Emergency and disaster management is the process of contigency planning in the event of disaster, whether it be local, national or global. It is a proactive approach to a disaster that may or may not be preventable. Countries and companies which implement plans for dealing with emergencies are known to better avoid or reduce human and material loss compared to those without such plans.
To explore emergency and disaster management, it is helpful to understand the situations in which it might come into play. A disaster is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "a sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction; broadly : a sudden or great misfortune or failure."It can occur naturally or due to human activities and consitutes a threat to human lives, damage to property and infrastructure or disruption to social and economic life.
An emergency is a situation that arises unexpectedly and can have dire consequences for a country, community or organisation. The threat from natural disaster may include risk from disease, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and wildfire. Disaster due to human activity may come from terrorism, spills or other toxic waste hazards.Of all large disasters, seismic events are responsible for the greatest rate of mortality. Between 2000 and 2008 earthquakes were responsible for an average of 50,184 deaths. Floods have affected the largest numbers of people, impacting on an average of 99 million people per year between 2000 and 2008.
The lack of emergency and disaster management could have greatly influenced the outcome of such disasters. In the 2005 case of New Orleans, hit by Hurricane Katrina (one of America's deadliest hurricanes,) criticism focused on the levees. These were said to be inefficient in protecting the city from the devastating floods. In a coastal region such as this, forward planning may have prevented the loss of approximately 1,900 who died in the flooding, not to mention those who were affected in the aftermath. This demonstrates how governance and institutional failure can contribute to the outcome of a disaster or emergency situation.
Planning for disaster or emergency situations is essential in preventing or minimising the devastation they can cause. Disaster management is a systematic approach to preparing for an unforeseen event. It can include emergency evacuation procedures, quarantine and mass decontamination plans. It should also be built into the infrastructure of communities, for example, buildings can be made more disaster-resistant or urban planning may take into account the proximity of coastline in relation to population. Disaster management involves communities at all levels and should involve individuals, business, emergency response teams as well as governmental organisations. There may be ways to limit or avoid disaster in the first place; for example, preventing construction in flood prone areas.
When all steps have been taken to avoid catastrophe, disaster management comes into play. An important aspect of this is to be prepared; this means developing a plan of action, which should include communication, the development of a command chain, training of emergency services and the development of warning systems, emergency shelters and evacuation procedures.
Response is important in reducing the impact of disasters and should be robust. It is most relevant in the period during and immediately after the disaster and concerns administering first aid and offering emergency assistance. It should also include assessment of the sitation and should try to limit the likelihood of further damage or injury. When plans are put into place, vulnerable groups should also be accounted for. In a disaster, the death toll is greater in groups such as women, children, the elderly, and the disabled. Lack of preparation is thought to be a contributing factor and individuals in these groups may be not have access to information and be limited in how they respond to disaster.
Recovery is the last stage of emergency and disaster management and its aim is to fully restore the affected area to its previous state. Individuals may also take responsibility for reducing the impact of disaster by ensuring they are as informed as possible. Steps they can take include taking out insurance, determining risk factor in their area and preparing a safe room. Emergency planning could incorporate utility shut-off and safety and drawing up an escape route. National agencies dealing with emergency and disaster scenarios include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Environmental Protection Agency.