Preparedness in the Pandemic Age

Planning, training, and exercises, as the foundational activities of preparedness, shouldn’t be stopping because of the pandemic. Preparedness is an ongoing activity which needs to forge ahead with little disruption – and there is always plenty to do! What must we do, though, to accommodate necessary precautions in the age of the Pandemic?

Let’s talk about planning first. The biggest relevant issue for planning is the conduct of stakeholder meetings. These may be larger group meetings to discuss and get buy-in on broader topics, or detailed small-group meetings to discuss very specific topics. Information, sometimes sensitive, is exchanged, presentations are given, and documents are reviewed. I’ve mentioned in various posts through the years the importance of properly preparing for meetings. Even for traditional in-person meetings, there are important things to consider, such as:

  1. Do you really need a meeting?
  2. Developing an agenda
  3. Having the right people in attendance
  4. Ensuring that all speakers and presenters are prepared
  5. Ensuring that all attendees are prepared to discuss the subject matter
  6. An adequate meeting space and support (technology, dry erase boards, etc)

All of these rules still apply in a virtual world, perhaps with even more emphasis. While we’ve obviously had video meeting technology for a long time, we’ve discovered this year that many people haven’t used it much or at all until earlier this year. The surge in use has also brought attention to the plethora of tools which can be facilitated through video conference platforms. While the simple sharing of video supports most of our meeting needs, we can share screens, conduct presentations, and use collaborative tools such as whiteboards and shared documents. Pretty much everything we do in an in-person meeting can be accomplished through video conference platforms – but those who arrange the calls need to take the time to become familiar with the tools and functionality; and if there is anything that needs to be done by participants (some of which are likely to be less tech-savvy) you need to be able to coach them through it. Some of these tools require integrations of other technology, such as cloud document storage or various apps. Remember that meetings should be interactive, so encourage people to use chatrooms to help queue up questions for presenters. If any documents or information are sensitive, be sure you are taking the appropriate precautions with how the meeting is set up, how participants are invited, and how documents are shared.

My tip… read reviews to determine which platform will best suit your needs and watch some tutorials on YouTube.

When it comes to remote training, so much of what I mentioned for stakeholder meetings will apply here. Being interactive is still incredibly important, as is the ability to integrate other technologies, such as videos, PowerPoint, and shared documents. When designing training that will be delivered remotely, if it helps, don’t think about the platform first – think about how you would do the training in person. Would you have breakout sessions for group work? That can be easily accomplished on video conference platforms, but it takes some preparation. Would you put things on a white board or chart paper? That can also be accomplished. Giving an exam? Having participants complete a survey or feedback form? Yes and yes. It can all be done, but preparation is key. Some instructors, especially in public safety, have gotten too used to simply showing up and delivering their material – not because they are lazy, but because they have done it dozens or hundreds of times. They have a routine. If you want participants to get a similar, or perhaps even better learning experience, some deliberate thought and preparation is required. Also, make sure you simply don’t become a talking head. Break things up and be dynamic. It’s easy for our own demeanor to elevate disinterest. I often stand (using a variable height standing desk) when giving presentations and conducting training. Being on my feet helps me push more energy into what I’m doing.

Tip… remember to give people breaks, just as you would in face-to-face training.

Lastly, exercises. A lot of this is a combination of the information I gave for planning and training. Exercise planning meetings need to be conducted, and every exercise has some extent of presentations, with discussion-based exercises having more emphasis on this obviously. To answer the big question – yes, most exercise can be conducted remotely! Obviously, discussion-based exercises are generally the lower-hanging fruit, so they can and should be happening remotely. Remember that exercises are supposed to be interactive experiences, so your exercise design absolutely must account for identifying the means and methods of engagement in the virtual environment. All the things I’ve mentioned already are prime options for this, such as breakout groups, shared documents, live polling, etc. Facilitators and evaluators can be assigned to specific breakout rooms or have access to all of them, allowing them to float from room to room.

What about operations-based exercises? Yes, there are options for conducting operations-based exercises remotely. First, we do need to acknowledge the obvious challenges associated with conducting drills and full-scale exercises via remote environments. Is it impossible? No, but it depends on what the focus of the exercise is. Something like a cyber-security or intelligence exercise may be more naturally brought into a virtual environment, depending on the exercise objectives or tasks. Games may be fully integrated into digital platforms already, which helps, but if they aren’t, these may need to be re-imagined and developed in a virtual environment. This can get expensive, so it really needs to be a properly thought through. Functional exercises, such as the typical command post exercise or emergency operations center (EOC) exercise, can absolutely be performed virtually. Many jurisdictions successfully ran their EOCs virtually during the height of the pandemic (many still are). If the actual activity can be performed virtually, it can (and should!) be exercised virtually. Again, preparation is key to ensuring that participants can do what they would normally do, while controllers and evaluators still have full access and visibility. Simulation Cells can be virtually integrated and most EOC management platforms are web-based. With some thought, we can bring most exercises into a virtual environment and still make them effective experiences while also meeting all HSEEP requirements.

Tip… For a virtual functional exercise, unless the time period of your exercise is set after the initial response, consider including an objective for the participants (and the tech support of their agencies, as needed) to set up everything that is needed in real time during the exercise – just like they would in real life. This would include all their video, file share, data tracking, etc. That set up is a considerable challenge of running a virtual EOC. If you didn’t want that activity to distract from your exercise, it’s also a great drill. Don’t let it just be tech support personnel, though, as EOC personnel should be expressing their needs.

Remote work environments have helped many organizations overcome challenges associated with the pandemic. Some organizations were better prepared than others to make it happen, but most seem to have achieved effective operational continuity. Hopefully your preparedness programs haven’t stalled out because people feel these activities can’t be done in a virtual environment. We also can’t use the excuse that we’re too busy because of the pandemic to not be preparing. While some niche organizations might still be quite busy, the pandemic response, for most, has become an integrated job duty for the medium term. We can’t let things fall to the wayside or we will never get back on track. The time is now!

I’d love to hear how you are using tech platforms to support preparedness efforts.

©2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

When the Solution Becomes the Problem

Ever think a problem was fixed just to find that the solution was really more of a problem or a totally different kind of problem. While this can certainly happen in our person lives, I see this happen a lot in my professional life, and I’m sure you do as well. Through my tenure in emergency management, I’ve seen a lot of ill-informed assessments, poorly written plans, misguided training programs, bad hires or contracts, unwise equipment purchases, and exercises that could really be called damaging. Not only is the time, money, and effort put into developing these a waste of time (aside from learning how not to do them), they can have ramifications that cause issues to be solved in the short term or down the road.

Poorly conducted assessments can result in a lot of problems. If the data, the analysis, or conclusions are wrong, this can have considerable consequences if that assessment was intended to inform other projects, such as plans, construction, hazard mitigation efforts, staffing, and more. I’ve seen people point to reports with the assumption that the data was complete, analysis was unbiased, and conclusions are correct, and with something akin to blind obedience. When an assessment is used to justify spending and future efforts, we need to ensure that the assessment is carefully planned and executed. Similarly, we’ve all seen a lot of decisions based on no assessment at all. This can be just as dangerous.

Bad planning is a problem that has always, and I fear will always, plague emergency management. Of course, there are some really stellar plans out there, but they seem to be the exception. There are an abundance of mediocre plans in existence, which I suppose are fine but in the end aren’t doing anyone any favors because while the plans themselves may be fine, they tend not to include much useful information, specifics on procedure, or job aids to support implementation of the plan.

Here’s an example of how disruptive bad plans can be: A few years ago, my firm was hired by a UASI to design, conduct, and evaluate a couple of exercises (one discussion-based, the other operations-based) to validate a new plan written for them by another firm. Being that the exercises were to be based on the plan, I took a deep dive into the plan. I honestly found myself confused as I read. I forwarded the plan to a member of our project team to review and, quite unsolicited, I received a litany of communications expressing how confounded he was by the plan. At the very best, it was unorganized and poorly thought out. The subject matter lent itself to a timeline-based progression, which they seemed to have started then abandoned, which resulted in a scattering of topic-based sections that were poorly connected. After conferring with that team member to develop some very specific points, I approached our client for a very candid conversation. I came to find out that the planning process recommended and established by CPG-101, NFPA 1600, and others, was not at all used, instead the firm who built the plan didn’t confer with stakeholders at all and delivered (late) a final product with no opportunity for the client to review and provide feedback. This is a firm that gives other consulting firms a bad name. Working with the client, we restructured our scope of work, turning the tabletop exercise into a planning workshop which we used to inform a full re-write of the plan, which we then validated through the operations-based exercise.

Having been involved in training and exercises for the entire duration of my career, I’ve seen a lot of ugly stuff. We’ve all been through training that is an epic waste of time – training that clearly was poorly written, wasn’t written with the intended audience in mind, and/or didn’t meet the need it was supposed to. For the uninitiated, I’ll shamelessly plug my legacy topic of ICS Training Sucks. Possibly even worse is training that teaches people the wrong way to do things. Similarly, poorly designed, conducted, and evaluated exercises are not only a waste of time, but can be very frustrating, or even dangerous. Don’t reinforce negative behavior, don’t make things more complex than they are, don’t put people in danger, and DO follow established guidance and best practices. Finally, if you are venturing into unknown territory, find someone who can help you.

Equipment that’s not needed, has different capability than what is needed, is overpurchased, underperforms, undertrained, poorly stored and maintained, readily obsolete, and not used. Familiar with any of this? It seems to happen with a lot of agencies. Much of this seems to stem from grant funding that has very specific guidelines and must be spent in a fairly short period of time. Those who have been around for a while will remember the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) preparedness program that started prior to 9/11 and was bolstered by post-9/11 program funding. The centerpiece of this program was equipment purchases. While there was some good that came from this program, I witnessed a lot of wasted money and mis-guided purchases for equipment that wasn’t needed, for jurisdictions that didn’t need it or couldn’t sustain it, and supporting training and exercises to teach people how to use the equipment and keep them proficient. A lot of this circles back to poor (or non-existent) assessments used to inform these purchases, but the real culprit here is the ‘spend it or lose it’ mentality of grant surges like this. Foundational aspects of this program, such as defined need, sustainability, and interoperability were often skewed or ignored in favor of simply spending the funds that were thrust upon jurisdictions. I really blame the poor structuring of this program at the federal level on the poor implementations I saw and heard of at the state and local levels.

There are so many other examples of poor implementations that cause problems. Poorly built infrastructure, misguided hazard mitigation projects, and even poor responses. In the realm of response, I’ll draw on another example that I was involved in. Large disasters really do need to draw on a whole-community approach, which often leads to agencies who aren’t used to large-scale and long-duration incident operations going in over their heads. In one large disaster, I had been hired to help lead a team assembled to fix just such an occurrence, charged with rescuing a functionally necessary program that had been managed into the ground by a well intentioned but overly bureaucratic agency with high degrees of micromanagement. The time, money, and effort exerted to support saving this program from itself was fairly extensive, and, in implementation, challenging given the layers and nuances created by the agency that built it. In the end, the biggest issues they had were not listening to subject matter experts, some of which were in their own agency, and, ultimately, a failure of executives to deal with very apparent problems.

Most emergency management agencies operate on very slim and limited budgets. Being efficient and effective is of great importance. Don’t waste limited money or limited time of limited staff. Sometimes the things with greatest impact are simple, but if executed poorly the consequences can be high. Think things through and consult the right people. It makes a difference.

©2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

It’s Not Too Late To Prepare

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

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

Assessment

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

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

Planning

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

Training

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

Exercises

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

Evaluation and After Action

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

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

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

©2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Emergency Management and Public Safety Should Prepare Like a Sports Team

When and how did a once-annual exercise become the standard for preparedness?  I suppose that’s fine for a whole plan, but most plans can be carved into logical components that can be not only exercised to various degrees, but training can also be provided to support and compliment each of those components.  There are a lot of elements and activities associated with preparedness.  Consider how sports teams prepare. They are in a constant yet dynamic state of readiness.

Sports teams will review footage of their opponents playing as well as their own games.  We can equate those to reviews of after-action reports, not only of their own performance, but also of others – and with high frequency.  How well does your organization do with this quiz?

  • Do you develop after action reports from incidents, events, and exercises?
  • Are they reviewed with all staff and stakeholders or just key individuals?
  • Are they reviewed more than once or simply archived?
  • Are improvements tracked and reviewed with staff and stakeholders?
  • Do your staff and stakeholders review after action reports from other incidents around the nation?

Planning is obviously important – it’s the cornerstone of preparedness.  Coaches look at standards of practice in the sport, best practices, and maybe come up with their own innovations.  They examine the capabilities of their players and balance those with the capabilities of the opposing team.  They have a standard play book (plan), but that may be modified based upon the specific opponent they are facing.  Their plans are constantly revisited based upon the results of practices, drills, and games.  Plans let everyone know what their role is.

  • Do your plans consider the capabilities of your organization or jurisdiction?
  • Do they truly include the activities needed to address all hazards?
  • Are your plans examined and updated based upon after action reports from incidents, events, and exercises?
  • Are your plans flexible enough for leadership to call an audible and deviate from the plan if needed?
  • Is your organization agile enough to adapt to changes in plans and audibles? How are ad-hoc changes communicated?

Training is a tool for communicating the plan and specific roles, as well as giving people the knowledge and skills needed to execute those roles with precision.  Sports players study their playbooks.  They may spend time in a classroom environment being trained by coaches on the essential components of plays.  Training needs are identified not only from the playbook, but also from after action reviews.

  • Is your training needs-based?
  • How do you train staff and stakeholders to the plan?
  • What training do you provide to help people staffing each key role to improve their performance?

Lastly, exercises are essential.  In sports there are drills and practices.  Drills are used to hone key skill sets (passing, catching, hitting, and shooting) while practices put those skill sets together.  The frequency of drills and practices for sports teams is astounding.  They recognize that guided repetition builds familiarity with plans and hones the skills they learned.  How well do you think a sports team would perform if they only exercised once a year?  So why do you?

  • What are the essential skill sets your staff and stakeholders should be honing?
  • What is your frequency of exercises?
  • Do your exercises build on each other?

I also want to throw in a nod to communication.  Even if you aren’t a sports fan, go attend a local game.  It could be anything… hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball, football… whatever.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be pro.  Varsity, college, or semi-pro would certainly suffice.  Even if you don’t stay for the whole game, there is a lot you can pick up.  Focus on the communication between and amongst players and coaches.  Depending on where you are sitting, you might not be able to hear or understand what they are saying, but what you will notice is constant communication.  Before plays, between plays, and during plays.  Sometimes that communication isn’t just verbal – it might be the tapping of a hockey stick on the ice, clapping of hands, finger pointing, or a hand wave or other silent signal.  Coaches are constantly talking to each other on the bench and with players, giving direction and encouragement.  There is a lot going on… strategy, tactics, offense, defense.  What lessons can you apply to your organization?

Lastly, accomplishments should be celebrated.  In public safety, we tend to ignore a lot of best practices not only of sports teams, but also in general employee relations.  Because of the nature of emergency management and other public safety endeavors, it’s easy to excuse getting stuck in the same rut… we get ready for the next incident, we respond to that incident, and we barely have time to clean up from that incident before the next one comes.  Take a moment to breathe and to celebrate accomplishments.  It’s not only people that need it, but also organizations as a whole.

What lessons can you apply from sports teams to your organization?

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠

EOC Skillsets and Position Task Books Finalized

Back in April, FEMA released the drafts of EOC skillset documents and position task books for public comment.  A few days ago, the final versions of these documents were released on FEMA’s National Qualification System (NQS) website: https://www.fema.gov/emergency-managers/nims/components#nqs

While the hub of emergency response is the incident command post, the hub of emergency coordination is the Emergency Operations Center.  While life saving tactics, directed from the ICP, are absolutely essential, a comprehensive and long-term response can’t be sustained without the activities of an EOC.  We have gone far too long in emergency management without having good national guidance on the organization and qualification of personnel in the EOC.

When you crack into the website you may be a bit overwhelmed by all the documents you find.  Don’t look to this as something that must be implemented 100% right away.  Take a deep breath and remember that most things done well in emergency management, ironically enough, are an evolution and take time.  Also remember that while this has been established as guidance, it’s not a requirement.  Implement what you can, when you can.  Focus on establishing a foundation you can build from and do what makes sense for your jurisdiction or organization.

The foundation of everything in emergency management is planning, so whatever you do decide to implement should find its way into plans, which may need to be supported by policy.  While implementing a qualification system with task books can be cumbersome, it can also solve some problems when it comes to having less than qualified personnel working in your EOC.  The position task books are a great way for individuals to see what standards they are being held to and allows them to track progress.  If you don’t feel that the use of position task books will work for your jurisdiction or you are on a slower track to implementation, it’s still worthwhile to examine the skillset documents for each position you have identified in your EOC.  These can support your own developed standards, expectations, and plans; serve as a foundation for training course development; and support exercise evaluation.

Lastly, talk about these with your committees and your peers.  It’s easy to forget about them so keep these visible.  These documents offer an abundance of solid guidance which can strongly support your operational coordination.

What are your thoughts on the EOC skillsets? Do you plan on implementing them in your system?  If so, how?  If not, why not?

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

Supporting a Public Safety Training Program

Today happens to be National Teacher’s Day.  Be sure to show some appreciation for the teachers and professors who have influenced you and provide quality experiences for your kids.  Also consider expanding the definition of ‘teacher’.  In the public safety professions, we do a lot of training.  Some of us have structured academies, and while others may not, there are a lot of training opportunities provided locally, state-wide, and nationally.  Depending on the size and scope of your agency, you may run your own training program for internal, and potentially external stakeholders.

For a few years, I ran the training and exercise program of a state emergency management agency.  We delivered training programs state-wide to a variety of stakeholders.  We also developed some training programs to address needs which curricula from FEMA or other national providers could not meet.  Fundamentally, delivering training is easy, but properly managing a training program can have challenges.  Some thoughts…

  • Find the right people for the job. While we hired some personnel full time to be trainers, we also used people from elsewhere in the agency, as well as personnel from partner agencies, and hired some as 1099 employees.  There are a lot of highly qualified individuals in public safety – if you don’t know any, just ask, and they will be sure to tell you!  Assuming their qualifications are valid, are the most experienced and knowledgeable people always the best instructors?  Absolutely not.  While they may be subject matter experts, it doesn’t mean they have good presentation skills, much less comfort in doing so.  On the flip side, you might also have someone with little experience who has great delivery skills.  That might be a person to develop.
  • Quality control. When people are delivering training, peek in once in a while.  I traveled around the state regularly, and once in a while would see if one of our courses was being held somewhere along my route.  If I had the time, I would stop in and see how things were going.  While the visit was a surprise, our instructors knew this is something that might happen.  There are a few things this accomplishes.  First of all, it gives you an opportunity to observe and provide feedback.  Everyone can improve, and hopefully they can handle some constructive feedback.  Evaluation, formal or informal, is positive for the instructor and the program.  Look for consistency of practice (see the next bullet point) and professionalism.  On one of my surprise visits, I found an instructor wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.  When I discussed it with him, his response was that he was ‘retired’ (teaching for the agency was a retirement job for him) and that he could do whatever he wanted to.  After that discussion was happy to retire him further. Stopping in also shows support for your instructors and for the program as a whole.  Weather traveling across the state or down the hall, instructors want to know they are being supported.  A big part of support is simply being present.
  • Consistency counts. Training programs should be consistent.  While we might change around some examples or in-class scenarios, training delivered in one location by instructor a should largely match the training delivered another day, in a different location by instructor b.  Coming up through the ranks as a field trainer, I was part of a group that wanted to heavily modify the courses we delivered.  As I rose to management, I realized how detrimental this was.  If improvements are warranted, work with your instructors to integrate those improvements into the course.  Make sure that improvements are in line with best practices, not only in instructional design (remember: content must match objectives), but also with the subject matter.  Consistency not only ensures that all your learners are provided the same information, but also makes your curriculum and instructors more legally sound.  Too often we see instructors ‘going rogue’, thinking that they know a better way.
  • Programs need systems. A big part of building and maintaining a program is having adequate systems in place.  Systems require policies, procedures, and tools.  This is largely the behind the scenes stuff of a training program.  This includes annual curriculum reviews, performance reviews of instructors, selection/hiring and firing of instructors, maintaining instructors (see the next bullet), ordering course materials, maintaining training records, posting a course, course registrations, course cancellations, and so much more.  While it sounds bureaucratic, there should be a piece of paper that covers every major activity, identifying how it’s done, by who, with what approvals, and at what time.  Systems make sure that things aren’t missed, give you a basis of performance to evaluate the system and to train new staff, and help ensure consistency.  Systems contribute to your professionalism and are also good practices for business continuity.  Lots of credit to Cindy who was highly dedicated to establishing systems!
  • Keep instructors engaged. With either a large or small training shop, it’s important to maintain contact with your instructors.  Not just in handing them assignments and shuffling paperwork, but to really engage them.  We established twice a year ‘instructor workshops’, bringing our instructors together for two days.  From a management and administrative perspective, we used some of this time to express appreciation for their work, and provide information on curriculum updates and other information.  We encouraged much of the workshop agenda to be developed by the instructors themselves, with professional development provided by their peers.  This could include instructor development, after action reviews of incidents, case studies, and a variety of other activities and information.

Those are just a few tips and lessons learned.  I’m sure you may also have some to add to the list – and please do!

© 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

 

In a POETE State of Mind

One of the searches that has most often brought people to my blog over the last couple of years has been POETE.  In case you forgot, POETE stands for Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising.  If you conduct an internet search for POETE, there are very few relevant results.  Along with a few of my blog posts, there are a couple of articles published by others, and a few FEMA documents that include obscure references to POETE.  Sadly, there is nothing available that provides (official) guidance, much less doctrine.

Why is it that such a great tool has so few tangible references?  Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that.  I hope that will soon change.

POETE was most widely indoctrinated several years ago as an analysis step within the State Preparedness Reports (SPRs), which are annual submissions completed by every state, UASI (Urban Area Security Initiative-funded program), and territory.  Note: The SPR templates and guidance are generally not publicly posted, as they are sent directly to the points of contact for each jurisdiction – thus they generally don’t come up in internet search results.

The SPR is a step beyond the THIRA (Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Analysis), which is a very in-depth hazard analysis.  The SPR examines each jurisdiction’s level of preparedness for hazards, referencing the 32 Core Capabilities.  Each Core Capability is then analyzed through the lens of POETE.

As a conceptual example, let’s use the Operational Communications Core Capability.  The POETE analysis will examine the jurisdiction’s preparedness by examining:

  • Planning (are plans adequate? Have they been tested?  What improvements need to be made?);
  • Organizing (are there organizational barriers to success? What human operational communications resources are available?  Are there gaps?  Have teams been exercised? What improvements need to be made?);
  • Equipment (does the jurisdiction have equipment necessary for operational communications? What needs are there relative to the resource management cycle?);
  • Training (what training has been provided? What training gaps exist?  When/how will they be addressed?);
  • Exercises (what exercises have been conducted that include the operational communications Core Capability? What were the findings of the AAR/IPs?  What future exercises are scheduled that include this Core Capability?).

Along with answering a few questions on each element, jurisdictions are asked to rate their status for each POETE element for each Core Capability.  If they look at their reports submitted historically, they can see the measure of progress (or lack thereof) with each.  They also have a tracking of identified action items to help them improve their measure of preparedness.

While this analysis can be quite tedious, it’s extremely insightful and informative.  Often, stakeholders have conceptual ideas about the state of preparedness for each Core Capability, but absent conducting this type of in-depth analysis, they rarely see the details, much less have them written down.  Documenting these helps with recognition, awareness, tasking, tracking, and accountability.  It’s a valuable activity that I would encourage all jurisdictions and organizations to conduct.

What else can POETE be applied to?  In the past few years, POETE is being included in DHS preparedness grants.  They often want applicants to identify key tasks within the POETE structure, and awardees to chart progress along the same lines.

I’ve advocated in the past to use the POETE structure in improvement plans, which are a step beyond after action reports from exercises, events, and even incidents.  Having key activities identified across each POETE element for the Core Capabilities analyzed is extremely helpful, and ensures that issues are being identified comprehensively.

Using the POETE concept across all preparedness efforts helps to tie them together.  By documenting each element for each Core Capability, you will have full visibility and reference to your current status and what needs to be improved upon.  It helps drive accountability, a comprehensive approach, and reduces duplication of efforts – especially in larger organizations.  While implementing such a program will take some investment up front to begin to identify, organize, and chart progress and establish an organizational system to do so, I feel it’s an investment that will pay off.

I’m hopeful that the use of POETE continues to see adoption across all of emergency management and homeland security, and that it is further reinforced as a standard through DHS, FEMA, NFPA, and other organizations which hold sway for settings standards and/or requirements.

How does your organization, agency, or jurisdiction use POETE?

© 2017 – Timothy M Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC