Best Laid Plans
Eric Hall, Digital Services Fellow, shares his experience at a disaster simulation training with Cumberland County.
As unfathomable as the bombing of the Maine Mall may be, it is this exact hypothetical scenario that an array of emergency management and other relevant organizations convened to discuss next to the still-standing complex. As an attendee of the third Cumberland County Capabilities Assessment and GAP Analysis Workshop, I took part in and listened to the various groups discuss their role in response to an intentional incident. There were participants from Maine Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security, police and fire departments, mall security, hospitals, and municipal government. All discussed their internal plans and logistics for collaboration.
One representative from a regional hospital noted the importance of practicing for a mass casualty incident (MCI) by training their employees every few years. However, the necessity to prepare for an MCI has to be weighed against the current crushing need faced by health care providers. They stated the hospital is almost always at capacity due to the impact of Covid-19, superseding training time due to busy shifts. Even at an in-person workshop, the devastation of the pandemic was not lost on the planning for speculative devastation.
It is this conjuncture in planning, between predictable and unpredictable events, that fascinates me about the field. Organizations must, by necessity, develop plans to and discuss a range of hypothetical disasters, and yet they will never be able to plan for everything. Much like organizations, I did not plan ahead for everything. I had not penciled a disastrous global pandemic into my calendar, nor imagined graduating into a more uncertain and uncomfortable time. Now it would be great to say that I took the initial disruption in stride and I would relish the opportunity to tout my resilience before joining the Resilience Corps, but the lived rather than imagined is meaningful. I worked as an Enumerator for the Census and in a warehouse for L.L.Bean. In the communities I surveyed and amongst my hardworking coworkers, I saw resilience. A resilience not tempered by the pandemic, but bolstered in spite of it. It is the shining example of those around me that inspired me to serve communities dealing with disasters or planning for more resilient futures.
Preparation for a disaster is relevant to my role as an AmeriCorps member. Members can be deployed to respond to disasters as part of an emergency response effort. In order to prepare, my cohort and I took a National Incident Management System (NIMS) introductory course and passed NIMS certification. We learned about resource management, command and coordination, and communications. NIMS lays out the structural planning to best prepare responders for an assortment of disasters. In the midst of a crisis, we see organizational structures tested, a certain degree of improvisation, and certainly leadership. Workshops like these allow ideas to be sounded out, relationships between different intersecting organizations strengthened, and current needs listed. There is a lot of value in planning ahead, even if there will occasionally be events as shocking as they are horrifying as the destruction of the Maine Mall.
About Eric Hall
Eric is from Lewiston, Maine, and a recent graduate of Bowdoin College. At Bowdoin he double majored in History & Government and Legal Studies and was a member of the sailing team. He also co-led the Ski and Ride Club and volunteered with Big Brother Big Sister his senior year, serving as a mentor and friend to a local middle school student. On the weekends he enjoys skiing on Maine’s mountains or playing board games with his friends. Eric is very excited to be a member of the Resilience Corps team because of his passion for public service and love of the state of Maine. He looks forward to helping to solve the pressing problems of the Greater Portland region.