Everyday, Public Safety authorities respond to incidents that affect our safety and security. It's hard to believe until we read the statistics. For example, toxic chemicals are spilled or released somewhere in the US an average of 3 times per hour.
Due to constant budget cuts, Public Safety offices are struggling to staff enough resources to keep up with demands. Having worked with government public safety for the last 13 years, I have seen the hard fight to fund the modernization of public safety systems and move public safety services from manual, paper-based systems to more automated, web-based and mobile ones.
When these projects have been funded, the gains are significant. Compliance rates increase because it is easy to communicate requirements, submit applications, get access to transaction histories, and make fee payments. But a significant benefit that is often less recognized is that web-based systems put critical information in the hands of those that need it most - front line responders in public safety and other service fields who need the information to make critical decisions on how to save and protect people, environment, and property while protecting themselves.
Should we fight the fire, evacuate the area, or both? How many hospitals, schools, or malls are in the area? Do we have the equipment we need to respond? All these questions and more are asked during an emergency situation. These questions are left unanswered without systems to deliver the latest information to First Responders.
Before, little information was available for Fire and other response teams to make a decision when responding to a 911 call because the information was collected and stored as paper forms. Response Plans developed from old data were available to use as a best guess. The best option for Public Safety responders was to speak to site officials when they arrived onscene. Precious time lost.
Today, government agencies understand that First Responders need the latest, best information when responding to an emergency call to make critical decisions. But, time and again, the Public Safety agencies are not granted the budgets they need. They have to do more with less. This means another year where Responders need to rely on their best guesses. What is the price for safety?
Why pay for lost life after an incident has occurred when it would have cost a fraction of the price to strengthen compliance and preparedness programs? For example, the West Texas fertilizer blast in 2013 that killed 15 people (11 First Responders), injured 226 people, and damaged or destroyed 150 buildings was called 'preventable' by the Chemical Safety Board. After the incident, the state was mired in investigations from federal agencies and scrutiny from the press.
Recent history shows that only after major incidents do administrators and politicians make an effort to steer budget dollars toward Safety Program improvements. In the wake of the West Texas incident, President Obama issued an Executive Order (EO) to improve chemical safety. We see a plan in place to improve coordination around chemical safety, but more than 1 year since the EO was passed, States and Local Government Public Safety agencies are still struggling to find the funding they need to make sure that First Responders have the latest emergency plans in place to protect themselves, our community, and the environment. Let us urge Public Safety administrators to make sure that the price of our safety is not a political barter because you never know when one of those chemical spills that happens 3 times every hour might be in your own community and the First Responder is your neighbor.