To be successful, incident managers need to get materials, supplies, technologies, and especially responders to the emergency site as quickly and efficiently as possible. But those same managers will tell you that getting resources to the right place at the right time is only half the battle. Attention also needs to be paid to ensuring the productivity of those resources once they reach the disaster. Here, however, managers and dispatchers confront capability roadblocks to effective resource management.
So what are capabilities, and how does a lack of them impede the efficient deployment of resources in an emergency context? The idea of a capability started in organizational management literature, where it was defined as a set of differentiated skills, complementary assets, and routines. Those skills, assets, and routines are meant to improve the productivity of resources.
In other words, resources and capabilities go hand in hand. For incident managers, understanding the capabilities of resources-whether your responder has certified diving training for an off-coast rescue, for example-is absolutely crucial for making the best dispatch decisions. But here’s the rub: managing capabilities is just not that simple.
For starters, catalogues of capabilities can be distributed in so many places (HR management systems, spreadsheets, manual logs, etc.). Not to mention that capabilities themselves are rarely static: certifications expire; trainings need to be renewed. Keeping track of all of those moving pieces, especially in the middle of an emergency, is no easy task.
Further exacerbating the challenge is the fact that organizational priorities shift quickly, depending on the stage of the emergency management lifecycle. Here’s a list of the top capability management challenges, laid out by emergency management phase:
- Mitigation. Lack of awareness and stakeholder buy-in; ineffective leadership and organization.
- Preparedness. Poor early warning systems; budget constraints.
- Response. Inefficient communication due to poor inter-agency information flows; difficulty in coordination; inadequate public information.
- Recovery. Budget constraints; lack of expertise.
Sure, more funds, better systems, and more effective leadership will go a long way towards solving some of your capability challenges -just not all of them. That’s because, there’re also a whole host of systemic challenges that response agencies face.
- Data integrity. Getting the right resource and capability data input into systems and contact directories is a huge problem. Even once you’ve got it, updating data, especially in a volunteer convergence situation, can be an operational nightmare.
- Data siloes. Often, the capability management data is there-only not in the emergency management and resource allocation tools you use. Instead, you’ll find it walled-off in HR databases, which then don’t sync with your solution set.
- Unreliable and unavailable resources. You can have the right volunteer resource(s) from a capabilities’ standpoint. But that means little if those people are unreliable and/or unavailable for deployment into the disaster zone.
- Accessibility. Large numbers of volunteer bring their own devices into the disaster zone. But while this BYOD situation helps bring down costs, it can also create logistical problems. For one, disaster volunteers might not be able to receive commands in the field, either because they lose internet access or don’t have the right emergency management app downloaded on their device.
When it comes to effective resource management, monitoring capabilities often proves the biggest stumbling block. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to. To learn best practices for managing capabilities, download our comprehensive guide to capability management.
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