Community expectations of the fire department have dramatically changed over the last few years. These expectations have led to increased 911 calls because the public believes that the fire department will help no matter the situation.
As our ever-changing environment shows, calls for service of the unexpected are now becoming the norm. It's increasingly apparent that when a community doesn't know what to do or who to call, the fire department is the answer.
Whether encountering a hurricane or a radiological event, is your department prepared to keep a high level of service when the unexpected happens?
How will your department continue to render service and move forward if you lack equipment or personnel or if the department is inoperable itself because of the event? This is a question that's plaguing many chiefs right now, but the solution isn't as complex as it may seem.
A simple three-step process can help with planning and preparedness, no matter the situation: organize, plan and educate.
These will seem very familiar to most; they're actions we take every day in the fire service.
It's the responsibility of the head of the organization to make sure the best folks are in the right positions. Setting up a crisis-management team is important to how your organization will run during a crisis.
Will your leadership keep running your organization or your crisis team or both?
When disaster and crisis strike, you must be able to answer the call for service and still keep all vital responses and roles functioning as normal. The key to planning is to identify resources that can be used in their non-normal capacity to meet the objectives of the mission at hand. A continuity of operations plan identifies these essential functions and helps identify how the organization will operate in a crisis or in disaster mode.
In a crisis, you'll rely on what you've learned and feel comfortable doing. Members of your team can only act from what they know. Determine what training and exercises your members will rely on before an incident happens and give your members those tools they need to succeed.
The fire service is steeped in tradition and change isn't always easy to bring about. Emergency management and crisis response are new to the fire service and there's much more to learn for us to be fully prepared. However, we owe it to our communities to be ready no matter the call; build your crisis team, empower your staff and be prepared for the unexpected.