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In 2012 Command School TTX was acquired by National Planning, Training, Exercise and Consulting company

The Blue Cell, LLC

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Conducting diorama exercise since the early 90’s


“Practice Makes Perfect and Other Lessons in Resilience”

This article is extracted from the Natural Hazards Center’s newsletter, the Natural Hazards Observer.

“Disaster resilience comes with practice, whether it’s practice from experiencing previous disasters or conducting disaster exercises. It also comes from growing strong social networks. And from the guidance of determined and collaborative leaders.

“These are among the lessons learned by the authors of an upcoming National Academies report called Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters, which was commissioned to gain a broad, multidisciplinary perspective of how to best strengthen national resilience. Four of the report’s 13 committee members spoke about their experiences compiling the report at the Natural Hazards Workshop last week.

“Before the committee could begin to determine how to strengthen resilience, though, they had to tackle the oft-contested topic of what resilience is. They opted for a broad definition: the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, or more successfully adapt to actual or potential adverse events.

“With that in mind, the committee made several site visits to New Orleans; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Southern California to assess factors that increased a community’s ability to recover from a disaster. They found that strong social networks, previous disaster experience, exercising disaster preparedness, and strong local leadership were critical components in fostering resilience.

“One of the strongest examples of multiple qualities of resilience was the Vietnamese community in Village de l’Est, New Orleans. The small community of fishermen is largely made up of survivors of the Vietnam War and their children and grandchildren. That shared history of survival—along with solid social networks stemming from a common heritage, occupation, and language—was manifested in the ability and will to rise from the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina.

“‘Members of the Vietnamese community have a collective identity as survivors,’ said Monica Schoch-Spana of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Biosecurity. ‘They viewed the destruction as a way to rebuild the community even stronger. They consider themselves a self-reliant people who were able to build new lives after leaving Vietnam.’

“That proved to be true as the people relied on their own social capital to rebuild. Many of the Vietnamese fishermen lent each other money to get back on their feet. Those who were successful in turn lent more people money, and the community members didn’t have to rely on scarce bank loans to reestablish their businesses, Schoch-Spana said.

“That momentum spread to the rest of Village de l’Est as well, and unlike many New Orleans communities, the city was able recover more quickly and mostly on its own.

“‘It had a positive influence on the rest of the community,’ Schoch-Spana said. ‘It distinguished itself by a high a high rate of return and a rapid rate of rebuilding with little government assistance.’

“Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters is expected to be released August 1.”

If it can happen; it will … somewhere. This time it’s Aurora, Colorado


“A gunman wearing a gas mask set off an unknown gas and fired into a crowded movie theater in suburban Denver at a midnight opening of the Batman movie ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ killing 12 people and injuring at least 50 others, authorities said.”

Read the Denver Post article here.

“Closing the Loop in Preparedness Exercises” (Opinion)

This “opinion” written by Tim Riecker appears in the current issue of Emergency Management.

“Exercises are an integral part of preparedness in emergency management and homeland security. Absent participating in an actual incident, there is no better way for us to evaluate plans, procedures, decision-making, operational capability and various other factors. Although these exercises utilize resources that are finite, they are an investment that pays a significant return. The National Preparedness System Description states that “an effective and comprehensive exercise program that includes active collaboration with the whole community is essential to the success of the National Preparedness System.” The Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) provides us with the guidance that leads us through exercise design, conduct, evaluation and to what is perhaps the ultimate goal — improvement planning. Let’s be honest, though — how effective is the follow-through on your improvement plan?

“Why do we conduct exercises? We test and validate capabilities and identify our strengths and limitations. The next logical step is to fix areas that limited our capacity to respond, although often times we fail to implement changes indicated as a result of the exercise. Why? One of the most significant reasons is lack of funding. That is why improvement planning needs to begin even prior to planning for a particular exercise. Rather, funding should be identified in the program management phase of the HSEEP cycle. Actually securing the funding, however, can be challenging. After-action reports from previous exercises can provide the greatest investment justification when seeking funding in that they provide actual evidence of an assessment process assembled in an official document. The same goes for the inclusion of a training and exercise plan. The bureaucracy of grant cycles, however, can cause delays in accomplishing our improvements in a timely fashion. If you are the recipient of regular annual funding, such as a local allocation of the Emergency Management Performance Grant, you may want to earmark a percentage of these funds for improvements.

“New York state provides a good example of innovation in funding cycles. In recent history, the state authorized the allocation of Homeland Security Grant Program dollars to an Improvement Planning Fund, which was administered by the state’s multiagency Exercise Coordination Committee. The committee reviews after-action reports and improvement plans and provides funding, albeit limited, to jurisdictions that demonstrated a well analyzed outcome and reasonable justification for the funding need. While in many cases the funding wasn’t able to cover the entire cost of the improvement, it provided some aid.

“While funding is often our most significant challenge, we cannot dismiss the investment we make in our exercises. While we are able to practice skills and cognitively learn from our exercises, which is certainly a valuable outcome, the learning must be institutionalized through documented procedures and operating guidelines. Even this documentation, albeit a relatively inexpensive improvement, is rarely completed. As with all of our other activities, we need to maximize our dollars by maximizing our investments.

“Improvement plans need to transcend the matrix provided in the HSEEP after-action report/improvement plan template. While the matrix is a summary of the improvement plan, we all know that a matrix alone does not constitute a plan. The improvement plan needs to be comprehensive, identifying all aspects of the improvement — some of which may be very simple while others may be very complex. The complexities need to be identified as do the barriers to success. Some deficiencies identified in the after-action report may need to be further explored as the exercise itself may not have fully validated or assessed them. You may need to break down systems and procedures to fully uncover the reasons they fell short of performing as expected. This type of analysis requires time and recognition that the actual solution won’t be known for certain at the time of publication of the after-action report/improvement plan. That said, be sure to set firm deadlines.

“In the business of emergency management and homeland security we can’t afford to miss an opportunity for improvement. We don’t know when the next incident will occur, however, we know that it will — therefore we must always have a sense of urgency.”

“Americans Are Indifferent Toward Disasters, Survey Says” – Emergency Management

“How many communication methods is your agency using to alert the public about emergencies? Probably not enough, according to a recently released survey.

“Although 2011 was widely reported as having a record number of emergencies, Americans remain complacent when it comes to disasters and less than one-half of people surveyed said they would take action based on a severe weather warning. Federal Signal’s 2012 Public Safety Survey painted a grim picture of Americans’ readiness and their knowledge of emergency alert systems in their communities.

“Despite the investments made by emergency management and public safety agencies in alerting and notification systems, a majority of respondents (71 percent) said they were unsure if their area has such a system.

“‘I think really what it points to is a need for continued communication and education by emergency managers and other public safety officials with their citizenry about the ways in which they can be warned,’ said John Von Thaden, vice president and general manager at Federal Signal, a provider of alerting and notification systems. He added that the numerous communication platforms that are available make the task of getting the message to the public more difficult.

“‘Some people still want to receive them on their television and some people expect a phone call and others a text message, and others are looking for more traditional outdoor warning sirens depending on the area in which they live and the kind of events that may occur,’ Von Thaden said.

“According to the 2012 survey, communication from a local alert notification system would …” To read this article from Emergency Management in its entirety, click here.

Increasing risk perception alone won’t improve preparedness

“START researchers publish new study on disaster preparedness


“Risk perception does not have a significant direct effect on disaster preparedness behavior, according to a new study by START researchers, published in the current issue of Environment and Behavior. In ‘An Examination of the Effect of Perceived Risk on Preparedness Behavior,’ the research team explored and specified the impact of risk perception on household preparedness for terrorism based on a representative sample of households in the United States.

“The researchers found that the effect of risk perception is largely mediated by knowledge, perceived efficacy and milling behavior and that risk perception may be a necessary but not a sufficient cause of investing in preparedness behaviors.

“‘There has been an assumption in “disaster research’ that if you increase the population’s perception that it is at risk, you will increase their investment in disaster preparedness and mitigation activities,’ said Linda Bourque, START researcher and a lead author on the paper. ‘While some minimal threshold of perceived risk seems to trigger the process by which households decide whether or not to invest in hazard adjustments and preparedness behaviors, our analyses show that simply increasing perceived risk will not by itself lead to improved preparedness.’

“Bourque and her co-authors — Melissa M. Kelley, Megumi Kano, Rotrease Regan, Michele M. Wood and Dennis S. Mileti – found that on average, respondents in the study only executed one of the four preparedness activities they judged to be effective for dealing with terrorism: developing emergency plans, stockpiling supplies, purchasing things to make them safer or duplicating important documents.

“The study is part of the National Survey of Disaster Experiences and Preparedness (NSDEP), which is funded by the Department of Homeland Security through the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), and the National Science Foundation.”