Although emergency management is par for the course in any public safety agency, there is still a difference between the expected and the unexpected – and how it can impact your internal operations. While your staff is training to respond to countless emergencies in the community, many agencies are underprepared for a crisis directly affecting their own department. For this reason, it’s essential to put a plan in place before your team suffers a disruption in order to keep your people prepared, focused, and able to continue providing essential services.
When operational needs increase unexpectedly due to a disaster, so do the staffing requirements. And although those requirements are important, making sure that your current staff is healthy and can weather the storm of the current crisis is more important than ever. Crisis response increases staff fatigue while simultaneously requiring more resources, which may also be depleted at a higher rate than normal – creating significant strain on all sides of the operations. Public safety agencies ultimately have a responsibility to have personnel in place to handle all types of emergencies – regardless of the type of crisis that may be present – and that takes a proven and well-deployed plan.
Management is ultimately responsible for the development of a clear and efficient crisis plan that determines where and how personnel will respond. Understanding who is on your team and how their various skills can contribute to an emergency situation is key. Putting a crisis schedule together for normal operations, while just as important, must also be complemented by a plan for a crisis situation where schedules shift considerably. By creating a plan to notify your staff that the agency is moving into crisis management mode, utilizing your agency notification system – a program all emergency responders should be very familiar with – provides a clear path for emergency responders on how to handle any crisis.
Here are the steps your emergency organization can take to ensure a seamless transition from everyday operations to a crisis situation:
- Understand who on your team has what skills and how they can be utilized: Who will be your point person(s) when a crisis hits?
- Develop a detailed crisis schedule. The use of a scheduling platform that can be configured to match your agency specific scheduling requirements is a powerful tool to ensure your team is well educated on the plan.
- Practice makes perfect – organize planned and random drills to prepare teams, so when a true need arises everyone is prepared and ready to shift together.
In addition to benefiting your operations and service to your community, preparedness for unexpected crises also benefits your staff. Here are some behavioral responses first responders experience after addressing a crisis situation:
- Potentially unhealthy increase or decrease in activity level
- Mild to severe disturbances to sleep
- Inability to rest and relax
- Difficulty communicating or listening
- Irritability, outbursts of anger, frequent arguments
- Decline in job performance; absenteeism
- Frequent crying or emotional response
- Hyper-vigilance or excessive worry
- Avoidance of activities or places that trigger memories
- Becoming accident prone
- Substance use or abuse (alcohol or drugs)
“Major tragedies, such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, can have particularly damaging effects on those who helped at the scene. Researchers estimate about 20% of first responders who were present at the World Trade Center developed symptoms of PTSD. Those first responders were also found to be twice as likely to experience depression when they were compared with first responders who were not at ground zero. Even 15 years later, the mental health effects faced by those first responders still linger: nearly 17% of emergency medical service workers who were on the scene at ground zero still experience depression, and 7% continue to exhibit symptoms of PTSD. Some of the 9/11 first responders also show signs of cognitive impairment at a relatively early age, which researchers believe is linked to PTSD” (Good Therapy).
The well-known saying by Benjamin Franklin “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” perfectly states why preparation is key, and even more so in emergency situations. By taking the time to invest in a plan before one is needed, you’re investing in your operations, your community, and in the mental health and well-being of your employees – the first responders who show up every day to serve.