National Preparedness Month Series: Preparing for Concurrent Disasters
Yesterday marked the start of National Preparedness Month. Observed each September, National Preparedness Month stands to encourage preparedness for disasters that could happen at any time. As our nation continues responding to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, disasters and emergencies will continue to pose a threat to the country.
Ensuring readiness to manage simultaneous incidents can seem daunting. Yet for many jurisdictions, preparing for a multi-incident scenario is an ever-present threat as new hurricanes make landfall, wildfires ignite, and severe storms and tornadoes make impact.
Today, the pandemic continues to strain emergency response personnel in cities, counties, and states across the country. Increasingly reliant on virtual capabilities, volunteer organizations have also struggled to maintain their typical level of disaster-time support causing crucial disaster response positions to go unfilled. While emerging guidance is helpful to inform new response strategies, many communities continue to share concerns about how the realities of this pandemic will affect response operations and delivery of critical services during concurrent disaster events.
To ensure continuity of operations, communities are having to think outside the box by identifying, developing, and integrating non-traditional response personnel into surge responder roles. With planning, emergency management professionals can identify creative solutions to fill existing gaps so that –in a multi-incident scenario — critical services continue to be delivered to those in need. The following guidelines can be used to assist communities in this process.
- Identify non-essential personnel to support response operations. Non-essential personnel can be temporarily re-assigned without resulting in catastrophic failure for the organization. Readying non-essential personnel allows organizational leaders to invest in their pre-existing talent while simultaneously bolstering emergency response support.
- Offer just-in-time training to quickly develop and educate surge personnel. After surge personnel have been identified, it is important to quickly train them to ensure successful integration into response operations. By using the recent past as a foundation, responders will be well-equipped to continue delivering mission-essential functions and services.
- Capture lessons-learned to promote continuous improvement. Documenting operations and how they could be improved is critical to ensuring community needs are met throughout the response. This allows leaders to adjust capabilities and needs, as necessary, in preparation for future response events.
While disasters will not wait, you can make your plan today. As COVID-19 continues to impact the number of emergency managers available to support response efforts across the country, having a comprehensive plan for quickly creating, mobilizing, and integrating a surge response force is critical to ensuring disaster readiness. Reflecting on the very recent past, cities and counties can leverage recent lessons-leaned to better prepare for the very real threat of concurrent disaster response.
Patrick Van Horne is a senior managing associate and an experienced project manager with a proven record of successful leadership in emergency and disaster management. Mr. Van Horne co-authored the book, Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life and leads the development of Hagerty Consulting’s continuity of operations service line.
Ashley Saulcy is a managing associate who specializes in post-disaster and post-conflict community planning and research, with experiences ranging across non-profit, government, and international development organizations. Internationally, she focused on research initiatives and governance-focused program development in West Africa and Nepal, with a particular focus on government capacity for serving rural populations. She supports research and stakeholder engagement to improve access to technology and forward-thinking strategies in transit and alternative housing. Her support extends these and other approaches to developing continuity and co-response approaches for clients seeking innovative strategies to address disruptions.