Publisher note: Rob Schnepp was one of DomPrep’s first writers and has provided council and guidance to me over the past two decades. I asked him to provide his personal account of the 9/11 attacks as well as the subsequent anthrax attacks. They serve as a reminder of how many felt following those attacks: uncertainty about when and where another threat would emerge, an urgent need to prepare for another terrorist attack, and unity of effort. Today, there is still uncertainty about what potential threats are looming. However, it is time to bring back the urgency to prepare and the unity required to move preparedness efforts forward.
Devastating events can open windows of opportunity. In emergency management, focusing events like 9/11 create opportunities for change. Tragedies like 9/11 or devastating hurricanes create a flurry of activity in the short period that follows. This activity typically involves conversations about how to make things better or make change. However, windows for these conversations always close.
Disaster support often conjures the image of boots-on-the-ground responders providing aid to survivors on scene. However, disaster support involves so much more that is accomplished at each phase of the disaster management cycle. These efforts include creating codes and standards, building a workforce, providing financial aid, and offering psychological support.
Since 1998, DomPrep authors and readers have touted the need to prepare for disasters. There is a consensus among preparedness, response, and resilience professionals that forethought is the key to community resilience following a disaster. The desire to prepare is demonstrated through action: innumerable studies and best practices have been written, trainings and exercises have been conducted, and equipment purchases have been made. However, planning documents, practice scenarios, and more resources are not enough. Preparedness needs to be a mindset that stakeholders embrace daily.
To take a multidisciplinary, multijurisdictional approach to disaster preparedness and response, agencies and organizations must connect both in person and virtually. Mutual aid agreements enable agencies to share resources and develop a collaborative strategy for addressing emerging threats. Although predicted by experts, the threats that presented over the past year – namely, a global pandemic and large-scale cyberattacks on critical infrastructure – still caught many communities by surprise.
With all the thought, planning, and training that go into disaster preparedness efforts, communities theoretically should be ready for any threat and hazard that they face regularly – severe storms, wildfires, hurricanes, power outages, earthquakes, droughts, mudslides, etc. However, that is not always true. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has already recorded 37 declared disasters in various states so far in 2021. Governors often request federal assistance when their states’ resources are insufficient to adequately respond to disasters.
Information flow is the process of efficiently moving information within and between jurisdictions and systems for the purpose of communicating, making decisions, and establishing policies and procedures. Whether preparing for, responding to, or recovering from a disaster, information flow is a determining factor in the success of any of these efforts.
For more than 20 years, DomPrep has promoted the lessons learned and best practices of agencies and organizations that have managed various disasters. There is so much valuable advice that can be gleaned from such reviews. For example, reviewing past events is critical for learning how to avoid previous preparedness and response pitfalls. However, as lessons learned and best practices are being incorporated into current plans, these plans need to be regularly reviewed and modified to take into consideration innovative solutions and technological advances. Simply responding to a current disaster by doing what should have been done during the last disaster would lead to missed opportunities for building community resilience.
One of the most critical yet least understood core emergency management capabilities is planning, which reduces the chaos present during a disaster. However, the emergency management community is awash in various planning systems, various types of plans, and confusing terminology that complicates the work. This often causes problems when emergency managers are tasked to lead new planning efforts, to update existing plans, and to adapt them to real-life emergencies. Eleven tips and tricks can help solve these problems.