Eight Fundamental Emergency Planning Principles to Increase Your Community's Level of Preparedness

Article excerpt

Planning is an important avenue to community emergency preparedness. The practice of emergency response planning is best thought of as a process--a continuing sequence of analyses, plan development, and the acquisition by individuals and teams of performance skills achieved through training, drills, exercises, and critiques.

The process varies considerably among communities. In some communities, planning is formalized by a specific assignment of responsibility to an office having an identifiable budget. In other communities, planning is informal: responsibility is poorly defined, and a limited budget is dispersed among many agencies.

Similarly, response plans and procedures may be mostly written or mostly unwritten. Such variability exists despite federal and state requirements for community emergency planning because local governments vary in their capacity (especially funding) and their commitment to emergency management. Thus, for many years, higher levels of government described their standards for emergency preparedness as "guidance."

Over the years, researchers have identified eight fundamental principles of community emergency planning that can be used to increase a community's level of preparedness regardless of the amount of funding available:

1. Anticipate both active and passive resistance to the planning process and develop strategies to manage these obstacles.

Emergency planning is conducted in the face of apathy on the part of some and resistance on the part of others. People are apathetic because they don't like to think about their vulnerability to disasters. Alternatively, people resist disaster planning because it consumes resources that could be allocated to more immediate community needs--police patrols, road repairs, and the like.

Thus, disaster planning requires strong support from one of the following: the jurisdiction's chief administrative officer, an issue champion (also known as a "policy entrepreneur") who has the expertise and organizational legitimacy to promote emergency management, or a disaster planning committee that can mobilize a constituency in support of emergency management.

2. Address all hazards to which the community is exposed.

The plans for each hazard agent (flood, tornado, hazmat release) should be integrated into a comprehensive plan for multihazard emergency management. Emergency planners should conduct a community hazard/vulnerability analysis to identify the types of environmental extremes (floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes), technological accidents (toxic chemical releases, nuclear power plant accidents), and deliberate incidents (sabotage or terrorist attack involving chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear, or explosive/flammable materials) to which the community has exposure.

After identifying these hazards, emergency planners should examine the extent to which different hazard agents make similar demands on the emergency response organization; if two hazard agents have similar characteristics, they probably will require similar emergency response functions. Commonality of emergency response functions provides multiple-use opportunities for personnel, procedures, facilities, and equipment.

In turn, multiple use simplifies the emergency operations plan by reducing the number of functional annexes; it also simplifies training and enhances performance reliability during emergencies. Only when hazard agents have very different characteristics, and therefore require distinctly different responses, will hazard-specific appendixes be required for any particular functional annex.

3. Include all response organizations, seeking their participation, commitment, and clearly defined agreement.

To be effective, emergency planning should promote interorganizational coordination. Mechanisms should be developed to elicit participation, commitment, and clearly defined agreement from all response organizations. …