Orchestrated Emergency Response Doesn’t Just Happen, It Takes Practice

Speakers at the National Homeland Security Conference discuss preparation and building relationships before an emergency.

by / June 11, 2015
Nim Kidd of Texas Division of Emergency Management (shown being interviewed in this photo) says the different backgrounds that make up emergency management can blend to become a healthy whole. (Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA)

As emergency management evolves as a profession and grows in diversity, there’s a blending of personalities, viewpoints and different structures that come to the fore. People will come from different backgrounds, experiences and professions and have different styles and perspectives. They can blend to become a healthy whole, said Nim Kidd, Texas Division of Emergency Management chief, in a keynote address at the 2015 National Homeland Security Conference this week in San Antonio.

Kidd came from the fire service and acknowledged that his experience and style is different from others rising in the emergency management ranks from the military, law enforcement, health care and academia. None of those have the market cornered on the “right way” to do things, and there are advantages and disadvantages to how each communicates and approaches situations.

For instance, law enforcement isn’t known for being the best at communicating information, for good reason and sometimes not so good. The military and fire service bring invaluable experience to the emergency management field, and what health care and academia lack in experience, they make up for in knowledge and information.

The key is to bring it all together as a whole. Kidd likened this to a sixth-grade concert he attended, where the participants practiced on their own for weeks or months but had not played together until the concert. It worked out because of the coordination brought about by the conductor and music was played.

But in emergency management it’s important for the orchestra to have practiced together or at least get a feel for who is who prior to an incident. It’s been said a lot but it can’t be overstated: It’s important to develop relationships and understandings prior to a disaster and not during one.

Several speakers at the conference noted how, even now, attendees sit with those with whom they are familiar. Communication is improving but the term “turf war” still surfaces. That might always be the case, and if money for training continues to dwindle it’s going to be even more crucial for stakeholders to reach out to one another. Sometimes, Kidd pointed out, those in emergency management and related fields can be their own worst enemy.

In another keynote, Edward Gabriel, principal deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, winced when so few in the audience acknowledged having heard of his department’s National Disaster Medical System Response Teams. These are local medical personnel, including doctors, nurses and EMTs, who volunteer beforehand to assemble during a disaster. The teams include:

 

  • the Disaster Medical Assistance Team composed of medical personnel to give support during a disaster;
  • Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams that help set up temporary morgue facilities, help with victim identification, etc.;
  • International Medical Surgical Response Teams are federal employees used intermittently to assist during public health emergencies; and
  • National Veterinary Response Teams that assist emergency responders with veterinary needs during and after a disaster.

Gabriel urged attendees to contact the response office to learn more about the program and sign up.

In a rather alarming general session, a panel of medical experts said it’s a matter of time before the U.S. suffers through another pandemic and that we’re not prepared to handle all the sick and the fallout from the situation, including the estimated 40 percent of those who would miss work for one reason or another. The lethal event could include causes like botulism, anthrax or H1N1, and wouldn’t necessarily originate from a third-world country.
 

Jim McKay Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his wife, Christie, daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout. Jim can be reached at jmckay@emergencymgmt.com.

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