Step 1- Aligning the Lines of Authority and Coordination

I am often asked how do I begin the process of developing an Emergency Operations Plan.   This blog entry should answer that question and give you, the emergency planner, some good advice on where and how to start.   Maybe you already know this, but I can tell you that in all my 20+ years   of developing emergency plans of all kinds, this first process is often the highest hurdle.

The place to start is to ask the question: "WHO IS IN CHARGE?".

For a Fire Incident Commander or a Police Chief, this may not make sense as the answer is clearly:   "I AM".   However, this needs to be further clarified.   You are in charge of WHAT?   This question opens the door and discussion to really discuss and understand the entire emergency response and recovery organization and who is responsible for what and has authority over what.  

I begin by developing an organizational chart with groups, individuals and lines of authority, reporting, notification, coordination, and support.   There must be the top authority at the top of chart.   For a geo-governmental or political organization, such as a municipality or a county, this is almost always the elected board of top officials.   Chief Elected Officials.   CEOs.   And there should be, in fact there must be an ordinance, law, regulation or enacted code to support that.  

Some readers are going to say, "Well, it depends upon the situation or incident."   And that is true for most "Field or Operational" levels of command.   Fire is fire, crime is law enforcement, health is public health, etc.   And this is the basis for the concepts of operation and authorities in our annexes for functions, departments, and incidents.

For every single incident or emergency response, there is an ultimate authority – first step is to identify that group and the associated legal support.   This may be state law or local ordinance and there may be additional related agreements for operational control or contracted services.   It must match up – the organizational chart of the response and the legal support.

I start at the top and work down to the field and go lateral to all the entities.   For direct lines of authority I use a solid line and it must extend from the top down to the field or site.   For coordination – I use a dotted line and for other types of actions I use other types of dots.   Colors also work well if you can use them.

This may seem elementary and logical, but when you work with jurisdictions who have special districts and multiple jurisdictional geographical areas with multiple response authorities and capabilities, this can get pretty complicated pretty quick.   And, I have seen many iterations of this from the BOTTOM out – with the elected officials and the EOC off to the side or down at the Bottom.   But that is a misrepresentation of the government and the full organization.   Sorry, you may get into deep water here with the various chiefs, all I can say is:   Do Your HOMEWORK FIRST.

Investigate the authority, jurisdiction and capability of the fire districts, health districts, state and federal agencies, tribal authorities, ports, airports, school districts and others.   Map out the relationships and authorities and how they connect to the local ultimate authority.   Associate a law, code, regulation, plan, ESF, Annex, Mutual Aid Agreement, Contract or other agreement, and any other legal process to each coordination.  

When you have this big picture mapped out, you then take it to your oversight group for your plan project and they must agree.  

Oh my, I have been involved in some hot spots with this, where field commanders and Chiefs of this and that become hot under the collar over any inference that THEY ARE NOT IN CHARGE.   I have been the "Voice" as the consultant who presents this chart and I have walked through the mine fields of talking it through.   I suggest that once you have a good representation of this, you do ONE-ON-ONE meetings with ALL entities who are in your plan and they ALL agree (nod their heads) BEFORE you get to the approval meeting or you can end up with a push back from the field.   Believe me, it can get very complicated when you throw in the Overhead Incident Management Teams, bring in mutual aid, and have multiple agencies concurrent at a command post and in the EOC.   You as the developer of plan and coordinator of the emergency, as well as the TOP LOCAL AUTHORITY,  must be solid and articulate on who is in charge of What.   It isn't necessarily FULL RESPONSIBILITY, please keep this in mind.   It is who is in charge of what.

My friends, it is one of misinterpretations of the NIMS guidance that the Incident Commander supersedes the local elected authority and this is one of primary reasons why there are conflicting and competing problems during emergencies.   The whole thing must be spelled out – diagramed if you will, at the beginning of the Emergency Operations Plan.     The EOC for the local government is not just a unit in the MACS, it often represents the seat of government and local jurisdiction over people and program, and everyone needs to understand and respect that.   If it isn't the case, that also needs to be spelled out – so everyone knows the authority, role and communication/coordination of all the entities.

Now you may not find this step in the CPG 101 guidance nor in any how to plan classes.

You see it here – in this blog – from someone who has been doing this for a long time, and has had to go back and redo many sections of the plan after they have been written because the authority and coordination was not clear or was misaligned.   So – take it from me – this is where the project begins and you can't move forward with a REAL PLAN that is defensible, operationally correct and carries with it the authority of its concepts of operation without this.

Make sense?

Copyright 2012 Jan Decker – Crisis Management Consulting – 253 261 2704     jan.decker@comcast.net

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