News from the CRC
Research strengthens incident management team development
By Brenda Leahy. This article first appeared in Issue One 2018 of Fire Australia.
The most powerful learning and leadership development often comes from when you were way in over your head, according to Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) incident controller Rob McNeil.
His moment of truth came in 2011 during his deployment as NSW task force leader for the Australian Incident Management Team (IMT) to the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The catastrophic incident, which involved continuing earthquakes, tsunami, flooding and nuclear reactor meltdown, claimed 14,000 lives leaving devastation and destruction in its wake.
Even with three decades of operational experience, including incident management and hazardous materials (HazMat) expertise, Rob says the complexity and scale of the assignment challenged his thinking and decision making.
“At times my legs were shaking,” he recalls. “I made good decisions and flawed decisions.”
The good decisions were due to his technical and operational expertise in HazMat and understanding of the risks of radiation. The flawed decisions were due to unfamiliarity with the complexity of multiple, converging, and extraordinary risks. These included the tsunami, flooding, continuing earthquakes and the threat of a nuclear meltdown.
Rob had the opportunity to reflect on his thinking and decision making at the Fukushima incident and what he learned during an interview to become a Certified Incident Controller under the Emergency Management Professionalisation Scheme (EMPS). In the interview, candidates for EMPS are assessed by a panel of peers against a checklist of incident management core capabilities which include thinking and decision making at the incident ground.
The evidence-based core capabilities provide three very good statements in relation to skills and capabilities that IMTs have to learn and develop, Rob explains.
“The process challenges you to critically review your own performance. Naturally, it can make you feel vulnerable,” says Rob who leads the management of three regional area commands, consisting of nine zone commands with over 150 fire stations, 2500 on call firefighters and 300 career firefighters.
However, he says, “it’s that openness to and awareness about where you need to review and improve that provide the most insightful learning experiences.”
Rob has also mentored more than 10 incident managers from FRNSW through the EMPS certification process. The agency uses EMPS internally to support the development of performance plans and their personnel who show significant potential for leadership. The capabilities have also been cross-checked with their agency training and exercising programs.
Launched in 2015 as a priority initiative of the AFAC National Council, EMPS provides the first dedicated pathway to credential incident managers in Australia and New Zealand.
The Scheme sets out the core incident management capabilities for effective incident management, provides a process for certification and offers guidance for continuing professional development for IMTs and other specialist roles.
EMPS has been collaboratively developed and trialed with end users from the AFAC membership and utilises the research evidence outputs from AFAC’s Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) partners, the former Bushfire CRC and current Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.
Over the past 14 years, the CRC program has delivered a robust evidence base in IMT capability, leadership and human factors.
The core IMT capabilities are clustered into three broad themes encompassing leadership and teamwork, thinking and decision making, as well as critical interpersonal skills, such as self-awareness, self-reflection and giving and receiving feedback. IMT members can use these capabilities to continuously review and improve in current and future roles.
Since EMPS was established over 40 practitioners have been certified, including 13 incident controllers who convene as the EMPS Panel. The EMPS Panel oversees the scheme and is drawn upon to assess candidates seeking the Certified Incident Controller (CIC) credential.
The evidence-based capabilities also underpin the EMPS guidance resource for Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Incident controllers certified through EMPS can use this resource to self-assess their ongoing development needs to maintain their credential. A number of activities available through the Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience’s (AIDR) national education program are recognised as EMPS CPD. AIDR clinics in decision-making and debriefing attract EMPS CPD credit, and have also been developed from the CRC research evidence base.
AFAC member agencies are also drawing on the evidence-based IMT core capabilities within their own jurisdictions to develop agency-wide or multi-agency leadership, learning and development frameworks. Victorian reviews by the Inspector General of Emergency Management into accreditation and operational readiness have also been informed by the evidence-based standards.
The latest AFAC research utilisation case study features Rob’s story and outlines how the CRC research was utilised in EMPS and to create and strengthen leadership, learning and capability pathways for current and future incident management workforces across AFAC’s membership.
The case study focuses on use of the CRC evidence base for EMPS and highlights factors critical to its successful utilisation. The case also explains how Victoria’s Country Fire Authority drew on the EMPS core capabilities and the broader CRC research evidence to create a portfolio of incident management leadership capabilities for its workforce and a system to develop and grow these capabilities.
The case study is available to download from the AFAC website, www.afac.com.au.
For further information on EMPS, contact Claire Brentnall, Member Services Manager, AFAC, on Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the AFAC website.