ESFs or Annexes – What's what with these plans?

When we get into emergency operations planning, we quickly get into a discussion of the whole thing about annexes, and since about 1999, into the concept of Emergency Support Functions or ESFs.

Here's the deal – as I see it:

  • All plans of any kind for any reason are decisions.  
  • Decisions made in advance (anticipatory decision-making) based on what we know is, what we think could or will be, and what those potentials will cause, create, result-in, and thus, what is needed, and then who is to do what is needed and how the whole thing will be organized, controlled (managed) and, subsequently, shut down (demobilized).  

This is a big deal.   For most organizations, it is more than can be done and is fraught with potential problems.   And, to have the best chance at actually working, the plan, or all the decisions thereof, must be agreed upon and understood and FOLLOWED during an activation of the plan.   And then there is the "authority" of who gets to decide what during an actual activation for the contingencies that arise at the time.   As you can see here, it is a big deal.

And all of those decisions are parsed out, and get iterated by function, by hazard or situation, by department, by discipline, and sometimes, by phase into an "annex".

Oh yeah, there's the stance, view, position or posture of the person or persons responsible for the functions and how they view themselves, their agencies, resources and AUTHORITY.   Even with the same plan or annex opened before everyone at the same time, there are differing views or opinions.   That is why we have Table Top Exercises – to discuss all the aspects around a table – to institute the plan BEFORE we actually use it.

Having said all this – we now can look at what an ANNEX is and what an EMERGENCY SUPPORT FUNCTION is.

First of all, they are both ANNEXES.   An ESF is just a specific set of functional annexes.   So, the top order is Annexes and the suborder is ESFs.   Anything that is a specific of the basic plan is an annex to the Basic Plan.  

Secondly, they are all "operational plans".   Annexes provide, generally, a standard set of operational planning elements, which include:  

  • Mission (the overarching goal of the annex),
  • Purpose of the annex (to provide guidelines, or checklists or list things – whatever the purpose and primary reason we have an annex written down)
  • A list of Hazards or potential situations that this annex would be activated for
  • Other Annexes in the Plan that this annex is tied to in some way (dependent on)
  • Definition of specific terms used in the annex and in the operations that must be understood by all parties to the annex,
  • Laws and Authorities as they pertain to this specific function or operation
  • General OPERATIONAL CONCEPTS, which can also be policies (tread lightly here), guiding principles, protocols, and common understandings
  • Lead Agency or Position for the Annex
  • Primary Agency(ies)or Positions – this may be one or more than one – and a detail write up of their responsibilities
  • Support Agencies or Positions – and a detail write up of their responsibilities
  • Specific or Unique Resources (can be teams of people, high value assets or equipment, communication, infrastructure – whatever is needed to do the job of the annex)
  • If not listed above – the coordination to the EOC – or how this annex is coordinated in the field and then is reported to or coordinated with the EOC or the government jurisdiction – very important for a local government EOC
  • Operations listed by Phase (Prevention, Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, Recovery)
  • Agreements
  • General Response Guidelines
  • Standard Operation Guides (SOG) and Specific Operational Infrastructure Detail,   such as radio channels, information management portals, or pre-identified staging areas, list of facilities, etc.     THIS MAY BE REFERRED TO AND NOT PUBLISHED WITH THE ANNEXES – generally there are a set of SOGs that are part of every agencies own plan that supports this annex
  • Signature page (some want this and some don't – up to the agency or legal recommendation of the Plan OWNER)

ESFs have the same detail and may have more or less depending on the plan owners.   ESFs for primary government in the U.S. follow (generally) the Federal or National Framework with the 15 primary ESFs as identified and listed at the fema.gov or related sites. Some agencies add ESFs by topic. Some don't.   Most have additional annexes that the CPG101 terms management annexes, but they can be any topic.  

Why would we prepare an annex?   For any process, major operation, or function in which we have more than one agency involved and for which we need common operating procedures, and we need to have reports from and resources going to and to coordinate, manage, oversee, and "run" efficiently.    

Any plan, as promulgated by the plan OWNER, is an established protocol for the jurisdictions and agencies, departments, positions, and teams assigned.   If you sign it, you should play by the rules it establishes.

I love annexes – love to write them, love to plan them and love to talk about them.   They are the best part(s) of the EOP.   Jan Decker, Crisis Management Consulting.   jan.decker@comcast.net     253.261.2704.

Copyright 2012 Jan Decker.   All Rights Reserved.

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