Be Prepared: Forge Relationships Now

Both North and South Carolina have just gone through an unprecedented weather event that rivals both Floyd and Matthew. Both states responded well and witnessed many acts of heroism and dedication from countless first responders. The recovery from these storms is by no means complete and the total damage is still not completely known. I do think we can take a moment and acknowledge the outstanding job done by so many public safety personnel. Unfortunately, there will be more of these storms, and we must prepare. image

It is our job to be on the lookout for possible threats to our communities, plan for those threats, and then respond to those threats if they actually occur.

Recent history is not encouraging. We have seen three storms in the last 20 years which have broken prior flooding records. In 1999 Hurricane Floyd produced 500-year flood events in most of the Eastern North Carolina River basins. Meteorologists stated that Hurricane Matthew was a 500-year flood event for the Eastern part of North Carolina. Less than two years later as Florence approached I was sitting in a briefing given by the North Carolina State Meteorologist when she stated that the Lumber river basin, which also drains into South Carolina, was going to see a 1,000-year flood event, which it did. In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence I watched an entire town have to be evacuated in the middle of the night. These are not events that have traditionally happened in our states before about 20 years ago. Meteorologists state that hurricanes will continue to become more severe and dump more rain as the oceans slowly warm. I am not bringing up these events just to paint a picture of gloom and doom. My goal is to ensure that public safety personnel recognize and prepare for future events.

We are all dedicated public servants who want to protect our communities. It is our job to be on the lookout for possible threats to our communities, plan for those threats, and then respond to those threats if they actually occur. EMS and fire will be the first to respond to severe weather events such as hurricanes. During a hurricane or other severe weather events EMS and fire will work with countless other public safety and private organizations. These include nursing homes, public health agencies, hospitals, city governments, large factories, facilities with hazardous waste, as well as many other organizations. Just a few of the activities fire and EMS may be called to carry out during a hurricane include direct response to medical patients during the disaster, evacuation of nursing homes, or assistance with setting up shelters.

The best way to ensure proper coordination and optimal response is to forge a strong relationship with your local emergency management and other response agencies such as the healthcare preparedness coalitions. Planning and exercising with the agencies and organizations in your response area before the disaster will build strong relationships with the various partners you will be involved with and ensure optimal preparation for such eventualities. I also strongly recommend that command staff at EMS and fire EMS agencies take the readily available courses on the National Incident Management System. The courses help all responders speak the same language and operate from the same playbook.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of working ahead of time to plan for possible catastrophic events that could affect your communities. By working with emergency management in your county and planning ahead you can insure that EMS or fire agencies can best protect your community during the next such event.  

Dr. Winslow graduated from Emergency Medicine residency from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2002 and completed his EMS Fellowship in 2003. He has worked at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem for the past 11 years. He was appointed as the Medical Director of the NC Office of EMS in 2011. This document contains all protocol, procedures, and policies for all EMS agencies in North Carolina.

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