Hurricane Isaac is a powerful validation of the public safety community’s focus on preparing viable plans for back-up operations in the event of natural disasters and broad national threats.What drives us to prepare for the worst? Quite simply, it is grounded in watching and helping agencies bring 9-1-1 services back up in the aftermath of September 11, Katrina and other catastrophic events. It became clear that there was a better way to ensure 9-1-1 emergency services were protected and continued to be provided, even in the midst of a devastating, unplanned event. A closer look showed that many of our public safety agencies in this country either don’t have a disaster recovery plan, or need to update their plan and re-think how they ensure operational continuity for 9-1-1.
Natural disasters are what generally come to mind when plotting a large-scale emergency response strategy. Most municipalities have developed emergency management plans to deal with riots, floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and viral epidemics. In the midst of a crisis, no matter what form it takes, the citizens of our country expect their calls to be answered when they dial 9-1-1. Comprehensive operational-continuity planning must be a top priority for 9-1-1 decision makers today and all options need to be on the table. When lives are at stake, we cannot wait until after a crisis to say, “I hadn’t considered that.”
A Good Plan Gone Bad
In recent years, there is growing evidence of the need for more comprehensive operational-continuity planning and alternative means of delivering 9-1-1 services during a crisis. Many lessons have been learned from events such as September 11, Hurricane Katrina and the Joplin, Missouri tornado, all of which severely crippled the local emergency communications networks. In addition, agencies must plan for large public gatherings, including national sporting or political events, as well as the possibility of unforeseen operational issues caused by gas leaks, lightening strikes or flood damage. Even training exercises or the need for facility upgrades can impact PSAP operations.
For these scenarios, many PSAPs have developed back-up plans that would keep their emergency communications running in most situations, but these plans may have gaps that could render a good plan ineffective. Choosing the best form of back-up for 9-1-1 operations is a critical decision. It can be difficult to predict if an agency requires a full brick-and-mortar facility or a more robust and future-proof solution.
The Right Plan
Creating a foolproof 9-1-1 operational continuity plan would be much easier if a single strategy could be developed, tested and implemented for every crisis faced by emergency services jurisdictions throughout the country. The fact is that every PSAP is unique and no two disasters are the same. There are many options for maintaining 9-1-1 operational continuity, ranging from a detailed call-transfer plan to a brick-and-mortar back-up facility to a mobile emergency response program. Our goal is to help every agency in the country design a robust and foolproof 9-1-1 operational continuity plan so that they can all say, “Ready, set …go!”