How to buy incident management tools

By Jarret Winkelman
Incident Response Technologies

As emergency responders, we often work based on the idea of preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. We train to expect the worst-case scenario on every call. Yet, the question often remains ... what do we do when we are actually faced with that worst-case scenario. How do we manage the traffic accident that actually involved a tanker truck, train, and airplane all at once?

Here are five things to consider when you're looking to acquire new incident management tools for your agency.

1) How big is big?
The first step in evaluating the incident management needs of any department should be a thorough analysis of your jurisdiction. What does worst-case scenario mean for you? As an example, I will use an ambulance jurisdiction that I volunteer with. Our total population is approximately 11,000. So one may say our worst-case would be an event affecting all 11,000 citizens. However, when you factor in special event centers, and a major interstate, our actual effected population could be much higher.

2) Threat assessment
Once you have factored in how big an event could be in your jurisdiction, the next logical step is to determine what kind of event(s) you are most likely to experience. Note that this does not necessarily imply the events that are likely to occur most often. Again, I use my jurisdiction as an example. All of our structures are considered wildland-urban interface. Although small brush fires are a frequent reality, a large wildland fire is a VERY rare event. That said, our likely worst-case scenario would be a large fire requiring a total evacuation of the district.

That is the obvious possibility. Now, at the same time, there is a large church in our jurisdiction, and given the recent increase in church violence we cannot leave that out. So, my agency must consider incident management solutions for large geographical events, as well as single site events effecting 1000-persons.

3) Key Needs
Now that the scope and type of likely incidents has been outlined, it is time to determine the key incident management needs that go with them. This could be personnel accountability, radio or equipment caches, medical supplies, computer hardware or software, GPS technology, road signage and road traffic management, command vehicles and bases, isolation systems, and a long list of similar items. In the example above, I would say that mass evacuation is a definite need. Therefore, road signage, reverse 911 capability, PIO training, and software accountability tools would be of high priority.

4) By hand or on the computer?
Now that your needs are established, it is time to select the type of tools to purchase to address each. It is essential to research all of the various types of products that could meet each need, or that could meet a group of needs. Many of these options are going to involve a software solution versus a 'by hand' method. For example, will you track accountability on a computer or by using a Velcro board with name tags (the pass port method)? Each has its own pros and cons and only you can decide which is the right choice for your department.

5) Visit a trade show, compare vendors, and issue an RFP
Perhaps the best place to find the latest and greatest is a trade show. Regardless of how you locate new technologies and products, it is important to think ahead when making a purchase. Money invested in the future of your department and community is money spent wisely. Look at the traditional ways of doing things, and the new methods that are available. What direction is the industry steering toward? What do you think the standard of the industry will be in five or 10 years?

After selecting a type of product, find comparable products and get to know all of the vendors involved. Seek references and ask plenty of questions. Ensure you are aware of all up front and on going pricing, including maintenance, warranties, returns, and the availability of the product in the future.

Once this is all done it is time to issue an RFP. Why you ask? Well for one, it gives vendors one last opportunity to strut their stuff. They may give you ideas through this process that you have not thought of yet. And most importantly, vendors tend to offer lower pricing when they are faced with a competitive bidding process. So, even if you have selected the perfect vendor, put them to the test and issue an RFP.

  • Any other suggestions? Anything we missed in the list above? Leave a comment below or e-mail with your feedback.

Jarret Winkelman is an owner and regional sales director at Incident Response Technologies, LLC. IRT provides affordable administrative, scheduling, training, and incident management solutions to public safety agencies. Mr. Winkelman currently serves as the assistant chief of a volunteer EMS agency and has diverse experience in the search and rescue, fire and EMS fields.

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