Having been asked the question that is the title of this article a number of times, my conversations with clients, employees, government officials and even competitors usually revert back to a kind of history lesson.
It seems appropriate, given that the primary teachings at The Blue Cell, LLC are Incident Command System at all levels – Sometimes complicated, misunderstood, reviled and revered system of management. The Blue Cell firm, now fast approaching its 14th year of existence, started with the in person instruction of Introduction to the Incident Command System at the 100 level. Myself and a few others did this course and subsequent follow on courses in the Denver Metro Area and around Colorado for years and for thousands of students. Deanne Criswell was among those students (At that time, Criswell was a little known Emergency Manager for the City of Aurora, Colorado).. (That is a story for another writing at another time).
Since those early years, as a company, to say we have evolved would be an understatement. Today I stand by the premise that The Blue Cell, LLC is the most active company/organization in the world as the virtual training and exercise provider in the crisis and consequence management space (including the Federal Emergency Management Agencies Emergency Management Institute in Maryland). With an astounding number of courses delivered and students taught, here are a few things that I think we have learned from our virtual learning experience.
-Incident Command System 300 and 400 are by far the two most difficult courses to deliver in person or live instructor lead in a virtual environment. In effect these courses represent approximately the equivalent information of a semester and a half of organizational leadership at the higher education junior year level, and it is presented in three days. When our firm moved to virtual we were reliant on our previous success at delivering these courses traditionally. In other words, some State cadre instructors struggled with the virtual environment, because they were particularly strong in the delivery of courses traditionally. It is not a criticism as much as an observation. The curriculum is simply tough. Virtual Incident Command System 300 and Incident Command System 400 works, but you have to begin with a very strong foundation of the topic before attending these courses.
-Repetition in doing the courses is a key. This concept applies to both traditional training and virtual instructor led training. For over a decade a major challenge in Incident Command System 300 and Incident Command System 400 training is having instructors who were putting in enough podium time. The Blue Cell, LLC routinely is contracted, after disastrous local efforts, to put on these courses. Generally these challenges will rise to the level of leadership at an agency or company receiving negative reviews and being either embarrassed or needing to find excuses for a poor instructor performance.
-Understanding and Working through Technology Update. The repetition issue is exacerbated in the virtual environment because the major platforms for virtual interaction are in a current arms race to build a better product. At The Blue Cell, LLC we begin every course with an introduction to the platform and being sure that everyone has the latest update. In fact, we are so in tune with our primary platform provider that we not only know the major update schedule, but we in some cases work around it.
-The Challenge of Group Activities. This has become the low hanging fruit of criticism for virtual instructor led training. These criticisms have generally come from State Training Officers or their minions. Ironically, I have yet to see a State University questioned on these very techniques that have been used for years. (at a substantial price I might add). With over 200 plus deliveries of Incident Command System 300 and Incident Command System 400, our instructor teams have developed a number of practical and electronic techniques, that go well beyond the conventional higher education techniques to bring interaction to a point that it is equal to the in classroom experience. Ironically, the very nature of a virtual instructor lead course gives an additional advantage to the students since they are routinely in class with other students from around the country and sometimes from around the world. (I'm pretty sure that is one of the selling points to paying out of State College tuition).
As of this writing, Omicron is forcing the National Football League and National Basketball Association to adjust its schedule and the Prince Georges County School District in Maryland just went back to virtual learning, district wide. Virtual instructor led training is an option. It's not perfect, but traditional in person Incident Command System 300 and Incident Command System 400 were never perfect. The effectiveness of the learning that goes on still comes down to experience with the topic and proficiency in whatever format the topic is delivered.
Todd Manns, Founder and Managing Partner at The Blue Cell. Todd has worked on a variety of specialized projects over the course of a varied and diverse career. Recognized for having a “can do attitude” which is the result of strong personal beliefs and values with regard to leadership, mission orientation, and accomplishment. Todd began his career began in the United States Marine Corps Select Reserves. He served as a Police Officer / SWAT Team member and law enforcement sniper, as an interim Chief of Police, and seven years as an Emergency Manager for a Fire Protection District. Formally qualified as a type III planning section chief with incident management team experience and over 25 all hazard deployments to both Incident Command Posts and Emergency Operations Center locations (local and state level). Todd, his wife, their married adult children and 5 grandchildren live in Colorado.
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