Many professions are steeped in tradition, including those in emergency preparedness and response organizations. In these well-established environments, when asked to make a change to traditional practices, the response is sometimes simply, “No, this is how we’ve always done it.” Such thinking can leave communities underprepared for new, emerging, or evolving threats. What worked well 5, 10, or 20 years ago may have lost its effectiveness as times and conditions have changed or there may simply be more options available that have not been considered because of tradition.
For example, earthquakes are certainly not a new threat, but professionals in that area of expertise are finding new ways to prepare all members of their communities, both young and old. Emergency plans must evolve as frequency and severity of events change or as new legislation is created to dictate change. Maintaining the status quo in disaster response may hinder progressive actions and forward thinking. Each year, plans need to be reviewed, exercised, and updated as needed.
By exercising a plan, organizations can identify gaps that need to be addressed. However, when meeting in large groups is not an option or travel is restricted, backup plans for exercising should include a remote option. Similar to the challenges that schools now face with opening in the Fall, being able to exercise emergency plans remotely has various hurdles to overcome. In some cases, the opportunities of remote exercises during a pandemic may far outweigh these challenges. For example, relationships among key stakeholders still need to be cultivated and maintained even when in-person interaction is not possible.
Overlooking interdependencies between agencies and organizations adds more risk into the disaster preparedness cycle. When these interdependencies involve critical lifelines, the risks are even higher. A thorough planning, reviewing, and exercising process helps stakeholders understand their roles and the roles of others for mitigating threats and maintaining operations. How well critical lifelines are managed is a determining factor in the level of success or failure that communities will experience following a disaster.
This edition of the DomPrep Journal emphasizes the need to stay prepared even when significant changes affect how these preparedness efforts will be conducted. Whether it involves creating new strategies to reach certain demographics or developing new techniques for overcoming barriers, preparedness is an ongoing process that requires a continuous cycle of cultivation and reevaluation.