Consistently Inconsistent Leadership?

I am fascinated by the complex nature of the Goldstein [1] and his theoretical treatise. What caught my attention is the discussion about leaders and groups and the [anacoluthian] “…consistently inconsistent…” [1] nature of emergent leadership.

Over the years I’ve observed (as I’m sure many of us have) different people in the role of leader during a crisis or emergency. That experience tells me that the business leader may display traits of good crisis leadership regardless of their background or training in dealing with emergencies. On the other hand, I’ve observed trained, experienced emergency leaders (i.e. fire, rescue, police) who I would have expected to show us the way, struggle with how best to manage the situation at hand.

So, while training and actually performing the role during actual emergencies does seem to improve the leader’s ability to bring about good outcomes, I found that to not always be the case. Goldstein also delves into the concepts around purposely upsetting conformity in order to bring about creative ideas. Some of the best leaders I’ve worked with have that sense about them – challenging the norm.

Unfortunately, it seems that a fair amount of what is taught in formal classes (both business leadership and fire ground command) is quite limiting. The reason is that the very philosophy of the training (i.e. FEMA classes) [2] is to bring about consistent, repeatable actions that  can be predicted. These classes also seem to use the word leadership while teaching basic principles of management [managing the incident]. I think we’d all agree that management and leadership are quite different and take a different set of skills. [3]

The dichotomy of this for me is that consistency has proven to be a safer approach to incident management, particularly in dynamically changing scenarios like wildland fire, floods and other natural disasters.


[1] Goldstein, Dr. Jeffrey, 2001. “Riding the Waves of Emergence: Leadership Innovations in Complex Systems”; Plexus Institute; Source: (accessed 12-31-09) htp://;

[2] FEMA. 24-MAY07. “IS-240 Leadership & Influence“. Source: (accessed 12-31-09)

[3] DeGroskky, Mike. 2009. “Management Not Leadership“. WildFire Magazine Penton Media Inc. Source: (accessed 12-31-09)

Leadership Before, During and After a Disaster

The cultural attitude of any organization can often be attributed to its leadership. Many would agree that during times of crisis, solid, clear and decisive leadership can make the difference between a successful and not so successful outcome. [1] I believe there to be a direct correlation between cultural attitude of proactive readiness and how an organization will handle itself during a crisis. Planning, especially emergency management planning with good leadership, can play an important and vital role in successful navigation of disaster management. [2]

An emergency plan is a necessary part of the overall readiness of an organization to manage the disaster. The plan helps identify hazards and mitigate those hazards, and helps the company prepare for, respond to, and recover from the event.

The plan is not enough and in and of itself is simply a document which can become outdated. The true nature of the planning process comes from the interaction of the constituents and those directly impacted by the disaster. Leadership is what sets the tone for the need for planning and build consensus for pro-activity. The leader(s) of the planning process brings a level of support, determination, and sanction which can really improve the quality of plan. The office of the Chief Administrative Officer-CAO (i.e. mayor, city manager, CEO, company president, etc) not only sets the tone for planning and brings importance to the topic, but can also marshal  the involvement of stakeholders which is a vital ingredient to a successful planning process.

So, I am advocating what can be considered emergency management leadership in advance of the emergency. However, in addition, there is a huge need for confident leadership during and subsequent to a disaster. Although the leader(s) may not directly manage the After Action Report-AAR process, making sure that the AAR process takes place in a meaningful way is an important responsibility of the leader(s) as was the case in San Diego County with the creation of an AAR in the aftermath of the wildland fires of 2003. [4]

If leadership is so vital, then Continuity of Operations Plans-COOP and Business Continuity Plans-BCP must address the loss of leadership, particularly how to handle loss of specific leaders during and after the disaster.


[1] Collins, Jim. 2001. “Good to Great“. Harper Business. Chapter 2-Leadership 21-25.

[2] “Principles of Incident Management and Emergency Response-Disasters and Emergencies“. 2008. Lecture Week 4. Norwich University School of Graduate Studies.

[3] Lindell, Michael K., Prater, Carla, Perry, Ronald W. 2007. “Introduction to Emergency Management”, Chapter 65-71

[4] Ekard, Walt (CAO), Tuck, W. Harold, Jr., Deputy (CAO), Steffen, Deborah, Dir. OEM)

San Diego County After Action Report Firestorms 2003“. Source: (accessed 12-28-09)

Why Have a Comprehensive Emergency Plan?

An emergency management plan is a good idea for any size company or organization. Taking an example from the basics of pre-hospital emergency care, we often teach a simple concept about the A, B,C’s of first aid. The concept is that even if the patient is breathing, awake and talking, an EMT should still go through a quick mental checklist (is the ‘A’irway open, is the patient ‘B’reathing, and is there adequate ‘C’irculation). We further teach that the EMT should be prepared for changing patient conditions and to have a plan in place to manage those changing condition, e.g. if the patient becomes unconscious, do we have adequate personnel to move the patient properly and swiftly to the ambulance and get going to definitive care?

The same is true, I believe, of emergency management planning. It’s obvious that large organizations have a lot to lose (people, property, brand, profit). So, too, for small organizations. When small businesses or non-profits engage in the thought process of how to manage a crisis, business disruption or disaster, they are giving themselves and their company a chance to survive intact with the least amount of damage. Having gone through the process of thinking about hazards, mitigation of those hazards, response to various impactful crisis, and recovery actions, the business owner has planned for an emergency which I believe is the prudent thing to do. [1] Most likely, the planning effort of the smaller organization would be less involved, take less time, and be easier to test and maintain.

Before deciding whether an emergency plan is warranted (and as I said, I think it is almost always warranted, regardless of company size), an organization needs to consider the entire topic of emergency management.  Emergency management encompasses more than just a plan. It should be a dynamic, flexible process by which people come to understand hazards, how to mitigate those hazards, prepare for and respond to disasters, and finally take steps to resume normal operations and business. [2]

There are many benefits of creating an emergency plan that go beyond just a plan on the shelf which is a stale document. In an earlier version of FEMA’s Emergency Management Guide Benefits of a plan that is a ‘living document’ include:

  • “… companies fulfill their moral responsibility to protect employees, the community and the environment.
  • [Better]… compliance with regulatory requirements of Federal, State and local agencies.
  • [Enhancement of]…a company’s ability to recover from financial losses, regulatory fines, loss of market share, damages to equipment or products or business interruption.
  • [Reduction of]… exposure to civil or criminal liability in the event of an incident.
  • [Enhancement of]…a company’s image and credibility with employees, customers, suppliers and the community.
  • [Possible reduction of]… insurance premiums.” [3]

There are many benefits of creating an emergency plan that go beyond just a plan on the shelf

  • testing, exercises, and evaluation of plan viability
  • scheduled interaction of stakeholders
  • reaffirmation of those stakeholders and their willingness and capability to participate in the preparedness and response [4]
  • reconsideration of changing hazards and associated risks and exposures
  • modification of response approaches based on changing demographics, cultural shifts, and societal nuances
  • updates based on new tools, technologies, and industrial presence

One set of organizations which are both required and benefit greatly from a proper emergency management planning process are hospitals. With hospitals (again regardless of size) an emergency management plan can save lives.


[1] “The Features of Good Planning“. Source: (accessed 12-27-09)

[2]  “Principles of Incident Management and Emergency Response-Disasters and Emergencies“. 2008. Lecture Week 4. Norwich University School of Graduate Studies.

[3] FEMA. 1993. “Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industry: A Step-by-Step Approach to Emergency Planning, Response and Recovery for Companies of All Sizes“. FEMA 141/October 1993. pg. 6. Source: (accessed 12-28-09)

[4] Lindell, Michael K., Prater, Carla, Perry, Ronald W. 2007. “Introduction to Emergency Management”, Chapter 65-71

ICS for Disaster Management in a Hospital

Hospital preparedness and response to disasters can be greatly enhanced through the use of the Incident Command System-ICS [1]. ICS is a widely accepted organization structure most suited for managing a major event, incident, or crisis.

Hospitals prepare for disasters with planning, education and drills. During those activities, ICS is used for the successful management of the event. In recent years, the Hospital Emergency Incident Command System-HEICS [2] has been created to form objectives which specifically apply ICS to the hospital environment. This is an important step in helping hospitals integrate with local agencies’ response, as well as, meet requirements for federal funding.

ICS is a critical part of the overall National Response Framework-NRF [3] and will certainly improve disaster preparedness for hospitals. I believe that the ICS does apply hospitals and the use of this structure along with exercises will bring about improved readiness.

Principles of ICS

Over the years the usefulness of the country’s emergency response system has been proven, often due to lessons learned from tragic events [4]. From these lessons have developed a set of major components which define ICS under NIMS.

  1. Common Terminology
  2. Modular Organization
  3. Management by Objectives
  4. Reliance on an Incident Action Plan
  5. Manageable Span of Control
  6. Pre-designated Incident Mobilization Center Locations & Facilities
  7. Comprehensive Resource Management
  8. Integrated Communications
  9. Establishment and Transfer of Command
  10. Chain of Command and Unity of Command
  11. Unified Command
  12. Accountability of Resources and Personnel
  13. Deployment
  14. Information and Intelligence Management. [list: 4]

The primary impetus to ICS stemmed from devastating wildland fires in California in the 1970s. [5] Subsequent disasters (both natural and man-made) have brought presidential focus to the need for more robust systems and programs. Homeland Security “Presidential Directive (HSPD)-5, Management of Domestic Incidents called for the establishment of a single, comprehensive national incident management system. [6]”

Applicability to Hospitals

The Department of Health and Human Services-HHS worked in collaboration with other agencies, “…and hospital working groups to identify NIMS implementation objectives for healthcare organizations”.[2] By bringing NIMS principles to the hospital setting, hospitals could now build a more efficient and effective response and recovery plan. This would also serve to enhance relationships with local emergency agencies, local government, and public health. Those objective include:

  • Adoption (two objectives)
  • Preparedness: Planning (two objectives)
  • Preparedness: Training and Exercises (two objectives)
  • Communications and Information Management (two objectives)
  • Command and Management (two objectives) [2]

Other sources may categorize these differently.

A Colorado Hospital

A sample hospital located in the front range of Colorado serves a city and  neighboring towns with a total population of approximately 100,000. With multiple special departments and 201 beds, the hospital services annual visits in the amounts of: 248,935 outpatient, 28,259 emergency room, 10,221 admission, 1,492 birth, with average of 4 days length of stay. [7]

According to the safety officer [8], the hospital maintains the philosophy of “defend in place” and adheres to all Joint Commission [9], HEICS [2], and Life Safety [10] requirements. Adherence to Life Safety code was found particularly useful at an Illinois Hospital after a fire was “…confined to the basement storage room in which it began.” [10]

The safety officer is responsible for hospital-wide emergency planning and response. The safety officer has an Emergency Operations Plan-EOP [11] created 10 months ago that is being updated in 2010. There is no Continuity of Operations Plan-COOP [12] in place, although the Information Technology Department has a business continuity plan.

While the principles of ICS stated earlier have been proven to work for many different types of hazards and incidents, the most benefit for the hospital would probably come from interagency relations. I believe that it is through pre-planning and scenario-based joint exercises, that the true values of ICS would become apparent. It would also be of value for the hospital to practice the use of ICS since they have a defend in place philosophy as mentioned.

In the EOP, there is call for use of ICS as the management structure to use during a disaster response. The hospital conducts 1-2 live exercises per year, including practice with relocation/evacuation of patients from various departments.  From my gathering information, it appears that the hospital is following HEICS based on the “…incorporat[ion] of  NIMS terminology, principles and practices”. [13]


There is ample direction and guidelines from government agencies and joint working groups which provide hospitals with the foundational structure from which to implement national standards of incident management. These guidelines provide an opportunity for hospitals to improve their preparation and response to major incidents and manage those incidents in a manner which can ensure more efficient and effective life safety and preservation of the business of hospitals.

Since I have not been involved directly in the use of ICS at the hospital, I cannot be sure that all elements of JCAHO and NFPA 1600 are being adhered to in an all-hazards approach to ICS. But, if so, then the hospital is in good shape. To the extent that coordination and command systems, communication and terminology, and flexibility are not being followed per guidelines[14], then there would be room for improvements.

The case study hospital practices the use of ICS as a critical part of their emergency operations planning process. By doing so, the hospital is aligning with the national response framework and will therefore be better prepared to work side by side with local responding emergency agencies.


[1] National Fire Protection Association, 2007. “NFPA 1600. Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs“. 2007 Edition, Annex E.1. Source: (accessed 12-26-09)

[2] FEMA. 2007. “FY 2008 & 2009 NIMS Implementation Objectives for Healthcare Organizations“.  Posted by FEMA June 8, 2008. Source: (accessed 12-26-09)

[3] FEMA. 2008. “National Response Framework“.  Source: (accessed 12-26-09)

[4] FEMA. 2004. “NIMS and the Incident Command System“.

Source: (accessed 12-26-09)

[5] Harbor, Tom. 2005. “Prelude to the Siege“. US Forest Service. Source: (accessed 12-26-09)

[6] Bush, George W. 2003. “Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-5“. Source: (accessed 12-26-09)

[7] Anonymous Colorado Hospital. 2009. “About…“. Retrieved 9-16-09 from http://www.annonymoushospitalurl/About/

[8] Safety Officer of anonymous Colorado Hospital. Interview by Andy Amalfitano. 22-DEC09.

[9] The Joint Commission. 2009.”Facts About Hospital Accreditation“. Source: (accessed 12-26-09)

[10] Jardin, Joseph M.,13-NOV09. “Health Care Facilities Chapter 25: Safety Systems Limit Hospital Fire Damage“.

[11] FEMA. 1996. “Guide for All-Hazard Emergency Operations Planning”. Source: (accessed 12-26-09)

[12] Ready America. 2009. “Continuity of Operations Planning“. Business. Source: (accessed 12-26-09)

[13]  “Overview of HICS Project“.  California EMS Authority. Source: (accessed 12-26-09)

[14] University of Kentucky, 2005. “Hospital Emergency Management“. Source: (accessed 12-26-09)


FEMA. 2004. “NIMS and the Incident Command System“.

Source: (accessed 12-26-09)

Natural Hazards Front-Range Colorado

I live and work in the front range of Colorado approximately 40 miles northwest of Denver. Just wanted to share a few thoughts that barely scratch the surface about natural hazards on this area. I’ll focus specifically on the area within 10 miles of the foothills and not in the foothills or mountains and not out on the plains east of Denver.

People living here are fortunate not to be at risk for two of our country’s more serious natural hazards  – hurricanes or earthquakes. However, there are a large number of other hazards which I have identified in the chart below. Not all hazards [in Colorado] will cause a disaster. [1] There is quite a bit of mitigation and education (like Natural Hazards Center at CU) which helps, including building codes, prescribed burns of wildland areas, and defensible space planning, to name a few.

In order to determine the local area hazards and risks, I have used three sources of information:

  1. A brief and cursory review of the literature [2.1][2.2][2.3][2.4][2.5]
  2. Personal knowledge of residing here for 30 years
  3. Personal response to disasters with county search and rescue

The three most prevalent and deadly natural hazards seem to be severe winter weather, wildland fires, and floods are the three most significant hazards.

In terms of disaster response, we often have a saying that we see the same agencies with some degree of representation at major incidents regardless of the incident. Even though certain incidents call for specialized equipment or specially skilled responders, in general, the Incident Management System approach to county disasters is the same across hazard types. Our response is based on preexisting MOUs (memo of understanding) [3] and mutual aid agreements

In order to organize incident response information which is easily understood and which addresses specific hazards, I would use one or more of the many available tools designed for that purpose. Data should be translated into useful information instead of being kept as raw data. This information can be displayed in summary format by hazard type in a spreadsheet like the one Kaiser uses.[4] Each table of information could be color-coded, and match existing and known terminology in disaster response, including ICS, hazard assessment and mitigation, response planning and recovery topics.

Hazard Identification At Risk [5]

Front Range of Colorado

  1. A. Natural Hazards
  2. 1. Meteorological
  3. Severe Summer Weather
    1. i.     Extreme Heat
    2. ii.     Thunderstorms & Lightning
    3. iii.     Hail storm
    4. iv.     Draught
    5. Severe Winter Weather
      1. i.     Snowstorm and Blizzard
      2. ii.     Chinook Windstorm
      3. Tornado
      4. Wildland Fire
        1. 2. Hydrological
          1. Floods & Flash Flood
            1. i.     Mountain Creek
            2. ii.     Lake Dam
  4. B. Technological Hazards
    1. Accidents
      1. i.          NBC Spills from transportation accidents, trucks, trains
      2. ii.          Leaks from manufacturing – local bio mfg facilities
      3. Terrorism
      4. Workplace violence

Figure: Customized for Front Range Colorado by Andy Amalfitano with category reference from Lindell


[1]  “Principles of Incident Management and Emergency Response-Disasters and Emergencies“. 2008. Lecture Week 3. Norwich University School of Graduate Studies.

[2.1] USGS. 2009. “Water Resources of Colorado”. Source (accessed 12-22-09)

[2.2]  Lietz, Joshua. 2008. “Tornado History Project“. Source: (accessed 12-22-09)

[2.3] Edel, Skip. 2002. “Colorado Wildland Urban Interface Hazard Assessment Methodology“. Colorado State Forest Service. Source: (accessed 12-22-09)

[2.4] Colorado Division of Emergency Management. 2009. “Flood Facts“. Source: (accessed 12-22-09)

[2.5] FEMA.1997. “Resource Records Detail- FEMA’s Multi-Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (MHIRA)“. Introduction and Chapter 1. Source (accessed 12-22-09).

[3] National Network of Libraries of Medicine. 2009. “NN/LM Emergency Preparedness & Response Toolkit-Memo of Understanding“. Source: (accessed 12-22-09)

[4] Kaiser Permanente. ” IHS Hazard Vulnerability Analysis (HVA) Tool.”

[5] Lindell, Michael K., Prater, Carla, Perry, Ronald W. 2007. “Introduction to Emergency Management”, Chapter 5

Account for People Safety During Disasters

As we know from search and rescue experience, accountability systems are for people safety and are used to keep track of personnel involved in an emergency response. Accountability is popular in emergency services however, not as likely to be found in the corporate setting. But, it is catching on.

A very comprehensive study was contracted by FEMA and the United States Fire Fighters Association which demonstrates the seriousness of accountability for responding personnel. [1] In addition to understanding new technology, fire associations keep track of actual statistics of near-misses and tragedies of losing emergency personnel on a scene. [2]

On small emergencies, accountability tags with our name, rank, skills, and agency are used. These tags are attached with Velcro to our helmets or gear. We must hand over one of these tags to a supervisor on small scenes.

On larger incidents, there will be a status/check-in [3] location. All responding personnel must stop at status/check-in to be accounted for and given an reporting location and assignment. There are many accountability tag tools available for purchase and use by any business. [4]

I believe accountability would be a beneficial part of any incident management operation in the business setting, as well. However, in my corporate experience, accountability is an after-thought, as in someone in charge saying ‘OK, let’s makes sure we can account for everyone’, but often the disaster is well underway and finding people is difficult.

Modern business practices expose us to not being able to find people. With the advent of flexible hours, working from home or remotely, heavy travel schedules, it defies logic to think we can actually account for everyone in a timely manner, especially during the crisis, when it counts most. It counts most because rescue is paramount and knowing who is missing and approximately where they might be is critical to a successful find and rescue operation.

A best practice of accountability during disasters is the care given to knowing where all personnel and their families are located. For example, the Air Force places great value on accountability. A new software system :… allows commanders and units to account, assess, manage and monitor the recovery and reconstitution process for personnel and their families affected and/or scattered by a wide-spread catastrophic event. [5]


[1] IOCAD Engineering Services. Date unknown. Inc. FEMA – United States Fire Administration. “Personnel Accountability System Technology Assessment“. Source (accessed 12-16-09)

[2]  “National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System-Reports Related to Emergency Evacuation“.  Source (accessed 12-16-09)

[3] “National Interagency Incident Management System Task Book for the Position of Status/Check-In Recorder(SCKN)”. Source: (accessed 12-16-09)

[4] Accountability Tools. “American Trade Mark Dashboard Commander Tag Command Board“. Source: (accessed 12-16-09)

[5] Horine, Beth Kelly, Maj. 11-MAR09. “Accountability System Helps Leaders, Families During Crises“. Source: (accessed 12-16-09)

ICS and Managing Incidents

Managing a major disaster or incident of any kind, regardless of cause, is always a challenge.  For the past 30 years or so, the concept of Incident Command System has been proven to increase the likelihood that lives are saved, property damage is reduced, and normal life is restored. [1]

Command and communications difficulties can arise which directly affect the successful outcomes of incidents. The use of the Incident Command System-ICS is an important strategy in the process of preparing for, responding to and managing disasters, according to Sikich. [2]



Jurisdiction overlap May cause confusion in initial setup of EOC
Lack of interoperability among responding agencies May slow down or impede proper and clear communications
Egos and political posturing Can impact efficiency and hamper time to react
Complex geographic areas Can put strain on the planning process and push individuals beyond their experience or skill level
On-going exposure to initial or secondary threats May thwart ability to respond per plan
Lack of understanding or inconsistent familiarity with ICS by each responding agency May impeded ability for IC to implement action plan
Lack of or inadequate preplanning or training among agencies May cause confusion and impede ability to implement action plan; can lead to unsafe actions due to improper methods
the incident goes beyond the capabilities of local responders May be a delay in calling for help or delay in the help arriving

I believe that most of the issues can occur in any type incident management structure, with or without formal use of ICS. However, a lot was learned in a comprehensive study conducting in 2000 of the impact of ICS up to that time of publication. The literature review suggested that some authors found that ICS worked quite well for commanding large, wide-spread incidents, but was not as useful for smaller, contained or limited-size incidents. [3]

The 25 year study conducted by Cole identified a number of interesting characteristics of the ICS as measured by experienced incident managers. While the results were valuable in support of the success of ICS, the statistical breakdown did not elicit definitive separation of strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless, what I find useful was the results described as “First Tier Strengths of ICS”

“These five highest-rated attributes constitute the essence of what makes ICS an effective management system in the eyes of California’s veteran practitioners….the five major strengths of ICS, in rank order, [were]:

1. Predefined hierarchy, including chain-of-command and delineated

responsibilities for every position.

2. Uniform terminology for identifying resources and organizational functions.

3. Modular organizational structure that is expanded and contracted as needed.

4. Incident Action Plans that are updated for each operational period.

5. Manageable span-of-control.” [3]

My experience in search and rescue has placed me in a number of different incident roles. One of the more challenging medium size incidents occurred in 1991 when a train derailed [picture][4] in the mountains south west of Boulder, Colorado. My role was as Operations Section Chief (by today’s description, although in those days it would have simply been rescue section leader).


“September 30, 1991: A rockslide derailed a Rio Grande freight train about 2-1/2 miles east of Pinecliffe, [CO]. Two engines plunged off the track, one falling about 250 feet below to South Boulder Creek. Two railroad employees were killed and two others were injured.” [5]

The challenges we faced included:

  • Missing train conductors
  • Cars off the track and down the steep embankment
  • Wildland fire from burning diesel fuel
  • Water source contamination with fuel spilling into a creek which fed a reservoir
  • Inaccessibility to the accident scene (closest road was 3 miles away)
  • Weather (cold winter temperatures)
  • Multiagency response (15 agencies) which had never practiced working on a train accident.
  • Protracted incident which led to taxed resources
  • Fatalities, grueling physical work during recovery which led to need for stress debriefing

ICS was used to some extent and while we had never worked together on a train crash, the agencies all did practice other scenarios together. This helped ensure we knew and trusted each other, had common radio channels and communication protocols, used common assessment techniques, and worked as a team within a respected command structure


[1] Irwin, Robert L. 1989. “Disaster Response: Principles of Preparation and Coordination”. Chapter 7. Originally by Erik Auf der Heide 2000. Source (accessed 12-13-09)

[2] Sikich, Geary W. 2001. “Incident Command Systems: A Perspective on Strategic and Tactical Applications”. Source: (accessed 12-13-09)

[3] Cole, Dana. 2000. “The Incident Command System: A 25-Year Evaluation by California Practitioners Executive Planning“. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Source: (accessed 12-13-09)

[4] Rocky Mountain Rescue Group. 2007. “60th Anniversary Retrospective- 1990s“. Source: (accessed 12-13-09)

[5] Boulder County CO Sheriff. Incident log history. revised 2001. Source: (accessed 12-13-09)

General reference

Lindell, Michael K., Prater, Carla, Perry, Ronald W. 2007. “Introduction to Emergency Management”, Chapter 2, 28-30.

Public/Private Sector Collaboration During Emergencies

Problems can arise between public and private sector interactions when mitigating, preparing, responding, and recovering from disasters. The private sector can be the organization which has been impacted by the disaster and also can include private companies and vendors partnering with the impacted client or local agencies responding to the disaster. Some of these problems may include:

  • Lack of communications interoperability; Inability of agencies to communicate which impacts effective implementation of tactics, safety, and duplication of resources that affects costs.
  • Lack of familiarity with each others’ primary goals, needs, an criticalities which can lead to disagreement or misinterpretation of most optimum actions during the crisis
  • Lack of sufficient funding to carry out necessary activities; preparation, mitigation, response, recovery. Resource needs often exceed the funds available to a private entity or local government organization or agency)

Lack of common communications has been noted as a key detriment to several disaster response incidents during the past three decades, including some now infamous and tragic  events like Columbine, 9-11, and Katrina. [1] The term interoperability describes the ability of different entities to communicate seamlessly during any type of event, whether it be training, preparation, response, or recovery from disasters. [2]

The National Incident Management System-NIMS, “…provides a consistent nationwide template… for organizations to work together”. [3] NIMS provides for interoperability of communications, methods, command and control, and funding within the National Response Framework-NRF. [4]

The Homeland Security Presidential Directive HSPD-5, issued in 2003, directs federal agencies and departments to adopt the NIMS. [3] However, the United States is governed in such a manner that the federal government does not always have full jurisdiction to impose rules on local states or private enterprises. While FEMA does recommend NIMS to non-governmental organizations,  there are no NIMS compliance requirements on the private sector. [5]

A research study by Boyd [6] suggests that the government can take active steps to encourage the private sector to increase interoperability with government agencies. This is particularly true where the private sector organization will be partnering to provide mitigation or response, or recovery services for disasters.

Other opportunities to improve working relationships:

  • Meta leadership workshop [7] [8] bring together private and public representatives to understand each other’s priorities, goals, and methods and learn new ways of negotiating terms well in advance of a major incident. [Note: I have attended a summit and can provide additional insights upon request.]
  • Joint disaster drills and exercises bring efficiencies to reduce training costs and to ensure a more cohesive response during the actual disaster.
  • Joint planning brings efficiencies to reduce planning costs.
  • Adoption of common language, tools, methods, and incident management structures can streamline operations.


Consistent practices among both private and public sector incident management organizations can improve the preparedness for disasters and bring efficiency to the mitigation of threats and risk to a business or community. Interoperability is one of the key components of effective incident management and steps can be taken to encourage private organizations to join the government agencies in being better prepared for the next disaster.

[1] Weir, Tristan John. 2006 “Federal Policy Towards Emergency Responder Interoperability: A Path Forward“. Source: (accessed 12-13-09)

[2] National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center Northeast.  1-APR 2003. “Guide to Radio Communications Interoperability Strategies and Products“.  Report No. TE-02-02. Source: (accessed 12-13-09)

[3] FEMA 2006. “NIMS Basic: Introduction and Overview“. 501-1 rev .0. Source: (accessed 12-13-09)

[4] FEMA. 2008. “National Response Framework Resource Center“. Source: (accessed 12-13-09)

[5] FEMA, 8-DEC 2006. “FAQs: NIMS Implementation for Non-Governmental Organizations“.   Source: (accessed 12-13-09)

[6] Boyd, Robert M. Jr. “NIMS – The Roles, Responsibilities, Procedure for Local Governments“.  Source: (accessed 12-13-09)

[7] Marcus, Leonard J., Dorn, Barry C., Henderson, Joseph M. “Meta-Leadership and National Emergency Preparedness- Strategies to Build Government Connectivity”. Source (accessed 12-13-09)

[8] Dorn, Barry, C. “Meta-Leadership Summit For Preparedness”. Source: (accessed 12-13-09)

General Reference
Lindell, Michael K., Prater, Carla, Perry, Ronald W. 2007. “Introduction to Emergency Management”, Chapter 9.

ICS and NIMS in the Corporate World

As “…the model tool for command, control, and coordination of a response…” [1] to any incident, the Incident Command System-(ICS) plays a vital role in improved outcomes of major disasters.

“The National Incident Management System (NIMS) provides a systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to work seamlessly to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of incidents, regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity, in order to reduce the loss of life and property and harm to the environment. [2]

Together, the use of ICS within the process of NIMS provides for a consistent and coordinated plan for successfully managing any incident.

I believe strongly that businesses, communities of citizens, and non-profit organizations can all benefit from familiarity with ICS. The applicability to business is two-fold: one, the company’s ability to internally manage a crisis and/or work alongside external responding agencies will be dramatically improved with the use of ICS; and two, major planned events of a non-emergency nature can be coordinated using ICS principles and techniques. Although, I would venture to say, that most companies would use established management coordination skills to conduct a major event, like sales kickoffs, company-wide celebrations, or events designed to welcome visiting dignitaries.

The same features that have been proven to work for disasters can be applied to a corporate emergency or event:

• “Common terminology

• Organizational resources

• Manageable span of control

• Organizational facilities

• Use of position titles.

• Reliance on an Incident Action Plan

• Integrated communications

• Accountability” [3]

A review of online corporate use of ICS provides several examples. One example is by Fidelity Investments whose Corporate Security Officer suggested these ICS applications to their company:

  • Fires, evacuations, and multiple casualty incidents
  • Planned events (company functions)
  • Private sector emergency management programs ( your company )
  • Major natural hazards disaster response [4]


In the case of an emergency or crisis at a business, a first response team or corporate emergency responders could establish command, perform critical assessments, and merge effectively with external responding agencies. ICS and NIMS can be an important part of preparing for, responding to, and managing crisis, events, and disasters in the private sector.


[1]  “Principles of Incident Management and Emergency Response“. 2008. Lecture Week 2. Norwich University School of Graduate Studies.

[2] FEMA. 2008. “”National Incident Management System”. Source (accessed 12-13-09)

[3] “NIMS Self-Study Guide“, IS-700, pg 2-5, as reported in reference [1] herein.

[4] Donoghue, Joseph. 200?. “Incident Command System-Organization and Structure“. Fidelity Investments Corporate Security. Source: (Accessed 12-13-09)

General reference

Lindell, Michael K., Prater, Carla, Perry, Ronald W. 2007. “Introduction to Emergency Management”, Chapter 9

Actions by Emergency Managers Affect Citizens

An emergency manager is “A person who manages a comprehensive program for hazards and disasters…responsible for mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery”. [1] A recent example of emergency management in action occurred on January 2009 when a set of two simultaneous wildland fires impacted Boulder County Colorado.[Old Stage Fire Boulder CO Jan09] [2]. These type fires are actually somewhat typical in the winter due to dry, windy conditions and left over fuels consisting of tall grass under pine forests.

Boulder County has a good record of life, home, and property protection throughout the several major fires of the past 20 years. While in the process of setting up the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for the first fire, resource requests quadrupled due to a second fire. The primary emergency management challenge was to recognize and handle the quickness with which the second fire erupted and staff accordingly.

According to FEMA statistics, [3] there have been 50 federal emergency declarations in 2009. The types of incidents range from severe summer or winter storms, to hurricanes, floods, tornados, and wildland fires. The management of these events is typically more readily apparent to those individuals who are directly involved with the incident. We can learn something from published After Action Reports-AAR, which are often made public. An example of an AAR is the a document created after the floods in June 2008 in central Indiana.[4]

Upcoming possible events requiring emergency management activity will include political rallies, severe winter storms, and seasonal wildland fires to name a few.

People’s lives are affected almost exclusively within the disaster-impacted areas. After the initial news-worthiness, (determined by the news media itself), the rest of the country typically returns focus to more pressing every happenings in their own environs.

Decisions made by entities or individuals who manage emergencies affect us all:

1. our travel in and around the impacted area

2. our ability to receive goods and services

3. whether we can get to work and continue earning

4. how quickly we can return to our homes or businesses or schools

5. our access to federal funding

6. and many other everyday routine activities

However, the local residents continue being impacted well beyond the event timeframe and through recovery and reconstruction.


[1] Lindell, Michael K., Prater, Carla, Perry, Ronald W. 2007. “Introduction to Emergency Management”, Chapter 2, 28-30.

[2] Zader, D. Jan. 2009. “Old Stage Road Wildland Fire Boulder Colorado 2009”.Source: (accessed 1208-09).

[3] FEMA, 2009. “Declared Disasters by Year or State”. Source: (accessed 12-08-09)

[4] “After Action Report June 2008F floods”. 2008, Source: (accessed 12-08-09)

“Rainy Day” Contingency Funds for Disaster

Contingency funds are an important part of any budget. Businesses, non-profits, and public-sector entities often use a contingency fund as a placeholder of monies to be used to handle unexpected events during a fiscal budget year. However, not all entities have contingency funds, nor are they always required.

Some counties seem to rely on escalation to state and federal levels for funding. For example, according to Eby, a commission in Iowa put together after a devastating disaster found that “…not all of Iowa’s 99 counties had emergency coordinators and some worked only part-time or covered multiple counties”. [1]

I believe it is necessary for each county to be proactive in planning for disasters. Proactive steps include:

  • Identifying a responsible entity or person, like a city or county emergency manager
  • Setting policy which accounts for and includes a contingency fund for disaster and how to access those funds appropriately
  • Separate funding and structure to educate employees and citizens about disaster
  • Performance of exercises and drills to test all phases of the disaster response and recovery

The same could be true of businesses and non-profit organizations. Of course, budget constraints may dictate to some degree the ability of smaller organizations to set aside the necessary funds. In all cases, I believe there should be a combined effort and team approach to preparing for, managing, and recovering from disasters.

Even when contingency funds exist for disasters, the money may be used for disaster preparedness and not be there in the aftermath of the actual disaster. For example, according to Robinson, “Gov. Rick Perry [Texas] had “…to scramble, dipping into the surplus or transferring other funds to help local governments pay for debris removal, gasoline, salaries of police officers and other first responders and other relief and recovery costs.”[2] Although in 1999 monies were set aside, there was only $100K or so remaining to handle Hurricane Ike, according to Robinson of the Houston Chronicle.

Michigan, Iowa, Texas and many other states have a variety of approaches to contingency funds. Some states have funds, some states create funds right after a local disaster, and some still don’t have a formal fund.[3] I agree the approach taken by the state of Michigan. There, counties seek grants from state contingency funds need to have had a functioning emergency management plan in place prior to the disaster. Otherwise, counties can divert funds for more routine operations and then look to state and feds to help during disaster. I think that having an efficient process and people in place that are experienced at using funds properly will help ensure future disaster funds are used in such a way that is efficient and effective.

The role of insurance companies is interesting and there are many news stories of the tedious struggles of those disaster victims trying to obtain help. Some seem more successful than others. FEMA has a variety of structures in place to help during a disaster. How to deal with insurance companies, how to file claims, how to seek small business support are a few of the services offered. One such structure is the Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) that offers mobile, fixed office, and online assistance. [4]

Issar has created a thoroughly researched study of the impact of disasters on various demographics in India and other countries. He recommends an approach to insurance coverage that depends on what the ‘end-user’ can afford:

“i. Poor and cannot pay premium – Government can create corpus or group insurance or other via-media to be found

ii. Low or moderate-income group – can pay partially – need to evaluate linkages between cost of assets insurance, recovery cost and Government support

iii. Upper segment – can pay fully, a commercial proposition for insurance sector” [5]


Contingency funds are an important part of an overall approach to managing the aftermath of disasters. A valuable step to ensure appropriate use of funds is the existence of a viable emergency coordination infrastructure. Insurance companies, FEMA, and local municipalities can work together to share in the burden of helping disaster victims and public sector entities with recovery funding and activities.


[1] Eby, Charolette. 18-NOV08. “Panel Urges State Disaster Fund”. Source: (accessed 12-8-09)

[2] Robinson, Clay. 21-SEP08. “Disaster Fund Runs on Empty”. Houston Chronicle. Source: (accessed 12-8-09)

[3] Court Opinions. Jan 2008. “EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT ACT (EXCERPT)Act 390 of 1976”. Source: (accessed 12-8-09)

[4] FEMA. “Disaster Recover Center”[FAQs]. Source: (accessed 12-8-09)

[5] Issar, Rajeev. “Insurance Key to Disaster Mitigation”.  Source: (accessed 12-08-09)

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