Thursday, May 21, 2015

Emergency Services in a Disaster

Most of us have been taught to look to the police, firefighters, and hospital staff in our area for help during and after an emergency. While this may work for small, localized emergencies, the system has been known to fail when the damage and destruction gets beyond a certain point. History shows that the larger the disaster and the higher up the food chain the government response comes from, the more likely it is that the response will become less helpful and possibly even become a continuation of the problems.

In a true WROL situation, abandoned emergency vehicles would likely contain supplies of useful items for surviving. Salvage is not the same as looting, but that's a topic for another day.

The following is not an indictment of any Law Enforcement (LE) agency or other emergency responders. I'm not a cop-hater, I recognize that they are human and just as prone to making errors as anyone else. Angels and assholes exist in every job, and no job is filled with just one or the other. They're not all heroes, nor are they all monsters.

Law Enforcement
LE has resources like communications and information that maybe helpful in times of trouble. Since they are usually the first to respond to any emergency, they may (or may not) know more about what's going on than you do, but they generally have the ability to get more information than you can. Knowing things like which evacuation routes are still open, which direction the forest fire is moving, or how widespread a disaster actually is can have bearing on your plans. Research police scanners for your area to see if one will work as a source of information (many departments use channel-hopping radios that a scanner can't follow). A scanner and a large map can help you find the boundaries of a situation without having to travel.

The most likely to have someone you may know and have contact with. Most small to medium towns and cities employ residents as police, so they're more likely to be approachable. Networks of friends and relatives make it easier to find a point of commonality with a city policeman, which can help ease communications.

This still has a good chance that you may know people in common, but it covers a lot more area. County Sheriffs and Deputies will know more about the local roads and bridges than any other level of LE, because they travel them more often. 

The last level of LE that I consider trustworthy. Directed by the governor or his appointee, they should at least consider the people of their home state as people. State police will have better communications gear and access to information covering a broader area. 

FBI/ATF/DEA and all other alphabet agencies. Trust them at your own discretion. Coming from outside your area (generally after the fires have stopped burning) they will likely not care about the same things you do. Their job is to restore the political processes and find someone to blame. People tend to be treated as statistics at this level of government, not individuals.

LE shipped in from areas outside the disaster do not have a history of being helpful to individuals. The abuses during the response to hurricane Katrina actually spurred the passage of laws in many states to ensure that residents of a disaster-struck area maintained their rights. If martial law is declared, all bets are off and the normal rules of law don't apply.

Firefighter/Rescue Crews
These are the folks who will be there to pull your fat out of the fire immediately following a disaster. If you don't need their services (because you were prepared), leave them alone so they can do their best to thwart the Darwin Award nominees. If you have the training and resources, many of them will appreciate you helping them in their work.

Volunteer and small town firefighters are local people who choose to help other local people. Their access to information may be limited, but they are usually tied into some form of emergency communications network. Training varies widely from one department to another, but they should all know basic first aid and how to use the tools on their trucks.

Ski Patrols, Fire Jumpers, and other specialists are trained for very specific rescue missions. If you see these rescue units working, leave them to their jobs. If you need one of these specialists you wouldn't want them delayed, and their information is going to be specific to the mission of the moment. They will have a fairly broad knowledge of survival techniques if you can catch them off duty and talk to them. 

Once a city gets to the point of needing more than one fire station, they tend to start paying their firefighters. Politicians and unions tend to infect the fire departments in direct relation to the size of the force, reducing the efficiency and morale as they feed at the public-money trough. Training and equipment is usually a notch above volunteer units because of the larger tax base. 

National Guard
When the SHTF in a big way, the Governors of the states have the ability to call out the National Guard to aid in the rescue/recovery operations. Being somewhat local, they fall into the same category of trust as State Police above. Having access to helicopters, heavy equipment, and lots of workers comes in handy for a variety of emergencies. Individuals may not have much information, but they probably came from another area and will know how things are outside your location.

Medical personnel have extensive training and may have access to supplies that you don't. Communications in a disaster tend to break down due to the high number of patients, but most of them will do their best to treat everything they can. Look up the word “Triage” for an educational glimpse into how they are trained to deal with too many patients.

EMT/Paramedics The first responders whose job it is to pick up broken people and get them to a place where they have a chance of being fixed. There are national standards for the different levels of first responders, so they all have to meet a minimum level of competence. Training is good for their job; supplies available vary by jurisdiction and level of training. 

Usually an outpost of a larger hospital or specialized for a specific field, staff and supplies will be limited. Normally having only a few actual doctors, most of the staff will be nurses of one variation or another (CNA, LPN, RN, NP, PA). Easily overwhelmed in an emergency due to their limited staff, but still a good place to get to know people because they tend to live close to the clinics. Supplies will run out fast. 

Many hospitals have found it more profitable to specialize (Spine Center, Sports Medicine, Cancer Research, etc.), but they will all have the same basic facilities; emergency room, treatment rooms, surgical rooms, recovery rooms,etc. Most hospitals have their own pharmacy, but they are stocked (like everything else in the US) using a Just-In-Time inventory system. Without resupply, they'll start to experience shortages within 24 hours

Once the federal government gets involved, the level of care and communications degrades. The CDC may have some of the best labs in the world, but they are controlled by politicians, which means people are treated as statistics at the national level. The only advantage I can find in getting a federal response to a medical crisis is their ability to bring in supplies and people from unaffected areas, quickly.

Knowing some of your local emergency services people should be part of any preparations that don't include leaving the area. If you're bugging in, or your bug out location is fairly close to home, it's only sensible to make contacts with the people who can help during an emergency. Remember that OPSEC rules apply, so don't be a source of information for them.

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