Pinnacle: Are You Ready for Trouble?

Pinnacle: Are You Ready for Trouble?

By From staff Aug 09, 2017

The number of declared disasters has spiked in recent years, and members of the response framework, from FEMA on down, have to be prepared to handle them.

That was the message from former FEMA boss Dave Paulison and Pinellas County (Fla.) safety director Bruce Moeller at the Pinnacle EMS leadership conference Wednesday in Boca Raton, Fla., where they spoke jointly on "Terrorism, Cyber Attacks and Natural Disasters: How Leaders Prepare and Respond in the New Paradigm." The threats, they said, include conventional attacks, nuclear weapons, terrorism and cyberattacks. The latter, Paulison noted, is "really scary stuff--we're not made for it."

Failures typical of major incidents involve communications, command and control breakdowns, and slow arrival/deployment of resources. However, the National Incident Management System (NIMS), developed by Paulison and the Bush administration after 9/11, still represents a solid framework for answering them, the pair stressed.

Communities should be doing their own threat analyses focused around five key factors: what's likely to happen, how often it's likely to happen, what's the likely damage, how it will affect the community, and how vulnerable they actually are to it. The dangers can be natural, technological or societal. "Know what you can do to mitigate them beforehand," Moeller said.

The pair outlined three levels of situational awareness: identifying relevant data from past occurrences; analyzing or making sense of it; and anticipating what might happen in the future. 

Level 1 requires balancing accuracy and speed--what does it mean, and what are you going to do about it?--and level 3 a combination of previous data and experience. 

Strong command systems are essential at prolonged operations, Paulison noted, as workers under stress can lose concentration, develop tunnel vision, and become careless and apathetic. Related to this, EMS exercises are often too scripted. Instead designers must really push their systems to discover the weak points.

And while it's not new wisdom, relationships still matter a lot, he added. Do you know your local and state emergency managers and your state and federal SACs (special agents in charge)? Who else might have government access to get you what you need?

In short, at the disaster scene is no place for an initial exchange of business cards.

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