Posts Tagged ‘Natural Disasters and Hazards


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.


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.

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