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Governments have assured people that they are ready to handle disasters when they strike. We may classify government disaster preparedness into five categories as planning, exercise, training, equipment, and statutory authority.
The first instant of government response to disaster involves the local government. Planning responses to emergency and disaster like Hurricane Katrina of 2005 is necessary and involves several steps. Local governments have learnt that an onset of a disaster is not ideal time to start planning. It must know well in advance what to do when disaster strikes.
For instance, response to Hurricane Katrina involved planning what to do, how to do it, what equipment to use, how can and they will assist. Planning occurs in advance.
Therefore, government has developed a comprehensive methodology known as Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) for use and planning for disasters. Government can scale up or down EOP with regard to particular disaster or community needs. EOP can handle several of disaster response and recovery (Coppola, 2007).
Regimen always exercises as a part of preparedness in response to emergency situations. Exercise occurs as defined in the EOP allowing people participating in the response process practice their roles and responsibility before an actual disaster strikes.
Exercise helps to identify problems in the plan during non-emergency situations. The crew will have enough time to tackle the problems before the actual disaster occurs in order to eliminate unnecessary setbacks. Exercise introduces individuals and agencies participating in response to their services. Pre-disaster introduction enables the officials to call right people in time of needs.
Government must train in readiness for emergency. During rescue process, the official put their lives in danger. Therefore, adequate training for the response team is mandatory. Insufficiently trained response personnel can contribute to the possibility of a secondary emergency or disaster, and further strain inadequate resources.
The first teams to respond among local government team are mainly police, emergency medical departments and fire services. These groups have basic training in handling all manner of emergency. The US has centralized training facilities where response teams get training at the local levels (McEntire, 2007).
Manufacturers have developed special equipment to assist in response, and recovery in emergency situations. These items help to reduce the number of casualties, damages to property, injuries and deaths. These items provide safety to the response teams in order to protect their lives.
The only problem is that response items are not always adequate as we witnessed during response to Hurricane Katrina. In major disasters, there is great disparity of what is available and what the response teams need in order to respond adequately. Some of the items the US government mobilized during Hurricane Katrina included vehicles of all sorts, devices such as fire extinguisher, chemicals and access equipment.
The final stage in the US government disaster preparedness is the statutory authority. Government emergency responses involve a large number of stakeholders such the local officials, public, private individuals, and businesses. A proper statutory authority exists to ensure that response agencies can carry out their duties effectively. Statutory authority ensures that response teams and items are always ready and constantly funded.
Emergency responses require enormous resources, which local governments are not in a position to mobilize. Therefore, there is always confusion where the resources will come from and who will take control. Statutory authority ensures that there is a line of control and succession.
The EOP provides guidelines on specific authority in relation to specific disasters and gives them the power to act. There are new and changing disasters such as the 9/11 attacks. This led to the establishment of the US Department of Homeland Security to respond to new threats of terrorist attacks.
During first few hours in emergency responses, the resources might not be adequate. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare the public to take care of their responses needs. Public preparedness involves education and raising awareness.
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The UN (United Nations) notes that public disaster education is fundamental in eliminating countries’ vulnerability to disasters. Preparing public to handle emergency involves giving them skills to enable them carry out specialized functions such as search, rescue, first aid, or suppression of other developing incidences.
Responses to emergency include actions aiming at eliminating or reducing injuries, deaths, property damages and to the environment that the response team takes prior to, during and instantly after the disaster. A perfect example was a response to Hurricane Katrina. The response process began when the people realized that Hurricane Katrina was imminent and unavoidable.
It is crucial to note that response is the most complex and critical stage in disaster management because of the high stress environment the response team conducts it. Unwarranted delays turn into tragedy and destruction of lives and property.
Response is an intensive process as it addresses the immediate needs such as search and rescue, first aid, and provision of shelter. Response also includes systems that coordinate and supports all these efforts. Response entails rapid and immediate restoration of key infrastructure such as transportation systems, electricity and communication channels, distribution of food and clean water.
Response team must restore the infrastructures in order to facilitate recovery, reduce further injuries and deaths, and restore society to its normalcy. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that each disaster is unique with its own variables sometimes unknown even to the well-planned response strategies.
At the same time, the participants, response needs, victims and timing of the order of events were unique in Hurricane Katrina. Responses to disasters rely on the available information and coordination of efforts.
All hazardous events involve emergency responses. In emergency situations, both trained and untrained persons must respond to the situations outside the normal life. Emergency situations persist till the response teams eliminate conditions of danger and threats to life and property. Pre-disaster recognitions in New Orleans enabled the response team to plan in advance as designated in the EOP.
A cyclone gives significant leads, and recognition is possible to enable response immediately. Several pre-disaster response processes are available to disaster management. The systems of pre-disaster responses involve warning and evacuation. This may give the public a last minute chance to evacuate the area and seek shelter in safe grounds.
The response teams also have opportunities to position their resources and supplies in advance. The response team may position their resources and supplies in safe ground to avoid difficulties of movements after the disaster. Last-minute preparedness and mitigation are only useful when the response team prepares them in advance. Post-disaster recognition responses occur in earnest.
Search and rescue is a fundamental part of emergency response that response team must conduct to prevent loss of lives. Hurricane Katrina resulted into trapped victims in collapsed buildings and debris. First aid treatment to the victim of disasters focuses on relocation of the injured persons to safe ground.
Search and rescue is a fundamental part of emergency response that response team must conduct to prevent loss of lives. First aid treatment to the victim of disasters focuses on relocation of the injured persons to safe ground. Occasionally, the number of the victim may stretch the available resources beyond limit. Transportation of supplies may also be a problem due to access of the disaster scene.
Evacuation occur before, during and after the disaster has struck. Rescue team evacuates victims to safe grounds in order to reduce the number of disaster casualties. The challenge with advance notice to evacuate is that people may refuse to move as we witnessed in Hurricane Katrina.
There were advance warnings about the growing disaster, but few people responded to the notices. Officials must predetermine effective evacuation processes including the resources the victims will need.
Disaster assessment involves collecting data to help with information the officials need in order to respond to the situation. They should be able to know exactly what is going on at any given time. Assessments include situation assessment, which determines what has occurred due to disaster. At the same time, need assessment involves collecting information regarding the resources, services and assistance the disaster victims need.
Other response needs include treating the hazard, for instance, during the hurricane, the storm caused havoc on people and their buildings. There were strong winds, storm surges and violet movements. Provision of basic needs such as water, food and shelter is necessary as victims stills need basic in order to continue surviving. Victims need immediate assistance with regard to basic needs (Pinkowski, 2008).
Safety and security of the disaster area is a crucial part of a response process. At this point, security officials and other response team experience strain. During this period, victims may experience security and safety lapses. Looting becomes a common security threat to victims of the disaster.
Looting even disrupts some evacuation efforts. Assault on the victim of disaster and response team is another safety and security challenge. In most cases, the officials must call off the rescue process until they restore security.
For instance, during Hurricane Katrina, response team suspended all their processes after a sniper fired upon response team on the grounds and in the air. Opportunistic criminals take advantage of lack of security and open nature of shelters to cause havoc to the victims. Some safety issues involve domestic violence whereby victims loss control of themselves due to stress.
Recovery is the process by which victims rebuild, repair, and reconstruct all the adverse effects and losses after the disaster in order to return to normality. Just like response, recovery also occurs under a resource-strained environment. Effective recovery operations require skills, resources, and qualified personnel.
The problem with the recovery process is that there is always confusion. People make most decisions in haste, with no analysis and planning resulting into loss of opportunities for improvements. Information gathered during the preparedness stage is useful for planning recovery processes.
Managers organize pre-disaster recovery processes because of prior planning organizers are putting in places. They are likely to have long-term effects on recovery processes. The nature and magnitudes of disasters are unpredictable. Therefore, pre-disaster recoveries are hypothetical approaches, which are focusing on broad goals (Gustin, 2002).
There are short and long term recovery efforts. Recovery periods depend on specific consequences of the disaster, resources available, and capabilities of the recovery team. These factors determine whether or not the recovery efforts will be either be short or long term processes.
Hurricane Katrina was a long-lasting recovery process. Therefore, the resources it needed were tremendous. There were short supplies of other resources, which hampered the progress of recovery (Chandra and Acosta, 2009).
Effective recovery process involves planning and coordination of the available resources. Planning and coordination during the recovery processes are sometimes difficult to achieve, but the two processes are necessary in order to reduce the risks and facilitate the restoration process. Success or failures of recovery processes depend on planning and coordination of recovery resources and structures.
Recovery process must address the community diverse demographic and socio-cultural orientations and preferences (Damon and Erin, 2009).
Recovery planning and coordination should include all stakeholders affected by the disaster. Recovery officials must gather accurate and timely information to assess the extent of the damage. This assists the team to make effective use of the available resources and plan priorities (Oliver, 2011).
There are several types of recoveries. The most common ones include public aid, restoring housing facilities, focusing on economic recovery, and individual, family and cultural recovery. Public assistance covers all areas of public interests.
These are mainly structures and systems concerning government operations. Housing sector is another crucial part of a recovery process. Houses exhibit different degrees of damages. In New Orleans after the Katrina, government engaged in provisions of shelter thereafter the rebuilding processes began (Oliver, 2011).
Economic recovery is difficult after the disaster. Disasters put pressure on the economy of the affected state. There is widespread loss of jobs, resources, businesses, and other damages to economic infrastructures. Hurricane Katrina terribly affected the economy of New Orleans.
Economic recovery process should begin at the local level where majority experience difficulties. How well New Orleans victims recovered from the economic turmoil depended on how their economy was before the Hurricane Katrina.
Recovery processes must also involve people and their cultures. Mental health of individuals is crucial for social well-being of the community. Physical restoration of housing facilities, infrastructures, and economy should go together with the social needs of the community. Recovery team must note that all persons in the environment of the disaster must be affected in different ways by emotional distress and anxiety.
Disasters cause stress as people confront vulnerability in their lives and may tend to avoid all attempts avoid future catastrophes. People experience loss of families, property, and jobs. They may even experience prolonged stress due to these losses. Recovery efforts must aim at addressing emotional pain, losing, and suffering after the disaster.
Vulnerable members of the community such as children and women are more susceptible to emotional stress than males. Therefore, before they experience psychological problems and post-traumatic stress disorder, recovery efforts must address their mental health (Miller and Rivera, 2010).
Some disasters utterly destroy or devastate cultural heritage of a community. For instance, Hurricane Katrina destroyed historic buildings and other structures with cultural values in New Orleans. People lost their heritages and lived in buildings which did not address their cultural, preferences and customs needs.
The Role of IT in Preparedness, Response, and Recovery
The fundamental focus of disaster management is to reduce the harmful effects of disasters to society and economy. Disaster management requires managers to reduce doubts, show costs and benefits, and effectively manage resources in wide scale and at fast pace than in ordinary situations (Rao and Eisenberg, 2007).
Information technology (IT) is striving to provide capabilities that can enable managers to catch the changing realities of disasters and help them to devise effective decisions in order to manage disaster situations. IT systems will help management to keep better processes and progresses in all stages of disaster management.
There are potential opportunities in the use of IT to inform local government, state, federal policy makers, public and emergency management team about disaster management. However, IT is not a silver bullet in managing disaster situations.
Chandra, A. and Acosta, J. (2009). The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations in Long-Term Human Recovery After Disaster: Reflections From Louisiana Four Years After Hurricane Katrina. Louisiana, WA: The RAND Corporation.
Coppola, D. P. (2007). Introduction to International Disaster Management. Boston: Elsevier Inc.
Damon, C. and Erin, K. (2009). Communicating Emergency Preparedness: Strategies for Creating a Disaster Resilient Public. New York: Auerbach Publications.
Gustin, J. F. (2002). Disaster & Recovery Planning: A Guide for Facility Managers, 2nd Edition. New York: CRC Press.
McEntire, D. A. (2007). Disaster Response and Recovery. New York: John Wiley.
Miller, D. and Rivera, J. (2010). Community Disaster Recovery and Resiliency: Exploring Global Opportunities and Challenges. New York: Taylor and Francis.
Oliver, C. E. (2011). Catastrophic Disaster Planning and Response. New York: CRC Press.
Pinkowski, J. (2008). Disaster Management Handbook: Public Administration and Public Policy. New York: CRC Press.
Rao, R. and Eisenberg, J. (2007). Improving Disaster Management: The Role of IT in Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.