Rise of the Remote Volunteer

This is a great idea that provides opportunities for volunteers and leverages more resources at a reduced burden to provide assistance to those in need!  Reblogged from http://www.recovers.org.


People are wonderful.

After a disaster, there is a flood of goodwill that pours into communities to help with the local recovery effort. These volunteers and donors come not only from within the community, but from areas all over the US.


The Problem
Unfortunately, it is hard for someone in California to help someone in New York in a meaningful way — they would have to travel to the devastated community. This is not only costly, but also causes an unnecessary influx of people to an unsafe disaster area.

The Remote Volunteer
We’re helping change this pattern and allow people across the country to volunteer meaningfully without rushing into a disaster zone. Using the Recovers.org platform, a California resident has the ability to help in a New York recovery effort, without ever leaving their home. We’re seeing a new class created – the remote volunteer. Since the Recovers.org software…

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Taking Philanthropy (and more) Beyond the Days of Disaster

Timothy RieckerThe latest edition of Homeland Security Today has an article titled ‘Taking Philanthropy Beyond the Days of Disaster’ , which talks about the need that non-profit organizations who provide disaster services have before and well after a disaster.  Their programs help bring preparedness and other critical services into neighborhoods and to fragile and disadvantaged populations.  The article tells the story of someone who saw this need and formed the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, a foundation centered on helping organizations fund disaster-oriented projects throughout the year.  You also have the choice of giving directly to organizations in your community.  Organizations like the Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and others – that are in every community – provide services year-round and could greatly benefit from your continued help.  Being a philanthropist doesn’t require you to be a millionaire – even contributing ten or twenty dollars during a fund-raiser or dropping a few dollars or some spare change into a kettle makes a huge difference.

Beyond philanthropy, you should also consider volunteering in your community.  Every organization needs more people – and not just during disasters – to meet the needs of those they help – and ANYONE can volunteer, it’s just a matter of finding the right organization and the right role for you.  Jobs can be as diverse as office assistance to disaster response.  Some positions require training, which the organization will provide.  Every organization will help find the position that is right for you.  Organizations are even happy to have entire families volunteer!  Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – January 21st – has also been designated as National Volunteer Day.  Through their website you can find volunteer opportunities (also check volunteermatch.org) as well as volunteer fairs that will be held around the nation on January 21st.  If you have interest in a particular organization, just give them a call and let them know you would like to volunteer.

Whether of yourself or of your wallet, please consider giving – it makes a world of difference.

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

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

Timothy Riecker


As HSEEP Volume 1 states, “The basis of effective exercise program management is a Multi-Year Training and Exercise Plan.”  The MYTEP is the product of a Training and Exercise Planning Workshop (TEPW), a collaborative which should be conducted annually to update the plan (and the collaborating partners!) with any changes in preparedness priorities, funding, or other influential factors.  I really can’t underscore the importance of the TEPW and MYTEP enough – they truly are the backbone of an effective exercise program.

First the TEPW needs to be scheduled and attendees invited.  This workshop should include not only your core planning team (discussed a bit in part 3), but should also expand to others within the sphere if influence and coordination.  States should invite relevant state agencies, a representation of counties (as it would be unwieldy to invite all of them), key cities and/or Urban Area Security Initiative groups, key Federal partners (like FEMA, EPA, DOE, USCG), as well as major not for profits or VOADS, and critical infrastructure private sector folks or authorities like utility or rail companies or regional transit authorities.  Counties should invite key county and state agencies, a representation of local governments, representatives of key groups like the county fire chief’s association, not for profits or VOADs, and those critical infrastructure folks within the county – including school districts and colleges.  Cities, towns, and villages should all follow suite similarly.  Not for profits and private sector folks need to ensure that they are invited to the table of the meetings of others (are you part of a local emergency planning committee – LEPC???) – and for conducting their own TEPWs (not required, but a good idea) need to consider where their primary operations take place and who they have significant relationships with relative to preparedness.  In the end it can be quite a crowd.  You want to be certain that the invites go to the right people (i.e. the exercise program managers, if they have them, or the emergency managers for these entities).  Stress that this is a workshop – where work gets done – so they can’t just send someone to ‘hold a seat’.  It needs to be someone who can represent the organization and its interests in the area of preparedness.  The invite should also state what key information they should be prepared with and prepared to discuss, like major preparedness training and exercise initiatives.

The HSEEP website provides some detailed guidance on TEPWs, a sample agenda, and even a draft invite letter and presentation on its resources website.  You’ll notice that the agenda is a VERY full day.  Don’t try to cut any corners – and I would even encourage a working lunch.  It’s frustrating to hold people longer than planned and even more frustrating to spend a full day in a workshop and not accomplish what you set out to do.  During the workshop, participants should review priority preparedness capabilities and coordinate exercise and training activities that can improve and validate those capabilities. As a result of the workshop, the Multi-Year Training and Exercise Plan outlines a multi-year schedule and milestones for execution of specific training and exercise activities.  Just as importantly, the TEPW helps to deconflict any exercise issues that may exist between these partners, like avoiding scheduling major exercises too closely to each other.  As part of this process, be sure to discuss major areas for improvement discovered from After Action Reports of earlier exercises – the implemented improvements should be tested.

During the TEPW, you will start to populate an exercise calendar.  Some partners will have dates set, others may only be able to narrow it down to a month or calendar quarter.  Around these exercise activities and their known major objectives, training programs can be identified and roughly scheduled as well.  This is the beginning of your MYTEP.

Conducting a TEPW and formulating a MYTEP is not only the first step toward HSEEP compliance, it is also the foundation of your program.  Through the TEPW, your organization and its partners will identify training and exercise requirements, goals, and benchmarks; ideally forecasted out three to five years.  You start with regulatory and other legal requirements, include grant and funding deliverables, and initiatives driven by the organizational mission and emergency management functions.  If the organization has a goal of revising a certain emergency plan by the end of the calendar year, then it would be a good idea to include an exercise testing that plan.  Through the process of the TEPW, you will identify what level of exercise is appropriate: ranging from a seminar to a full-scale exercise; and opportunities to capitalize on different exercise initiatives, merging exercises and leveraging combined efforts and funding – especially between different agencies and organizations.  Finally, you should identify training opportunities to ensure that personnel have the tools they need to function properly.

A TEPW can be complex and fast-paced.  There can be a lot of attendees all needing to get their information out.  The preparedness of the facilitator and attendees is absolutely critical to the success of the TEPW and the quality of the MYTEP.  If you’ve never done one, reach out to someone who has to help you along – including me.

Happy New Year to all and be on the look out for Managing an Exercise Program – Part 5: Securing Project Funding.

The Emergence of Whole Community Planning

FEMA has contracted the development of a national Whole Community disaster training program.  This should result in some of the best planning guidance ever put forward by FEMA since CPG-101.  What is ‘Whole Community’ planning?  Whole Community planning takes into account everything in your community, not just the hazards, but also the vulnerable populations, as well the community’s resources – all of them, to include the private sector.  This is smart planning!

Timothy RieckerI don’t know what the final guidance will look like, but I’m imagining a process, imbedded within our existing planning process, which is similar to a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) which has long been used as a business analysis tools.  Strengths and weaknesses are internal reflections, while opportunities and threats have you looking to the outside.  From the perspective of an emergency planner for a community, strengths and weaknesses would reference their innate government-based capabilities (remember capabilities-based planning?  I’m still a big fan); while opportunities and weaknesses would reference what is brought to the table by the rest of the community (i.e. private sector, NGO, and even the citizens themselves – such as a neighborhood watch or CERT).

In many ways, good planners and emergency managers have already been doing this.  They have been capitalizing on relationships with the private sector and NGOs and building plan annexes based upon these relationships – such as human services oriented plans and logistics plans.  Moving forward as a ‘branded’ concept, Whole Community planning will become the standard, not just a best practice, and will evolve as more people do it and make it better.  This concerted effort will ensure that the entire community is moving forward in a coordinated fashion and with common goals in the response to and recovery from an incident.  I’m also hopeful that this Whole Community guidance will give some input on community preparedness as well.

The project will be released in phases over the next three years, so be looking out for it.

Business Civic Leadership Center and Emergency Management

This morning I received my semi-regular e-mail update from the Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) folks at the US Department of Homeland Security.  If you are in the EM/HS field and are not on LLIS, I strongly encourage you to do so.  It’s a great community of practice, facilitating the sharing of lessons learned and best practices in the field.  One document that was listed in the e-mail was The Role of Business in Disaster Response.  This document outlines case studies and best practices of businesses supporting all aspects of emergency management nationally and locally.  It was published by the Business Civic Leadership Center of the US Chamber of Commerce.  Admittedly, I was not aware of this office within the US Chamber, nor was I aware of their Disaster Program, which offers some great resources to businesses. 

I’ve blogged in the past about the importance of public-private partnerships in emergency management and the incredible positive impacts it can have.  Wal-mart, in particular, has gotten a lot of good press about their emergency business operations, and more recently since Hurricane Sandy I’ve seen some media attention given to other companies such as Home Depot, highlighting their emergency operations centers and their relief efforts.  In a presentation I saw from Wal-Mart a while back, the company highlighted three priorities in regards to emergency management: 1) take care of its people, 2) take care of its operations, 3) take care of its communities.  Just these three priorities say a lot about the company.  They realize their people are their most important assets.  Next, they strive to ensure business continuity.  Lastly, with their business operations now being able to support it, they take care of the communities they have a presence in.  What a great business model!

The integration of the private sector into emergency management needs to be at all levels.  The National Operations Center (NOC), run by the US Department of Homeland Security, includes private sector representatives.  How can this be improved?  At the state level, many states either include private sector representatives in the State Emergency Operations Center or have a separate but connected Business Operations Center, solely focused on the coordination of private sector efforts.  Both of these options help expedite private sector resources to emergency management efforts – especially when used as an extension of the EOC’s supply unit.  There is also a recognized expertise between private sector and public sector emergency managers.

County and local emergency management programs can also benefit.  Where national and international companies are usually found at the NOC and state EOCs, the local management of these chains can work with county and local EOCs.  Also, don’t discount the value of small businesses in the area.  They, too, have a wealth of knowledge and access to resources.  Every community should form a disaster business alliance of some sort, or welcome private sector involvement with local VOADs.  You can work with local chambers of commerce to make this happen.  I’ve established a great relationship between my company, Emergency Preparedness Solutions, with my local chamber of commerce and have been providing information to members on emergency preparedness and business continuity through meetings and articles, as well as a presentation that I’ll be doing in a few months.

Never think that emergency management is too big of a concept for your local community.  It’s not just something done by FEMA or by the state.  In a disaster we need to help our neighbors and our communities.  The biggest impact is always locally.  Establish those relationships now and make a difference!

Grassroots Recovery with a National Impact

This morning I took some time to browse through the variety of TED talks to see if anything struck some interest with me.  First of all, if you aren’t familiar with TED, they host a variety of free talks and presentations on various topics.  They get some great speakers and the presentations are short… usually 10-20 minutes.  Most of the topics are about something new and innovative – their tag line is ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’, and they certainly abide by that.  Sometimes I watch their presentations because the subject area interests me, and other times I watch it to see some innovative or refreshing presentation skills.

The TED presentation I watched this morning is titled: Caitria and Morgan O’Neill: How to step up in the face of disaster.  It’s a short, 10 minute presentation which I highly recommend.  Their background is on the TED page, but in short these two sisters, both in grad school, experienced an F 3 tornado in their hometown in Massachusetts.  From their explanation, it seems that there wasn’t much organization or leadership in their town relative to supporting volunteers.  If you’ve been in emergency management for a while, you’ve probably experienced this.  There are a wealth of volunteers who want to help in the event of a disaster, but they must be organized and supported.  Often times local governments either don’t have the resources to deal with spontaneous volunteers or simply don’t want to – they may not want the trouble, the liability, or would prefer that another organization, often times someone like the American Red Cross, to deal with them.

The main trouble is that most jurisdictions don’t plan for volunteer management.  A volunteer management plan is a plan that should absolutely be part of the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP) of any jurisdiction.  Yes, not for profits often times do take on this role, especially with a localized disaster and if they have the capability to do so, but in the event of a regional disaster they simply don’t have the people to dedicate to this task – and it’s not something that’s easily done or simply managed.  The bottom line is that local jurisdictions are responsible for taking care of their people, and this is one more way to make it happen.

The O’Neill sisters, learning from their home town experiences and leveraging their educations and other experiences, eventually put together a company called recovers.org.  They have applied simple but effective methodologies to manage resources, including volunteers, in the event of a disaster.  They have traveled across the country applying their system and seem to be quite successful in doing so.  One of the things that encourages me the most about them is that they advocate community preparedness.  They know that for any system to reach its potential of effectiveness, it must be integrated into preparedness efforts, not just show up after the disaster.  It seems they have a product and service that can be applied to any jurisdiction and would work well with existing structures, like a VOAD, and with volunteer management and recovery planning efforts.  The information on their website indicates that they are busy helping communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  It’s great to see local efforts and innovation in emergency management!  Best of luck to Caitria and Morgan O’Neill.

Public-Private Partnerships: A Necessity in Emergency Management

Over the last several years there have been volumes of articles written on the value of public-private partnerships in Emergency Management.  So why is it still like pulling teeth?  Yes, we have great private sector partners in EM – the likes of WalMart, UPS, Grainger, and others.  The value of having these partnerships has certainly been demonstrated through the years, in both local disasters and national-level disasters.  Even in preparedness, these partnerships help carry our message to the masses.  FEMA promotes a program called PS-Prep, designed to engage private sector preparedness while encouraging their involvement locally in emergency management efforts.

Government simply can’t do it without the private sector.  It’s not because the public sector is lacking, it’s because of the position and resources available to the private sector.  They have more resources and greater flexibility.  Why wouldn’t they want to help?  Their customers and employees live in the area.  It’s a solid decision to invest in the community (or communities) in which your company is located.  It doesn’t always involve a financial commitment – it encourages preparedness for the business itself; it provides an opportunity to engage employees in community efforts (all with the company name being recognized – it’s free marketing!); and perhaps an opportunity to provide products – discounted or free – to relief efforts in the aftermath of a disaster.  Commodities such as building materials, water, and food are in great need in the aftermath of a disaster.  Even trucks and people.  Yes, these things all cost money, but there is a lot of free press and good will that goes along with it.

There are plenty of businesses that contribute after a disaster occurs – certainly they want to help.  They can all have more impact, however, by joining up with local emergency preparedness efforts before a disaster ever occurs.  Joining a community organization, such as a VOAD, or entering into memorandums of understanding with local emergency management agencies prior to a disaster makes a huge impact.  The partnerships made with other businesses, government agencies, and community organizations will also be to their benefit.

Businesses large and small – consider both the preparedness of your company and your community.  There are opportunities to be had with both!

Preparedness Exercise a Best Practice

Over the last few months I’ve been working with a county health department through my role as chair of our local VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster).  This work has revolved around an exercise that is required of them for Points of Distribution, or PODs.  PODs, if you don’t know, are designated locations where a local health department can bring in citizens for inoculations or prophylaxis in the event of an epidemic or other severe health event.  PODs can also be used for distribution of commodities, such as food, water, or tarps, in the event of other disasters.  There exist standards of practice for PODs – from the management system (the incident command system, or ICS), to the stations the POD is organized in.  The exercises are required by way of the state and federal health preparedness grants that the local health departments receive to ensure that the plans are tested and the personnel are practiced.

Early in the planning stages for this exercise, the health department decided they would use this exercise as a way of contributing to the preparedness of the community.  They had the funding available to provide basic preparedness kits for 300 families and would use the POD stations to provide information and kit materials to those who went through it.  What a great idea!

The local health department could have done this on their own, but instead chose to invite several community partners to join them.  These included the local chapter of the American Red Cross, local Salvation Army Corps, the county Department of Emergency Services, the new Regional Volunteer Center, the County Animal Response Team (CART), and others, including the VOAD.  The partnership was hugely beneficial, leveraging the resources and talents of all participants for the exercise.  The local health department was able to obtain the kit materials and handle promotional activities such as a local commercial featuring the county executive, radio ads, local news paper mentions, and posters for print and e-mail distribution.  They also handled the on-line registration for the event.  The assisting agencies provided their expertise and knowledge of various preparedness areas, providing speakers and print materials for the event.  Our area is very culturally diverse and the assisting agencies were able to provide the print materials in a variety of languages, and some agencies provided much needed services of interpretation.

Two days before the event registration reached 300 – the cut off based on the kit materials we had available.  I’m confident that, had we the materials, we could have accepted registrations upward of 400 or even 450.  Clearly this was an indicator of an interested community and the need to do this again!

The event itself went very well, with even the host facility – who has a catering service – providing refreshments and snacks for both staff and attendees.  The schedule was tight… with only about 20 minutes being given per group to go through the POD.  Groups averaged between 15 and 20 people, and a new group was ushered in every 10 minutes (when people pre-registered for the event they chose a time slot).  There were some late comers, early arrivals, and a few walks in – all of which were accommodated with a bit of coordination.  We had parking attendants ensuring a good flow of traffic, sign in staff ensuring that people were getting in, and other staff to help folks all along the way through the POD.

Comments made by people as they went through, along with the brief surveys they took at the end, were all quite positive.  The event had local media exposure, with the county executive and health department director being interviewed, as well as some attendees.  The attendees received information on the importance of preparedness, local hazards and information, how to be alerted in the event of an emergency, information on special family needs, and, of course, the kit itself.

Many health departments conduct POD exercises by cycling volunteers through and handing out candy or breath mints – which is fine if you don’t have much funding – it still accomplishes the goal of the exercise.  Using a POD to conduct flu clinics is common practice and very functional.  This idea, though, was creative and provided an excellent opportunity to give something back to the community.  It increased awareness of members of the community and helped them to be better prepared.  Obviously we hope they will all tell their friends and family about what they learned.  We know that any future events like this would be very successful.  I absolutely encourage others to something like this – it’s a true best practice.

Tim Riecker