“It could never happen here!”
When you are asked by your local emergency manager if your department wants to participate in a table-top emergency operations exercise, do you look for an excuse to avoid the training? Does your calendar suddenly get booked on the day of the exercise? Maybe your crews need a supervisor at a call for service during that time. Whatever the excuse, many of us command staff types avoid emergency management like it was a bio hazard. We’d rather be involved in an actual incident than “pretend” on what we would do.
However, over the past week, a couple of horrific incidents have accentuated the need to be ready for an emergency that will go beyond your capabilities and your abilities. You need to plan for large scale incidents by running through scenarios during emergency operations center exercises. This may be the only way to truly answer if you are really ready.
When two home-made bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the images of Boston Firefighters, Boston EMS, police officers, physicians, nurses, and even event staff running towards the chaos, made it evident that they had prepared. Many reports from the scene indicated that panic was at a minimum and that the triage process, combat medical care, and rapid transport occurred through a smooth and well-planned operation. The head trauma surgeon from one of the city’s hospital stated that “Being organized in the beginning helps patients do well.” Many of those who received initial treatment from the first responders survived due to their quick action.
Only two days later, a fertilizer plant outside of Waco, Texas, exploded and created a mass casualty incident which quickly overwhelmed the local responders. Fire, toxic fumes, building collapses, fatalities, and numerous victims were seriously injured in the sparsely populated area. To add to the tragic event, EMS personnel and firefighters were among those hurt and killed. The threat of a secondary explosion curtailed some of the fire suppression efforts.
In both of these incidents, the agencies responsible for providing fire and EMS coverage likely did not think that these incidents could occur in their communities. Their preparedness for handling such emergencies quickly became a topic of discussion.
When considering your involvement in emergency management and pre-planning events and incidents, you must consider a worst-case scenario. Do you have a plan for requesting additional resources from mutual aid agencies? Have you made a disaster communications plan? Are you able to secure the material and equipment resources necessary to respond to and mitigate the emergency that could happen?
These are questions that can be answered through your involvement in emergency operations center exercises. It is during these training evolutions that you can discover your strengths, weaknesses and challenges.
It can happen in your town. Are you ready?