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The Apr/May/June 2012 print issue of PA TIMES published a series of articles on the topic of Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Recovery. The piece below is part of a Student Symposia from that issue.
Emergency management scholar, Enrico Quarantelli (2000) defines a disaster as “a sudden onset occasion that seriously disrupt social routines, cause adoption of unplanned actions to adjust to the disruption, are designed in social space and time, and endanger valued social objects” Disaster can happen at any moment. Whether it is a hurricane bearing down on a coast line or a chemical spill at a refinery, an emergency manager must be prepared to act. Comprehensive emergency management is the process of planning for all phases of any hazards that affect an individual, government, or organization. The four phases are mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Although, there is no clear line when one phase ends and the other begins, each has a set of goals.
Hazard mitigation should address the cause of a disaster and reduce the likelihood that the disaster will occur or limit the impact of a disaster. Examples of mitigation actions are: enforcing building code standards in a home or business, enforcing land regulations in hazardous areas, and building levees and flood protection systems. In addition, communities find many other ways to mitigate disasters and become resilient.
Citizens must understand that the government cannot always be there to aid them. The better prepared individuals are the more likely they will recovery from the disaster quickly.
Preparedness happens before a disaster strikes. Preparedness can be characterized as a state of readiness to respond to any emergency or disaster, and this phase involves planning, training, exercises and drills. Each play an important part in making sure the preparedness phase can be properly implemented. Even if a proper plan is written, without training and conducting exercises, the plan is worthless. A proper preparedness program needs to answer four questions: Which agencies will participate in preparedness? What emergency response and disaster recovery actions are feasible for each community? How will the response and recovery organizations function and what resources do they need? How will disaster preparedness be established and maintained?
When the disaster or emergency happens, the response phase will take effect. The main goals that should be set for response are to protect the population, limit the damage to the impact area, and minimize the damage to secondary impact areas. This can be accomplished by, securing the impact area, evacuating, conducting search and rescue, providing emergency medical care and sheltering the victims. In the response phase, every minute counts. Emergency managers must act quickly. As stated in the text Introduction to Emergency Management, “minutes of delay can cause the loss of life and property. Speed is essential, but actions that are impulsive and lead to mistakes must be avoided.”
The last phase is recovery, which begins when the disaster is ending and will continue until the impacted community is back to a normal quality of life. Some of the activities in the recovery phase are: clearing debris, restoring government services, rebuilding infrastructure and rebuilding the local economy. The recovery phase can take years to complete. Some areas in New Orleans, Louisiana are still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Each phase plays an important role in making communities disaster-resilient. If one phase is not properly implemented, the other phase could suffer. This is true within the preparedness phase. One of the most critical parts of preparedness is developing a proper emergency plan. Quarantelli also stated, “The process of planning and writing the emergency plan itself involves vulnerability assessment, decisions about which potential disasters to manage, review of the agent-generated and response-generated demands made by different agents, inventories of community resources available to meet the response.”
Proper planning begins with the individual and includes businesses and government agencies. Without a proper emergency plan, the response and recovery phases will be jeopardized by this failure.
Individual and Family Planning
Everyone is involved in the emergency management field. It is up to the individual or family to protect their lives and property during and after a disaster. Citizens must understand that the government cannot always be there to aid them. The better prepared individuals are the more likely they will recovery from the disaster quickly. Emergency planning starts with the individual or family, and according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guide Are You Ready (2004),“Being prepared can reduce fear, anxiety, and losses that accompany disasters Communities, families, and individuals should know what to do in the event of a fire and where to seek shelter during a tornado. They should be ready to evacuate their homes and take refuge in public shelters and know how to care for their basic medical needs.”
The individual or family emergency plan does not have to be an in-depth document such as governments’ and local communities’ emergency plans. The first step in a plan for individuals or families is to identify the hazards that affect their community. By learning the hazards that pose a risk, they will be able to better prepare. This step in emergency planning is called a hazard assessment, which is the first step in a proper emergency plan.
Once a hazard assessment has been completed, the emergency plan can be put together. Emergency plans should include evacuation routes, a list of local shelters, how the family will communicate, care for animals, and how to shut down the utilities to the home. If a member of the family has special needs, this should also be in the plan. It is important that families have a meeting point set up in case a disaster strikes while the family is separated. This should be a location that each member should be able to reach in case they are not able to return to the home during a disaster. It is also important to note that cellular phone service has a high chance of not operating during a disaster, so families should not rely of cell phones as their only communication.
One of the most important steps that an individual family can take to prepare for a disaster is to have an emergency kit ready. The FEMA Are You Ready Guide states “You may need to survive on your own after a disaster. This means having your own food, water, and other supplies in sufficient quantity to last for at least three days. Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone immediately.” It would be ideal to have one kit in the home, one at work, and another in a vehicle. This way, no matter where the family is, they will have a kit on hand.
An individual or family plan is not difficult to complete, all it takes is time. That time could be difference in saving lives. Without an emergency plan, individuals and families will not know what to do and will rely on the local government for support, but government aid is not always immediate.
David Abels is a graduate student in the Department of Emergency Management at Jacksonville State University and a Lieutenant with the LSU Police Department. Email: [email protected]
Constructive comments and responses to the papers are encouraged and can be submitted directly to the scholar at their email address listed below each article, or by clicking on Post A Comment below each article.