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It’s a Large-Scale Crisis: You May be in Charge Until Help Arrives

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Rosalie J. Wyatt

You may be the lifesaver until help arrives.

You may be the lifesaver until help arrives.

Knowing who is in charge prior to a crisis is essential.Indeed, you may be in charge of the response as the local incident commander until official help arrives. In another scenario, response to a crisis involving multiple jurisdictions involves knowing who is in charge of each jurisdiction before commencing with cross-jurisdictional coordination. Leadership in response to a health crisis also requires knowing who is in charge.  Moreover, protocols, namely the Incident Command System (ICS), within the framework of the National Incident Management System, are in place to guide the response for various scenarios and stakeholders. Those who know who is in charge and who understand the ICS protocol are equipped with powerful tools for mitigating costly consequences of crises.

In the words of Steve Cernak, “Before any disaster, time is your ally.It’s flexible and unlimited.However, after a disaster, it becomes your adversary.It limits your alternatives and is definitely in short supply.”In 2010, Mr. Cernak, as director and CEO of the Port of Galveston, shared this advice for large-scale crisis preparedness with public and private sector participants who convened at the 2010 ReadyCommunities Partnership symposium in Washington, D.C.

Crisis response involving cross-jurisdictional coordination is complex when coordinating with multiple authorities.In 2010, Hon. Mary L. Landrieu—who at that time served as a U.S. Senator from Louisiana and chairman of Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Disaster Recovery Subcommittee and who chaired the ReadyCommunities Partnership symposium in Washington, D.C.—remarked about the challenge of responding to a crisis involving multiple jurisdictions: “What happened in Katrina… it was three or four states.  It was multiple parishes and jurisdictions. There wasn’t just one person in charge.”

Knowing who is in charge is vital when impacted personally by a crisis, but so also is understanding the protocol for response to a large-scale health crisis. It is essential for leadership and governance.In response to the threats posed by the Zika virus, Florida Governor Rick Scott directed the state health office and surgeon general to declare a state of emergency in four counties, with the department of health as the lead state agency to coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control.Governor Scott’s executive order 16-29, dated Feb. 3, 2016, also directed the Surgeon General to notify the Commissioner of Agriculture, who in turn would marshal necessary resources to support the response.Similarly, in response to the threats posed by the Ebola virus, Jim Gilmore, Virginia’s 68th governor, penned an opinion piece published by Fox News on Oct. 27, 2014, wherein he stated, “Ebola is a homeland security issue, and we need to know who is in charge and who will coordinate operations between all entities in government and the private sector.” 

When faced with a large-scale crisis, America survives and is resilient based on the concept that each of us has a role and that we do not outsource our expectations.Our national resiliency is built on each of us assuming responsibility, that each of us must take responsibility for helping the next person until help arrives.This is the premise for the Incident Command System, initially developed to manage wildfire response.We know from experience and the ICS precedent that response is local. If you are first to arrive at the scene, you are in charge until official help arrives.For those who recommend centralization of response, the fundamental problem and issue lie in outsourcing of expectation to others who do not possess requisite knowledge of local stakeholders, resources, and circumstances. 

In a publication entitled Incident Commander and Command Staff Functions, dated November 2008 and posted online as a FEMA training document, Winthrop University chief of police Frank Zebedis stated, “Who’s in charge initially, at the onset of an incident, it could be the first responder which could be a professor; it could be a faculty member, a staff member, a coach, a citizen, or the first emergency responder who shown upon the scene is in charge but as the event grows and more qualified people arrive at the scene, whoever is in charge then gets passed off to the more qualified person till eventually you have yourself an Incident Commander who is in the position to manage the scene, but until that time it takes a while for these responders to get there.”

America has and must continue to harness its great traditions of volunteerism and the duty of leadership that comes with it during response to crises.In summary, imagine you are faced with a large-scale crisis.Would you like to be part of the solution?  Knowing who is in charge and or taking charge at the local level until emergency responders arrive are the first steps.Together, the goal is to prevent loss of life and to mitigate unnecessary and costly and compounded consequences of falling short of preparedness. America cannot survive a large-scale or national crisis if every citizen outsources their expectation of first response.

Rosalie J. Wyatt is a PhD candidate (Public Policy, Walden University) with an International MBA (NSU) and a B.S. in Business Administration (Pepperdine University).  Rosalie is president of Wyatt Consulting Group International providing constituency building and solution-based engagement services.  Rosalie is National Director of the ReadyCommunities Partnership and its Military Base and Port Community Resiliency Initiative, and National Service Awards. Email:  [email protected]

 

Knowing is in charge prior to a crisis is essential.  Indeed, you may be in charge of response as the local incident commander until official help arrives.  In another scenario, response to a crisis involving multiple jurisdictions involves knowing who is in charge of each jurisdiction before commencing with cross-jurisdictional coordination.  Leadership in response to a health crisis also requires knowing who is in charge.  Moreover, protocols, namely the Incident Command System (ICS), within the framework of the National Incident Management System (https://www.fema.gov/incident-command-system-resources), are in place to guide the response for various scenarios and stakeholders.  Those who know who is in charge and who understand the ICS protocol are equipped with powerful tools for mitigating costly consequences of crises.     

 

In the words of Steve Cernak, “Before any disaster, time is your ally.  It’s flexible and unlimited.  However, after a disaster, it becomes your adversary.  It limits your alternatives and is definitely in short supply.”  In 2010, Mr. Cernak, as director and CEO of the Port of Galveston, shared this advice for large-scale crisis preparedness with public and private sector participants who convened at the 2010 ReadyCommunities Partnership symposium in Washington, DC.

 

Crisis response involving cross-jurisdictional coordination is complex when coordinating with multiple authorities.  In 2010, Hon. Mary L. Landrieu; who at that time served as a U.S. Senator from Louisiana and chairman of Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Disaster Recovery Subcommittee and who chaired the ReadyCommunities Partnership symposium in Washington, DC; remarked about the challenge of responding to a crisis involving multiple jurisdictions; “What happened in Katrina… it was three or four states.  It was multiple parishes and jurisdictions. There wasn’t just one person in charge.”

 

Knowing who is in charge is not only vital when impacted personally by a crisis, but understanding the protocol for response to a large-scale health crisis is essential for leadership and governance.  In response to the threats posed by the Zika virus, Florida Governor Rick Scott directed the state health office and surgeon general to declare a state of emergency in four counties, with the department of health as the lead state agency to coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control.  Governor Scott’s executive order 16-29, dated February 3, 2016, also directed the Surgeon General to notify the Commissioner of Agriculture who in turn would marshal necessary resources to support the response.  Similarly, in response to the threats posed by the Ebola virus, Jim Gilmore, Virginia’s 68th governor, penned an opinion piece published by Fox News on October 27, 2014, wherein he stated, “Ebola is a homeland security issue, and we need to know who is in charge and who will coordinate operations between all entities in government and the private sector.” 

 

When faced with a large-scale crisis, America survives and is resilient based on the concept that each of us has a role and that we do not outsource our expectations.  Our national resiliency is built on each of us assuming responsibility, that each of us must take responsibility for helping the next person until help arrives.  This is the premise for the Incident Command System, initially developed to manage wildfire response.  We know from experience and the ICS precedent that response is local.  If you are first to arrive at the scene, you are in charge until official help arrives.  For those who recommend centralization of response, the fundamental problem and issue lie in outsourcing of expectation to others who do not possess requisite knowledge of local stakeholders, resources, and circumstances. 

 

In a publication entitled Incident Commander and Command Staff Functions, dated November 2008 and posted online as a FEMA training document; Winthrop University chief of police, Frank Zebedis stated “Who’s in charge initially, at the onset of an incident, it could be the first responder which could be a professor; it could be a faculty member, a staff member, a coach, a citizen, or the first emergency responder who shown upon the scene is in charge but as the event grows and more qualified people arrive at the scene, whoever is in charge then gets passed off to the more qualified person till eventually you have yourself an Incident Commander who is in the position to manage the scene, but until that time it takes a while for these responders to get there.”

 

America has and must continue to harness its great traditions of volunteerism and the duty of leadership that comes with it during response to crises.  In summary, imagine you are faced with a large-scale crisis.  Would you like to be part of the solution?  Knowing who is in charge and or taking charge at the local level until emergency responders arrive are the first steps.  Together, the goal is to prevent loss of life and to mitigate unnecessary and costly and compounded consequences of falling short of preparedness.  America cannot survive a large-scale or national crisis if every citizen outsources their expectation of first response.

 

Rosalie J. Wyatt is a PhD candidate (Public Policy, Walden University) with an International MBA (NSU) and a B.S. in Business Administration (Pepperdine University).  Rosalie is president of Wyatt Consulting Group International providing constituency building and solution-based engagement services.  Rosalie is National Director of the ReadyCommunities Partnership and its Military Base and Port Community Resiliency Initiative, and National Service Awards. Email:  [email protected]

 

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