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EMS Disaster Preparedness

Are You Ready?

John M. Scorsine, M.A., J.D., NR-P

In the past few days, our Country has gone from looking at the events in Wuhan with dismay and an “it can't happen here”  attitude; to the President asserting he is a Wartime President against an invisible foe – the Corona Virus (SARS-CoV-2).  During the early days of our response in the United States, we have had responders exposed to positive patients and those early protocols required that the responders enter into quarantine.  In one case, 29 first responders were placed into quarantine after exposure to the virus at a nursing home in Kirkland, WA.  (With such procedures, one has to wonder whether you will run out of responders or patients first.)

We look at those 29 responders and might say, “Oh well, they got ‘slimed', they should have been more careful”.  We are comfortable in the delusion that it will not happen to me or my crew.  But, what if it did?  Are you ready? Are you prepared?

We are about to embark on a different type of EMS, Fire and Law Enforcement mission.  No longer will the threat be confined to a particular time or place.  Unlike running to a traditional MCI with set bounds and really a finite time for response, these next few weeks will bring us the prospect of 24/7 operations on an individual basis.  There will be no STARTEX or ENDEX.  Operations, if the current trajectories and projections are accurate, will be more akin to working in Thailand after the Tsunami, Haiti after the Earthquake, or on a battlefield.  There will be no time for that panicked call from the partner at home about the toilet backing up; you likely are not going to be able to swing by the house and handle some emergency?  What happens when you get an exposure and are ordered into quarantine?  Is your family ready?  No family.  Then who cares for your black lab waiting for your return?  Or, if you are a single parent, who cares for your children? Are your loved ones prepared?

Just as we check our rigs; inventory our supplies; and, review our policies and protocols at the start of shift; its time to prepare our affairs and our families for our response.  As first responders, we are notorious for taking care of others while our own affairs fall into disrepair.  Many of the considerations outlined below are things we should be doing all the time – now, they have suddenly become very real.  

Here are a few things that you may want to consider:

Individuals

  • Do you have on hand a supply of your medications that you would require over several days away from home?
  • Do you have a “family care plan”? If you are quarantined, hospitalized, injured, or worse who will: Care for your children; Your pets; Disabled or infirmed members of your household; or, Your spouse, partner or significant other?
  • If a non-parent would care for your children, do they have a legally sufficient document from you authorizing them to pick-up your children from school; take them to the doctor; etc.
  • If you are unable to manage your affairs, does someone have your power of attorney?
  • We train about dealing with the advance directives of our patients; but, do we have advance directives for ourselves? What about a durable medical power of attorney?
  • Do you have a valid Will?
  • Are you mentally prepared?

Your Household and Family

  • Does your spouse, partner, significant other know how to access bank accounts and pay the bills? How is your financial preparedness in an emergency?
  • Do you have a family disaster plan? Does it consider a lack of traditional communication?
  • Do you have a disaster or emergency supply kit in your home?
  • If you cannot be reached; who can your family contact for assistance?
  • You may be a paramedic; but does your family know first aid?
  • Do you have a cache of additional essential medications?
  • If your family must evacuate and there is no cell phone or internet available, where will you reunite?
  • Do you have pet supplies and pet food on hand?
  • Have you discussed with your significant other your wishes for medical care and end-of-life matters?
  • Does your significant other have advanced directives, powers of attorneys, a will?

Your Agency

This may come as a shock to some managers and directors, but your people cannot function in an emergency if they are worried about matters at home; or, about their “day job” if a volunteer.  Altruism and adrenaline only last so long; it often evaporates when loved ones are in jeopardy and our responder believes only they can save them.  Remember, especially in the case of the current health emergency, if your responder has an exposure to a pathogen – his or her family is at risk too.  The number one rule of leadership is, “Take care of your people first”.  Is your agency leading?

  • For agencies with volunteers, are your volunteers protected at their jobs from adverse actions when they respond? Do you and your volunteers know about leave and job protection afforded in Colorado?  R.S. 24-33.5-801 et. seq. (formerly C.R.S. 24-32-2225) and C.R.S. 31-30-1131.  Are you a qualified volunteer organization – if not, why not?  Have you worked with your volunteers' employers to have their leave policy provide leave with pay?
  • Do you have a way to keep families informed of their responder's situation – when its good and when that situation has changed? How do you care for the responder's family when fate has dealt the harshest blow?
  • If your responder is fully engaged on the mission and a crisis arises at home; how do you assure the responder the home crisis is under control? Can you send your maintenance personnel out to assist with the furnace that will not light and assess the need for a professional service to be called in? 
  • Does the family know how to reach your agency? If families must evacuate their homes, will you provide a shelter location and operate it?
  • You ensured that your responder is up on vaccinations and testing; what about the family?
  • If a single parent is forced to work extended hours in an emergency, are you able to assist with child care? The expense? The availability?

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This brief article is unable to elaborate on all the aspects of individual, family and agency preparedness.  But, there are resources and sites that can fill in the gaps and ensure that you are a Ready Responder.

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John Scorsine, Esq., has been a first responder for 45 years.  He currently serves with SW HWY 115 as a volunteer firefighter/paramedic and owns Kanthaka Group, a full-service law firm in Colorado Springs.  From 1994 to 2003, he was the disaster manager (POMSO) for the Wyoming National Guard.  From 2004 to 2012, John was both a civilian contractor and an Army reservist assigned to NORTHCOM, as an SME in Defense Support to Civilian Authorities and as a planner and responder on various contingency plans including the pandemic response.

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