This column addresses the issue of planning and training to utilize outside resources when responding to a major event or emergency. Every team that is tasked with the responsibility of emergency response faces the likelihood of one day being overwhelmed when confronted with a major or large scale incident.
The Fire Department, City of New York (FDNY) has approximately 15,000 members (including the bureau of EMS). Due to this large number of personnel and the large geographic area covered by the department, FDNY can often act somewhat as its own mutual aid; as if it was several departments.
An example of this would be a response to storm related flooding. While some areas of the city would be under water others would not and these areas generally have enough manpower and equipment to respond to the affected area.
That being said, in some events such as hurricanes and in particular the terror attacks of 9/11/2001, FDNY has worked with many outside agencies such as: Federal and State US&R teams: heavy equipment operators; National Guard; and utility company personnel. It is not possible, from the perspective of cost effectiveness, for any entity responsible for emergency response to have the necessary manpower and equipment on hand to address large scale incidents; the magnitude of which may be seen only once every ten years, if that much.
These events require the utilization of outside resources. Outside resources should be considered as tools. Some tools are better or worse than others, and different tools are appropriate for accomplishing different tasks but all tools require that whoever is attempting to utilize them knows their capabilities and how to deploy them.
In September of 2018 I deployed with New York Task Force 1 (NY-TF1) as a search team manager (STM) of a type I team to North Carolina (NC). We were being forward deployed ahead of the landfall of Hurricane Florence. NY-TF1 would eventually deploy two teams, a type I team and a water rescue team.
A type I team has a full set of equipment, including everything required to deal with a heavy structural collapse, as well as (in this case) all the equipment required to deal with flooding and water rescue. Since the water rescue teams are geared specifically towards water rescue and have very limited resources to deal with other operations they travel light. This makes them much more mobile, enabling them to more rapidly respond to the situation as it develops.
In transit to NC after staging a day we were directed to Pamlico County. We set up our Base of Operations (BoO) in an assembly hall adjacent to a Church. This was a block away from the county courthouse that they were using as an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and meeting hall for the various agencies that were to be involved with the response.
Upon arrival the task force members began setting up the BoO. This consisted of such things as: arranging a sleeping area; removing equipment from the trucks to be set up for deployment; wiring generators into the buildings electrical system in anticipation of the power outage to come; and other tasks too numerous to mention.
While this was going on the Task Force Leaders and Managers went to a meeting at the EOC. The meeting was very well run. The Sheriff and local Fire Chiefs and their assistants had already begun. Each one gave a briefing on the status of everyone in their area as well as the expected flooding conditions and how they would affect the roads, dwellings and fire stations. After they were done members of the National Guard and NY-TF1 presented their capabilities.
From this meeting they were able to develop an initial plan of action, for after the storm hit, and set up teams
The initial teams were to consist of: a couple local Sheriffs (in some cases other local Law Enforcement); two National Guardsmen with a high axle vehicle; and a water rescue team from NY-TF1 with water rescue gear, a boat and vehicles (vehicles depended on the anticipated level of flooding in a given area).
After the storm hit initial operations consisted of rescues and evacuations with the EOC providing assignments for the teams. Eventually as this work slowed down the assignment changed to getting eyes on every dwelling in the Area of Operations (AoO), further searching any damaged structures, and evacuating people as necessary.
Every structure along with its condition and any people encountered was recorded with GPS and later downloaded to a geographic information system for use at the EOC. In conjunction with the search operations roads that were found to be impassable due to downed trees were opened with chain saws and heavy rigging equipment.
After these operations were completed the task force was moved to another AoO where similar operations were conducted.
Be proactive. This is especially true when working with assets that are not yours. Those responsible for dealing with this incident were proactive from the very start. Teams were activated before the storm hit and were able to be put in place before it made landfall. Granted in this case the disaster was a hurricane and came with previous warning which is not available for most incidents.
Another example of their thinking ahead was to put in place heavy rescue teams even though no collapses had yet occurred. If a collapse had occurred it would have been very difficult and time consuming to get an appropriately equipped team into place after a hurricane had hit. Envision what assets you may need and get them moving. Many assets can take days or more to get into place.
Know your situation and capabilities. Outside assistance is not going to have the insight into your unique situation that you do. It is up to you to provide intelligence to and assignments for outside assets that are assigned to you. From the perspective of someone responding with NY-TF1 the task force works for the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). If the AHJ has not developed a good operational picture of the situation and a plan to deal with it, it will not matter the quantity and quality of the resources provided if they cannot be brought to bear on the problem at hand.
Knowing your capabilities also means knowing the capabilities you lack. This will tell you what outside resources you need. I have been deployed outside the Country and worked for an AHJ that did not have a good handle on their situation and have seen the detrimental effect that this can have towards recovery efforts.
Be open minded and learn to utilize the resources available. Also knowing your capabilities means knowing the capabilities of the outside assets you are working with. In the case of Hurricane Florence, the AHJ’s had to learn the capabilities of some of the assets as they arrived. In industry this familiarity with resources likely available to you should be established with pre-planning and if possible enhanced through joint training when possible.
In the operations conducted during Hurricane Florence, joint teams were set up to take advantage of their capabilities. The National Guard supplied high axle vehicles and personnel to operate them to transport the other teammates into flooded areas and to evacuate civilians. The Sheriffs provided local area knowledge and if needed force protection.
In addition being from the area they were better able to convince some of the local residents of the need to evacuate. In other areas instead of local law enforcement we operated with local fire personnel to provide us with insight into the local area. NY-TF1 was able to provide manpower, boats, additional vehicles, rescue equipment, and rescue expertise.
I considered the NY-TF1 deployment to Hurricane Florence to be a success. This can be attributed to the proactive response, the knowledge and pre-planning of the AHJ’s and their ability to utilize the resources provided to them.
James Kiesling is the Captain of Squad 1 of the FDNY Special Operations Command. He holds as AOS in fire protection technology from Corning Community College and a BA in fire and emergency services from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.