Many things can affect emergency response times, and in different areas, we see different “normal” response times when you call 911. What are we prepared to do if and when we make that call, and those services are unable to respond?
Currently, as this is being written in early May of 2020, the world is still near the beginning of the SARS-COV-2 pandemic. Many jurisdictions have already altered the responses of their agencies, be it fire, police, or EMS, in response to the new world that we all find ourselves in.
If you have not called 911 in a while, you might find out that new questions are being asked of the callers in most areas. Dispatchers now ask callers questions related to COVID-19, such as has anyone involved in the call have COVID-19, fever in the last 24 hours, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing or body aches during the previous 24 hours, has anyone at the scene been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19? These are some of the CDC Guidelines that anyone can access, and many agencies are attempting to protect their first responders by having as many of those questions as possible answered before help arrives on the scene.
The smaller the jurisdictions are, the fewer resources they usually have available. So, these agencies are attempting to ramp up the protections and cautions for the first responders who end up on those scenes. As you can imagine, they will be taking more precautions on calls involving someone who has tested positive for an infectious disease, whether it means higher levels of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) or just limiting the amount of personnel who enter a premise.
Fire and EMS work hand in hand in most jurisdictions and will have a medical director from one of their local hospitals that directs their response to calls and sets up the needed protocols. In many areas where assisted living centers are involved in calls, EMS providers are limiting the number of responders who enter those facilities, and generally, they are wearing their highest level of PPE before entering, both for their protection as well as trying to prevent bringing anything inside with them as well. Generally, firefighters responding to fire calls are not in the closest of contact with many people and are usually wearing their bunker gear when they work. They will likely continue to rely on social distancing as their main caretaking procedure when fighting fires.
In the larger population areas, we see some questionable government overreach where agencies are being asked to cite, fine or arrest people who are violating these Emergency Orders that are being put in place by states, counties, and municipalities. The vast majority of law enforcement have little desire to go out and enforce these things, but you can sure bet that they are getting a lot of pressure from those pockets of government that put the orders in place and have all of the busybodies calling and complaining to the mayors, governors, and county commissioners. It is one of those things that happens to roll downhill. In the long run, I suspect that there will not be many of these EO’s that stand up to Habeas Corpus, and most people would be encouraged to contest these cited or arrested violations in court if they make it that far. Many of them are already being dismissed and thrown out of court all over the country.
For the most part, law enforcement is looking to limit community contact as much as possible. Many agencies do not have large PPE supplies to burn through with constant community contacts throughout their shifts, days on end. There will always be some unavoidable calls to respond to, such as anything dangerous like major accidents involving injuries or disabled vehicles, assaults, robberies, kidnappings, and murders. Many agencies have pushed a lot of the other less prioritized calls towards phone reports and online reports if those are offered in those jurisdictions. Those types of calls entail thefts, burglaries, property damage, identity theft, stolen or abused credit card information, and such.
I suspect that we will see permanent changes for how first responders and agencies respond to calls going forward from now on. Most jurisdictions are finding out that they have limited numbers of first responders to call upon in normal times, and now when some are taken out by quarantines, those dwindling numbers of available first responders are shocking to many communities. Almost certainly, people will see some increased response times for many calls, whether it be due to lack of staff, more calls in any given area, lack of equipment when their vehicles go down or a change in PPE posture for the responders themselves. All of those things add up to increased time.
So how does that translate to the people in communities that rely on these services? People should be better prepared to handle at least the initial onset of as many problems as possible as if help was not available or timely.
Concerning medical preparedness and fire prevention, many businesses now have AED’s (Automated External Defibrillator) available to provide life-saving treatment for someone suffering a sudden heart attack along with various levels of First Aid kits. Many times, the effectiveness of using these items comes down to people’s training or familiarity with them. The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) reports that fire departments across the nation are responding to fire every 24 seconds and that home fires still cause the majority of all civilian fire deaths, civilian injuries, and property loss (June 26, 2017). There are many polls and articles, usually done by insurance companies as you would imagine, that track how many homes have fire extinguishers and who among them would know how to use them. They mostly agree that renters are the least likely to own fire extinguishers, and many people are not knowledgeable on how to use them in the first place. Neighbors, friends, and online videos can go a long way toward helping many of those who are uncomfortable in their use. Plus, there are many new, very easy to use fire extinguishers available at most home building supply stores nowadays.
You will always hear people in the preparedness community tell you to get training and the importance of getting that medical training could very well save the life of yourself, a loved one, friend, neighbor or complete stranger one day.
Concerning personal safety/security, many parts of the country recently emptied their jails of their “low-level offenders,” which could translate into a lot of different types of criminals being released. Those same jurisdictions are also making certain crimes into PR (Personal Recognizance) bonds, which means no money to get out of jail, just their promise to show up for court similar to receiving a citation. That means many criminals are truly using the revolving door aspect of the judicial system currently. I suspect that overall, across the country, we will see property crimes go up significantly during this time. Locally in my area, it is a double-edged sword. We are seeing a fairly normal number of thefts and burglaries, maybe a small increase, but we are also seeing an increase of the thieves being caught due to a high number of victims and witnesses being home and reporting the in-progress crimes.
I have always suggested that people improve their personal security and, in several layers, when possible. On the exterior of homes with the grid up, the use of bright lights, cameras, and motion sensors are always good investments and deterrents. On hardening the structure, I highly recommend the use of any of the various brands of door plates, such as Door Armor brand and decent quality locks, to slow would-be burglars or attackers down. Noisy dogs, if possible, alarm systems, door bars, or extra latches and locks all help slow the bad guys down. Having a good neighborhood watch program in place or creating one now is always a good idea depending on your neighborhood (if I lived near a known criminal element or people of questionable character, I probably would be asking for their help watching my home for me). Paying attention to your surroundings through your neighbors or any of the many online resources such as Nextdoor.com and Neighbors Apps can also be helpful as well as looking into any crime stats made available by your local law enforcement agencies.
Of course, you cannot talk about personal security without talking about self-defense and its many aspects. Self-defense can include situational awareness, martial arts, less-lethal weapons, and tactics as well as firearms. All of them, including situational awareness, require some training. Some jurisdictions require people to jump through a lot of hoops for firearms, probably even for the less-lethal weapons, different ammunition, and magazines of different capacities. These are all things that need to be considered for each person and their families where they live. And just like the medical and fire prevention, the ability to be proficient with self-defense requires not only training but also education in its use, as there can very likely be legal consequences if or when they come into play, again, especially depending on where you might live.
With the increase in emergency calls, the reduction of responders through various circumstances, and the new world we find ourselves, it would behoove many of us to be better prepared to be the first responder for ourselves, our friends, and loved ones as we can. When our local first responders get overwhelmed, we could very well find ourselves asking, “Who do we call?”