Disasters & Their Acceptable Losses

One of the biggest challenges that emergency preparedness professionals face is how to balance the choices they make. Mitigating every risk is not realistic, but ignoring threats is reprehensible. Lessons learned from any disaster exposes the successes and failures of those tasked with keeping their communities safe. Some decisions have immediate impact, whereas the consequences of other decisions may not be seen until sometime in the future. In both cases, people are watching and decision makers will be held accountable.

The current pandemic response has exposed the consequences of decisions made in the past – for example, the purchasing of personal protective equipment in advance of the outbreak and the management of the Strategic National Stockpile. This outbreak also highlights decisions currently being made or those that will be made in the near future regarding lifting social distancing restrictions. Each decision, good or bad, comes with a cost.

In some cases, the cost is measured in monetary amounts. In other cases, it may be measured in lives lost. Without having a magical crystal ball to foretell the future and see the outcome of each decision, emergency preparedness professionals are faced with the dilemma of predicting possible futures, weighing the costs, and determining how much loss is acceptable to achieve the best possible outcome. In the case of COVID-19, at what point does the economic impact outweigh the potential loss of life?

The answer is easier for those who are directly affected than for those who are tasked with answering this question for an entire community, state, or nation. There is no simple answer: the crisis evolves, information is accrued, and the public’s focus shifts. The best answer today may be the wrong answer tomorrow. This is not a time for apathy or atrophy.

Regardless the decision, there will be some level of negative consequences. The question is, “What is the threshold for ‘acceptable’ losses?” DomPrep has and will continue to provide critical information to the preparedness, response, and resilience communities. The decisions community leaders must make each day are challenging, but DomPrep strives to support the process by sharing lessons learned and best practices to help current and future leaders as they weigh the benefits and consequences of their decisions.

Catherine L. Feinman

Catherine L. Feinman, M.A., joined Domestic Preparedness in January 2010. She has more than 35 years of publishing experience and currently serves as editor of the Domestic Preparedness Journal, DomesticPreparedness.com, and The Weekly Brief. She 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.



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