Training & Education

How and When to Brief (Column)

Briefings in an activated EOC come in all shapes and sizes, and there are more bad briefings than good ones.

Urban Search and Rescue teams met in Boulder for a briefing
Urban Search and Rescue teams met in Boulder for a morning briefing during the Colorado flood response in September 2013. Photo courtesy of Michael Rieger/FEMA

Briefings in an activated EOC come in all shapes and sizes. In truth, there are more bad briefings than there are good ones. Briefings are not meetings, facilitated discussions or roundtables. If you hear a good briefing, you will recognize it immediately.

Most of what I share here will apply to almost every briefing scenario, but admittedly there can be exceptions to the rule. First and foremost, a briefing must provide the information that everyone needs to know to set the stage for what has happened and is happening. It allows everyone hearing the briefing to get the “world picture” of the event and then act accordingly within their role.

Personally I like to have briefings take place using a map. This provides a visual sense of space and timing to what is being said.

Start the briefing with the national situation. I’ve found this idea to be confusing to some. What else is happening in the country that might impact your event and the resources that are available? If your disaster isn’t the No. 1 priority, then knowing that and sharing it allows people to have a better expectation for what resources might be coming or being withheld. The same applies to telling everyone what is happening in your state.

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Then address what is happening in adjacent jurisdictions. We live in an interconnected
world
, and to understand the size and scope of an event, you need to include those cities, counties and states you call neighbors. It also means that the map you are briefing from needs to extend beyond the borders of your jurisdiction.

Next, I believe in briefing the weather, no matter what type of event you are dealing with. The weather is a variable that can significantly impact your response and recovery operation.

Two more key elements must always be covered when briefing an operation: logistics and the supply of resources. Much of a disaster response is about moving people and things to where they are needed, so it’s critical that the location (map) and routes (map) of logistics be covered.

The other element to always cover is communications. First of all, address the status of communications with all parties engaged in the disaster response. If everyone has good communications — great! If there are problems, point them out, and of course review what communications channels are being used for the various aspects of the operation.

For most disasters briefings might take 10 minutes at most.  For more complicated and extensive ones you may need a bit more time to cover everything. To accomplish the above you need to have just one person doing the briefing. Do not do a round robin around the room for people to add in details. Frequency of briefings is another matter. Early in a disaster you might have a very quick briefing every hour as the details of what has happened become known. Once a rhythm is established, these can be cut back depending on the circumstances and how dynamic the event and circumstances dictate. Last, I believe in a “ring the bell” briefing when something significant has just happened that everyone needs to know about. These are quick announcements, e.g., “The second tower has collapsed.” And don’t forget to point to the map so people know where events are happening.

Eric Holdeman  |  Contributing Writer

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.

He can be reached by emailTwitter and Google+.

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