’s good to see information on the topic of early resource management steps being collated into one document, along with some resources and references that I’ve not seen before, this document is missing a lot. I just wrote last night about emergency managers being our own worst enemy. If we are just focused on implementing NIMS, we will absolutely fail. NIMS is not the end all/be all of incident management, but it is fundamentally promoted as such. Yes, the concepts of NIMS are all incredibly important, brought about from lessons learned and identified best practices of incident management through decades of experience. But the documents related to NIMS seem to pick and choose what they will focus on, while leaving out things that are highly critical. Perhaps some of these will be covered in future editions of resource management guidance, but they aren’t doing anyone any favors by omitting them from a document on pre-incident activity. We need to think broader and more comprehensive. We need to do better.

What are your observations on this document? What feedback do you have on my observations?

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Emergency Visions Experts Corner

I’m proud to announce that I have been recently included in the Emergency Visions Experts Corner.  Emergency Visions is a company I have recently been chatting with regarding their technology solutions for THIRA and resource management.  The Emergency Visions software solutions are well thought through to ensure applicability across any jurisdiction or organization helping clients to track data real-time and perpetually to aid in preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. 

As part of their Experts Corner, I will partner with Emergency Visions to provide topical information, similar to this blog, and also have plans to conduct a webinar this October with them and their partner Carahsoft on the THIRA process and integrating THIRA results into other preparedness endeavors.  I encourage you to check out some of the blog posts and webinars already listed on the Emergency Visions website.  I’ll post information on the upcoming webinar once we have the details hammered out. 

Thanks as always for following this blog.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to share ideas with others in the emergency management and homeland security field. 

– Tim Riecker

Having a Resource Management Common Operating Picture

Resource management is one of the most complex aspects of emergency management.  The resource management cycle could be seen as a microcosm of the emergency management cycle with a number of steps operating in sequence and some simultaneously before, during, and after a disaster.  We need to properly establish our resource management systems, procedures, and policies and keep them, as well as our inventories, up to date.

Referencing the Core Capabilities, the capabilities of Public and Private Services and Resources, Planning, Critical Transportation, and Operational Coordination all have bearing on resource management.  Resource management is also one of the key components of NIMS.  The following graphic on the resource management cycle comes from NIMS doctrine.  While this is largely a logistics issue, the importance of it all cuts across all levels of all organizations.

NIMS Resource Management Cycle

NIMS Resource Management Cycle

Consider each of the steps identified in the resource management cycle.  There is quite a bit of complexity to each.  An additional challenge is that they are always in motion as requirements regularly change, new resources are obtained, and obsolete resources are retired from service.  Often one change in a step of the cycle requires changes cascading to other steps.  Also consider the variety of people involved in each step.  No one agency or department has all the resources, therefore we are relying on information from others to create a common operating picture of resource management.  Additionally, the regularity of changes in this information require us to have establish and maintain a system which allows for real-time tracking of this information.

Any information can be viewed in a variety of manners.  A fairly simple web-based tool can allow for multiple stakeholders to input data and change resource status, but the display of that information the reporting available from such as system allows for better utility.  The integration of GIS can help us identify not only where our resources are, but what their status is (NIMS provides us with three resources status indicators: Assigned, Available, and Out of Service), as well as detailed information on the resource such as the kind and type (again, these are NIMS-driven definitions that describe the capability of a resource), the owner of the resource along with contact information, and other information including technical, operational, and maintenance information.

In a pre-incident condition we should know what we have, what capability of those resources, and the conditions for deployment.  Operating under ICS, once an incident occurs, Logistics obtains resources for the incident where tracking becomes the responsibility of the Resource Unit in the Planning Section.  After an incident, these resources return to their owners where they are maintained and re-inventoried.  Depending on the incident, owners may be reimbursed for their use which requires reporting on a variety of metrics.

Wildfire incident management practices brought us the T-Card system – a great low-tech way of tracking incident resources.  A T-Card system is easy to learn and deploy and does a great job of tracking resources but can be very labor intensive and certainly has a delay in reporting.  I’ve also used spreadsheets and stand alone databases, which allow for more flexibility and automated reporting, but still suffer from a delay with a single point of data input and management.  Networked systems allow for immediate inclusion of staging areas, bases, and other mobilization or stockpile areas and are suited for simple and complex incidents.  Consider leveraging technology to maximize your resource management common operating picture on both a daily basis and for incident management.  Of course it’s always good to have a low-tech back up (and the know-how to use it!).

What systems do you have in place for resource management?  What best practices have you identified?

© 2014 Timothy Riecker