Jack had learned the hard way to never make any promises when it came to a disaster. People were desperate to know if a loved one was safe or could be saved but making false promises just to appease them did more harm than good in the long run. It was better to say, "We're doing everything we can."
Sometimes 'everything we can' was simply not enough given the magnitude of some disasters, and those times hit him hardest especially as it was his job as Director of FEMA to get the resources to the disaster zone as fast as possible. He knew, logistically, not everyone could be saved yet he and his team would try to move heaven and earth to save as many as possible, but he knew compromises had to be made.
In a disaster he and his teams had to make hard choices, and sometimes that meant choosing who they could expend immediate resources on, and who would have to wait for a rescue that may not come before they died of their injuries. It meant leaving someone with broken bones crying in pain while they gave medical attention to those with more serious injuries, and it meant letting go of those with grave injuries. Triage, where the latest disaster was the battlefield. He had seen situations turn ugly when someone demanded attention for a loved one who had been given a black tag, aware of how callous it must seem to deny medical attention to someone who simply could not be saved given the conditions and available resources. It was a waste of valuable time trying to explain how expending resources on a 'dead' person took away those resources from others who could be saved; people were selfish by nature when it came to their loved ones. They did not care about anyone else.
He and his team had to be impartial, though accusations would fly if they saved a rich or famous person and left someone else to die, and the media flayed them if they saved a 'nobody' at the cost of losing some celebrity. It was a no-win scenario.
In the aftermath of a disaster he spent weeks writing out reports detailing why his people made certain decisions, agonizing over the injured who had fallen on the line between red (immediate medical assistance required) and black tags. He had to go through statements and justify actions taken both in medical triage and out in the field, picking through the debris of whatever disaster had struck. For Jack it was the worst part of the job as in the field there was no time for second guessing, just fast assessments and tagging accordingly. Mistakes were made but it was human error rather than malicious intent. He had to show all of this even though it might make him look callous.
His office got death threats and law suits during and after any disaster, from families grieving over lost loved ones to businessmen claiming FEMA had done nothing to protect their homes and livelihoods.
He had lost people out in the field. Some were caught up in the disaster, swept away or buried beneath landslides, or hit by fallen debris, gas explosions. Jack had always insisted on his specialist teams following safety protocols at all times, putting their own safety first, before the person they were trying to save, even if it meant letting the other person die. He knew it as a difficult decision and he knew many of his people needed counseling after a particularly harrowing situation and many ignored the protocol of there was even the slightest chance of saving someone. He was intimately familiar with this and just as likely to ignore those same protocols having come up through the ranks, starting off on one of the specialist recovery and rescue teams years earlier.
Losing Adam was a blow to all of them.
They had been given only 27 minutes notice of where Eros would hit so unlike with the Helios asteroid strike in Kansas, there had been no time for an evacuation, no time to set up the triage and refugee centers in advance, and prepare for the incoming flood of walking wounded and desperate people. Adam was only doing his job, Jack's deputy, a co-ordination specialist trying to help as many people as possible under difficult circumstances. He didn't deserve to die at the hands of a bitter, grieving father, and the shock of his murder rippled through all the emergency workers, and through the people who had witnessed the terrible act of violence, leaving everyone more subdued.
Lloyd told him the gratitude he had seen through the years far outweighed the acts of malice. Just an isolated incident that had cost Jack the life of a good friend and colleague, making him question momentarily if anyone was worth saving. He had the authority to pull back all resources from the field and leave all the people to fend for themselves until he could pull in more military resources to ensure his people were kept safe. The temptation to make that order clawed at the back of his throat but Adam would not have wanted that. He would not have wanted the effort to save others to stop because of this one tragedy.
Jack wiped away the tears, compartmentalizing Adam's death until he had time to deal with it later, once the disaster was under control. Part of that was diverting his attention away from the senseless death to focus on the living, especially those in desperate need of assistance so he made his way through the camp quickly, offering reassurances to his people. Everything was running as smooth as it could with everyone in their places, doing their job to the best of their ability. Lloyd had stepped into Adam's position. Doctors and nurses were arriving from all over to assist with the injured but having just lost one person close to him the thought of losing another had him commandeering a helicopter to go in search of Lily, the astrophysicist who had first spotted the two asteroids knocked out of their orbits by Comet Fletcher. Hundreds, possibly thousands were dead but without her it would have been millions, or possibly an extinction level event like the one that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The world owed her, and he would help settle its debt.
Later, standing on the edge of the impact crater with Elliot safe, he could truly see the enormity of the disaster. In another few hours it would be daylight and fresh search and rescue teams would arrive from all over the States and go into action, searching for any survivors buried beneath the debris of Dallas. He still had a lot of work to do but he took this moment to stop and catch his breath. Over the past week he and his teams had saved thousands of lives first in Kansas and now in Dallas, and yet it was the individual rescues, of the two fireman in Kansas, of Elliot, that felt real rather than abstract numbers.
Behind him the helicopter was still waiting and Jack knew he had to return to co-ordinate more of the rescue and relief operation. Then would come the seemingly endless reports, and the funerals. Adam's funeral.
He glanced down at her, feeling the warmth of her pressed against his side. Adam had often told him he should have a life outside of work. Perhaps once all of this was over he could see what kind of future he might have with Lily. It looked promising, but for now he had a job to do.
"Let's go," he said.