Setting Examples for Disaster Preparedness

by Catherine L. Feinman

Cathy Feinman headshotFrom coast to coast, communities across the United States are implementing solutions to address gaps that could hinder response efforts should a disaster occur. From special events to widespread natural disasters, this edition of the DomPrep Journal shares experiences and lessons learned from those who have firsthand accounts of these events and incidents and want to ensure that any existing gaps are closed before similar situations arise within their communities or elsewhere.

On the East Coast, Washington, D.C., offers innumerable opportunities to practice local and regional preparedness, with multiple agencies working together and communicating across disciplines on a daily basis. With thousands of special events occurring in the nation’s capital each year, there are many opportunities to practice preparedness. For example, in 2017, transportation statistics from two events on consecutive days – the Presidential Inauguration and the Women’s March – highlight the differences in transportation planning efforts and subsequent outcomes. The National Capital Region, which includes the District of Columbia, continually reviews and practices its plans – including interoperable communications – during such multijurisdictional events.

On the West Coast, California offers similar preparedness opportunities. In the megacity of Los Angeles, ensuring safe passenger egress from underground rail lines is a priority. For tribal communities in California and around the country, communications are a priority, with amateur radio operators able to play key roles during disasters.

Disasters can occur anywhere and often have far-reaching effects that do not stay confined within jurisdictional borders. As such, regional or national plans may be needed, but can introduce additional challenges for some communities – for example, a new comprehensive emergency preparedness rule implemented by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The 2017 hurricane season exposed other changes that may be needed in the future – for example, improving the ability to move resources into and out of areas like the Florida Keys when affected by a hurricane or other disaster.

Protecting the homeland from natural or human-caused threats is not the sole responsibility of the federal government, but rather a joint effort for all levels of the public and private sectors. This could include having mutual aid agreements or regional hazardous materials teams equipped with trace detection equipment to prevent potential terrorist attacks and to respond as needed. Regardless of the type of threat, all emergency preparedness and homeland security stakeholders must remain vigilant, be involved in the planning process, and be ready to respond.