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Preparing for the Stuff to Hit the Fan: Planning for the Centralized Ops Response

by Dave Dillinger

EMA Emergency Management, EMS Emergency Medical Services, FD Fire Departments, Law Enforcement, badges article logo label

Editor’s Note: In this issue of At the Ready, the Mass Casualty Response, we need to take a step back and consider your local strengths and weaknesses. How often does your agency take an inventory of MCI response resources? What do you need to have available in your jurisdiction? Finally, how far away are the mutual aid resources, specialty rescue teams, law enforcement resources? Are you prepared to sustain the scene until backup arrives? Who is responsible for Emergency Operations? Does the type of incident matter? Do you have a state or regional emergency management director? Who is responsible for tracking personnel, resources, directing mutual aid, preparing to “hand off” to a higher level of disaster management agency? If you cannot answer these questions- ask yourself just how prepared your community is for a disaster.

Crisis management logic suggests that planning and preparing for crisis should be a vital part of institutional and policy toolkits McConnell; Drennan, (2006). The Emergency Operations Command, whether purposely built or hastily erected, is the key resource that emergency managers can use to bring those personnel together. However, in an article in the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, Ronald Perry (2003) states “...the use of EOCs, particularly in smaller jurisdictions, remain sporadic, sometimes improvisational and poorly understood” (p. 151).

Planning considerations

What they don’t teach you but you should know about crisis planning:
1.   Crises and disasters are relatively low probability events, but they place large demands on resources and have to compete against front-line service provisions.
2.   Contingency planning requires the categorizing and rationalizing of possible threats, yet crises are not open to being packaged in such an orderly and predictable way.
3.   Planning for crisis requires the integration of resources, practiced cooperation and intra- agency synergy across sometimes strained institutional and organizational lines, yet the modern world is characterized by fragmentation across public, private and voluntary sectors.
4.   Robust planning requires active preparation and teaming through training and exercises, but such costly activities often produced a level of symbolic readiness which does not reflect operational realities.

What are your Local Resources?

Preparedness is a shared responsibility; it calls for everyone’s involvement, not just the government. By working together, everyone can be a part of keeping the whole community safe from harm and resilient when struck by hazards, such as natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and pandemics.

Whole Community concept includes:
   •   Individuals and families
   •   Businesses
   •   Faith-based and community organizations
   •   Nonprofit groups
   •   Schools and academia
   •   Media outlets
   •   All levels of government, including state, local, tribal, territorial, and federal partners

Whole Community Concept

The phrase “whole community” appears a lot in preparedness materials, as it is one of the guiding principles. It means two things:
1.   Involving people in the development of the local preparedness plan.
2.   Ensuring their roles and responsibilities are reflected in the content of the documents.

Your goal must be the foundation of preparedness plan and with the creation of your EOC. Your preparedness goal should be broken into two categories, core capabilities and mission areas. In addition to stating the goal, you must determine your EOCs core capabilities that address the greatest risks to your jurisdiction.

Each of these core capabilities is tied to a capability target. These targets recognize the need for flexibility to determine how you apply your resources, based on the threats that are most relevant to you and your community. A Midwestern city, for example, may determine they are at high risk for a catastrophic tornado. As a result, they could set a target to have a certain number of shelters in place. The same applies across all potential risks, understanding that each risk is different; therefore, each target is different. Here is the list of core capabilities that FEMA uses at the national level:

Core Capabilities List

   •   Planning
   •   Public Information and Warning
   •   Operational Coordination
   •   Forensics and Attribution
   •   Intelligence and Information Sharing
   •   Interdiction and Disruption
   •   Screening, Search, and Detection
   •   Access Control and Identity Verification
   •   Cyber security
   •   Physical Protective Measures
   •   Risk Management for Protection Programs and Activities
   •   Supply Chain Integrity and Security
   •   Community Resilience
   •   Long-term Vulnerability Reduction
   •   Risk and Disaster Resilience Assessment
   •   Threats and Hazard Identification
   •   Critical Transportation
   •   Environmental Response/Health and Safety
   •   Fatality Management Services
   •   Infrastructure Systems
   •   Mass Care Services
   •   Mass Search and Rescue Operations
   •   On-scene Security and Protection
   •   Operational Communications
   •   Public and Private Services and Resources
   •   Public Health and Medical Services
   •   Situational Assessment
   •   Economic Recovery
   •   Health and Social Services
   •   Housing
   •   Natural and Cultural Resources

Your Preparedness Goal organizes your core capabilities into the five mission areas:

Mission Areas

   •   Prevention. Prevent, avoid or stop an imminent, threatened or actual act of terrorism.
   •   Protection. Protect our citizens, residents, visitors, and assets against the greatest threats and hazards in a manner that allows our interests, aspirations, and way of life to thrive.
   •   Mitigation. Reduce the loss of life and property by lessening the impact of future disasters.
   •   Response. Respond quickly to save lives, protect property and the environment, and meet basic human needs in the aftermath of a catastrophic incident.
   •   Recovery. Recover through a focus on the timely restoration, strengthening and revitalization of infrastructure, housing and a sustainable economy, as well as the health, social, cultural, historic and environmental fabric of communities affected by a catastrophic incident

Now add in your core capabilities from the list above, for example:
1.   The Prevention mission area comprises the capabilities necessary to avoid, prevent or stop a threatened or actual act of terrorism. It is focused on ensuring we are optimally prepared to prevent an imminent terrorist attack in our community. So a few of your core capabilities may be: Planning, Operational Coordination, Intelligence and Information Sharing, Screening, Search, and Detection
2.   The Protection mission area comprises the capabilities necessary to protect our community from acts of terrorism and manmade or natural disasters.” So a few of your core capabilities may be: Planning, Access Control and Identity Verification, Cybersecurity, Intelligence and Information Sharing, Interdiction and Disruption, Physical Protective Measures, Risk Management for Protection Programs and Activities
3.   Mitigation mission area comprises “the capabilities necessary to reduce the loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters.” So a few of your core capabilities may be: Planning, Public Information and Warning, Operational Coordination, Long-Term Vulnerability Reduction, Threats and Hazard Identification
4.   Response mission area comprises “the capabilities necessary to save lives, protect property and the environment, and meet basic human needs after an incident has occurred.” So a few of your core capabilities may be: Planning, Critical Transportation, Environmental Response/Health and Safety, Fatality Management Services, Infrastructure Systems, Mass Search and Rescue Operations, Public and Private Services and Resources
5.   Recovery mission area comprises "the core capabilities necessary to assist communities affected by an incident to recover effectively.” So a few of your core capabilities may be: Planning, Economic Recovery, Health and Social Services, Housing, Natural and Cultural Resources

Identifying your Capabilities

   •   Identifying and Assessing Risk. This part involves collecting historical and recent data on existing, potential and perceived threats and hazards. The results of these risk assessments form the basis for the remaining steps.
   •   Estimating Capability Requirements. Next, you can determine the specific capabilities and activities to best address those risks. Some capabilities may already exist and some may need to be built or improved. FEMA provides a list of core capabilities related to protection, prevention, mitigation, response and recovery, the five mission areas of preparedness. To see a full list of the core capabilities, including details about each one.
   •   Building and Sustaining Capabilities. This involves figuring out the best way to use limited resources to build capabilities. You can use the risk assessment to prioritize resources to address the highest probability or highest consequence threats.
   •   Planning to Deliver Capabilities. Because preparedness efforts involve and affect the whole community, it’s important that you coordinate your plans with other organizations. This includes all parts of the whole community: individuals, businesses, nonprofits, community and faith-based groups, and all levels of government.
   •   Validating Capabilities. Now it’s time to see if your activities are working as intended. Participating in exercises, simulations or other activities helps you identify gaps in your plans and capabilities. It also helps you see progress toward meeting preparedness goals.
   •   Reviewing and Updating. It is important to regularly review and update all capabilities, resources and plans. Risks and resources evolve—and so should your preparedness efforts.

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