“Begin at the beginning.” This quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is often used to suggest a common sense approach to life. But the problem with critical incidents, disasters and large scale emergencies is that you don’t always know when you are at the beginning or when the beginning will be. Earthquakes and terror attacks have unannounced beginnings. When is the beginning of the snow and ice or wide spread weather emergency? At the first snowflake? The first gust of wind? And almost always the way to the end is not always one, clear linear path. It’s a series of interconnected reactions, like an amazing dominoes run that carries momentum and creates continuing reactions in a number of directions.
Which is why in emergency management it’s imperative to begin BEFORE the beginning.
Continuing the conversation from our last blog post, FEMA’s Ready Response Toolkit is a great way to start. First responders need to have their own affairs and families taken care of so that they are fully available for the duration of the incident. In an event that allows for a waiting period, the City Manager should notify all relevant parties all EOC section chiefs, and all first responders with a clear timeline for getting their personal affairs organized so that they are available. “We are expecting a winter storm event. We are preparing to activate the EOC. All section chiefs and related staff should be prepared to report by 08:00 Wednseday, January 25th.” Additionally, non-traditional first responders such as teachers, bus drivers, city maintenance employees, managers of big box stores, should be given a general notification of what to expect and how to prepare.
As the event draws near, there needs to be a dedicated small team of staff who prepare the EOC: turn on the lights, start up computers, check supplies and operational ability. Is the generator filled with gas? Is there enough paper for printers? Are there basic supplies such as water and non perishable food items? On a larger scale, does a state of emergency need to be declared? What steps need to be taken in order to ensure that the necessary resources are in place and ready for deployment?
The City of Atlanta provides us with a nice study in contrasts. Winter storm Leon created gridlock across Southern states, but especially in Georgia. Reflecting on the incident Governor Deal admitted “we all made errors in judgment…the major lesson is we have to be more proactive.” Three weeks later, when the South was again expecting snow and ice, Governor Deal had the opportunity to practice what he was preaching. CNN reported that Deal and his fellow governors in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, both Carolinas and Virginia issued emergency declarations ahead of the weather. The second storm did bring ice, road hazards and downed power lines, but did not create nearly the chaos and disruption that Southern states had experienced in January.
Now is a great time to practice beginning before the beginning. Southern and Midwestern states have already experienced their first batches of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, with hardly a chance to get beyond ice and snow. Western states are facing drought conditions which will make the 2014 fire season more dangerous and tenuous than normal.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog post as we look into the roles and responsibilities of each of the ICS section chiefs.