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10 Disaster Preparedness Tips Every Public Safety Department Should Use

Sahil Merchant
September 11, 2019

Whether it’s a natural disaster, an incident at a major event, or an active shooter or terrorist attack, situations inevitably arise where a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force is required to immediately respond. The question is, is your city and county ready for the next emergency situation that comes along?

Here are 10 tips to ensure your response team is adequately prepared to meet any challenge they face:

CERT Volunteers In Training Exercise

1. Have a Trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in Place

One of best things you can do to prepare for large scale emergencies is to have a well-trained and prepared Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in place. CERT volunteers are members of your community that have undergone the nationally recognized CERT training program that educates them about disaster preparedness, the hazards that might impede them, and trains them in basic disaster response skills like fire safety, team organization, search and rescue, and emergency medical operations. The benefit of having a well-trained group of CERT volunteers in place, is that they can take on multiple support roles, allowing professional responders to focus on more complex or technical tasks.

2. Create a Common Operating Picture Across Agencies

One of the major pitfalls of an effective emergency response is a lack of inter-agency coordination. Police, Fire and EMS personnel should ideally all be synced up, and their movements and activities should be guided by an overwatch that knows the locations and dispositions of all assets in a region. Creating a common operating picture that geo-locates various assets in the field and enables them to coordinate their response goes a long way towards increasing efficiency. Especially in search and rescue operations, this is invaluable.

911 Operator at Work

3. Deliver More Information to 911 Operators

911 operators are on the front-lines of incident response, often times taking in multiple calls about a single incident and then relaying that information to units in the field. By delivering more information to 911 operators, such as incident video streams, audio, and location data from callers or cameras on site, you can increase the accuracy of the information being relayed to them, which will enhance the response of units assigned to the site.

4. Enhance Situational Awareness in the Field

Law enforcement officer, EMS and Fire crew safety is paramount in emergency situations. Their safety is directly increased by the amount of information they have about the situation they are about to encounter. Equipping first-responders with detailed location information, video streams from incident sites, and geo-locations of other units improves both public as well as officer safety, and reduces the chance of blue-on-blue incidents in the case of high-risk situations.  

EMS Personnel Stabilize A Patient

5. Streamline First-Responder Communications

In times of crisis, a major success factor for your teams will be open and streamlined communications. An important component of the aforementioned situational awareness, is giving first-responders within and across various agencies the ability to communicate with each other, as well as back to the central command post. Enhance these communications with photo and video sharing and secure text messaging. Also, ensure that communications systems are based on a stable and secure first-responder specific network like AT&T FirstNet, to ensure that channels remain open even if civilian communications networks go down or are overloaded.

6. Ensure Your Technology Systems Are Up-To-Date

Many of the steps mentioned thus far are aided by new technologies. An important step to ensuring safety and efficiency during emergency response, is taking inventory of the technology solutions that support your people. A lot of departments nationwide are still reliant on outmoded and expensive technology solutions that don’t talk to each other- fragmentation is the enemy of efficiency. Instead, make sure your ERT and CERT personnel have access to the latest apps and tools, and that your command center and community members in general are using technologies on a common platform.

7. Create a Social Media Plan

Social media is now often a go-to tool for public alerts and rescue and response. Whether it’s a hurricane, an earthquake, or public unrest, government and public safety officials should be prepared to utilize social media channels to communicate vital information to the public in times of crisis. By developing a social media communications strategy ahead of time, and planning ahead for a variety of situations, you’ll be more effective at disseminating the right information when the time comes. Further, the general public, businesses and communities are now increasingly reliant on social media for both collecting information on unfolding situations, as well as contacting authorities during the disaster response and subsequent recovery process.

8. Educate Citizens on Emergency Procedures

Social media and community forums are a great way to prepare your citizenry for potential crisis situations before they happen. Getting the community involved in crisis planning is of the utmost importance, as it saves time and lives once an incident or disaster is in progress and confusion sets in. Instead, community leaders should be identified in advance, and primed to disseminate relevant information to their communities. Police and public safety outreach to the communities they serve will also help build familiarity and trust.

9. Encourage Local Business Participation in Emergency Preparedness Programs

Local businesses are often the key to creating a more cohesive community. That cohesion will serve your community well in times of crises. Beyond building relationships with local business owners, public safety officials should also attempt to enroll them in public-private partnerships that include crisis training, CERT volunteering, security camera registration and sharing, and various other initiatives that help members of the community partner with first-responders to help themselves.

Nursing Home Evacuation In Progress

10. Ensure Planning Includes the Most Vulnerable Members of Your Community

Finally, when formulating an emergency response plan, don’t forget to include the most vulnerable members of your community- senior citizens, residents with special needs, children, and animals. Identify locations like schools, day care centers, assisted living facilities, hospitals, health care facilities, veterinary clinics, and other locations where the residents may need extra assistance. Creating a comprehensive plan that includes the leadership and staff at these facilities will save time and lives in the event of a rapid evacuation.  

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