This Post can also be found at theÂ First Few MomentsÂ website.
What sorts of contingency plans does your department have?Â Are you ready for anything?Â For instance: what would your staff do if there was a sudden crash of your communication infrastructure?Â Are they assigned a centralized meeting location?Â Does your current radio system support a backup frequency that allows your units to talk to each other?
Issues like this one lived quite often in the back of my mind prior to this year. In the last three months though, my service has faced a tornado, an earthquake, and as I write this post, we are staring down Hurricane Irene which is threatening to make landfall in New England sometime late Saturday or early Sunday. I am writing this on Wednesday, which means my service has four days to hash out every “what if” we can think of. It’s a constant challenge to expect the unexpected, but it is something that we must do.
In a previous post, I discussed how social media kept me informed of what was going on when an earthquake struck the east coast. While my texts, tweets, and status updates went through, my phone calls did not. It didn’t matter if I was calling a friend in Virginia or my parents in New Jersey, it was all met with either poor reception or no reception at all. I’ll pause for you all to make your “Well, you have AT&T jokes…”
Done?Â Okay, good.
My main point is, in a disaster, as much as we would like to, we cannot expect to rely on cell phones or even landlines. What we need is training, policy, and a plan. “If dispatch goes down, meet up at the corner of Main Street and Central Street.”Â Give your crews a place to go and regroup, and put in the hands of senior staff a means by which to get the calls to those crews. At that point, it does not matter how it gets done, the focus should be in minimizing the interruption of service as much as possible.
A while ago, I talked about how great my part time job was. I say was because I took the Summer off this year, but boy do I miss those people. One of the best lessons that I took from them was a game invented by one of our supervisors called “What if, right now?”Â It was designed to help us prepare for just about anything you could think of.
Setting up “What if, right now?” is quite simple. On yellow paper, write down locations. For us, it was amusement park rides: The Tea Cups, Big Giant Rollercoaster, or Waterslide. For a more traditional service, think of major intersections, buildings, malls, or maybe just random streets and descriptions of residences like “single family house” or “large apartment building.”
On a white piece of paper, write down any sort of incident you might encounter, no matter how crazy. Again, for an amusement park, ours were unique, but some you might write down for your service would be: “fire with entrapment” or “hostage situation” or maybe “gas leak” or “building collapse.”
Go around the room when you are having your morning coffee, and draw a yellow piece of paper and a white piece of paper, read them out loud, and tell everyone how you would handle the situation at hand. You’d be surprised how well it would work.
While this is a great educational tool, I don’t recommend it for high level planning meetings. Drawing names from a hate scares me a bit. For more traditional preplanning, do not forget to get your people involved, they need to know what is going to happen too. I’ve always been a fan of saying “if we have everything ready to go, we won’t need it.”Â That is much more reassuring than saying “It will never happen here.”
My service is proof that if there is the slightest possibility of it happening, it will happen. Make sure you’re ready for when the impossible strikes.