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Several challenges related to staging were identified in after-action meetings. Early in the response, multiple agencies established their own mobile command and staging areas.
This led incoming resources to check in at the wrong locations and, without clear communication between the various command posts and staging areas, they were left with little instruction on where to go. All commanders agreed that a better solution would have been to co-locate all staging in a single area. This would have allowed face-to-face coordination between various agencies and staging officers and provided for the capability to build task forces and strike teams from a combination of agencies and jurisdictional resources.
“Incidents of this size need an incident staging area, not dozens of agency staging areas,” Oklahoma State IMT program coordinator Troy German said.
Sending self-deployed resources away, however, became difficult. Many resources checking in were giving plausible explanations as to why they were deployed, but the staging manager had little opportunity to verify that with unified command. Many of these units came from great distances and were ready to work, even if for a short time. We read in command handbooks about the 12-hour operational period, but when fire apparatus and emergency vehicles of every size, shape and color are lined up for miles behind the staging area, additional options must be identified.
One suggestion was to combine units from multiple agencies into task forces and assign them to shorter work periods (sometimes as little as four hours) to move resources out of staging. But before making adjustments to a shorter work period, incident managers must determine whether it would complicate the normal operational period planning process. If self-dispatched resources are not identified mutual aid partners or were not specifically requested through command, they should be returned home with instructions to prepare for a future operational period.
Another challenge related to staging was trying to collect the growing number of unassigned resources roaming the scene. As the incident progressed, law enforcement officers assigned to perimeter control were asked to help funnel these responders back to staging. Unfortunately, with the growing number of staging areas being identified, the perimeter control officers were sometimes unclear about which staging area to send them. Command should ensure that the exact location of resource staging is clearly communicated to all incoming units and law enforcement units assigned to control the perimeter. Another suggestion offered by law enforcement branch officers in the after-action meetings was to, whenever possible, locate staging areas outside the controlled perimeter.
Staging managers spent valuable time troubleshooting radio communications variations from multiple “home-based” systems. This complicated the ability to form task forces with the capacity to communicate with each other. Staging officers and local emergency management personnel alike were trying to build communications plans that could accommodate VHF, UHF, multiple 800 hybrids and patchwork systems. We tackled this problem by bringing a large case full of radios, batteries and charging devices provided by the local emergency manager to the command and staging areas. These radios were already programmed to operate with Moore’s communications system and were distributed to task force leaders when an assignment was given. Also, communications unit leaders worked closely with the unified command staff to establish an incident communications plan that eventually was followed by all personnel.
Perimeter control and security
One of the first incident objectives was to maintain a secure perimeter around the affected area. Calculating the tornado’s 17-mile-long destructive path by its average width of 1½ to two miles left an estimated perimeter of just under 38 linear miles. Fortunately, the entire 38 miles did not need to be controlled, and an initial outer perimeter was established of only about nine linear miles around an approximately 3½-square-mile section of the most affected areas.