Monday, November 29, 2010

Emergency Response Training

An emergency response plan that has not been supported by training and exercises is a complete waste of paper. People and organizations need to be trained to accomplish the tasks required in an ERP and the ERP must be practiced to ensure that it is practical, effective and achievable. There is an excellent article at about what goes into planning a full-scale hazmat exercise. The author, Steven De Lisi, also touches on some of the important training that supports the exercise and the ERP.

Performance Oriented Training

De Lisi notes in his article that the “components of a well-developed performance objective must include reference to the equipment used in accordance with an established standard that defines the conditions under which a task is performed and the level of performance that is considered acceptable”.

The military recognized the importance of these performance objectives almost forty years ago when they developed their performance oriented training (POT) programs. The Army realized that knowledge oriented training, the ability to answer questions on a written test in a classroom, did not translate well into being able to respond to a real world situation on a battle field.

The Army’s POT program was based on a three component definition of each training requirement. Those components were

TASK: A short, concise action-oriented description of the job that had to be accomplished.

CONDITION: A description of the real world situation in which that job would have to be accomplished, including a listing of the equipment required to complete the task..

STANDARD: A clear statement of the measureable objective requirements that would signify acceptable performance of the task in that particular environment.
De Lisi uses the example of victim decontamination in his article to describe how a performance objective would be written for an exercise; “Can first responders assigned to an engine company use equipment normally found on a standard engine in the department to decontaminate 10 ambulatory victims within 15 minutes?” Translating that into the POT definition requirements we would have

TASK: Decontaminate Ambulatory Victims

CONDITION: Given the equipment normally found on a standard fire engine;

STANDARD: Decontaminate 10 ambulatory victims within 15 minutes.
This is a nice generic training description. If the emergency response plan were designed for a generic chemical spill, for example a highway spill from a truck in transit through the community, this could be an adequate definition of the training objective. If, however, the ERP were for specific chemical release from a specific facility the task would include the name of the chemical, the condition might describe the type of release (catastrophic tank failure vs small spill for example), and the standard might include how adequate decontamination was measured (utilizing a specific paper test strip, no color change indicating contamination).

Identify Training Requirements

An effective emergency response plan will have to identify the tasks that each supporting agency would be expected to successfully complete to adequately support that plan. In the Army we identified thess organizational tasks as ‘Missions’ but the same performance oriented description would apply, simply substituting the word ‘mission’ for the word ‘task’. In any case, a clearly defined and mutually accepted description of what the organization is expected to be able to accomplish to support the ERP is essential.

The words, ‘mutually accepted’ are a very important part of the last sentence that cannot be ignored. An emergency response planner might determine that a local fire department needs to be able to measure the concentration in the air of a chemical of interest as part of their portion of the emergency response plan. If the fire department does not have the necessary equipment, or the funds to obtain the equipment, to measure that chemical concentration, then the inclusion of that requirement in the plan is useless.

If the supporting organization cannot agree to a particular mission requirement, the emergency response planner has just three options, delete the requirement, transfer the requirement to another organization, or work with the organization to overcome the obstacles to their acceptance of the requirement. Even when there is a command relationship between the planner and the organization, these are the only real options.

Supporting Emergency Response Plans

Every agency or organization identified in an emergency response plan as having a supporting mission or task to accomplish must be required to develop their own, supporting emergency response plan that includes the necessary training tasks that support that mission/task accomplishment. For example, let’s look at the decontamination task above.

If a fire department is given the responsibility (mission) to decontaminate victims prior to their evacuation to medical treatment, the emergency response planner at that department is going to have to devise a plan to support that requirement. First they will have to decide if every engine company in the department will be required to be able to support the decontamination task, or if only selected companies or even perhaps just one engine company will be so required. A lot will depend on the amount of specialized equipment that will be necessary for the decontamination task. There might be a general decontamination requirement for every company, but just one company might be required to have the specialized equipment for one specific chemical. If that is the case, the other companies have to know that they are not to attempt the decontamination of that particular chemical.

As one goes down the organizational tree, it is quite common for task/mission definition to expand into multiple tasks. Again, using the decontamination task identified above, at the engine company level that might be expanded to include a task for identifying the chemical of concern (if the chemical is not present, decontamination might not be necessary), isolation of contaminated victims from non-contaminated victims (to avoid increasing the number of people requiring decontamination), and marking of decontaminated victims (so they can receive appropriate medical treatment).

At some point in the emergency planning process, the planner will not have sub-organizations to task with requirements; they will be dealing with individuals. The training identification process will be very similar though. Individual supporting tasks will be identified, conditions under which those tasks will be performed will be described, and measurable standards that must be accomplished to successfully complete the task, must be established.

De Lisi makes an important point in his article about establishing training standards; there may already be standards developed. He notes that “national performance standards such as those published by the National Fire Protection Association can provide additional guidance when developing performance objectives”. Utilizing established standards, where applicable, makes the job of the emergency response planner, and the subordinate agencies much easier. Even modifying those standards to fit specific circumstances may make it easier to develop appropriate training plans.

Exercises and Training

The only thing more dangerous than an emergency response plan that has not been exercised is the complete lack of an ERP. Until an ERP is put through an evaluated full-scale exercise, no one really knows if it will work. But there is nothing more embarrassing than conducting an exercise for which one or more supporting agencies is not prepared for. That’s why emergency response plans are evaluated from the lowest level up.

Individuals that make up the various emergency response teams are evaluated by their immediate supervisors on the task they have to be able to complete. Each team or organization is evaluated, in turn, by their tasking organization. Once each element demonstrates proficiency the next level of evaluation or exercise can proceed.

At each level it is important to understand that the evaluation must be designed to accomplish two tasks. First (and most obvious) is to ensure that the standards set for the in emergency response plan can be met. But, just as important (and frequently missed), the adequacy of the defined task/mission to support the next level of the ERP must be evaluated.

If the evaluated task does not fully support the requirements for mission accomplishment at the next level, no amount of proficiency at the task will be adequate. The earlier, and lower in the training process, these discrepancies are noted, the easier it will be to correct the problem.

There is one last point that has to be made about the training process. At each level of evaluation, every subordinate level must also be evaluated. This increases the proficiency of each element being evaluated and also makes it easier to identify why an organization was not able to accomplish a given task to the required standard.

To give a military example, when an infantry company was evaluated on their ability to perform a mission, there was an evaluation team in each of the platoons that made up the company. When possible, there was a team evaluating each squad within each of those platoons. If evaluation manpower was short, at least one of the squads would be evaluated within each platoon. In each evaluated squad, one or two individual soldiers would be specifically evaluated on specific mission supporting tasks. This way there was a complete, vertically integrated evaluation of the ability of the company to perform its mission.

After Action Review

Every time an emergency response plan is used, either for an exercise or an actual emergency situation, it is absolutely imperative that a detailed after action review is undertaken. This review must clearly identify what happened, what portions of the ERP worked and which didn’t. Suggestions for improvement of the ERP, at all levels, must be developed (and every plan can be improved) and a specific plan for implementing those improvements must be established utilizing the same principles outlined above.

Finally, the improvements must be evaluated, again, working from the lowest affected level upwards. This must be a process of continuous improvements. The health and safety of the community and the emergency responders demands it.

1 comment:

Edward said...

Mr. Coyle,

Good guidance on the POT. I however go one step above and determine the collective tasks that each facility must conduct in support of their plan such as:

Respond to a Chemical leak

Fight a fire in a hazardous atmosphere

Respond to an Armed Threat

Respond to an undetonated IED

and so on

From these collective tasks, we can identify individual tasks for each group / skill set to include LEA's and first responders.

This is much more comprehensive than the list provided in the RBPS however, it identifies the ground truth for training requirements and can help prevent you from holding Crowd Control Training for a facility with two operators.

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