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Not in My Backyard: When Mass Casualty Hits Close to Home

Justin Eberly | Aug 2, 2018

Practicing better preparedness for life’s unthinkable events

Most people go to great lengths to avoid anything that might negatively affect their quality of life or the value of their property. When towns propose a new airport, prison, waste facility, or other nuisance near a residential area, their efforts are usually met with objections. While the necessity of these functions is understood, a universal preference exists: not in my backyard!

Preparedness is an inconvenience, but imperative in any emergency or disaster situation. Preparedness requires a “person to sacrifice immediate goals or gratifications for the sake of protecting themselves against abstract circumstances.[i]” The average person values their well-being; however, they don’t wake up every morning with a mass causality incident in the forefront of their minds.

Terrorism, mass violence and a variety of other threats continue to occur with greater frequency and severity. These tragic events are instantaneously broadcast with vivid detail of the devastation. As the communities and victims are described, thoughts and emotions drift closer to home. What if this were in my backyard?

No community, organization, family or individual is immune to complacency. It plagues communities, infects the walls of emergency services organizations and runs rampant in households on every block. In the wake of a catastrophe, an ESO spearheads community resiliency. ESOs possess a unique ability to model best practices and incite a genuine call for action before an event occurs.

A Call for Action

The Community
ESOs not only have a responsibility to respond to emergencies and disasters but also to prevent them throughout a community. According to the National Fire Protection Association, “community risk reduction involves identifying and prioritizing risks, selecting and implementing strategies, monitoring and evaluating activities, and involving community partners, all in an effort to better protect” an entire community.[ii] An ESO should consider implementing a community risk reduction program to engage and educate the public on all hazards, including mass causality incidents.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides a number of resources to help families to prepare for a disaster.[iii]

  • Know what disasters and hazards could affect your area
  • Understand how to get emergency alerts
  • Plan where you would go if you and your family need to evacuate

The Family
Responders take an oath to protect their communities and emergency services organizations. These duties are compounded by their familial obligations. Responders often live and work in the same community. As such, community risk reduction begins in a responder’s own backyard. Through a grassroots initiative led by ESOs, its personnel should be encouraged to model best practices within their own home.

The Emergency Service Organization
ESOs must have adequate plans in place and be able to effectively execute a plan when faced with a mass casualty incident. The reality is, most ESOs have not recently, if ever, analyzed their threats.

An ESO should:[iv]

  • Identify threats
  • Evaluate the level of exposure (potential probability/severity of a threat)
  • Determine the need for:
    • Equipment
    • Training
    • Planning

Almost every emergency vehicle carries a multi-colored triage system. ESOs frequently train to triage, treat and transport in response to a mass casualty incident. Countless pre-plans exist for the target hazards with dense populations. When ESOs are not immune to a mass casualty incident victimizing their personnel, how many are adequately prepared? VFIS provides a number of resources to assist your ESO with disaster planning and business continuity.

The Responder
Responders are called to respond to terrible situations every day. Any disaster can be overwhelming, but a mass casualty incident close to home can be even more devastating to a responder’s mental health. When responders do not address their own mental health, they can fall victim to a number of serious and life-threatening health concerns. Responders are at risk for chronic stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, depression or even suicide.

ESOs should open up a dialog to break the stigma surrounding mental health of emergency services personnel. An ESO should consider implementing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or providing information on other available resources.

Conclusion
A mass casualty incident has the potential to happen anywhere, even in your own backyard. It is necessary to become aware of the threats facing your community, station, household and even your own well-being. The hassle of preparedness before a mass causality incident comes to be meaningful in the moments during and after the incident. Motivate yourself and those around you to properly prepare for a mass casualty incident or its ancillary effects.

Visit VFIS.com and our Safety Central page to learn more.

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