Perry County Health Department
Public Health emergency preparedness and response in Perry County
We are always striving to improve our emergency planning and response capabilities. Here in perry county, we are preparing and responding to assist with a variety of our community partners (public and private) to a variety of emergencies, disasters, incidents, and events to help protect the safety and health of our citizens where we all live, work, and play.
Emergencies and disasters are typically of two types – natural or human caused.
Natural hazards involve the forces of nature and the resulting effects on people. Consider such emergencies or events as severe weather including thunderstorms, lightning, hail, tornadoes, severe summer heat or winter cold, and even earthquakes or land slips or mine subsidence. For example, severe winds can lead to power lines down and trees in the roadway, which affects people by causing electrical outages at our residences or businesses and impedes our travel paths. Taken to the extreme, people who depend on home medical devices such as oxygen concentrators or home dialysis devices need electricity or a backup system until power is restored. Roadways blocked by downed trees from a wind event also block fire, ems, law enforcement, and other needed services from prompt access for a prompt response to emergencies or incidents.
Human caused hazards involve the actions of people, either accidentally or deliberately. Consider such emergencies as computer or cell phone cyberattacks and active assailants or shooters. A human caused hazard that was accidental might involve a vehicle crash with injuries that was unavoidable. A human caused hazard that was deliberate might involve a vehicle crash with injuries that was triggered by “road rage” by one or several drivers and could have been avoided.
Emergency management involves procedures that can be implemented to reduce, eliminate (prevent), minimize, or manage the impacts of emergencies, disasters, and other incidents or events on our citizens and our communities.
Emergency management is a resource or a tool that begins with “citizen immediate responders” on the scene and willing to safely take action to the level of their training with the available resources at the site to begin the emergency response process by calling 911 and assisting any victims.
911 dispatchers gather information and dispatch our first responders (fire, ems, law enforcement, and others) based on reports from the scene.
The mission of first responders begins with a safe and rapid response to the scene for incident stabilization (minimize any further injuries or damages), save lives (aka life safety measures), and property and environmental conservation and protection (further limiting damages to property or the environment which can be dangerous and costly). These actions combine to help protect our citizens and communities during emergencies, disasters, and other incidents or events.
Emergency management can be thought of as a loop or continuous cycle with overlap of:
Mitigation – mitigation includes actions taken pre event to eliminate (prevent) or reduce the degree of long term risk to human life, safety, and health and property (including pets and livestock) from any type of hazard. Examples of mitigation include building codes, public education, risk area mapping, insurance, tax incentives, rain and river flood monitoring systems, tornado shelters, and others.
Preparedness – preparedness includes activities taken in preparation of an emergency or event that facilitates or makes easier and quicker the implementation of a coordinated response. Examples of preparedness include hazard and risk identification, emergency operation plans, emergency broadcast notification systems and sirens such as all hazard (weather) radios and tornado sirens, notifications of advisories, watches, warnings and further instructions to stay safe, “trigger points” that initiate various safety and health actions by authorities and citizens, and others.
Response – response includes actions taken immediately before, during, and immediately after an emergency or event which indeed helps to secures the scene, saves lives, and minimizes property and environmental damages. Examples are responses of fire/rescue/ ems/law enforcement and other resources needed, action steps taken by resources arriving on the scene, implementation of the incident command system (ICS) and any emergency operations plans (EOPS) of the various agencies and entities, activation of the emergency operations center (EOC) if needed to supply additional resources, evacuation or shelter in place for those in the immediate vicinity of the emergency or event, and other response actions.
Recovery – recovery includes activities after an emergency or event occurs and includes short term activities to return vital life supporting systems to minimum operating standards, and long term activities to return the community to safe, health, and “new” normal levels of activities. Examples of recovery operations could include debris management, damages assessments, decontamination of locations or equipment and return to service, disaster assistance for victims, temporary housing, counseling for grief or stress, reconstruction of homes, businesses, and facilities, and others activities to begin again after the emergency or event.
The incident command system or ICS is a standardized, on-scene, all risk, all hazard incident management concept. ICS allows its users to adopt an integrated organizational structure to match the complexities and demands of single or multiple incidents without being hindered by jurisdictional boundaries or typical job titles or duties of responders. ICS has considerable internal flexibility. It can grow or shrink to meet different needs as a response begins, expands, and concludes. This flexibility makes it a very cost effective and efficient management approach for both small and large situations, especially emergencies, disasters, catastrophes, incidents, or events, and even routine operations and activities.
The incident command system (ICS) was developed in the 1960s and 1970s following a series of catastrophic fires in California’s wildland urban interface, or where the forests and fields meet with homes and businesses. Property damage ran into the many millions of dollars, and many people died or were injured, including first responders. The personnel assigned to determine the causes of this disaster studied the case histories and discovered that incident failures could rarely be attributed to lack of resources or failure of strategy and tactics.
What were the lessons learned? Studies and after-action reports / improvement plans found that incident failures were far more likely to result from inadequate incident operational response management than from any other single reason. Weaknesses in incident management were often due to:
- Lack of personnel accountability, including unclear chains of command and supervision, trying to report to multiple bosses, “free lancing” or not working together for common objectives and a concise mission
- Poor communications due to both inefficient use of available communications systems and conflicting codes and terminology, use of communications with too much jargon and acronyms
- Lack of an orderly, systematic planning process.
- No common, flexible, predesigned management structure that enables commanders to delegate responsibilities and manage workloads efficiently.
- No predefined methods to integrate interagency requirements into the management structure and planning process effectively.
Overall, a poorly managed emergency or incident operational response can be devastating to life safety, increase both serious and minor injuries to victims and responders, become costly to our local and extended economy, disrupt our local supply chains of goods and services, and jeopardize our individual, family, and community safety and health.
With so much at stake, we must continue to learn to effectively manage our emergency and incident operational response efforts. The incident command system, or ICS, allows us to do so. ICS is a proven management system based on successful emergency operations and business practices.
So basically, the incident command system allows multiple agencies and entities from any and all levels of government and the private sector, as well as our “citizens immediate responders” who are typically many times the first on the scene, to “play well together in the same sand box.” We can better deal with emergencies, disasters, incidents, and events efficiently and effectively by working together from the same blueprint of operational response efforts toward a common successful mission completion for the good of our local individuals, families, neighborhoods, and communities.
- Provide aid with emergency planning and response / logistics / communications / operations /safety and health / other needs
- Assist and establish points of distribution or pods for needed supplies such as blue tarps and drinking water and also any needed points of dispensing (pods) to provide health screenings and clinical services for victims and first responders
- Assess and make recommendations on disease issues (prevention, referrals, obtain subject matter experts as needed, etc.
- Participate in epidemiological or disease investigations, research and provide information, assist with administrative documentation of operational response, etc.
- Respond and assist with biological or radiological emergencies or events affecting our community safety, health, and well being
- Assess and make recommendations and assist with environmental health sanitation issues, including potable (safe) drinking water supplies, sanitary sewage treatment, shelters and housing needs, diseases – information on causes and prevention, disease vector identification (insects, vermin, etc.), control, and prevention; inspect / license food service operations and retail food establishments; assist with emergency response to potential and real emergencies and events; etc.
- Assist with other roles and needs, such as providing resources, staff, equipment, supplies as available and to the level of training and credentials, ICS roles, public information officer roles, etc.
- Other needs as capabilities and capacities could allow, etc.
To better prepare yourself, your family, your neighborhood, and your community for the next emergency, disaster, incident, or event, consider the following:
Know your risks – understand the risks that you, your family and neighbors, and your community face from a variety of hazards, emergencies, and events. Most communities face many types of hazards. It is important to learn the risks to your specific area and the ways to assess your risks when you are away from home. Know how and when to take action before, during, and after different hazards, emergencies, and events that can occur and impact safety and health of those nearby.
Make a plan – make a communications plan for you and your family and prepare for both evacuation and shelter in place scenarios. Prepare for your family and their unique needs with customized plans and supplies needed. Consider medications needed and any pet or livestock needs. Also, use your social network to help other family members, friends, and neighbors prepare. Participate in your neighborhood and community with a variety of disaster preparedness awareness activities. Also important is the need to gather emergency supplies such as a supply of water and food. Secure important family information and documents you will need to start the recovery process after the emergency or event is over.
Take action – put your plan into action. Be ready and able to face disaster, no matter where you may be and when they may occur. Check your insurance needs and understand your coverage options. Make a list of personal property and the value and condition of things. Consider how to mitigate to minimize property damages for emergencies and events. Practice your family emergency plans. Utilize existing alert and warning systems in your area. Assist with your neighborhood and community preparedness and recovery efforts.