Monday, November 7, 2011

A Few Reasons Not to Run Into Battle (For Civillians Who Don't Have This In Their Job Description)

I came across this article and thought "oh jeez...not another one."  It's fairly common in major disasters to have all kinds of people coming out of the woodwork to "help" (never mind that they have no skills and no experience in such situations, no gear, no team, no training...), a bit less common in war zones is to see the same (although not completely unheard of, re the story referenced above).  Unless the terms "run into a disaster area/war zone/life-threatening situation" is in your job description--and there are plenty of soldiers and first responders where this is the case--don't do it!  Here's why:
  • You need training or else you will be a liability to those who are on scene providing actual help (ie: you mess up and they will need to rescue you too).  For people who have it in their job description to work in disaster areas/war zones, special training is provided for just this environment--training that is not provided otherwise.
  • You need a team.  People aren't dispatched to war zones/disaster areas individually.  They are dispatched as part of a team, a team made up of people with complementary skills, who will work as a unit for a common goal.
  • You need the blessing of the powers-that-be.  This provides everything from liability coverage to supervision to official permission to be where you are to evacuation if necessary...basically everything that random individuals who just "show up" don't have.
  • You need the right gear.  During Hurricane Katrina many people drove down to the disaster area to help.  Unfortunately they were not prepared to even take care of themselves let alone other people.  They didn't bring enough water for themselves, enough food for themselves, any means to shelter themselves...basically they made the situation worse instead of better.
  • You need protection.  This can vary from actual armed guards who shadow you as you go about your work to daily "sit reps" to let you know ahead of time what kinds of situations you should expect to encounter.
  • You need the infrastructure that accompanies official emergency responses.  This can be everything from the knowledge of the NIMS/ICS system to professional trauma care provided on-site by trained professionals to supervision to make sure you don't exhaust yourself to protocols to work under specifically for the situation you are in.
  • You need legal coverage.  Legal coverage is part and parcel with official emergency response/military action.  As long as you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, the officials who dispatched you will ensure that you are legally covered (yes, even after a major disaster people will actually sue their rescuers).
  • You need to be credentialed.  After a history of disasters and disaster responses, it has become more and more important that responders have the proper credentials when they show up at a scene.  There have been many disaster situation where people show up, claim to be a doctor or fire man, and run in to help when they are actually neither.  Not only do they put themselves at risk but they put the people they are "rescuing" at risk as well.
  • You need to be in a position where if you get arrested, get kidnapped, or otherwise go missing, the powers-that-be will come and rescue you.  For people who self-dispatch to disaster scenes/war zones, no one may even know they are there let alone know when they need help (such as having just been kidnapped).  As in the article, if a family really presses, they can probably find a congressman to push the issue but often times, civilians not only get themselves in trouble, but cause problems on a national scale (in tense political situations, the random civilian who gets caught up in the mess usually comes out on the losing end).
The bottom line is that if you find yourself wanting to help in a disaster situation/war zone--other than the "you have no other option but to respond because it happened in your neighborhood" type of scenario--go about it the right way instead of self-dispatching yourself into a situation that you may not even survive.  There are plenty of ways to join the cause if this is what you want--join the military (lots of training is provided for free, you just need to give them a few years of your life), join FEMA or the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders...even your local Search and Rescue can provide some useful training and interesting opportunities to help in crisis events.

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