Don’t let SIP become RIP
The Incident Command System is the master plan for responders — the set of established operating practices that enables the management of any scalable emergency incident.
One component of most emergency operating plans here in the midwestern tornado alley involves a seldom-mentioned practice called “shelter in place.” Under a variety of circumstances, emergency managers “count on” disaster (or emergency incident) victims remaining at their business or residence for some time after the onset of the emergency. These victims would be instructed to hunker down (shelter) in the best available nearby area of safety, refuge and/or comfort (in place.) The key words are “some time,” which, in many plans, may be as many as 72 hours. With basic Kansas kounting, that’s three full days during which disaster victims may not receive rescue assistance and/or have access to electricity, food, water or medical attention.
Even during a well-managed and highly localized disaster, emergency communications systems are heavily taxed. Remember that in addition to the “disaster” traffic, the hometown police, fire, ambulance and public works folks must deal with all the regularly occurring problems and emergencies. Call takers at 9-1-1 answering points have a challenging job. In addition to regularly (not routinely) handling emergency situations, these people must field the occasional call for which an immediate emergency response is not available to the victim.
Certainly, then, no job task could be more difficult than talking directly with disaster victims for whom no foreseeable aid or response is available. Unless, perhaps, it’s talking with victims and being required to explain “shelter in place.” So what’s a fellow to do?
As thoughtful and proactive emergency communications personnel, ostensibly we have provisioned our own system backbone (or our customer’s facilities in the case of contract service providers) for an unanticipated and/or catastrophic operating cycle. Things look great in those one-line drawings, but the rub comes when we consider communications support service from the personnel perspective.
For just as with the public at large, communications technicians and managers may be unavailable because of SIP. Even if they wanted to come in, it’s possible that they simply could not make their way to the job, which could leave the standard shift complement (if any at all) with minimal backup to handle operations.
Public safety systems are often configured with redundant facilities, anticipating a “standard” depth of dispatch and technical staff to help out under exceptional circumstances. An important criterion for operational unit planning should be the consideration of emergency operations that might occur without adequate dispatch or technical staff. Seventy-two hours would make a nice starting point for a brief but frank discussion of the communications system.
Dunford, MRT’s public safety consultant, is technical services consultant for the Lenexa, Kan., police department. He is a member of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International. His email address is [email protected].