Supplies can be logged at a central dispensing location, along with the names of donating agencies. A designated supply officer can list outgoing materials along with receiving agencies or units. This will help with recovery of reusable equipment after the fact.
6. Insist on active EMS participation in a structured EOC environment
When a disaster strikes that will require prolonged operations, most communities activate an emergency operations center. This is usually at a central location with access to computers, phones and large marker boards. Personnel manning the EOC consist of law enforcement, fire officers and city officials. In some communities, EMS also participates. If EMS does not have an EOC presence in your area, it should. In Joplin, EMS officials were sometimes not included in key meetings, which was a major oversight. It may require some politicking to get a seat.
Once EMS has representation in the EOC, its duties should be defined. This will depend on the type of disaster and each organization’s needs and manner of dispatch. How EMS operates in the EOC is beyond the scope of this article; however, you should have a method of logging personnel, communicating with outside agencies and medical facilities, and instituting changes in operational goals as needed.
7. Arrange post-incident debriefing
The tremendous emotional toll of a disaster like this on responders can inhibit their future performance. Any disaster has a variety of inhumane circumstances that affect people in various ways. A post-incident debriefing session lets responders know they are not alone. There are many organizations that can be consulted to provide Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), or your organization may have personnel who can do it. Either way, providing a CISM meeting can help keep providers mentally healthy and able to continue working.
8. Learn to accept the fluidity of a disaster
Disaster upends a community. It threatens infrastructures and the ways people conduct their lives. For emergency response agencies working during a disaster, circumstances change constantly. A provider can’t afford to get blindsided. Weather, personnel, locations and supplies may be reasons a disaster focus changes. Responders need to learn to adapt, sometimes on a minute-to-minute basis. As time passes, the focus becomes more defined and will subsequently require less change.
This disaster saw a wide range of problems, with many solutions identified over the following months. While tornado prediction is still more art than science, it is the best it has ever been. The destructive force of tornadoes cannot be stopped. What can be done is to respect their power and heed warnings when given. As Joplin rebuilds, it will see more houses constructed with safe rooms able to withstand the harsh winds. What cannot be recovered are the 160 lives lost. The best we can do in their memory is to continue refining and restructuring our responses to do the most good for the most people.
More than a few local EMS providers from the Metro Emergency Transport System (METS), Newton County Ambulance District (NCAD) and Joplin Fire Department lost their homes in this disaster, but they kept their eyes on the ball and continued searching and treating patients as best they could. Fortunately, no EMS or fire providers lost their lives that night, but the ultimate emotional toll is yet to be determined.
The day after the tornado, while helping direct traffic through the destruction zone, a young police officer who arrived to help from Riverside, MO, was struck by lightning. Fellow police officers and EMS providers started CPR immediately and transported him to Freeman West Hospital, where he was successfully resuscitated. He was subsequently transferred to the closest burn center, 60 miles away, but succumbed to his injuries 12 days later. The sacrifice this young officer gave in helping Joplin in its time of need cannot be forgotten.
Jim Morgan, DO, is the EMS medical director for Joplin, MO. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.