Incident Action Planning

Hello readers!  It’s been a couple of months since I’ve last posted – along with the holidays, I’ve been fortunate to be busy with some great projects and a bit of travel.  While I’m still busy, I’ve been itching to get back to posting.

Over the past few months, I’ve had an opportunity to look at some different aspects of incident action planning.  Having worked as a Planning Section Chief for numerous state and federally declared disasters, I’ve created Incident Action Plans (IAPs), part and parcel, for a variety of incidents.  Teaching hundreds of course offerings of ICS and EOC management, I’ve also had a lot of opportunity to help others understand and appreciate the value of an IAP.

What is an IAP?

The Incident Action Plan is really the culmination of the planning process.  It documents our expected actions for the next operational period, which, through that planning process, should be ready to be supported through an identified organization and necessary resources.  It begins, foundationally, with an understanding of the situation and objectives built to solve the problems that situation imposes upon us.  IAPs identify some situational information, the incident objectives, and tactics – which specific resource assignments – to accomplish those objectives.  To support the tactics, additional elements are added to the IAP, such as the organizational structure, a medical plan (for responders), a communications plan, and specific safety messages.  Based upon the unique characteristics of each incident, additional material can be added.

The planning process, and thus IAPs, are a standard of practice within NIMS/ICS.

Issues with Teaching the Planning Process

For those coming up through the ranks, as it were, of ICS training, the forms integrated into ICS are often one of the most frustrating aspects.  Responders want to do the hands-on stuff, not fill out forms.  Most areas and systems, however, are able to find the responders who are interested in becoming involved in incident management aspects, and engage them in formal or ad-hoc incident management teams.

Often the only exposure that responders have to IAPs is from the ICS 300 course, where they are able to see some samples and are walked through the planning process and associated forms of the IAP.   Having taught hundreds of these, I know it’s a challenge*.  We inundate course participants with a pile of forms and expect them to leave the class to go out and do great things.  While it might be a reasonable initial exposure, this needs to be followed up on, practices, and reinforced if we expect anyone to be successful, much less use the system.

*note: if you aren’t familiar with my position on the current state of ICS training, here are a few other blog posts to orient you.  In short… ICS Training Sucks!

The planning process can be confusing – who does what?  When?  Based upon what information?  The Planning P is the best visual out there and incident management handbooks (aka Field Operations Guides or FOGs) are references that every IMT member should have in the utility pocket of their 5.11s.  While all based on the same system, I find the United States Coast Guard to have the best handbook out there.  These are great job aids for something we don’t go to work and do every day, no matter how proficient you might think you are.

planning P for Planning

Uses of IAPs

IAPs can be applied to anything we can/should apply the planning process to.  These include incidents, pre-planned events, and exercises.  Planned events and exercises provide a great opportunity to practice the planning process and development of IAPs.  It is certainly something that requires practice to be proficient.  Every member of the Command and General staff, as well as a number of support positions, have an important role to play and responsibilities to contribute to the planning process.  The forms themselves even require some practice to ensure that the right information is obtained.  Large incidents can also require a great deal of tactical planning, which means greater time for that and for documenting the tactics and necessary support.

One aspect that is often forgotten in the heat of battle is that our response should, ideally, be based on our emergency operations plans (EOPs).  These should be a regular reference to the Command and General staff, as they can, at the very least, provide some general guidance.  Good EOPs, and their associated annexes, should provide some detailed guidance on certain aspects of response, which can prevent the IMT from having to re-invent a plan in the midst of chaos.  The direction of EOPs, to the greatest extent possible, should be referenced in the planning process and reflected in the IAPs.  EOPs should serve as the foundation for the planning process – with that in mind, EOPs can be implementation-ready.  More thoughts on emergency plan development here.

As mentioned, exercises are a great opportunity for participants to practice the planning process and IAP development, along with other facets of ICS – especially those that we don’t get to apply so often.  Also consider, however, the use of an IAP for exercise management.  Our company, Emergency Preparedness Solutions, worked with the State of Vermont this past summer providing exercise control and evaluation services for their Vigilant Guard exercise.  This week-long exercise spanned nearly 60 distinct venues across the state and involved thousands of participants.  We coordinated over 100 control and evaluation staff throughout the exercise.  While staffing decisions were made weeks in advance, we knew that with so many variables, needs and assignments were bound to change.  For each operational period of the exercise, venues had staff assigned, a point of contact they should coordinate with, a need to communicate with the simcell and exercise management staff, a need to be aware of weather and safety matters, and processes to follow in regard to exercise management and reporting.  We recognized the similarities to a tactical deployment and decided to develop incident action plans for exercise management.  We called these eXercise Action Plans (XAPs).  Within just a couple of operational periods, we were receiving great feedback on the documents from exercise staff.  Use of XAPs were identified as a best practice in exercise management for that project.

Final Thoughts

Incident Action Plans are great tools that can help us put our emergency plans in action.  They allow us to apply incident or event-specific ground-truths and the realities of incident needs and resources.  While it’s understanding that some are frustrated with the forms used, the forms are job aids, tested through decades, to help us navigate complex incident management.  When I walk into a command post or an EOC, the IAP is the first thing I look for.  Because the format and forms are relatively standardized, I can flip through it, and in a couple of minutes have a good sense of the activity and who is responsible for what.  Someone told me long ago that ICS is forms facilitated, not forms driven – and that’s very true.  The forms (and thus the IAP) are products of the planning process, which is another decades-old practice in incident management.

What best practices have you seen in the application of the planning process and incident action plans?

Need assistance with planning, training, or exercises?  Emergency Preparedness Solutions can help!

Until next time.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

 

Using Departmental Operations Centers for Incident Management Success

Increasingly, government agencies and departments are identifying the benefits of establishing and activating departmental operations centers (DOCs) to help manage their responses to incidents.  At the Vermont Vigilant Guard 2016 exercise, which concluded last week, I had some opportunity to discuss the benefits of DOCs, particularly with an agency who used theirs for the first time in this exercise.

For most agencies, a DOC can relieve agency representatives in an EOC from also having to manage and track their agency’s response activity.  In an EOC, an agency representative is largely a conduit for communication and they provide knowledge of their agency and their agency’s capabilities as they contribute to the greater discussions within the EOC.  According to NIMS/ICS, an agency representative should have some decision-making capability for their agency, although political and practical realities often dictate otherwise.  The overall scope of activity for an agency representative in an EOC largely precludes them from also managing the details of their agency’s response, particularly if that response is even moderately complex.

A DOC is the ideal location from which an agency can oversee and coordinate their own response to an incident.  They can deploy and track resources, address internal logistics matters, and coordinate external logistics matters back through their agency representative at the EOC.  DOCs are also an excellent application for large agencies, which may have a variety of technical functions organized throughout, such as a health department or transportation department.  Pulling together representatives from each organizational element within the agency to collectively troubleshoot, problem solve, and share resources, is excellent use of a DOC.  In a way, this application of a DOC could be considered similar to a multi-agency coordination center (MACC).

Does a DOC need to mirror NIMS/ICS (or the new Center Management System) standards?  While there is no set standard for organizing and managing a DOC, there are a lot of applications of ICS that can certainly be applied.  If you look at the main activities of your DOC, you will see where opportunities for integration of ICS principles exist.  Consider that a DOC should have and maintain good situational awareness.  While much of this can be provided by the EOC, the EOC may (should) be looking for some specific information from your agency.  A situation unit within your DOC would certainly be helpful.  Likewise, DOCs often address tactical or near-tactical application, by deploying and directing resources from throughout their agency.  Having a resource unit within your DOC will help tremendously in the tracking of these resources.  Depending on the size and scope, it may be prudent for your DOC to establish an incident action plan (IAP) of its own.

Logistics, mentioned earlier, may be another need within a DOC.  Certainly an element of finance is important for the approval of procurements and tracking of costs within the agency related to the incident.  If resources are being deployed, someone should be in charge of operations.  Lastly, any organization needs to maintain someone in charge.  A DOC Manager would be the ideal generic term for this position.

What are the draw backs of establishing a DOC?  First of all, it’s an additional layer of incident management.  While possibly necessary based on factors discussed earlier, adding layers of incident management can make incident management more complex, especially if roles of each layer and function are not well defined.  The best way to address this is pre-planning!  Staffing can also be a significant concern.  Many agencies may be too small to warrant, much less have staff available, for a DOC.  If such is the case, just as in other applications of ICS, you should be able to collapse down to a manageable size.

An often seen pitfall of DOCs is that they can quickly devolve into a management by committee type of structure; particularly with larger agencies where senior staff, who are used to regular meetings with each other, are now representing their functional interests within the DOC.  I’ve seen this result in what is essentially one endless meeting, interrupted by phone calls and emails which introduce new problems and perpetuate more discussion.  Strong leadership is absolutely required to ensure that a group such as this stays focused and on task, resolving issues on a timely basis.

Overall, the use of Departmental Operations Centers is a smart practice.  Work internally to plan their use, scoping out when and how it will be applied, where it will be located, the organization to be used, and how it is integrated into the overall incident management effort.  Once plans are developed and appropriate training is performed, exercise the plan to identify areas for improvement, turning those into corrective actions, and implementing them for continued success.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – Your Partner in Preparedness

HSEEP Controllers and Evaluators Still Needed

VT VG Recruitment Notice2 (link to recruitment flyer)

Vigilant_Guard_Logo_2_2_wCrackEmergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC is seeking Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP)-trained personnel to support the Vermont Vigilant Guard full scale exercise, scheduled for July 25-August 2, 2016.  You do not need to apply for the entire time period – the greatest need is from July 29-August 1.

Personnel will serve as controllers and evaluators for this exercise.  Shifts are available throughout the period at locations across the state.  Pay is negotiable and travel expenses will be reimbursed.  Interested parties should contact us by June 24th, 2016.

While all areas of expertise will be considered, we are highly interested in personnel with experience in the following areas:

  • Planning
  • Operational Coordination and EOC Management
  • Mass Care Services and Sheltering
  • Critical Transportation
  • Environmental Response/Health and Safety and Hazardous Materials
  • Operational Communications
  • Public Information and Warning
  • Logistics and Supply Chain Management
  • Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)
  • Public Health, Healthcare, and Emergency Medical Services
  • On-Scene Security, Protection, and Law Enforcement
  • Intelligence and Information Sharing
  • Fire Management and Suppression
  • Situational Awareness
  • Cybersecurity
  • Infrastructure Systems

Interested?

Contact Christine at Chris@epsllc.biz.  

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness