AMU Fire & EMS Original Public Safety

Disaster Management and Properly Preparing for Spring Storms

By Dr. Randall Hanifen
Edge Contributor

Spring typically brings thunderstorms and tornadoes, especially in the midwestern and southeastern states. While severe spring storms should be expected in these areas, we often see towns taken by surprise each year due to extensive flooding or devastating tornadoes.

While no local system can manage every disaster, the available community resources should match the hazards created by spring storms. It’s also useful to practice the ability to attain necessary resources before a disaster occurs.

Matching Hazards with Community Resources

Although preparing resources to cope with expected disasters such as spring storms, floods, or tornadoes initially seems simple – discover what is needed and buy it – it’s not that easy. Most governments try to run on less money than is actually needed in order to have disaster management resources available at any time. Consequently, the budgeting process is necessary to spread out these purchases and balance them with the largest disaster management cost, which is personnel.

Because this resource-buying process is often a multi-year program, administrators need to start with a hazard analysis and prioritize the equipment that will make the largest impact on a disaster event. Administrators also need to create a comprehensive inventory of their current equipment/personnel and a replacement plan to ensure that all organizational areas are properly maintained. Losing focus on one area of a fire service or EMS organization while trying to improve other areas does not provide better community service.

Next, administrators must ensure that their people conduct training sessions to allow their equipment and personnel to handle disaster-related hazards like floods. For instance, a rescue organization may have a perfectly good boat, but without firefighters certified in water rescue, the boat is largely useless. Without command staff who know how to manage disasters and ensure proper safety measures are in place, EMS personnel and firefighters could be put into dangerous situations.

Related link: Fire Service Perspectives: Are We Talking Past Each Other?

Ensuring Large-Scale Incidents Like Spring Storms Are Properly Managed

While most fire and EMS agencies handle smaller disasters and normal 911 calls, a full-scale disaster requires much more in regard to knowledge of the full Incident Command System (ICS). With some ICS schools, their focus is only on single-family residential fires and the terminology they use is not consistent with the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

This lack of knowledge creates significant issues when first responders seek to build a scalable ICS structure that can handle a disaster event. Knowing how to establish groups and divisions and being proficient in planning cycles and disaster support logistics are imperative for disaster management success. As I’ve noted in previous blog articles, a disaster moves from push logistics – in which all equipment and supplies are brought to the scene – to pull logistics, which require planning, ordering, and movement of the resources and supplies needed at a disaster event.

Planning should start during your tabletop scenarios and carry over to a collective understanding of what equipment and personnel will be needed during certain disaster events. It is also prudent for a fire service or EMS organization to have a few pre-made game plans from which to choose.

Related link: How Prepared Are Your Fire Departments for a Cyberattack?

Starting an Incident Action Plan

An Incident Action Plan can be started from studying other disasters, conducting hazard analyses and inventorying area resources. While each disaster varies slightly, the core of a community’s needs and resources will remain the same. Starting a plan for proper disaster management early will save time and allow for collective understanding among first responders.

Mismatches and Capability Gaps Prevent Success in Disaster Management

While it seems elementary to plan for and acquire the equipment and personnel needed to manage a disaster, mismatches and gaps in capabilities are what prevents success at many disasters. Plan ahead and find the gaps that need filling to provide the necessary service your community needs.

Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. From a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.

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