By David Jannetty, M.S. and Adam Rinko, CEM
The opioid addiction crisis is an emergency that has expanded far beyond a public health issue, overwhelming local first responders, social support systems, healthcare providers, and the criminal justice system. In light of alarming fatality rates, a more complete approach than the prevention methods traditionally favored by health services is needed. A coordinated approach using municipal emergency management personnel and systems to address the opioid addiction crisis makes sense.
Those involved in emergency management are adept at preparing for, responding to, recovering from, and mitigating complex and widespread disasters. Like the opioid crisis, disasters can overwhelm local response capabilities, and exhaust strained municipal budgets. When the opioid crisis is viewed as an emergency management matter, systems and personnel are available to identify and deploy resources and track the progress of response efforts. And, local emergency operations centers (EOCs) are already equipped to support a multi-pronged response.
Using EOCs to manage the response to the opioid crisis requires a new attitude about the EOC concept, as they are typically underused and only activated during natural disasters or planned events. There are, however, other aspects of the emergency management system that can be leveraged to control this crisis.
Emergency management officials are well-versed in finding solutions for challenging problems using limited resources. They use tools like the Incident Command System (ICS), a flexible and expandable all-hazards incident management system for emergencies, disasters, or planned events. By using the ICS concept of unified command, agencies involved in the response follow common management objectives. This approach allows municipalities to deploy limited resources more efficiently by avoiding response duplication through resource coordination, interagency communication, and information sharing. A significant part of the ICS approach is that essential data can be tracked and shared, thereby providing a common operating picture for the overall response effort.
In Waterbury, Connecticut, local officials used this response model with great success during the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak to provide leadership to local emergency services. Waterbury officials now have applied this model to the opioid crisis. The result has been an evolving response effort that continues to change with the progression of the crisis.
Initially, the City spent most of the first two years of the crisis deploying Naloxone and training first responders. As the target populations became saturated with Naloxone and training, the City was able to pivot to a recovery-based set of response priorities quickly. To ensure ongoing, overall coordination, the Waterbury Fire Department’s emergency management personnel work with the City’s public health department to provide command and control to the opioid crisis response.
Local emergency management infrastructure is already equipped to handle large-scale and complex emergencies and disasters. Emergency management officials are well-trained to cope with crises and identify viable response solutions. Principles used to manage widespread and complex natural disasters can also be used to manage public health disasters. Municipalities should leverage the skill sets and training of emergency management professionals to manage the multifaceted challenges of the growing opioid crisis.
David Jannetty is the Program Chair for the Emergency Management and Homeland Security program at Post University and serves as Director of Undergraduate Public Service Programs in the John P. Burke School of Public Service and Education. David is a retired assistant deputy police chief with the Waterbury, CT Police Department. He has over 27 years of experience in emergency management, law enforcement, and school and workplace safety
Adam Rinko is the Emergency Management Director for the City of Waterbury, CT and Executive Officer for the Waterbury Fire Department. Adam is an International Association of Emergency Managers Certified Emergency Manager. He serves as an associate faculty member at Post University and has over 29 years of emergency management and emergency services experience.