A decade before COVID-19 emerged as a pandemic, emergency preparedness, response, and resilience professionals were focused on infectious diseases. The H1N1 (swine flu), H5N1 (avian flu), and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreaks were real, and lessons needed to be learned in preparation for something bigger. So, in April 2010, DomPrep polled the experts (i.e., DomPrep advisors and readers) to gather their thoughts on pandemic preparedness and response. A decade later, their responses are haunting.
Over the past 20 plus years, I have been perplexed and bewildered why leaders both in government and industry have not taken preparedness seriously. A while ago, it was explained to me. It all comes down to cost-benefit analysis. Leaders love to present bright, shiny new things to their constituents, shareholders, customers, media, and so on. Let’s face it, preparedness is boring! For example, weatherizing power plants in warm environments is not economical nor exciting. Or is it? By kicking the can, leaders hope that unpleasant, yet predictable once-in-a-hundred-years events do not happen on their watch. Cost-benefit analysis matters a lot when those unforeseen events happen. And these types of events have been occurring more and more frequently lately with great cost through loss of life, sociological-psychological impact, and loss of revenue.
At the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, there was considerable discussion about the transition of presidential power. As leadership roles change in many federal, state, and local agencies across the United States, new policies and plans will be implemented that will affect how the nation as a whole and the numerous communities within it will plan for and respond to future disasters. The decisions that leaders make will have significant impacts on communities, but true change comes from groups within the community.
DomesticPreparedness condemns the lawlessness that descended on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. The inciteful rhetoric and behavior resulting in the criminal breech of the U.S. Capitol and personal assaults, which lead to the death of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and others, are inexcusable. These acts are an affront to our democratic process that is grounded in the U.S. Constitution, our commitment to the rule of law, and the belief in American exceptionalism.
In 2020, literally everyone was affected in some way by crisis. In certain areas, communities endured other disasters in addition to the worldwide pandemic. Some people fared well, some are struggling, and some will not see 2021. However, amid the illnesses, economic uncertainties, and social and political unrest, there are signs of progress. For more than two decades, DomPrep has published many articles written by practitioners on the preparedness gaps that exist in leadership, supply chains, interoperability, incident management, and so on. For more than two decades, those same practitioners have provided possible solutions and roadmaps for closing those gaps. However, sometimes it takes experiencing the disaster in order to invest the time and resources necessary to actually close the gaps.
The world continues to wrestle with the enormous consequences of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the novel virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic. The drastic and long-term effects and impacts of the novel virus have continued to affect the world on numerous fronts for a duration significantly longer than expected by almost anyone in February 2020. With additional waves, there appears to be no clear end in sight.
Emergencies and disasters have a way of disrupting the norm. In emergency management, disruption is to be expected. However, the events that plague preparedness professionals in 2020 may have an even greater impact on how communities plan for and respond to disasters going forward. For example, the digital world has increased the ability to share data and information on a broad scale. Unfortunately, this is true for both good and bad information, which compromises the overall accuracy and reliability of the critical information that ultimately reaches key stakeholders. Protecting against cyberattacks and ensuring accurate information for data-driven decisions requires additional effort than years past.
In 2020, health and safety crises in local communities have often proven to have national or international consequences. The world has seen how a virus in one community can quickly spread globally, or a shooting in another community can inspire civil rights movements in numerous countries. Worst-case scenario training did not fully prepare local, state, or federal stakeholders for COVID-19. Social justice reforms of the past did not close the racial, gender, and other societal gaps. However, even this pandemic is not the worst-case scenario the world could possibly face, and current calls for social justice are not the last to be heard.
The hospital incident command system (HICS) was designed decades ago to provide a decision-making framework to manage incidents and disasters. Now, more than ever, health care systems are relying on HICS to help meet the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. This interview with Dr. Brent Kaziny and James Mitchell explores how Texas Children’s Hospital uses HICS to help keep their more than 16,000 employees informed, protected, and safe during this public health crisis.
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.