After the Webinar: Playing Nice in the Sandbox. Q&A with Dr. Jeff Fox, Ph.D.

Webinar presenter Dr. Jeff Fox, Ph.D. answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Playing Nice in the Sandbox: The Human Elements of Disaster, Emergency Management, and Incident Command. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: What’s the difference between an MOU and an MOA? 

Dr. Jeff Fox: So, funny you say that the only thing I know the differences is a U and A. Really isn’t a lot of difference. I don’t know that there is any legal difference between the two. I’ve never really thought about that. But the contents of both will be pretty much the same, and I will say a couple of things about that. You’re probably going to be geared toward things that involve multiple agencies, right? A lot of agencies will have regional agreements because you may not have things yourself. Hazmat is an area where somebody usually doesn’t have it. You don’t need an MOU necessarily for that, but it’s nice to have it. But MOU and MOA are bringing everybody together. And when we get there, this is how we’re all going to function. And I’ll tell you a common area that I’ve seen it in, on traffic accidents and stuff. How we’re all going to act and behave when we get to the scene of an accident because you have different issues. You have road blockage issues. You have managing a queue issues. There are a lot of different variables come into play, and you have just, a lot of different players get there, could be very dynamic. So, that’s what I have to say about it, but they all serve the same purpose, and there are a lot of different examples of those. I will tell you, you want to get sign-off at the highest level possible to make it as valid as possible. And then you want people to know about it, and then, again, like a plan, you want to train to it, right? You always want to train to it and take it out and keep it updated.

MOUs and MOAs are both types of agreements between parties, but they differ in their legal binding and level of detail. MOUs are used for simple common-cause agreements and are not legally binding, while MOAs establish common legal terms and can be legally binding. MOUs express a convergence of will between parties, while MOAs establish a “conditional agreement” where the transfer of funds for service are anticipated. MOAs are more detailed than MOUs and carry a more significant commitment. MOAs define general areas of conditional agreement, while MOUs define general areas of understanding.


Audience Question: Is that something we should be running by our in-house legal counsel or our county’s legal counsel? 

Dr. Jeff Fox: Maybe it just depends on kind of what you are looking at to see if there are any major legal issues. So, it’s not going to hurt to do that. It just depends on how deep you get with it. But in general, the ones I’m thinking of probably aren’t necessary, but it’s not going to hurt to ask.


Audience Question: How often should we be training across multiple agencies? And in addition to how often we should be training, what should those training efforts actually look like, so we’re truly prepared to work as a team in these crisis events? 

Dr. Jeff Fox: First, I must say your agency may be doing a lot. So, you got to do it yourself first and we need to train on all these different things ICS, NRF, NIMS, and all these different things. And then I think at least once a year would be nice. Now, how big does that get, how small does that get? And you can do everything from a tabletop up to a full-blown exercise. The ones that I think about are Hazmat crews training together. I really like tactical training together, and swift water rescue teams training together. Those are the things that involve a lot of cognitive, psychomotor, and effective skills together. More crisis-oriented things, I would like to see together. I would love to see a full-blown one because you’re going to have your road troops respond. Then, you’re going to have your negotiators respond. Even have a tactical unit response. I would like to see something like that where they all work together, right? And sometimes we don’t do that, our tactical teams work together but then we don’t have a tactical team leader working, the team leader itself is there, but the person over them may not be. Or the negotiators may not be there, and we want to end it with negotiation at every opportunity. So at least once a year is nice and you can just look, think about the things that are happening now, right? I would want to work with localities on situations that just happen. What’s the best practice for an active shooter type event, we’ve been working on that for 20 years now ever since Columbine, we’ve been teaching you a four-person team back to back. You make an entry. You go to the target, you neutralize the target, you take out the threat, you don’t wait, right? We know, we’re going to put our lives in jeopardy, but for that is for the kids, So, I don’t know what kind of training they did or didn’t have, but whatever it was, It didn’t work with Uvalde. So, at least once a year, the more you can involve the better, and then switch it up. Look at the percentage. Don’t do the same thing each time, you know. Yeah, it’s a great idea to do that. And, again, you can do it with different disciplines. You may do investigators getting together. You may do patrol people getting together, you can do it across different disciplines, but you want to know people before the incident occurs, right? You don’t want to meet somebody on a Saturday at two o’clock in the morning.

Host: You just said something very similar to, something one of our PIOs, Kate Kimble, says all the time, and that’s “Nobody makes friends at two in the morning.”

Dr. Jeff Fox: Think about incident command, and putting together the ICS. We don’t bring our property finance people into the stuff very often. I’d rather have a civilian property and finance person handling that instead of a lieutenant who knows how to do tactical stuff handling finance stuff, right? I’d rather have my PIO doing that than my sergeant who knows how to do negotiations, right? So, they do not always have to be sworn people either. I don’t think we involve our dispatchers nearly enough.


Audience Question:  You mentioned a good example of railroads and certainly that’s been top of mind here in the last month or so. Are there other types of companies or industries we should be thinking about in terms of reaching out and planning and training with? 

Dr. Jeff Fox: Yeah, and that’s going to be a little harder, because you have public police, fire, EMS, all those. You’re going to have some NGOs, non-governmental organizations, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, who probably would enjoy the opportunity to train with you, but then you’re going to have for-profit like contractors, like tow companies, hazardous material companies. They may not want to do it for free. You know what I mean? Because that’s their money, but they should be people that you’re trying to bring to the table, right? And some of them, you can get to do that somewhat are very civic minded ones. I’ll tell you, on that 117-vehicle crash, our policy was normally you only call local wreckers but there were only three wreckers in that zone. And the wrecker companies in that county were furious. I mean, they probably still hate my guts because, in their opinion, only those three wreckers should have been called for the 117 vehicles. I called every wrecker in that county and every county around there because we needed to get it open. And they were furious at me, I had to deviate from policy for that. So, yeah, if you can bring different private entities, especially with non-profits that would be great. Another area that we see issues with are faith-based places being attacked. So, working with faith-based organizations, they would love to do stuff I guess because they have a good emergency response component too.


Audience Question: So, piggybacking on something you said just a few seconds ago. Our dispatch organizations are often forgotten in these situations. How can we do a better job of keeping dispatch in the loop during events like these? 

Dr. Jeff Fox: You still can continue to have your regular dispatch operations. What you might end up doing is open up an EOC. If you open up the EOC, hopefully, you’re using dispatchers there. But you’re probably used to other people as well answering the phones and stuff. So, you’re probably going to have two different things going on at a time. Some places won’t use a dispatch center because they also will have an EOC, your Emergency Operations Center. You just need to include them as part of your response process. And the other one I mentioned, just a minute ago, your hospitals, we don’t utilize hospitals near enough in these operations, and a lot of times, they’re going to be recipients of a lot of people we get, most people are going to self-ambulate, but you still want to evolve them. But with dispatchers, I’d just say, and that just didn’t go for this, that goes for everything and our other civilian police employees. We need to treat them like everybody else. There’s some talk now about whether dispatchers are also first responders? To me, I don’t have any problem. They are first responders, they’re the ones who answered the phone, to begin with. They might not be responding to the scene, but they have a huge role to play. I think we should have always considered them. Some people may disagree with that, but if they don’t get it right, it’s not going to get much better going down the road.


Audience Question: What are the biggest mistakes people often make during these crisis responses? 

Dr. Jeff Fox: I think mainly the biggest one is communication, that we don’t communicate with each other. I don’t think it’s ill will, necessarily. I think we just aren’t in a habit of doing it. For one thing, we’re too busy, or we’re not together when we need to be, ICS is still relatively new. You know, there’s one thing to write it into your policy and into your manual, it’s another thing to live it and breathe it. We need to be practicing that all the time. So, I think communication is probably one of the biggest ones. Interoperability used to be a bigger one. It still can be, but just that, getting together and talking, and knowing what’s going on is key. It’s probably the big number one. Another one is, I don’t think there’s any one thing, that is probably the lack of trust sometimes. It’s not that you don’t distrust them, you just don’t know if you can trust them. Egos. I think egos can play a role. I talked to you about that sergeant, that’s 30 years ago. But I thought, why would you have an attitude about that? Why would you say don’t call, somebody who can help your people who are getting beat up? I mean, that’s just, it just blows my mind. And probably one in other one the lack of leadership, of real crisis leadership. Where you’re going to step in and this is what we’re going to do, you really need to lead your people. I don’t think we have a huge problem with the officers, and I’m talking about officers in general. The firefighters run toward the fire and police officers run toward bullets, right? But sometimes I think managers and leaders are not prepared for that. And we’ve talked about this in other classes, in crisis leadership class. You don’t have the luxury of shrinking up into a ball and just go into the fetal position. But I think some leaders do that emotionally. So, I think those are two big areas. Leadership and communications are two probably the two biggest ones. And then all the little stuff, egos, not trusting each other, turf wars. We still get turf wars from time to time, but there’s no need for that.


Audience Question: How do we overcome the hard feelings once they’ve set in? Once we’ve had a series of negative events or interactions with another agency or even just an individual person at that agency. How do we get beyond? And as you were just talking about, start building trust again? 

Dr. Jeff Fox: We have to check her egos. We have to be forgiving, we have to practice grace. We have to do that and maybe a person will accept that, maybe they won’t. If you’re the one and you were to blame, say, “Hey, I messed up, I’m sorry.” If they were the one. I don’t know if you can really go to them and say, I want you to apologize to me. So, in that situation, you may say, “I’m just going to forget about that. It’s a new day now.” You might try to do things as we talked about, the training and exercising to get to where they know you, you know them, and you start building trust. I’ll tell you a story here about that 117-vehicle crash. There was a two-hour delay and that’s finding out about it. It was an issue between dispatchers. And I thought we should get out in front of that, but my bosses said no. So, I didn’t say anything. Then we had an after-action meeting with about 100 people in the room, everyone from the Feds down to the local people and everybody in between. The agency, which was in charge of the roads, were the ones who were putting on the meeting, they were in charge of the process and they put up an improper timeline. And each person took a turn speaking. The next person came from fire. And he lit into me and our agency and started ridiculing one of my troops and talking about that timeline being incorrect. And if you were sitting next to me you could hear my teeth grinding so hard and I probably turned 10 shades of red. And I wasn’t very happy about that. Then, it came to my turn, so I stood up and I didn’t attack the guy I said, “You’re exactly right, that timeline is not right, there was a two-hour delay. And this is what happened.” So, first of all, I just right up front, “This is what happened. Secondly, I said the issue is with the dispatchers to begin with, so if you want to talk about that, talk to this dispatch company, and this one at over division. Thirdly, what did you think you had when you got there? Did you realize you had a five-foot-fall football field-length event? No, you didn’t.” I said, “Didn’t the fire dispatch sit right next to the police dispatcher,” they didn’t communicate. So, when I was done, I didn’t attack anybody. I just went through all that. So, the funny thing was, the next time I was at another meeting was in Charlottesville, Virginia, and they went to talk about this. These two fire guys were up on the stage, and I was sitting in the front row. Before we got started, they said, “Hey, would you like to come up and join us and be part of this presentation?” And I said “No,” I’ll tell you if you get it wrong. I kind of laughed it off, right? So, after that, they kind of, they kind of changed your tune, they didn’t know me, I didn’t know them. And I don’t blame them for being frustrated. I wish they would have come to me before, that we started, and say, hey, I’ve got some real issues that I would love to talk to you about. But to do that in front of the whole group, like I just thought was not necessary. I had to let it go. You know, What I will say was, I defended my people, right? I wasn’t going to let these things stand, and I didn’t. So, I’m sure you’re not going to make everybody happy all the time. So, you got to tell the truth. But you also got to leave your ego at the door and be willing to forgive people.


Audience Question: Jeff, if we wanted to learn more, or read more about how to improve our crisis response, what would you recommend? 

Dr. Jeff Fox: Well, I would recommend that you keep an eye on Justice Clearinghouse in a couple of months and you’re going to have a great class. At the end of this presentation, there are a lot of really good books. I’ll just go down to them n the crisis leadership presentation, if you watch it, there are about 10 books here to highlight. But if you get this and you go through here a lot of these are journal articles, but some of these are books. Flin is a good book to get. Mitroff is another good book to get and Klann. If I’d recommend two books I would recommend Klann, to begin with. He’s at the bottom of this page. Klann, great book, Crisis Leadership Using Military Lessons, is an easy book, about 120 pages a really good book. And Mitroff is another really good book. Crisis Leadership: Planning the Unthinkable, is an excellent book. And there’s Boin, he has a book in here, The Politics of Crisis Management Leadership, another very good book. Those are the top three, and there are two or three other ones that I highly recommend, but everything on this list of good stuff.

Click Here to Watch a Recording of Playing Nice in the Sandbox: The Human Elements of Disaster, Emergency Management, and Incident Command. Here are just a few of his responses.


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