Comprehensive Emergency Management (CEM) as implemented under the current version of the Incident Command System (ICS) is a collection of best practices for state and local emergency incident responses that are eligible for federal cost reimbursement, and a whole lot more.

The Incident Command System itself appears to be a California invention from several decades ago, to organize wildfire responses among numerous firefighting agencies. ICS is now mandated for state and local agency emergency response participation if that participation is to be a federally-reimbursable activity; otherwise, failure to comply with ICS standards costs local residents and business firms a lot in taxes and other debt for local governments to handle catastrophic disasters and lesser emergencies. This is because those non-compliant responses are handled only with local resources available for response, recovery, planning and mitigation of hazardous risks in the community, and anything else provided by outsiders is either a gift or eventually paid for by the locals.

ICS is a required standard under the National Incident Management System (NIMS), and NIMS/ICS is the required guidance for specifying federal, state, local, and family/individual roles in responding to all-hazard incidents up to those of national significance under the National Response Framework and the NRF annexes, among other federal emergency management documents. ICS is also used for large event planning such as the Olympics and other massive one-time happenings where crowds of people are anticipated.

The Obama Administration's addition to CEM is the new National Disaster Recovery Framework, where recovery is that stage of the CEM cycle that involves planning, training, and preparation for all forms of hazardous incident responses, mitigating hazardous risks, and recovery from incident damage. Essentially, recovery means reconstruction, but it also includes thinking about that reconstruction to reduce risk and thus foreseeable catastrophic consequences in the future. NRF and NDRF appear to be consistent extensions of each other in terms of managing by objectives under NRF/NDRF guidance during emergency responses and recovery operations.

Management by Objectives is a key component of NIMS/ICS standard compliance under NRF/NDRF, which means that during any ICS operational period, there is a plan with measurable objectives to accomplish, response resources are directed to meet those objectives, and at the end of the operational period, the new Incident Commander is briefed by the outgoing Incident Commander about the plan and the current situation that the plan is addressing.

So, what's the ultimate objective? That overall objective is to minimize risk to communities, to respond to risks that become hazardous incidents, and to permit communities to recover from the effects of hazardous incidents and their responses. This prime objective is met by the expansion of any NIMS/ICS response by the addition of necessary resources to get the incident-specific objectives accomplished, like putting out the wildfire, feeding the evacuees, and getting things cleaned up after the flames are out. Later, the objective is releasing excess resources to their jurisdictions of origin, like allowing San Diego fire fighters in Northern California to return home once the up-north wildfire is over.

Notice that once a NIMS/ICS response has an Incident Commander in place, politics has very little to do with the conduct of the NIS/ICS response under management by objectives. Generally, the politics in CEM are played out in the planning process, where Local Emergency Planning Commissions (LEPCs) usually at the county level are involved in recognizing local hazards, measuring the risks to the community from those hazards, and establishing priorities for resource allocation based on input from all stakeholders, including local residents with historic knowledge of some of the known and not-so-well-known local hazards in the community.

None of this stuff is a state secret. Anybody can go to FEMA's ICS resource center to find the information above, or to the NRF resource center, or to the new NDRF document working group on the Internet. For those of us who have an interest in getting organized before disaster strikes in our own neighborhoods and like to have things to hang on the wall, then FEMA certificates of achievement in a variety of independent study courses are available for free to US citizens at FEMA'a Emergency Management Institute Independent Study Program. A partial course list follows:

IS-100 – Incident Command System, an introduction This course also comes in various flavors, for health care workers, school employees, colleges and universities, etc...

IS-139 – Exercise Design (a Professional Development Series course leading to PDS certification)

IS-200 – ICS for Single-Resource Responses and Initial Action Incidents

IS-230 – Principles of Emergency Management (PDS)

IS-235 – Emergency Planning (PDS)

IS-240 – Leadership and Influence (PDS)

IS-241 – Decision Making and Problem Solving (PDS)

IS-242 – Effective Communication (PDS)

IS-244 – Developing and Managing Volunteers (PDS)

IS-340 – Hazardous Materials Prevention Lesson 2 is a good summary of federal laws and regulations relating to Superfund and other environmental legislation

IS-700 – National Incident Management System, an introduction

IS-800 – National Response Framework, an introduction

Nobody says anyone outside government and non-government aid agencies has to take the above courses, but City Council members and County Supervisors who are not familiar with this information can hardly be expected to make sound decisions regarding local emergency planning when they participate as representative stakeholders.

If there is any problem with NIMS/ICS under the National Response Framework, it is that there is always a gap between a really big catastrophic disaster and the arrival of first responders from state and, possibly later, federal agencies. Right after a massive catastrophic disaster, ordinary citizens are generally on their own.

All-hazard Local Emergency Response Theory (ALERT)

To cover that gap in the National Response Framework when most of us are still dazed and confused by surviving a catastrophic disaster, there is what I refer to as All-hazard Local Emergency Response Theory (ALERT). It is an extension of the best practices of CEM to families and individuals who are in need of emergency assistance after a major disaster, but who have nobody to turn to except themselves and their immediate neighbors.

Now, ALERT people are those who have taken the time to be aware of local hazards of all types. The advantages of this are that these people can often handle things on their own, freeing up scarce emergency first responders for other, more pressing matters. One of the best examples of this were the Ramona and Alpine residents who stayed behind to save their homes and those of their neighbors during the 2007 county wildfires. ALERT share a lot in common with CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team concept for ordinary people prepared for local emergency deployment.

An ALERT person and her or his neighbors just might decide to take all of the courses listed above and more, pass the exams and get certified, then be able to work cooperatively in an emergency with first responders when they arrive in the neighborhood. This is preferable to being called an untrained spontaneous volunteer, which is ICS-speak for somebody who takes up more resources at an incident to handle than is actually contributing to meeting the operational period objectives.

ALERT people also tend to help themselves in less traumatic situations rather than wait around for somebody in government to eventually make a move that might be considered as progress. The “all-hazard” part of being an ALERT person includes hazards to our economic well being, and right now, there are potential hazards to our economic well being from fees being proposed by our local power utility during a time of relatively significant and sustained economic hardship. It is difficult to imagine that politicians are paying attention to the risk of electricity fee increases to residents and small businesses when the same politicians receive campaign donations from the same utility and its parent holding company.

Mitigation is a big component of CEM, where mitigation involves lowering the risk or effect of risk due to a given hazard by taking appropriate steps, such as not building one's house in a flood plane, or preparing to generate one's own electricity off the grid when grid-supplied electricity gets outlandishly expensive or is simply not available due to grid failures. ALERT people are not going to wait for lights out to have their own solar panels for emergency use standing by, knowing that the next wildfire is coming, Sunrise Powerlink or not.

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