Resource-Typing Implications for EMS and Emergency Management

“Resource typing,” an important term used in the national incident management system (NIMS), refers to the development of common national definitions for any resource – which, when that umbrella word is used generically, could be anything from a dump truck to a fire fighter or policeman to an ambulance.

The purpose of resource typing is to give those responsible for managing the response to a disaster a common understanding of what a specific resource is when it is being requested. This approach is the best and perhaps only way to ensure that, when someone in authority requests a resource – an ambulance, for example – during a disaster, that person can specify the type of the resource needed. In the ambulance example, the requestor can specify the level of medical training and hazardous-materials training also needed to operate it.

As with all emergency plans and systems, resource typing needs top-down support and constant, daily use. When an emergency plan unravels, it is often because it has been used only during the most severe disasters, which makes it less familiar to front-line responders and, therefore, counter-intuitive as well as, perhaps, counterproductive. In order for resource typing (or any other emergency plan, or terminology) to work, it must be woven into the fabric of day-to-day operations. That is why top-down support and everyday use mean, among other things, incorporating resource typing within the day-to-day structure of the emergency medical services (EMS) system and enforcing the resource-typing theme at all levels within the system.

Small things mean a lot in making a term such as resource typing work as more than just a concept – for example, if the units within a specific EMS system conform to the national resource-typing definitions, the terminology of the agency should also follow that used in NIMS policy guidelines and similar documents. For example: Many EMS systems utilize “fly cars” – i.e., non-transport-capable vehicles that bring EMS equipment and trained personnel to the scene; a transport-capable ambulance follows the fly car to the scene of the disaster.

Multipurpose Use, But Some Short-Term Objections

The terminology used has to continue to serve the operational needs not only of the system itself but also of the community it serves. The suggestion here is not that the system should be forced to conform to a national standard but, rather, that the national standard should be reserved for only those units that do meet the standard. When they do not, a completely different term should be used. In this way, when a unit is compliant (with NIMS), the term tells those outside the system that the unit is as advertised, and when the unit is not compliant the unique local term used in its stead tells them that it is something that is perhaps unknown.

Raising this discussion above the agency level, resource typing is absolutely designed to be implemented as part of a mutual-aid plan. Mutual-aid plans are agreements between agencies or communities whereby each agrees to lend its resources to the other in times of emergency. These agreements, which are now routinely used in response to day-to-day emergencies, must be written to require the use of the NIMS resource-typing definitions. By referencing the definitions without being overly specific on the details, the mutual-aid plan stays up to date as the definitions change, with no rewriting required.

As happens with almost any changes to a system already in place, those in an EMS agency may resist the type of nomenclature changes suggested here. However, with the support of the local command structure, these changes will become second nature soon enough.

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Joseph Cahill
Joseph Cahill

Joseph Cahill is the director of medicolegal investigations for the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. He previously served as exercise and training coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and as emergency planner in the Westchester County (N.Y.) Office of Emergency Management. He also served for five years as citywide advanced life support (ALS) coordinator for the FDNY – Bureau of EMS. Before that, he was the department’s Division 6 ALS coordinator, covering the South Bronx and Harlem. He also served on the faculty of the Westchester County Community College’s paramedic program and has been a frequent guest lecturer for the U.S. Secret Service, the FDNY EMS Academy, and Montefiore Hospital.



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