The “things that keep me up at night” are much more numerous and remarkably different than emergency management 15 years ago. There is no time to rest. The nature of emergencies has changed, complicated by the fact that new threats of intentional incidents using chemical, biological, and other weapons must be considered in addition to accidental or natural incidents.
The frequency of incidents across the United States that require the activation of emergency operations centers and the utilization of emergency management plans has increased. This is certainly true in the Baltimore (Maryland) region, with the media disseminating information about emergencies like never before.
Fifteen or more years ago, emergency managers spent their time worrying about specific incidents and how city resources would respond to an incident, save lives and property, and prepare for the next response. Preparedness was focused mostly on specific hazards, for example:
What dangerous hazardous materials are most likely to affect our area?
What needs to be done during a chlorine release?
How do we stop a leak?
Is sarin in fact a gas?
How bad will the flooding downtown be if a 50-inch main ruptures?
The expectations of Baltimore’s program from both elected officials and the public were much lower and the focus of emergency management much more narrow.
So much has changed since then, with more apprehension and uneasiness to efficiently and effectively function when it is “game time.” The development of the science of emergency management has been remarkable and the expectations to use proven emergency management tactics are expected. They must be mastered using necessary readiness and training practices.
Stakeholders demand immediate and accurate information, so it is imperative that emergency management officials provide a structure that includes rapid dissemination. To effectively share information between stakeholders, Joint Information Centers are imperative. Public notification that involves new and changing technologies must also be utilized immediately to disseminate crucial information such as shelter in place and evacuation orders.
Financial implications must be considered when deploying resources, and mutual aid utilized for optimal response. As jurisdictions perform well, others are expected to do the same. The growing number of volunteers (people who want to help) requires coordination and integration with various other resources into response efforts, which include those that may not have been used in the past. For example, mental health providers can be utilized to reduce the likelihood of post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Today, the “wake up list” that emergency managers worry about is much different:
Has our program trained enough disaster assessment teams and will they be ready when needed?
Will our system accurately create situational awareness to help decision makers, even if there are multiple incidents occurring at the same time?
Can we provide information to the media before social media and new types of news media create their own narrative that may be inaccurate?
Will emergency personnel seamlessly activate the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) even though it is seldom used on a daily basis?
Have we exercised and trained enough to evacuate stadiums in the event of a catastrophe?
Being so tired at the end of the day, it is easy to say that nothing really “keeps me up at night” anymore. However, that simply is not true. Emergency managers worry that, when the people that count on their offices and staff need them, that they will be equal to the task.
Everyone must strive to perform and do the best they can under extremely challenging emergencies, and the more contemplation there is in advance – especially on threats and risks that can cause the most harm – the better the chance for success. The things emergency managers worry about may grow and reprioritize but the emergency management system and the people that work in this system have never been better or more committed to serve and protect. There is more expertise, education, technology, and most importantly spirit, and that should give everyone reason to rest easier to prepare each day to do this work, which is so worth doing.