By Mary Velan
September is National Preparedness Month, and cities across the country are reviewing and upgrading their emergency management protocol to ensure agencies are ready for worst case scenarios. Emergency management is composed of several moving parts that must work together to achieve a common goal of public health and safety. To ensure this synergy is achieved, emergency management officials must instill a strong and consistent communication strategy among all parties involved. There must also be extensive training offered for both emergency management professionals and members of the community, as well as collaboration across all sectors and organizations.
Importance of Communication
In an average emergency management plan, several local and regional agencies are called to action to respond to the disaster and help protect residents. Emergency management plans typically define how a variety of organizations respond to specific issues in coordination with the five phases of readiness:
Whether the agency is a hospital, a nonprofit organization, a government entity or other group, there must be clearly defined roles in place to ensure priority needs are taken care of and teams are working together. Agencies can be assigned to a variety of responsibilities such as addressing:
- Health and medical issues
- Terrorism and violence
- Public safety
While each agency has a defined role and can work independently, they all must be in constant communication with one another to remain efficient.
Constant communication is also key in adjusting emergency management plans when new threats are discovered. Amarillo Globe-News reported emergency management plans in Texas have been continually reviewed and updated on an annual basis as extreme weather conditions create new disaster scenarios.
Threat of Fragmentation
Another reason emergency management teams must be on the same page and in constant communication is to ensure no fragmentation occurs. A recent study of the St. Louis County emergency management system revealed inconsistent operating procedures across departments created a disjointed response to disasters that create inefficiencies and threaten public safety.
According to the study, the fragmented emergency management protocol could potentially result in 43 different ways to manage a fire within the community, which in turn will create confusion when one agency tries to assist another. The study found St. Louis and St. Louis County operate two fire academies and neither honor the validity of the other’s academy, while low-income communities struggle to provide adequate fire services compared to affluent areas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
In the case of St. Louis, communication between departments would only be a start to solving the fragmentation problem. The report recommended consolidating many operations within the county to create consistency, reduce costs and improve overall service and protection for residents, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Furthermore, many emergency management experts are pushing for residents to receive training in basic emergency management. Throughout National Preparedness Month, cities are hosting events to educate the public and help individuals prepare for possible emergencies in their communities such as:
- Power outages
- Extreme winters
At these events, emergency management officials explain the importance of having a family emergency plan in place so all members know what to do in different situations to ensure their safety, particularly if they are separated from one another. Participants can also receive guidance on how to put together an emergency preparedness kit to house basic necessities including:
- Extra batteries
- Important documents
- Items for pets or babies
While threats in the summer may call for extra water, planning for a severe snowstorm should focus on warmth and protection. These emergency kits should be updated regularly as the seasons, and potential disasters, change, Times West Virginian reported.
Emergency management planning must take into account all members of society – both their needs and their potential contributions during a disastrous situation. Therefore, emergency management has evolved into a collaboration across federal, state and local governments; the business sector as well as nonprofit organizations and individual residents. Because these collaborations require teamwork and coordination across different industries, certain factors have proven to increase success and avoid inefficiencies.
A recent study published in American Review of Public Administration examined the relationship between emergency management collaborations and community social capital – defined as networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular setting. The study looked at the impact of bridging networks (linking individuals of differing demographic, political and social boundaries) and bonding networks (linking similar individuals and reinforce exclusive identities and homogeneous groups) on emergency management planning success. Researchers studied how the formation of these networks affect capacity for collaboration – the creation of stable relationships in planning for future and multiple crisis – not just short-term responses. The researchers also distinguished between formal (formal agreements) and informal collaborations (joint planning and informal cooperation), with informal collaborations used most often in emergency situations.
The study found when there are both bridging networks and bonding networks in communities, informal modes of collaboration are more likely to form and be involved in emergency management planning. Awareness of potential threats and available technology also directly impact collaboration in emergency management planning.
The researchers recommend emergency management planners:
- Work with leaders in the public, business, and nonprofit sectors and support associations, establishments and centers that foster bridging social capital
- Identify and engage community members who are adept boundary spanners, or can create links across external organizations
- Devote resources to educating emergency management professionals and other stakeholders on the presence of emergency management-related risks
- Consider the use of sophisticated technology in emergency management operations
The study revealed technologies such as GIS can be key in dispatching and managing resources efficiently, as well as locating risk areas for immediate attention.