Get a Plan: The Role of EMS in Emergency Management

By Tim Williamson, BS, NRP, NCEE

Too often our newsfeeds are dominated by disasters, both natural and manmade. With so many emergencies, it is important that each EMS agency have a set plan within their own agency as well as with other departments in the area. Sadly, history has shown that EMS has not improved over time when it comes to preparing for disasters in the areas they serve.

Why is this? Naturally, EMS is focused on reacting, not planning. However, we need to adjust this mindset: some incidents may be way bigger than the resources we currently have.

Why Preplan?

We are seeing a steady increase of not only in mass casualty incidents but also natural disasters, as seen in the chart below. (This includes geophysical disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, etc., as well as climate-related disasters such as floods, storms, heat/cold waves, drought, wildfires, etc.)

For example, since 1990, natural disasters have affected about 217 million people every year, and as shown in the chart below, the economic damage is growing, reaching nearly $375 billion in 2012:

Who Should Preplan?

In order to effectively serve patients and the community in this climate of rising disasters, EMS leaders need to understand the areas they serve—but it takes more than an EMS agency to understand all of the potential threats to a community.

To have an effective preplan and understand the risks in the community, the leaders of each EMS team must use the ideas and expertise of all the departments in the community. For many communities, these departments include EMS, fire, emergency managers, police, public works, and, most importantly, elected city officials.

Having the input and buy-in from community leaders helps create a big picture and overall understanding of the potential risks the community faces as well as the resources available to your agency.

What to Preplan?

Speaking of reducing disasters through planning, Russell Dynes states, “Preparedness is best thought of as a process—a continuing sequence of analyses, plan development, and the acquisition of individual and team performance skills achieved through training, drills, exercises, and critiques.”

So now that you have analyzed what disasters face your community and the resources available, develop a plan for your agency. For example:

  • How many ambulances do you have for transport?
  • Do you have a written agreement with other ambulance agencies to assist?
  • What is your plan for first responders who may not show up if a disaster strikes?

These are just a few of the important questions your agency leaders need to ask themselves and consider when preplanning.

How to Preplan?

Unsure how to set up a preplan fit for your team and community? The Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101 provides Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines on developing emergency operations plans (EOP). CPG 101 also shows how EOPs are connected to planning efforts in the areas of prevention, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation.

This helpful guide promotes a common understanding of the fundamentals of risk-informed planning and decision making to help planners examine a hazard or threat and produce integrated, coordinated, and synchronized plans. The goal of CPG 101 is to make the planning process routine across all phases of emergency management and for all homeland security mission areas. Plans made according to these guidelines will minimize the wake of destruction after a disaster.

How to Fund the Preplan?

Unfortunately, preplanning for disasters in EMS is not free. The January 2015 NASEMSO report on EMS domestic preparedness notes that EMS receives a mere 4% of federal disaster preparedness funds from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, there is no mandate of minimum funding for EMS required of other organizational recipients of these grant programs.

But there is hope! Funding is best from the community you serve, but how do you accomplish that? Elected officials. Involving local officials in the disaster planning process shows your agency’s abilities and how vital you are to the area you serve. With hard work and a little luck, your local officials will understand what it is your agency lacks and provide opportunities for funding.

 

As EMS providers and leaders, we owe it to the communities we serve to understand our role in the bigger picture of disaster preparedness and being ready for anything. Get out there. Talk to your community leaders and understand the risks and the resources. Be proactive and be prepared.

 

Tim Williamson, B.S., NRP, NCEE, is the EMS training officer with the Morton Fire Department. He has over 8 years of fire, EMS, and rescue experience. He is also the secretary/treasurer of IAFF Local 4952. He can be reached at tim.williamson@medic-ce.com.

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