When it comes to disasters, be it a natural disaster, potentially preventable outbreak or even a terrorist attack, it’s always important to have a plan in place. Planning for these events is crucial to manage the chaos post-incident, which depending on the event, can be catastrophic. In addition to planning, there must be an effective line of communication and organization between governmental departments, businesses, organizations, and the public. When it comes to planning and communication, there will be obstacles faced which all parties must resolve to effectively manage a disaster. Beginning with the planning stages, it takes a collective effort, starting at the lowest level of government, to coordinate the process that will take effect depending on the disaster that they are faced with. This may include evacuation routes, timeframe to begin evacuation, public awareness of the routes, and coordination with public servants and organizations to ensure all people are accounted for.
As the process starts to unfold, obstacles such as closing roads to through traffic, moving patients from nearby hospitals threatened by an incoming natural disaster, and unifying public forces to ensure the safety of citizens and businesses. These are just some examples of the difficulties faced during the planning stage.
Communication is always important when a disaster has occurred or is going to occur. Between social media, text messaging, phone calls, local television notices and other media outlets, communication has become significantly easier between government and the public. However, due to all of these outlets, it also becomes extremely important to manage the messages being sent as you do not want conflicting messages confusing the recipients, leading to additional chaos. Before communicating to the public, interdepartmental communication must be accurate and efficient to convey the appropriate message.
Once the communication is established, all lower levels of government must then communicate to upper levels as well, to ensure all agencies are congruent with their plans. At times, plans may need to be altered to comply with specific regulations and/or requirements at the local, state or federal level. Additionally, you must have enough funds allocated for recovery efforts as well as evacuation efforts, which must be considered during communications and planning.
Typically, its much easier to plan for disasters that are known, rather than reacting to a disaster that was unplanned. For example, in south Florida where I grew up, hurricanes were quite the norm and planning for one meant laying out evacuation routes and having organizations like Red Cross and the national guard on alert. In addition, the public being advised via local news, businesses are also informed and stock up accordingly, as they know staple hurricane preparations will be purchased by consumers prior to the storm.
Also, because of the frequency of hurricanes, local government has changed building code and requirements over the years, so homes are more prepared to sustain damage but keep the inhabitants safe. All of these measures being taken are simply for the public to be as safe and prepared for the storm as possible.Outside of hurricanes, most natural disasters cannot be planned for nor can threats such as disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks. When these types of situations occur, its more of a reactive situation because the devastation could be enormous, leaving you scrambling, such as the attack on the World Trade Center buildings in 2001.
Government officials must gather as much information as fast as possible to ensure the proper decision is made and that the information is accurate while it is being transmitted to federal agencies. While they are acting in a governmental capacity, they are also concerned about their loved ones and friends that may have been involved in the disaster. These emotions have to be put second to the enforcement of the plans set forth to ensure the safety of the public.I feel that the attacks on 9/11 truly showed us that we must be ready for anything at a moment’s notice and because of that day, there are now plans for extensive terrorist attacks and even simple threats, to prevent catastrophic damage.
Also, natural disasters that come without notice, such as tornadoes and earthquakes already have plans in place because although the exact timing may be unexpected, the actual event is expected due to the areas where they are most prevalent. When events such as these can be planned for, there are far fewer obstacles encountered which allows for immediate assistance to aid in the recovery efforts.
Overall, obstacles can be overcome with proper communication and planning, even if that obstacle seems to be quite difficult. Governmental agencies must work together in an efficient and productive manner to ensure they can not only create successful plans but convey those plans to the public when needed. Throughout government agencies at the lowest and highest levels, communication is the key to overcoming any obstacles being faced. To be successful at planning for disasters in general, everyone must work together and be consistent with the message being communicated.