Emergency resource identification and planning

An emergency manager needs to identify the resources that will be used in the community when an incident exceeds the daily norm.  There are many places to find resources that may be used in a disaster, but during a disaster is not the time to be seeking these resources and sharing business cards for the first time.

This does assume that the fire department, law enforcement, and emergency medical system are properly staffed to handle the majority of daily emergencies that occur in a community.  If there are not enough resources to handle the day-to-day events, then there is a much bigger problem for the community.

There are attempts to capture the information about the nation’s critical infrastructure into an open system so the data can be shared with authorized users yet secured so it doesn’t reveal too much information to those who don’t need to know it.  These systems can also feed real-time operational data in a way that shares a common operational picture of what is occurring.  One of these efforts is Virtual USA.  More information can be found at http://www.firstresponder.gov/pages/virtualusa.aspx.  Another effort to share information in a less formal way is through the First Responder Communities of Practice, found at https://communities.firstresponder.gov.

A commonly shared statement is that the private industry owns most of the resources and critical infrastructure that can be used or damaged during a disaster.  I believe it is a mistake to always tap the private industry with an expectation they provide their products and services free because it is a disaster.  Private industry needs to pay for their resources and their business model may not include giving away free stuff.  How important is a service during a disaster if someone says “well, if we can get the resource free then we’ll do it, but otherwise no”?  Only doing something because it is free shows that it isn’t as important as something you are willing to pay for.

The resources available in a community will greatly vary with the type of community.  An urban community will have less wild land firefighting gear then a rural counterpart, but is likely to have taller ladder trucks and better equipped for high-rise rescues.  Examples of how community need drives first responder resource can continue.  Fuel pipelines and storage tanks push the need for foam pumpers, but are becoming more common outside of industrial plants.  Large off-road areas push for special law enforcement vehicles to patrol those areas.  Large elderly and special needs populations push for more or differently equipment ambulances.

A common mistake is to look for FEMA for all the needed disaster response support.  While FEMA does own some assets, FEMA functions as a mechanism to gain access to assets located in other parts of Federal and state government.  FEMA uses mission assignments to request support from other agencies with an IOU that FEMA will reimburse the costs association with the mission assignment.  Any government agency can bring their assets to support a disaster relief operation, but only through a mission assignment will FEMA pay for them to be there.  As an emergency manager, you need to look out and identify these resources that may exist in your community.

A military installation in the community may become a valuable partner in disaster response because it increases the goodwill between the community and the base plus allows the base a way to support their members who live and work off the base.  On the flip side, military resources may not be available if the commander (or higher) determines that dedicating the resources to the response will weaken their level of readiness too much.

Look around your community.  Hopefully you will start to notice a relationship between the assets of the first responders (and their support teams) and the equipment, training and resources available for use during events.  The Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grants (http://www.fema.gov/government/grant/hsgp/#2) may have allowed your community to purchase equipment for major incident response.

An emergency manager should be engaging with the community before a disaster to get to know the people and organizations in the area.  The entry into the private sector may be through the local Chamber of Commerce, or even the business directory of the Better Business Bureau.  Providing information to help the community’s residents and businesses be prepared in advance of a disaster will also help the emergency manager make contacts that may be used during the disaster.

There are public-private partnerships that successfully exist in technology.  The most common one that emergency responders may see is the National Communication System which arose from the telecommunications industry and Federal government working together.  Through NCS, emergency responders can get priority access to landline and cellular phone systems, priority restoration of telecommunications systems and shared access to HF radio frequencies.  The companies engaged in this are listed at http://www.ncs.gov/ncc/gov_ind.html.

When a local or state response agency has significant communications problems, FEMA can be approved to provide assets to support them.  One of FEMA’s internal assets is the Mobile Emergency Response Support (http://www.fema.gov/emergency/mers/index.shtm).  They’re role is to provide communication support to the disaster responding agencies; not to the general public.

This is a really good time to bring up the important part that when requesting assistance from someone, be very clear who is being directly helped and served.  When engaging a resource, provide them as much information as possible so they can plan ahead for the situation.


Additional resources

Using the military during disaster or emergency?

Decon in hazmat suitsI was pointed in the direction of the article The Pentagon Wants Authority to Post Almost 400,000 Military Personnel in the US on Twitter http://www.progressive.org/wx081209b.html.  It has some interesting facets around it — if you can get past the some people’s concern about the potential misuse of the President declaring an “emergency” to direct the military against the civilian population.

Continue reading Using the military during disaster or emergency?