Monday, January 24, 2011

Interagency Responses to Emergencies

A reader recently shared their experience working as a park ranger responding to a multi-agency search for a drowning victim.  Although this story may sound outrageous to some, it is often seen in areas where numerous agencies share jurisdiction, are understaffed, and strong personalities are involved.

Well, I must say, I witnessed some interesting stuff this evening. Got off at 5 and headed down to the ………….park to assist in a search for a drowning victim. Yeah, it wasn't pretty. I like to think we work together as a team, but from what a friend of mine experienced before I got there was total opposite. Let's just say they had it covered we'll let you know what we find when we find it. State official saying this to a federal ranger. I just controlled the crowd and assisted the victims family.

Thanks for sharing your experience. During my career there were times where a conflict between agencies when responding to emergencies would arise. Nothing was worse than a dispute about authority or responsibility on the scene when a life may be on the line.

The focus should always be on the well being and fate of the victim. At times it is better to back down to others and get the mission accomplished and later work out conflicts and protocols.

I have found that such situations often result in ineffective and wasted efforts by responders at times impeding the accomplishment of the mission and increasing the stress and cost placed on individual agencies.  If there were hard feelings and questions as to the efficiency of the operation, agency leaders should take steps to prevent such conflicts in the future. 

Several tools can be used to prevent such situations.

Advance planning

Application and participation in the Incident Command System

Joint training

Offering assistance to other agencies with their emergencies

Offering  or planning to make use of these tools following a debriefing on an incident will go a long way toward establishing interagency cooperation and your own individual and agency credibility.

Responsibility for an emergency is something that cannot be passed on to other agencies if you have jurisdiction where it is occurring.  If an on scene agency is making a muck of the operations, you need to be able to diplomatically if not forcefully interject yourself to keep the mission on track.

In the incident above I do commend the writer for not getting his nose out of joint and stepping in to control the crowd and deal with the victim’s family.  These are two important jobs that often get overlooked in the heat of the moment during many emergencies.

In conclusion I recommend the following:

Training and certification in the Incident Command System

Formal Interagency Agreements to adhere to the Incident Command System including what is termed “Unified Command” between agencies.

For those unfamiliar with the Incident Command System, There are many websites that explain the concepts and structure.  Just Google ICS for more information. 

A group of exhausted searchers after a successful all night operation on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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