Preparing the front lines of community protection is a complex task. Not only is it necessary to plan for every foreseeable emergency, but it is also necessary to prepare for those that are not foreseeable – for example, the current coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, effective preparation requires collaboration with multiple agencies to ensure a streamlined response.
To further complicate community emergency preparedness, you can never predict with any confidence how members of the community will react in an emergency. While it is possible to put comprehensive plans in place, it may also be necessary to prepare contingency plans for mass panic, civil disturbances, or non-compliance with (for example) evacuation orders.
Then, for each type of emergency, there is the scale of the incident to consider. Tornados can be over in a few seconds or last more than an hour; wildfires can be put out in hours or rage for weeks; and – depending on how they are recorded – active assailant events can consist of an unlawfully discharged firearm or be on the scale of the tragic Mandalay Bay Hotel incident.
Thereafter, how public health officials prepare for community emergencies vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to emergency planning. Some areas will be more urbanized than others, have better infrastructure, or easier access to water. Others may have older populations, challenging topography, or a greater exposure to hazardous material risks.
Preparing Front Line Communication for Community Protection
Despite all the variables, there is one constant factor in preparing the front lines of community protection – the need for effective communication. When an emergency occurs, not only may multiple agencies need to be alerted to the incident simultaneously, but also community members so they can evacuate, shelter in place, or activate their own emergency preparedness plans.
Fast and accurate communication is of tantamount importance when an emergency occurs. The more warning community members receive, the less likelihood there is of confused and terrified residents obstructing the emergency response. Similarly, the faster first responders are dispatched, the quicker they can arrive at the emergency scene and try to contain the event.
Throughout the response, efforts need to be coordinated to mitigate the consequences; and therefore two-way communication is essential so incident commanders have maximum situational awareness. It is also important community members are provided with frequent updates with regards to the situation as it may be necessary for them to revise their plans if the event spreads.
Among the “What Ifs”, One Further Critical Consideration
One critical consideration in emergency preparedness planning is “what if the person with the authority to issue an alert is not available when an emergency starts”. There could be many different reasons for the person with authority not being available. For example, he or she may not be at their workstation, stuck in traffic, on vacation, working remotely, or attending a personal function.
Consequently, public safety emergency preparedness plans have to take into account that not everybody might be in the right place at the right time and put policies and procedures in place to address this potential situation. After all, it may only take one key player to be missing from an incident management team for the effectiveness of the response effort to be compromised.
Having policies and procedures readily available – with accessible checklists for which agencies need to be contacted in which events – enables secondary team members to take responsibility for coordinating emergency responses until such time as team leaders are available. This ensures communities are alerted in good time to an event and emergency responses are not delayed.
Addressing the Human Factor in Emergency Responses
While enabling secondary team members to take control in an emergency can resolve the issue of timely responses, it also introduces the issue of the “human factor”. This is an issue in which, no matter how well trained team members are on emergency procedures, there is always the risk they will panic, forget how they have been trained, and fail to follow the correct processes.
The way to overcome this issue is to implement a preparation and communication platform which is configured with emergency policies, specific directives, event tracking and reporting, and accessible resources in one location. In this way, anybody that has to step in when an emergency occurs has all the information required at their fingertips to neutralize possible confusion and minimize risks.
Having reliable tools, accurate information, accessible checklists, policies, and procedures available with the click of a mouse will help all agencies activate preparation and response plans for their entire staff in the shortest possible time.