Sept. 11: 4 top lessons for EMS as we remember

The 15th anniversary is a time for quiet reflection and remembrance as well as a chance to discuss top lessons learned from a multitude of events since 9/11

The 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is upon us. For many of us, that day was a transformative moment in time, when "terror attack" became a household phrase and billions of dollars were spent strengthening homeland security.

Over the years, ceremonies have been held, memorials built and museums created to record this date in American history. However, I suspect that most of us who were EMS providers on Sept. 11, 2001 will spend a part of the day in quiet reflection, thinking about what we were doing at the time and the rush of mixed emotions as hundreds of public safety providers and thousands of civilians lost their lives.

During the past 15 years, the lessons learned from a multitude of events are becoming clear. Here are my top four lessons to remember.

Lesson #1: Violent, large sale attacks will occur at any time and in any place.
Regardless of our efforts to prevent them no venue — schools, theaters, workplaces, public spaces, concerts or military installations — and no segment of the population is totally immune from a lone wolf or well-coordinated group.

Lesson #2: EMS must be prepared.
Because of lesson #1, EMS and other public safety agencies must be trained, equipped and prepared to respond to these incidents. "It will never happen here" should never be in a public safety provider’s vocabulary, nor can it be the mantra of a response agency.

Lesson #3: Preparation is easier said than done.
Even though a lot of money has been spent on homeland defense and security, the level of response to domestic attacks has been inconsistent. Government must continue to provide funding necessary to support agencies in their efforts to prevent and respond to major incidents. Agencies must ensure that plans, training and resources are appropriate and relevant. Providers must take the training seriously

Lesson #4: Planning and training must be multijurisdictional.
Current Department of Homeland Security guidelines recommend early entry of EMS providers into a warm zone to initiate basic trauma care, while being escorted and guarded by law enforcement officers. The rescue task force might seem like a crazy idea, but it becomes doable if there is enough training for EMS providers and law enforcement officers to be more comfortable and confident working together. Communications among agencies is critical to operational success, from radio systems to common language and protocol.

A final note: I know that many EMS1 readers were barely in grade school in 2001. For you, 9/11 is truly a piece of history, perhaps abstract and hard to grasp its significance to EMS in 2016. Sadly, there have been many incidents since then — Sandy Hook, Boston, San Bernardino, Aurora, Blacksburg and Orlando.

I hope that you understand how important you are to the safety fabric that wraps around your community. Most days, maybe all days, you’ll perform your duties without fanfare and without public recognition. However, when that horrible day comes, you will be asked to perform above and beyond the call of the every day. Your community depends upon that.

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