Emergency Management: Understanding the System

March 13, 2006
Emergency management is a system. It is a process designed to bring stability to a crisis and manage the impact on a community.

By Anthony S. Mangeri, CPM, MPA

An emergency management system includes activities to prepare for, respond to, recover from and mitigate future potential harm. The planning should comply with the national strategy as specified in the National Incident Management System or NIMS (www.fema.gov/nims). Emergency managers use this and other tools to develop strategies that aid communities to effectively respond to and recover from all types of natural and man-made incidents.

The tools of our profession include emergency management councils, planning committees or some form of multidisciplinary steering group. Emergency management also includes these critical tasks:

  • Developing an all-hazard emergency operations plan
  • Hazard, threat and vulnerability assessments
  • Mutual aid agreements
  • Gap analysis

First Step: Developing an Effective LEPC

Emergency preparedness begins with the proper selection of a community's emergency management team. The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986 established a statutory requirement under the EPA. Each state is required to establish a state emergency response committee, and each community is required to establish a local emergency planning committee (LEPC). The goal of the LEPC is to facilitate community-based emergency preparedness and hazard mitigation initiatives.

Typically, an emergency manager chairs the LEPC. The emergency manager should be knowledgeable about public administration and practices, such as emergency procurement, incident management systems and logistics, and is the community's crisis management expert.

An LEPC includes representatives from the critical infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals, public works, public health and local media. It should include representatives from the local public safety agencies such as police, fire and emergency medical services. Jurisdictions need to select members based on their subject matter expertise, not simply on their position or title.

An LEPC is involved in steering many local emergency management activities including:

  • Assisting in coordinating training and outreach activities
  • Facilitating the development of local emergency operations plans that meet community needs
  • Outlining methods to assure effective local and mutual aid response
  • Reviewing and updating the local emergency operations plan, as appropriate

Like all strategic management initiatives, emergency management programs must take into account existing resources and capabilities. What resources are available? What laws influence the community's planning, response or recovery efforts? What legal obligations exist for preparedness, response and recovery?

Building a Successful, Integrated Approach

Preparing for the consequence of terrorism has changed the face of emergency management. However, the mission remains the same. The emphasis is on developing an all-hazard, integrated strategy that includes response and recovery from all known threats, including terrorism. Emergency planners are working to develop effective operational plans that foster integration of federal, state and local disaster recovery initiatives.

Communities need to stress the all-hazards approach to integrated emergency management planning. While not all hazards are similar, there are similarities in the consequences. The potential impact of disasters must be anticipated and response and recovery systems developed to meet anticipated needs.

A jurisdiction's emergency operations plan (EOP) is the focal point for developing an integrated all-hazards approach. The EOP is critical to assuring an integrated response among multiple agencies, public and private, from within the community and outside the area.

To begin planning, the local emergency planning committee needs to conduct hazard, threat and vulnerability analyses to identify the hazards and threats it faces and to analyze the potential impact of each. Each community has its own unique hazards and probabilities. It is necessary to examine the history of the disasters and emergencies faced by the community. What is the probability for a particular type of disaster? While the probability for a specific type of disaster may be low, the severity of the resulting impact on community infrastructure could be devastating.

Federal and state studies have developed much data to define the natural hazard threats to the community. For example, the National Flood Insurance Program publishes flood insurance rate maps (http://www.fema.gov/fhm). These maps outline the 100-year flood risk in many communities. The National Dam Safety Program as well as state dam safety programs can provide maps of high hazard dams (www.fema.gov/fima/damsafe). The U.S. Geological Survey and state geological services can provide data on similar and related threats within specific regions.

There are many such resources to aid a community in completing a hazard analysis. I urge you to look at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's online Planning Resource Center. FEMA has published a series of "how to" documents, including the Integrating Manmade Hazards into Mitigation Planning, (FEMA 386-7). You can download these documents at www.fema.gov/fima/resources.shtm.

Analyzing Gaps in Your Readiness

Once hazards and vulnerabilities are identified, a community can determine what resources it has and what additional resources are needed. The outcome of a capability assessment is a gap analysis. The gap analysis quantifies the community's infrastructure and matches it to the potential impacts identified in the hazard analysis. The purpose is to evaluate the availability and readiness of items or services such as the community's emergency warning and communication systems, capacity and availability of medical services and relevance of existing training programs.

Once complete, this analysis will identify areas that need improvement and areas where capacity can be enhanced. Not all resources need to be purchased. Communities can work together to secure necessary resources and develop cross-jurisdictional agreements to share resources.

With knowledge of the hazards facing a community and an understanding of what resources are available, a community can now focus on developing an emergency operations plan (EOP). The plan is a policy document that outlines the roles, responsibilities and functions of private and public entities and individuals within a community during times of crisis. This includes assessing the overall readiness and planning for emergency operations for all known hazards.

Once the EOP is completed, the system must be exercised and maintained to ensure that personnel and equipment are ready. Emergency operations should be complemented by the EOP - not hindered by the policies. Emergency operations must remain flexible to address unanticipated consequences from a disaster. To achieve this, the EOP should be reviewed annually. It should also be updated as necessary to reflect changes in response guidelines and shortcomings identified during exercises and drills.

Learning from the Past

Emergency management's core function is to ensure that the community can effectively respond to, recover from and mitigate the potential impacts of known hazards. This includes developing strategies for better designing, protecting and restoring life support systems as soon as is practical. Mitigation planning and program execution become key focus points. After each disaster, officials gain valuable knowledge. Officials should then incorporate the lessons learned into preparedness plans, thereby minimizing the effect of similar disasters in the future.

Anthony Mangeri teaches emergency and disaster management courses at American Public University System (www.apus.edu). He has more than 20 years in emergency management at the state and local level. Mangeri served on New Jersey's rapid deployment team for many years responding to natural hazards. He served for more than 10 years as the state's hazard mitigation officer, administering the hazard mitigation grant, flood mitigation assistance and the new pre-disaster mitigation programs.

He has been a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician for more than 17 years. He earned the rank of assistant chief, serving as the department's health and safety officer. Mangeri is also a certified fire service instructor.

The University System is leading a discussion of homeland security and emergency management issues at its May 2006 colloquia "Managing Evacuation: Ripple Effects of Terrorism and Natural Disasters." Visit www.apus.edu/terrorismevacuation to learn more.

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