Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

Indiana’s Disaster Response Task Forces Rethink Mutual Aid

The District Response Task Force program provided out-of-state aid during Sandy, and despite some glitches, the concept worked well.

Indiana proved that its disaster response task force program not only works, but that it’s also flexible, when it provided out-of-state aid for Hurricane Sandy.

The state’s concept for mutual aid relies on its 10 Homeland Security Districts. Each district has a self-sustaining task force — it includes incident command and public safety functions, among others — that can be asked to respond both within Indiana and out of state. While fairly new, the concept has been used twice in real-world responses, most recently to provide mutual aid to the East Coast during Hurricane Sandy.

Earlier this year, Emergency Management interviewed Joe Wainscott, executive director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, about the District Response Task Force program. “The impetus behind this was to be able to create a public safety surge into an area that’s been affected by a disaster, to augment and support the local affected public safety folks, support the incident commander, provide additional resources and then for a variety of needs,” he said.

Donations poured into the East Coast from across the U.S. following Hurricane Sandy and the Nor’easter that devastated the region. A team of emergency management professionals from Indiana helped local New York officials manage and distribute the donations to those in need.

The response was so great in Long Beach, N.Y., that donated goods exceeded the capacity of Long Beach City Hall. Arrangements were made to move all volunteer coordination efforts and donation collection and distribution to the city’s ice arena. In addition to a larger location, part of the Indiana Incident Management Team in Long Beach helped manage donation distribution and volunteer coordination.

On Nov. 9, the Indiana Incident Management Team was deployed to relieve the existing Indiana team in Long Beach. The 37-person team included public safety professionals from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, Indiana University, IDHS districts 1, 2, 5, 8, 9 and 10, Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Indiana State Police.

Source: Indiana Department of Homeland Security
Each task force is composed of five functions: law enforcement, fire suppression, emergency medical services, a Type III Incident Command Team, and a service and support element. The idea behind the concept is that a complete team can be sent to help an area — or as was shown during Sandy, one part of the task force can be called upon and in some cases merged with the same function from another district to form a strike team.

“Basically a task force brings a small jurisdiction size of public safety force to help them through the disaster time frame,” said Randy Collins, district programs branch director for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Collins said the state participated in six Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) requests during Sandy, including:

  • an ambulance strike team/EMS task force was sent to New Jersey, which included members from multiple District Response Task Forces;
  • an incident management assistance team, made up of mostly state employees and augmented by district personnel, went to Maryland; and
  • District 7’s incident management team went to New York.

The ambulance strike team was a first for Indiana’s task force program — members from five task forces combined to form one EMS task force. While the idea to pluck certain functions from a task force instead of sending a complete unit was envisioned when the program was developed, this was the first time it was done.

“New Jersey needed ambulances, so that’s what we did,” said Jeff Houston, commander of District 4’s task force, which was one of the five responding task forces. “We picked out the EMS element from the various districts and pulled those out and combined them into one full task force.”

The EMS task force arrived in New Jersey just before Hurricane Sandy impacted the state. Collins said Indiana was the first state to respond to the EMAC request and get the requested resources traveling east.

Elaine Pittman  |  Managing Editor

Managing Editor Elaine Pittman has nearly a decade of experience in writing and editing, having started her career with The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. Elaine joined Emergency Management in 2008, and she can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.

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