British Columbia Association Of Emergency Managers › Forums › HOTWASH Moderated Emergency Management Discussions › Simplifying Emergency Management
My name is Mike Andrews and I am the Deputy Director of Emergency Management for North Shore Emergency Management, a tri-municipal emergency program in the Lower Mainland. As a former Regional Manager with EMBC, a Sessional Instructor with the Justice Institute and with a current portfolio focusing on operations I have significant insight into the planning, operations and logistics aspects of the complex world of emergency management. A perspective that some of us practitioners may have lost sight of is that of the “part-time practitioner”; those who comprise the bulk of the workforce in our EOCs; the municipal employees. Like me, you are likely driven by the calling; you caught the bug and you love your job, but not everyone that touches our world is equally passionate about it.
Fasten your seat belt, but the truth is that many municipal employees are only engaged in EM because it is one of those “other related duties” in their job description and working in strange surroundings, in an unfamiliar command and control structure using processes that they learned in a two day course two years ago is downright intimidating. Did I mention that all hell is often breaking loose with a flood, wildfire, dangerous goods incident or other crisis while they’re trying to adapt to our world? For those of you in multi-jurisdictional emergency programs, amp it up another notch. Yikes.
So now that emergency management in BC has matured, how can we ease back off of the throttle a bit and make things a little more intuitive to those who step up (voluntarily or otherwise) in their community’s time of greatest need?
A couple of years ago, I wrote a journal article called, “Operation Windshield and the Simplification of Emergency Management”; Windshield was a full-scale earthquake exercise and it was a test of a number of tools, processes, strategies and technologies that are intended to make the complex simple(r).
Take the EOC forms for example; I attended an exercise where a very intelligent staffer was struggling and saying, “Incident Report?, Situation Report?, Status Report?” and he got in a line of people seeking similar support to ask the Liaison Officer which form he needed complete. As a result, in our EOC, all forms now have a banner at the top that say something like, “The purpose of this form is to capture new and update incident information as it becomes known” (Incident Report). I consulted EMBC and was told that as long as the basic intent of the form criteria was met, they had no issue with re-formatting it. Our Resource Request is now double sided; the requester completes one side and those actioning the request complete the other. Our Incident Report allows you to differentiate incoming information between situational awareness only and actionable intelligence and has an assignment field. We are now moving these into a common operating picture software platform (Lightship) that has conditional fields; only those relevant to your initial information are asked as you progress. Simple. Better, this platform is a systems aggregator; a system of systems, if you will. End users still use familiar programs and platforms from a common geospatial interface that offers additional emergency management functionality. Powerful and simple. We worked with BC Housing and UBC to put the ATC 20/45 Rapid Damage Assessment form into a smart phone “app” that was used in the Ft. Mc fires and have since developed an evacuation notification version (no more flagging tape?); both have been loaded into a web version of Lightship.
Believe it or not, position checklists are another area where simplification can be gained. If you’ve ever worked in an EOC section where there are more functions required than people to fill them, then you’ve had to look at multiple checklists as cues, only to have to sift through all of those tasks that are common to everyone in the EOC on each checklist (sign in, start a position log, etc). Thanks to the concept of Quick Reference Guides that the JI rolled out several years ago, we have created section-specific QRGs that list all common functions in one place and have Branch and Unit functions laid out all in the same glossy card bi-fold. If you’re the only one in planning, do it all; if you are the Situation Unit Leader, do the common tasks and your functional list on the card. Single point of reference.
Plans are an obvious choice for simplification. Shorter is better; avoid duplication across plans. People are intelligent, they just need a prompt of how to apply that intelligence and their expertise to the crisis situation. I was firing up a PREOC once as three events unfolded in rapid succession; one was an avian influenza outbreak, so I pulled out the Foreign Animal Disease
Emergency Support Plan (FADES) plan. My adrenalin was going and the words were dancing on the page. What I needed was a decision tree, a flow diagram, a yes/no chart or a checklist. I’ve actually seen someone open a 120 page plan and say, “ah, to hell with it” and wing it. Make plans usable, not binders on the shelf and a checkbox in the work plan. Some of the best plans that I have seen are pdf documents that are bookmarked and compiled into pdf portfolios. For the unfamiliar, pdf portfolios are documents of documents created in Adobe Pro. You open one document and there is a menu of other documents that present like a web page. The good news is that the bookmarks can allow you to link and jump around within the document and, as long as they are in the same drive or USB stick, you can link from one plan to another making the portfolio a master plan of plans.
One of the best ways to simplify emergency management is to seek input, ask for feedback, read exercise and training evaluations and engage those who have to live in our world, even if it is only temporarily.
Some of these best practices have been learned or adapted from other emergency programs and business processes. I was recently in a JI course and said that I believe that large communities can learn from their smaller cousins who, due to their size and lack of resources, are forced to do more with less.
What have you done to simplify your program? What could you do?
How do you (or do you?) believe that technology can support and simplify emergency management process in all four pillars?
I’m looking forward to hearing your questions and feedback…
Operation Windshield and the simplification of emergency management https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26897621
Operation Windshield articles https://www.google.ca/search?q=operation+windshield&rlz=1C1GGRV_enCA799CA799&oq=operation+windshield&aqs=chrome..69i57j0.5557j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
FADES Plan https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/farming-natural-resources-and-industry/agriculture-and-seafood/farm-management/emergency-management/fades/bc_fades_main_plan2012.pdf
Hi Mike, Thanks for sharing all of these experiences and ideas, it is the sort of stuff this forum was intended to assist with – sharing practical advice and best practices amongst members and across organizations. I think the use of a broad section of organizational personnel during incidents (the part-time EM people), and the need for simplification of processes can apply beyond the municipal crowd as well, to include other levels of government, critical infrastructure operators, and volunteer organizations. The business community at large might even benefit from some of these ideas, as organizations that don’t have an EM mandate or employ EM professionals, yet occasionally need to conduct some crisis or emergency response.
I was wondering if there are other organizations you are familiar with that have refined their processes in similar ways to what you describe, or have frequently activated first response functions that they have learned from and adapted into simplified EOC functionality? Maybe some of the larger volunteer organizations or utility companies?
I think a companion piece to simplification is response support mobility across organizations, looking at things like the BC TEAMS program and the BCAEM deployment database that facilitate sharing of resources. This approach can provide outside EM expertise, including those experienced part-timers, to mutually supplement and reinforce organizational capacity, and share best practices. Maybe there are opportunities to increase this mobility throughout the EM world, what do you think?
Also, what are your thoughts on the role the BCAEM as a professional organization could play in facilitating the sharing, or even implementation, of this kind of information across the membership? What sorts of nudges might provide enough impetus, or remove some barriers, and allow others to adopt some of these simplification practices? Thanks!
Thanks for the feedback and questions. I haven’t seen organizations make a concerted effort to simplify across the board as we are doing, but there are certainly best practices here and there, which is why I was calling for examples and ideas. I was hoping that we could build a repository or these and I still do. I look to the south and I see our neighbours are generating tools and best practices and I particularly like the bank of free independent study courses available through FEMA (https://training.fema.gov/is/crslist.aspx, which Canadians should approach with caution due to subtle differences), yet I believe that other aspects are way over complicated. During the week long Exercise Evergreen 2009, I was in Washington’s EOC’s Logistics Section and, because of their variation on EOC applied ICS and their Emergency Support Function (ESF) overlay, I found even their command and control structure overly complex and it seriously impacted my effectiveness.
I’m glad that you mention TEAMS; as a former PEP/EMBC employee, I am very familiar with the Temporary Emergency Assignment Management System (TEAMS) and am striving to adapt it to our tri-municipal program. Dedicated people with training/credentials and experience in dedicated roles (with cross-training) and a collective identity is certainly a best practice. Having deployed back into a PREOC for last years’ fires, I believe that expanding this approach to appropriately trained/accredited and experienced personnel is the force multiplier that the province needs as we see larger and more complex emergencies occurring.
I believe that simplification is inevitable, if for no other reason than technology will soon catch up with EM best practices and our adoption of systems, EM specific or otherwise, will drive us towards gained efficiencies. It may take another generation of practitioners to drive this to where it could be and it can further evolve from there. For those intrigued by the potential of technology, I encourage you to attend my session “Lightship – Ready for Launch” at this year’s EPBC Conference (Session E2 on the Wednesday at 3-4 PM) outlining our experience developing a common operating picture software.
Regarding your question as to the role of BCAEM, I think that there is amazing potential here but it is under utilized. I’m not sure that I have the answer, but I’d like to discuss it off-line.
One of the things we have done is develop an online EOC directory that holds everything from our plans, addendum’s, links to provincial and Federal plans, Function descriptions (including links to important information for that function), all documentation for the event, media releases, financial information, debrief activities, demobilization, and email correspondence are filed in this directory and it forms our . We developed a ‘Blank EOC’ that is ready to be renamed under the response name ie. 2018 Flood Event, and this becomes our platform We no longer have a printed copy of the response and find it much easier to search for information during future responses or to provide information. We are also working with out GIS Department to build a Common Operating Picture (COP) that will be able to be used in the EOC to provide relevant information on a map of the event, we should be functional with the COP by mid 2019.
I would love to see what you have developed for the functional responsibilities, I really like what I saw from the JI and I am always looking for other ways to build a better program.
We also do the blank EOC folders and I am intrigued by your on-line directory. Anything that you can share is appreciated. As we are transitioning our IT from one municipality to being hosted by another, one of my wishes is that turning on the computer triggers an exe that launches a user interface “desktop” with a series of buttons and functions. Stay tuned on that.
I added the QRGs to the resources on this site. They are basic, but intended to prompt decisions and actions. I also added our forms.
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