What Keeps Me Up at Night? – issues and problems that persist in emergency management

Update:  This posting is out of date. For newer info go to this November posting.


Dated info:

In July, I will be the moderator of a conference session titled “What Keeps Me Up at Night.”  The panelists are senior researchers and practitioners, all of whom have at least 25 years of experience in emergency management.  The intent is not a high-class gripe session, but a thoughtful attempt to identify those aspects of emergency management that remain a concern because they have not been adequately addressed.

I welcome comments from readers of this blog; please comment here or write me offline. I intend to collect input from experienced people and write up the results in a yet-to-be -determined format.  I will share the results here at a later date.

The comments so far are excellent and provide quite an array of issues. Keep the comments coming.

7 thoughts on “What Keeps Me Up at Night? – issues and problems that persist in emergency management

  1. I would have said the “undetected” interdendencies between systems of all types. We live in a very interconnected world that is getting smaller by the day where one blip in production can cause ripples and even tsunami sized waves throughout a system, be it in manufacturing, utilities or information management.

    Yet, the good news for the USA is that this “issue” exists worldwide. No country is immune from the risk of interdependencies on one another. This then (still today) gives the USA an advantage in our flexibility and ability to adapt to changing situations.

    Change is becoming so rapid that the time to react is being compressed on a good day. This flexibility will give us an advantage when world-wide systems are impacted and only the most resilient can survive and recovery quickly.

    The challenge is having the infrastructure in place to facilitate the recovery. As our as built public infrastructure becomes more fragile we won’t have the collective capacity to react quickly, limiting our resiliency. Again, another indication of our interdependency between the public and private sectors.

  2. My short list:
    1) How to convince individuals they own part of the preparation for making their environment safe. Our tax dollars don’t pay for someone else to do it.
    2) How to convince recipients of state and federal monies that an assessment and action taking toward that end of what is needed is more important than trying to find money to fit a pet project.
    3) How to convince the Federal Government that as issues arise and can be vetted through set processes, and expert attention perhaps they should allow the lowest common denominator to tell the State and Federal partners what needs the attention instead of the Federal and State Government telling them what needs attention.

    1)Walk the talk at all levels – Education at the earliest levels of an individual’s life continuing on through the highest levels describing and acting on the definition of Preparedness
    2) Send response agency personnel home when their presence isn’t necessary and the work can be done from their home station or by telecommuting.

    1)Allowing the practice of building or rebuilding despite political pressure in risk areas needs to stop.
    2) Remove the “dead wood” personnel, the policies and procedures that weren’t helpful, and have the victims be part of the team who vet those things out after analysis has been done.

    1)Mandatory annual emergency plans for all public and private entities that have an impact on the masses should be enacted.
    2) Paying to rebuild in areas that are in high risk areas needs to stop. Period.

  3. My JV input:
    1) Trends towards privatizing/contracting in the world of emergency management
    2) Saturation of the humanitarian aid “market” in the US, and the large number of duplicative new players
    3) Funding cuts to state and local emergency management agencies (EMPG, HSGP, etc…)and the resulting lessing of readiness it creates.

  4. 1. Lack of individual preparedness/complacency
    2. Increased use of technology without understanding the necessary support and/or understanding the products of things like modeling and remote sensing.
    3. The lack of understanding the disaster response process and jurisdictional responsibilities.

  5. What keeps me awake at night is the “black hole effect” which occurs when a disaster affects multiple locations of differing visibility. The most visible location (because of larger population, proximity to media markets, or other attention-grabbing feature) will become the black hole that sucks in all response effort, media coverage, political attention, public donations and volunteer interest and allows none to escape, even though there may be other nearby sites in equal or even greater need of immediate help.

    We have seen help take weeks to arrive, time in which the affected community is entirely on its own. In a nearby incident our volunteers supported, a small, rural, no-resource community was involved in a multi-location disaster. Adjacent metro TV coverage focused on the more distant higher-population site, then secondarily on a nearer high-income community. So did government and non-profit responders. Before they got to our needs, their resources were exhausted. It took weeks to get the county EOC to take or return our calls so we could make our needs known, and that was only after we got the attention of our local county representative…also a long delay.

    Our local disaster survivors –no less in need than the others — could watch from the door of the locally-supplied, locally-funded relief center and watch convoys of responders and aid roll down the highway, headed for the locations that made the news.

    Mine is a small-pop, rural, low-budget county within an hour of two metro areas and a half-hour of larger towns in other directions. If a disaster affects us and even one of them, we’ll be on our own at least for days, perhaps weeks if it’s a metro area affected. Without enough income to prep ourselves, the county government’s strategy is to count on the state and feds to respond quickly in a disaster.

    Unless the incident is small and confined to us alone, I don’t think the cavalry will come when we need them.

  6. At a broader level I worry about the lack of understanding about how response actions affect longer term recovery outcomes. Here in Christchurch, New Zealand people that had negative experiences trying to access their businesses in the civil defence CBD cordon following the Feb.2011 earthquake had greater losses of income and it may have influenced their relocation decisions as well. Looking forward to your session in July.

  7. My top three follow:
    1. No civil domestic crisis management system.
    2. No civil domestic crisis management system.
    3. White House operating as the JIC and EOC for all domestic crisis including issuance of PARs [protective action decisions]!

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