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The Equipment Manager

by Eric L. Beser: Best practices for managing EOC equipment with the shrinking budget

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April 19, 2013

Like everyone else, I am glued to MSNBC watching the events unfold in Boston. What I am seeing is living proof in real time that the money spent on coordinated anti-terrorism, on command and control, and on police equipment to combat real terrorist threats was in fact very well spent. Congress may think otherwise and often does (thinking is a word that is taken loosely when it comes to Congress). 

The goal of equipment management is to manage the resources so that equipment goes from point A to point B with minimal effort and maximum effect.  What you don't see today on the news coverage, and the coverage on the Boston Marathon bombing itself and its aftermath, is the number of exercises, the hours of training that had been accomplished as part of the homeland security grant programs.  The effectiveness of the coordinated response, the ability to shut down a major urban area within hours, to set up an incident management command system that pushes equipment from point A to point B is in fact the most effective of all measurements proving that the money spent on these programs was indeed the way to go.

I think it is important that we all send a note to our congressional delegation. Thank them for the fact that in the past, their predecessors had the forethought to think for the needs of the community, and that they should be invited to do the same with these programs in the future. It is not "expensive toys" that were purchased.  The medical response and triage response that was so effective was in fact, the end result of training exercises held under the this grant program. Thank them for thinking to continue these programs and to help render them more effective in our immediate future.

Is there a lesson here for the equipment manager who has to track all of the expensive equipment now in use in Boston?  I am sure there is, and I will be exploring some of those issues in the future.  But not today.  Today my thoughts and my heart is in Boston.


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November 05, 2012

One only has to read the discussion boards and blog postings to see that after all we have learned from Hurricane Katrina, and all we have implemented in the National Recovery Framework, we still have problems getting equipment out to those who desperately need it. There is an excellent discussion going on in the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Professionals LinkedIn group entitled “Anyone has ideas on why the discrepancy in the number of generators sent by FEMA and deployed by local agencies.”  This thread is based on the recent Wall Street Journal article “Few Big FEMA Generators Humming.

What is clear from this discussion, and a blog posting “What are the Challenges In Resource Management” is that there is a major difference between the discipline of equipment management as I always write about in this blog, and resource management as implemented by the majority of incident command systems in use by state and local level emergency management agencies.  Fortunately, I am not the only one that saw this coming.

One of the participants in the Linked in Group noted that "90% of what occurs in an Emergency Operations Center is about moving people and things". What we are seeing in many different instances in the Post-Sandy Response and Recovery efforts are logistical challenges. It is never just a Generator. Instead it is a Generator, the right cabling, the right adapters, and how it is being shipped to where it needs to be. If the Generator is a large one, then it is also a licensed installer, a fork lift to move it, a fork lift operator, a truck, and a truck driver. Had a logistics "system of record" been in place prior to this event (there are several examples of this kind of technology used by Gulf Coast states), then the "reach-back" to Suppliers of all types (private contractors, mutual aid partners, NGOs, FEMA) could have been pre-planned, coordinated, and managed in a timely fashion and in a way that insures that all the critical logistical details are met.

So what is the difference between resource management and equipment management? The answer lies in who is using the equipment, and who is maintaining the equipment, and the communication between the two.  Resource management, in an incident command system is knowing what kind of resource and type of resource is required for a given emergency, and knowing how to deploy that resource and track the deployment. Most incident command systems have resource editors and/or resource modules that work according to the NIMS standard to categorize the resource, link it to people, and note the discipline and reimbursement policy.  These resource management modules will list the equipment required by the resource, the home location of the equipment, and the contact individual who is responsible for deploying that equipment.  It is here, in this resource management module, that equipment management and resource management share some similarities.  Many incident commanders and emergency personnel are lulled into a false sense of security by this intersection of disciplines thinking that this is all the equipment management that is needed.  That is until the mega emergency occurs that rapidly outstrips the resource module requiring different information that is just not available, or has not been entered into the system.

Nothing like reaching for some hardware and finding out that it is not just the hardware you need.  In fact the one thing that resource modules don’t include are the links to other parts that is absolutely required to operate the equipment.   Or the equipment shown in the resource list is now out of service because it is not working, or has been classified wrong, and really is not appropriate. Or, as the case of the deployment of generators, the parts, people, or cables are not listed, and have to be acquired.  Meanwhile the generator sits idle.

This is where the discipline of equipment management differs from the discipline of resource management.  The resource manager counts on the fact that the list of equipment is accurate, that the required parts are there, the equipment has been maintained properly, and will work during the incident response.  The discipline of equipment management makes sure that the above happens.

As we are seeing the post-Sandy response, the discipline of resource management breaks when there is no equipment management behind it.  We are getting a lot of things right in the response to Sandy.  We are seeing the effectiveness of the recovery framework in connecting communities to resources, and our ability to mobilize volunteers, emergency workers and first responders makes me very proud to live in this country.  We have learned a lot from Katrina, and we are seeing that the hard lessons learned from the ninth ward have been effective in the North East.  What we are now seeing is the stress on the system, and where that system is stressed, we see further room for improvement.  We are good at managing resources. We need to become better at managing equipment.

As usual, I appreciate hearing from you and your comments. I can be reached through my email or linked in.


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August 16, 2012

I have been asked by six different emergency management systems to examine why their equipment management processes have failed and to make recommendations for change. In all cases it has boiled down to five reasons. Here's what I found out. The good news was that all five reasons have solutions.

Failure # 1: Using Spreadsheets

Nearly all spreadsheets contain errors, which is to be expected with information entered without effective controls.  Whether it is because of incorrect  background equipment data or a wrong formula, there's little doubt that information you pull from the spreadsheet, such as location information, maintenance data, or usage data, is likely to be inaccurate.  Spreadsheets allow for several different types of errors to occur, thereby making it difficult to ensure precision.  Additionally, several people within one county department will often access, manage and edit the same spreadsheet, which can compound the likelihood of errors.
Not only does access by more than one person cause potential for additional errors, but it also removes the ability to maintain an audit trail and overall security.  With spreadsheets, you are unable to track actions made by users.  Besides the probability of being error prone  and lacking security, spreadsheets are also:

  • Unable to accommodate 'parent/child'  relationships, making it difficult to accurately track and manage these important hierarchical dependencies.
  • Ineffective in meeting historical reporting  and forecasting environments, because of the complexity required by these reports and the inability to rely on the data.
  • Unable to export information directly into government forms, requiring them to be filled out manually and risking incorrect transcription.


Using an equipment system geared for emergency management can eliminate many of the errors that the use of spreadsheets causes. For example, maintenance formulas and asset lives can be defaulted for each site, based on any defined equipment category, which will help remove calculation errors. Processing maintenance in a equipment system, rather  than spreadsheets, is faster and easier.  It can be completed with just one click of a button. An equipment system will also provide the structure to link 'parent/child' assets, set up security for all users, and offer the ability to run standard and customizable reports.

Failure #2: Not completing a proper physical audit

The credibility of an organization's data (the existence of equipment and its home location) will be in question if it cannot be verified. Verifying what an organization owns and the whereabouts is essential for credibility and complying with DHS Audits, especially if equipment is funded under a federal grant. A physical audit is also an effective equipment management procedure  that can help ensure that equipment is insured at the correct level, maintenance  is accurately budgeted  for and unexpected 'write-offs'  are avoided.

Physical audits are essential to clean up the variances between  what is being financially accounted for on the equipment list and what is actually present.  The potential  risks of not conducting  a physical audit include:

  • Inaccurate physical verification of assets can render  the asset list unreliable
  • Cost of equipment use could be allocated to the wrong company/cost center/department/division
  • DHS Audit Failure to account for funded equipment
  • Missing equipment (potential theft problem) could go undetected
  • The audit trail of transferred  equipment can be lost
  • Equipment could be under or over insured
  • Exposure to accounting audit write-up


An organization  can avoid these risks by implementing  formal physical audit policies and procedures along with a supported  asset tracking system which will help control  and manage the Equipment register.  Barcode tracking technology can help reduce the time and money  spent  managing assets, making proper  physical audits quick and simple to carry out.
 

Failure #3: Unauthorized changes are occurring

There are two ways in which unauthorized  changes can occur and cause problems. The first is unauthorized  access to the system and the second  is not having the correct procedure in place for changes to equipment events.

Security of data is critical to compliance for corporate  governance regulations including FAR and DHS Property Requirements. In order to avoid unauthorized  changes occurring  in your organization's Equipment list, security should be defined at user level to ensure that confidential information  can be viewed only by those who need to see it. Individual or group  access rights should be designated according to an organization's specific requirements. This cannot take place with spreadsheets  so a specialist system is essential for this security.

A well planned transfer and disposal process plays a key role in effective equipment management.    An automated procedure that allows multi-user  approval  can help streamline  processes and afford time and costs savings while  ensuring the accuracy and accountability  of the asset register.   Using a specialist system with event request authorization  functionality allows users to create a transfer or disposal request which is then sent to a pre-determined supervisor for approval, thereby allowing organizations to ensure all changes made to the equipment list are authorized.

Failure #4: Non adherence to compliance issues

When receiving federal grants for purchase of equipment, these grants come with rules governing the use of funds. These grants are subject to audit by those who are providing the funds.  Non compliance at the best, can lead to headaches for the agency, for the grant administrator, and for the equipment manager.At the worst, non compliance can lead to legal action, reach back audits (where the funds allocated are requested to be refunded) and at the very worst, prison. Honestly, I have not heard of anyone in the emergency management community having to face trial, but there have been UASI regions subject to reach back because of improper grant compliance.


If your organization does not properly adhere to compliance  issues you may:

  • Have an audit failure by Dept. Of Homeland Security
  • Affect the ability of the organization to receive additional dollars
  • Be subject to forfeiture of grant money


A specialist Equipment management system can easily track all compliance issues regarding guidelines for federal dollars.  The system must be able to categorize the equipment based on FEMA's authorized equipment list proving to the auditor that the equipment is on that list.  Tracking equipment by grant year and type allows the equipment manager the ability to demonstrate that money allocated for that equipment has been effectively deployed.


Instant access to a comprehensive audit trail can significantly reduce financial reporting  errors and provide  further  control  over general accounting activities.

Failure #5: Poor reporting or lack of reporting

Composing reports and forecasts can be a lengthy, arduous and costly process that is often  subject to human error if conducted by hand.  Bad reporting  can affect organizations by:

  • Misinforming management of information  that is critical to business decisions
  • Causing non-adherence  with compliance issues, resulting  in the consequences mentioned  above


In order to avoid unreliable reports for your equipment, it is best to use a reporting  tool in a specialist equipment system.  Typical reports  available in specialist systems that will help your organization include:

  • A Equipment balance sheet.  This report consolidates starting points and ending points of the month  and shows all of the month's activities.
  • Events.  The reports  shows all transfers, disposals, relifes, and revaluations that have occurred  in the given time period.
  • Audit history.
  • Spare equipment that is not assigned to any one individual. This equipment can be used instead of purchased.

 

Conclusion:

Don't disregard the importance of equipment management.   Each of the five failures above can cause costly and sometimes legal penalties.  The best way to avoid  failing is to implement  a specialist equipment management system and standard processes and procedures for your organization to follow. With the proper  rules and tools, equipment management can be fast and simple.

You can reach me via linked in or via email. I am always interested in your opinion and comments.


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June 18, 2012

According to a recent article by the Associated Press,the Defense Department has stopped issuing weapons to thousands of law enforcement agencies until it is satisfied that state officials can account for all the surplus guns, aircraft, Humvees and armored personnel carriers it has given police under a $2.6 billion program. This material is free to law enforcement agencies, however it comes with strict rules on how it must be tracked. Because some of this equipment has gone missing or ended up in hands of criminals, the military has decided to conduct a blanket audit to ensure that this material is tracked and accountability maintained. According to this article, the AP reports that nothing specific caused this shutdown however cites an article in an Arizona newspaper reporting that police have sold surplus gear to non-police agencies, a clear violation of the rules. The article said that accounting is going to be difficult as most state agencies keep only paper records. When requested by AP to account for those records, most agencies report that this task would take over 500 hours just to review the requested records.  This program is popular because it provides millions of dollars in equipment to agencies sustaining deep budget cuts.

What is clear from this article is that a much needed program is in trouble because of a failure in equipment management practices. In the instance of an Arizona police department the failure occurred in disposal of equipment not being used to non-police agencies.  Disposal of equipment by sale to others is a common practice, and provides a return on investment to agencies that have excess equipment or surplus that have costs to maintain. In fact, tracking equipment that can be disposed is one of set of key returns on investment of a good equipment process. Perhaps the failure reported in this case was not that there was a disposal process, it failed because the group implementing the process were not completely cognizant of the rules governing the equipment being disposed. This failure was caused by not having an equipment management plan in effect, and a means of tracking this equipment to begin with.

Could this problem be prevented? How quickly can this problem be remedied? The answer is easy and quick. There are off the shelf systems available at a price point low enough, but with functions high enough to provide state and federal visibility. These systems can easily classify, store, and report on all of this equipment at each state and local level, and satisfy all the equipment management processes demanded by the Department of Defense in order to continue this valuable program. I know of one such cloud-based system, currently used in other similar applications that can be easily utilized to fix this problem. Email me or connect with me on Linked-In, I am happy to recommend such a system. Perhaps a cost of $500K per state for a good tracking system to maintain $2.6 billion in equipment, and save taxpayer dollars (and taxpayer lives perhaps) is a sufficient tradeoff?  Throwing dollars and technology to fix something may not be sufficient.  The technology is here and the dollar tradeoff sufficiently low to make this affordable. The main issue is cultural and this is not an easy problem to solve.  Until we, as equipment managers fix the “not invented here” issues, and “good enough for government” mentality, we will continue to have program suspensions, unneeded audits, and missing equipment that ends up in the hands of criminals and terrorists.  This part of the failure is not easy to fix or change.

Any comments?  Please email me or post here.  I am interested in hearing from other equipment managers and first responders.


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May 18, 2012

In my dealings with emergency management professionals in local and regional jurisdictions, I keep hearing them tell me that they have lost equipment due to lack of tools to track them once they are on loan, or don't know how much excess equipment exists so they do not have to go through the budget fight to purchase equipment that may already be sitting gathering dust. From out of the trenches, one of the equipment guys that I am connected to on Linked In, emailed me when he read my blog and asked me where I thought most Emergency Operations Centers were in their level of equipment management process maturity.

Without identifying who he is, and which EOC he works in, he told me how five 140K generators were lost after being deployed after a tornado event, and found seven months later near where they were deployed but had been moved on an ad-hoc use.  The records were never updated, and the generators were found quite by accident.He ranked is agencies process maturity as chaotic as their tool of choice is an excel spreadsheet. I tried to be nice and responded that I thought that his business process was somewhat repeatable rather than chaotic, as they had used different tools, their business process is somewhat structured, can be relied upon during stress times, and that the business process is somewhat enforced.  Just because the asset management system they use is email and excel, means that the record keeping can become outdated quickly, and that is why they lost the generator.  He also reminded me of the difficulty that their agency had during the last DHS audit because some of the tracking of funded equipment was not present and no one knew what had happened.

At last year's UASI conference, I attended a session on surviving the DHS Audit.  The stakes for failing the audit are pretty high with the DHS conducting "Reach back" audits trying to put a money value on lost equipment or equipment purchased using incorrect guidelines. So I do know that the stakes are high.

"Now", said my equipment manager, "the situation is worse. With the funding cuts, they lost some of the people, and the knowledge about equipment whereabouts and usage went with them. When I called a person who's job was cut and is still on the unemployment line who for sure, knew where the missing equipment should be, the "I don't remember" answer that I got was an indication of the growing chaos of our failed process."

I recently came across a Gartner study about the state of asset management business processes in private industries.  This study pointed out exactly what we heard from the equipment management trenches. In this study Gartner indicates that up to 30% of organizations are in a ‘chaotic’ state, meaning that they do not know what they own, where the assets are located or who is using them.

Another statistic coming from the UK disaster recovery community is that according to research by KPMG, UK companies are wasting £17 billion a year because managers have not applied proper asset management concepts.

Finally other research indicates that companies are overspending by up to 40% because of underutilization, inefficient maintenance and petty theft of their assets.

I can well imagine that with budget cuts and job elimination, the knowledge transfer that a well defined equipment management process affords can be lost with the first layoff notice.

I can't answer for agencies I have not seen nor communicated with. But I do get approached by my clients and potential clients asking for help in organizing their equipment management programs, and I am seeing the same outcomes in group after group that I first come in contact with.

So I would like to get some answers to questions that are now being asked, especially during the severe reduction of funds that we are all facing.

Do we know the range of equipment utilization in emergency management agencies?  

Do we know honestly what percentage of the emergency manage agencies can say they have their equipment managed properly?

I will be at the UASI Conference in Columbus next week. Come by to see me as I will be hanging around booth 600 near the entrance of the exhibit hall. I really would like to talk about these questions and come up with some answers that I can report back to this blog.  If you go to this conference, stop by I would like to meet and talk to you.


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May 15, 2012

I am about to date myself here. Back in 1986, I was working with a Westinghouse Fellow at the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh along with another co-worker from Baltimore.  My mentor was a retired IBM Software Engineer named Watts Humphrey, who is best known for his invention, of all things, of the software license.  He came to SEI and began work on The Software Process Program. He headed up this group from 1986 to 1993.  A kid with learning disabilities, Watts became an engineer with five patents, 11 books and a National Technology Medal from the President. He died in 2010 at age 83 of liver cancer.  His best invention was the Capability and Maturity Model.  This model was originally developed as a tool for objectively assessing the ability of government contractors processes to perform a contracted software project. Humphrey based this framework on the earlier Quality Management Maturity Grid developed by Philip B. Crosby in his book "Quality is Free". However, Humphrey's approach differed because of his unique insight that organizations mature their processes in stages based on solving process problems in a specific order. Humphrey based his approach on the staged evolution of a system of software development practices within an organization, rather than measuring the maturity of each separate development process independently. The Capability and Maturity Model (CMM) has thus been used by different organizations as a general and powerful tool for understanding and then improving general business process performance.


The ASTM standard E 2452 Standard Practice for Equipment Management Process Maturity uses the standard definitions of the Capability and Maturity Model as postulated by Humphrey and his crew at SEI.  The E52 committee defined this standard taking the equipment management life cycle phases and applying the metrics and the assessments of process maturity. The ASTM standard structures the equipment lifecycle from acquisition through disposal in terms of the functioning business processes for each phase and as a set of structured levels that describe how well the business process of the organization can reliably and sustainably produce required outcomes.  The Equipment Management Maturity Model provides:

  • a place to start
  • the benefit of a community’s prior experience
  • a common language and a shared vision
  • the framework for prioritizing actions
  • a way to define what improvement means for your organization

Sounds like a working group, no? In my previous blog posting “The Guiding Principles of Equipment Management” I listed a start of a working group charter.  It is in the standard practice for Equipment Management maturity that the body of work done by this working group can be benchmarked, creating assessments of other organizational practices and successes.

The Equipment Management Maturity Model involves the following five aspects:

  1. Maturity Levels: a 5-level of process maturity continuum – where the uppermost (5th) level is a notional ideal state where processes would be systematically managed by a combination of process optimization and continuous process improvement.
  2. Key Process Areas: a Key Process Area (KPA) identifies a cluster of related activities that, when performed together, achieve set of goals considered important.
  3. Goals: the goals of a key process area summarize the stats that must exist for the KPA to be implemented in an effective and lasting way. The extent to which goals are accomplished is a Key Processes Indicator (KPI) that can be measured. It indicates the capacity in which the organization has established their maturity level.
  4. Common Features: common features include practices that implement and institutionalize a key process area. There are five features: commitment to Perform, Ability to Perform, Activities Performed, Measurement and Analysis, and Verifying Implementation.
  5. Key Practices:  The key practices describe the elements  of infrastructure and practice that contribute most effectively to the implementation and institutionalization of the KPAs.

The maturity level describes the five states of a process:


Level 1 - Initial (Chaotic)
It is characteristic of processes at this level that they are (typically) undocumented and in a state of dynamic change, tending to be driven in an ad hoc, uncontrolled and reactive manner by users or events. This provides a chaotic or unstable environment for the processes.


Level 2 - Repeatable
It is characteristic of processes at this level that some processes are repeatable, possibly with consistent results. Process discipline is unlikely to be rigorous, but where it exists it may help to ensure that existing processes are maintained during times of stress.


Level 3 - Defined
It is characteristic of processes at this level that there are sets of defined and documented standard processes established and subject to some degree of improvement over time. These standard processes are in place (i.e., they are the AS-IS processes) and used to establish consistency of process performance across the organization.

Level 4 - Managed
It is characteristic of processes at this level that, using process metrics, management can effectively control the AS-IS process (e.g., for software development ). In particular, management can identify ways to adjust and adapt the process to particular projects without measurable losses of quality or deviations from specifications. Process Capability is established from this level.


Level 5 - Optimizing
It is a characteristic of processes at this level that the focus is on continually improving process performance through both incremental and innovative technological changes/improvements.


Where does your organization fit into the business process of equipment management?   If your organization fits into the first 2 levels, your group stands to make significant improvement. If you fit into the highest level, well I am preaching to the converted.  Most Emergency Management Organizations, including many aspects at FEMA fit into Level 3 although some (see my previous blog posting on PEP) are still at level 1 or 2.

Watts Humphrey used to tell us every week in our progress meeting: “Goals are about more than results. They’re about direction and focus. They establish priorities for required work.”  When we would suggest an activity, he would always ask: “Does this activity move the team toward the goal or would something else be more effective?”


Understanding the Equipment Management Capability and Maturity model provides you with a framework to grow.  It is the mark on the doorjamb that we place each year to indicate another step towards maturity and being able to function effectively in our jobs.  The mature EOC equipment manager understands that need, and works towards achieving the business goals with the eye on accuracy and commitment to public safety.

Please email me if you have any questions or post your comments here.


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May 10, 2012

I introduced the concept in my previous posting that Equipment Management is a science that is governed by industry specific standards and best practices.  In today’s discussion, I am going to reflect on a topic that has many interpretations and causes even the most seasoned equipment manager heartburn on occasion.
 
To track or not to track is answered by looking at the degree of control required, the degree of impact that the equipment has on society or at the very least the operation of the organization, and of course, the value of the equipment.  There is a price threshold that many equipment managers look at, however price as a deciding point is not the only reason not to tag or track a piece of equipment or inventory.  Why then would equipment that costs $100 be tracked and equipment that costs $1000 not be tracked?  Let’s look at the industry standard to find our answer.


The answer is found in the ASTM standard E 2608 Standard Practice for Equipment Control Matrix This standard describes equipment control classes, equipment control levels, and their relationships.  The levels of control required are used for any type of equipment or group of equipment, and is used to clarify what constitutes effective and efficient control.  There is a lot of debate on how to track equipment given the new tagging technology (RFID or GPS Tags) and why you would use this type of technology vs the traditional barcode tag.  Again the answer to why is the type of control that is required.

There are a number of factors that lead into a control matrix.  Compliance to applicable laws and regulations is a major factor. The consequences of not complying and the negative impact on operations help to determine the degree of control.  Containment is another factor if equipment must be kept within a certain geographic boundary.   Continuous control defines equipment that must be tracked in real time. With this definition, the use of GPS tags will provide continuous control of equipment while mobile. What is a control matrix?  Think of a table that on the top column is the level of control that is needed, from “Continuous” down to “No Control” appropriate called “Equipment Control Level”. Each row lists the consequences of Loss of control from “Security Impact” down to “No Impact” in the specification appropriately called “Equipment Control Class”.  So where your equipment falls within this matrix governs how you will tag, and track this equipment aside from the monetary value of the equipment.

What types of control are specified? The standard provides five levels.  At the first level is Continuous Control. Continuous Control means just that. Equipment is monitored 24x7 by human or electronic means.  The use of RFID or GPS tags will provide continuous updates as to the location of this equipment. Normally this type of equipment monitored in this fashion is of such importance that community and safety is at jeopardy if this equipment goes out of control.   The next level of control is Continuous Control While Mobile. What this means is that it is not necessary to track this equipment while stationary, however when the equipment is out in the field, some form of continuous tracking is required.  SWAT and Mobile Command Centers, Trailers, Generators and Mobile Cell Towers are such equipment as would be first responder vehicles or CBRN equipment. The next level of control is Event Tracking.  What this means is that whenever equipment is assigned or moved, this is recorded in the equipment management system. When the resource is out in the field, some form of record is kept as to who has this resource.  The fourth class of control is that of Containment.  This level of control ensures that equipment is kept within a designated area.  Normally equipment of this class is not mobile, may be attached to some location, and does not require high tech tagging and may only need to be audited once a year.  Finally the last level of control is equipment that requires no tracking or protection.  As you can see, these levels of control requires a diminished amount of tracking as the level increases down to no tracking or protection.

Coupled with control are the consequences of the loss of control over that equipment asset.  The standard defines five levels of control which really reflects the consequences of the loss of control from the most severe to no discernible consequence. At the highest, the consequence of loss of control for class 1 is societal safety/security impact, which has significant negative societal impacts. The next class of control is where loss of control will cause personal safety impact which does not rise to the level of societal impact. The third class of consequences is that of operational impact, which is characterized by a negative operational impact. The fourth class of consequences is that of compliance impact.  This class is described as showing a negative impact by not complying with regulations.  Failure of an audit by DHS can be significant, however that can be remedied. The control consequence is not as great as negative personal safety or societal safety.  Finally, the last class of control is where there is no consequence or discernible impact.

When taken as a cross reference, equipment that requires continuous control that has severe consequences if control is lost must have tags that allow real time tracking at all times. Certainly the use of RFID or GPS tags are worth the expense as the cost of loss far exceeds the cost of the tracking.  Remember that a $400 laptop may contain critical data or data that is covered under HIPA regulations and if exposed would cause a significant dollar liability. This item must contain an expensive (often > than the value of the laptop) tagging mechanism.  Equipment falling into the class of no discernible impact of consequence, and requiring no tracking or control can be left out of the equipment management system.

What is significant about this matrix is that it gives you the method you need to follow in order to determine the level of control that you need to place on pieces of equipment other than the value. This is the third time I have mentioned “value of equipment”.   DHS has a guideline to inventory equipment greater than $5000 in monetary value.  Some states lowered this value to $2000.  However the equipment control matrix tells you that there are other reasons than this dollar value to control equipment.  What this means is that using this control matrix as a guideline will help your working group come up with a systematic method of tagging and tracking equipment that will enhance the accuracy and capability of your equipment management program.

If you have questions or comments, please feel free to email me or post them here.  



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May 07, 2012

In my previous blog postings, I have often noted that equipment management is an Art and a Science. In my earlier posting on starting an equipment management process improvement working group, I wrote that the task leader must understand how equipment management works, and the expected outcomes that can be measured as a result of adopting industry best practices. I received several emails on this posting, and my readers have asked me to explain what these outcomes should be, and what industry standards exist to document this process. OK, I admit, the tone of one of the emails was “you made a statement now prove it!” and I smiled at the thought of having to justify my existence.

I was wondering how to lead into this topic. It is an extensive topic that can get bogged down in the minutia of standards and documents, and can become tedious when trying to explain.  When getting a certification in Equipment Management from the National Property Management Association, one has to study each and every regulation and how it applies in real life. The way I think I need to tackle this topic in my blog is to not be so serious, and to stretch this out in several postings.  I want to be informative, and to give a recipe for success. As in every science, the measurement of the process gives the proof of delivery, and in this case, equipment management as a science is no different. Having guiding industry standards provides blueprints for this process, and a model to judge whether or not your process has maturity or still needs work.

So my post for today is to talk about an industry standard that has the ASTM Designation E2279 – Standard Practice for Establishing the Guiding Principles of Property Management.  This standard as well as others that I am going to be describing can be ordered from the ASTM site and used directly. These ASTM standards have been developed by the E53 Committee which covers the industry standards on Property and Equipment Management. This committee is staffed by members of the National Property Management Association. 

So why establish an industry standard to set “Guiding Principles?”  At first thought, this appears to be redundant with each principle described in detail in other standards in this series.  As most of the standards in this series go, the Standard Practice for Establishing the Guiding Principles of Property Management is only 3 pages, mostly term definition.  Simply put, it is a standard to create a standard.

But in detail, this standard describes a set of guiding principles that can be applied to all factors of equipment management and describes a set of objectives that when employed stress a simplified process that encourage the adoption of best practices. The importance of developing a standard to establish a set of guiding principles is that less is more, and these objectives will foster judgment rather than “by the book” decisions. The E53 committee’s purpose in adopting this standard was to foster a problem-solving mentality within the equipment management community and encourage the use of innovative and cost effective processes.  In today’s environment of changing needs and budgetary constraints, it is essential that organizations respond to these needs within the context of a good equipment management process.  The economic benefits and conformance to the restricting budget is the most practical benefit of using these guidelines.

So what are the guiding principles?  This standard divides these principles into three groups:

  • The Management Of Equipment,
  • The Utilization of Equipment, and
  • The Disposal of Equipment

When devising an equipment management working group to examine your equipment management process and adopt what should be a working charter for this group, this standard should become your guiding mission statement.   What should this charter look like?


Under Management of Equipment, the goals are specific and somewhat obvious:

  1. The Equipment Management Working Group shall establish a set of policies and a system for the acquisition, use and disposal of equipment.
  2. The Equipment Management Working Groups purpose is to devise and maintain a system of controls sufficient to provide assurances to management and DHS auditors that provide for limited access, recorded transactions that can be compared to existing equipment at reasonable intervals, with appropriate actions taken if there are differences.
  3. This working group’s responsibility is the maintenance of adequate equipment records.
  4. The degree in which equipment is controlled and the costs of control must be commensurate with the consequences of a shortage and the criticality of the item’s loss.
  5. The controls established by this working group should be based on equipment management outcomes and have associated metrics that encourage process improvement.

Under Utilization of Equipment, these goals cover how equipment is inventoried and periodically audited:

 

  1. The Equipment Management Working group shall establish procedures that encourage the best value in the long term of maintenance of equipment assets.
  2. This working group’s responsibility is to oversee the property system that ensures that records are maintained in an accurate manner, all controlled property is received, records established and maintained and marked to denote the level of control, ownership and other information that fulfills organization objectives.
  3. The Equipment working group will set up procedures to survey and identify equipment that is in excess.
  4. This working group’s responsibility is to set up administrative controls based on inventory results and these controls should be reassessed based on economic value of the equipment rather than acquisition costs.
  5. The group should project the possibility and probability of loss, damage or destruction and minimizing such occurrences is a critical and economic factor.
  6. Create a system of handling excess and a process of using excess equipment as the first source of supply.

Finally, under Disposal of Equipment, the working group charter should cover the goals related to surplus equipment:

  1. The working group should create the process of disposal of surplus equipment including the sale or internet auction of such equipment that may still have economic value, or to decide how equipment should be donated to eligible recipients.
  2. This group should determine when abandonment, destruction, or donation would be appropriate and to set the guidelines necessary.
  3. This group should administer the cost and the proceeds from the disposal of equipment, and the proceeds should offset the cost of disposal, except where prohibited by state regulation.

If you read the ASTM standard, there are a few more key points; I am only focusing only on the main ideas for each section. However all of these guiding principles are fundamental to the success of an equipment management process improvement program. By adopting an Equipment Management Process Improvement Working Group, the key benefits are that the administrative costs of equipment management are reduced and the goal of stewardship of agency equipment is supported.The use of the working group provides the necessary stakeholders a voice in this process, which results in everyone working to reduce overall work, duplicated procedures, and redundant data.  Having a working group ensures that the process is monitored and as metrics are gathered, the process can be further optimized in the face of the changing budget requirements.

I know this is a bit tedious, and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them with me or post them here.


In subsequent postings, I am going to cover some of the other equipment management standards and how they apply to equipment used in the EOC setting.  Coming up next, what is an appropriate level of control of equipment and what is the cost values used in determining that control.  We will explore what the industry standards say and how to apply it to your equipment management process.



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April 19, 2012

In a review of the FEMA Prepositioned Equipment Program (PEP), Rick Martinez who is the Chief of Emergency Services in Sacramento County, California noted that this program suffered from a lack of a concept of operations which has resulted in a diversity of equipment that has clouded its mission. He did this review using non-FEMA and individual practitioners and has come to rather interesting conclusions. I read his report with interest, not only in seeing how equipment management standards can be used in this valuable community resource, but how it could give this program the concept of operations that it is sorely lacking.

What PEP provides is a set of standardized equipment pods that are prepositioned in 10 geographic areas to permit rapid deployment to states and localities during an all hazards response. Under current configuration, each pod consists of a $2.5M cache of highly specialized equipment as well as off the shelf items. Once a deployment request is approved, FEMA is to transfer custody of these assets to specifically designated State or local officials using formal request and deployment procedures.


What is inside each Pod is public record and the inventory list is described in Rick’s report. How can equipment management practices provide a much needed concept of operation? Let’s take a look at some best practices, in an ideal world, and provide what I think should be an equipment management concept of operations for an equipment program.

Finding 1. The standardized Cache requires maintenance, fit testing, and some equipment requires extensive training.

Best practice:  Maintain a centralized database that is accessible to all stakeholders of equipment catalogued by FEMA’s authorized equipment list, and by Pod and location.  Having the Pod on a geographic map would be useful and the system that I have in mind supports geo-locations using Google Earth.   Equipment that requires fit testing before use (most protective gear) should be cataloged and sizes available as inventory.  Because other equipment is expensive to maintain and requires periodic testing and calibration, this equipment should be listed in a maintenance schedule and regular reports showing the location of that equipment should be issued as maintenance is tracked.
 
Finding 2. The budget reductions have eliminated or severely curtailed the ability to maintain needed equipment in a large scale emergency.
 
Best practice.  The centralized database must be categorized as shared resources which include the people that work with the equipment, certifications required for use, and available practitioners who can maintain this equipment.  Along with the shared resource, the necessary training manuals, short videos showing how to use in steps that anyone can follow should be attached to the description. A Q/R barcode on the outside of the Pod should point to this resource description, and Q/R codes attached to the equipment in the Pod should point to the equipment description, and an online quick start user guide.

In Rick's recommendation, the program must coordinate between the community of first responders in order not to overtake their training ability, and should coordinate between other resources including National/Regional Incident Management, National CBRNE, Urban Search and Rescue Teams, and Disaster Medical Assistance. The report recommends that FEMA establish a “Push Package” that can be sent to local incident commanders requesting assistance.  An important recommendation is that additional Pods be used, or existing pods be modified to stock with equipment that is used to handle local or regional needs.

With an adoption of a good equipment management program, most if not all of the recommendations in this report can be implemented using the suggested best practices in my posting.  Good equipment management can put Pep into PEP as far as it's operational structure that it needs to continue effectively, and to provide the resource that it is intended to provide.  I really appreciate comments, and I respond via email or on my linked in page.


3 comments
April 16, 2012

Equipment management is a specific branch of resource management within the operations of the Emergency Management framework and the Total Community that we are supporting to prepare for or recover from any incident. To gain a clearer understanding of this field it must be viewed from the context of managing critical resources. A brief overview should help establish the position of equipment management within the broader resource management arena.

Why is Equipment Management Really Resource Management?

Resource management is the art and science of managing the three primary resources critical to the success of the recovery of the total community comprising of most enterprises: people, money, and required equipment resources needed to restore normal functioning of the community.

Equipment management refers to all of the knowledge, skills, processes, and systems directly related to the management and administration of this third resource throughout its life cycle, from initial acquisition to final disposition. It includes capital assets as well as real and personal property, both tangible and intangible, when used across the broad spectrum of public and private requirements for preparation and recovery. These include federal, state, and local government agencies; medical facilities; universities; and commercial, industrial, service and faith-based organizations comprising the constituent total community. It includes all types of equipment—both capital and expense—that are considered critical to the successful recovery of the community.

Equipment management and administration is a field bound by legal, regulatory, financial, and contractual requirements, and is governed by a variety of both practical applications and ethical principles and considerations. Formed in 2000,  ASTM Committee E53 documents and codifies the best processes, practices, tools, techniques, measurements, and systems as standards of performance in the field of equipment management and administration. 

What are the items that are recorded, controlled, managed, reported, and administered by equipment management professionals? Mostly they are the assets required by an organization to perform or support its primary mission. These include items that are purchased, fabricated, borrowed and/or leased, and which are used by the total community to achieve recovery from an incident.

The Department of Homeland Security has further classified property into two types and five major categories. The two general types are “critical infrastructure” and “personal.” Critical Infrastructure property refers to real estate: roads, bridges, and permanently installed essential structures such as sewers, pipelines, electrical grid, etc. Personal equipment addresses everything else that doesn’t meet the definition of critical infrastructure.

The five classes of DHS (as defined by the Federal Acquisition Regulations)  personal equipment are 1) agency peculiar property (items designed and produced specifically for a particular agency of the government), 2) facilities (generally commercially available equipment, but may include real property), 3) material, 4) special test equipment, and 5) special tooling. While companies doing business with DHS are very familiar with these classifications, those outside the government contract community have little familiarity with them. FEMA has produced the authorized equipment list classification for equipment purchased under FEMA Preparedness Grants (https://www.rkb.us/mel.cfm?subtypeid=549) and this list is used to classify equipment purchased under the variety of funding programs. This equipment is covered under category 3 of the general equipment classification.

The Few Government Standards Are Not Enough

Within the federal government, interest in the management and administration of the publicly funded property under its control is well documented.


The National Aeronautic and Space Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy all have well-defined property management guidelines and performance criteria. As good as these performance standards are, they have limited application in the commercial world. Government agencies have the stewardship responsibilities for all of the property purchased with public funds. The Federal Acquisition Regulations and supplements that are the basis of the government’s property criteria require equal treatment for a washer valued at $0.001 and a special test set valued at $1 million. These regulatory requirements are grounded in public law and, although effective, they may not be cost efficient.

As mature as these government systems are, there has been significant increase in interest—and in some cases alarm—over the need to drastically improve them. Congress, through committees and legislation, has also expressed its concern, principally in terms of the accuracy of reports regarding government property and the accuracy of the financial reports of all property owned by the federal government. Similar regulatory changes have been enacted affecting state governments, universities, and even hospitals. A testimony to the complexity of managing the third resource can be found in the government’s seven-year struggle to obtain approval for a much needed new government property regulation.

Over the past year, there has been significant criticism of the UASI programs and this criticism has resulted in reduced budgets and reduced effectiveness of this program. My vision has been to prove the effectiveness of this valuable resource by providing industry standard equipment management processes and metrics, and the resulting performance criteria will speak for itself and provide the needed measurement criteria that the UASI program needs right now. With the requirement of equipment sharing and better resource management, the stakes for having good equipment management processes are high. I would love to hear your comments, and you can reach me via my email or linked in.


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