Understanding history is a critical component of emergency preparedness, response, and resilience. History has a way of exposing preparedness and response gaps and providing a roadmap for best practices going forward. Unfortunately, when not examined and taken into consideration, history tends to repeat itself. As threats evolve over time, the same response to a similar threat (like an active shooter, biological attack, domestic terrorism, or natural disaster) could have even greater consequences. For this and many other reasons, the past must be studied, lessons must be learned, and new approaches must be applied.
When examining past incidents, it is important to observe patterns and identify similar threats. In a global society, foreign threats can quickly become domestic threats. In 2014, for example, the Ebola virus suddenly went from being a threat overseas to a domestic threat through easily accessible air travel. Over the years, international terrorism movements have rapidly spread through the internet and now pose a domestic threat. However, some still are resistant to calling it “domestic terrorism.”
Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) threats also continue to change. Historical patterns related to CBRNE incidents and those who initiate them can help predict future threats and how to counteract them. The Strategic National Stockpile is a good example of how a critical resource for countering such threats has evolved and continues to evolve over time. By identifying the risks, more effective efforts can be made to mitigate them.
Regardless the type of threat, a growing number of public-private collaborative efforts are underway to meet the expanding planning and response needs. The National Capital Region, for example, is an area where multiple law enforcement agencies and military branches converge and are learning to coordinate their responses. After action reports from the 2013 Navy Yard shooting highlighted communication gaps that are now being addressed in a multijurisdictional effort.
One caveat to consider when looking at historical disaster statistics is that disasters do not end when the smoke clears, the fire is extinguished, or the water recedes. Secondary and tertiary effects can be overlooked in the immediate aftermath of disaster or observed well into the future. For example, patients who have chronic health problems may not be counted in disaster mortality figures, even though their inability to obtain life-sustaining treatment as a result of the disaster ultimately led to their deaths.
For all types of disasters, historical research helps to lay the groundwork for combating future threats. Threat patterns and lessons learned make emergency preparedness and response professionals more informed and more prepared to face evolving threats and meet everchanging resource needs. The authors in this edition of the DomPrep Journal share their insights on historical events and ways in which to better prepare for future threats.