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#204355 - 07/07/10 12:39 AM NIMS vs. Reality
MartinFocazio Offline

Pooh-Bah

Registered: 01/21/03
Posts: 2155
Loc: Bucks County PA
One of the cornerstones of large-scale emergency management is the use of the National Incident Management System (NIMS).
I have been taking NIMS courses for a long time now, and while I've gotten various certifications and the like, I've always had this nagging feeling that NIMS just isn't in synch with the reality of really large-scale incidents that don't happen to be wildfires (NIMS started from lessons learned in western wildfire management).

I came across this article today in which the author goes into some extensive detail about how NIMS and politics fare when they are in conflict (to save you the read, politics win).

I was rather startled to read in the article this item: "Katrina was a NIMS event but NIMS was new then and a big takeaway was that NIMS was effectively implemented." (oh really?)

So for someone who thought NIMS "worked" in Katrina to say, "The current lack of understanding, combined with the political messaging, in my mind threaten the future of NIMS. Resistance will grow, not only among private companies who now in most cases seem to eagerly participate, but also among other government agencies who could experience the same undermining political message" gives me some serious pause.

The author is a NIMS "enthusiast" - a position I don't share. I think NIMS is absurdly top-heavy, bureaucratic and complex - so does New York City, which uses a "modified" NIMS (and is the only city in America to have been hit by terrorists more than once, and didn't ask for FEMA help).

Having operated under NIMS for a few largish events (river floods) I found that NIMS was well-intentioned, exquisitely documented, and so hopelessly out of touch with the on-the-ground reality of both resources and administrative skills of emergency response agencies that it is a bit like having a guidelines for sex as written by someone who has all of the procedural elements well documented, but none of the practical experience that actually matters.

But I wonder what other folks with NIMS training think - does NIMS actually scale up? Or is it just a collection of forms to fill out to keep bean counters and administrators happy?



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#204356 - 07/07/10 03:35 AM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: MartinFocazio]
Art_in_FL Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 09/01/07
Posts: 2432
Quote:
"Katrina was a NIMS event but NIMS was new then and a big takeaway was that NIMS was effectively implemented."


Why does that phrase "Hell of a job Brownie" come to mind?

People forget that in term of the powers that be (PTB) the response to Katrina, particularly in NOLA, was entirely copacetic. A opposition voting block and power base was broken up, the people with overarching power remained in power, the people with money made more money and were set up to exploit the reconstruction, and, best of all, poor and dark skinned people got blamed for everything that went wrong.

For the PTB there was no down side.


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#204368 - 07/07/10 01:04 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: Art_in_FL]
Lono Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 10/19/06
Posts: 1013
Loc: Pacific NW, USA
I'm not qualified to comment on the efficacy of NIMS in a large scale disaster, only small ones (fires, floods). NIMS does function very well in incidents I'm involved in though, in terms of creating a more structured and effective interface between responding agencies (e.g. Fire Department and Red Cross). Some random thoughts on NIMS in smaller-scale practice:

- you get what you train for; the quality of an IC can vary, how seriously they take the whole ICS process/protocol. Good ICs are focussed - sometimes overly focussed, 'no time for other issues' on 'non-NIM' aspects of the response; better ICs can churn in downstream planning (what to do with apartment occupants) into the disaster (putting out the fire); the best ICs recognize opportunities to delegate tasks to outside agencies (like sheltering victims) immediately, and have the confidence to know they'll be addressed. NIMs works pretty well when you have the resources and the confidence to organize your response well.

- training and actual experience among responding agencies is golden. I know and the IC knows that when I see "J Madson" on the back of one particular IC that I can report in and get started doing my Red Cross job; we know each other, know what to expect from me as my function, I stay in my lane and get my tasks done without alot of oversight. You can never train (enough) effectively for large scale disasters, you have to trust that your response will scale up.

- when you improvise is an age old dilemma. Most will say improvisation and adaptation belong at the very local level, not at the top of an incident command. There is alot to back that up too. As a local responder I want the freedom to depart from NIMS and improvise and adapt my response - I don't want an IC improvising and adapting too much. There are lots of expecations, from the public, press and from responders in general. Don't do something that is obviously asshat, but don't depart from established protocols too far or too often either. That way lies chaos..

- scaling out any response is tricky; if not NIMS, then what? NYC's modified NIMS? I'm fine with that - I assume it incorporates important lessons learned, and probably some local resources dropped on responders courtesy of Homeland Security. Mind though the risk that you would develop your own NIMS that no one else can play / participate in effectively. Especially in large scale disasters you need thousands of responders to come in and work effectively, right away - they shouldn't spend time stumbling over a 'NY Way' versus a 'Boston Way' versus a 'Omaha Way'. Bad juju...

- in criticizing NIMS, why is the first impulse to talk about Katrina and FEMA (Brownie)? That's 5 years ago, donkey years in terms of refining response protocols. FEMA has changed (for the better), NIMS responses have changed as a result of lessons learned from Katrina - we make mistakes, we learn from them, and move on.

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#204371 - 07/07/10 02:26 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: Lono]
Jeff_M Offline
Addict

Registered: 07/18/07
Posts: 665
Loc: Northwest Florida
NIMS is a tool, like any other. Used wisely and well, it is very helpful. Get too focused on the tool, and not on the task, and bad things happen. But you gotta know how to use your tools. NIMS does scale up and down pretty well, as the incident unfolds and gets resolved. Perhaps it's best uses are for the coordination and integration of multiple agencies involved in various aspects of a response, and for the assigning of scarce resources at appropriate levels to all the different aspects of the incident that require them.

Turf wars are bad. Too many chiefs are bad. Not knowing what the other guys are doing is bad. Having most of your resources clustered on the west side of the incident when most of your problems are on the east side is bad. NIMS helps with that.

Knowing that somebody has an eye on the big picture, and that there are also people keeping an eye on all the little details that matter, is very comforting when you're in the thick of it. When your tanker is down to the last hundred gallons, or you just opened your last box of IV's, or ate your last MRE, it's good to know for sure that they're already on top of it. When some unexpected problem crops up that you know you can't handle, it's nice to know exactly who you should call. NIMS helps with that.

We just participated in a FTX at Riverside AFB, involving about 10 DMATs from all over the country, simulating (barely) an earthquake response. I'm proud to say that our team commander served as overall incident commander. NIMS worked well for us, as it has on a variety of real world incidents in the past. In Haiti, it struggled a bit, but there were issues with the State Department and other aspects unique to working in a foreign country with an international response.

Overall, I'm sold on NIMS. I think every player needs to learn it, not just the chiefs, and use it routinely on the small stuff. Otherwise, they may get lost trying to use it on the "big one" with little experience. But remember, it's just a tool, and it needs to be used wisely, with common sense, in ways that help get the job done.

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#204375 - 07/07/10 04:49 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: MartinFocazio]
philip Offline
Addict

Registered: 09/19/05
Posts: 639
Loc: San Francisco Bay Area
NIMS is well-developed and well-understood in my area (the San Francisco Bay Area). I'm in an amateur radio club that is affiliated with a local fire department in one town and a police department in another, and we use NIMS. My CERT group is affiliated with a different FD in a different town, and we have regular training where NIMS is used. I'm looking at the Incident Action Plan from a 2009 exercise, and it's all on ICS forms over the name of the fire chief for the town.

I think NIMS originated in CA because of widespread fires that covered different counties and different government agencies, and they needed away to coordinate control and costs, so that each area/agency bore its appropriate expenses. If your agencies' admin skills were stressed by your events, I'd suggest more training, not giving up on NIMS. To each his own.

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#204433 - 07/09/10 12:36 AM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: philip]
MDinana Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 03/08/07
Posts: 2196
Loc: Beer&Cheese country
I've never used it, but every NIMS course I've had makes my head hurt. Too much explanation of obvious concepts, too little emphasis on implementing it effectively. By effectively, I mean in an easy, intuitive manner. Instead, they're so bent on names, titles, documentation, that you need a meeting just to start the response properly.

I'm not saying I can do better, but it seems that, like most government mandated things, it's a bit cumbersome to implement. It might be OK for long events (like those wildfires), but a short term event seems a bit extreme.

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#204455 - 07/09/10 04:28 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: MDinana]
philip Offline
Addict

Registered: 09/19/05
Posts: 639
Loc: San Francisco Bay Area
> It might be OK for long events (like those wildfires), but a short term event
> seems a bit extreme.

Well, I think that's where "counterintuitive" comes into play. Our events us the ICS forms and such, so we're more attuned to using NIMS in real life. This means when it's The Big One, we're already thinking along those lines, which makes it an easy, intuitive process. I guess the key is that your training talks about concepts without having you actually use it. Short term events use the parts that are applicable.

Too each his own, but our group works with police and fire, so we're fairly well-versed in NIMS and ICS. I think the key is using it more often, then having some training sessions to go over the stuff that doesn't seem to apply, does apply, and so on.

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#204457 - 07/09/10 04:49 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: philip]
Lono Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 10/19/06
Posts: 1013
Loc: Pacific NW, USA
I agree with philip on this one, you need to use NIMS and wait for your head to stop hurting :-) - really, the concepts and terminology aren't too daunting after you've run a few exercises and gotten used to it. I agree with one bit of MDinana's post, there is an irritating tendency for someone somewhere to focus on issues of proper terminology and 'doing things by the book' that tends to grate on me, personally. Still, when faced with 'doing things by the book' (in Red Cross speak that usually means paperwork involved) or not doing things by the book, I will bow to the bookish approach - if my preferred way were better, they would re-write the book, and maybe someday in the future they will, meantime people who know the book should enforce it. I think consistent clear communication is critical in any response, if that isn't jeopardized by a responders choice of terminology I'm fine with it - imho some folks can become fairly anal about using only specific commands etc. I guess that's human nature, or maybe they've just been trained (or experienced) to a higher level than me.

Besides, it may seem counter-intuitive, but for nearly any response I've participated in, it is improved if the responders *do* take time to 'have a meeting' and plan the response a bit ahead of starting the actual response. That doesn't mean you don't put firefighters on an immediate and obvious fire (e.g. burning structure), but if you are fighting a wild land fire, you need to stop, take a deep breath, and assess the larger situation first.

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#204738 - 07/15/10 01:29 AM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: Lono]
PhoenixRising Offline
Stranger

Registered: 07/15/10
Posts: 16
Loc: NW Minnesota
As a budding emergency manager and working in EMS, we call NIMS "FEMA Speak" because there the only people who understand it! The language and symbology is close to the NATO symbology and what I learned in BNCOC

The weakness is that everyone involved including first responders and contract help is supposed to understand this...

The strength is ??? Hell I havent figured that out yet, but NIMS classes online are the definative cure for insomnia!
_________________________
SEMPER PARATUS

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#204747 - 07/15/10 10:11 AM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: PhoenixRising]
Nomad Offline
Addict

Registered: 05/04/02
Posts: 479
Loc: Just wandering around.
One overlooked advantage of a system like NIMS became apparent to me during my Red Cross deployment to Katrina. Our normal rotation was 21 days. So around day 21, everybody that was in the original group is replaced with "newbies".

It became obvious that if logs, journals etc. were written by someone not using standard language, they became almost useless. And without history, the "newbie" was prone to repeat old mistakes and create protocols that were already in existence.

All those quirky little things that the prior group had learned from experience had to be re-learned because they were not documented in a clear, common language.

Nomad.
_________________________
...........From Nomad.........Been "on the road" since '97

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#204812 - 07/16/10 07:53 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: Nomad]
MartinFocazio Offline

Pooh-Bah

Registered: 01/21/03
Posts: 2155
Loc: Bucks County PA
It's all about the beans and counting them in the end.

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#204813 - 07/16/10 08:55 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: MartinFocazio]
Am_Fear_Liath_Mor Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 08/03/07
Posts: 3078

I'm not familiar with NIMS so I tried to research NIMS online, I'm still at a loss as to what it actually is. So much for the ability to communicate, considering communications would most likely be a primary part of the NIMS. wink

http://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nims/NIMS_brochure.pdf

Apparently you can get University Degrees in Homeland security and emergency management. Hmm do you get a first class or second class honours degree in common sense.

A simple paragraph from http://www.fema.gov/emergency/nims/CommunicationsInfoMngmnt.shtm

Quote:
The NIMS criteria assessment is qualitative and subjective in nature and is based on subject-matter experts (SMEs). The NIMS technical standard evaluation is quantitative and objective in nature and based upon adopted standards.


Yep sounds like the person who wrote this has a Homeland security degree. whistle

Sounds like NIMS is really just a bureaucratic political firewall which came about from a Presidential Directive (HSDP-5) after he was forced to fire his buddy (the FEMA head honcho) after the Hurricane Katrina debacle.

But I guess if you do get more impressive technical NIMS qualifications (FEMA speak) then an air conditioned video conferencing room becons rather than being at the dirty end of the stick scraping bloated 5 day old 30 stoners into large plastic bags in 100 degree heat.




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#204829 - 07/17/10 03:28 AM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: Am_Fear_Liath_Mor]
Alan_Romania Offline
Addict

Registered: 06/29/05
Posts: 631
Loc: Arizona
The biggest problem with NIMS is the learning curve... Unlike the learning curve in public safety agencies (fire and PD) or the wildland fire community where you start out at the simplest level, working your way up from the bottom to the smallest scale incident managment working up to the big, bad Type I incidents. While NIMS allows national resources (outside of the wildland community) to work their way up the Type I incident management structure to Incident Commander.

This system builds people who understands the "overhead" and administration of the incident management system it also builds a system that is totally out of touch with the "field". This is the failure or weakness of NIMS, allowing unqualified(inexperienced) people in positions, specifically in the planning and operations sections (and therefore in the Incident Commander position as well).

The example I use from the wildland side is this; you can't be an Engine Boss without working on an engine for a while, you can't be a strike team/task force leader without being an experienced Engine Boss, you can't be a Division Supervisor with our being a successful Taskforce Leader, you can't be a Operations Section Chief without being a successful Division Supervisor, and you canít be an Incident Commander without being a successful Section Chief.

The planning and operations sections should be filled with guys and gals who do this thing EVERYDAY, this would fix some of the issues with NIMS.

A LOT of the issues from Katrina/Rita have been fixed with NIMS, this issue has not.
_________________________
"Trust in God --and press-check. You cannot ignore danger and call it faith." -Duke

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#204836 - 07/17/10 02:34 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: Am_Fear_Liath_Mor]
MDinana Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 03/08/07
Posts: 2196
Loc: Beer&Cheese country
AFLM, that stuff looks familiar! Imagine multpipe online courses written in that beaurocratic gobble-de-gook. NIMS stresses using "common language" between departments at local, state and federal levels, since communication is essential ( a point we all agree on).

Can you can point me out anyone that uses "subject matter expert" or "quantitative and objective" in their regular vernacular?

NIMS wants us to use common language, but can't make their lectures and online courses use common language. Hell, I'm a pretty intelligent guy, have a bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees and probably 50% of the courses I took online I couldn't figure out. I'd literally have to stare at the slide for minutes on end re-interpreting their crap into something recognizable, just to understand what they're trying to say.

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#204837 - 07/17/10 02:35 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: Alan_Romania]
KG2V Offline

Veteran

Registered: 08/19/03
Posts: 1371
Loc: Queens, New York City
except that you WILL have low level people as incident commander - to use a less sensitive term - someone is in charge

One guy on the scene - he IS in charge of the scene until someone more Sr shows up and relieves him - the hand off can even be verbal "this is what is going on" - that new person is now in charge, and the other person is now 'another worker' on the scene

A 2 man squad car shows up - One of the 2 guys - One's in charge, one isn't - the guy in charge is the incident commander - He's in charge of the incident

An Engine (use your example) shows up and is first on scene (or ONLY) - the Engine Boss IS the Incident Commander - the rest of the strike team shows - He says to the ST Commander "Here is the situation, here is what I know" - the second the ST Commander says "OK, I got it" - Guess what, the ST Commander is now the IC - and the former IC is now back to being the commander of his resource (aka an engine boss)

An IC is nothing but the Sr guy at the sight who is on duty, or if he doesn't WANT it, who he appoints

Been on a ship? Who's got the Con? That's the boss (IC) until someone of higher rank says "I have the Con" - That person then becomes the boss

Guess what? ICS wise (and I can understand it) - You're a good samaritan with say a first aid card, and you show up at an accident - YOU are IC - till the cop/EMT/FIRE/A MD/Nurse whoever with more experience shows up and says "OK, I'm here, I've got it" (not necessarly that formally) - THEY then have relieved you as IC - but SOMEONE is ALWAYS in charge - they call that guy, the Incident Commander - he may have NO formal skill, he may not even know he is an IC, or even know what an IC IS, but he IS

It's just a name given to whoever is in charge
_________________________
73 de KG2V
You are what you do when it counts - The Masso
Homepage: http://www.thegallos.com
Blog: http://kg2v.blogspot.com

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#204843 - 07/17/10 05:25 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: KG2V]
Alan_Romania Offline
Addict

Registered: 06/29/05
Posts: 631
Loc: Arizona
You are absolutely correct, you will have "low level" people in charge at one point or an other. The difference is they will be the initial IC, if the incident is big enough or escalates command will be passed to a more experienced commander. The initial IC can easily handle managing his own crew and maybe a couple others, but he would be overwhelmed by workload and span-of-control quickly, so that initial IC passes command to a more qualified commander. If the incident is big enough, the command structure can be expanded. In the public safety world, that means populating positions in that structure with experienced people. From my point of view (as an Engine Captain and a Safety Officer trainee on a Type III all hazards IMT) this is how the command structure should be filled... In my experience this is NOT how the positions are filled in many IMTs since NIMS has been implemented.

_________________________
"Trust in God --and press-check. You cannot ignore danger and call it faith." -Duke

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#204850 - 07/17/10 07:35 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: MDinana]
Am_Fear_Liath_Mor Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 08/03/07
Posts: 3078
Quote:

Can you can point me out anyone that uses "subject matter expert" or "quantitative and objective" in their regular vernacular?


I suspect that the government regulatory department (Minerals Management Service) which had oversight of the deep sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico had plenty of 'subject matter experts' SMEs to peruse the emergency plans submitted by the major oil companies, but for some reason didn't pick up on the fact that there aren't any Walruses or Penguins in the Gulf of Mexico. whistle

I wonder if the NIMS had actually tasked anyone to go out and rescue said Walruses from their oily doom down in Louisiana. It was part of the emergency plan. laugh crazy




Edited by Am_Fear_Liath_Mor (07/17/10 07:39 PM)

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#204852 - 07/17/10 07:58 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: Am_Fear_Liath_Mor]
KG2V Offline

Veteran

Registered: 08/19/03
Posts: 1371
Loc: Queens, New York City
Oh yeah, I'm not saying that people are actually following the spirit of NIMS, and that a lot of unqualified people are put in charge, but I wouldn't call THAT the fault of NIMS, I'd call that the Peter Principal at work
_________________________
73 de KG2V
You are what you do when it counts - The Masso
Homepage: http://www.thegallos.com
Blog: http://kg2v.blogspot.com

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#204935 - 07/20/10 03:34 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: KG2V]
MartinFocazio Offline

Pooh-Bah

Registered: 01/21/03
Posts: 2155
Loc: Bucks County PA
Originally Posted By: KG2V
Oh yeah, I'm not saying that people are actually following the spirit of NIMS, and that a lot of unqualified people are put in charge, but I wouldn't call THAT the fault of NIMS, I'd call that the Peter Principal at work


No, it's not at all that.

So, here's my experience: years of active duty firefighting, but not as many as most of the other guys at the firehouse (typical tenure of the core group is 20+ years).

But when the river came up, and we activated NIMS in a basic sense, I was pushed all the way to IC because, unlike the guys with more operational experience, I can use a computer, make spreadsheets, slide shows and find information online. I can do the NFIRS reports - basically, my competency was 25% operational and 75% administrative. And that's what NIMS is. It's an administration tool built by administrators for administrators and while it - supposedly - makes operational processes better, I see it as a means - first - of tracking the money and secondarily a means of making on the ground operations more efficient.

NIMS is, at best, politically and socially naive, and at worst, it represents a kind of thinking about government services that makes me cringe.

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#204939 - 07/20/10 06:19 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: MartinFocazio]
KG2V Offline

Veteran

Registered: 08/19/03
Posts: 1371
Loc: Queens, New York City
You should NOT have been made IC - you SHOULD have been made what NIMS calls 'scribe' - aka the paperwork and computer guy - the guys with experience should have stayed IC - Just that they didn't know to appoint a scribe
_________________________
73 de KG2V
You are what you do when it counts - The Masso
Homepage: http://www.thegallos.com
Blog: http://kg2v.blogspot.com

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#204942 - 07/20/10 07:12 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: KG2V]
MartinFocazio Offline

Pooh-Bah

Registered: 01/21/03
Posts: 2155
Loc: Bucks County PA
No, I was a good IC, if I do say so myself.

It's that NIMS assumes that I have 10 other people who have administrative skills to be my "scribe" or "planning section" or "logistics section" when in reality, the majority of the people I had were evacuating people, getting pumps set up, directing traffic, preparing food for the volunteers, and later pumping out buildings and loading and unloading relief supplies.

In short, the concept of "span of control" is great - on paper.
But let's use my situation - a river flood in a town of 2,400 people.

I had an operational pool of, say 50 people, 25 firefighters, all of which have NIMS basic training, 2 Medics, one cop, and the rest community members with no particular training in NIMS.

Now, let's say I followed NIMS "span of control" guidelines - that would give me, say 5 people in my command staff.

Now that reduces my pool of labor to 45.

But those 5 people would not be operational command staff, and I'd need to staff those positions, so let's take another 5 people out and put them in the office. Now I'm down to 40.

But of those 40, all are volunteers, most aren't trained in NIMS and now I'm supposed to be documenting everything on some form or another as they pump out basements, scrape mud and so on. So I find three people who can handle reports. Now I have 37 people actually working.

One gets hurt, now I have my two medics tied up and there's another report...soon I have 34 people actually working, and at this point, I'm starting to see almost 1/3 of my resource pool doing administration.

Meanwhile, I send a "strike force" to rescue the walrus family that's living on the shores of the Delaware....

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#204943 - 07/20/10 07:13 PM Re: NIMS vs. Reality [Re: KG2V]
ireckon Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 04/01/10
Posts: 1629
Loc: Northern California
I am planning to take a CERT course in August, and a NIMS course in September. From what I've been researching, there is no other organized system around me for a community emergency response. It would be counterproductive for me to try to reinvent the wheel. I'll just plug myself into the system that everybody else already recognizes.

By the way, I agree with philip. If CERT or NIMS is failing your community, then it's probably a training issue. Reinventing the wheel would be more difficult I think.
_________________________
If you're reading this, it's too late.

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