First responders (Forensic Science)
The many different kinds of professionals classified as first responders work for private, public, and governmental agencies—federal, state, and local governments; the private sector; and nongovernmental entities and organizations. As first responders, they are usually certified to carry out specific emergency management tasks. First responders in the United States receive training concerning the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which uses the Incident Command System to ensure coordinated responses at scenes of emergencies or disasters. Some states, such as California, mandate by law that all first responders have a certain level of emergency medical training. The federal government, especially the Department of Homeland Security, provides much of the funding for such training and for the equipment necessary to respond to emergencies and disasters.
First responders can be found at the scenes of crimes, terrorist attacks, fires, vehicle accidents, hazardous spills at manufacturing plants, contagious disease outbreaks, downed utility lines, and natural or human-made disasters involving thousands of people. Not all persons who are the first to arrive at emergency scenes are traditional first responders, however. Nontraditional first responders might include flight attendants, sports coaches, lifeguards, and teachers, who may have no training in any emergency procedures beyond simple first aid. After the terrorist attacks on the...
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Roles and Responsibilities (Forensic Science)
Although first responders can be found around the globe, the public became more aware of the roles of first responders in the United States after the 2001 terrorist attacks that caused the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. In 2003, in response to the aftermath of these attacks, U.S. president George W. Bush issued a presidential directive that defined first responders as those skilled individuals involved in the first stages of an incident who carry out many roles for the purposes of protecting and preserving people and property, evidence, and the environment. The foremost objective of first responders is to protect humans from injury and death. First responders also protect animals. In addition, first responders play major roles in protecting property from damage and destruction and in preserving forensic evidence.
First responders participate in the multiple phases of the disaster management cycle, which include planning, prevention and mitigation, response, and recovery. First responders take specific actions depending on the types of emergencies or disasters that have taken place, whether natural or human-made. The duties of first responders are usually established in the federal, state, local, and private emergency response plans adopted by the governmental or nongovernmental entities that engage the services of the responders or volunteers. The National Response Plan in the United...
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Second Responders (Forensic Science)
First responders may become overwhelmed during serious disasters and may need to call on others for assistance. These others, sometimes known as second responders, include people from charitable organizations such as the Red Cross. In 2002, President Bush encouraged all Americans to volunteer service through the USA Freedom Corps during times of emergencies and disasters. Some of the newest emergency response volunteer organizations in the United States are part of the Citizen Corps, which was established after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Other organizations, such as faith-based and secular service organizations, also stepped up in greater numbers after the 2001 attacks to offer their services in assisting first responders.
Because first responders may need to rely on second responders, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security works with state and local governments and nongovernmental entities to provide training and certification for persons who are likely to participate in emergency and disaster response before they partner with first responders. Such training and certification enable second responders to partner effectively with first responders and to follow the Incident Command System. Moreover, second responders who receive this training learn how to protect victims and property, thus ensuring the preservation of forensic evidence at emergency and disaster scenes.
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Alexander, David. Principles of Emergency Planning and Management. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Basic text focuses on the planning aspects of emergency management. Analyzes case studies to reinforce the discussion of emergency management practices.
Bergeron, J. David, Gloria Bizjak, George W. Krause, and Christopher Le Baudour. First Responder. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2004. Workbook, part of an emergency management series, is intended as a training tool for first responders. Includes instruction on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid training.
Bullock, Jane, and George Haddow. Introduction to Emergency Management. 2d ed. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2005. Provides a good overview of emergency management and the roles and responsibilities of first responders.
_______. Introduction to Homeland Security. 2d ed. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006. Presents an informative overview of homeland security measures in the United States and first responders’ use of the Incident Command System. Includes discussion of the emergency responses to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the hurricanes of 2005.
Limmer, Daniel, Keith J. Karren, and Brent Q. Hafen. First Responder: A Skills Approach. 7th ed. Upper Saddle Rivier, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2006. Covers the various kinds of incidents in which first...
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First Responders (World of Forensic Science)
It is usually a call to the emergency services that triggers the investigation of a potential crime. That is why the first person on the scene, known as the first responder, is usually a police, fire, or medical officer. His or her priority is always the safety of those who are at the scene, but the responder also has to be aware of the importance of preserving evidence that may be relevant to any crime that has been committed. After all, he or she is the only person to see the location in its original state. The actions and observations of first responders can therefore be crucial in terms of gathering and preservation of evidence that may eventually be presented in court.
On arrival at the scene, the first responder will carry out an initial assessment of whether a crime has actually been committed. If there is an obvious victim, the first priority has to be to offer first aid and any other assistance. In the case of a serious crime, the first responder will call for help so that the tasks of dealing with those present and preserving evidence can be delegated.
Although the first responder's first priority is assistance rather than looking for evidence, he or she will still keep the latter in mind in all their actions. However, the destruction of evidence is acceptable if it is needed to help a victim or even save their life. Whatever first responders do has the potential to affect evidence, and they need to be aware of this. Their first task is to assist any victims present at the scene of crime. They will also look for any suspects and arrest them if possible. Witnesses must be detained and kept separately. This is to stop them sharing from their stories and contaminating evidence. Should the first responder see suspects, victims, or witnesses trying to clean up or dispose of evidence, then they have a duty to stop them in the interest of preserving the scene.
The first responder will then secure the scene of crime by taping it off and taking careful note of who comes in and out. Entry is restricted to those who
When the first responder attends to a victim, he or she may need to move the person or any evidence. When this happens, a record should be taken of any actions that are performed. The original position and posture of the body and anything that is moved should be carefully recorded. The victim could need to go to the hospital and, ideally, someone would go with him or her. However, should the first responder be alone, the duty is to remain at the scene.
In the case of a serious crime, forensic investigators will be called to the scene. It is important for the first responder to mark out a common approach path for those coming to the scene later. This reduces the possibility of disturbing or contaminating the evidence at the scene, which can easily happen if people are moving at random through the site. Often the common approach path is from the cordon to the focal point of a crime, such as a body. Possible entry and exit points of perpetrators will also be avoided so that valuable evidence is not disturbed.
First responders must always minimize the impact they themselves have on the scene. They should attempt to minimize their own fingerprints or other trace left evidence behind and take special care to avoid areas and items that may contain suspects' fingerprints, such as doorknobs and light switches. Everything they do should be carefully recorded in case it alters the original crime scene. Sooner or later the first responder will be joined or replaced by others. It is particularly important that a record of what has been observed and carried out by the first responder is handed over by those who are next on the scene of crime. The chain of custody of evidence begins with first responders, even though they are not forensic experts. Their actions at the scene can be vital in the preservation of important evidence.
SEE ALSO Crime scene investigation.