At about 6:15 a.m. on 8 November 2018, an iron hook holding up a 115,000-volt line broke, dropping the live wire and sparking a blaze. Thirty minutes later, what would come to be known as the Camp Fire was out of control. Officials ordered the evacuation of the nearby town of Paradise, home to 26,000 people. The town was soon burned to the ground. Within hours, the fire destroyed 13,893 homes and killed more people (85), than any other California wildfire.
If necessity is the mother of invention, the new coronavirus is quickly birthing a lot of innovations. Parts of U.S. society may be forever changed by this pandemic. As of 13 April 2020, the United States had over 550,000 confirmed cases and nearly 22,000 deaths, with emergency preparedness and response agencies preparing for much more to come. Combinations of social distancing, home quarantine, closure of schools and universities, and case isolation are now being extensively practiced. Creativity is being implemented each day to overcome response barriers to those at work and meet the needs of those asked to stay at home.
As the United States continues to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, police departments across the country are beginning to feel the impact of the virus on their day-to-day staffing. In New York, three officers have died, more than 900 members of the New York Police Department (NYPD) have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 3,200 have called out sick. In Detroit, Michigan, two officers have died due to the coronavirus, including a 38-year old dispatcher and one-fourth of the force is quarantined. In Puerto Rico, the entire police department of Rincón is quarantined. In California, law enforcement officials are exploring the option of assigning detectives, administrative personnel, and special operations personnel to street duty. However, the country has other reinforcements that should be deployed.
April 20, 1999, was a bellwether day in American law enforcement history. An act of mass murder occurred at Columbine High School in Colorado that left 13 people dead and 21 injured, and the old model of responding to active threat events was changed forever. The active pursuit of the killer would no longer be a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) problem to solve – it would be a first-arriving officer’s problem. Fast forward 18 years and the mass killing event at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shows how far the nation has come and needs to go to prevent more deaths.
In 1850 – nine years before the Carrington Event and 12 years before the Civil War – the population of the United States was 23 million people. At the end of 2018, the population of the U.S. had reached 328 million people. What enabled the population to increase by 305 million people is quite simple: technology. New technologies that promoted this growth include: advances in medicine, advances in agricultural methods, the ability to transport food across the country (and across the world), new sources and uses of energy, an industrial revolution, advances in many areas of technology, and so on. All of these technologies are tied to one significant event: the advent of the electric grid.
Over the past two decades, the United States has focused heavily on preventing attacks from Islamic terrorism movements – or those inspired by these movements. However, recent attacks in the United States over the past few years have prompted much debate on how to combat the threat of domestic terrorism. Particularly concerning is that the recent surge in white supremacy and right-wing/left-wing extremist movements could inspire others to commit further violent attacks. In response to the most recent attacks in Ohio and Texas, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says it “remains concerned that U.S.-based domestic violent extremists could become inspired by these and previous high-profile attacks to engage in similar acts of violence.” Equally concerning for law enforcement agencies is that a domestic terrorist attack is just as likely as a threat from abroad.
The role of the emergency management systems is to bring calm to chaos. The role of the public information officer (PIO) is to disseminate information that is credible, accurate, and reliable. It is a critical component of the initial response to meet the informational needs of residents – trusted, credible information aids in bringing calm.
With few exceptions, human beings in the United States are literally on life support – plugged in to the electric grid. If that connection is unplugged, everything necessary to sustain the human population stops, including: food, water, fuel, transportation, medical resources, communications, and financial resources. According to a 28 March 2017 Senate report, in a long-term national-scale blackout, millions of U.S. citizens could die. After only a few weeks, deaths would escalate from waterborne diseases, starvation, and societal collapse. Immediate action could reduce these threats.
The 35-day government shutdown of 2018-2019 became the longest in U.S. government history. Food banks, firefighters, and community services agencies ramped up their food and other care services. Much like during natural disasters, a significant number of federal workers and contractors did not have sufficient savings to cover expenses during this hiatus in pay and experienced uncertainty in insurance and other financial considerations during such a lengthy and uncertain time, occurring during the Christmas holidays.
Public-private collaboration in disaster preparedness and response is currently sub-optimal in its organization and operational performance. This may be due to the perception of government entities that all collaboration must be formal in nature. As a consequence, small, medium, and even large private organizations may be reluctant to become involved in preparedness planning. However, reality suggests that organizations without existing contracts or partnerships are willing to participate in response efforts. This tension effectively limits the ability to anticipate the contributions that will come from entities outside of formal partnerships. “Predictable surge” is a new framework through which public and private entities, particularly at the state and local levels, may better work together to build preparedness and foster community resilience.