Disasters can strike anywhere and at any time. In recent years, many U.S. states experienced natural disasters firsthand, subjecting both civilians and first responders to a wide range of severe scenarios. When properly trained, emergency workers are able to care for themselves and others in these situations. The process of planning for and evaluating these events, however, extends beyond the crisis in progress.

Areas of concern must be identified
Before a disaster ever enters the weather forecast, organizations should proactively plan their response. For a plan to work effectively, emergency workers must assess areas of risk, identify which resources are needed to succeed, and anticipate the skills needing improvement .

According to The Colorado Statesman, the state’s Recovery Office identifies approximately 1,200 people as responders to a disaster event. This includes members of the National Guard, FEMA, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Office of Emergency Management, all of whom can be dispatched quickly to areas of need should disaster strike.

The state of Illinois was not as well prepared when tornadoes struck the region in 2013. According to the National Health Security Preparedness Index, Illinois did not properly identify high-risk areas or populations ahead of time, which in turn prolonged the recovery effort.

Readiness is tested during the event
Disaster preparedness is tested during the event. First responders must coordinate actions and collaborate their efforts, drawing on past training to respond appropriately and effectively to the emergency.

Good communication is critical. According to The Coloradoan, a series of technical glitches made it difficult for Colorado officials to convey advice or warnings to citizens, many of whom turned to the Internet for information and to alert others as events unfolded. In Illinois, however, first responders moved quickly to the areas hit hardest by tornadoes. Partnerships with industrial equipment providers allowed emergency workers to clear debris and conduct rescue missions in a timely manner, National Geographic reported.

Evaluate the aftermath 
Once the dust settles and recovery efforts are complete, states work to improve planning based on the results of a recent disaster. In Colorado, lawmakers realized that housing and road reconstruction were among the biggest barriers to the state’s response to flooding. According to The Colorado Statesman, funds were appropriated to address these areas of need.

The government often conducts official evaluations of recent emergency events, and these findings can be used to revamp future processes. In Illinois, for example, the implementation of a new multimedia alert system made it easier for civilians to receive advance notice of disasters. During an event, emergency agencies broadcast instructions on which next steps people should take to move to safety.

Improvements are always possible
In both Colorado and Illinois disasters, emergency response proved effective. However, these incidents did at times suffer from unreliable communication systems or incomplete planning. Additional improvements in process and knowledge could increase the speed and efficiency of the next disaster response.

Crisis response teams from a multitude of departments plan and train for disasters in order to understand how to act under a given set of circumstances. Agencies must continue to track training records and equipment inventories to ensure each worker has the expertise and resources necessary to deal with emergencies. First responders who know the protocol that fellow departments follow are better able to work together toward relief. Since past failures, new technology and policy changes impact future performance, responding to a disaster demands constant evolution of training management.

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