As I work with jurisdictions and discuss their capabilities I find a broad range of perception among emergency managers about their jurisdictions’ capabilities and limitations. Some overestimate their capability, thinking that they can handle anything and don’t need any outside assistance. Others underestimate their capabilities, with their emergency plans defaulting to calling for help or making someone else responsible for nearly every scenario. Fortunately some jurisdictions are spot on and have an informed and realistic perception of their capabilities. Having the wrong awareness of what your jurisdiction can and cannot do can be dangerous.
First of all, jurisdictions need to be responsible for their people. Far too often I see an automatic assumption that someone else will handle an incident or a certain aspect of an incident, apparently abrogating the jurisdiction of all responsibility. One of the more common occurrences of this is with sheltering where I rather often hear ‘The Red Cross will take care of that.’ with no further discussion even considered on the subject. With no slight intended toward the Red Cross, relying on one entity to provide an absolutely critical capability is simply foolish. If the Red Cross or any other outside entity is for some reason unable to provide these services for the jurisdiction, the jurisdiction is still left with the responsibility to provide this care for its citizens. A jurisdiction without a plan to address this need is not being responsible for the welfare of its citizens.
The primary goal of a jurisdiction is to provide for its citizens. Take this seriously and remember that you can’t assign this responsibility to others.
Know your capabilities and your capacity. In other words, know what you can and can’t do; and for what you can do, know how well and how long you can do it for. Know what your limitations and dependencies are. If your jurisdiction’s ability to provide advanced life support (ALS) care is dependent upon the only paramedic you have as a member of your ambulance service, you have very little capacity and quite a bit of vulnerability.
A good start to having a realistic view of your jurisdiction’s capabilities is conducting and regularly updating a comprehensive threat and hazard identification and risk assessment (THIRA). THIRA is an in depth assessment which combines a traditional hazard analysis with a reference to DHS’ 31 Core Capabilities in the context of the threats specific to a jurisdiction. I strongly suggest that a jurisdiction conducting a THIRA extend this assessment into an analysis of five key elements (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising – POETE) for each of their capabilities. Go here for my post on the POETE analysis which explains the benefits and the process a little more.
A good THIRA helps jurisdictions identify not only their hazards but also the potential worst-case scenario impacts of these hazards. It then provides an opportunity for the stakeholders of the jurisdiction to take an honest look at their capabilities and their ability to leverage these capabilities against those impacts. Being honest in this assessment will help jurisdictions see what can hurt them most and identify the gaps and limitations they have in their capabilities.
Bottom line – be realistic in what you can do, how well, and how long you can do it.
The ability to endure the impacts of a disaster and, at a minimum, address the critical objectives of life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation can require a jurisdiction to be creative and resourceful. This is a key aspect of resiliency. While assistance may still be needed from outside sources, a jurisdiction’s ability to survive and provide lifeline services for its citizens in the interim is extremely important. Being resourceful can help a jurisdiction shore up its capabilities in times of need. Key to being resourceful are good contacts and connections within the whole community. Religious groups and social organizations, private companies, and even individual citizens can all provide services which can aid a jurisdiction in shoring up capabilities – at least in the short term. Incorporate these as options within your emergency plans. While these entities may have issues and commitments of their own during a disaster, they may also be able to help.
Use all available resources to get the job done and to sustain for as long as you can. It can absolutely be the difference between life and death.