This critical incident manual contains information that will be valuable for all emergency or public service agencies in State of Alaska, such as police, fire, emergency medical teams, and others tasked with first response to natural and manmade disasters. The manual contains the relevant components of operations, planning, administration, and logistics with a view to providing first respondents with the general information they need for rapid activation and deployment.
The Importance of Contingency Planning
Every disaster is unique, of course, but there are some steps emergency first responders can take to ensure their own safety while maximizing the effectiveness of their response. In this regard, Katoch (2006) emphasizes that, "Although disaster response is inherently chaotic, tried and tested international tools and procedures do exist to assist a disaster-affected government and its people to handle the situation" (p. 153). Because of the enormous geographic size of the State of Alaska, it is vitally important for all emergency or public service agencies responsible for emergency first responses to implement a command response structure that provides guidelines that can be followed as the situation demands. Indeed, despite the efforts on the part of the federal and state governments in recent years, delivering assistance to remote areas of Alaska may require a significant amount of time. As the U.S. Department Homeland Security points out, "Planning for emergencies ensures that emergency services, local authorities, and other organizations better communicate and coordinate efforts, improving disaster response and post-disaster recovery" (Alaska emergency planning, 2013, para. 1). Irrespective of the source and type of the disaster, the primary goal for emergency first responders remains the same: "Federal, state, and local requirements are concerned with providing safety and security for the public under threat of a full spectrum of potential disasters" (Alaska emergency planning, 2013, para. 2). Therefore, identifying the specific personnel and positions for each function becomes a critical first step, and these issues are discussed further below.
Identification of Specific Personnel and Positions for Each Function
The State of Alaska is huge, of course -- bigger than many countries -- and this means that local community leaders need to assume responsibility today for identifying specific personnel or positions for each emergency response function. This point is made by the Alaska Division of Homeland Security that reports, "The successful management of a disaster begins at the local level. When a community is prepared to deal with a disaster the impact can be minimized and lives may be saved" (Small community emergency response plan, 2013). The flip chart depicted at Appendix A can be distributed to each responsible first responder to help coordinate emergency responses.
Besides identifying specific personnel or positions for each emergency response function, it is important to develop a community emergency plan that outlines how the community will manage disasters (Small community emergency response plan, 2013). Even though every community is different in some fashion, the essential elements of the community emergency plan should include local, regional, and state resources that support local response (Small community emergency response plan, 2013). Moreover, a wide range of financial incentives are available pursuant to the Patriot Act that make prior disaster planning possible, and per capita, Alaska receives the second highest amount of disaster planning (Wyoming is first) today (Sokolsky, 2004).
One of the most important sources of funding for Alaskan first responder needs has been the Department of Homeland Security's science and technology allocations for the following:
Establish a clearinghouse with the Technical Support Working Group to rapidly prototype homeland security technologies.
Accelerate the deployment of biological, chemical and radiological tools and technologies.
Work with federal, state, and local governments and organizations to develop standards for first responder technologies.
Anticipate emerging threats and protect critical infrastructure through science and engineering.
To facilitate the distribution and utilization of these funds, the Department of Homeland Security formed the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) which has been central in adapting these requirements to localized needs (Fein, 2003).
Despite this high level of funding and Homeland Security priorities, the scope of the disaster planning that is involved in the unique case of Alaska makes the assignment of individuals who will be the first to respond to anthropomorphic and natural disasters and what positions they will fill all the more important. With respect to the specific personnel or positions needed for each function, Latourrette, Peterson, Bartis, Jackson and Houser (2008) advise that, "The term emergency responders refers to those personnel within the community that deploy to emergency incidents" (p. 7). Emergency responder organizations and specialties include the following:
Law enforcement authorities;
Emergency medical personnel;
Hazardous materials responders;
Urban search and rescue (USAR) teams;
Special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams;
Bomb squads; and,
Emergency management personnel (Latourrette et al., 2008).
In some or even many cases, emergency responders will serve in more than one capacity or provide other specialty services (Latourrette et al., 2008). According to the State of Alaska Division of Homeland Security, "The Small Community Emergency Response Plan assumes that community leaders and residents understand their community better than anyone outside the community" (Small community emergency plan toolkit, 2013).
At a minimum, the community response plan should define the roles and responsibilities for different types of disasters before they occur (Small community emergency plan toolkit). According to the guidelines provided by the federal government, "The most critical decision is who will lead. Some communities may have their mayor or chief be an incident commander, while others may look to one of their first responders or someone who naturally takes charge" (Small community emergency plan toolkit, p. 3). The following specific roles and their respective responsibilities that small communities in Alaska have used most frequently in the past are set forth in Table 1 below:
Incident Command System (ICS) Roles and Responsibilities
Roles and Responsibilities
Incident Commander (IC)
Manages the people and resources to respond to the incident.
Coordinates with community and outside organizations involved in the incident.
Public Information Officer
Provides information to the public and media regarding the event in accordance with the IC.
Assures safety is issues are mitigated, announced and addressed.
Planning Section Chief
Gathers and analyses incident information; conducts Planning Meetings, and prepares Incident Action Plans (IAP).
Operations Section Chief
Responsible for incident tactical operations actions, personnel, resources, and staging areas.
Logistics Section Chief
Obtains requested incident facilities, services, and materials.
Admin Section Chief
Tracks costs and manages incident finances and personnel issues.
Develops plan to shelter in place or move individuals to a safe location.
Sets up, operates and closes shelter(s) and/or coordinates shelter activities.
Keeps unauthorized personnel from physically accessing resources, buildings, or confidential information.
Provides and/or coordinates emergency health care services.
Source: Small community emergency plan toolkit, 2013, p. 4
The Incident Commander (IC) determines which positions are needed in a given situation (Small community emergency plan toolkit), making this a flexible approach to managing first responses to different types of disasters. In every situation, though, personal accountability is the key to a successful community emergency response plan. The command response structure that guides the emergency response should include identifying specific individuals and ensure they understand their roles for communicating with others and what their first steps should include. In any event, the Village Public Safety Officer should be included in the command response structure. According to the State of Alaska Department of Public Safety (2013), "The Village Public Safety Officer Program began in the late 1970s as a means of providing rural Alaskan communities with needed public safety services at the local level. The program was created to reduce the loss of life due to fires, drowning, lost person, and the lack of immediate emergency medical assistance in rural communities (VPSO, para. 1). Clearly, the Village Public Safety Officer should represent one of the first responders to any emergency event and there are individual assignments for these positions throughout the State of Alaska including contact telephones numbers (see listing available at http://dps.alaska.gov/ast/vpso/docs/OversightListing. pdf).
As noted above, in some cases, the same individuals or teams will serve in more than one capacity. Therefore, the need for training to provide the most effective first responses for remote communities in Alaska today is discussed further below.
The Small Community Emergency Response Plan Toolkit can be used to determine what type of training is most needed at the local level. In every situation, though, the Village Public Safety Officer represents a key asset in formulating effective emergency response plans and should be included the command structure. All certified VPSOs have completed training at the VPSO Academy. The certification process for this position includes the training set forth in Table 2 below.
Wilderness driving and use-of-force
The VPSO Academy utilizes a state of the art driving simulator as well as two use-of-force simulators to enhance the recruits'…