This is also a good time to look at your mutual aid agreements — that you have in place with neighboring agencies — because many of them probably have been hit with the budget axe too. You want to ensure that you have a good working relationship that reflects what each agencies role will be for the other in the event that you need help.
Mutual aid also involved haz-mat, so do not be afraid to meet with everyone in your region to discuss any changes that have occurred at your department that may affect your ability to send support in a hazardous materials incident. ASSUME nothing.
Just as important are the procedures for everyday operations. Your written policy will indicate how you are going to function in ‘normal’ and ‘emergency’ situations. They are often called Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). An SOP is also in place to ensure that tasks are performed in a safe manner to protect the employee or volunteer. Again, if you have had to reduce staff, equipment, stations, look at how your response capabilities and tactics may need to be altered to reflect your current situation.
Practice, Practice, Practice
I am a firm advocate for practicing your skills as often as you can. The crisis does not care what uniform you wear either, so every discipline, fire, police, EMS, all need to engage in preparedness through practice. Remember: Practice in the time of calm improves performance in chaos. Be realistic as much as possible. Think outside the box and ask yourself “what if X type of situation occurred? How are we going to respond?”
After you have looked at your policies and procedures now it is time to drill and rehearse. Every part of your response plan should be tested in both tabletop and full-scale exercises within your agency and with neighboring agencies.
You should also include other public safety agencies in your area, like your regional police agencies, as well as public works, road departments and state highway departments. I can remember a friend of mine telling me about a police officer who participated in regular training with his fire agency who recognized a back draft situation when he arrived at an apartment complex to investigate suspicious conditions. Because of the cross training opportunity he was able to prevent a bigger problem.
If you are testing a policy that involves a chemical spill, or a railroad car leak, make sure you include your regional or states Department of Environmental Quality, DEQ, and staff from the railroads that operate in your area. This will also help you put faces to positions with the other ‘players’ in your area so that no one is a stranger when an emergency occurs.
You may also gain some insight into what types of products are being hauled into and out of your response area. Having the name of an official at a rail carrier — or trucking company — can save you time in an emergency to identify a hazardous substance. Be inclusive in your planning and not exclusive.
Equipment and Maintenance
Budget problems might have forced your department to hold onto apparatus and equipment that you would have liked to replace. During my career in law enforcement, we used to get rid of patrol cars when they reached 100K on the odometer. When we had lean times, we ran those cars to almost 150K or more, but we still had to maintain them rather than replace them. The calls for service did not stop because we had an aging fleet. Trouble does not care about an odometer reading.
It is the same in fire and EMS. You may need to look at keeping an engine, rescue, truck or an ambulance for another budget cycle or two until you can raise the capital to order a new one. Do not let your maintenance cycle suffer. Continue to perform regular checks and replace oil, belts, hoses, tires, brakes, hoses, valves and pumps. Get your hydro’s done on your SCBA’s too.
If you had to close stations in your district, and keep the equipment — most agencies that close station did so to save personnel costs, not apparatus costs. Buildings and equipment are usually still on the books as an owned asset for future use — you should think about rotating equipment around. As an example, you could take your oldest, functioning, front-line engine and move it to a closed station house that your district still owns to get the other equipment into service. Your closed station is still an asset in most cases and can be used as a reserve facility for major events or disasters.
So, Are You Ready?
Being prepared for the next emergent event doesn’t take place in a vacuum; it takes dedication and diligence at every level of public safety to ensure our communities are safe and protected. Take the time with the start of the New Year to assess your agencies capabilities for the New Year to see where you can make adjustments and modifications. Look at your policies, procedures and the equipment you have to work with.
What I have tried to point out in this article is to always think about PREPAREDENESS and what steps you can take to be ready at your agency. In emergency management, we preach community PREPAREDNESS through RESILIENCY. The better prepared you are, the faster you RECOVER. To accomplish this we all need to practice these concepts every shift, every week, every month. So, make 2013 your best year ever. Stay safe out there!
Mark D. Reese is a retired Sgt. from the Lane County Sheriff’s Office in Eugene, Oregon. He was also a volunteer firefighter and EMT with McKenzie Fire and Rescue in Walterville, Oregon. Reese has a BA in Management and he has graduated from numerous Emergency Management courses as well as the FEMA Professional Development Series, PDS. He is currently an Emergency Management graduate student at American Military University.