The preplan is a written document that may be included as part of the emergency action plan (EAP) or may be a separate document. According to Stoffel (2001), the preplan accomplishes two things. First, it provides a framework with which to solve problems. Second, it defines authorities, jurisdictions, and legal ramifications so that people do not have to question in the middle of a major search operation who is in charge or whether the organization has the authority to conduct the search.
Stoffel (2001) advises keeping the preplan simple and flexible, avoiding duplication of documents, and keeping explanations short. The preplan should address only what is necessary. When creating the preplan, an organization should consider the following.
- Develop written memorandums of understanding with the agencies with which the organization may become involved, and keep the memorandums updated. A memorandum of understanding is a letter stating a working relationship between two organizations. In this case, the memorandum of understanding would state that if a search and rescue operation were to occur, the rescuers would use the services or the organization with specialized knowledge, skills, and abilities, how they would utilize them, and whether there were any limitations on their use. These documents do not need to be complicated.
- Check with local, state, and federal agencies regarding laws or regulations that affect the organization’s operations.
- Address the chain of command.
- Determine who is in charge of what.
- Assess the area and the potential problems that the organization could face or has faced in the past.
- Have legal staff review all documents.
When determining what issues it might face, an organization can start by reviewing and analyzing previous incidents and incident reports. Past incidents can often foreshadow potential future occurrences. One should remember, however, that incident reports may not include all available information because organizational culture tends to hide facts in order to avoid recognizing and analyzing incidents.
Clientele will, in part, determine the organization’s preplan needs. An organization that deals with children in an urban environment may need to consider runaway and abduction incidents. In a wilderness park, searches will likely consist of finding lost hikers and campers.
An organization should also consider facility conditions. Does the facility have a central entrance and security point? Does it have security cameras? Are other potential entrances and exits secured? Is the area surrounding the facility fenced, patrolled, and secured? If the facility is a large outdoor area, where do people frequently go (e.g., the visitor’s center, campground, interpretive trail, beachfront, or other major attraction)? The features that surround a facility can also influence the search needs. For example, abandoned or rundown buildings can be attractive nuisances for youths. The landscape surrounding a large park can affect search requirements.
Finally, in the preplan phase, an organization should examine its administrative procedures. Health forms, medical releases, and parental and guardian information become important documentation if an emergency occurs. Policies and procedures should be examined in terms of how they can affect a crisis situation. Sometimes simple administrative policies can have significant impact. For example, in the story in figure 10.1, the camp performed a head count during meals. Because campers were assigned to a table at mealtime, it was a simple matter to determine if someone was missing and to take appropriate action. Contrast this with a camp where meals are served cafeteria style and campers can sit wherever they want. In addition, there was a head count at bedtime, and they emphasized unit programs during the first two days of a new session. Unit programming where everyone in the unit participated together in activities made it easier to keep track of campers.