Emergency Services – The First Casualty

By on April 2, 2014
emergency services

When disaster strikes, there’s one thing you can rely on. One of the first casualties is going to be our national system of Emergency Services. Many people mistakenly assume that in the event of a disaster (whether natural or financial), a nation like the United States, with its vast, high quality infrastructure, will be able to weather the storm relatively easier than almost anywhere else on earth, but the reality is quite different.

If you look at recent regional disasters from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, to Super Storm Sandy in the Northeast, what you find is a pattern of glaring weakness. If we compare either of these two examples to a full blown, national disaster, they’re really quite small. In fact, both of them combined…both of them happening at the same time would still be fairly small when compared next to a nationwide disaster, and yet, look at what happened.

In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the response was slow, confused, and muddled. Hundreds of school buses, specifically designated for evacuation use in the event of an emergency, remained in their parking lots and were flooded. When and where emergency services teams did respond, their efforts were minuscule in comparison to the aggregate needs of the region, which is why FEMA and the National Guard were both called in, because the local Emergency Services infrastructure simply got overwhelmed.

That would have been fine, if things had markedly improved once FEMA and the National Guard showed up on the scene, except they didn’t. We still had thousands sitting in the Super Dome as the dome got ripped off, we still had no backup plan, and no effort to move those people out of harm’s way. Despite the presence of the National Guard, there was still widespread rioting and looting, and as often as not, what rescues were conducted, were conducted by private citizens in boats who got tired of waiting for the “officials” to get their act together!

To this day, there are sections of New Orleans that have still not been rebuilt. That is both telling and compelling.

Okay, so we didn’t do so great during Katrina, but Sandy was better, right? Not really.

Being a more populous area, and having more proactive leaders, they were slightly (but not much) better prepared, and even with the better preparation, fully 20% of the US population was impacted. Power was out for days. Damage to the infrastructure made getting Emergency Services personnel to the damaged areas all but impossible. Thankfully, one thing that did improve between the two disasters was that response at the Federal level was swift and relatively free of red tape, but even so, there are people to this day who haven’t been able to rebuild yet, because they’re waiting on aid to come, and again, these were smallish, regionally based disasters.

The sorry truth is that emergency services really aren’t. They’re designed to handle emergencies during the normal, day to day life in America. They’re not designed to handle an actual crisis. You need only look at the paralysis of the system during 9/11 or the regional disasters mentioned above to see how quickly our “emergency services” infrastructure can get completely overwhelmed.

Don’t wait for the government. Prepare yourself for trouble. If trouble never finds you, great! Give yourself a pat on the back for being lucky. But if it does, be ready, because they emergency services guys….they’re probably not coming. At least not in time to help you and your family.

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