Lessons Learned for Critical Infrastructure

In order to ensure the continuous functionality of key systems, the Emergency Services Sector (ESS) should incorporate broad measures for protecting all personnel.  Such measures should be integrated into all activities, including incident response, exercises, and training. 

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 7 (HSPD-7), issued in 2003,entifies 17 critical infrastructure sectors that the federal government must protect against terrorist attacks.  These sectors span a wide range of assets that are key to the continuing functionality of the U.S. political and economic systems.  The ESS is one of the more unique areas of critical infrastructure protection.  While most of the critical infrastructure sectors place a major emphasis on securing structural assets, such as chemical facilities and government buildings, the ESS focuses mainly on human assets.  The millions of specialized and highly trained personnel under the purview of the ESS comprise much of the first responder community, including: emergency management, emergency medical services, fire fighting, hazardous materials, law enforcement, bomb squads, tactical operations/special weapons assault teams, and search and rescue. 

Because of the magnitude, variety, and mobile nature of ESS assets, protection measures within this sector must be extensive.  In effect, these measures must not only span the duration of an incident, but must also cover routine activities, training, and exercises.  Two recent Lessons Learned – and posted on Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS.gov) – demonstrate the diversity of protection measures essential to the functioning of the ESS. 

The first, Exercise Safety and Health: Providing Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment for Exercises, highlights the need to appropriately equip first responders to prevent injury.  In this case, responders taking part in an operational exercise in Pennsylvania Region 13 lacked a specific flotation device for law-enforcement participants as well as wildfire gear for firefighters.  This added to the risk of injury for exercise participants.  While the Lesson Learned specifically references personal protective equipment (PPE) issues during a full-scale exercise, the message clearly applies to real world incidents as well.  Supplying ESS personnel with appropriate PPE is a simple and effective means for ensuring responder safety.  The Approved Equipment List, compiled by the FEMA Grants Program Directorate, devotes an entire section to PPE that can be procured under numerous grant programs.  (More information on approved PPE can be found on the Responder Knowledge Base (RKB.us).)

The second Lesson Learned, Point of Dispensing Planning: Establishing Safety Measures for Set-Up and Tear-Down Crews, provides a less common example of ESS personnel safety hazards.  During a full-scale exercise at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, observers noted that some support staff performing physically demanding tasks were not provided with guidance on proper safety measures.  The need to ensure the safety of all ESS staff, including those not directly involved in a response, is evident in this Lesson Learned.  The ESS is dependent upon specialized personnel to execute the systems for which the sector is responsible.  Therefore, an injury to any staff member that prevents that person from performing his or her duties could hamper the ability of emergency service organizations to function effectively during an incident.  For this reason, the ESS protective measures must extend beyond the scope of standard responder safety and permeate all activities undertaken by ESS personnel.

Andrew Pearsons

Andrew M. Pearsons is a researcher for Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS.gov), the Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency’s national online network of lessons learned, best practices, and innovativeeas for the U.S. homeland security and emergency-response communities. He received his bachelor’s degree in Government from The College of William and Mary.



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