Does this "head start" give California an advantage while working toward NIMS compliance? Common sense and Curry Mayer, chief of the State Agency Training and Exercise Section, California Specialized Training Institute, Governor's Office of Emergency Services (OES), say that yes, it does. California, as well as other states that early on recognized the advantages of an integrated emergency system, is ahead of the curve, but there is still an enormous amount of work ahead, even for states that started decades ago.
"We have a good head start in compliance activities because we're already using it," Mayer says. "We simply have to add additional pieces instead of starting from scratch."
Adds Whitman, "This year POST has focused on developing and rolling out the required ICS-300/ICS-400 training. Federal requirements have not been finalized, but POST and OES are pushing ahead with training anyway. The NIMS Integration Center (NIC) has told California that we are very far ahead of the rest of the country because of our long history of SEMS and our working relationships statewide."
By the numbers
But even though California started decades before other departments, bringing training levels into compliance isn't a small matter. Whitman says there are 647 separate departments within the state in need of personnel training, with about 100,000 officers total slated to undergo that training in order to become both federally and state compliant.
"We are working very hard to assist our participating agencies in developing appropriate training," Whitman says, adding that another mission of his agency is to make that training readily available to those who need it.
What costs has POST accrued in connection with this training initiative? Whitman says that since the 2001 terrorist attacks, POST has spent approximately $3.8 million developing more than 50 training courses and working with other agencies to ascertain that training is widely available to those who need it. The NIMS development effort and approval process alone has cost POST about $100,000. Whitman says two full-time and several part-time employees work in the HSTP at POST.
NIMS compliance has taken a front-row seat in California, as well as other states, and Whitman says they are working on 100-percent compliance -- naturally. "We have approximately 600,000 first responders in California [who] need some level of NIMS training, which is daunting in itself," Whitman says.
Mayer agrees that it's a tall order and says that another big piece of the NIMS machine is achieving functional interoperable communications. "We're making sure all people talking to one another can do so with common terminology." And, adds Mayer, on the same radio frequency.
But California's biggest challenge in achieving full compliance is probably the same group of hurdles facing smaller states and departments all across the country. Mayer explains. "Up until recently, requirements changed once a year," she says. "The NIMS Integration Center expects to publish a 5-year plan for compliance activities this summer that will allow states more time to plan for their activities."
Mayer is proud of her state's progress on NIMS compliance and says that although there are still formidable tasks ahead, California is leading the pack in the race toward its NIMS-related goals. "We're sort of like the 'A' student looking for an 'A+,' " she says.
A resort community copes
Depending on the time of the year, the road to Myrtle Beach can be as slow moving and frustrating as dealing with Social Security. Packed to the gills with tourists and lined with bumper-to-bumper traffic beginning in mid-to-late spring through roughly mid-autumn, this coastal South Carolina city suffers from typical resort staffing problems. Myrtle Beach Police Chief Warren Gall has his hands full during the high season, and as the resort area picks up popularity, the crowds are sticking around even during the colder weather. Changes in state and federal laws and local ordinances, as well as personnel turnover, are reflected in the constant need to train. Factor in liability issues and training has reached critical mass in nearly every department, but none feel it more than the smaller ones.
Gall says scheduling training sessions is the toe-stubber for agencies like his. The 2007 NIMS mandatory compliance requirements make it even more of a challenge to keep up with training goals and still police the city's jurisdictional boundaries.