Debriefing Disaster Response Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Disaster Response Management

Response and Recovery in Homeland Security

2015 DECEMBER-HLS-429-0L009

Sean Lynch

January XX, 2015

Mentor: Stephen Prier

You have been hired to conduct an incident post-mortem to provide feedback to senior government officials on the performance of various response teams during a disaster event. Using your answers to Written Assignment 2 (Module 2: Assessing the Situation) as a starting point, describe the steps that you would take to conduct the post-mortem.

• What are the key success factors in managing large, multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional response programs?

• How can we determine or measure "success" in response?

• How can we design drills and tests that specifically evaluate the key success factors for response?

January 6, 2015

Memorandum for the Students of HLS_429_0L009

Subject: Disaster Incident Post-Mortem

The purpose of this memorandum is to debrief the disaster incident of December 04, 2014 in Metropolis, State[footnoteRef:1], as reported to Lessons Learned Information Sharing (, which is the national online network of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency's, which is maintained in order to more readily communicate lessons learned, best practices, and innovative ideas for the personnel and communities engaged in homeland security and emergency response (LLIS, 2008). As you will recall, the LLIS website and the LLIS website contents are provided for informational purposes only (LLIS, 2008). While LLIS does not represent the official positions of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, it serves as an important forum for clarifying and focusing the learning with which the federal agencies are charged. [1: The disaster event to which this paper most often refers is Hurricane Katrina, in order to locate the scenario analysis in a plausible time and place for the purpose of discussion. ]

Post-mortem debriefing sessions are expected of incident commanders and those who conduct response field training as part of an organizational mission. Ideally, debriefing sessions with responders should occur following the end of any prolonged incident response, and within reasonably close temporal proximity to that close. Debriefing sessions are important in several ways, including the provision of opportunity for responders to give early feedback on response operations. Through this feedback loop, trainers gain insight critical to the design and improvement of training courses that are truly valuable to responders. Accordingly, the framework described above compels this memorandum and largely dictates the information that has been shared.

The information in this memorandum is organized according to the steps and objectives of a situational analysis, consideration of the key success factors related to managing a disaster of this magnitude and scope, identifying criteria for efficacy and expediency of response, and discussing potential assessments to gauge the key response success factors.

Situational Analysis

The situational analysis process covers three phases of disaster response: Initial, interim, and final assessments. The data that is collected and analyzed must address the disaster type, imminent hazards, major problems, and available resources. The depth of assessment must extend to life safety, available lifelines, access routes, essential facilities, and coordinated implementation of a comprehensive response. Life safety is always the first priority of situational analysis, as indicated by this assertion from NYS-DHSES: "First and always, assessment must focus on immediate emergency needs for life, safety, protection of property and essential services (Miske, 2006; "NYS," 2013). The objectives of situational assessment for purposes of debriefing include the provision of comprehensive and timely reports on the scope and impact of a disaster, to accurately and appropriately inform the public, to assess the effectiveness and appropriateness of decision making at all relevant levels, and to assess and adjust provision for recovery assistance and disaster resources ("NYS," 2013). In addition, systemization of information must address assessment and collection, analysis and collation, and dissemination -- all of which must articulate to facilitate consistent, efficient communication and collaboration.

The Five "C" Key Success Factors

The threads that can be pulled through the fabric of disaster response are fundamentally those of competency, compliance, comprehensiveness, communication, coordination, and culture. These attributes are integrated throughout disaster response management, yet each must be robustly addressed as a distinct consideration since the five "Cs" play pivotal roles in each phase of disaster response management. Indeed, the five "Cs" are pillars for managing large, multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional response programs.

Competency. While it is readily apparent that competency is a critical factor in the effective implementation of disaster response management plans, it is important to consider how competency is developed and how it must be sustained. A more detailed discussion of this factor follows in the section on designing disaster response evaluation tools and processes.

Compliance. The success factor of compliance is an indicator of the fidelity to existing time-tested, proven protocol that is essential to effective inter-agency functioning. That is to say, for example, that the overarching National Incident Management System (NIMS), the National Response Framework (NRF), and the Incident Command System (ICS) provide guidelines for conducting disaster responses that -- through their very existence -- serve as a comprehensive communication and coordination frameworks. The ICS definition provided by the United States Center for Excellence in Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance illustrates this point: ICS is "a set of personnel, policies, procedures, facilities, and equipment, integrated into a common organizational structure designed to improve emergency response operations of all types and complexities" ("ICS," 2004). One key reason for complying with the ICS framework is that it is a scalable, adaptable mechanism that references a familiar hierarchy that enables people from diverse areas and disciplines to conduct efficacious responses to disaster events, thereby fostering collaborative functioning within initiatives directed at homeland security ("ICS," 2004).

Comprehensiveness. Multi-agency planning is the base from which effective, comprehensive implementation must proceed. A primary function of the Incidence Command System is to provide an optimized structure for first-on-scene responders that promotes rapid, accurate, and comprehensive response ("ICS," 2004). Indeed, a key success factor in disaster response is the level at which people from multiple agencies -- who are unaccustomed to working together on a routine basis -- achieve seamless communication and operational plans (Moynihan, 2009).

Communication. An integrated communication plan is a crucial component of effective disaster response management. A sure path to failed incident management is a communication system that is inadequate to the incidence response context and which subsequently results in a communication breakdown. The challenge is to ensure that voice and data communication systems are effectively integrated at levels that effectively enable communication across personnel, agencies, and jurisdictions.

Coordination. Under non-crisis conditions, coordination evolves gradually as participating organizations develop incremental mutual adaptations as a matter of course (Moynihan, 2008). The working relationships that emerge over time form a basis for mutual regard, trust, and a sense of reliability (Moynihan, 2008). However, under the crisis conditions of disaster response, not only has contact been limited, but the first responders must rapidly come together as a unified body to perform many extraordinarily difficult tasks for which they may have limited experience (Moynihan, 2008). The pre-established roles and responsibilities mapped by federal protocols serve to expedite the coordination of personnel and resources. Moynihan (2008), in citing the early sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina disaster, argued that coordination is more effective when agencies assume a "push" approach to disasters, rather than a "pull" approach. The most apparent indicator of this switch from pull to push was the change to vocal command by the Department of Defense (DOD) rather than detailed, exacting request processes. A push approach enables leaders to make use of deep organizational knowledge, to understand "how organizational standard operating procedures will limit or further responsiveness," and to make adjustments to their original assumptions about a disaster event, thereby adapting their response to a better fit.

Culture. Khademian (2002) argued that agency leaders cannot be expected to easily modify or establish organizational culture. However, if more than one cultural mode exists within an organization, recognition by leaders that switching cultural modes can bring about a more effective response can substantially improve a collaborative effort (Weick, 2001). An example of a demonstrably effective cultural switch took place during the collaborative response to Hurricane Katrina; the DOD abandoned strict adherence to Joint Directorate of Military Support (JDOMS) procedures, which were designed to prevent the DOD from committing to "unsuitable missions or engage in unnecessary interagency action," and pursued a more aggressive course of action best characterized by the military can do spirit and "willingness to work around rules to achiever a mission" (Moynihan, 2008, p. 6). In As Moynihan (2008) wrote: "One should not underestimate the importance or difficulty of culture switching. It requires an ability to recognize what cultural attributes exist within an organization, and when each cultural attribute is appropriate" (p. 6).

Designing Disaster Response Evaluation

The main capability to which evaluation of disaster response must be directed is preparedness, since the "basic design of a crisis management system -- mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery -- assumes a consistent, integrated approach across those functions" (Moynihan, 2008, p. 10). The evaluation of disaster preparedness must take place on…

Cite This Term Paper:

"Debriefing Disaster Response" (2015, January 07) Retrieved February 23, 2018, from

"Debriefing Disaster Response" 07 January 2015. Web.23 February. 2018. <>

"Debriefing Disaster Response", 07 January 2015, Accessed.23 February. 2018,