The South is slowly thawing out from its rare winter freeze and snowfall, but the ramifications of what occurred will impact how the region handles disaster preparedness in the future. In Atlanta, approximately three inches of snow crippled the metropolitan area, leaving thousands stranded on roads and emphasizing the important role first responders play in such emergencies.
First responders train for extreme weather
Learning how to function in extreme weather conditions is often considered an important part of law enforcement training, especially with regards to firearms. According to Police Chief magazine, officers must familiarize themselves with the side effects of cold weather, including numbness in their hands, involuntary shivering, difficulty thinking clearly and the loss of fine motor skills, as all these factors can impact operations. Unfortunately, officers in the South have little opportunity to train for these circumstances.
During the deep freeze, law enforcement agencies dealt with a surge of car crashes, stranded individuals and general chaos. The Los Angeles Times reported that almost 1,400 auto accidents occurred throughout Georgia. First responders attended to these crashes while also patrolling crowded highways and providing protection at schools where students were sleeping overnight.
Medical knowledge can make a difference
Because of the grid-locked traffic in the Atlanta area, many rescue trucks and paramedics were unable to cross highways and roads to reach those who needed help. This left the burden of administering medical help to law enforcement officers, some of whom stepped outside of their normal responsibilities to provide care. A prime example of this involved Officer Tim Sheffield, a member of the Sandy Springs Police Department. While patrolling the highway to offer help to those stranded by the ice, Sheffield came across a woman about to give birth. With the help of the woman's husband, the patrolman aided in the safe delivery of her child – with no medical professionals present.
Although Officer Sheffield may not have needed the full scope of knowledge employed by tactical medical teams, the ability to provide medical care in isolated situations could make a major difference in future weather-related emergencies. Part of the curriculum required of these specialized units includes administering care under extreme conditions. Extending this training to all law enforcement officers would help first responders overcome challenges that arise when access to critical medical resources is cut off, as was the case in Atlanta.
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