RAND Hosts Workshop on Safety Management for ERP

Continuing a strong RAND research effort to address the safety and health needs of emergency response personnel, RAND's Science and Technology Policy Institute (S&TPI), in association with the National Defense Research Institute (NDRI), brought together more than 80 emergency responders and federal representatives to discuss how safety is addressed in the context of major-incident response. The workshop, held on February 27, 2003 in Washington, included discussion of how safety decisionmaking occurs in incident-command systems; modes of personnel and resource coordination during response; hazard monitoring, intelligence, and risk assessment; training issues and needs; and responder healthcare concerns. The workshop is part of a project sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The members of the responder community represented at the workshop included individuals and organizations from the emergency management, fire-fighting, law enforcement, emergency medical service, public health, skilled support and trades, public works, and disaster relief communities. A broad range of federal organizations relevant to disaster and terrorism response were also represented, including NIOSH, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Defense, the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Justice, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

During the workshop, the attendees participated in breakout groups discussing different facets of safety management within disaster and terrorism response. Earlier project research had examined safety management in previous responses through literature review and interviews with responders involved in a range of major events. That work served as a foundation for the workshop by focusing discussion on the challenges commanders face in protecting the safety of the men and women under their command in operationally demanding disaster environments. Starting from this common basis, the workshop discussions focused on developing recommendations and strategies for improving safety management in future responses.

The workshop participants stressed that current systems for managing safety at major disasters and terrorist attacks do not sufficiently protect responders. Major events strain systems accustomed to dealing with far smaller and less complex incidents. Disasters and terrorist attacks may involve unusual hazards and frequently involve large geographic areas. Unlike most emergency activities, they require "campaign" responses that may stretch into weeks or even months of activity. The interagency nature of major responses is particularly problematic. Involvement of many different response agencies with their own approaches, goals, and capabilities produces coordination issues that can have a significant effect on responder safety.

Attendees frequently expressed a need for a "change in approach" in the response community with respect to safety during these incidents. In addition to more common safety concerns, threats to responders such as violence, the effects of environmental exposures, and incident-related stress must be integrated into safety management. Systems must be devised to allow the safety capabilities of the many organizations involved to "plug into" a common structure so commanders can have useful access to the best environmental monitoring, intelligence, medical, and hazard assessment information. Greater standardization is needed in the U.S national response systems at the national, subnational, organizational, and even individual levels. Approaches such as training standards, common credentials, and uniform approaches to scene control can facilitate commanders' decisionmaking and allow better matching of responder activities to their training and capabilities. Across all areas, it was clear that the current security environment requires a "responder force protection approach" aimed not just at protecting responders for their sake, but also at sustaining the nation's response capabilities in the face of varied and unpredictable threats.

The workshop is an element of a larger effort examining safety management in major incident response led by RAND analysts Brian Jackson and John Baker. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the area, the effort has involved a range of researchers across RAND, including S&TPI, NDRI, RAND Health, and the Arroyo Center.