OPINION: Credentialing program good for disaster response
Editor's note: This is a third-party editorial that does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of EMS1.com.
Inside Bay Area
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Calif. — Disasters or emergencies that exceed the capabilities of a town or county require that Incident Commanders (i.e., the local fire or police chief) know the capabilities and support they are receiving from other jurisdictions. The Sept. 10 editorial, "Tough disaster criteria could discourage volunteers," did not fully address what credentialing is and the value it serves to local incident command.
The First Responder Authentication Credentials initiative is a first step in dealing with these long standing problems in major disaster responses.
FEMA and DHS have no intention or plan to provide I.D. cards to all first responders. Credentialing will always be a local decision.
It is local first responders who are on the scene in the initial hours following disasters. When volunteers arrive, it is often difficult for local officials to know who is qualified and may be an immediate asset to the team.
Examples of people posing as firefighters, police officers, doctors or rescue specialists are well documented in every major disaster.
At the same time, self dispatched, well meaning people have descended upon local communities without their knowledge and placed an incredible burden on local incident commanders to house, feed and effectively utilize their services.
This does not mean their efforts are not appreciated or valued, but local jurisdictions must organize the process.
The Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act and the recently passed 9/11 Bill tasks FEMA with developing a common standard for first responder credentials that state and local governments can employ in their own efforts.
It will provide common standards for local tracking and accountability while enhancing efficiency of mutual aid processes between jurisdictions, otherwise we will see delay the response or put unqualified volunteers in harms way.
Having an identification system in place does not prevent volunteers from supporting a response on scene. In fact, the common credentialing standards will encourage volunteers to establish relationships with response organizations before an incident occurs so that their skills can be leveraged.
Citizen volunteers can make a big impact during a disaster. But without coordination, even the most dedicated volunteer can be underutilized — or even an obstruction.
This initiative takes into account and provides the mechanism for those volunteers who are not credentialed to be a part of the response in a coordinated fashion. This is one of many approaches that bring federal, state, local and volunteer agencies together.
We still have much work to do, but this is clearly a step in the right direction.