Great Comfort Rarely Brings Great Growth

Since the whole storm-response episode began on Oct. 29, I kept a log of ideas and events which I could be used as the basis for future planning and preparation for future disaster operations.

The homes in these areas were swamped, shifted on their foundations, or simply washed away. In other places scores of homes burned to the ground because fire forces were unable to reach the scene of the blazes. I saw the places where my wife and I took the kids to the amusement rides along the shore wiped out. My heart goes out to my fellow citizens in the Garden State who have lost their homes and all of the things they cherish. 

As I sat here at the heart of the operation, I had time to observe what was happening, listen to the radio transmissions, as well as listen to the frustrations of people whose operations were not going according as they anticipated. I also had the opportunity to hear some really silly things. I heard orders issued which were not cleared with the people being affected by the orders. There were a number of encounters which I sincerely hope will not be repeated in the future.

A number of problems cropped up when people started making decisions which impacted our fire company without letting us know that something was going to happen. This occurred on more than one instance. My fire company was fairly well prepared for the emergency. Both of our stations were equipped with large-size emergency generators. The unit in our main station is powered off of main gas and our Station #2 has a propane-fired unit. 

In the run up to the emergency, our officers insured that supplies were stocked and that we had an adequate supply of food for both stations. Preparations were made to staff both stations and at the height of the storm we had 30 people on duty. We had both cots and air mattresses. All members were advised that they had to bring their own bed linens. Over the course of the storm, we were able to handle all calls for assistance from our stations without the necessity of people responding from their homes. 

The return of power to our area was very spotty. Station #1 got power back on Nov. 1, while Station #2 remained on generator power into the following week. Many areas of our fire district did not get power back until Nov. 12. Of course it didn't help that we got smacked with a blizzard on Nov. 8. Many places which had gotten their power back lost it again. Over time our responses began to return to normal levels. 

Since the whole storm-response episode began on Oct. 29, I kept a log of ideas and events which I could be used as the basis for future planning and preparation for future disaster operations. I have listed them in bullet form so that you can review them and consider the need for them in your jurisdiction:

  1. Planning
  • Make sure that you are a part of your community’s on-going emergency management program. (Do not be the Lone Ranger)
  • Get to know all of the members of your community’s emergency managing team (people work better on a first-name basis)
  • Check your egos at the door (mandatory)
  • Have a plan which has been created by your community’s disaster team. A plan created by a cooperative team is far better than one imposed from above
  • Periodically drill on that plan
  • Use that plan
  • Avoid deviating from that plan to the greatest extent possible
  • Make sure everyone has the same set of plans
  • Exercise and update the plans from time to time
  • If you have to operate on the fly during fluid situations, stay within shouting distance of you standard operating procedures (SOP’s) or general operating guidelines (GOG’s)
  • Do not make assumptions or issue orders for other people without contacting them and getting their input and agreement
  • Do not give away the bread and butter belonging to someone else
  1. Logistics
  • Make sure that you have food, water, and ice
  • Top off all vehicle fuel tanks
  • If you have sufficient time, schedule a fuel delivery for your departmental tanks
  • Make sure that you have fuel, batteries, etc.
  1. Staffing
  • Schedule your staff if possible
  • Utilize your mutual aid as needed (bear in mind that weather emergencies can add a great deal to the response times for your neighbors)
  • Guard against enthusiasm which can lead to people exhausting themselves over the course of several days
  • Rotate your staff to the greatest extent possible
  • Rotate your drivers to the greatest extent possible
  • Think of your operations as a campaign and not an individual battle (In other words, pace yourself for a long-term operation)
  • Insure that your people take periodic naps and sleep breaks
  • Insist that your people go home from time-to-time to check on their homes and their families