CORAL GABLES: OVERVIEW AND ORGANIZATION
Adapted from the Coral Gables hire Department report titled ‘ Response To Hurricane Andreu’, ’’ by Chief David Teems, the department’s after-hurricane analysis; and official department policies and procedures for natural hazard emergencies.
The Coral Gables Fire Department, which provides emergency services for 40,000 people over 12 square miles, routinely reviews its established hurricane procedures in June, the beginning of the hurricane season. These procedures include plans that coincide with hurricane watch (hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours) and warning (hurricane probably will hit within 24 hours) conditions, as indicated by the National Weather Service. Because of the nature of hurricanes, advance notice of an alert usually is available, providing the fire department with the opportunity to prepare fire stations, evacuate stations in flood zones, and provide relief for on-duty personnel who need to prepare their property and families for the storm.
The plans for the fire department are an integral part of the city’s Basic Emergency Operations Plan. Mutualaid plans with other fire departments within the county have long been established; mutual aid is practiced among the departments on a limited, daily basis.
When a hurricane warning is reported by the National Hurricane Center, the storm probably will strike within 24 hours. All preparations go into full sw ing. Our basic plan calls for a full extra shift of firefighters to be on duty in the fire stations as soon as possible after a warning is posted, to ensure that adequate personnel are on hand immediately after the storm passes. Flooding, downed trees, dow ned pow er lines, and debris make it impossible for personnel to leave home and travel to fire stations following the storm. Disruption of all communications is anticipated.
One special preparation concern was providing a place of refuge for dependents of all personnel who w ere to remain on duty. For this purpose, we used the Biltmore Hotel, w hich is situated centrally, is at 13 feet above sea level, and is on the city’s highest ground. The hotel housed the families of city personnel who wished to bring them there; in addition, it also served as a secondary command post for city personnel, including fire, police, public works, public service, motor pool, purchasing, supplies, and communications. We anticipated having to use this site for two w’eeks. All heavy equipment, maintenance needs, food, water, and other supplies for this purpose were moved there prior to the storm.
Emergency response continued, as per plan, until high winds and debris in the air made it too hazardous to respond. Responding company officers make the decision with regard to the danger of response, as it is difficult to determine specific wind speeds because of factors such as wind tunneling through commercial districts where tall buildings are located. In the case of Andrew’, we shut down emergency response at 3:36 a.m. on August 24.
After the storm passed, priority was given to following up on life-threatening calls received during the nonresponse period. Doing this is virtually impossible without the ability to establish travel routes for emergency equipment, which involves preplanning and a coordinated effort by several departments to clear road surfaces in an organized fashion. Priority is given to hospitals and major roadways. Predetermined teams, including fire, police, heavy equipment operators, and labor crews, also begin to establish routes for verifying the extent of the damage, determining where major rescue assistance may be needed, and locating citizens who may need to be evacuated.
After Andrew, it took several days just to regain the ability to move emergency equipment into the vicinity where it was needed. The southern part of the city sustained the most severe damage. Because of its proximity to Biscayne Bay, the area was hit hard: The storm surge washed through hundreds of single-family homes, moving everything from boats to automobiles along with it. Searches were conducted and verification was made that no one was killed or needed assistance. The actual rate of emergency response dropped the day after the storm, due to factors such as prestorm evacuation, the lack of electricity and vehicular traffic, and a curfew.
Because of the complete destruction farther to the south, the Metro Dade Fire Department requested mutual aid from Coral Gables. We provided an engine and crew for 10 days to operate out of a county station in South Miami. In addition, emergency medical assistance into Dade County was conducted as needed following standard mutual-aid plans.
The real long-term impact on the Coral Gables Fire Department has been to our personnel and their families. The area most severely affected was a popular residential area. Many of the personnel on duty could not find out the status of their homes and families. Those required to report for duty could not move or communicate out. Once the reality of the destruction became known, we learned that approximately 20 percent of our personnel needed to find a place to live, or else their homes had been so severely damaged that they needed to remain home to begin repairs.
This reality put into effect a lot of help-each-other” activity as firefighters began to mobilize as work teams to help each other repair homes. The Coral Gables Firefighters Benevolent Association played a key role in this process. It set up a telephone and acted as a supply and distribution point for equipment and personnel.
ORGANIZATION OF OFFICERS
The Coral Gables Fire Department emergency response organization is structured as follows:
Director of fir el rescue services (fire chief). On receipt of word from the emergency management director that a hurricane is possible or imminent, the fire chief directs that Flan 1 (designed for implementation when winds are in the 74to 120-mph range, and storm surges are in the fourto eight-foot-range) or Plan 2 (winds above 120 mph, storm surges above eight feet) be put into operation. The fire chief also assists the emergency management director, as required, in administering an orderly recovery program following the emergency condition.
Division chief of operations. On receipt of the fire chiefs instruction to initiate the plan, the division chief of operations directs the operation necessary to establish Plan 1 or Plan 2, as specified. When positions cannot be filled by recommended personnel, the fire/rescue services director and division chief of operations select and assign those personnel most qualified to fill the vacant positions. The division chief of operations may be aided by a steno-assistant for record-keeping and control.
The fire chief and the division chief of operations direct that accurate records of all incidents and actions taken during emergency operations are kept, including but not limited to damaged and/or lost equipment, equipment procured, staffing, injuries, damage to physical plants, and any other item involving a possible cost factor. These reports shall be forw arded to the emergency management director as soon as possible after emergency conditions have subsided.
Division chief/training. Responsible for the following:
- establishing and maintaining close interaction with the fire department division chief of operations, division chief of technical services, and the command post coordinator;
- working closely with hospitals, shelter authorities, and physicians in providing medical care for disaster victims;
- supplying medical supplies for operations at the local hurricane shelter;
- reporting the status of personnel, as well as information regarding injuries, deaths, and resources, to the fire chief;
- coordinating and procuring medical supplies and equipment for the emergency medical services personnel;
- keeping an inventory of available hospital beds to aid in the assignment of victims; and
- assisting the fire department recovery officer, as directed, in administering an orderly recovery program following the emergency condition.
Division chief!technical services. Performs the following duties:
- supervises support activities;
- keeps the fire chief informed of conditions;
- establishes and maintains close interaction with the fire department division chief of operations, division chief/training, and the command post coordinator;
- assists the fire chief, as directed, in administering an orderly recovery program following the emergency condition;
- coordinates with Public Works, as applicable, to secure fire department property; and
- directs that accurate records of all incidents and actions taken during emergency operations are kept, including but not limited to damaged and/or lost equipment, equipment procured, staffing, injuries, damage to physical plants, and any other items involving a possible cost factor. These reports shall be forwarded to the division chief of operations as soon as possible after emergency conditions have subsided to be included in the report to the fire/rescue service director.
Fire department command post coordinator. Performs the normal duties of battalion commander in addition to the following:
- establishes a close working relationship with the department’s recovery officer;
- coordinates and directs assignments and activities with the evacuation officer;
- maintains communication with the division chiefs/technical services and training to facilitate the coordination of cross-functional responsibilities;
- directs and coordinates the normal fire/rescue and disaster activities of the department command post through the command post officers, following the city’s standard operating procedures as closely as possible with the latitude to adjust to emergency circumstances as necessary;
- initiates personnel callback on notification of Readiness Condition III (i.e., begin emergency operations) or Operational Condition 111 (i.e., natural disaster operational mode);
- assigns off-duty personnel called in to staff existing or reserve companies as described in the department’s Flans 1 and 2;
- forwards all standard incident reports to the communications officer;
- keeps the division chief of operations informed as to the status of current operations;
- ensures that accurate records of all incidents and actions taken during emergency operations be kept, including but not limited to damaged and/or lost equipment, procured equipment, staffing, injuries, damage to physical plants, and any other items involving a possible cost factor; these reports shall be forwarded to the division chief of operations as soon as possible after emergency conditions have subsided; and
- assists the fire department recovery officer, as directed, in administering an orderly recovery program following the emergency condition.
- assists the command post coordinator;
- keeps a special hurricane log of activities of the fire department units, conditions encountered, overtime personnel, and other miscellaneous expenditures that w ill be turned in to the fire chief to aid in the general recovery program,
- establishes and maintains close interaction with the fire department division chief of operations, division chief/technical services, and division chief/training;
- assists the fire chief, as directed, in administering an orderly recovery program following the emergency condition.
- Fire department communications officer. Responsibilities include the following:
- assists the chief of technical services;
- receives, on a prearranged schedule, reports from command post coordinators of current activities related to fire companies, damage, injuries, deaths, and the status of equipment, structures, and staffing;
- keeps the chief of technical services informed of conditions;
- monitors all communication media and arranges for the repair of or substitution for communication equipment as the need arises;
- directs the operations of the Alarms Office;
- tests all communications systems; and
- assists, as directed, in administering an orderly recovery program following the emergency condition.
- receives reports from hurricane shelters, hospitals, and physicians on space available for providing medical care for disaster victims;
- coordinates and provides medical supplies and equipment for emergency medical services personnel;
- establishes and monitors communication with the command post coordinator;
- reports the status of personnel, as well as information regarding injuries, deaths, and resources, to the division chief of training; and
- assists the department’s recovery officer, as directed, in administering an orderly recovery program following the emergency condition.
- Fire department supply officer. Assists the chief of training, in addition to the following activities:
- maintains a list of sources of supplies that might be needed to feed departmental personnel under emergency conditions;
- maintains and provides supplies as indicated, seeing that such supplies are procured and delivered as needed during the emergency and recovery; and
- assists the fire department chief of training, as directed, in administering
- an orderly recovery program following the emergency condition.
- maintains a list with sources of equipment that might be needed during a natural disaster and sees that such equipment is procured and delivered as needed during the emergency and recovery ;
- makes certain that spare apparatus is serviceable;
- maintains a minimum supply of basic or common equipment parts that might be needed in emergency conditions;
- establishes and maintains close interaction with the department’s mechanic; and
- assists the division chief of training, as directed, in administering an orderly recovery program following the emergency condition.
- Fire department evacuation officer. Assists the command post coordinator, in addition to performing the following duties:
- coordinates the activities of the evacuation vehicles and any other units assigned to him/her by the fire department command post coordinator;
- reports the status of units and their activities to the fire department command post coordinator at prescribed intervals;
- coordinates with the fire department command post coordinator assignment of the best qualified personnel to the evacuation intervals;
- coordinates the transportation of evacuees to shelters and/or refuges; and
- assists the recovery officer, as directed, in administering an orderlyrecovery program following the emergency condition.
(Photo by Justin Wasilkowski.)
Fire department recovery> officer. Follows the emergency procedures required, in addition to the follow ing duties:
(Photo by Joe Starling.)
Fire department emergency medi- cal coordinator. Assists the division chief of training and performs the following tasks:
Fire department apparatus and equipment officer. Assists the division chief of training, in addition to fulfilling the following roles:
Command post officer. In addition to directing the activities of the companies assigned to him or her, being responsible to the command post coordinator, and seeing that the facilities are secured, the command post officer has the following responsibilities:
requesting, as needed, communications equipment, supplies, food, medical supplies, evacuation coordination, and other materials through the command post coordinator;
- arranging the release of his or her personnel from duty to protect their personal property according to department policy;
- assigning personnel in the command post as directed by the fire department command post coordinator;
- following standard operating procedures as closely as possible with the latitude to adjust to emergency circumstances as necessary;
- requiring and keeping status reports from company officers at prescribed intervals and forwarding
- these reports and information regarding emergency operations to the fire department command post coordinator; and
- assisting the division chief of training, as directed, in administering an orderly recovery program following the emergency condition.
Prime communicator. One prime communicator, assigned to each command post, records and directs all telephone communications to the command post officer.
Note: In addition to the duties and responsibilities specified above, the division chief of training and fire department’s recovery officer, communications officer, emergency medical coordinator, supply officer, apparatus and equipment officer, evacuation officer, and command post officer must keep accurate records of all incidents and actions taken during emergency operations, which include but are not limited to damaged and/or lost equipment, equipment procured, staffing, injuries, damage to physical plants, and any other items involving a possible cost factor. These reports shall be forwarded to the appropriate superior officer as soon as possible after emergency conditions have subsided.
DEPARTMENT CRITIQUE AND LESSONS LEARNED
We have completed a department critique, which revealed some shortcomings in our plan and areas where changes are needed. The most glaring problem we are beginning to work on is how best to provide for the needs of personnel who themselves are victims of a hurricane but who nevertheless must continue to perform their fire department responsibilities. This is especially important for personnel who must be on duty during the storm. Knowing that their dependents are safe and that communication with them is possible will allow them to concentrate more effectively on their duties.
(Photo by Bill Glass.)
(left, photo by Justin Wasilkowski)
(right, photo by Bill Glass).
Every aspect of our operations plan was scrutinized. A brief overview of our critique follows.
- Review hurricane emergency operations plan with all personnel on a regular basis.
- Revise and update the evacuation vehicle drivers list.
- Establish a direct line of communication between command post coordinator ami evacuation officer.
- Assign an officer to assist in alarm office communications.
- Battalion chief should have access to all fire department offices where specific functions can be set up.
- Brief all personnel on the responsibilities of all positions so they may have a working knowledge of the overall plan.
- Improve communications between staff officers and battalion chief on emergency plan implementation, i.e., call back, assignments, etc. Improve communication through the chain of command. Communicate changes or updates in the emergency plan to all officers.
- Establish predesignated emergency shelters for dependents of fire department members.
- Establish the command post remote from evacuation shelters.
- Assign recovery crews, with all the equipment they need for an immediate and aggressive response, prior to the end of the storm.
- The evacuation/recovery officer and the shelter coordinator should be
- separate functions.
- Verify the status of employees and families.
- Assign additional dispatchers so that two dispatchers can answer calls and dispatch on channel 1 and two dispatchers can monitor and answer units that were transferred to channel 2.
- Organize and brief all relief personnel.
- All personnel involved in staffing recovery trucks and heavy equipment should be trained prior to the storm.
- Update personnel on the purchase and use of equipment: important for FEMA reimbursement and inventory.
- Specify in the overall hurricane emergency plan assignment of equipment and equipment sources.
- Flan for and coordinate in advance critical incident stress debriefing, which is a vital element of a hurricane incident.
- Hold realistic, regularly scheduled hurricane drills.
- Schedule response/rotate crews for employees to have time off to secure their homes and take care of personal matters, preand post-storm (i.e., emergency leave).
- Written documentation of “outof-the-ordinary” events must be done on a real-time basis.
- Determine the areas of firefighter residence. Issue a radio or cellular phone to one firefighter in close proximity to many other firefighters. A group of firefighters can call in or come in together from that predetermined site.
Andrew was a fast-moving, relatively dry storm that covered a very small area in width, as far as hurricanes go. Had it come ashore 15 miles farther north, it would have hit the major commercial areas of greater Miami, including Miami Beach, downtown Miami, Coral Gables, the International Airport, the seaport, and the industrial city of Hialeah. It is important to remember that Andrew, for all its devastation, was not as bad as it could have been