A Primer on Emergency Management Response Doctrine
By Stephen Owen, Criminal Justice Chair and Professor, Radford University, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The field of emergency management is guided by numerous Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) principles and doctrines, which generate a very specific vocabulary (and the usual assortment of acronyms common in public safety). The discussion which follows provides a broad overview of some of the most common DHS and FEMA concepts that are utilized in emergency management practice. Taken together, they are intended to promote a comprehensive approach to guide planning and response for crisis situations – and in fact, they do so, once the concepts and their relationships are mastered. This review is intended to be at the proverbial “30,000 foot level”; links to relevant FEMA documents and other materials are provided in the accompanying footnotes and a “quick reference” table is provided at the end of the article.
The National Preparedness Goal
The National Preparedness Goal, currently in its second edition, expresses a view of what thorough preparation should yield, as follows:
“A secure and resilient Nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.”
There are several items that can be extracted from this definition. The first is an emphasis on emergency management as a process that spans from preparedness to recovery, not isolated to the management of any particular incident. More specifically, prevention refers to efforts to stop terrorism; protection refers to what would generally be conceptualized as preparedness in advance of an incident, including planning, exercising, developing effective communication and security measures, and so on; mitigation requires a careful assessment of the nature of threats specific to a jurisdiction and how to prevent losses should an incident actually occur; response focuses on the work of the first responders and support personnel; and recovery addresses the aftermath of an incident and how to restore the community.
Doing so requires a focus on Core Capabilities (previously known as Target Capabilities), each of which addresses one particular task that could be important in a crisis situation. The National Preparedness Goal identifies 32 specific Core Capabilities, such as “Public Information and Warning,” “Fire Management and Suppression,” and “Economic Recovery,” among numerous others; in addition, each Core Capability is classified as meeting one or more of the five areas listed in the above paragraph. The Core Capabilities are important because exercise planning focuses on the identification of specific capabilities to be demonstrated and evaluated in each exercise scenario, and the capabilities are collapsed into the Emergency Support Functions listed in the National Response Framework (more below). As such, the Core Capabilities provide a useful categorization of tasks that are important to consider, whether in the preparation, response, or recovery phases of emergency management.
Of particular note is the goal’s emphasis on the “whole community,” which includes:
“children; older adults; individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs; those from religious, racial, and ethnically diverse backgrounds; people with limited English proficiency; and owners of animals including household pets and service animals. Their needs and contributions must be integrated into our efforts.”
A focus on the whole community requires a deliberate and careful approach to planning, to ensure that population needs are in fact accurately identified; in addition, response plans and incident commanders must be vigilant for the needs of the whole community. Pre-planning and interagency exercises, including participation by service providers outside the traditional realms of law enforcement, fire, and rescue, can be helpful in doing so.
The Goal also identifies the importance of identifying known hazards, which is described more fully in the section on emergency planning, below.
National Response Framework
FEMA has prepared planning frameworks for each of the five areas identified in the National Preparedness Goal – prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery. The primary focus of discussion here will center of the National Response Framework (previously known in its prior editions as the National Response Plan).
The National Response Framework (NRF) document provides a series of principles to underlie the response function, including the importance of pre-planning, the key role of partnerships and effective working relationships between response agencies and the broader community, use of the incident command system, and access to resources necessary for adjusting response as the scope of an incident scales up or scales down. In addition, the NRF recognizes that “most incidents begin and end locally and are managed at the local or tribal level.”
Echoing the National Preparedness Goal’s focus on the whole community, the NRF identifies a variety of groups that play a potential role in facilitating effective response. In particular, the plan describes the contributions that can be made by persons and groups under the following headings: Individuals, families, and households; communities; nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s), including voluntary organizations active in disaster (VOAD’s); the private sector; local governments; state, tribal, territorial, and insular area governments; and the federal government.
One particularly significant component of the NRF is its identification of emergency support functions (ESF’s) as a tool to “organize…response resources and capabilities.” Each ESF identifies a fairly broad functional area that would likely be utilized in emergency response. The 14 ESF’s identified by the NRF group together multiple Core Capabilities (from the National Preparedness Goal, described above), identify the primary areas of focus for each ESF, and identify the primary agencies responsible for each ESF. The ESF’s are:
- Public Works and Engineering;
- Information and Planning;
- Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Temporary Housing, and Human Services;
- Public Health and Medical Services;
- Search and Rescue;
- Oil and Hazardous Materials Response;
- Agriculture and Natural Resources;
- Public Safety and Security; and
- External Affairs.
ESF’s form the basis for emergency operations plans (described below). In addition, emergency operations centers (EOC’s) are often organized by ESF, with representatives present from agencies related to each ESF.
In order to meet the intent of the National Preparedness Goal and the National Response Framework, planning is necessary throughout the process. There are several types of plans that may be developed.
Hazard mitigation plans identify the most likely threats to occur in an area and recommend potential mitigation strategies to reduce their impacts. In particular, the threat and hazard identification and risk assessment (THIRA) process aids in the identification and analysis of threats in a jurisdiction, and can also inform exercise planning by recognizing the types of threats that are most likely to occur and therefore most appropriate for exercise scenarios. While the identification of the most significant threats is necessary and is in fact stated in the National Preparedness Goal, it is also important to note that the emergency management practice (and the National Preparedness Goal) emphasizes the importance of all-hazards planning. This suggests that the best preparedness is not incident-specific, but rather focuses on tools and concepts that can be applied across virtually any type of scenario – the idea being that preparedness for anything helps to maximize readiness and minimize uncertainty when unusual or unanticipated events occur.
The planning process also includes the development of jurisdiction-specific emergency operations plans (EOP), which are intended to provide guidance for incident response. Again, the focus is on all-hazards preparedness, so EOP’s are not intended to be voluminous guides to everything that could possibly happen; nor are they intended to be step-by-step instruction manuals implying that one prescribed series of actions can resolve an incident. Instead, EOP’s are generally structured with the following sections:
- A statement of authority and operational guidance for the plan as a whole;
- A series of emergency support functions (ESF’s, as described above) which provide information about agencies, resources, and considerations pertaining to the most common types of tasks utilized in a crisis;
- Support annexes, which provide information about tasks and areas of concern that are important to the jurisdiction, but are not fully covered by the ESF’s; and
- Hazard-specific annexes, which provide additional information about response to the most likely threats in a jurisdiction, such as those identified through the THIRA and hazard mitigation planning processes.
When an incident does occur, an incident action plan (IAP) is developed to record decisions, action steps, safety precautions, responder communication protocols, and more.
Finally, continuity of operations planning (COOP) helps government agencies prepare to continue meeting their mission essential functions even when normal business operations may be disrupted due to a disaster. While the IAP focuses on the resolution of the crisis, the COOP focuses on maintaining agency operations to the best extent possible in spite of the crisis. For instance, a COOP could assist a law enforcement agency in planning how to continue to meet the mission essential function of promoting public safety and addressing emergency calls for service, even if facilities, resources, or communication capabilities are less readily available or accessible than in ordinary daily operations.
National Incident Management System and Incident Command
The most visible area of emergency management is likely the application of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and in particular, the NIMS outline of the Incident Command System (ICS). In Virginia, Executive Order 102 was established by Governor Mark Warner in 2005, which specified the Commonwealth of Virginia’s adoption of NIMS.
The NIMS document emphasizes the following:
“NIMS is not an operational incident management or resource allocation plan. NIMS represents a core set of doctrines, concepts, principles, terminology, and organizational processes that enables effective, efficient, and collaborative incident management.”
As such, the main areas that NIMS emphasizes are preparedness, communications, resources, and incident management. Components of each area include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Preparedness includes developing plans, formalizing mutual aid relationships, conducting training and exercises, ensuring that personnel are property qualified and necessary equipment is available, and conducting mitigation activities to reduce the impact of potential disasters.
- Issues related to communication include the importance of developing a common operating picture that summarizes what is known about an incident, and the necessity for developing communication technologies and protocols that meet a variety of adjectives, including interoperable (between multiple jurisdictions), reliable, scalable, portable, resilient, and redundant (with fail-safes). This area also emphasizes the need for plain-language communication, such as dismissing the use of 10-codes in many circumstances, and guidance for developing Joint Information Centers (JIC’s) to coordinate dissemination of information to the public in inter-agency operations.
- Resource-related issues include identification of specific resource types and categories to ensure that there is a common, clear protocol to identify the appropriate resources for an incident. As an example, confusion could occur if someone was to request a “fire engine” without specifying desired capabilities; what two persons picture when they hear “fire engine” could differ. Resource typing allows specification of a Type 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 fire engine, each type having different capabilities; a guidebook lists the different types so everyone can be on the same page about resource needs. NIMS also provides guidance on how to manage resources, from the point of knowing what is needed to the point of returning them to service. Finally, NIMS discusses the credentialing of personnel, to verify desired skills and abilities.
- On-scene incident management is handled through the incident command system (ICS), no doubt familiar to most readers. Beyond the ICS, NIMS also describes the role of multi-agency coordination systems (MAC’s), which provide support – but generally not command – for the response to an incident. These may include, but are not limited to, emergency operations centers (EOC’s), public safety answering points (PSAP’s) and dispatch facilities; MAC groups of executives from agencies involved in the response; and more. Important to note is the NIMS recommendation that, as incidents develop, relationships between these multiple entities “must be clearly defined and documented as each element evolves during an incident.”
As agencies focus on being NIMS-compliant, training in NIMS doctrine – and especially incident command – is important to provide for agency employees, including those who are not first responders themselves, but who may play a support role in an incident. In addition, maintaining currency with NIMS is also important; currently, there is a draft “refresh” of NIMS under consideration which will likely result in some modifications to the current document.
One common theme throughout the above discussion is the importance of preparation, which includes the use of exercises. An effective exercise program can assist in testing, revising, and fine-tuning emergency plans and protocols, building positive interagency and community relationships, and preparing response capabilities. The Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) provides guidelines for exercise planning, design, implementation, and evaluation.
The intent of this essay has been to provide a broad overview of emergency management doctrine and principles, as established primarily by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency. Taken together, the above elements guide many emergency planning, preparedness, and incident management activities in the United States, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, today.
Quick Reference Table
The idea that the best preparedness is not incident-specific, but rather focuses on tools and concepts that can be applied across virtually any type of scenario; a standard practice in emergency planning
Emphasized in the National Preparedness Goal
Common Operating Picture
Summarizes what is known about an incident
Described in the communication area of the National Incident Management System
Continuity of Operations Planning
A plan to help government agencies prepare to continue meeting their mission essential functions even when normal business operations may be disrupted due to a disaster
32 specific categories of tasks that may be used in emergency situations
Established by the National Preparedness Goal; form the basis for Emergency Support Functions which are used in Emergency Operations Plans
Verification of desired skills and abilities for incident personnel
Described in the resources area of the National Incident Management System
Emergency Operations Center
One type of structure included within the Multi-Agency Coordination System; generally intended to provide support for incident command efforts
Described in the incident management area of the National Incident Management System and frequently organized with representatives from the Emergency Support Functions being used in an incident
Emergency Operations Plan
Provide guidance for incident response from an all-hazards perspective
Organized around Emergency Support Functions and used in developing the Incident Action Plan
Emergency Support Function
14 broad areas likely to be utilized in emergency responses; each ESF lists the Core Capabilities pertaining to that function, agencies responsible for that function, and general tasks or goals of that function
Developed in the National Response Framework; comprised of multiple Core Capabilities; used to organize Emergency Operations Plans and sometimes Emergency Operations Centers
Hazard Mitigation Plan
A formal planning document that identifies the most likely threats to occur in an area and recommend potential mitigation strategies to reduce their impacts
Can be informed by the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
A structure to guide the planning, design, implementation, and evaluation of exercises
Exercises may test selected Core Capabilities; in addition, manyother elements of this table are illustrated or tested in exercises
Incident Action Plan
A plan developed to guide (and document) the response to a specific incident that has occurred or is occurring
Utilizes principles of the National Incident Management System and Incident Command System; may be shaped by the Emergency Operations Plan
Incident Command System
A set of structures and principles for organizing the response to an incident, led by an incident commander
A component of the National Incident Management System
Joint Information Center
Coordinate dissemination of information to the public in inter-agency operations
Described in the communication area of the National Incident Management System
Multi-Agency Coordination System
Provide support – but generally not command – for the response to an incident
Described in the incident management area of the National Incident Management System; can include Emergency Operations Centers and Joint Information Centers, among other groups
National Incident Management System
“A core set of doctrines, concepts, principles, terminology, and organizational processes that enables effective, efficient, and collaborative incident management” (Source: NIMS, p. 3) with a particular focus on preparedness, communication, resources, and incident management
Describes the Common Operating Picture, Emergency Operations Center, Incident Command System, Joint Information Center, Multi-Agency Coordination System, and Plain Language Communication (and much more)
National Preparedness Goal
“A secure and resilient Nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk” (Source: NPG, p. 1)
Establishes Core Capabilities and emphasizes importance of serving the Whole Community
National Response Framework
Provides a series of principles to underlie the response function
Establishes Emergency Support Functions
Plain Language Communication
Use of plain language during communications rather than 10-codes or agency-specific jargon
Specified in the National Incident Management System
A common, clear protocol to identify the appropriate resources needed for an incident
Described in the resources area of the National Incident Management System
Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment
A process to aid in the identification and analysis of threats in a jurisdiction
Can help inform development of a Hazard Mitigation Plan and scenarios used in exercises planned with Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program principles
Identification of individuals with a broad range of needs, including “children; older adults; individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs; those from religious, racial, and ethnically diverse backgrounds; people with limited English proficiency; and owners of animals including household pets and service animals” (Source: NPG, p. 2)
A key component of the National Preparedness Goal and emphasized in the National Response Framework
 Department of Homeland Security. (2015, September). National Preparedness Goal (2nd ed.). Available: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1443799615171-2aae90be55041740f97e8532fc680d40/National_Preparedness_Goal_2nd_Edition.pdf. Quotation from page 1.
 For a full listing, see the above link, page 3, Table 1; the document also provides a more extensive description of each capability.
 See the article in this edition of the Bulletin, “Emergency Management: Capabilities for Consideration in Exercise Design.”
 National Preparedness Goal document (see footnote 1), Quotation from page 2.
 One useful resource is Thomas, D. S. K., Phillips, B. D., Lovekamp, W. E., & Fothergill, A. (2013). Social vulnerability to disasters (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
 Each is available from: https://www.fema.gov/national-planning-frameworks.
 Department of Homeland Security. (2016, June). National response framework (3rd ed.). Available: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1466014682982-9bcf8245ba4c60c120aa915abe74e15d/National_Response_Framework3rd.pdf.
 Ibid, page 6.
 Ibid, page 33.
 See the Virginia Department of Emergency Management page on “Local Hazard Mitigation Planning,” which includes the state’s plan and information about local planning; in particular, Chapter 1 and Chapter 6 provide useful information, including about the role of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000: http://www.vaemergency.gov/emergency-management-community/recovery-and-resilience/local-hazard-mitigation-plan/.
 Department of Homeland Security. (2013, August). Threat and hazard identification and risk assessment guide: Comprehensive preparedness guide (CPG) 201. Available: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/8ca0a9e54dc8b037a55b402b2a269e94/CPG201_htirag_2nd_edition.pdf.
 The Strategic National Risk Assessment provides an overview of multiple types of threats that can be considered and addressed through an all-hazards approach, categorized as natural, technological/accidental, and adversarial/human-caused; see Department of Homeland Security. (2011, December). The Strategic National Risk Assessment in support of PPD 8: A comprehensive risk-based approach toward a secure and resilient nation. Available: https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/rma-strategic-national-risk-assessment-ppd8.pdf.
 Readers may wish to refer to the most recent Code of Virginia for any specific provisions related to emergency operations, or other, planning. At the time of this writing, see: http://www.vaemergency.gov/wp-content/uploads/drupal/VAEmergency15Emergencylaws.pdf.
 The Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan is available from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management at http://www.vaemergency.gov/emergency-management-community/emergency-management-plans/. In addition, guidance to localities for the development of their emergency operations plans, including templates, is available at http://www.vaemergency.gov/emergency-management-community/emergency-management-plans/local-emergency-operation-plans-guidance/.
 For guidance on materials included in an incident action plan, refer to the FEMA independent study course IS-201, “Forms Used for the Development of the Incident Action Plan,” at https://training.fema.gov/is/courseoverview.aspx?code=IS-201.
 Several points of reference explore continuity planning in more detail. The standard overview document is: Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2013, July). Continuity guidance circular 1 (CGC 1): Continuity guidance for non-federal governments (states, territories, tribes, and local government jurisdictions). Available: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1386609058803-b084a7230663249ab1d6da4b6472e691/CGC-1-Signed-July-2013.pdf. Additional guidance on identifying mission essential functions – that is, those for which continuity of operations is necessary even during a crisis – is provided in: Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2013, October). Continuity guidance circular 2 (CGC 2): Continuity guidance for non-federal governments: Mission essential functions identification process (states, territories, tribes, and local government jurisdictions). Available: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1386609058826-b084a7230663249ab1d6da4b6472e691/Continuity-Guidance-Circular2.pdf. Finally, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management provides information on continuity of operations planning, including templates, at http://www.vaemergency.gov/emergency-management-community/emergency-management-plans/continuity-planning/.
 See Owen, S., & Burke, T. (2013, July/August). Continuity of operations planning: Practical considerations for law enforcement. Police and Security News, pp. 36-41; Available: https://policeandsecuritynews.com/imgs/archives/2013/digital/JulyAug2013.pdf.
 Department of Homeland Security. (2008, December). National Incident Management System. Available: https://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nims/NIMS_core.pdf; Quotation from page 3.
 See Department of Homeland Security. (n.d.). Plain language guide: Making the transition from ten codes to plain language. Available: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1824-25045-1506/plain_language_guide.pdf
 For the fire engine example, see: https://rtlt.preptoolkit.org/Public/Resource/View/4-508-1117?q=fire; more generally, see: https://rtlt.preptoolkit.org/Public.
 See FEMA’s Incident Command Resource Center: https://training.fema.gov/emiweb/is/icsresource/index.htm.
 National Preparedness Goal document (see footnote 18), Quotation from page 74.
 See: Department of Homeland Security. (2011, September). National Incident Management System: Training program. Available: https://training.fema.gov/emiweb/is/icsresource/assets/nims_training_program.pdf.
 The draft refresh is available at: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1467113975990-09cb03e2669b06b91a9a25cc5f97bc46/NE_DRAFT_NIMS_20160407.pdf.
 Department of Homeland Security. (2013, April). Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP). Available: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1914-25045-8890/hseep_apr13_.pdf.