Written by Todd Haines, Adjunct Professor for the Fire Science and Emergency Management Degree program with Kaplan University.
Each day around the world emergencies happen in every community. Most emergencies that happen will not make public headlines, but are nonetheless the most important call in someone's life.
From calming a caller and evaluating the type of emergency to securing the required information for emergency workers to respond to the proper location and communicating any tactical concerns, emergency telecommunicators' jobs encompass a wide range of skills that require extensive knowledge, preparation and education. These men and women are there to reassure that help is on the way no matter they type and severity of the emergency.
Last month and anually each September, National Preparedness Month reminds us how important it is for emergency communicators to spearhead efforts to encourage individuals, families, businesses and communities to work together and take action to prepare for emergencies. One of the most important things for emergency telecommunicators to do is to truly understand their jurisdiction and what critical infrastructure, symbolic targets, and other unique features exist and how the loss or disruption of those facilities or events will impact emergency responders and the community. Understanding community threats prior to an emergency is critical to not just the success of the response, but also the life safety of the occupants and emergency responders.
What type of information is important to be proactive against, for example, considering the effects of a terrorist attack or other man-made disaster from an emergency communicator's standpoint?
Location, Location, Location
Work with local, state and federal law enforcement to develop a list of critical infrastructures and symbolic targets that can be easily accessible to the communications center. Specific street addresses are usually not the primary interest to inflict harm but understanding the meaning behind the address is a key indicator for a terrorist. Examples may include:
- Water treatment facilities
- Power Grids
- Large fixed hazardous material locations
- Transportation - subway, rail, highway, airport, shipping ports
- Public and private large mass-gathering locations - outdoor venues, theaters, amusement parks
- Special Events and Festivals
- Global businesses
- Symbolic Targets - military facilities; religious facilities; local, state and federal government facilities; memorials; controversial businesses
Another critical item for emergency communicators is understanding the type and capability of resources that are available within the community. These resources may be through emergency service organizations, public works and also private contractors or companies that have specialty equipment that responders may need during a crisis.
An action where an emergency telecommunicator can be proactive in homeland security is monitoring and tracking reports of suspicious persons, packages and fire/security system alarms to a critical infrastructure facility or symbolic target. For example, if emergency responders respond to a critical facility frequently in a short period of time it may be important to consider a modified response route and changing the staging location to another pre-determined location. Observing how resources respond can be a part of the planning process for a terrorist attack or choosing secondary device locations for emergency responders. Emergency communicators can be the consistent means for first responders by knowing the frequency and history of calls to a specified location and suggest modified response considerations.
Emergency telecommunicators play a critical part in the pre-incident planning process. Through their knowledge, they can give responders exact locations of venues, resources allocation, type of calls and response history, emergency contact information and access to mutual aid automatic aid partners. Emergency telecommunicators are truly the behind the scene heroes in today's ever changing threats to our communities. We need to ensure that throughout the year communities are proactive in tapping into emergency communicators and the essential role they play in preparedness and a well-orchestrated emergency response.