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Preplanning for All Hazards

NFPA 1620, Standard for Pre-Incident Planning, sets guidelines to develop preplans for specific locations. As written, nothing limits 1620 to fire suppression; it includes:

  • Develop instructions for responding to unusual incidents.
  • Create procedures for preparation, presentation, communication and maintenance of information for the purpose of aiding personnel responding to emergency incidents.

Tradition has departments operate under the mantle of the fire department with others marketing themselves as emergency services. Risk and threat assessments help identify targets and infrastructure that may need preincident plans.

A single-focused, fire suppression-based preplan limits agencies committed to all-hazard responses needing all-hazard information.

Knowing your community includes knowing your residents. Within your jurisdiction may live high-profile government officials and CEOs of business and industry who may be targets. Work with other agencies to help identify less-visible targets, many with security personnel and plans already in place.

Seeing is believing, and there is no better way to prepare than site visits.

Today’s responses reflect today’s news. Protests in one city require vigilance in others. Responses to churches, temples, mosques, abortion clinics or other political or social targets each present unique challenges. Encompassing an all-hazard approach expands beyond a target-specific plan.

No preplan can stand alone. Effective preplans work in conjunction with SOGs, mass-casualty and event-driven protocols, training and building a unified command response. Technology with GIS mapping, CAMEO, WISER (Wireless Information System for First Responders) and other programs predetermine flood zones, staging areas, evacuation zones, distances and routes when creating multiuse, all-hazard preplans.

Outdated, inaccurate preplans may be worse than no plan at all. The development process needs mechanisms to address temporary or new changes—even address when a plan should be rescinded.

Access to accurate, credible information becomes imperative in responses. Preplans can be so rigid that they’re not recognized as being all-hazard. So inflexible, they become predictable. Lack of communication, predictable responses and designated apparatus placement and staging areas expose first responders to increased risks and the threat of secondary devices. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security with “it can’t happen here” thinking.

Creating all-hazard preplans requires multiple agencies to be involved in the development process. Every agency looks at a target based on its own discipline, risking development of conflicting plans. It’s time to change the culture and evolve fire department and suppression preplans into multiagency all-hazard preplans that all agencies work from. It’s a problematic concept as the preincident process continually evolves, never ends and is difficult for even a single agency to maintain.

The significance of September 11 is obvious, but other dates could trigger activists, threats or unrest.

On April 19, 1775, at the opening shots of the American Revolution, British and American soldiers exchanged fire in Massachusetts. Two hundred and eighteen years later, 1993, marks the FBI raid and subsequent fire of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

Two years later, also on April 19, a truck bomb was detonated at the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, killing 168.

In 1969, militant students at Cornell used force in demanding a black studies program.

April 15, known as Tax Day in the United States, now serves as the anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, with the resulting manhunt and capture on April 19. More recently, protests erupted nationally after Freddie Gray died on the April 19 in Baltimore, following his arrest and fatal injuries while in police custody.

On April 16, 2007, the Virginia Tech shooting resulted in 32 deaths and 17 injured, while on the 20, 1999, 13 were killed and 21 injured during the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo.

In Los Angeles rioting erupted on April 29, 1992, when a jury failed to convict four police officers in the beating of Rodney King.

Other dates of national, regional or local political or religious significance may require extra vigilance. For example, April 22 is Earth Day and may prompt ecoterrorists to act.

There’s a balance between credible threats, need to know and information overload. A need-to-know mentality and not sharing knowledge contributes to risk and injury. Interagency cooperation, communication and guidelines must be in place with the ability to prioritize and disseminate information.

The easy ability to forward every text, alert or notification, often repeating the same information from different sources, creates information overload. That has become the 21st Century equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. With no systems established to prioritize or acknowledge new intelligence, it’s easily lost in all the others received news, if even read. This lack of a system opens a door that allows officials to shirk their responsibilities, hiding behind the ever-popular answer, “I sent you an email.”

Across the country, there’s already interagency cooperation in developing preplans. Active-shooter incidents have been a catalyst for agencies to develop response plans together. Effective preplans could make the difference in your community between failure and success. Strategy and tactics change, based on credible threats, potential, weather or current events.

All-hazard preplans give you all-hazard options.

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