Achieving Coordination Through Unity of Effort

WESA 90.5, Pittsburgh’s NPR News Station, posted an interesting article titled ‘Trump Rally To Blame for Emergency Response Revamp’.  As the articles tells the story, an internal City committee spent several weeks reviewing communications and other information after an April rally in which three were arrested and four police officers suffered minor injuries.  The findings of the committee’s work included the discovery of fractured planning and response within the City of Pittsburgh.  Assuming this has been a regular practice, I’m surprised it took them this long to discover the issue and begin work to address it – although when a jurisdiction functions in a fractured fashion, it’s an easy observation to miss.

The City’s Public Safety Director stated a new system is being implemented in which a ‘unified and streamlined approach to planning’ and a ‘clearer chain of command’ will be put in place.  The article indicates that the City’s Emergency Management Office will have more of a role in coordination.

It’s good to see that Pittsburgh is making some changes to how they plan for and respond to incidents.  This should serve as a role model for a significant number of jurisdictions across the nation – and I’m sure across the world – which have siloed planning and response, with each agency conducting their own activities with little to no coordination.  Proper and safe emergency management requires a team approach, and every team needs someone to coordinate and lead.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that emergency management is in charge – in fact I feel it’s a rare occasion that emergency management should be in charge – but coordination is still an essential element of success, particularly for complex planning and operations.

The term ‘unity of effort’ is gaining more and more traction through the years.  I first heard it probably ten or twelve years ago.  I was pleased to see the intention of adding the term officially to our lexicon in the draft NIMS Refresh document that was released a couple months back.  Although it was just a mention, it was rather encouraging.  Unity of effort doesn’t require an emergency management office or an emergency manager, but having a central point of coordination helps – especially one that isn’t focused or constrained by the mission and tactics of other public safety agencies.  The mission of emergency management IS coordination!

How do you rate the public safety coordination in your jurisdiction?  Is there room for improvement?  While politics are often at play, sometimes it just takes a good measure of facilitation to bring people together in one room and talk about what needs to be accomplished.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – Your Partner in Preparedness

Do You Have an Emergency Management Committee?

Comprehensive emergency and disaster management, effectively done, cannot be done by one person alone.  The best emergency management and homeland security practices are performed by teams.  The practices of emergency management and homeland security are so ubiquitous and multifaceted that we rely on the participation and input of persons in related professions, and in fact professions generally not seen as related, to be successful.  Because of this, both government entities and corporations alike often embrace a team approach to emergency management.  Do you?

Division of Responsibility – Unity of Effort

Aside from the chief elected official or chief executive officer, no one person has the direct ability to ‘command’ the forces of a jurisdiction or corporation.  The trouble with this is that these CEOs are generally not experts in disaster management.  Effective organizations learn the necessity of delegation early on which, while the CEO is still ultimately responsible, those delegated to are functionally responsible for their respective areas.  Laws and regulations often make these delegations mandatory for both jurisdictions and corporations.  While each of these delegations has their own functional responsibilities, they still operate as part of a greater organization and must work well together achieve maximum effectiveness.

The ability of these stakeholders to work together in a unity of effort is certainly important during a disaster, but it’s not the only time they should get together to talk about disasters.  Yes, many of these individuals will see each other during (hopefully) regular staff meetings, but these meetings typically involve briefing the CEO on current or upcoming activities, discussions on hiring and budgets, or being briefed on new policy.  While these are all important discussions they usually leave little room to discuss topics on emergency management and homeland security.

EM/HS certainly warrants its own meetings and workshops to accomplish important tasks such as a periodic threat and hazard identification, plan creation and updates, exercise planning meetings, and discussions on training, grants, and preparedness investments.  This group should also be making policy recommendations to the CEO and ensuring that preparedness efforts are permeating the entire jurisdiction or organization.  Their work together in preparedness efforts will strengthen their relationships and increase their knowledge of each other’s functional responsibilities and capabilities.

Who Should Participate?

In any of the mission areas of emergency management and homeland security (Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery – or in activities related to preparedness for any of these) there are often related or even overlapping interests amongst department heads.  The emergency manager, fire, police, EMS, and public works/highway are often at the forefront; but other departments and positions such as parks and recreation, clerk, human resources, finance/treasurer, and zoning can all (and should) have some degree of input.  Larger jurisdictions may have their own health and human services departments which are also important participants.  There are similar positions within corporate organizations that have the same interactions and hold the same importance in this regard to these organizations.  Also be sure to consider external partners such as utilities, major employers, and not for profits and social groups?  Perhaps your EMS provider is a third party or your law enforcement is provided for by a Sheriff’s Department or State Police – be sure to include them as well.

This ‘whole community’ list can grow very quickly and often times not all members are needed for the group to function effectively.  The best practice in emergency management committees is to take a tiered approach – with a core group addressing most matters but with the support and augmentation of an expanded group to include other departments and organizations whose participation is called upon when needed.

Emergency management and homeland security are team efforts which require the active participation and input of all stakeholders to be effective.  Don’t just rely on your emergency manager to get the job done.  They need support from the entire organization to ensure that your jurisdiction or corporation is prepared to address the worst, save lives, and minimize losses.  Some emergency managers view such committees as ‘oversight’ or an unnecessary bureaucracy, but success lies in collaboration.

What’s your approach?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC