FEMA’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan: The Good, the Bad, and the Ignored

FEMA recently released their 2018-2022 Strategic Plan.  While organizational strategic plans are generally internal documents, the strategic plans of certain organizations, such as FEMA, have a significant link to a broader array of stakeholders.  The community of emergency management in the United States is so closely linked, that FEMA, through policy, funding, or practice, has a heavy influence on emergency management at the state and local levels.  Here are my impressions of the 38-page document.


Right from the beginning, this document continues to reinforce the system of emergency management and the involvement of the whole community. I’m glad these concepts have been carried forward from earlier administrations.  Far too often have we seen new administrations trash the concepts of the previous for reasons none other than politics.  Things often take time in emergency management, and it sometimes seems that just as we are getting a grasp on a good concept or program, it’s stripped away in favor of something new which has yet to be proven.

The foreword of the document, as expected, lays out the overall focus of the strategic plan.  What I’m really turned off by here is the mention, not once but twice, of ‘professionalizing’ emergency management.  Use of this phrase is an unfortunate trend and a continued disappointment.  We are our own worst enemy when statements like this are made.  It seems that some in emergency management lack the confidence in our profession.  While I’m certainly critical of certain aspects of it, there is no doubt in my mind that emergency management is a profession.  I wish people, like Administrator Long, would stop doubting that.  Unfortunately, I’ve heard him recently interviewed on an emergency management podcast where he stressed the same point.  It’s getting old and is honestly insulting to those of us who have been engaged in it as a career.

The strategic goals put forward in this plan make sense.

  1. Build a culture of preparedness
  2. Ready the nation for catastrophic disasters
  3. Reduce the complexity of FEMA

These are all attainable goals that belong in this strategic plan.  They stand to benefit FEMA as an organization, emergency management as a whole, and the nation.  The objectives within these goals make sense and address gaps we continue to deal with across the profession.

A quote on page 8 really stands out… The most effective strategies for emergency management are those that are Federally supported, state managed, and locally executed.  With the system of emergency management in the US and the structure of federalism, this statement makes a lot of sense and I like it.

Based on objective 1.2 – closing the insurance gap – FEMA is standing behind the national flood insurance program.  It’s an important program, to be sure, but it needs to be better managed, better promoted, and possibly restructured.  There is a big red flag planted in this program and it needs some serious attention before it collapses.

Here’s the big one… It’s no secret that morale at FEMA has been a big issue for years.  The third strategic goal includes an objective that relates to employee morale, but unfortunately employee morale itself is not an objective.  Here’s where I think the strategic plan misses the mark.  While several objectives directly reference improving systems and processes at FEMA, none really focus on the employees.  Most mentions of employees in the document really reference them as tools, not as people.  Dancing around this issue is not going to get it resolved.  I’m disappointed for my friends and colleagues at FEMA.  While I applaud the strategic plan for realizing the scope of external stakeholders it influences, they seem to have forgotten their most important ones – their employees.  This is pretty dissatisfying and, ultimately, is an indicator of how poorly this strategic plan will perform, since it’s the employees that are counted on to support every one of these initiatives.  You can make all the policy you want, but if you don’t have a motivated and satisfied work force, change will be elusive.

Overall, I’d give this strategic plan a C.  While it addresses some important goals and objectives and recognizes pertinent performance measures, it still seems to lack a lot of substance.  External stakeholders are pandered to when internal stakeholders don’t seem to get a lot of attention.  While, as mentioned earlier, FEMA has a lot of influence across all of emergency management, they need to be functioning well internally if they are to successful externally.  Employee morale is a big issue that’s not going to go away, and it seems to be largely ignored in this document.  I absolutely want FEMA to be successful, but it looks like leadership lacks the proper focus and perspective.

What thoughts do you have on FEMA’s new strategic plan?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC SM


FEMA Seeks Input on Fiscal Year 2018-2022 Strategic Plan

From today’s FEMA Daily Digest Bulletin is an item related to FEMA’s FY 2018-2022 strategic plan.  FEMA Administrator Brock Long is inviting stakeholders to provide input to their upcoming strategic plan update.  They are doing this via IdeaScale, which is the same platform being used by DHS for an information campaign they promoted back in May of this year.  I’ve been monitoring the submissions to the DHS campaign and unfortunately find that the vast majority of ideas submitted are crap.  Many are ill informed (such as one idea of sending passenger baggage on a separate plane solely intended for that purpose) or politically motivated, with few offering any practical solutions to real problems.

Relative to the FEMA campaign, I’m seeing much of the same.  Here’s what FEMA requested input on:

Simplifying Recovery and Reducing Disaster Costs

  • How can FEMA simplify recovery programs and reduce disaster costs while ensuring accountability, customer service, and fiscal stewardship?

Buying Down Risk through Preparedness and Mitigation

  • How should risk be calculated in awarding grants?
  • What type of grants are best suited for effectively reducing risk?
  • How do we incentivize more investment in preparedness/mitigation prior to a disaster (not only federal investment)?
  • How should the nation, including but not limited to FEMA, train and credential a surge disaster workforce ahead of major disasters?
  • What are new ways to think about a true culture of preparedness?

Much of the input they are receiving thus far is less than helpful in the endeavor to drive strategic planning.  Rather, they are receiving ideas of tactical applications both in general as well as specific to disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey.  While some of these ideas aren’t bad (some are), it seems that people are missing the point.

This brings about some thoughts on the concept of whole community engagement, which is obviously what FEMA and DHS as a whole are trying to accomplish through these IdeaScale endeavors.  I’m 100% in favor of whole community engagement, but opening the doors and inviting unstructured commentary is less than productive.  I’m sure it’s frustrating to the people on the receiving end who are having to sift through a lot of largely irrelevant input to find a few gems.  At the community level, these discussions can be moderated in public forums, but through an electronic means, it’s pretty much a free-for-all.  A valiant effort, but I wonder if they are getting the input they really need or if this merely accomplishes them ‘checking a box’ to say they solicited whole community feedback.

While feedback from the public can be valuable, I posit that most of the public simply isn’t aware enough of the mission, organization, and activities of FEMA to provide meaningful ideas toward their strategic plan.  Instead, forums such as the ones they’ve opened up simply provide opportunities for people to vent frustrations, which I suppose has some value but not in this forum.

What I’m hopeful of is that professionals in emergency management and public safety take advantage of the opportunity to provide thoughtful feedback and ideas which can contribute to FEMA’s strategic plan update.  If they are making the effort to obtain feedback, let’s give them what they need.  That’s my challenge to you!

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

What is Your Emergency Management Agenda?

We often hear, usually through the media, the term ‘agenda’ thrown around, usually in relation to political parties, corporations, and the like.  I think it’s time that we each have an emergency management agenda.

First of all, this isn’t exclusive.  Everyone can have their own – local, county, state, and federal emergency management agencies, and emergency managers with private and not for profit entities.  I’d also argue that we need a national emergency management agenda – every nation should.  And perhaps even a global emergency management agenda.  Why?  We need deliberate, purpose driven direction.  Too often we are scattered, doing some recovery from the past few disasters, and some mitigation and preparedness projects then WHAM! we get hit with another disaster.  After the disruption from that disaster, we usually fall back into the same groove or make up a bunch of new things we think will solve all of our problems.  So much of what we do is knee-jerk, despite the planning efforts we spend so much time on.  I really think we can do much better.

Part of doing better is having some longer-term goals and implementations to achieve those goals.  That’s really what a programmatic agenda is all about.  Much of this parallels a strategic plan, but people often roll their eyes at strategic planning, either because they have no time for a complex process or they have been through enough cheesy group think strategic planning sessions in their careers.  Strategic planning may also not be practical for many emergency management shops which are one or two person entities, especially at a local or county level or within a small corporation or not for profit.  I’m not knocking strategic planning, it has a lot of value (if followed through), but formulating an agenda is generally simpler by necessity.

Let’s consider components of an agenda:

  • Purpose/goal – what is the big picture of what you want to accomplish? This is also your elevator pitch.  It should simply state what you want to accomplish, in realistic terms.  This is not lofty like your corporate mission or vision statement, this is a programmatic goal.
  • Who will participate – who are your internal and external stakeholders and partners? Consider all the people and entities you need cooperation from to make this happen.
  • Expected outcomes – what benchmarks do we want to achieve? Write these like objectives – remember SMART: Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
  • Timeline – what is the timeline for each expected outcome and the goal itself? Set realistic timeframes.
  • Obstacles – what stands in our way of success internally and externally? Things like funding and personnel issues are obvious, but reach further while still being realistic.  Recognize that local disasters can be setbacks but can also create opportunity; and that many national-level disasters tend to result in politicians hitting a giant national reset button, changing the way we have been doing things (for better or worse) and stalling our momentum.

Of course this can all be revisited and adjusted as needed, but this agenda will help you lay the groundwork for future activities, giving you a path to follow instead of a series of ad-hoc activities.  Get it on paper and post it on the wall in your office where you will see it every day and can easily reflect on it, what it contains, and your progress in moving through it.

With that all said, I’m curious to know what the emergency management agenda is for the US (and every nation).  Yes, FEMA has a strategic plan, and while they are at the pointy end of the emergency management stick, they do not embody all that is emergency management.  Where do we, as professionals, see emergency management in this nation evolving to?  What do we (broadly) need to accomplish?  We tend to know the agendas of political parties and the politicians that are part of them, yet we don’t have a solid grasp on the direction of the emergency management enterprise.  Does this give you reason for concern?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


Deliberate Planning – Strategic Planning and Business Continuity

Many organizations put forth extraordinary effort to develop strategic plans to give concerted organization-wide direction to the organization for the coming 3-5 years.  Like many of my readers, I have been part of several strategic planning efforts in different organizations, sometimes helping to lead the way.  There is a great deal of value to strategic planning as it helps not only refine the organization’s vision, but also develops objectives to help it get there while (ideally) bringing the entire organization on board – from finance, to HR, to operations, and facilities – everyone is facing in the same direction and striving to accomplish the same goals.  Just as strategic planning should not be performed in a vacuum, business continuity planning should not either.  Just as strategic planning engaged the whole organization, as should business continuity planning.

If the efforts of strategic planning and business continuity planning have such foundational similarities, why not bring the two together?  As the goals of these two efforts are distinctly different we certainly can’t merge the efforts, but the overlaps provide for easily exploitable opportunities within the organization.  How?

First, make business continuity and resilience a goal of your strategic plan.  What does this do for the organization?  Just like the other goals identified in strategic planning, it provides a documented leadership-driven purpose which will engage the whole organization.  Every business unit in an organization has a stake in business continuity.  Just with other goals within your strategic plan, the specific actions will be identified through objectives – be it a start to your business continuity program or a continuation and improvement thereof.  As mentioned in previous posts, business owners and managers put forth a great deal of effort to build and expand their businesses, but we also need plans to stay in business in the event of a disaster.

Second, once the strategic plan is completed, you now have a group of people from across the organization who now hopefully work well together – engage them!  Turn your strategic planning committee into your business continuity committee.  Good strategic planning provides for someone (ideally the planning group) to monitor the implementation of the strategic plan.  This takes minimal time compared to developing the strategic plan, allowing for this group – who has already worked together for some time and has gone through the group dynamics of forming, storming, norming, and performing – to focus on another task.  Why pull together another group of different people?  It’s a waste of time and the team will lag in performance.  Simply reengage them and change their focus.  This group is a great asset who has already proven they can represent their business units while still having an organization-wide perspective.

Third, mine data from the strategic planning process to support business continuity.  A thorough strategic planning process has examined the organization from many angles and perspective – particularly through a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).  While a SWOT analysis is performed from a business standpoint, much of the data obtained and derived from this analysis can inform both your hazard analysis and the identification of mission essential functions – these are the things which you MUST DO to stay in business and to minimize the greatest losses.

Lastly, continue the relationship between strategic planning and business continuity.  Both work in a cycle of continuous improvement and those cycles obviously intersect – not just at one point but potentially at multiple junctures; an important consideration of a business continuity program is the impact which disasters may have not only on current business operations but also on planned business initiatives.  This shared knowledge and insight between two planning efforts conducted within one group is invaluable.  As strategic planning continues, new objectives for the business continuity program should be included while resiliency opportunities identified through the business continuity program should inform the strategic plan helping the organization overall to become more resilient and sustainable.

What are your thoughts on the synergy between strategic planning and business continuity?  What other opportunities do you see?

As always, if you need help starting, growing, or rebuilding your business continuity or emergency management program, Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC can help.  Contact us through www.epsllc.biz or directly at consultants@epsllc.biz.

© 2014 – Timothy Riecker

Managing An Exercise Program – Part 2: Developing the Preparedness Strategy

This post is part of a 10-part series on Managing an Exercise Program. In this series I provide some of my own lessons learned in the program and project management aspects of managing, designing, conducting, and evaluating Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) exercises. Your feedback is appreciated!

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 1

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 2: Develop a Preparedness Strategy

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 3: Identify Program Resources and Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 4: Conduct an Annual Training & Exercise Planning Workshop.

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 5: Securing Project Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 6: Conducting Exercise Planning Conferences

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 7: Develop Exercise Documentation

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 8: Preparing Support, Personnel, & Logistical Requirements

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 9: Conducting an Exercise

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 10: Evaluation and Improvement Planning



In my last post, I outlined the initial needs of managing a preparedness exercise program, including sources of information for a preparedness assessment.  Recognized as a best practice, I’m following the model of the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP).  The next step of program management is developing a preparedness strategy.



The development of a preparedness strategy is an activity that will involve the highest levels of your organization.  Drawing upon the data collected in the last step (the preparedness assessment), the preparedness strategy will address overcoming the identified gaps in your preparedness.  The mnemonic to remember here is POETE or Planning, Organization, Equipment, Training, and Exercises.  The gaps you identified in your assessment should fall into one of these categories.

Once you have catalogued your gaps, you must develop strategies to overcome each gap.  Here are some helpful hints in strategic planning:

1) Define the gap and identify the underlying cause(s).

2) Create objectives to overcome each gap.  Remember that objectives must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-oriented).

3) Establish priorities.  Some gaps may have a higher priority to accomplish based on the vulnerability they pose, legal or regulatory requirements, or other matters.  Additionally, some objectives may need to be accomplished prior to others for many of the same reasons, as well as practical flow of processes.

4) Assign required actions – identify specific actions required to accomplish each objective (there may be several).  Identify who will be responsible for each action and who will be responsible for supporting their work.  Establish a realistic deadline.  NOTE: some gaps may take a long time (years) to overcome.  As such, do the best you can to outline objectives and keep in mind that strategic plans are ‘living documents’.  Early on, you may not be assigning tasks to overcoming certain gaps, but someone will be responsible for monitoring related issues.

5) Marry needed resources to each action item established above.  This may be personnel, funding, facilities, etc.

6) As work is being done to accomplish these tasks, continual monitoring and assessment is necessary to ensure that everyone is staying on track and that the strategic plan continues to reflect the direction and priorities of today.

There are many references out there for strategic planning.  With a bit of insight you can translate this guidance into something useful for these purposes.  The end goal of this step is to have a document in hand that identifies what your organization needs to accomplish to be better prepared.  From this, you will soon develop exercise goals which will be the cornerstone of your exercise program.

What successes have you found from your strategic planning experience?

Coming soon – Managing an Exercise Program Part 3: Identifying Program Resources and Funding.