By Randall Hanifen
Many tornadoes and floods occur in the spring. Some of them are even bad enough to rise to a level of a disaster for a community.
Storms can cause much destruction in one community, but due to the size of an event, the disaster declaration process may not go beyond local or state levels. As a result, local communities need to ensure they are prepared to handle emergency response and recovery, which will only happen through good planning.
Fire Departments Should Lead Preparation Efforts in Communities
By the nature of most communities, it is left to the fire department to provide search and rescue services, as well as the immediate response to most disasters. While police and community services departments are often called into action after a disaster, much of the response is led by fire departments due to their daily handling of emergencies and intimate knowledge of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS).
Community Preparation and Refresher Training on NIMS ICS Structures
For communities to be properly prepared for disasters, there are some areas that need to be planned and trained for prior to such events. First, there should be refresher training on larger- scale NIMS ICS structures. This training can include the use of first responder branches, divisions, and groups that are needed to divide a disaster incident into manageable, controllable sections.
Preplanning how to divide divisions and groups helps the initial incident commander to feel confident in his abilities. While this feeling of confidence should be nothing new to fire services personnel (many incident commanders are required to undergo intermediate and advanced training at the ICS 300 and 400 levels), the reality is that most disaster events do not rise to the level of fully staffed branches and large geographical divisions. In my organization, we start with divisions and groups at fires so that we can easily scale our response and handle a larger disaster without needing to reorganize under divisions and groups.
Unified Command in Community Disaster Preparation
A second area of ICS that needs review is unified command. As I noted earlier, community services department and the police department will be activated during most disasters in the community.
Consequently, the need to incorporate these departments into a common ICS structure is necessary. While police, fire, and community services departments often work together, their efforts often only focus on their individual areas of expertise and do not incorporate a common incident action plan.
Developing an Incident Action Plan
The third area that needs refresher training is the development of an Incident Action Plan (IAP). This plan is typically created by first responder planners and is overseen by the Planning Section Chief. While most fire department personnel are proficient at writing down objectives and tracking resources, translating this effect to a full IAP on the proper forms may take some work and requires training.
Understanding the Role of Government Officials
The last area of ICS that personnel should be trained on prior to a disaster is the role of government officials. Government officials are needed to serve as the Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) group.
They will need to know how to declare a disaster to allow the declaration process to begin without causing a delay in receiving the next level of resources and funding. They will also need to know what documentation is required of the emergency management agency to justify the request for assistance from the next level of government.
Connecting an EMA and Local Emergency Services
While in most areas a relationship between emergency services and the local Emergency Management Agency (EMA) exists to some extent, it is useful to ensure that you have a good understanding of how to contact the local EMA and what information they need to facilitate the coordination of local/regional resources. Many EMAs will open an emergency operations center (EOC) during disasters, and there should be a representative who can staff the EOC.
Depending on the set up, the EOC could be a virtual one that only uses only a computer program or a fully functional EOC that has many representatives. It is important to know the trigger points for the EOC ahead of time to plan for attendees.
Acquiring the Right Tools and Equipment
Often, flooding and tornadoes require specialized equipment that is not frequently used but will need to be ready at a moment’s notice. Examples of such tools include water rescue tools, tree saws and personal protective equipment (PPE). Having electrical detection equipment and global positioning system (GPS) tracking equipment is also very useful during storm responses.
Good Disaster Preparation Is Based on Relationship Development, Expert Knowledge and the Right Equipment
Good preparation before a disaster is mostly based on building relationships, acquiring expert knowledge and using the right equipment. Where are you in your readiness for spring disasters? Don’t wait until an event occurs to determine the flaws in your emergency response.