I said it. Now, if I had said it while dispatching a unit for the Fire Department of New York I’d be in a heap of trouble. The New York Post, that bastion of mountains made of mole hills, has an article regarding instructions provided to the Fire Department of New York dispatchers regarding the use of the “E”-Bomb:
An FDNY memo instructs all personnel to use more vague terms when discussing the deadly disease, which is threatening to become a global pandemic.
“At no point shall a dispatcher transmit over the radio any message containing the word ‘Ebola’ or related terminology,” according to the advisory, which was obtained by The Post.
Dispatchers instead must use the code letters “F/T,” as in Fever/Travel, to indicate that a 911 caller has a fever and a history of travel to West Africa. “Engine XXX, utilize Universal Precautions — you are responding to a Fever/Travel incident,” dispatchers are now ordered to say.
Now I’m all for avoiding the mass panic that could ensue when someone listening in through a scanner hears the word Ebola, but there are two things that I think really needs to be pointed out to put this in perspective.
First, in a city of over 8 million people, where the borough of Manhattan’s population of 1.6 million nearly doubles during the day to 3.1 million thanks to commuters, there is a REALLY good chance that someone with a fever has travelled or come into contact with someone who has travelled. Did they necessarily do so to West Africa? No… but last time I checked the most recent case originated in Texas.
Second, the major concern isn’t so much the general public. The major concern is the media who, hungry for headlines, will take every opportunity to exploit a perceived crisis to sell papers and get pageviews. I get that, because I studied to be one of them, but I think it really says a lot when a department has to take that into account when planning its operational procedures for an acute issue. I’m all for Freedom of the Press and what not, but I think the media really needs to take a good hard look at itself and exhibit a little self control. We have enough things to worry about other than someone accidentally using the name of a legitimate disease in an emergency medical dispatch environment setting off a public panic because a reporter needs a byline.
Feel free to let me know your thoughts on this Ebola verbiage restriction in the comments…