Reducing Vulnerability

At a minimum, prior to the weather event, the fire department, within its EM framework, could work with local media to design public information ads that provide residents with valuable information to help them prepare for the weather event. (Photo by Pixabay.)
At a minimum, prior to the weather event, the fire department, within its EM framework, could work with local media to design public information ads that provide residents with valuable information to help them prepare for the weather event. (Photo by Pixabay.)

By Adrian Scapperotti

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter created the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the sole purpose of creating policies for specific incident types. However, in 1981, incident-specific philosophy changed to an all-hazard approach. An all-hazard approach is flexible and can be implemented for any type of hazard. Eventually, an Integrated Emergency Management System (IEMS) was adopted to incorporate a comprehensive emergency management approach to planning for incidents and events that may occur within your local jurisdiction.

Local government has formal authority to provide emergency response and mitigation to all incidents and events occurring within its jurisdiction. By having formal authority, local government has a fundamental responsibility to incorporate emergency management into its core function. With the implementation of an IEMS, local governmental and nongovernmental agencies alike can effectively design, plan, coordinate, and deliver functional exercises designed to comprehensively manage a potential incident or event.

Creating Policy

Emergency management (EM) may be a relatively new concept to some in the fire service, but its importance and acceptance cannot be understated. So, what is EM? According to the International Association of Emergency Managers, “Emergency management is a managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disaster.” In other words, EM is the process of creating written policies and procedures for comprehensively managing an incident or event and multiagency response personnel who provide mitigation, support, and recovery operations.

A core paradigm of EM is identifying essential infrastructure, key resources, and potential hazards within your jurisdiction. After their identification, the next step is to conduct a hazard vulnerability analysis (HVA) and a realistic threat assessment (TA). Each step assesses the potential of an incident occurring and its impact on your jurisdiction. Once the identification, HVA, and TA are complete, the next step is to critically and objectively analyze the information and create policies and procedures for preparing for, responding to, mitigating, and recovering from an incident or event.

The final step is to codify the data into an emergency operations plan (EOP). The EOP contains useful information for agency decision makers, and it delineates agency responsibility so, essentially, an EOP is a blueprint designed for successfully handling incidents or events.

Continuity of Operations

An integral component of EM is the practicality of the continuity of operations. When an incident or event occurs, it can severely disrupt or even prevent a jurisdiction from providing crucial services. Therefore, it is vital that your jurisdiction maintains its continuity of operations and delivery of services.

Continuity of operations is critical to a jurisdiction; the ability to provide services and core functions to residents should be a top priority. Preparedness affords the opportunity for decision makers to create and implement citywide policies and procedures for delivering services as soon as practicable after the incident or event has been mitigated and recovery has begun.

The principles of EM can be applied to normal daily operations. The more you use these principles, the more proficient your personnel and department will be in implementing them at an incident or event.

EM vs. ICS

EM differs from the widely known and accepted incident command system (ICS) in that ICS supports managing and organizing response personnel and resources through five functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance. These are all terms the fire service has, on some level, incorporated into its operations.

EM principles support the identification of essential infrastructure, key resource locations, and potential hazards through mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery - terms and applications fire service personnel may not be as familiar with.

EM encourages participation in your local emergency planning committee (LEPC). An LEPC is comprised of stakeholders from non-governmental agencies and decision makers from citywide governmental agencies alike. A fundamental responsibility of an LEPC is to create and then analyze the HVA. Once essential infrastructure, key resource locations, and potential hazards are identified and vulnerabilities have been assessed, policies and procedures need to be developed, implemented, tested, and evaluated. Testing is accomplished through tabletop, functional, or full-scale exercise to ensure the policies and procedures effectively meet their objective.

The most important benefits of EM and involvement with your LEPC are developing relationships and creating a network of people and resources. This network will be invaluable when planning and mitigating an incident, especially if the incident is significant or its impact is severe.

Mitigation

Mitigation, in EM vernacular, is reducing or, if possible, eliminating the potential of an incident occurring. Mitigation is the foundation of EM and is centered on an accurate HVA and TA. Mitigation is a concerted effort to remove potential problems before an incident occurs; it encompasses preventive measures taken to avert an incident. In general, the fire service is familiar with the more well-known ICS vernacular, where mitigation begins once personnel arrive on the scene and take actions needed to stabilize and abate an incident - a distinct difference.

A well-developed mitigation plan can address predicted events and, more importantly, address issues that in the past have been problematic for your jurisdiction. One such example is flooding. The mitigation phase provides decision makers with the opportunity to address the concern moving forward in a proactive manner.

Preparedness

Preparedness includes a critical and objective analysis of organizational capabilities for planning, training, educating, exercising, and recovering from a potential incident that has been identified in the HVA. Preparedness includes creating, implementing, exercising, and maintaining effective policies and procedures for emergency response and recovery. Once written, policies and procedures should be codified into an EOP to support incident response.

An integral component of preparedness is regularly training personnel on the policies and procedures that the LEPC has created and implemented; this training is critical to ensure that the policies and procedures are effective. Training should not focus on the performance of personnel but rather on the effectiveness of the policies and procedures meeting their objective.

If, during a functional or full-scale exercise, deficiencies with a policy or procedure are identified, the deficiencies are noted and corrective measures are taken during agency training sessions. Yes, capable personnel are fundamental; however, it is important to remember that the principal purpose is to evaluate the policy and procedure. If the policy or procedure is not effective, the objective won’t be achieved regardless of the capabilities of your personnel.

Preparedness is quintessentially preventing an incident or event from occurring and planning a response to an incident or event. It occurs proactively prior to an incident or event, whereas response occurs reactively during and after an incident or event.

In EM, it is during the preparedness phase that policies and procedures are developed and current policies and procedures are analyzed. It is imperative to ensure policies and procedures include resource allocation and actions to be taken prior to an incident or event, especially for a known or predicted event such as a hurricane, heavy rain, blizzard, heatwave, parade, or celebration.

Recovery

Recovery is maintaining the continuity of operations and restoring the jurisdiction to normal operations as soon as feasible after an incident or event. It is important that recovery is addressed in the EOP and given due diligence during preparedness.

Unified Effort

EM is a tool that provides the opportunity for all agencies in the jurisdiction to coordinate, plan, and exercise plans, policies, and procedures that are designed for the effective and efficient response and mitigation to all-hazard incidents, events, and emergencies that may occur within your jurisdictional response area.

As a management tool, EM allows a fire department to change its paradigm by preparing for incidents and events from a macro rather than a micro point of view. Incidents and events, especially events with the potential for large-scale impact, do not just affect the operations of the fire department; they impact the operations of many agencies, with each agency having different responsibilities, objectives, and goals.

When a significant incident occurs, first responders from various agencies and disciplines can be involved in the initial response. This may include first responders from federal, state, county, and local government as well as the private sector (i.e., heavy machine operators, emergency medical services, utilities, etc.) Perhaps, this type of response may not be unusual for some fire departments. However, what if this type of response is not normal? What happens when the incident is beyond your capabilities or is a multijurisdictional response with several agencies involved?

A unified command (UC) structure would be established to aid in the mitigation effort; this is where emergency management is extremely beneficial. By establishing an LEPC, your jurisdiction would be involved with agencywide planning and exercising effective and achievable policies and procedures designed to comprehensively mitigate, prepare, respond, and recover from an incident, event, or emergency.

It is a good idea for local governments to create an emergency management division and designate an emergency management director. The division should be staffed with qualified and certified personnel on a full-time basis. For numerous reasons, local government cannot and should not rely on county or state government for assistance. This is perhaps most important because, depending on the nature of the incident or event, county or state government may not be able to respond to your needs in a timely fashion. Simply put, your local jurisdiction has the legal responsibility to provide emergency response - and must do so.

Integrated Approach

Today, regardless of where your jurisdiction is, the chance of an incident occurring that is related to terrorism has increased dramatically. So, awareness of terrorism and the importance of remaining vigilant and prepared to mitigate this type of incident are vital. So too is an integrated comprehensive approach to incident management; this approach is critical to successful mitigation and the continuity of operations.

If a leader or decision maker has the mindset of, “It won’t happen here” or “That will never happen,” it must be changed; this mindset is irresponsible. Failure to plan is a plan to fail. Truth is, leaders and decision makers have an ethical responsibility to be proactive to protect personnel, residents, and visitors of your jurisdiction.

The tenets of EM can be used to plan and coordinate response, mitigation, and recovery efforts for a known, predicted event. For instance, with a predicted weather event, it is the responsibility of the local government to provide preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery for the event. A known weather event, whether it be a hurricane, extended heavy rain, or a blizzard, can be predicted for your area. At a minimum, prior to the weather event, the fire department, within its EM framework, could work with local media to design public information ads that provide residents with valuable information to help them prepare for the weather event. This could be as simple as preparing a list of needed supplies; emergency phone numbers; and, perhaps most important, advising residents that because of the weather event, as the number of emergency responses increase exponentially, so too will response time. It is unethical to let the public think that the fire department will be able to respond to each call within the expected normal response time frame.

EM provides each agency and its decision makers with the ability to plan, coordinate, implement, and exercise policies and procedures for effective and efficient mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. This commitment and planning will prove to be invaluable for your department and jurisdiction. Fire departments need to embrace emergency management and its tenets to better serve the communities that rely on the essential services provided.

Resource

International Association of Emergency Managers, https://www.fema.gov/about-agency.

Adrian Scapperotti is a 28-year veteran of the fire service and a training officer with the White Plains (NY) Fire Department. He is a New York state fire instructor as well as a Westchester County fire instructor. Scapperotti is a nationally certified firefighter II, fire officer IV, fire instructor III, and fire investigator. He completed the Emergency Management Institute’s Master Exercise Practitioner Program and the National Fire Academy’s Training Program Management. Scapperotti has a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Manhattanville College.

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