Scene Protection and Security: Three Things Tuesday

Did you read the widely circulated article last week, Mystery Bystander Infiltrates Incident Delaying Extrication and Nearly Killing Vehicle Driver? You might have missed that headline because the story was alternatively, more optimistically, about a mystery guardian angel that appeared from nowhere to pray with the accident victim. Responders were stunned when the mysterious person did not appear in any photographs. Later a priest came forward to identify himself as the person that came upon the scene, walked up to the damaged vehicle, and got close enough to the victim to be able to lay hands on her and pray with her.

I am  alarmed that a bystander unknown to rescuers, regardless of their costume or claimed identity, could get so close to a patient so as to interact with the patient while also putting their own safety at risk and potentially delaying extrication and transport activities.

Any incident, regardless of the presence of hazardous materials, can have a cold zone, warm zone, and hot zone.

The cold zone is for bystanders, rubber-neckers, and other passers by. They are welcome to use cameras to record and share what they are seeing and hearing. The members of the cold zone are only of interest when they try to access the warm zone or delay the movement of emergency responders into or out of the warm zone.

The warm zone is the area to stage personnel and resources to enter the hot zone. It can also be used for rehab or preparing personnel or resources to leave the incident and return to service. Family and friends of the patient might are often allowed in the warm zone. For example a spouse may watch the crew perform CPR and run the code. The spouse is not directly interfering with the actions of the pit crew, but is receiving specific and timely information from a designated emergency responder.

The hot zone is for the patient(s) and the emergency responders attending to the patient(s)’s needs for assessment, extrication, and or treatment. The number of people and equipment in the hot zone is limited to the minimum needed to execute and command the strategy and tactics of the incident. Allowing a bystander, in my opinion, into the hot zone is unacceptably dangerous.

Three Tips for Scene Security

1. Mandatory Photo Identification and seasonally appropriate Uniform for any emergency responder that wants to access the warm zone and gain access into the hot zone.

2. Greet bystanders at the warm zone to cold zone interface. Depending on the incident there will likely be logic access and greeting points. The size of the warm zone may also expand and contract as the incident changes. The interface is probably staffed with a responder that is skilled in interacting with the public and explaining actions of emergency responders in vague but interesting language.

3. Assign an escort or liaison to friends or family that are permitted into the warm zone. Their role is to ensure the safety of non-responders and provide timely and specific information about facts. They are not to speculate or second guess the emergency responders active in the rescue. If this is a motor vehicle incident keep in mind that anyone on the roadside is a high risk environment and should be properly attired with high visibility clothing.

How do you prevent bystanders from infiltrating incidents? 

By Greg Friese

Greg Friese, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is an author, educator, paramedic, and marathon runner.

Greg was the co-host of the award winning EMSEduCast podcast, the only podcast by and for EMS educators. Greg has written for,, Wilderness Medical Associates, JEMS Magazine, and EMS World Magazine, and the NAEMSE Educator Newsletter.