Disaster plans of previous generations do not adequately reflect the risks, threats, and needs of modern society. Changing demographics, aging populations, and increasing natural and human-caused disasters each reinforce the need for emergency and disaster preparedness professionals to gain the knowledge and training needed to make informed decisions to mitigate threats and execute effective responses when mitigation is not enough.
In 2015, the U.S. Census estimated that 47.8 million people in the United States were at least 65 years of age. By the year 2060, that number is estimated to more than double. As the population ages, the potential for a spike in people with chronic illnesses also increases. These factors must be considered when developing emergency preparedness and response plans.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that drug-related deaths have risen every year since 2002. As more synthetic drugs like K2 (Spice) and fentanyl permeate through communities, these numbers are likely to rise even more in 2019. In addition, people with drug addictions may pose threats to themselves and others. Such incidents raise additional concern and threaten the safety of not only the public, but also the emergency responders deployed to protect their communities.
Children – whether of the human or animal variety – are often not able to care for themselves. Past active shooter incidents have inspired some school-aged children to take action against school violence and encouraged advocates to push for more security and infrastructure protection. However, acts of violence like the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on 27 October 2018 continue to take the lives of innocent civilians and threaten the lives of those responding to the incident.
What each of these factors has in common is vulnerability – vulnerability of people and animals to protect themselves from risks and threats as well as the physical and psychological vulnerabilities of those tasked with responding to disasters. Addressing the challenges of current emergency preparedness and response environments requires a whole community approach, including collecting data, examining best practices, and analyzing potential effects of public safety threats. Emergency preparedness and response plans must continually be reviewed and updated to provide the most effective responses to today’s disasters.