While I’m amazed by the number of jurisdictions and businesses that don’t have any emergency plans at all, I’m almost nearly amazed by those who only have isolated, single hazard plans. I’ve seen plenty of entities with only fire plans or flood plans.
How does this happen? Many small towns may ask their local fire chief to write an emergency plan for the town – this plan often times outlines the fire response structure but ignores other hazards. Sometimes this myopic view of planning takes place because of a focus or near panic over one particular hazard. These situations are generally not the fault of the people who wrote them. Just because someone is in public safety doesn’t mean they know every facet of it. Emergency planning is as much of a niche as pump operations in the fire service or special tactics in law enforcement. It requires a certain set of knowledge, skills, and experience to be successful and effective.
While it’s logical that a larger jurisdiction will have a more complex emergency plan than a smaller jurisdiction, there are still foundational elements that are common to all. Perhaps the most critical of these is the necessity to plan for all hazards. All hazards planning, if you’re not familiar with the concept, is a process beginning with the identification of the hazards which can impact a community, the impacts associated with each hazard (also known as vulnerability), and the probability of each hazard impacting the community (also known as risk). This is called a Hazard Vulnerability Analysis (HVA). By rating the vulnerability and risk factors for each hazard, a fairly simple algorithm can be used to provide an overall ranking for each hazard. Additional information, such as the availability of resources to respond to each hazard can be included as well.
Obviously there is a lot of context that needs to go into such an assessment, which is best conducted by a planning team to gain the most amount of input. Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101, published by FEMA/DHS, provides much more information on the planning process as a whole. Historical disaster information should be referenced, but not to the extent of outweighing other inputs. Fluctuations over time in population, topography and development, and climate change are all leading to, as the investment world states it, historical information not necessarily being indicative of future performance.
Scientific data should also be examined, such as flood maps and wild fire risk. Communities should be sure to reference information on hazardous materials, which is required reporting by industry per the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986 (also known as SARA Title III). Once you have identified and ranked all the hazards, you know what ones to focus on. Perhaps it is the top 8, or maybe the top 12 that indicate a high enough vulnerability and/or high enough risk to incorporate into your planning efforts. Once these are identified, you continue through the CPG 101 planning process to create a comprehensive plan. A comprehensive plan incorporates all elements needed to address the responses to these incidents. Given that the majority of responses are largely similar, regardless of the hazard, one concept of operations will address this in the plan. Separate plans, written as annexes or appendices, then can be created for hazards with very specific issues, such as a pandemic, or to address specific functions, such as evacuation and sheltering.
Is it possible to anticipate every disaster that could possible impact your community? Can your community possibly predict being trampled by a giant man of marshmallow or having busses tossed aside by fire breathing dinosaurs from Japan? No? Then don’t spend much time on these things. Be realistic. That said, a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP) – which is a plan that considers all hazards, all resources, and the whole community – can even help account for hazards you didn’t identify. Do you think Chelyabinsk, Russia had a plan for meteor strikes? Not likely. However, consider how the components of a CEMP could have addressed critical areas of response: mass casualty, search and rescue, debris management, sheltering.
I recall a number of years ago, prior to the 2013 occurrence in Chelyabinsk, where there was a bit of media frenzy over near earth objects (NEOs) such as meteors. The public information officer (PIO) for the state’s emergency management agency received a call from a media outlet inquiring if the state had a plan for meteor strike. The PIO answered ‘yes’, qualifying that with a statement about the value of comprehensive planning. Was there a specific plan for meteor strikes? No. The likelihood is so slim that it’s not worth putting effort toward (although I’m sure someone has). Does the CEMP cover all the necessary response components? Absolutely.
Author’s note: Unfortunately I don’t recall where I got the picture from, so I’m unable to give proper credit. If anyone knows or claims it, I’ll gladly give credit or pull it down.