As everyone across the world is watching, we are just past 12 months of dealing with Covid-19 as a global pandemic, the question should be asked ‘What’s next?’ While we may not be able to predict everything that could possibly come next, through considering the scope of emergency management we should all take a step back and analyse what we have learned over the last 12 months and determine where we can apply these learnings. And we should look to apply these key learnings to all areas within our organization.
When I consider the mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery of Covid-19 and how it affected multiple geographical areas, people and demographics all simultaneously, it placed a great deal of stress on all involved. Some were able to handle it well and some not so well. In each of these four phases we had key learnings that occurred at the speed of the pandemic and not at a speed we controlled. Examples of these learnings could be in the form of training, equipment, stakeholder communication, standard operating procedures and so on. If you take these four phases and compare to your demographics – what does your vulnerability profile look like?
Pre-Planning is highly valuable as we have the opportunity to gather information and knowledge of the situation, which allows us to leverage our strengths and prepare our weaknesses. Whether you develop metrics internally or hire a third-party partner, we need to continuously understand what are target hazards that we face now and in the future. There are many guides available from organizations such as FEMA and others to assist your organization. An example from my previous department: we captured data from emergency incidents and started looking at the severity of the call by location and not just the number of calls by location. While we knew that this particular station had the lowest frequency of incidents, we did not know that they had one of the highest frequencies of high-priority calls (e.g. cardiac/respiratory arrest). This information helped enforce the importance of stationing an ambulance at this location.
When pre-planning for the target hazard, it could be obvious, such as a new high-rise building under construction or the rise in industrial construction which leads to confined-space operations, etc. However, sometimes it is not as obvious and collecting different types of data on frequency and severity may help develop a picture that you didn’t intend to see. Start by looking at a historical view of the amount and types of calls your organization has completed in past years. Place the data into some form of tracking in order to notice trends. Are you seeing a rise in certain types of incidents or in certain geographical areas, for example? This information will assist you in planning for the future and placing efforts into action to reduce or eliminate the impact of such an incident occurring.
While there is much discussion on the efforts of various organizations and governments as to how they prepared to face Covid-19, to the best of our effort we want to ensure that we are prepared as best as possible for target hazards to our community. When we look at our organization, do we have the necessary people, equipment and procedures in place to minimize the impact of the threat. We can have all of these resources, but if they are not properly placed and prepped, they become useless. How good is a brand-new fire engine parked in the station if it doesn’t have diesel fuel? Our organizations can be the same way if we are not prepared. As you review the data we discussed during mitigation, review the resources above and determine is there a stop gap we can put in place today or is there a longer-term fix that we need to put in place. If a new high-rise structure was constructed in your territory, some items to consider would be knowledge of a high-rise and the intricacies that come with high rises such as fire department connections, standpipes, pressure-reducing valves, etc. Learn from what other similar organizations have in the form of equipment, training and procedures for responding to high-rise emergency incidents. Once this information is gained, work with internal and external stakeholders to train for such an incident. The knowledge gained from the tabletops and exercises will help you gain answers to questions you probably didn’t know you had. It is important to invite these stakeholders, such as the building-maintenance personnel and leadership, to these tabletops/exercises as participants. This will allow both parties to learn the capabilities of each other.
As emergency responders, we had little control over the spread of Covid-19, but as we gained experience from responses, we were able to identify and treat more effectively. Critiquing each incident at some level, whether on the back of the fire engine before we leave the incident or formally at a later date, can provide valuable information for future responses. The ability to critique these incidents allows us to further develop a slide tray of experiences from which we can pull from at a later date. The more we understand our experiences from our responses we develop a sound understanding of how we respond in a mostly subconscious manner. Furthermore, when we do this as a team, we learn to react based on each other’s actions, referred to as implicit communication.
While we have not reached the recovery stage of Covid-19, the recovery stage is important to consider as this is the time where we restore our organizations. Once you return from a structure fire, we place water back in the tank, refuel the engine, clean our tools and prepare the rig for the next incident. The same holds true for returning an ambulance to a ready state after a medical incident. We sanitize the apparatus, put supplies back in the cabinets and bags, replace stretcher sheets and so on.
As an organization, we have to acquire equipment to bring our supplies back to the minimum standard and sometimes the decision is made to increase the supplies based on our learnings from the response. There should also be the discussion of working supplies versus reserves or in storage for a large-scale event. Many organizations keep supplies in their warehouse for day-to-day operations and replenishing of apparatus and keep a mass-casualty trailer with additional supplies in reserve. Technical rescue teams do this as well. While there may be specialized equipment on the first-out apparatus, they keep additional equipment on their heavy rescues and/or tractor trailers for large-scale responses.
Recovery should also be about restoring your personnel. As each response is different, there is no one approach that fits all. However, leaders should ensure their personnel have the time and resources to recover. I’ve seen this take place as time off to recoup, employee assistance programmes after a tragic event or a crew going out to dinner for the camaraderie and relaxation. Whatever the case may be for your situation, observe the organization and make sure to not leave your people out of the recovery stage.
As we hopefully turn the corner of the global pandemic and into the recovery stage, we have to continue assessing our target hazards and the threats to our communities. As we continue these assessments we have to consider the four stages of emergency management – mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. For our target hazards and threats, we need to ensure we are pre-planning, training our personnel, procuring proper equipment, developing standards which will all drive our response and its effectiveness. After the response we must ensure we are learning through proper critiques and feedback to our crews. Lastly, during the recovery stage we must ensure we are taking care of our people as much as we are concerned about our supplies.
Take care, train hard and stay safe.
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