Incidents often expose planning gaps, but it is not possible to genuinely learn the lessons they offer unless leaders take action to close those gaps before the next event. Research is one way to link the past with the present to create educated predictions for the future. New threats and technologies emerge, but it is essential also to not overlook existing threats and proven methods and resources. This October edition of the Domestic Preparedness Journal emphasizes these points.
Emergency preparedness professionals continually strive to protect the lives and health of those within their communities. However, history will likely repeat itself if nothing changes based on past lessons. For example, the perpetrators of many deliberate food-supply contamination cases have used similar means and methods since the 1950s, probably because they continue to work. A lot can also be learned from naturally occurring biological events – especially when endemic events like monkeypox may not be the same as historical outbreaks of the same disease. Unfortunately, whether reviewing pandemic responses or previous wars, it seems that politics often stands in the way of coherent and tested policies.
Learning from the past also means maintaining proven skills that build community resilience. For example, ham radio operators provided critical communications long before cell phones existed. Today, when cell towers go down after a disaster, these operators still fill a critical gap. Food and transportation are other essentials many take for granted during blue-sky days. However, when grocery stores are closed, and roadways are blocked, agricultural skills, rescued products, and general aviation pilots may be the only access to food and water for some isolated communities. Community groups and volunteers play a significant role in disaster response but may need more involvement in the planning process.
So much is changing, and it is changing quickly. COVID-19 pushed many agencies and organizations into virtual operations before they were ready, but they adapted. The chemical and other critical infrastructure sectors face challenges that are unique yet interdependent. Moving forward and building resilience involves listening to the warnings of the past and present, then planning for threats using a combination of established reliable resources and new emerging technologies.