Resources: Training Citizens for Disasters

One of the many hats an Emergency Manager must now wear is that of a trainer.  Communities need training and familiarity with procedures that work in every day life as well as disasters.  For years, we have had pretty much the same scenario of an incident; first response, triage, on-scene stabilization and transportation of casualties to the appropriate level of care.  So a question may be “What additional steps can be taken by Emergency Managers to prepare the community for the real thing?  One answer to that question is Community Familiarity Training.

In any disaster members of the affected community will ask what can I do and where do I need to go? The Emergency Manager can make a real impact in exercises and actual emergencies by putting all the elements of the Community Emergency Management Plan (EMP) into effect.  The bottom line is the more familiar the community is with the “Where to” questions the less ad hoc and “on-the-fly” arrangements need to occur and the smoother the disaster exercise will go.  In the real event, communities which practiced the procedures outlined in the EMP will benefit from the exercises and will have better outcomes.  The following is a brief description of some of the questions that can be practiced during exercises.

  1. Where do I go in a disaster to give blood? Why not coordinate a blood drive with the American Red Cross for each and every disaster exercise?  As a part of each exercise planning meeting, bring in the Red Cross folks to coordinate a number of blood donor centers throughout the community.  In most cases, the community knows where the every day blood collection centers are located, but haven’t associated these collection centers with actual disasters.  It is amazing how many blood collection opportunities are lost because local disaster exercises did not include a blood drive.  It’s not only the community which will benefit from exercise blood donor centers.  The Red Cross can exercise their blood processing and transportation plans as a part of the community exercise.  We all know that America’s blood supply can be extremely lean at times, resulting in special Red Cross media requests for donors of specific blood types.  Ultimately, local, regional and National exercises could result in a cross leveling of the American blood supply.  The local Red Cross director or the Red Cross Biomedical Services unit may also be able to assist Emergency Managers in the identification and ordering of blood products and tissue from the nearest blood products and tissue banks or centers. These types of products will be in demand during London or Madrid type bombing events or in treating survivors of a nuclear detonation.
  2. Where do I go to receive food, water and other emergency supplies? Here is another opportunity to make routine operations the Emergency Manager’s friend.  If the Emergency Management Agency intends to set up food and water dispensing locations in the parking lots of large retail stores and or in supermarket parking lots, set up mini-dispensing sites there during exercises.  The folks will begin to equate an exercise with the dispensing areas and it will become a part of the community’s consciousness.
  3. Where do I go to drop off donations of food, clothes, toys etc.   Donations are a common headache to Emergency Mangers since all manner of products pour into disaster relief centers making the job of sorting, accounting and distribution more difficult that it needs to be.  In this case consider linking the gift commodities groups to the recycling program.  We are all trained to know what products (glass, plastics and paper etc.) to place out during set recycling days.  If during exercises, donation centers are set up at well known locations, the public will begin to understand where the food centers, clothing centers etc. are and will begin associating locations with commodities.
  4. Where are evacuation shelters? And which shelter is right for me? Public service announcements are a great way to get information out during community or statewide exercises.  In the PSA, consider specifying the types of services that will be provided and the personal items evacuees need to bring with them.  Establishing Special Needs shelters will need to be established along with supplies, equipment and services for persons with disabilities and other segments of each community including the elderly.  We all know that information is plentiful regarding personal preparedness steps all citizens should be taking and individual preparedness sets for use during evacuations.  Still actual experience during the 2005 hurricane season illustrated the need for community special needs sets and assemblages for use during disaster evacuations.   We will be submitting to “Big Medicine,” a special article on suggestions for developing formularies, service requirements and special equipment sets along with suggestions on how to maintain the items in storage and transport them to the Special Needs Shelters in the very near future.

(c) JVR Health Readiness, Inc. 2008

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