They say that the strength of a community after a disaster depends on its ability to recover; once you’ve survived the hard blows, it’s managing to get past everything else. New York State has experienced a number of disasters. While some of these events may have been limited to a small radius, others have been large-scale such as Hurricane Irene, the 2008 northeast ice storm, 9/11, and Superstorm Sandy.
When all hell breaks loose in a disaster zone, ambulance buildings, firehouses and police departments are just as vulnerable as the communities their members protect. The members’ own homes and families are put in jeopardy as well. When disaster strikes we are all just mere humans having to deal with blocked roadways, power failures, downed trees and power lines, and so many things “unexpected”.
Often the response of emergency agencies is taxed as the natural call volume climbs and the availability of responders is strained. Some members are busy baling their own homes out, blocked from reaching the emergency building, evacuating their families and more; while the dedication is no less for a volunteer, many volunteers live directly in the communities they serve, so are personally impacted by conditions.
What can an agency do to survive the event and to rebuild afterwards? Planning is important. What hazards exist that could affect response? Things like generators, on-spots (or chains), extra medical supplies, snow shovels, communication that doesn’t depend on cell towers or landlines, and tools that can be used to fix mechanical problems on the rigs can all come in handy. If the headquarters is in a flood prone area, are there sandbags readily available, and could a bay door be opened without flooding the entire building?
Someone has to thoroughly assess the potential vulnerabilities and institute ways to mitigate the threats. There is no way you can be fully prepared for all possible disaster incidents, but you can train your members to always expect the unexpected. Normal emergency response will be ongoing through the disaster and after, and patient care always comes first.
Some of the things you can do to help your recovery once the initial threat has passed include: An off-site informational database which includes all contact names and numbers of members, surrounding agencies, and the state or region that governs your agency. Pre-plan an offsite phone tree so that members can be contacted even if you are unable to get into your building; some providers allow voicemail and call forwarding so that someone out of the area (but with the password) can take calls and messages. Be prepared to “set up shop” temporarily away from your facilities.
While official documents authorizing your agency to cover designated areas or to operate at specific levels need a certifying raised seal, copies of this paperwork will give you reference numbers which can help you replace these documents. Don’t forget to include vehicle registrations, service and insurance records. Investigate now if nearby agencies or vendors will allow you to temporarily borrow or rent a replacement vehicle if your own are damaged.
Make a master list of all members and their certifications and store offsite or in “the cloud” so that you have the info readily available even if you can’t get into your offices. Finally, take digital pictures of all awards, plaques, trophies, and historical photographs just in case the contents of your building are destroyed; even copies of these things will help to restore morale.