In response to 9/11, the United States instituted one of the most massive changes in government with the creation and development of the Department of Homeland Security. Since then, a combination of massive attrition, personnel retirements, and complacency due to lack of new disasters has created a void of experienced personnel that must be addressed.
Through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s efforts after 9/11, the United States has become much more resilient in responding to human-caused and natural disasters. Motivated government emergency personnel at the national, state, and local levels who had experienced disasters firsthand, such as hurricanes and terrorism, carried out these early efforts. However, today, there are an increasing number of inexperienced government emergency personnel left to deal with the next round of more-complex disasters, which include border-control challenges, cyberterrorism, bio-hacking, and more-frequent extreme weather events.
Assessing Training Needs In order to address these challenges, efforts must be made to educate and train the next generation of local, state, and national government emergency personnel to carry out the preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation actions that society has come to expect from its government at all levels. To accomplish this, governments must implement training and exercises as part of their organizational culture, instill confidence in elected officials on their staff’s ability to handle disasters, provide greater understanding of threats to the general public and what the public’s and the government’s roles should be in all phases of a disaster. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is one way of addressing this issue.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has just completed soliciting input from all stakeholders on refreshing NIMS, so now is an excellent time for all to refresh NIMS within their own organizations. It can start by assessing appropriate-level NIMS es for new and current employees tasked with carrying out various levels of work before, during, and after a disaster. Often, previous staff had taken all the appropriate NIMS es, but new staff has not. Or, in some cases, emergency government personnel took NIMS training years ago and may not have had an opportunity to operate under the NIMS. Regardless, if activation were to occur and were handled by staff not familiar with NIMS, it could lead to poor decision making and subsequent negative consequences.
The lack of training and exercise of emergency government personnel would also be viewed by elected officials as mismanagement and chaos, thus instilling in them a lack of confidence in staff to handle an extreme situation. In some cases, it may even make them feel that they should take over the handling of the event. Although their intent is to help their communities, they would not be aware of all the available resources, how to procure them, or how outside assisting agencies operate. In addition, their unfamiliarity with NIMS and emergency management could delay securing the appropriate resources.
Instilling Confidence The purpose of emergency management efforts is to help the community at large. It is no secret that how government operates before, during, and after a disaster can either instill or destroy the public’s confidence in its government, which in turn could last for years after the community recovers. Training at all levels of government is essential, but training the local community is equally important. By educating citizens on what they should do to prepare themselves for a disaster, being transparent about how government will respond in the aftermath of a disaster, and taking action to mitigate the impact could all provide much needed public support to the government in times of disaster.
In today’s instantaneous society – “We want what we want when we want it” – commercial businesses have responded by providing just-in-time deliveries at peoples’ doorsteps. In the event of a disaster, though, the interruption of these supplies – for instance, grocery stores only carry a three-day supply of products – could compound the disaster and create a breakdown in society. The degradation may be avoided by having trained government emergency personnel help educate businesses and citizens to prepare for disaster. It is accepted that people (government emergency personnel, citizens, businesses, etc.) cannot rise to the occasion if they do not have adequate training to fall back on. A well-trained staff provides reassurance to the public and elected officials that everything that possibly can be done is being done by those responsible for emergency management and support functions.
Dr. Romeo B. Lavarias is employed by the City of Miramar, Florida, as the city’s emergency manager. In addition, he teaches undergraduate and graduate public administration es at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. He has spent his government career working in county and municipal governments in the state of Florida. His local government experience has included working as a city planner, emergency management coordinator, and public information officer. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Florida, his master’s degree in public administration from Baruch College-City University of New York as an Urban/National Fellow, his doctorate in public administration from Nova Southeastern University, and a master’s degree in homeland security from the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS).