There is no 'one size fits all' for disasters. Each has its own peculiar twists and requires a unique set of solutions.
(TNS) - At a San Bernardino County department operations center activated in the wake of the Dec. 2 terrorist attack, a decision was made to marshal extra ambulances from Riverside County.
Three teams of five ambulances were assembled — one was sent to Redlands, another to Rancho Cucamonga and the third remained in Riverside on standby.
Given the uncertainty about what was really happening, the thought was there might be a secondary or even tertiary event, said Tom Lynch, EMS administrator for the Inland Counties Emergency Medical Agency, which coordinates emergency medical response between ambulances and hospitals in case of an emergency.
In a mass casualty event, decisions about which patients would be sent to which hospitals would be managed from the ICEMA operations center.
The short duration of the terrorist attack, which killed 14 and wounded 22, meant decisions needed to and could be managed from the field, he said.
After the call for help arrived at 10:58 a.m. Dec. 2, the San Bernardino Police Department set up a command post in the trunk of a squad car in about 10 minutes, and the mobile command post “bus” was set up within an hour, said Chief Jarrod Burguan.
Initially, police officers from several nearby law enforcement agencies that poured in to help needed to fit into the evolving scene on their own.
“In a perfect world they would check into a command post and receive instructions about where to go,” he said.
That structure began to form after the establishment of the bus-contained command post so that officers arriving later were assigned locations and tasks, Burguan said.
As weather forecasters started predicting with uncharacteristic unanimity that El Niño would turn this rainy season into a serious threat, meetings were held in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties starting in late summer to coordinate plans for clearing both man-made and natural drainage areas to help rapidly funnel anticipated water flows away safely.
Just as key actions for the preparation of El Niño occurred at the local level, response to practically all disasters occurs locally first.
Cities across the country have designated emergency commands that are activated in the event disaster strikes. Depending upon the community, those can be located within fire departments, police stations or municipal office space, experts say.
Emergency managers and responders often note there is no “one size fits all” for disasters. Each has its own peculiar twists and requires a unique set of solutions, they say.
The strategy in managing emergencies and disasters is “Semper Gumby — always be flexible,” said Ken Kondo, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management.
In Los Angeles County, if two cities activate their emergency operations centers and they request assistance, the Los Angeles County emergency center also will activate.
In San Bernardino County, the EOC activates if one city also activates, whether or not there has been a request, said Cindy Serrano, assistant emergency services manager for the county’s Fire Office of Emergency Services.
“We have always been very proactive,” she said.
That puts department decision makers from law enforcement, schools, public health, behavioral health, engineering, public works, logistics, shelter and care, and others all in one room.
Operating a state warning center 24 hours a day, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services activates its regional EOC, which for Southern California is in Los Alamitos, anytime a county activates theirs, said Greg Renick, spokesman.
“We (regional offices) are the first link for state support,” he said.
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush directed the secretary of Homeland Security to develop and administer a National Incident Management System.
“This system provides a consistent nationwide template to enable federal, state, tribal and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to work together to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of incidents, regardless of cause, size, location or complexity,” says FEMA’s website.
The nationally standardized protocols allow emergency services managers and responders to go anywhere in the country and smoothly fit into the structure, Kondo said.
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