Public crises have become increasingly common around the world. Of course, managing such emergencies is not always easy. For this reason, public administrators have established ways of managing public expectations while helping those affected at the same time. Thanks to technology and increased access to the Internet, communicating with the public has never been easier. Read on for more on this topic.
Emergency Management Statistics
For starters, the federal government spent a staggering $136 billion in disaster relief from 2011 to 2013, which translates to $400 per household. It is worth noting that this figure does not include the money spent on terror attacks or man-made disasters. Climate change has been the leading cause of natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and even drought in California. In fact, 16 of the 17 warmest years ever recorded have occurred since the year 2000 and climate scientists expect the trend to continue in the near future. Besides this, researchers have noticed that the rate at which emergencies are occurring has ramped up markedly over the last two decades. In 1994, there were 36 major disaster declarations and one state of emergency. This rose to 42 major disaster declarations and two state-of-emergency orders in 2015. There were 42 disaster announcements and seven state-of-emergency declarations in 2017.
Emergency Management Steps
Emergency management should encompass prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery or reconstruction. To start with, prevention refers to deliberate steps and strategies that are implemented with the aim of minimizing the damage caused by disasters – natural or manmade. This is important because every $1 spent on proactive measures translates to $4 in damage savings. Common proactive strategies include barrier construction – such as levees – as well as establishment of building codes and zoning regulations. Preparedness is the act of instituting measures designed to enhance disaster awareness throughout a community or a specific area. Examples include performing evacuation drills, preparation of temporary shelters, and installation of emergency power supplies.
The third step, response, refers to the efficient coordination of the available resources in order to minimize the economic impact of disasters whenever they occur. Good examples include boosting security operations and increasing the presence of law enforcement officers, evacuating at-risk communities, repairing critical infrastructure, providing emergency medical care, and distributing essential supplies to stranded individuals. Finally, recovery refers to bringing or returning an area that has been hit by a disaster to a semblance of normalcy. This includes debris cleanup, rebuilding initiatives, provision of temporary housing, and assisting affected individuals financially.
How Public Administrators Fared During Recent Emergencies
West Virginia flooding
On June 23, 2016, continuous rainfall over a period of several hours caused the Elk River to rise to an all-time high level of 33-37 feet. The ensuing flooding destroyed 1,200 homes and killed 23 people making it the third deadliest flood in the region and the country’s deadliest flood in six years. As a result, Governor Ray Tomblin issued a state of emergency directive covering 44 out of 55 counties. On June 25, 2016, President Obama issued a major disaster declaration and mandated the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to release federal funds to the affected communities. Immediately, 14 teams deployed to the West Virginia area to carry out preliminary damage assessment (PDA) and identify the most pressing needs. By 26 June 2016, local authorities in collaboration with FEMA had worked out ways of providing temporary housing, constructing homes, financing repairs on uninsured properties, organizing replacement homes, as well as covering medical, funeral, and dental care bills. Up to 400 members of the West Virginia National Guard were deployed to help with these efforts. The American Red Cross also provided material support as well as workers to help with cleanup efforts.
On November 23, 2016, a fire in Tennessee destroyed more than 1,753 homes causing 14 deaths, injuring 145 people and forcing the evacuation of more than 14,000 residents from their homes. It was the worst fire in Tennessee in 100 years and its footprint covered 17,000 acres. On their part, authorities in Gatlinburg, TN issued a voluntary evacuation declaration at 4:00 p.m. on November 28, 2016. This was upgraded to an immediate evacuation order at 6:00 p.m. the same day. By December 6, 2016, the more than 700 personnel deployed to combat the blaze had only managed to bring it down to 53%. It took 45 fire engines, 24 crews, 4 helicopters, 2 bulldozers, and 1 airplane to bring the fire under control.
The Trailhead fire started on June 28, 2016 and affected several communities in California including Foresthill, Georgetown, Todd Valley, and Volcanoville. Local authorities deployed 1,900 firefighters to bring the fire, which had spread to over 5,646 acres and threatened 2,600 buildings, under control. Luckily, there were no fatalities and only three people were injured. On June 29, 2016, El Dorado County officials issued a mandatory evacuation order and coordinated with the Animal Services department to set up an animal shelter. County officials also set up an evacuation shelter at a local high school and asked the American Red Cross to open a shelter for locals. The evacuation order was lifted on July 6, 2016 although local authorities continued to issue smoke advisories and health tips.
Technology and Disaster Management
Public administrators can use technologies such as satellites, TV, radio, and social media platforms to reach the public and monitor ongoing events. A good example is satellite imagery from NASA that enabled officials to monitor wildfires in California. Besides this, robotic devices can be used to reach and assess damaged buildings that may be unsafe for humans to enter. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can be used to track weather changes and monitor sea levels. Some countries including Japan have developed earthquake-warning systems that can alert people who may be in danger of tsunamis.
In spite of technological advances, disasters will continue to occur and affect humans in different ways. Fortunately, the effects caused by these emergencies can be mitigated via better preparedness, implementation of prevention measures, prompt response, and roll out of recovery strategies. The best way to achieve these goals is by leveraging the power of technologies including satellite data and social media platforms.
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