Articles

The Process

Emergency managers across the U.S. face similar challenges. Year in and year out, personnel changes replace experienced EOC staff with new personnel that often lack EOC operational experience. Promotions, retirements, departmental transfers, and newly elected officials bring a constant flow of new staff to the EOC. Like Saban and Belichick, successful emergency managers have a process and tools with which to indoctrinate their new EOC staff members. A process that facilitates good decision making, communication, information management and synchronized workflow within the EOC. Something EOC responders can fall in on and get to work without significant hand holding from the emergency manager or their staff. A process that endures personnel turnover and provides a path for EOC responders to follow through the chaos of an all-hazards incident.With less than 100 days to the start of the 2018 – 2019 college and professional football seasons, teams are attending practices and camps to prepare for the season. It’s also a time to expose new coaches and players to the system or process each team uses to be successful. Ever wonder how coaches like Nick Saban of The University of Alabama and Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots year in and year out produce championship teams? Despite the fact their coaches move onto other jobs and they lose players to graduation and free agency, they win. Yes, it helps to have a player like Tom Brady, but what separates these two coaches from the rest is their zealous adherence to a time-tested process. Nick Saban says, “The process is what everyone must do day in and day out to be successful.” 

Would your EOC process benefit from improved decision making, communications, information management and coordinated workflow? Would your EOC responders be more successful if they had a playbook and coordination tools to guide their actions during an activation? Is the Planning P nothing more than a poster on the wall? Do you have trouble getting EOC responders to attend your training offerings? If you answered, “Yes” to any of the questions above, SenseMakers can help. To find out how or obtain an electronic copy of our EOC Coordination Playbook, email or call Jim Bailey at jbailey@sensemakersllc.com; 760-521-5087.    

 

Making Your Emergency Plans More Useable

Emergency response organizations spend a lot of time and money developing plans to address the myriad of threats they face within their jurisdictions. Emergency operations, continuity of operations, hazard mitigation, and infectious disease plans represent some of the plans you likely find in an emergency management organization’s plans library. The problem with these plans is that very few people read them. The reasons why people don’t read plans varies, but some of the criticism I’ve heard over the years includes:

  • Our plans describe “what” tasks need to be done, but they don’t provide “how” the task is done
  • Plans are written at too high a level to be of use in the field or the EOC
  • Plans are just too long to read

I could go on, but you get the point- most people don’t read the plans they should. Distilling plans down to the information needed by stakeholder agencies and adding information on “how” to accomplish the required tasks is the goal. The resultant document captures the roles, responsibilities, decisions, coordination and information requirements; and logistics needed to accomplish the mission. We call these documents- playbooks, but others call them field operations guides, SOPs, etc. Regardless of what you call the result, we recommend a three-step developmental process:

  • Step 1: Chalk-Talk Workshop. Identify a plan’s stakeholder agencies and bring representatives from those agencies to work through a facilitated discussion on agency roles, responsibilities, decisions, coordination and information requirements; and logistics needed to respond to a specific scenario characterized over time.
  • Step 2: Coordination Tools Development. Use the information gathered during the workshop to build out your synchronization matrix, knowledge map, and information collection plan.
  • Step 3: Playbook Development. The coordination tools serve as the basis for playbook development. The levels at which playbooks are developed depend on the end user. We’ve seen position specific, branch, and section-level playbook examples developed for departmental and emergency operations center responders.

To learn more about the recommendations above, services available to support playbook development, or to obtain free samples of the tools referenced above, email Jim Bailey, jim@sensemakersllc.com to obtain a link to access your free download.

Four Things Emergency Managers Can Do to Improve EOC Information Management

Information is the lifeblood of the emergency response. The EOC’s ability to gather, analyze, and share information is a critical function and key to the EOC’s ability to effectively support the incident. Standing in the way of good information management are the characteristics of a complex operational environment – chaos, fog, friction, noise, and uncertainty – which if we’ve activated our EOC, you can bet these characteristics are present. We can’t eliminate these factors, but we can mitigate their effects if we strive to improve the four areas below.

  1. Information Requirements. Colonel John Cooper, USMC (Ret.) developed a simple system to obtain situational awareness known as Cooper’s Color Code. Cooper contended that to obtain situational awareness, we need to know what we’re looking for and be actively looking for it. Defining information requirements before the incident happens is key to knowing for what you are looking and minimizing the noise. While some information needs will only reveal themselves during the incident, there’s a pretty good stock of information requirements we can develop and capture ahead of time while we’re not in crisis mode. Some jurisdictions call their information requirements essential elements of information (EEIs), priority intelligence requirements (PIRs) or critical information requirements (CIRs). Regardless of what you call them, developing an Information Collection Plan BEFORE an incident occurs is a good place to capture your information requirements.
  2. Information Gathering. With our information requirements identified, we can identify from whom to obtain the desired information. The source or sources of the information can be added to the Information Collection Plan as well. Moreover, identifying who within the EOC is responsible for gathering the information is equally important, can also be added to the Information Collection Plan, and is a good way to reduce the friction of information collection.
  3. Analysis and Intelligence Production.  Ensure your EOC has procedures for how information is received, logged, and stored for analysis. I once observed an EOC responder who was typing up a storm during an exercise. I asked him, “What are you entering into WebEOC?” He replied, “Everything…I was told to enter everything I received into WebEOC.” Is it any wonder that the Situation Status Unit Leader commented during the hot wash that she could not find the information needed to populate the situation report in a timely manner because she had to wade through a mountain of noise to find the information she needed?

Moreover, ensure your EOC has a sufficient number of trained analysts that can process information, produce intelligence from the information received, and reduce uncertainty.  All too often, the focus is on adding information systems and conduits within the EOC without considering the analytical effort required to process the information received. In short, to make meaning of the information received. I once heard a woman say that she finally made it through 88 jurisdictional situation reports and had good situational awareness three days AFTER the exercise ended. The goal is to have a sufficient number of analytically trained staff in all EOC sections that can add context and meaning to the information received. Staff that can answer the question, “What does this information mean for our EOC operations now and in the future.”

    4. Information Sharing and Dissemination. Knowing with whom to                share information is important, but knowing over what mediums,                  format, and frequency to share information is equally important. An              Information Exchange Requirements Matrix and Knowledge Map are            good tools to ensure we’re getting the right information to the right                people when they need it.

We talk a lot about the common operating picture (COP), but do your stakeholders know that the COP consists of many elements? It’s more than a “picture” on some emergency management information system. The COP is comprised of the hourly conference calls, situation reports, floor briefings, face-to-face conversations, formal action planning meetings, video teleconferences, etc. The COP is any conveyance of information that yields a common operational understanding among incident stakeholders. Ensuring your stakeholders know the COP components and how to access them is key to good information sharing.

To learn more about the recommendations above, training available to improve analytical skills and information management, or obtain free samples of the tools referenced above, email Jim Bailey, jim@sensemakersllc.com to obtain a link to access your free download.

Simplifying the EOC Planning P

The Planning P is used by emergency operations centers (EOCs) across the U.S. to conduct EOC action planning. While the “P” version used by EOCs varies from EOC to EOC, most use the field “P” or some variant tailored for EOC use. We see three challenges with the Planning P’s used in most EOCs:

  1. The “P” is a poster on the wall, but doesn’t really get used in a credible way for action planning. During your next exercise, ask an exercise participant to identify on which Planning P step they are working.  
  2. Steps of the “P” are too broad and the utility of the “P” is not clear.
  3. The nuts and bolts of how the “P” should be used in the EOC has not been developed.

To remedy the challenges above, SenseMakers recommends the following:

    1. Adopt an EOC-centric Planning P that facilitates EOC action planning. SenseMakers recommends using a “P” developed by Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX).
  • Simplify the Planning P by incorporating the steps into four phases. The SenseMakers EOC playbook reduces the 12-steps of the TEEX “P” into four phases- Direction, Coordination, Planning, and Transition. The Playbook then defines the inputs, processes, and outputs of each phase. Moreover, what each section contributes to the action planning process is defined to ensure coordinated EOC workflow.
  • Develop tools to facilitate EOC action planning. Tools like standing EOC objectives, standing EOC information requirements, meeting agendas, battle rhythm templates, synchronization matrices, knowledge maps, and information collection plans that can be leveraged and used by EOC personnel during the EOC action planning process.

To learn more about the recommendations above or obtain free samples of the tools referenced above, email Jim Bailey, jim@sensemakersllc.com to obtain a link to access your free download.