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Preparedness: Our Unflinching Tribute to Courageous Heroes

On September 11, 2001, the meaning of preparedness changed.

Before that day, planning to respond to a truly large event generally meant preparing for natural disasters. After that day, the nation focused laser-like attention on acts of terrorism, and preparedness requirements followed suit.

Since then, storms have ravaged New Orleans, Joplin and Tuscaloosa; wildland fires have raged; and first responders across the country have managed shrinking budgets in the face of increasing demands.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the first-responder community must reassess what being prepared truly means, as well as how departments and agencies can realistically prepare for any type of event, whether natural or manufactured.

The federal government has recognized this new landscape and is developing new requirements under Presidential Preparedness Directive/PPD-8, which recognizes the need to have an all-of-nation, all-hazards approach to preparedness.

A Toolkit for Hometown Preparedness

The IAFC supports preparedness as a long-term journey, not a destination. Preparedness efforts change over time as events occur and threats come and go.

The IAFC has a roadmap to help fire chiefs and community leaders across the country prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from a major event in a methodical, clear and comprehensive manner: the third edition of Terrorism Response: A Checklist and Guide for Fire Chiefs and Community Preparedness Leaders.

First released in 2007 as a guide for fire chiefs, the Checklist and Guide provided a preparedness framework that drilled down into fire department operations, providing detailed steps that departments of all types and sizes could adapt to their own needs and abilities. The focus was on terrorism, though the Checklist and Guide was meant to be applicable to all hazards.

In this edition, the IAFC seeks to more clearly emphasize two points: First, all disciplines will benefit from preparedness endeavors. Second, the scope of preparedness must be on all hazards. The Checklist and Guide now:

  • Includes all community preparedness leaders in an all-hazards approach
  • Supports the need to collaborate across disciplines for successful response
  • Encourages users to apply the Checklist and Guide to the hazards unique to their communities
  • Includes new and revised reference sections to address incidents and programs that have developed since the first and second editions were published
  • Provides direct online reference links to make sure documents remain relevant and valid and to ensure ease of access

Community alliances are critical. Collaboration has been a hallmark of fire service preparedness, with mutual-aid agreements providing backup when a fire department is overwhelmed.

Preparing for a terrorist attack or natural catastrophe requires planning on a larger scale, particularly as communities seek federal funding to boost their capabilities and the federal support of the regional approach has grown. Planning on a larger scale requires building relationships not only with other fire departments, but also with other disciplines and government officials at all levels.

“Such a network of assistance is just as important for small towns and communities as it is for Washington, D.C., or New York City because sound strategic planning, strong relationships and outside assistance are critical to preparedness success,” says Chief Jim Schwartz of the Arlington County (Va.) Fire Department, who chairs the IAFC Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee.

The Checklist and Guide provides the framework to help a department either tap into an existing network or to become the driving force in creating one.

How It Works

The substance of the Checklist and Guide is a summary checklist (for quick reference), a series of how-to guides and a list of appropriate resources. Overall, it provides the framework to strengthen a community’s readiness in three key areas:

  • It helps departments and agencies assess their readiness to meet the needs of their communities and it provides concrete steps to help fill any gaps. 
  • It provides guidance on strengthening relationships with peer departments and agencies, other safety disciplines and government leaders, thereby fostering a regional approach to preparedness. 
  • It seeks to include all community leaders in the national intelligence enterprise, the scope and importance of which has grown as the U.S. has sought to thwart future attacks.

Toolkit Development

The authors are fire service leaders representing a cross-section of types and sizes of departments as well as fire service specialties. They came from the IAFC’s:

  • Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee 
  • Hazardous Materials Committee 
  • Emergency Management Committee 
  • Emergency Medical Services Section
  • Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Section
  • Volunteer and Combination Officers Section
  • Safety, Health and Survival Section

Chief P. Michael Freeman of the Los Angeles County Fire Department led the team.

The original Checklist and Guide underwent a rigorous testing phase with a variety of department types and sizes. The response from the pilot departments was overwhelmingly in support of the Checklist and Guide as a useful tool for any department’s preparedness—not just for terrorism but for all hazards. Communities across the United States continue to use the Checklist and Guide in their preparedness efforts.

Preparedness as Tribute

On that fateful day in 2001, the world witnessed the courage and unflinching response of firefighters, law enforcement officers, military personnel and citizens who worked to save others. A deep sadness lingers for all who perished that day, including the 343 New York City firefighters. A living, life-saving tribute to the courageous and unselfish response of 9/11 is to be prepared to respond in the same courageous, unflinching way.

Holly Gray Stearns is a former IAFC government relations manager and liaison to the Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee from 2004-2006. She has worked on the Checklist and Guide since 2007, helping to draft it and edit subsequent editions, manage the pilot testing phase and roll it out nationwide.

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