FEMA's New Planning Doctrine

In the first half of 2014, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published two guidance documents that further developed the concept of integrated planning for emergency management operations at the national and regional levels. With the release of the FEMA Operational Planning Keystone and the FEMA Operations Planning Manual, FEMA continues to lead the development of the National Preparedness System planning core capability for response, recovery, and mitigation.

The Keystone and Manual follow in the footsteps of decades of planning guidance. At the state, local, tribal, and territorial levels, emergency management agencies have become accustomed to using the Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) series of publications as primary references. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has revised its national planning standards every couple years with the National Planning and Execution System, Integrated Planning System, Federal Plan Development Process, and FEMA Regional Planning Guide, none of which are publicly available. The Keystone and Manual build on the lessons learned from this anthology to provide planners with the most current information needed to create consistent interoperable emergency management plans with partners from across the whole community.

Setting the Stage for Integrated Planning & Building a Coherent System The Keystone is a new document that sits at the top of FEMA’s pyramid of guidance and accompanies the FEMA Incident Management and Support Keystone as the highest-level doctrine to assist the federal agencies coordinate emergency operations. The Keystone outlines a structured national planning hierarchy, types of plans, a standardized planning process, and five key tenets of planning that articulate value proposition of the planning core capability. At a light 18 pages, the Keystone lays a conceptual foundation for emergency managers who may be supporting the development of deliberate (potential incident) or crisis action (imminent or ongoing incident) plans.

The¬†Manual¬†is intended to be a definitive resource for the development of federal emergency management plans. At its core, the process remains largely unchanged from previous planning guidance ‚Äď the civilian application of defense joint operations planning. Where the¬†Manual¬†branches off from its predecessors is a more detailed approach to implementing national preparedness policy directed by Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD-8).

With the release of the¬†National Planning Frameworks, the universe of plans and planning guidance has evolved rapidly. The¬†Manual¬†provides detail on the development of a system of nested national plans that have lacked cohesion in the last decade. When plans to mitigate, respond, and recover are developed through a standard process and consistent format, operations across the three mission areas ‚Äď typically under the same roof of a Joint Field Office ‚Äď become seamless.

In addition, the¬†Manual¬†also addresses the functional relationship between deliberate and crisis action (previously called incident-level) plans. Deliberate plans are typically developed as all-hazards plans with hazard or incident-specific annexes. Crisis action plans are most commonly associated with the¬†Incident Command System‚Äôs ‚ÄúPlanning P‚Ä̬†and the incident action plan. The¬†Manual¬†includes a chapter that details how to leverage the time spent during nonemergency situations to develop crisis action plans when time is a limited resource.

Integrating Threat and Hazardentification and Risk Assessment Since 2012, all state and many local emergency management agencies have become intimately familiar with the annual Threat and Hazardentification and Risk Assessment (THIRA), as mandated by the DHS Homeland Security Grant Program and articulated in CPG 201. The Manual applies the process outlined in CPG 201 to plan development by integrating CPG 201’s four-step process into information analysis and course of action development. Capabilities-based planning is not a new concept but, at just the third iteration of THIRA, emergency managers are realizing its value in innovative ways. By examining the impacts and outcomes of a potential or actual threat or hazard on the national core capabilities, emergency managers can estimate the resources needed to achieve success in life safety, incident stabilization, and protection of property and environment.

The successful application of capabilities-based planning using this approach can be seen in the development of Federal Interagency Operations Plans (FIOPs), National Special Security Events (NSSEs) in the National Capital Region, and the more recent FEMA catastrophic plans. State and local emergency planners also have integrated THIRA into their operational planning, specifically jurisdictions in the National Capital Region such as the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland.

As demand steadily rises for training on this analytical competency, there are currently few opportunities available to planners. FEMA delivers annual technical assistance seminars in each of their ten regions to ensure states and major urban areas included in the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) are able to complete the THIRA report, but attendance is by invitation only. THIRA also has made its way into the DHS National Planners Course; however, deliveries are limited to major hubs of federal activity such as Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia.

Valuable Resources for National Preparedness With the publishing of the FEMA Operational Planning Keystone and FEMA Operational Planning Manual, FEMA is fusing the newest concepts of national preparedness with the legacy planning guidance found in the CPG series. Although a web search for the FEMA Operational Planning Keystone or FEMA Operational Planning Manual does not yield a downloadable PDF, the documents are shared with state, local, tribal, and territorial emergency managers supporting regional and national planning. The concepts these documents contain are applicable to all emergency managers looking to adopt the National Preparedness System.

More information on national preparedness can be found in FEMA’s National Preparedness Resource Library.

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Jordan Nelms

Jordan Nelms is the planning section chief on FEMA’s Region II Incident Management Assistance Team based in New York City. Prior to joining FEMA, Jordan served as the planning branch manager at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, and previously worked as a contractor with Witt Associates supporting homeland security and emergency management programs at all levels of government and the private sector. He received a BA in political science/security studies from East Carolina University and pursued graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University, the University of South Florida, and University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

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