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.
Although there is no perfect formula, disaster management still depends on lessons learned and best practices from previous disaster responses. Recurring disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires – albeit each with their own unique characteristics – provide many opportunities to hone preparedness and response knowledge, skills, and abilities. However, new or rarely encountered disasters like COVID-19, present many unknown challenges for developing a plan and initiating a response. Models are one example of a tool that is imperfect yet still extremely useful in such scenarios – especially when used in conjunction with other models and information resources.
Disaster case management is another key tool for aiding disaster response efforts. In addition to managing the threat itself, there is also a human services side that adds many more complexities and uncertainties. The earlier these services are provided, the quicker the recovery phase can begin and possibly the shorter that phase will be.
In public health scenarios, contact tracing is crucial for identifying potential disease vectors and preventing further spread of the disease. However, it too is imperfect. The tracing process depends on human factors that could intentionally or unintentionally convey incomplete or inaccurate information. In any case, these mitigation actions prevent uncontrolled spread throughout the community.
Disaster response is often planned and executed among public and private organizations, but there is one other important yet often unpredictable resource: the public. The “first responders” are often not the conventional first response organizations, but rather citizens who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because many do not have formal training in emergency preparedness and response, they react on instinct. Citizen response, though, has been attributed to saving many lives and filling gaps that cannot be immediately filled.
Professionals around the world are working tirelessly to fight a disease that previously had never been seen, that has no vaccine, and that will have no easy or timely resolution. These efforts may not be perfect, but they are not in vain. The lessons being learned and the best practices being developed will become key tools for future disasters to come.