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Performance of the Fire Service during the 2003 Northeast Blackout and Implications for Critical Infrastructure Protection

What fire fighters do in their community on a daily basis is inarguably linked to their response in national or large-scale emergencies. So too, is what the local, state and federal communities do on an everyday basis linked to the emergency response at the local level. Fire fighters receive mixed messages from the decision makers in their hometowns, state capitals and in Washington. Hailed as heroes, they continue to be asked to take on additional responsibilities related to both hometown and homeland defense while the financial and professional support they need to do this successfully is often withheld.

The August 2003 power outage allows us to see clearly the dangers this presents. As a nation, we depend on electrical power for our most basic needs – water, food, warmth, transportation, public safety, etc. The blackout is yet another reminder that it is a fragile structure that can be disrupted by accident, age, the weather or attack.

As was demonstrated in August, the fire service can and will be at the ready to ensure their communities are safe when the power fails. This is merely an extension of its ever-present commitment to serve the community and the public trust.

Yet in many cases, local legislatures cut budgets and staff, which are then quickly exhausted during a crisis; private industry refuses to create or share emergency procedures which drains much needed resources for the broader community; and federal grants geared toward public safety and homeland security don’t allow for the purchase of basic items that would serve to protect the public anytime they are most vulnerable. Such mixed messages cause frustration and mistrust that can only serve to derail the coordinated and cooperative response that is needed when critical infrastructure falls victim to an attack or other large-scale disaster.

The community, from government to private industry, must do its part to support the work of the local fire department and emergency service if it is to protect the nation’s citizens and critical infrastructure. Supporting one another on local operations, planning, funding and personnel issues during the most peaceful of times leads to strong relationships and ability for all community members to meet the challenges posed by a national emergency.

  • Topics:
    • Large-Scale Response
  • Resource Type:
    • Research
    • Report/ publication
  • Organizational Author:
    • External
    • IAFC

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