Finding a Common Language

Krista Dillon

It was the Olympics, of all things, that jump started Krista Dillon’s career in emergency training.

“I got involved in safety issues when the University of Oregon first hosted the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on campus in 2008—this is the event that selects the U.S.’s Olympic Track and Field team,” Dillon said. “I served as planning section chief to coordinate emergency management, public safety, and security plans among a number of partner agencies. I also staffed the Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) center housed at our football stadium during the trials. From the MAC, we coordinated the various agencies and were on standby in the event of an incident or emergency.”

After that event, Dillon said her crew continued to be engaged in the planning of special campus events including numerous ESPN Game Day visits, NCAA track and field championships, home football games at Autzen Stadium, the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, and the 2014 IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championship.

Today, Dillon serves as assistant director of the University of Oregon’s Emergency Management & Continuity Program. A certified Incident Command System (ICS) instructor, her work includes coordinating trainings and maintaining and updating campus plans, including the Emergency Operations Plan and the Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan. Dillon also coordinates the development of department and unit level business continuity plans. In 2002, she was selected as one of two Community Planning Fellows with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Attendees of the upcoming Academy for Venue Safety & Security (AVSS) will be in Dillon’s capable hands for her training session, Application of Incident Command Systems and the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The course will build upon the basics of ICS and NIMS, two systematic, proactive approaches that help departments and agencies manage incidents seamlessly. Regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity, this training is critical in order to reduce loss of life, property damage, and environmental harm. One of the purposes of NIMS and ICS training is to provide a common vernacular and approach for managing emergencies.

“ICS assists in assuring that everyone involved in an event or incident works from the same plan, which can help minimize the risk to responders and workers,” Dillon said. “It also helps when different agencies and groups come together on an event. ICS calls for a common language so that anyone, no matter where they are from or what their background is, understands others as they collaboratively engage in planning and implementing plans. The standardization can also benefit from a budget perspective, because it helps ensure that actions aren’t being duplicated across the organization or planning structure.”

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Another benefit of NIMS and ICS training is that it can bring partner agencies together before an incident takes place.

“It is hard to exchange business cards in the midst of an emergency, so establishing those relationships ahead of time through training can be extremely helpful,” Dillon said. “We have found that joint training ahead of time can help everyone understand the other agency’s strengths and limitations, which is something that is much better to know before an incident than during.”

In addition to going over the basics of ICS and NIMS, the majority of Dillon’s session will focus on a tabletop, discussion-based exercise where participants will respond to several emergency scenarios, identify roles and responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges that can be applied and addressed at their home venues.

“The tabletop exercise will be broken into two components: 1) incident action plan development and 2) communication and notifications. Participants will be presented with a scenario and asked to develop a basic incident action plan to respond to the scenario,” Dillon said. “They will also receive additional information about issues that arise during the course of the response and will be asked to think about who inside and outside of their venue needs to be notified and how that occurs. The exercise will conclude with a debrief discussion of gaps they identified going through the process.”

Though Dillon’s session centers on some pretty exciting hypothetical emergencies, she admitted that “the biggest training challenge for me is keeping people engaged and interested in the topic.” Dillon has two primary goals she hopes to accomplish in her course.

“The first goal is for participants to leave the session with a basic understanding of the incident command system and how they can use some of principles in large event planning, but also day-to-day tasks,” she said. “The second goal is to give them an understanding of how to develop simple exercises that they can put together for their staff and partners back at their venues.”

Without challenges there are no rewards, and Dillon said her biggest motivation is “when you see the light bulb go off for someone.” She said she is also looking forward to AVSS in Dallas because she is looking forward to engaging with IAVM.

“I think I will also learn a lot through this process and hopefully will bring some things back to my work at the University of Oregon,” she said. FM

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