British statistician, George Box, famously stated that “all models are wrong, but some are useful.” The nation’s experience with COVID-19 has highlighted this fact as policy makers have struggled to calibrate their actions based on imperfect data and modeling. Yet, modeling is useful and will continue to be an important aspect of emergency management.
At the beginning of a 28 May 2020 court hearing, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup made the following opening statement, “If there ever was a corporation that deserved to go to prison, it is PG&E for the number of people it has killed in California.” Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) survival for the last decade has been described in some detail in Parts 1 and 2 of this three-part article. The vox populi of the courts, regulators, fellow utilities, businesses, and customers has most of the time fallen on deaf ears with the leadership of PG&E. The facts that create this type of environment are extremely complicated.
“A lifeline enables the continuous operation of critical government and business functions and is essential to human health and safety or economic security.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) developed the Community Lifelines construct after the 2017 and 2018 hurricane seasons. The framework of Community Lifelines allows the whole community to assess the status of and impact to each of the seven lifelines so that the optimal and correct essential action can be executed to support those lifelines not operating at full capacity during a disaster or emergency event.
These are challenging times. The immediate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are impossible to ignore when viewed in terms of the sickness and death it has brought upon the world community. It continues to impact the global economy and social norms. The long-term impacts of this virus and subsequent mitigation efforts may not be completely understood for quite some time. What is known is the pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of daily life, from social distancing rules, interrupted supply chains, longer waits at the supermarket, school closures, cancelled milestones, record unemployment, remote learning, and telework to the closure of places of worship. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a transformative event.
The nature and scope of the emergency management field can be defined in a variety of ways. An all-hazards definition of emergency management encompasses some essential homeland security concerns. A conceptual framework then helps bring together an understanding of the challenges facing those in the emergency management and homeland security fields when an all-hazards definition of emergency management is used.
The aeolian winds took control of the surrounding environment. A death-defying vortex formed and, along with it, a perturbation as inconceivable as the Camp Fire was overwhelming. This article continues to chronicle the story of a mega-disaster. Part 1 described how the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) spent the last decade causing major life and property losses due to seemingly incompetent organizational leadership. In the next segment of the story, PG&E may not be the villain its public image would suggest. Other influences and factors that may have played a role in its public image will be revealed.
Because of COVID-19, it is time to reevaluate preparedness and reconsider threats to the homeland. Good intentions and grand theories do not make good programs. Programs work best when they’re based on a detailed understanding of the problem begin solved and how they are implemented on the ground with solid funding commitments and realistic expectations.
The issue of when or how to lift social distancing and isolation is a wicked problem. A “Wicked Problem” in policymaking defeats standard solutions because of the interaction between the wicked problem and its potential solutions. The application of the correct solution to one aspect of the wicked problem often complicates another aspect of the problem. Solving wicked problems is best done through the iterative process in which a partial solution is applied, the problem is re-defined, the next partial solution is applied, and the process is repeated. This process is termed “Muddling Through”, and it is dependent upon the ability to test a partial solution and react to it.
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.