Emergency management and public safety agencies are increasingly using data analysis and visualization tools (e.g., Tableau, Microsoft PowerBI, ArcGIS, Google Data Studio) to inform their decision-making and help manage disasters in a multi-threat/hazard environment. In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, federal, state, and local government agencies rapidly expanded the use of these predictive analysis tools by integrating them into their emergency operations.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has stated that the United States faces a rising danger from terrorists and rogue states seeking to use weapons of mass destruction (WMD). If the government learned that a terrorist intended to use a WMD in a major metropolitan U.S. city, senior government officials would need to determine how to resolve the competing interests involved in identifying and stopping the terrorist, while simultaneously preparing to save lives and minimize damage to property. This requires an understanding of how national policies have evolved over the past 25 years and what interagency coordination mechanisms exist that enable the government to effectively coordinate law enforcement and consequence management activities across all levels of government.
On the afternoon of 23 August 2011, a rumbling in the ductwork was heard overhead in a chemistry classroom on the fourth floor of a brand-new building at Montgomery College in Maryland. As a laboratory safety class was getting ready to begin, the noise quickly transitioned to a swaying of the building – a motion that was soon recognized as an earthquake. The view from the window showed no ripples in the pond below, but dozens of students, faculty, and staff were evacuating multiple buildings. Although the consequences of an earthquake affecting the college would typically be low, the need to more formally address the risk than it had been in the past became apparent. By early in the Fall semester, the college developed a set of practical procedures and protocols to address the actual hazards that present themselves in a region of low earthquake risk, while considering the potential need to quickly assess damages and hazards that an earthquake might present.
Effective disaster response and recovery involves identifying and establishing an organization that serves the needs of vulnerable populations utilizing pre-disaster risk assessments and crisis management communication, with planned and tested tools and robust resources. Disaster Case Management is one such tool.
With the inevitability of earthquakes in California, disaster preparedness and evacuation focused on the safety of lives is of utmost importance. The health, welfare, and safety of children are of paramount importance, as children are left in the protection of school district officials. In 2005, California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 103 requiring that each school district have a safety disaster plan in place and charged the U.S. Department of Education to coordinate with Office of Emergency Preparedness to keep these materials current and updated (AB 103, Section 1).
Run/Hide/Fight or Avoid/Deny/Defend – no matter which mantra is taught/trained, there is one unfortunate constant between both methodologies: the shooting has begun, and there is an imminent loss of life occurring at the workplace, school, church, grocery store, or wherever the active shooters have selected their targets. Thorough understanding of these methodologies is certainly important during an active shooter event. Often, bystanders freeze in disbelief that the incident is happening to them. This is not the common fight versus flight response. There is initial shock to the system. Repetition through training and exercises will create that imbedded response in the cerebellum to create the muscle memory needed for all bystanders to react and Run/Hide/Fight or Avoid/Deny/Defend. Not to dissuade from bolstering preparedness through this training, the fact remains that lives are being threatened when the response is initiated. A true active shooter preparedness plan needs to go beyond the Run/Hide/Fight or Avoid/Deny/Defend reaction.
“Are we prepared?” is a simple question with a not-so-simple answer. There are generally two times this question arises: (1) when funding is being requested, and (2) after an incident occurs where the preparedness comes under review. Both timings are appropriate, but arguably not the best time to raise the question. The best time to ask this question is that “sweet spot” between a request for funding and an actual need arises. However, this ideal time is frequently missed or avoided. Some would say it is human nature to avoid tough questions unless forced to face them; other times, it is because of the preparedness issue conflicting with other priorities that comprise the agendas of most agencies, governments, and private sector managers.
Emergency management is everything to everybody, but it often lacks the glue that is so desperately needed to manage catastrophic events. This is likely the result of two common pitfalls that the profession has long suffered from, pitfalls that can begin as soon as one walks out of the meeting or training room door: apathy and atrophy. Apathy can be defined as a lack of interest, passion, excitement, or concern. When not effectively addressed, apathy can then lead to atrophy, a long gradual decline in effectiveness. Such weakening is caused by underuse of key knowledge, skills, and abilities.
With recent urgent stories about the coronavirus, it seemed to be just a matter of time for the nation to revert to hysteria. Instead of a calm, resolute culture of preparedness, there has been a “PowerGlide” of public sentiment. In the 1960s, many Chevrolet automobiles had a PowerGlide transmission with just two gears: low gear and high gear. Similarly, in the past eight years, society has had two collective mental gears: complacency and hysteria.
The National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. has an inscription on the Northeast corner that reads, “What is past is Prologue.” This simple but profound advice may easily be the emergency manager’s most calming guidance. The journey starts right now.