Recently, I was completing yet another mandated course from the Department of Homeland Security on incident command. Let it be said I am not complaining, for incident command is a much-needed area of concern in law enforcement, but there are clouds looming in the horizon. Now I have just one question, how much more training will emergency services be required to endure?
Unfunded or unnecessary mandates
The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has made their recommendations of training requirements for emergency services. These are built upon the premise of building blocks leading to competency and certifications. This first course is a prerequisite for the higher tier one, and so forth, which is a good idea. Several of the online courses are very good.
Most law enforcement agencies allow a set number of hours of in-service training for all topics, not just incident command. These hours are already divvied up with firearms requalifications, legal updates, and other necessary recertification. These FEMA mandates for staff did not come as a surprise; most departments have met the requirements. Some have had the help of their state POST or training commissions; however, I am told some states are not as supportive.
The problem I keep hearing is from the smaller police agencies. The ones with 20 officers or fewer are hardest hit for several reasons. They do not have enough staff to adequately fill the beats when extra training is mandated. Their budgets have a set amount for the backfill of overtime for training, and some did not project all of this training. Additionally, in some areas these courses are offered on a limited basis, and then who covers calls for service while all are gone? So, this started me to ponder.
The biggest problem existing now is in regard to volunteer support. How many of you rely on volunteer fire or EMS support? These agencies are being hit the hardest of all, so law enforcement should take some solace. We in law enforcement are paid and will muddle through this.
In my recent travels, I spoke with a gent from a smaller county in rural Virginia who asked me about all of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) classes. Immediately, I told him the worth of it for our nation and regional networking for incident management. He would not listen; here was his side of the story. His county has nothing but volunteer fire and rescue services. There was one volunteer fire company about to close its doors, due to lack of membership. They have the FEMA required training that members have to have, in addition to normal fire service training/certifications. He told me that employers were not supportive for VFD members and family support was waning as well. Their ambulance or EMS was total volunteer as well, same scenarios. They have to have their standard EMS training, and now more training. And let's not forget both have to have fund raisers to keep themselves afloat.
The gentleman was worried, for he saw two of his county's support services withering on the vine. Additionally, he kept hearing that both were being trained to death. So, within that, what lies ahead? A new five-year NIMS training plan (released 6 Sept 2007) from the DHS is ready to be launched. To avoid future shock, I would suggest that you study this plan, so you can prepare your training budget for the upcoming years.
Reality and volunteer support
Within the fabric of this county lies a heartbeat of volunteers:fire, EMS, EMA, rescue squads, and some police volunteers as well. For some of the rural and some economically disadvantaged counties, having this volunteer base dry up will be devastating. They will probably not be able to afford paid staff; some do now on the day shift while most of the volunteers work at their normal vocation. There has got to be some sanity or tempering of the amount of mandated training. If most of our volunteers walk away, what will be the nation's true level of readiness then?