Snowmaggedon. Snowpocalypse. Snow out. Kids spending the night at school, spending the night on school buses, residents spending the night in cars, vehicle accidents numbering in the thousands.
This week’s winter weather incident highlighted a multitude of readiness and preparedness issues. There will be plenty of conversations in the media and in professional emergency management circles about release of employees, delayed decision making, efficacy of weather reports. In this week’s blog post we want to focus the discussion on the new FEMA First Responder Tool Kit and its relevance to the unique challenges of this week’s incident.
FEMA has a new program called Ready Responder. The purpose of this program is to help the responder community engage and stay available during disasters and emergencies. During the 2010 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Report the reviews said that while employing new technology to its fullest potential is important, even more should be done to improve the resilience of the first responder community.
There are two facets of the program that add a new dimension to the preparedness and response conversation: expanding the current definition of first responder and working to ensure that first responders and their families are ready for a disaster situation.
1) FEMA recommends that emergency managers reconsider how people and professional capabilities are categorized as first responders. Say “first responder” and people immediately think: police, fire, ems, and public works. These are the historical categories. But in Winter Storm Leon, classic first responders were unable to respond to incidents because they were unable to reach some incidents, and because eventually the number of incidents surpassed their ability to respond. Suddenly bus drivers, school teachers, were thrust into first responders of providing critical care.
FEMA’s recommendation is that emergency managers consider all employees who could be filling a critical support function in the aftermath of a disaster as a first responder, to provide them a set of basic training guidelines in the event of an emergency, and be ready to deploy their services in creative ways.
2) FEMA also is recommending that emergency managers work to ensure that those first responders, and their families are ready in case a disaster strikes. Even seasoned first responders, such as police officers, can become lackadaisical about keeping their emergency supplies up and having a readiness plan for their families that can be enacted the moment they are called to duty.
Tuesday morning most teachers and students in the South went to school thinking they would be home by 1 pm. No one was expecting to spend 24-48 hours at school, or overnight on a school bus, let alone that they might become responsible for the care and safety of students’ needs.
What would it look like for a city to make a goal of establishing a preparedness culture that was simple, informative and thoughtful to its employees (even contract employees such as bus drivers)? Doing so creates a broader base from which to deploy the emergency operations plan and a more stable structure because the chance of gaps in your personnel will be much smaller.
Organizations should review the new FEMA FIRST RESPONDER Tool Kit. This useful guide can ensure your team of responders will be able to mobilize and stay on line after a major disaster.