NSC: Speakers Stress Planning and Training for Emergency Management

On Monday, Sept. 13, the only full day of the National Safety Congress and Expo in New Orleans, several sessions were conducted related to incident and emergency management.

The first, the "National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Safety Professional," examined the National Response Plan and NIMS and how they related to incidents of national significance…such as a Category 4 or 5 hurricane named Ivan bearing down on the Gulf Coast of the country.

The second, "Key Components of a Mass Casualty Drill," discussed an exercise that took place in Milwaukee, Wisc., that simulated a mass exposure to biological hazards during a sporting event at Miller Field.

Michael de Bettencourt, CSP, of URS Corp. in Denver, noted during his discussion of NIMS that an emergency management program needs several elements:

  • Awareness of the risks
  • Prevention via law enforcement or intelligence information for terrorist acts, national weather advisories for events such as hurricanes, etc.
  • Preparedness for events through training, contingency plans and exercises
  • Recovery plans so that essential systems can be up and running as soon as possible and backup plans for operating in case of devastating damage or loss.
  • Infrastructure elements in place, such as a command center to direct rescue and recovery operations from one location
  • An assessment process to determine what worked and what didn't work.

The NRP and NIMS were created to handle incidents of national significance, said de Bettencourt, such as credible threats such as indications or acts of terrorism within the United States and major disasters, such as the hurricanes, tornadoes and floods that have ravaged the southern United States and Minnesota recently. He also said the plans were created to handle catastrophic incidents, which he described as "vague, but we know them when we see them," and unique situations, such as the recent political conventions and events such as the Super Bowl.

Such a "vague" event might be one like that described by Elizabeth Corneliuson, MS, RN, COHN-S, HEM. She helped coordinate a large-scale drill at Miller Field in Milwaukee that involved local and regional responders and resources, as well as national resources such as the FBI and Red Cross. One of their greatest lessons, said Corneliuson, was not to try to conduct training in the field. "There is a lot going on and people have to think on their feet. They can do that if they're already trained." She also noted that it's important to keep people making the decisions about response and rescue and recovery in an area away from the public information officer. "She was relaying information to the news media that she was overhearing. It was often incomplete or incorrect or not the message we wanted sent out."

Both de Bettencourt and Corneliuson stressed the importance of training and good communication throughout an event, neither of which was provided for my coworkers or me in the 24 hours that were to follow…

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