Disasters can take many forms – naturally occurring like a volcanic eruption or solar flare, human-caused like a terrorist attack or radioactive material release, or technological like a cyberattack or data breech. Although a specific threat or hazard may be unavoidable, whether it eventually becomes a “disaster” is not a certainty. Averting disaster requires making the right decisions at the right time – from the crisis leaders to the boots on the ground.
Starting at the top, crisis leaders need to be aware of and make every effort to avoid common pitfalls: thinking too narrowly, not adapting to change, not communicating effectively, being a single point of failure, and not performing adequate self-care. By considering ways experienced crisis leader have turned these pitfalls into opportunities, other leaders can take steps to avoid an even greater catastrophe when a threat emerges.
Equipped with the knowledge of what could happen without effective leadership skills and preparedness efforts, other stakeholders are better positioned to make their own crisis management decisions and implement threat barriers. For example, rapidly recovering from a widespread power outage, which many experts believe is inevitable, requires thoughtful planning on the part of each community member. Perhaps the greatest pitfall in this scenario is not understanding the numerous vulnerabilities and cascading consequences, which can lead to many smaller disasters within the larger disaster.
Even with the right decisions and knowledge about potential crises, threats persist. Detecting these threats in advance – whether through effective emergency management efforts or sophisticated detection equipment – can isolate the threat and avert disaster. For example, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive devices pose significant risk for deliberate or accidental release. Being able to detect such threats before or immediately following the release mitigates the consequences.
Finally, when disaster does strike, highly skilled and trained response teams rescue survivors and reduce casualties. These responders – both human and animal rescue teams – provide another tier for minimizing the consequences of a disaster. The faster the response, the more lives can be saved. From leadership to management to boots on the ground, each stakeholder provides a layer of protection to avert disaster when prepared, trained, and ready to make the right decisions at the right time.
Catherine L. Feinman
Catherine L. Feinman, M.A., joined Domestic Preparedness in January 2010. She has more than 30 years of publishing experience and currently serves as editor of the Domestic Preparedness Journal, DomesticPreparedness.com, and the DPJ Weekly Brief, and works with writers and other contributors to build and create new content that is relevant to the emergency preparedness, response, and recovery communities. She received a bachelor’s degree in international business from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in emergency and disaster management from American Military University.