The 5 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid in Incident Response

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An after action report helps you determine what has and hasn't worked in your response plan. But how do you avoid making mistakes in the first place? Here are 5 of the biggest mistakes to consider before responding to an incident.

1) Failure to plan or test plans

Benjamin Franklin said it best, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Everyone knows somebody whose emergency plan involves hoping bad things don't happen. As incident response leaders, we know how often things can go wrong and add to the chaos if a clear plan isn't in place and regularly tested. A recent joint exercise found that a search and rescue group's FRS radios couldn't punch a signal through the concrete and rebar at a local high school. A quick change in planning utilized higher-powered GMRS radios by a Sheriff's Office team's FCC-licensed operators and got the exercise back on track.

2) Ineffective security utilization

Security doesn't have to mean armed guards. It can include utilizing portable fencing, CERT members to keep an eye on things or locking doors during an active shooter scenario. But just as important as how, who or what your security is involves how you use it. After Typhoon Yolanda swept through the Philippines, Tacloban City's 30-man police force was badly utilized during a difficult time when 8 police officers were diverted to protect a wealthy enclave which could have been secured using unarmed volunteers, leaving more police officers to deal with true emergencies at the time.

3) Lack of communication

Do you have a dedicated radio operator who can talk to 911 dispatch when the cell towers go down in a tornado? What about a dedicated media specialist to let people know when they have to stay in their homes from the chemical plume and when it's safe to come out? Do you have a plan for communications within your unit? When the Joplin, MO EF5 tornado tore through in 2011, several cell towers were knocked out, putting additional pressure onto an already overwhelmed system while conflicting information from the media caused confusion for rescuers, victims and family members.

4) Not keeping detailed records

Did you go through 5 blankets or 50 for the fire at the school? What was Mary Smith's condition when she was rescued, and where was she sent? The accountants, EMS and family members need to know this type of information and more to be able to plan, locate and deploy efficiently and effectively next time. Following Hurricane Katrina, there were countless examples of fraud that was perpetrated using FEMA and Red Cross issued debit cards due to poor record keeping and lack of accountability.

5) Lack of organization

During a War of 1812 naval battle, the entire command structure of the U.S.S. Chesapeake was eliminated down to the most junior member of the crew who did not realize he was then in command and what his responsibilities were. This resulted in chaos as the ship left the engagement unexpectedly. If your response plans don't include a clear chain of command for the incident and training for assumption of leadership, you end up with two responses. One, nobody takes charge and otherwise avoidable consequences aren't avoided. Two, there's a power struggle between departments, squad leaders or similar groups. Setting up jurisdiction and knowing who is in charge in what circumstances is vital to the success of your response plan.

The D4H system was developed to help avoid these mistakes. The program makes it easier to track inventory and team members, share documents and create real-world solutions from after action critiques.

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