Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Protection of First Responders

I have long had an interest in the protection of the First Response community in incidents and events. It is a OSHA felony violation [enforced by the DOJ on referral from OSHA through the FBI] to prosecute. Few prosecutions have occurred and in particular of federal officials and appointees. The narrow escape of the EPA head who gave the "all-clear" and totally erroneous information to the response community at the WTC disaster on 9/11/01 should not give comfort to anyone in a position of authority.

While I am not familiar totally with what has happened since I retired from FEMA that agency never gave a thought to protection or training of its employees in hazardous response situations. I often wondered what a bomb with perhaps a 12 hours delay mechanism could have done at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. It would have collected at least the FEMA Director. FEMA's unstated and untrained or and unprotected response force policy was "never enter a hazardous site'! Great! Well how do you even know it is hazardous. Many local police and sheriff departments routinely knock over METH LABS which are highly dangerous sites without adequate protective gear and training for that danger.

The one Federal conviction I am aware of was of senior officials at Aberdeen Proving Ground who routinely exposed employees without proper training or equipment to hazardous situations.

RAND produced an excellent report on RESPONDER SAFETY in May 2004 and in that report [available from this blogger] concluded that all incidents and events in which FIRST RESPONSE personnel were involved should have a SAFETY OFFICER whose only concern was the safty of the responders. I think Congress, GAO, and the OIG/DHS should all be involved in following through on this recommendation. Obviously it is not just responders that need this SAFETY OFFICER but each federal department and agency or STATE department or agency or their local governments deploying to a site that is potentially or actually hazardous should have such a SAFETY OFFICIAL. The response community is too small to lose critical skills in any event. I read with sadness each of those notices from the US Fire Administration of a fatality in the FIRE SERVICE and always wonder what training and skills and knowledge and protective gear the person behind that fatality notice had in fact.

Well there probably needs to be some sort of rough and ready gage that let's all know when the situation is problematic. This subject is as long overdue for review as is the lack of CBRNE Qualified Self Contained Breathing Apparatus for responders. Such apparatus for ordinary particles is one thing but I fear the situtation where even worse awaits the response community.

We don't need more heroes that were not protected or trained or knowledgable about the dangers of certain incidents and sites. And without proper monitoring and decontamination equipment. In orther words, no CANARIES wanted for the First Response community.