Wednesday, September 11, 2013

IMT Lessons Learned and Shared from 9/11

(Photo credit: Depot Section Supervisor Robbie Swofford, Remote Sensing/Fire Weather Support)
Incident Management Teams at the World Trade Center
(Scratchline, Issue 1, Summer 2002)

This incident was unlike any previous Incident Management Team (IMT) assignment. The sheer scope of the incident, its cause, the number of human lives impacted, destruction, financial impact incurred, limited geographic area (1/4 square mile), multiple agency involvement, and international significance are unprecedented in IMT history.

Van Bateman's Southwest Area Type 1 IMT was mobilized to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within hours of the terrorist attack. This team worked at the FEMA Incident Command Post (ICP) in Lower Manhattan and at the New York City Fire Department ICP for approximately one month. Joe Stutler's Pacific Northwest Area Type 1 IMT, Mike Lohrey's
Pacific Northwest Area Type 1 IMT, and Joe Stam’s Alaska Area Type 1 IMT were dispatched to support responding agencies and their personnel working at Ground Zero.

Captured below are some of the IMTs’ lessons learned during this catastrophic event:

Each Section Chief and Unit Leader needs to pay extremely close attention to their personnel for signs of stress. A means of debriefing needs to be set up, both at the incident site and at the home unit, for those adversely affected. Some of these needs were identified late and personnel were already demobilized and back at their  home unit before arrangements were made for critical
incident stress management services.

IMT's should be aware that picture identifications are a necessity. Security was very tight and security protocols constantly changing. Access into many areas was denied without proper I.D.

IMT's should expect to spend extra time to ensure compliance with existing national standards when using shower or catering units that are not on the National Contract.

In large urban areas, there can be over 100 VHF and UHF radio systems in use. Dozens of systems were brought in and used on an emergency basis. A comprehensive communication plan was lacking. A meeting to facilitate the coordination of all emergency services communication staffs needs to be scheduled early on to develop a communication plan and to reduce duplication of resources.

IMT's need additional training in FEMA operational structure including its mission, organization, and ordering procedures. This should be incorporated into team meeting agendas as well as in formal

Type 1 crews were ordered to assist in the warehouse operation and with camp duties. This should be standard procedure for this type incident. Traditional camp crews are not viable due to the location, political environment, and work required.

Finance Section Chiefs must receive clear directions on specific procedures required by FEMA. They should immediately coordinate actions with FEMA comptrollers and procurement officials. The U.S. Forest Service National Incident Business Advisor should be contacted for assistance.

The process to obtain permission for in person interviews was lengthy and often required more time than the media representatives could afford. Several interview requests were cancelled because interview deadlines could not be met. Phone interviews replaced live interviews when live ones could not be conducted in a timely manner. Expect that rigid protocol and multi-layered permission  processes will prevent full and effective utilization of normal IMT information resources.

Not all people are suited for a disaster assignment. Because of the emotional impact of the situation, IMT's and Geographical Area Coordination Center's (GACC) should expect a certain percentage of personnel to request incident reassignment or demobilization almost  immediately after arrival. This should not necessarily be seen as a performance problem. The reality of the situation has a greater
impact on some than they might have anticipated.

Patience is a must. What might be considered small tasks or slow movements by many IMT members can be huge strides for other agencies in time of crisis – especially when they have a long tradition of self-reliance and have been directly affected by a loss of personnel, equipment, and facilities.

Scratchline, Issue 1, Summer 2002

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