Exercising Co-Response During COVID-19
June 24, 2020 AT 3:00 PM EST
Jurisdictions across the United States (US) are actively managing co-response efforts, deploying new emergency management strategies in the face of natural hazards during the COVID-19 pandemic. Active operations across the country are mobilizing modified approaches for responses to wildfires, heat waves, tornadoes, and hurricanes.
As emergency management officials modify their capabilities, governments are rapidly changing, or entirely rewriting, disaster response and recovery plans; prompting new challenges and often unpredictable needs for resources, policies, and personnel. The constant flux of these changes is prompting a significant need for exercises, workshops, and other facilitated discussions to effectively anticipate what changes are needed to effectively launch a COVID-19 co-response.
Hagerty offers co-response capability development and exercise services. To learn more, click here.
Rapidly deployable workshops and exercises offer a timely, rare opportunity to evaluate readiness to simultaneously respond to contrasting response missions. Day-to-day operations do not enable the ability to explore the full range of stakeholders, decisions, and coordination needed to plan for and launch an effective co-response. Moreover, there is an immense scale of cascading impacts that can follow any particular decision. Such considerations include:
- Each deployed volunteer, contract worker, and government employee represents a potential risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, creating risks for both their home jurisdictions and those that they are serving. While some states have been able to identify and trace these risks, the increasing complexity surrounding high-impact events later this year may preclude the ability to effectively deploy similar tracing capabilities.
- Protective action guidance, such as those directing residents to evacuate their homes and seek shelter in a facility with a large group, conflicts with COVID-19 public messaging encouraging “stay-at-home” and social distancing measures. Standard approaches to evacuation, sheltering, and delivery of mass care services need to be updated to reflect infection control and prevention measures. This will also require extensive communication with the public to reinforce new protective action measures.
- Local, state, and federal agencies engaged in health and emergency management efforts require a rapid review of continuity plans and expansion of virtual communication capabilities to support anticipated impacts and requirements during a co-response.
- Jurisdictions will no longer be able to fully rely on mutual aid agreements and Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) agreements historically used to support response. These agreements allow jurisdictions to operate through one another’s support and assistance, the capability of which suffers in the context of a national pandemic.
These challenges emerge while multiple actors and agencies may be working closely for the first time. A workshop or exercise allows them to communicate before and plan ahead, so everyone is ready to respond. As co-response missions evolve with COVID-19, exercises will be the platform to transform needs-based changes into strategic ones.
Ashley Saulcy is a Managing Consultant with Hagerty Consulting’s Preparedness Division currently supporting our service lines to provide a cross-cutting approach to co-response planning. Ashley has served across a diversity of non-profit, government, and international development organizations. Her recent experience in systematic post-disaster community planning includes non-profit support to long-term recovery post-Hurricane Harvey and deployment to the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian.