What happens if a disaster strikes and the very people who are supposed to help you are in the middle of it? What happens if 911 goes down? What happens if there is no ambulance to respond to a medical emergency?
Many of us have found out the hard way that no one, including EMS personnel, is invincible. Just like the people we’ve sworn to help, we’ve suffered through the same environmental emergencies, severe weather, blackouts, fires, floods, building damages, road closures, and so much more. And when a local resident calls crying for help, we do our best to respond as quickly as possible — even when it seems impossible.
Like any other resident, when a major event occurs, even the EMTs and Paramedics who are trained to help might be among the injured. If high winds, lightning storms, blizzards, floods, or even an earthquake hits, the ambulance’s base of operations might be impacted or even destroyed. While there is no way to plan for every emergency, every first responder and every emergency agency needs to know and understand the back-up plans; and when that emergency happens that no one really expected, the best thing to do is pull the parts of other plans that fit, think fast and improvise.
Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it definitely does help prepare you. When beginning your agency’s back-up plan get familiar with all of the local hazards and all of the potential disasters. Obviously if you are sitting on an earthquake fault, downstream of a dam, near a toxic chemical plant (for examples), then you need to plan for all major and minor ways these events could affect you. If the power goes out, how are you going to be able to open the bay doors? If the phones and cell towers go down how are you going to be able to receive your 911 calls? If your ambulances have been destroyed, where will the response come from when someone is having a heart attack? And if your agency can’t even operate out of its headquarters, then how can it maintain “business as usual”?
Assess all the possibilities from the possible hazards and train the membership about what alternatives they have. Make sure your agency is part of a mutual aid system so that if YOU can’t answer the call for help it doesn’t go unanswered. Municipal 911 systems have back-up plans in place, some will have rollovers to neighboring areas and calls will be dispatched by radio, and some will utilize extra personnel to record things on paper and make sure the messages get delivered. If your agency needs to operate its main offices offsite a Remote Operations Center (ROI) could be set up in a mobile vehicle (ambulance), or even at the neighboring headquarters of another agency. If your rigs are destroyed, find out where you could borrow one.
A plan should be in place so that officers (administrative and operations) all have back-ups; in case Chief A is unavailable then authority rolls over to Acting Chief B and then C. Make sure that a financial position is filled (with back-ups) in case new equipment, food, or other supplies are needed because of destruction. Line officers such as Captain could roll over to the 1st or 2nd Lieutenant. All crucial records should be backed up to a thumb drive or CD and stored offsite AND in the cloud so that information can be accessed from that remote location (make sure sensitive info is encrypted); and while memorabilia may not be crucial to operations, scanning historical photos and journals and storing them on CDs can help your agency’s morale in recovery operations.
EMS has a history of training its responders to expect the unexpected — be sure that you are prepared for it as well.