Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Focus Groups in Western Massachusetts to Discuss IRAA Standard Operating Guidance

October 22nd, 2012

Post by: Delilah Geldart

Update: As of 10/31/2012

The Western Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council (WRHSAC) has postponed the focus groups planned for November 2, 2012, at 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM at Hotel Northampton. The future date is still to be determined.

Thank you for understanding and we look forward to your continued participation in our efforts to collect reactions to the assumptions underlying the Individuals Requiring Additional Assistance (IRAA) Standard Operating Guidance (SOG) and Annex and how it applies to preparedness, response and recovery actions in the Western Region.

We will provide an update on the focus groups as soon as possible. You can still, however, register your interest in attending by filling in the form below. We will contact you via email as soon as we have the new date.
Original Post:

Under a grant from the Department Of Homeland Security, the Western MA Homeland Security Advisory Council (WRHSAC) has hired Readiness Consulting Services (RCS) to conduct training and exercises with regional emergency managers and first responders with regard to response operations for Individuals Requiring Additional Assistance (IRAA).  This includes rescue and sheltering of disaster victims with communication, medical, or other kinds of support needs (e.g., physical accommodations, supervision) in order to maintain functional independence during and post-event.

In the field of emergency management, this is identified as Communications, Medical, Independence, Supervision and Transportation (C-MIST). The WRHSAC has developed a Standard Operating Guidance (SOG) and Annexes to the operations plan to ensure that all first responders address the needs of the IRAA community.  The overall purpose of the project is to educate responders on the new SOG and Annexes and to test their validity and usefulness in an operation.

An early step in the validation and testing process is to test the assumptions that have been made regarding the SOG and the Annexes.  In order to do that, we will conduct three short focus groups to gather baseline information about the assumptions and expectations of all participants in the process.

The three distinct groups that RCS is targeting for the focus groups are:

  1. Individuals with functional needs or social conditions that increase their vulnerability to being severely affected by a disaster itself as well as by the manner in which they are assisted by first responders (C-MIST model);
  2. First responders (fire, police, medical, health, the Red Cross) and emergency managers; and
  3. Response partners (NGOs, hospitals, state support agencies and volunteers such as Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), Medical Reserve Corp, or Disaster Animal Rescue Team.

The objective of these focus groups is to get reactions to the assumptions underlying the SOG and annexes.

Each focus group will be approximately two hours long and will be conducted as discussion. We also propose to have an on-line component of the focus discussion available to first responders and response partners for the two weeks following the tabletop exercises (TTXs) in November.  The purpose of the on-line forum is to take what we learn in the focus groups and what we discover in the TTXs and move the conversation forward to discover additional perceptions, priorities, and evolving consensus.

An example of why this will be useful in advancing WRHSAC’s IRAA work is found in one of the least understood aspects of working with people with functional and access needs – that most often, everything needs to take place at a much slower pace. For example, working with citizens with cognitive disabilities requires additional time and action regarding explanations, movement through space and activities and (perhaps) working with a navigator in addition to the citizen.  At the most critical time for first responders, time “is of the essence” and everything out of necessity must move at a rapid pace because of impending danger.  The potential for conflict is clear: first responders need to move quickly and people with functional and access needs need to move more deliberately.

If you are either a first responder or a response partner and are interested in attending this important event, please register below. If you have any questions or concerns please contact Sue Brown, HS Program Manager, at

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