Proper emergency management is essential for every organization, town, city or country if it is to protect its crucial assets and members of the public from harmful events like disasters and catastrophes. The aim of proper emergency management is to prevent various disasters from happening and, in case they happen, to minimize the loss of lives and damages to property and infrastructure through, organized, and coordinated response from all parties involved.
Proper emergency management requires planning and anticipation, and ability to respond quickly in the right way if lives and property are to be saved (Haddow and Bullock, 2007). This can only be achieved if all the relevant parties involved in an emergency response like the fire department, the police, emergency medical services and the general public is all acting in a well-coordinated manner.
Therefore, any city or country must have an emergency management plan that outlines how the input of all these stakeholders is going to be harnessed for maximum productivity. This paper will look at crisis management at organizational level, and the various emergency management systems that can be put in place in anticipation of large-scale events like a tsunami.
The Role of Emergency Management Teams
Organizations usually face everyday emergencies that can be dealt with effectively without causing any major interruptions to the organizations functions. However, when disasters strike, organizations lose their normal autonomy and are forced into different interactions that are not normal (Burns, 2001). Response to the disaster requires a more coordinated effort from both the public and private sector.
Catastrophes have even greater impact as most of the community infrastructure is affected. The community’s everyday functions are interrupted and the community is cut off from other communities, making it hard to even get outside help. An organization or community therefore needs to have in place a proper emergency response plan for any eventuality if it is to survive and rebuild in case of a large scale disaster or catastrophe.
Proper emergency management is strategy-based process that is run from the top of any organization. The emergency management team provides guidance and coordinates the different sections of the organization so as to ensure that they are all focused on the same goal. This means that all the emergency plans throughout all the levels of the organization have to be synchronized.
In such a setting, the lower levels of the organization rely on getting additional help and resources from the higher levels of the organization to help them manage an emergency (Moore and Lakha, 2006). A good emergency plan is designed to protect the assets of the organization or community. These assets can be classified as living and nonliving things.
They can also be cultural or economic, and the hazards they face can be natural or man-made. A well-structured emergency management process is usually divided into four general areas for easy management and coordination. First, risk reduction is important and measures have to be put in place to reduce the likelihood of disaster striking. The management process must also have organized ways of mobilizing resources to respond to the hazard.
The third component involves responding to the effectively to the actual damage resulting from the hazard and minimizing further damage. This includes measures like quarantine, emergency evacuations and mass decontamination. Lastly, the emergency management team must have in place a plan for recovery that will enable the organization or community to return to their normal lives as it were before the hazard incident.
Phases of Emergency Management
The emergency management processes rely on local economic and social conditions if they are to be successful (Heath, 1998). They involve mobilization of the community’s resources, right from before the disaster strikes, during the disaster, and long after the disaster has passed and the recovery process is underway.
The emergency management must therefore put emphasis on public awareness and proper infrastructure if it is to succeed with its plans in the event of an emergency. Proper emergency management is organized into four phases; preventive measures (mitigation); getting ready for any eventuality (preparedness); handling the disaster when it happens (response) and rebuilding after the disaster (recovery).
Any organization or community faces a lot of hazards. It is upon the emergency management team t find ways of preventing these hazards from developing into disasters. In case the disaster happens, there have to be ways of reducing the impact.
The emergency management team must conduct a thorough analysis of the risks and find ways of mitigating them. Financial investments are also protected through insurance. The mitigation process puts a lot of emphasis on long-term measures for minimizing or eliminating the risk, and their implementation form part of the recovery process after a disaster happens.
Mitigation involves taking some structural and nonstructural measures. For example, the authorities can build dykes and flood levees to mitigate the effects of floods, or retrofit buildings for earthquakes. Non-structural measures include proper legislation, land use planning and insurance coverage.
The authorities are tasked with providing communication to the public regarding the risks they face. They also organize for evacuations, and may be forced to carry out forceful evacuations of those who are not cooperating. Even if some of the measures carried under mitigation are not the best, this is still a very affordable way for authorities to handle a crisis (Treece, 2002).
In coming up with mitigation measures, the authorities assess the risks thoroughly and evaluate the hazards. The fire and rescue department in any community must be involved in the mitigation programs. They can educate the public on the various safety and evacuation drills to be performed when disasters happen, and their roles during such emergencies so that the public can cooperate with them.
Preparedness refers to the behavioral changes undertaken to limit the effects of a disaster on people. It is an ongoing process that involves planning, organizing and managing of activities related to prevention, response and recovery from disasters.
It requires continuous training, equipping, evaluating, monitoring and improving the measure put in place to deal with a disaster when it strikes. Under the preparedness phase, the authorities are expected to come up with plans of action for managing and countering the risks, and to build the appropriate capabilities suitable for the implementation of such plans (Treece, 2002).
First, the authorities must come up with communication plans that use terminologies and methods that are easy to understand to avoid creating confusion. The fire and rescue services and other teams that will be involved in case of a disaster need to be properly trained and equipped to prepare them for their tasks. The authorities should also develop emergency population warning methods and evacuation plans, including setting aside emergency shelters.
Since professional emergency workers can sometimes be overwhelmed during large-scale emergencies, it is advisable to have groups of trained volunteers among the civilian populations as their help is really valuable in an emergency situation. A big part of preparedness involves being able to predict casualties. This entails the prediction of how many deaths or injuries are to be expected in case of a major disaster so that the authorities know what plans to put in place for such an eventuality.
When it comes to response, all the necessary emergency services that are needed at the disaster site have to be mobilized quickly. The first wave of crucial emergency services to arrive at the disaster zone includes fire fighters, ambulance crew and the police. The military and other specialist rescue teams can also be involved in the disaster relief operation. Such responses ought to have been well rehearsed during the preparedness phase so that there is efficient coordination of the various teams involved in the rescue operation.
Since the vast majority of the victims of a disaster will die within 72 hours after the impact, it is important to start search and rescue efforts immediately (Moore and Lakha, 2006). An organization’s response to a major disaster is based on preset emergency management systems and processes. In an emergency situation, discipline is important in terms of structure, doctrine and process.
There should also be some flexibility to allow for improvisation, adaptability and creativity when responding to the disaster. There is also need to form a team of leaders from the various response agencies to coordinate proceedings as more teams come in. The new leadership team must come up with a structured set of response plans that allow for the functional rescue operational process already in place to continue while adapting to new challenges as they arise at the disaster site and beyond.
After the disaster has passed and the rescue operations are over, the affected area will have to be restored to how it was before the disaster. The recovery efforts focus on issues and decisions to be made after the response operations are complete. All the destroyed properties have to be rebuilt and the destroyed infrastructure has to be repaired.
People also have to go back to their jobs or get new ones. The rebuilding efforts should aim at eliminating or at least minimizing the risks that were there in the community before the disaster struck (Disaster and Recovery Planning Guide, n.d.). This is also an opportunity to implement some of the mitigation measures that might have been unpopular before, as they are less likely to attract any opposition while the recent disaster is still fresh in the memories of the public.
Media Coverage and Public Perception and Response
The media plays a crucial role in informing the public about the unfolding events when a disaster happens. The manner in which they frame their news coverage has a direct impact on the public’s perception of the disaster and will influence how the public responds.
The media is therefore encouraged to elicit a public response that benefits the organizations involved and the people impacted by the crisis. It is important that the authorities take quick control of the message whenever a crisis occurs (Polit, 1998). The media can play a crucial role in helping coordinate the rescue and recovery efforts by relaying crucial information from the authorities to the public.
Cooperation on a personal level is also important. This cooperation and positive response should not just come after the disaster happens but should start from the initial phases of emergency management. For example, personal mitigation is necessary and involves avoiding unnecessary risks and following the guidelines set forth by the relevant authorities.
Individuals are also encouraged to take insurance on their properties and to avoid investing in disaster prone areas. It is important to follow the instructions of the authorities and to abide by the regulations put in place right from the beginning. There are many emergency response measures that one can take on a personal level, and one can always get more information on this from the relevant authorities and other sources.
Tsunami Emergency Management Systems
The tsunami disaster that hit Japan in March 2011 killed and injured thousands of people and left tens of thousands homeless. The Fukushima nuclear power plant was also severely damaged and posed a newer risk, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people from the exclusion zone.
The impact of this disaster served as a wakeup call to many countries, and measures are already being put in place some countries to help them be ready to deal with a large-scale tsunami. Many programs have been put in place by individual countries and the international community to improve public safety during tsunami emergencies. Some of the programs that have been proposed or are already underway include a global tsunami early warning system and national weather service tsunami programs.
Global Tsunami Early Warning System
The push for a global tsunami early warning system started after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami disaster and was reinforced by the recent tsunami disaster in Japan. The idea faces several financial, technical and political challenges that have to be ironed out before it is can be put in place (Simola, 2005). Some developed nations have the resources and capabilities to establish their own regional emergency disaster warning networks and have already done so.
However, for a truly global tsunami-monitoring network, government policy analysts have been raising technological and national security issues as challenges that have to be overcome first. The U.S. for example fears the open access and sabotage of international communication networks. There is concern that some of the data collected could be deemed sensitive and might reveal methodologies that would compromise the intelligence-gathering operations of the U.S. and other nations.
The Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS)
The United States has taken initiative towards a global disaster warning system with the GEOSS project that also provides for building capacity for global tsunami early detection and warning capabilities. GEOSS’s infrastructure will be based on exact environmental data collection platforms, environmental observation systems, telecommunication capabilities and communications lines that are operational around the world.
By linking the operations of GEOSS and other systems, the United States would assist other countries in developing a tsunami early warning capacity. The tsunami early detection systems have also been upgraded to make them more efficient. The U.S. is leading in terms of new technologies for tsunami preparedness, for example, the state-of-the art Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoys that are used for operational detection of tsunamis and verification on non-events in the ocean.
Tsunami Action Plan for the U.S.
The United States, as part of improving its tsunami warning and detection system, has already deployed 32 DART buoys to improve tsunami detection from the Gulf of Mexico, the far Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and the Caribbean Sea.
There is also a push by some social scientists for the implementation of proper legislation that will help in protecting the country from tsunamis. There is already a plan underway to train local authorities on local tsunami emergency planning. Interagency resource sharing at all levels of government is also strongly emphasized.
The National Weather Service (NWS), through the National Tsunami Warning Program (NTWP) has two tsunami warning centers that monitor, detect and warn of possible tsunamis arising in the Pacific Ocean (George, 2002). The NTWP also has an associate program that concentrates on reducing the rate of false tsunami alarms arising from the Pacific Ocean. There is also the National Tsunami Hazards Mitigation Program (NTHMP) to help states in emergency planning for tsunamis (Robbins et al, 2001).
Crisis management is an important undertaking for any organization or community. Effective emergency management systems must be put in place if an organization or community is to effectively deal with disasters when they happen.
Such systems must first start by taking preventive measures and making preparations before the disaster strikes. This includes public education and properly equipping important organizations like the fire and rescue department whose role in emergencies is crucial.
The response to the emergency also needs to be well planned and coordinated between the different authorities involved for the mission to be smooth and successful. Large-scale disasters like tsunamis require planning on a large scale, starting from the international community, down to the individual countries and local communities.
The effects of large-scale tsunamis have already been seen and felt, and as a result, countries have stepped up their efforts for early detection and warning before a tsunami strikes. They have also put in place measures to be taken and how the public is expected to respond in case of a tsunami emergency. With these measures in place, the impact of the disaster can be lessened considerably.
Burns, N 2001, The practice of Emergency Response, WB Saunders Publications, Philadelphia.
George, B 2002, Disaster Theories: The Base for Professional Evacuation, Appleton and Lange, Norwalk.
Disaster and Recovery Planning Guide, n.d., A guide for Facility Managers, Fairmont Press Inc, Lilburn, Georgia.
Haddow, G D & Bullock, J 2007, Introduction to Emergency Management, Butterworth Heinemann, London.
Heath, R 1998, Crisis Management for Managers and Executives, Financial Times/Prentice Hall, New Jersey.
Moore, T & Lakha, R (eds) 2006, Tolly’s Handbook of Disaster and Emergency
Management: principles and practice, 3rd edn, Heinemann Butterworth, London.
Polit, D F1998, Disaster Management: Principles and Methods, JB Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.
Robbins, S P, Judge, T A, Millett, B & Boyle, M 2011, Organizational Behaviour, Pearson, New York.
Simola, S K 2005, ‘Organizational crisis management: overview and opportunities’,
Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, Vol 57 No. 3, 180-192.
Treece, J W 2002, Elements of Research in Emergency Response, Mosby, St. Louis.