Ep 18: #10 Overall, what are the gaps in our preparedness? - "10 Questions from the Mayor" Series

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Episode 18 #10 Overall, what are the gaps in our preparedness?

10 Questions for the Mayor to ask the Police and Fire Chief Series

Question 10: "Overall, what are the gaps in our preparedness?"

Bill Godfrey:

Thank you for joining us and welcome back to the final instance of our podcast series that we've been doing, on 10 questions for the mayor or the city manager, county manager to ask their police and fire chiefs. Today we are going to be looking at kind of an overall summary, what are the gaps and our preparedness, what are the common problems we see? My name is Bill Godfrey, I'm one of the instructors with C3 Pathways, retired fire chief. Joining me today is Tom Billington, also a retired fire chief and one of the C3 instructors, Stephen Shaw, a Sergeant with Chapel Hill, North Carolina and one of our C3 instructors, Ron Otterbacher, retired division chief with the Orange County Sheriff's office and an instructor and Don Tuten with the Jacksonville Sheriff's office where he's the chief over Homeland Security and also one of our instructors.
Good afternoon guys, thank you for joining us for this final one. So Tom, I'm going to start off with you. What are the big gaps? Let's kind of work this down. You know, the first one that comes to my mind, is just the very basics of agencies that just are not really even working together on the ... you know, across the disciplines or across jurisdictions because it's more than just your jurisdiction. Let's start there and kind of work down.

Tom Billington:

Well, you're absolutely right. One of the big issues is, if you have individual fire departments, where you have a Sheriff's office and a separate police department. A lot of these organizations or separate animals’ company, a lot of these organizations have their own plans. They have their own silo, their own little box, and they're not communicating with each other, which is very dangerous. In addition to that, even if you have single agencies, you still need to involve your dispatch, emergency management, school board personnel. Everybody has to work together and come up with one plan that everybody agrees on and trains on

Bill Godfrey:

So Tom highlights, Don, the importance of the one plan. And of course everybody here all knows that we recommend that literally there is one plan. So you know, normally a police department's going to have its set up policies and procedures and a fire department is going to have its set of policies and procedures. We're saying that this is one case, where there should be a single policy and procedure that is literally the same piece of paper co-signed by the police chief and the fire chief and the EMS chief and whoever else needs to sign. Why is that so important?

Don Tuten:

You know, the main reason why that's so important is if leadership changes and that document has not been updated or is in transition to being updated, that an understanding is already been established on how things are going to work. The second biggest one is the leadership within these organizations. Your mayors, your city council people, your commissioners, basically you're showing them that you have a unified front of all emergency services, as well as your outlying private and public sector entities, your schools, your hospitals, that they have taken the initiative to come together, create a plan that is acceptable for all. We're not going to deviate from that plan and that we're all working together to solve the incident or the challenge within our community.

Bill Godfrey:

Steve, your agency, not nearly as large as Don's agency, so if you had an event, you got others coming, everybody in the world is coming and in some cases people, agencies that you may not know or work with. What kind of issues does that pose and how do we solve that?

Stephen Shaw:

Well, one of the biggest issues is obviously going to be communication. One of the ways that we kind of tackle that in our area, is when we updated our radio several years ago, we made sure to get a radio that was on the same system as pretty much every other law enforcement or first responder agency, basically within driving distance. And so what that does is even though everybody's on separate channels, we can all at least monitor our own channels and our dispatch center can monitor everybody's channels and we can at least communicate that way. Another issue is going to be with self-deploying officers and things like that. How are you going to keep accountability of those resources that come in? And so, what we discussed is basically just having a way to ... instead of having them come and just go somewhere, you use them for something like a perimeter.
They're not going to be on our channel, they're not going to be familiar with their way around town. They're not going to be familiar with our buildings, but we can still use that person for a perimeter or go on a rescue task force, something like that. So we always have to think about how are we going to use these people. And then, I mean again, the biggest issue is just going to be communication. We talk a lot about policy, but really they just need to understand that we have our own systems in place, our own practices, and we try to reiterate that to everybody that's going to be coming and helping. And then when we have exercises, we try to invite everybody. Anybody who's around, we try to invite everybody, Hey, come on. Even though you're a a county over or a couple of cities over, come to our area, participate in this exercise so that we can kind of see what everybody's doing and make sure that everybody's on the same page.

Bill Godfrey:

Yeah, making sure everybody gets invited to training together and exercising together is a key element. Ron, talk to me a little bit about the challenges with, you know, the fire service has been using ICS (Incident Command System) for a long time and in many ways has got a pretty rigid reliance on ICS (Incident Command System). Whereas law enforcement, in some cases like in Don's case, their agency embraced it years ago and has done a lot of work, but there's other law enforcement agencies that don't use it at all or use it a very little. How much does that play a role here in trying to let us all inter-operate and work together?

Ron Otterbacher:

It plays a huge role and the reason for that is as we teach across country, we see that some agencies don't necessarily embrace ICS (Incident Command System). Others do it, like Jacksonville does a great job of it. There's agencies all throughout the country that do a great job with it, but having that understanding of how to operate next to each other, and again, you may be co-located, but we don't want you to be co-located with your own silo next to each other, we want you to be able to work together. We often talk about unified command, although unified command in a lot of examples is not necessarily unified, it's co-located command that has no focus, that's the single focus and that's probably the biggest thing we see is when we talk about unified command or working together as a command structure, you've got to understand what's going on. You've got to communicate.

Bill Godfrey:

It's interesting you mentioned that. I mean, you and I and Tom were or are old enough and we were on the job when unified command kind of was added to ICS (Incident Command System) and invented, if you will. And back then it had a very specific meaning of, you know, when more than one agency had a legal authority to be in charge of, of an incident and somewhere on the streets over the last, I don't know, 10 plus years, it seems to have come to mean that the law enforcement guy runs a law enforcement show. The fire guy runs a fire show, the EMS guy runs the EMS show, they stand next to each other and somehow magically they share information and that that's going to make everything okay. And, and we always, you know, we, we talk about that in class and we demonstrate on a regular basis why that's an ineffective way to do it. Unified commands got great value, but you've got to use it as the tool that it was intended to be and still speak with one voice. How big of an issue do you think is and you know how many people have that misunderstanding and you think it's that common and big issue?

Ron Otterbacher:

I think it's getting better, but yes, I think it's a common issue and it's not just within the public safety sector, it's other partners that we deal with that just they've got the belief that if an incident happened at their location, they would be running the incident and everyone else would be just kind of assisting them when in fact that's not going to be the case. The understanding of what goes on is critical.

Bill Godfrey:

So Tom, I'm going to bounce over to you. You've spent a lot of years as an emergency manager in wearing dual hats as the fire chief and the emergency manager. A lot of experience with natural disasters as well as some manmade ones. How do you make sure that your policies and procedures are de conflicted with your mutual aid partners? How do you, okay, great. So you got the fire department, you got your fire chief, you've got your police chief in your city who is on the same page. And they've signed off on a joint policy. Now how do we make sure that and what's the process for making sure that we work with the mutual aid agencies to de-conflict those policies and make sure that we're, if we're not all on exactly the same page, that we're on a close enough page that we can inter-operate together.

Tom Billington:

Well, Bill, that's an excellent question. Actually in my organization about 15 years ago, we were involved in just that issue. It took a lot of work, but we were able to get eight separate jurisdictions from different counties in different towns to all agree on a mutual aid plan or an automatic and mutually plan that talks about what each agency does when they come into your area, what medical protocols they use or don't use, what the indemnification is. It took a lot of work getting everybody in the same room, but in the end it really worked really good. It clears up any misinterpretation on the various policies. And of course that comes with meeting with people, talking to them together. And it really, it was successful. We were very proud of it.

Bill Godfrey:

What role in your mind, Tom, can the county managers, city managers, mayors potentially play, what in a helpful way, what role can they be? How can they be advocates when the inevitable politics rears its head and you're having trouble getting agency A to work with agency B or a, you know, get everybody on the same page. What, how can the city manager, the County manager, the mayor help their police chief and their fire chief get this done.

Tom Billington:

Actually the same way we talked about emergency responders doing it. They need to be connected to the mayor or city manager or County manager of the County next to them. They need to be involved in tri-county committees, knowing each other, working with each other. I know that in my county we had a really good relationship with the several towns and cities that were within our area. We had the local emergency planning council, which had all these key players, the County managers, mayors represented on them. And so just keeping your feet on the ground and then working with these various other organizations rather, elected officials and mayors and county administrators. It's just the way to go.

Bill Godfrey:

Okay. So to wrap us up here, I'm going to come around to each of you and say what's your number one thing that you think that you see with your experience as an instructor, your experience in the field. What's the number one issue that you would identify that is a common gap. And I'll start off cause it makes it easier on me cause I don't want you guys to repeat. I'll start off, the one that I see that strikes me the most is this misconception that managing an active shooter event is all about what happens down range in the hot zone and the warm zone and while that obviously is a key critical piece, there is so much more to it that if you don't manage is still going to send your incident sideways and slowdown that clock and delay the time that it takes to get the injured people out and to a hospital. And so my big one is this, that managing one of these events takes a whole lot more than just being focused on the downrange hot zone and warm zone. Don coming to you.

Don Tuten:

For me personally, I think we fail to include our city leaders in our plans and informing them what our plans are working in unity with all of our partners and by doing that it raises questions. So when an event does happen, unfortunately it may raise some questions where there's uncertain or somebody's not sure with something. So I think we need to educate, inform and train with, for lack of better terms, our city leaders, our city managers, so they understand that what is going to happen in that critical event is agreed upon by all as well as informs them on kind of the roles of each one of the agencies.

Bill Godfrey:

Tom, how about you?

Tom Billington:

My big one is boxes. Everybody has their little box, they stay in and they're not getting out of the box and meeting their counterparts or the people in the next county or the next organization and that is so harmful and I've seen it before where you're on an incident in a command post with two agency personnel and you don't even know their name or they don't know your name, there's no excuse for that. We have to get out of our boxes, meet, talk, work together, train together and know each other and a first name basis.

Bill Godfrey:

Steve.

Stephen Shaw:

Well, from an instructor perspective, one of the things that always worries me and the kind of a term that makes me cringe as an instructor is full scale exercise. And the reason I say that is because full-scale exercises have a very valuable place when it comes to active shooter training, a critical incident preparedness. But where I see a big gap is we have these full scale exercises and then there's no follow-up to the things that we learned from the weaknesses that we displayed or the strengths that we displayed during that exercise. And a lot of that comes from, especially in my area, there's not a lot of big agencies like where Don works. It's all smaller agencies. And to commit the manpower, the resources and the time to run one of these events and then follow it up with several training scenarios after that really leaves us a lot of gaps. We identify these areas that we need to improve, but then we don't follow up with the proper training or policy implementations that we need to cover those gaps in the future.

Bill Godfrey:

Ron, over to you for the final word.

Ron Otterbacher:

I think unification of response plans is an important direction for us to go. I think that we, even within a city, usually a fire department has a different response plan than the police department does. If you go beyond your city or your county, then you've got six or seven different response plans and we need to figure out how to unify those response plans. So if I've got an officer responding from two counties over, because it's that big a scene, they all know this is the same response plan we've gotten no matter where you go in that area, in that region, in that state, if it has to be, but it doesn't look like these situations are letting up. So we've got to do better at managing these situations and the only way you can do that is by developing plans that everyone understands, everyone abides by. And that's how we all operate.

Bill Godfrey:

Well-put. Gentlemen, I can't thank you enough for your participation in this final podcast of the series, and I want to say a special thanks to all of the instructors that have participated in all 10 of these particular podcasts on this very, very important topic and thank you to the listeners for taking the time to go through this. Look forward to seeing you in our next podcast.

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