What Is The Role of Police, Fire and EMS After a Natural Disaster Strikes?

When natural disasters strikelike the recent central Virginia earthquake and Hurricane Irene – what is the role of local police, fire and EMS units?

Naturally of course, each of the three arms of public safety provide a calming presence during times of disaster.

Ask yourself, is there a more reassuring sight than seeing a group of firemen descending upon a scene? A squad car patrolling a deserted street? Paramedics managing a difficult situation?

A strong first responders’ presence in these situations can help ease victims’ fears and concerns.

At first glance, the specific role of first responders is pretty direct. Police provide public safety and keep ‘law and order’. Firefighters limit the spread of existing or potential fires. And EMS workers provide medical assistance.

hurricane relief firemen support police
Image from cbsnews.com

In reality, their roles are quite varied, in depth – and obviously invaluable.

What other services do they provide?

Role of Police:

  • crowd control
  • looting
  • traffic control
  • search and rescue
  • coordination with government and non-government agencies

Most local law enforcement agencies undergo specialized disaster management training. While each disaster is different, the plans that go into effect are structured and organized. With proper training law enforcement can be quite efficient in executing their duties.

Role of Firefighters:

  • control fires that threaten critical infrastructure
  • deal with hazardous materials
  • provide primary medical care
  • transport victims to hospitals
  • search and rescue
  • coordination with government and non-government agencies

Firefighters play an important role in disaster management. In addition to handling fire, they also rely on their disaster relief training and offer some of the same roles as local law enforcement.

Role of EMS:

  • response and recovery
  • advanced medical care
  • transport victims to hospitals
  • search and rescue
  • coordination with government and non-government agencies

Emergency medical workers and medics work in partnership with the firefighters to treat and transport victims to temporary shelters, but their duties can be expanded because ‘of the moment’, helping whoever may be in need.

Disaster response includes the immediate mobilization of emergency service providers and first responders. This ‘first wave’ of emergency services includes police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel.  Eventually, these local agencies may coordinate with National Guard, Coast Guard, FEMA and Red Cross officials.

Outside of traditional first responders, many communities have also developed trained civilian volunteers. While police, fire and EMS emergency workers can be quickly overwhelmed during natural disasters, volunteers that have advanced training can be extremely valuable. These organized volunteers are referred to as CERT (community emergency response teams) though there are many other local volunteer organization within communities across the country.