While the efforts provided important examples of coordinated approaches to safety management, the ad hoc arrangements took days to organize and their effectiveness suffered because they had not been included in preparedness planning, researchers found.
The importance of protecting the safety of emergency responders is made more immediate by the threat of terrorism, which raises the possibility that responders might be called to multiple events over a short period of time.
The report says leadership to make the needed changes should come from all levels of government. For example, an effective planning effort will require a combination of federal, state and local officials to develop national standards. And as in the National Incident Management System, cooperation between officials at all levels of government is needed to put many of the changes in effect.
"There already are many efforts that focus on some of these issues," Jackson said. "In the end, what is required is that people from all levels of government buy into the concept."
Funding for the study was provided by NIOSH, which is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The project included extensive involvement of emergency responders from organizations that responded to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, or to major natural disasters such as the Northridge earthquake and Hurricane Andrew.
The report is the third in a series of RAND-NIOSH studies on protecting emergency responders. The first report reported the findings of a special conference of emergency workers who responded to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax incidents that occurred during autumn of 2001. The second documented the needs of emergency responders to improve their safety and protect their health.