Developing a meaningful and actionable Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) is no easy task. Neither is keeping the plan current given changes in organizational resources (personnel and equipment), or even changes within the community the plan is written to serve. As published in its Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101 (CPG 101) for Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes these and other planning pitfalls and offers guidance for how to avoid or overcome them. Here’s what the Agency has to say:

The most common planning pitfall is the development of lengthy, overly detailed plans that those responsible for their execution do not read. A plan that tries to cover every conceivable condition or that attempts to address every detail will only frustrate, constrain, and confuse those charged with its implementation. Successful plans are simple and flexible.

Another major pitfall faced by planners is failing to account for the community’s needs, concerns, capabilities, and desire to help. Often, plans are written based on the “average citizen” or mirror image of the planners. However, communities are diverse and comprise a wide variety of people, including those with access and functional needs, those requiring the support of service animals, and those who cannot independently care for themselves, such as children. This also includes diverse racial and ethnic populations and immigrant communities. Failing to base planning on the demographics and requirements of the particular community may lead to false planning assumptions, ineffective courses of action, and inaccurate resource calculations. 

Related to this pitfall is the notion that responders are the only people who can take action. The public often does their work before responders arrive. The community must be engaged in the planning process and included as an integral part of the plan.

Planning is only as good as the information on which it is based. Too often, planners rely on untested assumptions or uncoordinated resources. Planners should ensure that they have adequately validated assumptions and properly coordinated with those agencies/entities that they include in their plan.

Planning needs may be coordinated directly with a required agency/entity via a memorandum of agreement (MOA)/memorandum of understanding (MOU) or by signatory of a designated representative. Planning is not a theoretical process that occurs without an understanding of the community, nor is it a scripting process that tries to prescribe hazard actions and response actions with unjustified precision. Community-based plans provide a starting point for operations, adjusting as the situation dictates and as facts replace planning assumptions.

Chances are your organization or department has encountered one, some or all of these planning pitfalls in developing and maintaining its EOP. And, chances are it’s struggling to find practical and proven workarounds to them. Revisiting CPG 101 might sound elementary, especially to seasoned planners, but it may certainly prove worthwhile.

So may participating in FEMA’s resident, locally presented, and independent study emergency planning courses. There, you can identify applicable authorities and statues; gain insight into community risk perceptions; recognize organization arrangements used in the past; and ascertain Mutual Aid Agreements (MAAs) with other jurisdictions. You can also identify private sector planning that can complement and focus public sector planning; learn how historical planning issues were resolved through After Action Reports (AARs); and perhaps most importantly, discover and fill preparedness gaps.

You, like so many others, may also find it beneficial to seek assistance from knowledgeable, experienced and well-credentialed planning professionals, as they can provide valuable insight and guidance to help you reach your emergency planning goals.

BOLDplanning provides comprehensive consulting services and powerful, online software for the collaborative development of Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs), Continuity of Operations/Government Plans (COOPs/COGs) and Hazard Mitigation Plans (HMPs).