Despite emergency planners using worst-case scenarios and high-impact, low-frequency events when planning for disasters, experiencing an event in real time exposes gaps in those plans that were not foreseeable (or at least not included in the plan). Furthermore, as time goes on, resources and other needs naturally change. In order to meet today’s disaster support needs, continuous planning, reevaluating, and updating are necessary in order to minimize the impact of any disaster.
Too many elected leaders are not taking the leadership role in developing, reviewing, and implementing their emergency management programs. Many plans have been published by jurisdictions, only to be discarded when it is time to put those plans into action. During disasters, jurisdiction leaders are implementing ad-hoc plans that are not coordinated with their respective jurisdictions’ agencies and, too often, have disastrous results. This is indicative of jurisdiction officials delegating all aspects of planning to their emergency management agencies, without even being briefed on the plan, let alone taking ownership.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised many discussions on the topic of acceptable losses. For community decision makers, this is a difficult yet necessary issue to consider before making decisions that may have life-threatening consequences. Spurred by two articles and followed up with a nationwide survey and report, this podcast was presented at the National Homeland Security Association's virtual conference in July and is now available as a rebroadcast of commentary by leading healthcare experts.
The idea of contact tracing is nothing new. It has been practiced for decades to help stop the spread of infectious diseases such as smallpox and HIV. It has been taught to public health professionals for decades. However, with the global explosion of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it has emerged as a key strategy to control the spread of infection.
All disasters are innately different, so no two responses can be identical. If no two responses are identical, then no single plan can be perfect for any specific disaster. And that is okay. Successful disaster management is about implementing the most relevant plan, finding the most reliable information available, and making the best decisions based on that information and accessible resources. This August edition of the DomPrep Journal presents four imperfect yet critical components of disaster response: models, disaster case management, contact tracing, and citizen response.
While much of the news media has been focused on the coronavirus pandemic, violent incidents continue to occur throughout the United States. The shutdown of sporting events, schools, concerts, and other large events has led to an overall decrease in active shooter incidents. In fact, March 2020 was the first March without a school shooting since 2002.
An important aspect of emergency preparedness is a robust exercise program designed with the vital purpose of identifying gaps, updating plans, and strengthening emergency response. Exercises bring together key stakeholders to help build collaborative relationships that pay huge dividends when the real emergency arises. Simply understanding other agency protocols and operational capabilities are valuable lessons learned from most exercises. However, exercises go beyond the checklists, plans, and policies. They offer the opportunity to get to know other people and solidify teams.
Many professions are steeped in tradition, including those in emergency preparedness and response organizations. In these well-established environments, when asked to make a change to traditional practices, the response is sometimes simply, “No, this is how we’ve always done it.” Such thinking can leave communities underprepared for new, emerging, or evolving threats. What worked well 5, 10, or 20 years ago may have lost its effectiveness as times and conditions have changed or there may simply be more options available that have not been considered because of tradition.
The concept of a whole community approach has been recommended for years. However, it has perhaps not been more important than it is today. Compounding events, or disasters within disasters, are why emergency planners stress the importance of planning for the worst but hoping for the best. Well, the time to implement these plans is now. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic does not appear to be ending anytime soon. However, life must go on. “Normal” seasonal disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods will not wait for communities to replenish supplies, reallocate resources, and hire more staff. Human-caused threats may escalate as bad actors take advantage of physical and technological vulnerabilities that the pandemic exposes. The common primary, secondary, and tertiary effects of smaller threats worsen when compounded with the pandemic response.
One of the biggest challenges that emergency preparedness professionals face is how to balance the choices they make. Mitigating every risk is not realistic, but ignoring threats is reprehensible. Lessons learned from any disaster exposes the successes and failures of those tasked with keeping their communities safe. Some decisions have immediate impact, whereas the consequences of other decisions may not be seen until sometime in the future. In both cases, people are watching and decision makers will be held accountable.