There are two ways to approach preparedness.
The first is planning for what you expect to happen. Hurricane season, for example. It happens every year. Right now we’re about halfway through the 2011 season.
The other is to ready yourself for what you can’t even imagine. The 5.8 earthquake that shook the East Coast on August 23 (earthquakes don’t happen on the east coast!) is a great reminder that preparedness means being ready for what we least expect.
Aden Hogan, city manager, Evans, Colorado, learned that the hard way. He was assistant city manager in Oklahoma City when the A. P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed on April 19, 1995. “Our job is to plan for what we can expect to happen,” he says. “But one of key lessons I took from Oklahoma City was, what if something happens that you don’t expect? Are your processes flexible enough to ramp up for the unexpected?”
“We need to be looking at emergency management not as a specific hazard but using an all hazards approach,” says Ft. Lauderdale City Manager and ICMA Vice President Lee Feldman. “During hurricane season we tend to think that that’s the limit of our exposure. That’s just one type of disaster. Accidents can wreak havoc on a community. There were the shootings in Ft. Hood, the towers coming down in New York – these are all things communities have to be prepared for from emergency management standpoint.”
Hogan readily outlines the components of a good preparedness plan: make sure it’s current and reevaluate it annually; consider all the possible threats and risks in your community, including chemical plants, rail lines, and airports; make sure that your employees are all well-trained in what their roles will be in an emergency; and have someone designated to take charge of the FEMA Incident Command System, which federal law requires that communities use in their emergency and disaster plans and response. (You can read more in Hogan’s article in the June issue of PM magazine, “Managing the Unthinkable.”)
Feldman adds that managers should understand the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and how responsibilities are divided among local, county, regional, state, and federal levels. He also urges managers to stay current with the latest trends in emergency management and developments at the federal level.
Preparing Residents to Go It Alone
Regardless of how well governments are prepared for the worst, it’s universally accepted that citizens should be prepared to go it alone for at least 72 hours.
“I think that’s the weakest link in the US today – our connection with the residents,” admits Hogan. “Do a great job planning for our response. We don’t do as well at engaging citizens and planning for recovery.”
Hogan wants to get the idea out that citizens have a role to play. “Sometimes it’s ‘please stay out of way.’ They need to be able to take care of themselves. We’ll deal with the priorities – injuries, people who need oxygen, people who need prescriptions – but we expect the rest of the community to take care of themselves for a while.”
Hogan’s 2012 tactical plan is to give every home a basic kit that they can build on with food, water, and other supplies. “We want to get everybody thinking about their 72-hr plan, so their family is prepared to deal with a three-day snowstorm, for example.”
National Preparedness Month
To help Americans prepare for emergencies of all kinds, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Ready Campaign, in partnership with Citizen Corps and the Ad Council, has announced the launch of new web tools that will make it easier for individuals and organizations to join the 2011 National Preparedness Month (NPM) coalition.
Members have access to ideas for activities and events; ready-to-use templates and messaging, including posters, web banners, press releases, articles, Facebook status updates; tweets; customizable materials; and a calendar listing events around the country.
FEMA also offers state and local government preparedness resources:
The ICMA Knowledge Network has a wealth of resources on preparedness, including:
Other helpful online resources include