Posts Tagged ‘Natural disaster


Use your people

Virginia Emergency Operations Center

Image by VaDOT via Flickr

I have noticed that EOC’s and emergency managers are always asking for money and anyone who reads the comments sections of online news articles can see that the public always thinks it’s unnecessary.  I completely understand.  You buy these beautiful, technoligically advanced, and outrageously expensive rooms to be used a few times a year (if your lucky, or unlucky depending on your point of view).  I think it’s time we evaluate the use of emergency managers and emergency management agencies.  Preparation is key but we have shrinking budgets and agencies are losing their best people to retirement out of fear of not having the option.  I think that EOC’s and emergency manager should get more active.  Respond to calls that aren’t normally part of your scope but require multi-agency response.  Firefighters, police, and EMS become better at what they do because they are active.  An agency that activates a couple times a year is not going to have their stuff together when the big one hits.  I am always amazed at the requirements to activate an EOC when looking at emergency operations plans.  Some places require the town to essentially be wiped off the face of the earth before it’s a situation that warrants an EOC/EM activation.  As a volunteer who is always looking for a chance to participate in an activation, I find that there are many situations that would have been helped by an EOC activation but the EOC sits dormant.  All the fancy equipment laid out with nothing to do.  Just my opinion though, perhaps I am just bored and looking for some excitement (I don’t wish anything bad on anyone, I really don’t).


long term disasters

Massive ice blocks and flooding inundate the t...

Image via Wikipedia

The disasters that happen fast and violently are the sexiest disaster.  They match the short attention span of the American people.  An explosion or tornado will garner a lot of attention.  However, these are rare events.  The possibility of encountering these is relatively low compared to the common disasters we take for granted.  For instance, right now we are dealing with ice jams that have resulted in some flooding.  The next few days could prove to be extremely disasterous for the area as temps increase and we recieve heavy precip.  It’s a very slow process that started last weekend and we may not really see any problems until later tomorrow or Friday.  People are not preparing and haven’t taken the situation seriously because it’s a slow moving rain system.  People are oblivious to the danger.  Remember when talking to your constituents that disasters are not just events that can happen in an instant.  We need to make sure that we let people know that even something as mundane as a rain storm can quickly lead to a life/property threatening situation.


Community Preparedness

Elbert, CO, September 2, 2009 -- Elbert County...

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Why is it that so many people are caught off guard in an emergency?  We as emergency managers and responders harp on people to take responsibility for themselves yet it seems to yield any positive results.  We have managed to do well in some areas such as fire detection and alarm systems but when it comes to something like planning for a major disaster people seem to be completely apathetic.  My suspicion is that we have become incredibly gun-shy about telling it like it is.  Can you imagine telling your local population something like “if you don’t prepare for disasters, you will die”.  We sugar coat things so that we don’t want to cause alarm but people need to be alarmed about how unprepared they are.  I come from an area that has long-lasting severe winter weather.  We had a wood stove for heat and my parents grew vegetables and raised chickens and even pigs occasionally for food.  We could feasibly live self-sustaining for as long as we needed too.  This is not the case with most of the country.  How long could you survive with no access to running water, food, electricity, and with no help coming to save you?

Smoke detectors were easy though.  People see houses burn down far more frequently then they see the devastation of a major disaster.   In a recent post Recalibrating Emergency Management : Lower The Bar from the Emergency Management Magazine blog section, you can see a different approach to getting people on board.  Here is my concern about lowering the bar on preparedness.  We as a county have a horrible history of dropping standards to achieve success.  You see this in hiring methods, education, etc… and what you end up with is a higher rate of success that fails to accomplish your goal.  I don’t think that we should lower our expectations when it concerns life or death situations.  What we need to do is convey the importance and be painfully explicit with the dangers of ignoring the danger of being unprepared.  We can also make it easier for people to prepare.  The Red Cross has a disaster kit that you can purchase that includes some basics that you may need in a disaster.  CERT programs generally provide a base level of tools you may need.  I think that agencies should create kits that can be easily purchased with instructions that relate to your target area regarding your target hazards.  We forget that people are extremely comfortable in their lives and it may not be that they don’t want to be prepared but that they simply have no idea how to be prepared.

Do you think that a person living in downtown Manhattan could be expected to know how to survive without any of the comforts they have known their whole lives?  These are the people who will be most vulnerable in a disaster.  A rural farmer from Vermont could probably care less if the power goes out.  I mean most people who live out in the wilderness know full well what they need in order to survive, in fact they probably chose to live there for that reason.  People living in urban or suburban areas likely want to be prepared but can’t comprehend a situation where everything they count on is no longer there because they have never had that happen to them.  Someone who live in the woods will probably deal with extended power outages several times a year.  I can remember several occasions where I lived without power for as much as a week and responded to hundreds of calls where trees had taken out the power to large parts of my home town.  And of all the calls that were resulting of mass power outages that I responded to, I can think of only one or two times we had to open a shelter to help people who weren’t able to deal with the situation.

The solution is pretty simple.  We need to make emergency preparedness an accessible service.  We need to find ways to help those who don’t find regularly find themselves dealing with physical hardships conceptualize how they would deal with a major disaster.  This is being done in a much more targeted fashion right now.  Californians know they need to prepare for earthquakes.  This is a low-frequency, high risk situation and people get it.  Midwesterners know they are at a much higher risk for severe thunderstorms and again the chances of actually getting hit by a tornado are quite small but they are prepared.  They do this by being clear about the dangers and having easily accessible information regarding them, including a lot of publicity and public appearances.  We can all do this.


There no such thing as a natural disaster

A picture of the 2004 tsunami in Ao Nang, Krab...

Image via Wikipedia

Sounds crazy but think about it.  What is a natural disaster?  Tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and the list goes on.  We call these natural disasters.  They aren’t.  These are natural phenomena that have occurred on this planet long before humans ever came into existence.  This is critical to dealing with mitigation and recovery to “natural disasters”.

We have long blamed nature for destroying lives and property.  We try to engineer our way out of disaster.  This is flawed thinking, I understand it but it’s flawed.  The reason it’s flawed is that we think that nature is our enemy.  This is manifested in our over consumption, our wastefulness, and in the fact that we are now just beginning to appreciate nature with the “green” movement.  When it comes to emergency management it’s dangerously clear that we haven’t really gotten to that point where we understand our place in nature.

We build houses in floodplains, we build cities below sea level, we are apathetic at best when it comes to the natural hazards that are present in our lives.  When something like the tornado that stuck Greensburg, Kansas happens, we get angry and ask “why us?”.  It’s because we live intertwined with these processes.  The goal is to find a way to coexist with these hazards.  That means not putting ourselves unnecessarily at risk and planning accordingly for risks that we are willing to accept.  Planning for risks is something we can do now and communities all over the country have been doing for a long time.  It’s the bread and butter of emergency management.  Not putting ourselves at risk is more complicated.  The obvious example is New Orleans.  It’s a city that seemed destined for destruction.  They try to engineer their way out of it, there was an apathy in the government about the true dangers, and the people love their city and don’t want to leave.  So is it logical to rebuild the city when it’s at just as much risk today as ever?  This is the great question that citizens, government, responders, and emergency managers struggle to answer.  People want to live in inherently dangerous areas and expect to be safe.

I should note that I am a geographer by training.  I studied how disasters affect humans and studied these natural hazards and the dynamics behind the hazards that affect us.  One thing I have learned and has benefited me greatly is thinking about emergency management critically and really analyzing why things happen and this includes the social concepts such as understanding why people choose to live in areas that are prone to disasters.