Behind The Scenes: Local Disaster Response

Today is Like Any Other
December 26, 2018
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March 26, 2020
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Behind The Scenes: Local Disaster Response

It is good to know about how your community, county, state and even national resources would respond if your community were hit with a natural disaster, pandemic or terrorist attack. No matter where you fall in the political spectrum, staunch government supporter or absolute conspiracy theorist, your local leadership works hard on preparing for, reacting to and recovery from these types of threats.

It might be best to start with an organizational chart of sorts to help you understand where all these pieces fall and what role they play. Most cities have a group of city employees, the Planner for example, who come together with first responders monthly to discuss and plan exercises around events that may affect your community. First responders often include; hospitals, fire departments, law enforcement, road and bridge departments and often the county Emergency Manager.

The county Emergency Manager in employed by the county to work with local communities within the county as well as state assets if needed. The Emergency Manager or EM understands their county dynamics, populations and what types of impacts are most likely to occur within his/her jurisdiction this understanding better prepares them to assist in a disaster. EM’s collaborate with local state agencies such as the Health Department.

Your local Health Department is a local state agency. Housed within the Health Department is a group tasked with assisting all the counties, cities, businesses, everybody in their jurisdiction with preparing for and recovering from disasters. This group can go by many names, but for the sake of simplicity, I will call them the Preparedness Group. The Preparedness Group most often consists of; a Program Manager whose responsibility is to maintain the state and federal grants and funds that sustain the group and general oversight of the group. The Planner who creates and maintain the physical written out plan for the jurisdiction to respond to any number of man-made or natural disaster. The Trainer who organizes training with local and state resources and drill in preparation for disasters and a Healthcare Liaison who serves as a go-between for the group and hospitals and care facilities. The Healthcare Liaison also supports the Healthcare Coalition, which is a body of first responders from the entire Health Department jurisdiction to network and practice together so that when a disaster strikes it is not the first time they see or work with each other.

The federal players are well known to almost all of us; FEMA, CDC, FBI and so on. We often will not see the FBI in natural disasters only man-made disasters like terrorist attacks. Even if the terrorist does not use a conventional bomb, gun or car and choose to weaponize a biologic or chemical agent. It is worth noting that the federal government acts through local resource with funding preparedness. There is no active federal preparedness group that will show up at your door preparing you or your community for the worst. You will see local preparedness folks and if the event is bad enough federal response and recovery groups.

That is a good introduction to the players that will be involved in a response. Now we can talk about how these players fit into preparedness, recovery, and some of the basic tools at their disposal to accomplish what they do. Anything from flooding to wildfires to medical pandemics to terrorist attack requires what is known as an EOC or Emergency Operations Center. The EOC operates as the lead organization as management unit for the disaster. Highly trained and specialized individuals in an Incident Command System or ICS to fulfill needed positions to acquire and distribute assets to the disaster staff the EOC. Each of the affected areas, communities or businesses enact their own emergency plan. These plans should coincide and tie in with the emergency plans from the city, county and local state plans. It is important that these entities work with each other prior to a disaster and exercise their plans in order to refine how they will work together in times of need.

In the future I may go into greater detail to define what happens in an emergency declaration, how the agencies work together through the EOC and what are some of the specific threats your local emergency responder prepare for every day.

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