As is always the case in times like these, fire and emergency service providers stand ready to send whatever relief is necessary to aid the survivors of disasters. While we continue to keep the residents and visitors to Haiti in our thoughts and prayers, an open letter to the fire and emergency service community from FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino reminds the response community that self-deployment to the disaster areas is not advisable. For a number of reasons, there needs to be a coordinated response so that well-meaning people and resources don’t ultimately overwhelm what is already bedlam.
While it may seem counterintuitive to some not to send EVERYTHING to the region, I’m reminded of the scenario that presents itself in football when the defensive end is told repeatedly, “Seal the ends and don’t let anyone out” and after being told that twenty times (and having no backs running around the end), he decides to “get involved” and leaves his assigned area, only to be left in the dust by a screen or a reverse. His job was to protect the flanks from just such a move, and failing that, this weakness was not only recognized by the offense, but exploited.
It is imperative that we take this opportunity to recognize that these disasters also affect our own communities, and this is the time when increased education of your customers is important: what to do if something like this happens here, who will respond, what your capabilities are and how you plan to address your needs in a disaster, and so on. This is the time when you contact your representatives and reinforce to them that we have emergency operation plans in place and resources, and educate local responders what to do and how to obtain these resources.
Most importantly, someone needs to be watching the outside, anticipating that at any time, events can also happen at home. In that event, teams selected to move into the Caribbean to aid Haiti may need reinforcement back in their home jurisdictions and we should be ready to help in those situations as well.
Everyone has a part on the team. Take this unfortunate situation and at least turn it into a “teachable moment”. If you fail to do this while it is fresh in the minds of the public, I can reassure you, look at past disasters and see how fast those moments faded from view. We can prevent death and injury often by educating people as to what we do and how to get us when they need us. But in order to do all of this, we need support, not just during the disasters, but in the times in between.
Keep our fellow US&R teams in your prayers as well as the citizens and other responders in this most distressing of situations and make sure we are ready if anything else goes down on our watch.