All disaster events have something in common – the unexpected will occur.
How can response teams identify unanticipated events and adjust quickly to enable adequate response?
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When discussing how response teams can appropriately respond to unanticipated events, the most important first step has to be planning. Even though the nature of a disaster is the 'unexpected,' response teams can arm themselves in advance by coming up with plans to fit a variety of dire scenarios. Not only should they have plans in place, the response teams should also routinely practice the execution of those plans in as close to 'real' simulations as possible.
I worked for two years in the HAZMAT response team office (which deals with hazardous materials-related accidents) on my college campus. During that time, I saw the response team both plan and practice for a variety of scenarios and situations. Not only did the office have a list of very detailed scenarios for multiple disaster situations, the entire staff was expertly trained to handle variations of those scenarios.
I also would imagine that quite a bit of practice in a variety of situations would be a necessary component of this type of training. I once took place in a mock disaster as a "victim." It wasn't something that any of us got paid for, we just did it for fun, so it wasn't a big expenditure of government money, but it did help train the departments involved.
I would say that whether it is FEMA or any state aid agency, or military unit for that matter, planning is the key, along with consistent training and practice. In a natural disaster or terrorist attack, there must be careful and detailed contingency planning that takes into account as many possible developments as can be thought of. But in addition to that, there needs to be a quick response team that can be flexible and dynamic in dealing with the unexpected. Such a team needs to be staffed by experienced veterans used to dealing with chaotic and fluid situations.
Mostly, such response teams need to be well funded, well placed, and well trained to respond to such emergencies effectively.
I think that technology and communication are the key in responding to disasters. The people who need to be able to direct the emergency proceedings have to have the information they need to get people moving in the right directions safely. Family members likewise should all have communication methods such as cell phones to call, text, or send e-mail.
The first step is to have contingency funding allocated and readily available for unanticipated event situations. These unexpected events may be natural disasters, human-caused disasters or technological disasters. The second step is assessment during which the extent of harm, loss, and overall impact is identified. The third step is define and act upon immediate intervention to minimize further spread of consequences and impact. The fourth step is recovery and restoration through established strategies recovery, plans for restoration, such as of utility services, and operation continuity though effective multi-layered means of inter-agency communications. American University in Washington D.C. has a very good emergency management and continuity plan posted on the Internet to see as an example and clarification of theses steps.
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