Emerging threats of yesteryear seemed unrealistic, so allocating funds and resources to such threats was not a priority for many agencies and organizations. Today, some of those “unrealistic” scenarios have become almost commonplace. As a result, having a three-day kit, knowing how to stop the bleed, and training for an active shooter event no longer seem unusual. However, communities are still generally greatly unprepared for what is yet to come tomorrow.
Driving current preparedness investment decisions based on past incidents leaves gaps in preparing for events that have yet to occur. Ignoring lessons learned from previous events leaves gaps in risk mitigation efforts for foreseeable incidents with repeatable consequences. The challenge for emergency preparedness professionals is being ready for everything: from numerous small daily crises to major widespread catastrophes.
Of course, preparing for everything is not realistic for a single agency or organization. However, as a collective community effort, the consequences of any disaster can be mitigated. This requires some level of effort by most stakeholders. From ensuring safe evacuation of a small group of children during a house fire to locking down a stadium during a complex coordinated terrorist attack, comprehensive and collaborative plans can be scaled as needed to address a broad range of scenarios.
Everyone has a role to play in a disaster – from a single person to a federal agency – but buy in at all levels is critical. If the plan is to simply wait for government assistance or if morale at agencies that provide assistance is low, response efforts will be slow or may not arrive at all. As threats continually evolve, the challenges and ways to address these challenges must evolve with them.
Based on recognized vulnerabilities, some experts anticipate that it is only a matter of time before the nation will face a widespread, long-term collapse in one or more of its critical infrastructures. This may occur as the result of natural event or deliberate attack, but the devastating consequences may look the same. There are many actions that communities can take to reduce this threat, but it requires investment in resources and dedication of change toward new, unfamiliar practices. It begins with small steps, which pave the way toward greater resilience when faced with the next preparedness challenge.