How would Canadian emergency services hold up when confronted with a large scale disaster similar to New Orleans or New Jersey?
I find it difficult to blame any level of government for its reaction to large scale incidents. The complete destruction of a city is beyond the realm of comprehension. One thing is certain; dealing with a catastrophe requires strong leaders who take control and reassure the public.
Over the years many jurisdictions have put plans into place to ensure appropriate responses to disasters but few have practiced them because of budget constraints. I was fortunate enough many years ago to be asked to sit in on an emergency management response exercise. It taught me a great deal about the differences in how cops and politicians think about emergency response.
The scenario exercise was a nuclear power plant explosion just outside the city. The incident was set to occur at 6:15 am, which magically coincided with the beginning of the day shift for just about every municipal service in the city. It was obvious at the outset there was going to be no test of the emergency call-back list or how fast personnel could be marshaled in sufficient numbers to respond. This was clearly a "paper exercise" and not a realistic simulation.
As the traffic training officer for the east end of the city I was asked to look over the road maps and give suggestions. My eyes were drawn to a couple of small blue stars at the intersection of two six lane highways. I asked what they represented and was told they were two police cars and four officers. Their duties were to block and redirect east and north bound traffic. The next police function was to block off other roadways, eventually converting both highways to one-way roads westbound and southbound away from the disaster zone.
The municipal department heads, as directed by the mayor's office, had drawn up the plans, I was told. They were probably good in theory and the book containing them was at least three inches thick. It made for a formidable piece of literature and clearly a great deal of effort had been put into developing it. Standing on a shelf it would make an imposing impression. Implementation, however, was theoretical and failed to consider many realities of human nature.
Asked for my opinion, I responded in my usual apolitical but cynical fashion, noting that much more work had to be put into the strategy. When pressed, I advised that the two blue stars would not fulfill their mandate since the officers, in all probability, would be leading the parade out of town, with the advantage of lights and sirens to clear their way to hearth and home.
Human nature being as it is, they would not likely find four dedicated officers willing to expose themselves to high levels of radiation. In the true sense of Sir Robert Peel's Seventh Principle, the police would become the public and in all likelihood, willingly join in on the panic and chaos. If the basis of the plan were the two blue stars, they might as well remove them now and figure out what to do next, I suggested.
In colossal disaster situations almost every first responder will be thinking of their families. If plans are designed to protect the community the organizers thought processes must consider who will stick around to deliver the help and expertise required.
I was recently introduced to a 77 page US Department of Homeland Security booklet entitled
Now here is a plan that just might save lives and free up EMS personnel to do what they are truly trained to do.
Anyone interested in this booklet can obtain it at the Blue Line Knowledge Portal (www.blueline.ca) or www.ready.gov . A further Canadian connection can be found at www.crhnet.ca .