Randall Hanifen


Public Safety Has a Zero Acceptable Failure Rate

When I first entered the fire department, the call would come to a Minitor Pager we wore on our side and I would get out my pen to write the address on my hand.  If it was a busy day, I had to move to the back of the hand.  We then entered the vehicle and flipped though some map pages until we found a typed sheet with directions, of course only written from the primary station, so I needed to adjust them the majority of the time for my direction of travel.

Current Technology for Emergency Response

Fast-forward about two decades and we receive a dispatch that is a computerized voice telling us the call information. We now only listen to select parts (guilty of this myself) because we know when we enter the vehicle that the call information will be on the mobile data computer and with the push of a button the route to the call will be on the screen.

Once we begin to move, another electronic device will warn me if any of the firefighters are not fully seat-belted.  On arrival, we don a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) that has all of the latest bells and whistles — it can transmit my air consumption and tell the incident commander that my pass alarm has not activated. Once the driver of the fire engine departs the vehicle, he steps to the pump panel and with the push of a few buttons; the fire engine will adjust the water supply and fill the hose.

As Long as All of the Electronics Work …

Due to increased technology advances and reliability, the aforementioned electronics perform as expected on a very frequent basis. Because of this reliability, responders begin to adjust their behavior to rely on them.

Not too many years ago, we received our fire engine back from the manufacturer for a repair of the water tank. Once returned, the powered rack that held the ground ladders would not lower the ladders to the street height. 

Because we functioned as an engine company (the truck that stretches the hoses), the ladders were only used if we needed them before the arrival of the ladder company. I agreed that if we responded to a fire and actually needed the ladders, I would merely climb on top of the truck and throw them to the ground (I was pretty confident this would not be needed).

On the way back to the fire station, we received a call for a house fire. We would arrive first to a garage fire that was extending into the house and to the garage. Upon arrival, the driver noted when he stood in front of the pump panel that none of the electronic valves worked. They were likely powered by the same electricity as the ladders. 

Fortunately, due to the quick thinking of the driver, he adjusted the hoseline, found the two manual valves on the truck, and quickly switched to utilizing them. Because of his quick thinking, the fire grew no more than it would have originally. Tragedy averted.

How Prepared Are You to Deal With Electronic Failures?

[link url=”” title=”A recent study”] took an in-depth look at the threat of cyber attacks on 9-1-1 emergency service. In the study, researchers examined how hackers could launch anonymous attacks on 9-1-1 systems that could shut them down for a period of time.

Are your dispatchers able to receive calls during a cyber attack? If not, how will you know there are emergencies?  Are you able to dispatch without the computer-aided design (CAD) system?  If so, how often do you train on it?  Are you able to circumvent all of the electronics on your response apparatus and response gear if they fail?  Have you trained for this?

As we move away from drill, our next step is tabletop exercises, followed by full-scale exercises. While this path follows the FEMA Exercise Course teachings, we must not forget that we should intersperse higher education, case study reviews, and literature reviews into our pathways of training.