Homeland Security

Synchronization Matrix (SM)

Research and experience tell emergency managers that coordinated, integrated and synchronized preparedness planning leads to successful emergency response. However, many emergency plans treat responding agency and jurisdiction actions as independent acts. There have been instances where a jurisdiction or agency did its planning in isolation, with no idea what other response agencies or responding jurisdictions are doing, and vice versa. They could not tell how theirs' or others' actions affected each other. Then, in an emergency when they had to work together, one of two things happened - either the response broke down or, if they were lucky, it worked to some level of success.

This is the dilemma faced by emergency planners. How do they produce emergency plans that are "just right?" How do they identify all of the problems that might be faced and provide solutions to those problems? How do they provide enough detail to make the response work, but not so much detail that the plan is not flexible or ever read? How do they go about coordinating the plan so everyone knows what to expect and no one is overwhelmed?

Just like other planning processes, the disaster dimensions of time, space, and hazard characteristics guide the Sync Matrix effort. However, the use of those dimensions is different. For example, "time" is more than how long the response will last. Time is also how long it takes to accomplish a task, as well as the period available to complete a response task. Space is more than the geography surrounding the disaster site. It is also includes all other locations where response actions occur. For example, it could include an area next to the disaster location where people may be sheltered or resources flow through or a location a few states away where a search-and-rescue team is mobilizing. Actions occur in all of these areas at the same time, with all contributing toward achieving a response goal. The magnitude and intensity of a hazard's physical forces and effects identify the conditions at play in the response. Sync Matrix planning also includes as "hazard characteristics" the issues and problems caused by taking a course of action. For example, say a decision is made to have a population "shelter-in-place" to reduce exposure to a chemical plume passing overhead. Once the concentration of the outside air is reduced to a safe level, a decision must be made and appropriate instructions must be disseminated in order to "release" that population from their "shelter."

The starting point for the Synchronization Matrix Planning Process is identifying the planning team. This team should include the lead emergency planners from the response jurisdictions and/or key agencies. As a minimum, representatives should come from emergency management, law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, public health, and public works agencies. Private sector participants may include the local hospital or operators of industrial sites, as appropriate. The key is to not plan in isolation.

The first step for the planning team is to build the hazard scenario and establish the response timeline and scale. This means choosing a "disaster," using models and other analysis tools to describe its characteristics, and determining how it will unfold over time. The hazard characteristics and the expected length of the response determine the timeline and scale. For example, a hurricane plan may cover a period from 5 days before until 5 days after landfall. The scale might be hours and days, as hurricanes are typically slow moving. Alternatively, the response to an explosion at a chemical plant may cover a period of hours, using a scale of minutes and hours due to a fast-moving plume. The team records the hazard scenario and timeline in a way that allows its viewing throughout the planning process.

Next, the team determines the goal of the response. The planning team identifies constraints, intermediate goals, and the end state. A constraint is something that must happen during the response, something that cannot occur during the response, or a condition that would stop the plan from being carried out. The "end state" is what the response looks like when it is complete. For example, one part of an end state for a hurricane response might be: "The population within the predicted flood zone is evacuated or in a government run haven of last resort 12 hours before landfall." An intermediate goal that supports this end state might be: "Emergency shelters are operating 2 hours before issuing an evacuation order." Note that both the goals and the end state are associated with time. Indicating a time limit allows planners to determine how much time is available to meet response requirements. As with the hazard scenario, planners should record response goals and the end state in a way that permits viewing during them the planning process.

The hard work begins when the planning team starts its iterative process of identifying decisions and response actions. For each decision or action, the planning team identifies the responsible party, the time factors, what occurs before (this may be a hazard scenario item), what occurs after, and the resources needed. As the planning team goes through the Sync Matrix process, they periodically stop and review their work to:

  • Identify progress toward achieving goals and the end state.
  • Identify problems solved and new problems faced. The new problems may be hazard generated, response generated, or constraint generated.
  • Identify single points in the response that might cause its failure.
  • Check for omissions and gaps in the response.
  • Check for inconsistencies in responder relationships.
  • Identify resources required and validate their availability.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list


privacy policy