JIC and NIMS Updates--Your Input Needed

New JIC Update available, FEMA seeking input for NIMS update

I just finished giving the keynote presentation at the EMI SIG conference (Dept of Energy's Emergency Management Issues Special Interest Group. The theme was "Harnessing the Winds of Change" and that is certainly appropriate in emergency management and communications. I focused on the Boston bomber manhunt, particularly the use of Internet-distributed police scanner information, what I've called nano-news. The world of news, social media, emergency communication and emergency management is certainly changing.

Governments often seem the last to recognize and deal with change. I've fretted over the 1990s era version of the Joint Information Center Model for some time, adapting it (it's basically the best thing out there for crisis communication structure) in my OnePage Crisis Communication Playbook. Now the 2009 version has been thoroughly updated and there are many reasons to cheer this update. I plan on doing a more thorough evaluation and post on the numerous significant updates to this fundamentally sound model, but will defer to my friend Jim Garrow's post on it where he focuses on two of the big changes: social media integration and how the JIC relates to ESF15.

Given the increased speed of updates, I suspect the National Response Team would welcome input for the next version of the JIC Model. However, FEMA is positively soliciting input on a revision or update of NIMS. This is great news for those concerned about how the venerable ICS is holding up to all the changes in the world of emergency management. The biggest change is captured in Bill Boyd's blog title: It's Not My Emergency." NIMS/ICS is appropriately a command and control model designed to enable a diverse and ad hoc team to manage a response through "unity of command." But in a "not my emergency" world, with important and valuable response partners who are operating on their own, autonomously, without training, without guidance, without coordination--how do you effect unit of command now?

Leaving aside that big question, I suspect anyone who has had experience in events under NIMS/ICS has ideas about how to improve it. FEMA is soliciting comments here and you may want to forward this link to others interested as I'm not impressed with how FEMA is getting the word out on this. I am impressed with the technology they are using to submit ideas and allow others to vote and comment on the ideas submitted. What's a little challenging is fitting the ideas or recommendations you want to provide into the categories or buckets they have offered.

I plan on throwing a few in myself. My concerns are:

1) Incorporating social media monitoring into the ICS structure--not through the PIO where it often lands now, but either in the Planning Section or maybe in an "Intelligence Officer" role to provide direct and continuing actionable intelligence to Command. c

2) Consolidating the Liaison Officer and Public Information Officer roles into a single Communication Officer role. The LNO role has been confusing and those serving in this are often ill-prepared to deal with the pressing demands of keeping government officials and other response partners fully engaged. We don't live in an era of media relations any more, but of an all encompassing communication world in which multiple very important audiences need access to fast, accurate information. Separating these roles creates unnecessary silos, complications and slows communication rather than speeding it.

3) Ending the confusion between ESF#15 (External Affairs) and the Joint Information Center. ESF#15 is a politically motivated structure designed to enable the elected officials to "control the message." The JIC is controlled by Command and is focused on getting information out about the event and the response. There are times when political messaging is needed and elected officials need to be front and center to build public trust. But it should never, ever supersede or eliminate the process of getting good response information out. The JIC should always be there to coordinate multiple-agency or response partner communications and to give the message: we are working together to fix this. If the politicians want to put their messages on top of that, have at, just don't kill the JIC in the meantime.

4) Recognizing in some official way the role of citizen responders. Perhaps through the optional incorporation of VOSTs into the ICS structure, or perhaps by creating a volunteer responder liaison function (probably in operations). The role of citizens should be now incorporated into response planning--and that would be aided by having an official citizen monitoring function in Planning of with the Intelligence Officer mentioned above. Not sure how to do this, but better minds can figure that out. We just can't bury our heads in the sand anymore pretending that "it's still our emergency."