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1.5: Characterizing Emergency Management Activities

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    3912
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    Before discussing the tasks that constitute emergency management, it is important to briefly ground the discussion in the process of accomplishing emergency management. There have been years of dialogue regarding “who really does emergency management”. Although the history just reviewed focuses largely on federal efforts, it is both accurate and appropriate to conceive of emergency management as a local endeavor to influence events with local consequences. This is in keeping with FEMA’s practice of attempting to make US emergency management a “bottom up” proposition. Of course, the job can be done optimally only with intergovernmental communication and cooperation that links local, state, and federal efforts. In some cases—for example, biological threats—the full resources of the federal government are needed to even begin the management process. Certainly in a major incident, external support (particularly state and federal) of many forms is made available to local jurisdictions. There is an inevitable time lag, however; currently the National Response Plan alerts local communities they must plan to operate without external help for approximately 72 hours after disaster impact. In addition, when external support does arrive, the response proceeds most efficiently and effectively if there is a strong, locally devised structure in place into which external resources can be integrated (Perry, 1985). Taking these realities into account, the tasks of emergency management can be discussed more effectively if there is a structure into which to fit the discussion.

    The Local Emergency Management System

    Figure \( \ref{1} \) describes the elements of a local emergency management system with some of its intergovernmental connections. By reviewing the figure, one can place in context some of the tasks and the tools available for emergency management. This chart is not intended to capture all actors and processes but, rather, to indicate the critical elements in the emergency management system. Ultimately, of course, the processes and tasks described here take place at every level of government.

    The process of emergency management should be based on a careful hazard/vulnerability analysis (HVA) that identifies the hazards to which a community is exposed, estimates probabilities of event occurrence, and projects the likely consequences for different geographic areas, population segments, and economic sectors (Greenway, 1998; Ketchum & Whittaker, 1982). It is important to emphasize that HVA is not a static activity because hazards are not static. HVA is probably best conceptualized as a process that periodically reassesses the hazard environment so emergency managers can facilitate the challenging process of deciding which hazards are significant enough to require active management. This is a complex process that involves myriad considerations and input from a variety of actors; more detailed descriptions of this process are available in the work of Birkland (1997) and Prater and Lindell (2000).

    A flow chart describing how local emergency management functions.  See text for detailed description.  Starting with hazard analysis a management plan is developed on the local level which drives monitoring.  The plan is used to mitigate risks.  Monitoring improves preparedness and response which lead to recovery.

    Figure \( \PageIndex{1} \): Local Emergency Management System.

    Hazard management decisions are influenced by multiple considerations. There are statutory and administrative mandates to manage certain hazards. The available hazard data, derived from national sources such as FEMA’s Multi-Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1997) and supplemented by local sources such as Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), are also critical components of the decision process. In addition, decisions to manage hazards are determined by state and federal resources, local resources (including the jurisdiction’s budget), and the local resource allocation priorities.

    Once a decision has been made to actively manage one or more hazards, three processes are initiated concurrently. The first is a hazard management planning process that examines mitigation and preparedness strategies. That is, the community must consider whether it is possible to eliminate a risk or reduce it through some emergency management strategy. At the local level, these deliberations involve not just emergency managers but also departments of land use planning, building construction, engineering, public works, public health, and elected officials because mitigation and preparedness actions require significant commitments of resources to reduce community hazard vulnerability. At the same time, the process of judging hazard impact begins, using much of the same technical hazard data to create strategies and acquire resources for response and recovery when a disaster strikes. The local response usually centers on preparations for the mobilization of local emergency services (fire department, EMS, hazardous materials teams, police, transportation and public works departments, and emergency managers) under an agreed upon incident management system (Brunacini, 2001; Kramer & Bahme, 1992). Both response and recovery activities are organized in conjunction with support from external sources, particularly the state and federal government. The purpose of this planning process is to institutionalize emergency response as much as possible while looking at disaster recovery as another path to sustainability or disaster resilience (in addition to mitigation). The third process to be initiated is environmental monitoring for the hazards to be managed. Typically, such monitoring is coupled with a warning system whose activation initiates response actions when disaster impact is imminent. The quality of the warning system depends upon the state of technology associated with the hazards to which the community is exposed and could provide days (in the case of hurricanes or riverine flooding) or minutes (in the case of tornadoes) of forewarning (Sorensen, 2000). The nature of the warning system is also affected by jurisdictional mitigation, preparedness, and response plans. In many cases, hazard monitoring is beyond the technical and financial capability of most communities and assumed by federal agencies and programs. In such cases—tsunamis, for example—the results of the monitoring program are relayed to local jurisdictions. Furthermore, information regarding the state of the warning system (its ability to accurately forecast and detect hazards) is shared with hazard planning systems as a means of informing longer term risk management plans.

    The community planning process generates hazard management strategies that incorporate knowledge about hazards derived from many sources, including the scientific community and state and federal agencies. The resulting hazard management strategies can be categorized as hazard mitigation, disaster preparedness, emergency response, and disaster recovery. As will be discussed in greater detail below, mitigation seeks to control the hazard source, prevent the hazard agent from striking developed areas, limiting development in hazard prone areas, or strengthening structures against the hazard agent.

    These community hazard management strategies must be individually implemented by households and businesses, or collectively implemented by government agencies acting on behalf of the entire community. The individual strategies only reduce the vulnerability of a single household or business. These generally involve simple measures to mitigate hazards by elevating structures above expected flood heights, developing household or business emergency response plans, and purchasing hazard insurance. The collective strategies are generally complex—and expensive—technological systems that protect entire communities. Thus, they mitigate hazards through community protection works such as dams and levees and prepare for hazard impacts through measures such as installing warning systems and expanding highways to facilitate rapid evacuation.

    Collective hazard adjustments are relatively popular because they permit continued development of hazard prone areas, yet do not impose any constraints on individual households or businesses. In addition, their cost is spread over the entire community and often buried in the overall budget. Indeed, the cost is often unknowingly subsidized by taxpayers in other communities. For this reason, these collective hazard adjustments are often called “technological fixes”. By contrast, individual hazard adjustments strategies require changes in households’ and businesses’ land use practices and building construction practices. Such changes require one of three types of motivational tactics—incentives, sanctions, or risk communication. Incentives provide extrinsic rewards for compliance with community policies. That is, they offer positive inducements that add to the inherent positive consequences of a hazard adjustment or offset the inherent negative consequences of that hazard adjustment. Incentives are used to provide immediate extrinsic rewards when the inherent rewards are delayed or when people must incur a short-term cost to obtain a long-term benefit. For example, incentives are used to encourage people to buy flood insurance by subsidizing the premiums. Sanctions provide extrinsic punishments for noncompliance with community policies. That is, they offer negative inducements that add to the inherent negative consequences of a hazard adjustment or offset the inherent positive consequences of that hazard adjustment. Sanctions are used to provide immediate extrinsic punishments when the inherent punishments are delayed or when people incur a short-term benefit that results in a long-term cost. For example, sanctions are used to prevent developers from building in hazard prone areas or using unsafe construction materials and methods. The establishment of incentives and sanctions involves using the political process to adopt a policy and the enforcement of incentives and sanctions requires an effective implementation program (Lindell & Perry, 2004).

    By contrast, risk communication seeks to change households’ and businesses’ practices for land use, building construction, and contents protection by pointing out the intrinsic consequences of their behavior. That is, risk communication explains specifically what are the personal risks associated with risk area occupancy and also the hazard adjustments that can be taken to reduce hazard vulnerability.

    With this overview, discussion can be turned to the four principal functions or phases of emergency management: hazard mitigation, emergency preparedness, emergency response, and disaster recovery. Much of the development and systematization of this four-fold typology may be traced to the efforts of the NGA’s Emergency Management Project. As this group grappled with what it means to manage emergencies, it generated considerable discussion and some controversy within both the disaster research and emergency management communities. Since being adopted by FEMA, it is now widely accepted as an appropriate model for understanding the activities of emergency management. This scheme consolidates emergency activities into four discrete but interconnected categories distinguished by their time of occurrence in relation to disaster impact. Mitigation and preparedness activities are generally seen as taking place before the impact of any given disaster, whereas response and recovery activities are seen as post-impact measures.

    Hazard mitigation

    Hazard mitigation activities are directed toward eliminating the causes of a disaster, reducing the likelihood of its occurrence, or limiting the magnitude of its impacts if it does occur. Officially, FEMA defines mitigation as “any action of a long-term, permanent nature that reduces the actual or potential risk of loss of life or property from a hazardous event” (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1998a, p. 9). This definition is somewhat ambiguous because it encompasses the development of forecast and warning systems, evacuation route systems, and other pre-impact actions that are designed to develop a capability for active response to an imminent threat. Thus, Lindell and Perry (2000) contended the defining characteristic of hazard mitigation was that it provides passive protection at the time of disaster impact, whereas emergency preparedness measures develop the capability to conduct an active response at the time of disaster impact. Since 1995, FEMA has emphasized mitigation as the most effective and cost-efficient strategy for dealing with hazards. Indeed, a recent study by the Multihazard Mitigation Council (2005) concluded investments in hazard mitigation return four dollars in losses averted for every dollar invested. The ways in which mitigation activities can reduce hazard losses can best be understood in terms of a model proposed by Burton, et al. (1993) that contends natural hazards arise from the interaction of natural event systems and human use systems. Thus, the potential human impact of an extreme natural event such as a flood, hurricane, or earthquake can be altered by modifying either the natural event system, or the human use system, or both. In the case of floods, for example, the natural event system can be modified by dams or levees that confine flood water. The human use system can be modified by land use practices that limit development of the flood plain or building construction practices that floodproof structures. Although the amount of control that can be exercised over natural event systems is often limited, technological hazards are inherently susceptible to such controls. Chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear, and explosive/flammable materials can all be produced, stored, and transported in ways that avoid adverse effects to plant workers, local residents and the public-at-large. However, this control can be lost, resulting in releases to the air, or to surface or ground water. It is possible to control the hazard agent by locating the system away from populated areas; designing it with diverse and redundant components or by operating it with smaller quantities of hazardous materials (known as hazmat), lower temperatures and pressures, safer operations and maintenance procedures, and more effective worker selection, training and supervision). Alternatively, one can control the human use system by preventing residential and commercial development—especially schools and hospitals—near hazardous facilities and major hazmat transportation routes. The choice of whether to mitigate technological hazards by controlling the hazard agent or the human use system depends upon political and economic decisions about the relative costs and benefits of these two types of control. Specific questions include who has control over the hazards, what degree of control is maintained, and what incentives there are for the maintenance of control.

    Attempts to mitigate natural hazards, or events over which there is little human control, involve controlling human activities in ways that minimize hazard exposure. Thus, land use practices restricting residential construction in floodplains are important mitigation measures against riverine floods. The Hazard Mitigation and Relocation Act of 1993, for example, allows FEMA to purchase homes and businesses in floodplains and remove these structures from harm’s way. Although moving entire communities involves considerable stress for all concerned, an intense and systematic management process—characterized especially by close coordination among federal, state, and local agencies—can produce successful protection of large numbers of citizens and break the repetitive cycle of “flood-rebuild-flood-rebuild” that is so costly to the nation’s taxpayers (Perry & Lindell, 1997b). Likewise, building code requirements are used to restrict construction to those designs that can better withstand the stresses of hurricane force winds or earthquake shocks.

    Disaster Preparedness

    Disaster preparedness activities are undertaken to protect human lives and property in conjunction with threats that cannot be controlled by means of mitigation measures or from which only partial protection is achieved. Thus, preparedness activities are based upon the premise that disaster impact will occur and that plans, procedures, and response resources must be established in advance. These are designed not only to support a timely and effective emergency response to the threat of imminent impact, but also to guide the process of disaster recovery. A jurisdiction’s disaster preparedness program needs to be defined in terms of

    · What agencies will participate in preparedness and the process by which they will plan,

    · What emergency response and disaster recovery actions are feasible for that community,

    · How the emergency response and disaster recovery organizations will function and what resources they require, and

    · How disaster preparedness will be established and maintained.

    Emergency managers can address the first of these questions—what agencies and what will be the process for developing disaster preparedness—by defining an emergency management organization. This requires identifying the emergency management stakeholders in the community and developing a collaborative structure within which they can work effectively. It also requires ensuring an adequate statutory basis for disaster preparedness and administrative support from senior elected and appointed officials.

    Emergency managers can address the second question—what are the feasible response and recovery actions—by means of analyses conducted to guide the development of major plan functions. These include, for example, evacuation analyses to assess the population of the risk areas, the number of vehicles that will be taken in evacuation, when people will leave, and what is the capacity of the evacuation route system.

    Emergency managers can address the third question—how will the response and recovery organizations function—in the emergency operations plan (EOP), the recovery operations plan (ROP), and their implementing procedures. These documents define which agencies are responsible for each of the functions that must be performed in the emergency response and disaster recovery phases. Some of the generic emergency response functions include emergency assessment, hazard operations, population protection, and incident management (Lindell & Perry, 1992, 1996b). While developing the plans and procedures, emergency managers also need to identify the resources required to implement them. Such resources include facilities (e.g., mobile command posts and emergency operations centers—EOCs), trained personnel (e.g., police, fire, and EMS), equipment (e.g., detection systems such as river gages and chemical sensors, siren systems, pagers, emergency vehicles, and radios), materials and supplies (e.g., traffic barricades, chemical detection kits, and self-contained breathing apparatus), and information (e.g., chemical inventories in hazmat facilities, congregate care facility locations and capacities, and local equipment inventories).

    Emergency managers can also address the fourth question—how disaster preparedness will be established and maintained—in EOP and ROP. Sections of these plans should define the methods and schedule for plan maintenance, training, drills, and exercises. Training should always be conducted for emergency responders in fire, police, and EMS. In addition, training is needed for personnel in special facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.

    Emergency Response

    Emergency response activities are conducted during the time period that begins with the detection of the event and ends with the stabilization of the situation following impact. FEMA (1998b, p. 12) indicates the goal of emergency response is “to save lives and property by positioning emergency equipment and supplies; evacuating potential victims; providing food, water, shelter and medical care to those in need; and restoring critical public services”. In many cases, hazard monitoring systems ensure authorities are promptly alerted to disaster onset either by means of systematic forecasts (e.g., hurricanes) or prompt detection (e.g., flash floods detected by stream gages), so there is considerable forewarning and consequently a long period of time to activate the emergency response organization. In other cases, such as earthquakes, pre-impact prediction is usually not available, but prompt assessment of the impact area is feasible within a matter of minutes to hours and can quickly direct emergency response resources to the most severely affected areas.

    Some of the more visible response activities undertaken to limit the primary threat include securing the impact area, evacuating threatened areas, conducting search and rescue for the injured, providing emergency medical care, and sheltering evacuees and other victims. Operations mounted to counter secondary threats include fighting urban fires after earthquakes, identifying contaminated water supplies, or other public health threats following flooding, identifying contaminated wildlife or fish in connection with a toxic chemical spill, or preparing for flooding following glacier melt during a volcanic eruption. During the response stage, emergency managers must also continually assess damage and coordinate the arrival of converging equipment and supplies so they can be deployed promptly to those areas with the greatest need.

    Emergency response activities are usually accomplished through the efforts of diverse groups—some formally constituted, others volunteer—coordinated through an EOC. Usually, local emergency responders dominate the response period. These almost always include police, firefighters, and EMS personnel, and often include public works and transportation employees. Uncertainty and urgency—less prevalent in mitigation, preparedness, and recovery—are important features of the response period. In the world of disaster response, minutes of delay can cost lives and property, so speed is typically essential. However, speed of response must be balanced with good planning and intelligent assessment to avoid actions that are impulsive and possibly counterproductive. Finally, emergency response actions need to be coordinated with disaster recovery. That is, life and property are priorities, but response actions foreshadow recovery actions. For example, damage assessments are later used to support requests for Presidential Disaster Declarations and debris removal might be concentrated on roadways that are essential for restoring infrastructure. The emergency response phase ends when the situation is stabilized, which means that the risk of loss of life and property has returned to precrisis levels.

    Disaster Recovery

    Disaster recovery activities begin after disaster impact has been stabilized and extends until the community has been returned to its normal activities. In some cases, the recovery period may extend for a long period of time. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (1995a, p. XX) states “[r]ecovery refers to those non-emergency measures following disaster whose purpose is to return all systems, both formal and informal, to as normal as possible.” The immediate objective of recovery activities is to restore the physical infrastructure of the community—water, sewer, electric power, fuel (e.g., natural gas), telecommunication, and transportation—but the ultimate objective is to return the community’s quality of life to at least the same level as it was before the disaster. Recovery has been defined in terms of short-range (relief and rehabilitation) measures versus long-range (reconstruction) measures. Relief and rehabilitation activities usually include clearance of debris and restoration of access to the impact area, reestablishment of economic (commercial and industrial) activities, restoration of essential government or community services, and provision of an interim system for caring for victims—especially housing, clothing, and food. Reconstruction activities tend to be dominated by the rebuilding of major structures—buildings, roads, bridges, dams, and such—and by efforts to revitalize the area’s economic system. In some communities, leaders view the reconstruction phase as an opportunity to institute plans for change that existed before the disaster or to introduce mitigation measures into reconstruction that would constitute an improvement upon the community’s pre-impact state. Such an approach to reconstruction has been documented after the great Alaska earthquake of 1964 (Anderson, 1969a). After the eruption of Mt. Usu on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, local leaders convinced the central government to invest in a wide range of civic improvements aimed at enhancing the local area’s economic viability as a tourist center (Perry & Hirose, 1982).

    Finally, it should be noted that the bulk of the resources used in the recovery phase (particularly on reconstruction) are derived from extracommunity sources. In the United States, these sources include private organizations and state governments, but for the most part they come from the federal government. Furthermore, even after James Lee Witt began FEMA’s emphasis on hazard mitigation, most of the money and resources for emergency management continued to be consumed in the recovery phase.

    Evaluation of the Emergency Management System

    The preceding discussion has examined the four principal functions of the emergency management system—mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. In summary, two points should be reiterated here. First, although the distinctions among these four functions are fuzzy (i.e., the transition from one phase to the next is gradual rather than sharp), they are distinctly time phased. Mitigation and preparedness measures take place in advance of any specific disaster impact, whereas response takes place during and recovery occurs after disaster impact. Therefore, practical problems accompany the development of mitigation and preparedness strategies because they must usually be accomplished during periods of normal activity, when environmental threats are not imminent. Historical evidence indicates that it has been difficult to mount efforts to engage in these sorts of activities. Response and recovery take place within the context of a disaster impact—clearly unusual times—and benefit from the operation of an emergency social system as well as from the high level of community cohesiveness that usually emerges in the immediate aftermath (Lindell & Perry, 1992).

    The second point is that, in the past, far more resources and emphasis have been allocated to response and recovery activities than to mitigation and preparedness. This is consistent with a cycle, well known to disaster researchers and emergency management professionals, of citizen and governmental interest in disasters. Immediately after impact, the attention of both the public and community officials is riveted upon the physical devastation and social disruption. Considerable resources are made available for shelter, food, clothing, and financial aid to victims, as well as debris clearance and the physical restoration of critical facilities within the community. However, public attention declines significantly as time passes. Because considerable time is required to translate such concern into budget allocations and coherent programs, many preparedness measures—and to an even greater extent mitigation measures—have simply failed to be implemented.

    To a certain extent this differential emphasis has been a function of the difficulty citizens and political officials have in maintaining a high level of concern about disasters during times when they seem so remote. To do so requires that both citizens and leaders dwell upon negative events that may or may not occur sometime in the future—a task that is almost universally regarded as unpleasant and thus elicits procrastination. Perhaps equally important in the resource disparity, however, are the limitations posed by the technical state of knowledge regarding various hazards. The state of technology itself imposes limits on the types of mitigation and preparedness activities that can be undertaken. If the location of a potentially catastrophic event cannot be defined in advance, the feasible set of mitigation actions is severely limited. For example, tornado risk is essentially uniform within each local jurisdiction. so land use regulation would achieve little reduction in hazard vulnerability. Furthermore, in the absence of a technology of detection and highly accurate impact predictions, many preparedness measures are not feasible—such as evacuation from unreinforced masonry (e.g., brick) buildings immediately before an earthquake. Thus, in the past, it may have not been possible to devote resources anywhere other than to response and recovery. In the future, as more comprehensive forms of emergency management are implemented, the emphasis must shift toward the development of mitigation and preparedness measures within the limits of existing technology while pursuing research and development designed to advance the state of that technology.


    1.5: Characterizing Emergency Management Activities is shared under a Public Domain license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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