Self-Discipline and Disaster Response

Not only can rushing in without being called lend to confusion and disorganization, it can create an unsafe condition to the point of responders being injured or killed.


?Washington, DC - The United States Fire Administration (USFA) today urged all fire and emergency services departments not to respond to impacted counties and states affected by Hurricane Lili without being requested and lawfully dispatched by state and local authorities under mutual aid agreements and the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC)?.

I wrote an article in not long after this e-mail was released in 2002, in regard to the anticipated ?un-invited? responses to Hurricane Lili; it seems the lessons learned from self-deployment in 2001 to the World Trade Center and other tragic incidents still haven?t been learned. Or is it that we don?t care to hear the message? Or is the system of getting the correct resources to the right places not working?

As I mentioned before, I have been on both ends of the disaster situation, both as a ?lawfully? deployed resource and as an incident commander. Similarities can be drawn between the incident commander of a large fire and one of a major multi-jurisdictional disaster; information is coming in at a high rate of speed and you have to process it, sometimes faster than you?d wish, and make decisions that sometimes are questionable but better than no decision. In the old days, the incident commander at the fire could sometimes count on departments showing up without having been called. Where did they come from? What are their qualifications? What can they do? What do they need to do their job? What am I going to do with them when they need to be rested, fed, and sheltered? How would you feel in this situation? Most departments around the country have been pretty quick to shut down the ?squirrels? that showed up without being dispatched.

One of the hardest things we have to do as emergency responders is to say to ourselves, ?what can I do to keep the incident from getting worse?? Sometimes the best things we can do to keep from complicating the incident is to maintain our discipline while disaster is happening all around us and to remain committed to the plan despite the shouts of the less-informed around us. When is the last time you were at a fire and the bystanders are shouting at you to do one thing when you knew as an experienced responder there was a task more necessary. It?s just like the oft-repeated scenario where a ?doctor? is on scene (who later turns out to be a podiatrist) telling your medics to ?start an IV!!!? when the airway hasn?t even been controlled first.

Not only can rushing in without being called lend to confusion and disorganization, it can create an unsafe condition to the point of responders being injured or killed. Imagine the situation becoming much worse as you have to focus your efforts on saving your own. Does anyone imagine for a second that this has helped the situation any? Throughout the past days of Hurricane Katrina, I have had to field many phone calls from well-intentioned emergency personnel who felt that ?anything is better than nothing?. My statement to them is that they should think about what impact they might have on the locals if they show up and draw from the already scarce resources. This all, however, is no comfort to the responders who are sitting at home waiting for the call while others around them rush to action.

However, I?m not for a second suggesting that I am happy with the current situation; our urban search and rescue task force spent most of the past four days gearing up for reports from affected jurisdictions begging for help, only to be told later in the evening that there was ?plenty of help, maybe we?ll call you later?. Again, had we gone off without a tasking order, we might very well be showing up in downtown Bay St. Louis with nothing to do, again making the entire situation worse.

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