Preparedness for emergency response

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This chapter begins with an examination of the basic principles of emergency planning and outlines the process of assessing the emergency response organization’s ability to perform four basic functions—emergency assessment, hazard operations, population protection, and incident management. Communities are most effective in preparing to implement these functions if they follow eight fundamental principles of emergency planning. In addition, emergency preparedness is supported by three recent organizational structures—the Urban Areas Security Initiative, Metropolitan Medical Response System, and National Incident Management System. The latter is implemented through the Incident Command System and the jurisdiction’s Emergency Operations Center. The chapter continues with a discussion of Emergency Operations Plan development and concludes with a discussion of emergency preparedness by households, businesses, and government agencies.


Emergency preparedness can be defined as preimpact activities that establish a state of readiness to respond to extreme events that could affect the community. It establishes organizational readiness to minimize the adverse impact of these events by means of active responses to protect the health and safety of individuals and the integrity and functioning of physical structures. As indicated in Chapter 3, emergency preparedness is achieved by planning, training, equipping, and exercising the emergency response organization. That is, members of the LEMC establish the basic plan, annexes, and appendixes of the jurisdiction’s EOP, train members of the emergency response organization to perform their duties, and test the plan’s effectiveness with emergency exercises. They must also acquire the facilities, equipment, and materials needed to support the emergency response. Finally, the LEMC should develop comparable organizational structures, plans, and preparedness for the disaster recovery phase. Recovery preparedness will be addressed in Chapter 11.

Emergency planning is most likely to be successful when it is viewed, either explicitly or implicitly, from a systems perspective (Lindell & Perry, 1992). This entails an understanding of the goals of the emergency response, the resources of the community as a system, and the functional interactions of the different units within the system. The primary goal of the emergency response is to protect the health and safety of the emergency responders and the public. In addition, the emergency response should protect public and private property and the environment, as well as minimize the disruption of community activities. The resources of the community include trained personnel, and emergency relevant facilities, equipment, and materials. The units of the system are the elements that take action (households, governmental agencies, private organizations), while organizational functions are defined as the “most general, yet differentiable means whereby the system requirements are met, discharged or satisfied” (DeGreene, 1970, p. 89). In the case of emergency response organizations, the description of system functions can then be elaborated into operational event sequences and component processes that include the identification of job operations, together with personnel positions and their associated duties (Kidd & VanCott, 1972; Buckle, Mars & Smale, 2000). In the conceptual design stage of a system, analysts define broad constraints that human limitations are likely to exert on system operation. As the system design develops in detail, the analysts develop correspondingly more detailed statements of the requirements for personnel qualifications and training, workgroup organization, workspace layout and equipment design, and job performance aids (Chapanis, 1970; Lindell, et al., 1982).

Such analyses are typically applied to the normal operations of complex technological systems such as high performance aircraft and the control rooms of nuclear power plants, but they also can be applied in similar form to the problems of community emergency planning. Whether a novel technological system is being developed for use in a normal environment or a novel social system such as an emergency response organization is being developed to respond to an unusually threatening physical environment, the rationale for systems analysis is the same—the opportunities for incremental adjustment through trial and error are extremely limited. The analysis of a social system conducted for an emergency management program must first identify the range of hazards to which a given community is vulnerable and the demands that the hazards would place upon the community.

The often expressed opinion “every emergency is unique” is true but the usual conclusion “we can improvise during an emergency rather than plan beforehand” does not follow. It is true that emergency responders must always improvise to meet the demands of a specific situation, but it is important to understand that there are different types of improvisation—reproductive, adaptive, and creative—that differ from organizational continuity (continuation of normal organizational routines) and organizational contingency (implementation of an EOP (Wachtendorf, 2004). Specifically, reproductive improvisation responds to a deficiency (e.g., failure of a siren) by using a substitute (e.g., police officers going door-to-door) to achieve the same emergency response objective. Adaptive improvisation involves modifying normal routines or contingency plans to achieve operational goals. In this context, “adaptive” only means a change, not necessarily an improvement. Creative improvisation responds to an unanticipated disaster demand by developing a new course of action.

It is important to recognize that improvising and implementing response actions takes more time than implementing preplanned actions—and time is usually very limited in an emergency. Moreover, improvisations can impede or duplicate the response actions of other organizations. For example, Perry, et al. (1981) reported that firefighters fed and sheltered flood victims because neither they nor the victims knew about a mass care facility that had been activated not far away. Consequently, emergency managers should develop community emergency preparedness so they can limit the amount of unnecessary improvisation even though they cannot eliminate improvisation altogether.

In fact, research has identified many regularities in the demands emergencies place upon response organizations (Dynes, 1970; Drabek, 1986; Tierney, et al., 2001). Emergency managers should identify the functions that must be performed to respond to these demands and the resources required to accomplish the response functions. The resources required for emergency response can then be compared with those maintained within the community. Any special actions required to ensure the continued availability of the emergency response resources can be made an integral part of the emergency preparedness program.

One very important aspect of the systems assessment for emergency response operations arises from the environmental conditions that prevail during major disasters. At such times, response personnel often confront confusing and conflicting cues about the current status of hazard agent and its impacts, as well as major uncertainties about the future behavior of the hazard agent and impacts yet to come. During the 1979 nuclear reactor accident at Three Mile Island and the chemical plant accidents in 1984 at Bhopal, India, and in 1985 at Institute, West Virginia, the inability of plant personnel to accurately assess the status of the emergency severely impeded their ability to communicate appropriate protective action recommendations to offsite agencies. A similar inability to conduct timely and accurate assessments on the Mt. St. Helens volcano led to casualties and property destruction. In all of these cases, the complexity of the situation—together with time pressure and the severity of the potential consequences—created conditions that were unforgiving of error and, thus, highly stressful for emergency response personnel.

To increase organizational effectiveness when there is enough time to respond, but not enough time to improvise a coordinated response plan, communities must engage in emergency preparedness. A major component in emergency preparedness is the development of preimpact EOPs that provide emergency responders with the resources they need to take prompt and effective response actions. This chapter will examine EOP development, emphasizing that plans are only a part of preparedness. The primary focus is on the planning practices of local agencies having explicit emergency response missions (e.g., emergency management, fire, police, and EMS). The chapter begins with the guiding principles of emergency planning and then turns to a discussion of the supporting analyses needed to adapt the plan to local conditions. It continues with an examination of the principal organizational structures involved in emergency preparedness—the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS), and National Incident Management System (NIMS). The latter is implemented through the Incident Command System (ICS) and the jurisdiction’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The chapter concludes with a discussion of preparedness by households, businesses, and government agencies that do not have explicit emergency management missions.

Guiding Principles of Emergency Planning

Preparedness is best thought of as a process—a continuing sequence of analyses, plan development, and the acquisition of individual and team performance skills achieved through training, drills, exercises, and critiques (Dynes, et al., 1972; Kartez & Lindell, 1987, 1990). The practice of emergency response planning varies considerably among communities. In some, the planning process is quite formal; there is a specific assignment of responsibility to an office having an identifiable budget. In other communities it is informal; responsibility is poorly defined and a limited budget is dispersed among many agencies. Moreover, the planning products might be either written or unwritten. To some extent, the emergency planning process correlates with the size of the community in which it takes place. Larger communities— characterized by an elaborate structure of governmental offices, many resources and personnel, and perhaps higher levels of staff turnover—tend to evolve formalized processes and rely more heavily upon written documentation and agreements. In smaller communities, the planning process might generate few written products and rely principally on informal relationships. Formalization of the planning process is also likely to vary with the frequency of hazard impact. In communities subject to frequent threats, emergency response may be a practiced skill rather than a hypothetical action. In one frequently flooded community, the fire department evacuates residents of the low lying areas (in the usual manner, by fire truck, to the usual location, the local school) when the flood water reaches a certain street (Perry, et al., 1981).

Despite the many superficial variations in EOPs, researchers have identified some consistencies in emergency planning. The following prescriptions, derived from Quarantelli (1982b), can be described as fundamental principles of community emergency planning that are systematically related to high levels of community preparedness (see Table 9-1).

Managing Resistance to the Planning Process

Emergency planning is conducted in the face of apathy by some and resistance from others (Auf der Heide, 1989, McEntire, 2003, Quarantelli, 1982b). A basic reason for apathy is that most people, citizens and public officials alike, don't like to think about their vulnerability to disasters. A common objection to planning is it consumes resources, that, at the moment, might seem like more pressing community issues—police patrols, road repairs, school expansion, and the like. Planning mandates help (for example, radiological emergency planning after the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident and chemical emergency planning under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986—SARA Title III after Bhopal), but are insufficient to overcome such resistance. Consequently, the initiation of planning activities requires strong support from a jurisdiction’s Chief Administrative Officer, an issue champion (or 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 (Lindell, et al., 1996a, Prater & Lindell, 2000). However, acceptance of the need for emergency planning doesn’t eliminate conflict. Organizations seek to preserve their autonomy, security, and prestige, so they resist collaborative activities that can threaten these objectives (Haas & Drabek, 1973). Emergency planning involves the allocation of power and resources (especially personnel and budget), so every unit within an organization wants its “proper role” recognized and a budget allocation commensurate with that role.

Table 9-1. Fundamental Principles of Community Emergency Planning.

  1. Emergency planners should anticipate both active and passive resistance to the planning process and develop strategies to manage these obstacles.

  2. Preimpact planning should address all hazards to which the community is exposed.

  3. Preimpact planning should elicit participation, commitment, and clearly defined agreement among all response organizations.

  4. Preimpact planning should be based upon accurate assumptions about the threat, typical human behavior in disasters, and likely support from external sources such as state and federal agencies.

  5. EOPs should identify the types of emergency response actions that are most likely to be appropriate, but encourage improvisation based on continuing emergency assessment.

  6. Emergency planning should address the linkage of emergency response to disaster recovery and hazard mitigation.

  7. Preimpact planning should provide for training and evaluating the emergency response organization at all levels—individual, team, department, and community.

  8. Emergency planning should be recognized as a continuing process.

Adopt an All Hazards Approach

The emergency planning process should also integrate plans for each hazard agent into a multihazard EOP. Emergency planners should use their community HVAs to identify the types of natural hazards (e.g., floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes), technological accidents (e.g., toxic chemical releases, nuclear power plant accidents), and deliberate incidents (e.g., sabotage or terrorist attack involving hazardous materials) to which their communities are vulnerable. Following identification of these hazards, emergency planners should consider the extent to which different hazard agents make similar demands on the emergency response organization. When two hazard agents have similar characteristics, they are likely to require the same emergency response functions. Commonality of emergency response functions provides multiple use opportunities for personnel, procedures, facilities, and equipment—which, in turn, simplifies the EOP by reducing the number of functional annexes. In addition, it simplifies training and enhances the reliability of organizational performance during emergencies. Only when hazard agents have very different characteristics, and thus require distinctly different responses, will hazard-specific appendixes will be needed.

Promote Multiorganizational Participation

Emergency planning should promote interorganizational coordination by developing mechanisms that elicit participation, commitment, and clearly defined agreement among all response organizations. This obviously should include public safety agencies such as emergency management, fire, police, and emergency medical services. However, it also should include organizations that are potential hazard sources, such as hazardous materials facilities and hazardous materials transporters (pipeline, rail, truck, and barge) and organizations that must protect sensitive populations, such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Coordination is required because emergency response organizations that differ in their capabilities must work in coordination to implement an effective emergency response. To perform their functions effectively, efficiently, and promptly requires members of the community emergency response organization to be aware of one another's missions, organizational structures and styles of operation, communication systems, and mechanisms (such as agreed upon priorities) for allocating scarce resources.

Rely on Accurate Assumptions

Emergency planning should be based upon accurate knowledge of community threats and likely human responses to those threats. Accurate knowledge of community threats comes from HVAs. As discussed in Chapter 6, emergency managers must identify hazards to which their communities are vulnerable, determine which geographical areas are exposed to those hazards (e.g., 100 year flood plains and toxic chemical facility Vulnerable Zones), and identify the facilities and population segments located in those risk areas. They also need to understand the basic characteristics of these hazards such as speed of onset, scope and duration of impact, and potential for producing casualties and property damage.

When identifying the hazards to which their community is exposed, planners and public officials frequently recognize the limits of their expertise. They recognize their lack of accurate knowledge about the behavior of geophysical, meteorological, or technological hazards and contact experts to obtain the information they need. Unfortunately, the same cannot usually be said about accurate knowledge about likely human behavior in a disaster. As a familiar saying goes, the problem is not so much that people don't know what is true, but that what they do “know” is false. As noted in the previous chapter, Quarantelli and Dynes (1972) and Wenger, et al. (1980) have described widespread myths regarding people’s disaster response that persist despite research refuting them. Belief in disaster myths hampers the effectiveness of emergency planning by misdirecting resource allocation and information dissemination. For example, officials sometimes cite expectations of panic as a reason for giving the public incomplete information about an environmental threat or withholding information altogether. This response to the myth of panic is actually counterproductive because people are more willing to comply with recommended protective actions when they are provided with complete risk information. For these reasons, the planning process must be firmly grounded not only on the physical or biological science literature on the effects of hazard agents on human safety, health, and property, but also on the behavioral literature describing individual and organizational response in emergencies.

Finally, household, business, and government agency emergency plans must be based on accurate assumptions about aid from external sources. In major disasters, hospitals might be overloaded; destruction of telecommunication and transportation systems (highways, railroads, airports, and seaports) could prevent outside assistance from arriving for days; and restoration of disrupted water, sewer, electric power, and natural gas pipeline systems could take much longer. Consequently, all social units must be prepared to be self reliant for as much as a week.

Identify Appropriate Actions while Encouraging Improvisation

An effective preparedness process must balance planning and improvisation (Kreps, 1991). The EOP establishes the emergency response organization’s basic structure and broad strategies before a disaster strikes. In particular, it will document which organization is responsible for each emergency response function and, in general terms, how that function will be performed. Similarly, per-disaster training must explain how to perform any specific tactics and operational procedures that are likely to be needed during response operations. Even though emergency managers can forecast what types of disaster demands are likely to arise, there will always be some degree of uncertainty about the magnitude and location of those demands. For example, the emergency manager of a hurricane prone community should develop procedures for mass evacuation, but will be never be completely certain about how the population in each neighborhood will respond. The fact that people’s response to warnings is reasonably well understood makes it foolish to improvise an evacuation plan as a hurricane is approaching.

Nonetheless, uncertainty about what proportion of the households in each neighborhood will begin an evacuation at each point in time makes it foolish to devise a rigid evacuation plan that has no provision for modification as an incident unfolds. An emphasis on specific detail can be problematic in at least four ways: (1) the anticipation of all contingencies is simply impossible (Lindell & Perry, 1980); (2) very specific details tend to get out of date very quickly, demanding virtually constant updating of written products (Dynes, et al., 1972); (3) very specific plans often contain so many details that the wide range of emergency functions appear to be of equal importance, causing response priorities to be unclear or confused (Tierney, 1980); and (4) the more detail incorporated into written planning documents, the larger and more complex they become. This makes it more difficult to use the plan as a device for training personnel to understand how their roles fit into the overall emergency response and consequently makes it more difficult to implement the plan effectively when the need arises.

In summary, planning and training should identify the actions that are most likely to be appropriate, but also should emphasize flexibility so those involved in response operations can improvise in response to unexpected conditions. That is, planning and training should address principles of response in addition to providing detailed standard operating procedures (SOPs) and should encourage improvisation based on continuing assessment of disaster demands.

Link Emergency Response to Disaster Recovery and Hazard Mitigation

There will be an overlap between emergency response and disaster recovery because some portions of the community will be engaged in emergency response tasks while others will have moved on to disaster recovery tasks (Schwab, et al., 1998). Moreover, senior elected and appointed officials need to plan for the recovery while they are being inundated with policy decisions to implement the emergency response. Consequently, emergency managers should link preimpact emergency response planning to preimpact disaster recovery planning. Such integration will speed the process of disaster recovery and facilitate the integration of hazard mitigation into disaster recovery (Wu & Lindell, 2004). The necessary coordination between preimpact emergency response planning and preimpact disaster recovery planning can be achieved by establishing organizational contacts, and perhaps overlapping membership, between the committees responsible for these two activities.

Conduct Thorough Training and Evaluation

Disaster planning should also provide a training and evaluation component. The first part of the training process involves explaining the provisions of the plan to the administrators and personnel of the departments that will be involved in the emergency response. Second, all those who have emergency response roles must be trained to perform their duties. Of course, this includes fire, police, and emergency medical services personnel, but there also should be training for personnel in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and other facilities that might need to take protective action. Finally, the population at risk must be involved in the planning process so they can become aware that planning for community threats is underway, as well as what is expected of them under the plans. As noted previously, they need to know what is likely to happen in a disaster and what emergency organizations can and cannot do for them.

It is also essential that training include tests of the proposed response operations. As noted above, emergency drills and exercises provide a setting in which operational procedures can be tested. They also facilitate interorganizational contact, thus allowing individual members to better understand each other’s professional capabilities and personal characteristics. Furthermore, multifunctional exercises constitute a simultaneous and comprehensive test of emergency plans and procedures, staffing levels, personnel training, facilities, equipment, and materials. Finally, multifunctional exercises produce publicity for the broader emergency management process, which informs community officials and the public that disaster planning is underway and preparedness is being enhanced.

Adopt a Continuous Planning Process

Finally, effective emergency planning is a continuing process. Hazard vulnerability, organizational staffing and structure, and emergency facilities and equipment change over time, so the emergency planning process must detect and respond to these changes. Unfortunately, this point is frequently not recognized. Wenger, et al. (1980, p. 134) have found “there is a tendency on the part of officials to see disaster planning as a product, not a process”, a misconception that confuses tangible products with the activities that produce them. Of course, planning does require written documentation, but effective planning is also made up of elements that are difficult to document on paper and are not realized in hardware. These include the development of emergency responders' knowledge about resources available from governmental and private organizations, the acquisition of knowledge about emergency demands and other agencies’ capabilities, and the establishment of collaborative relationships across organizational boundaries. Tangible documents and hardware simply do not provide a sufficient representation of what the emergency planning process has produced. Furthermore, by treating written plans as final products, one risks creating the illusion of being prepared for an emergency when such is not the case (Quarantelli, 1977). As time passes, the EOP sitting in a red three ring binder on the bookshelf looks just as thick and impressive as it did the day it was published despite the many changes that have taken place in the meantime. For example, new hazardous facilities might have been built and others decommissioned, new neighborhoods might exist where only open fields were found previously, and reorganization might have been taken place within different agencies responsible for emergency response. In short, the potential for changes in hazard exposure, population vulnerability, and the staffing, organization and resources of emergency response organizations requires emergency plans and procedures to be reviewed periodically, preferably annually.

Functional Capability Analysis

To ensure adequate emergency preparedness, emergency managers should analyze their emergency response organization’s capability to perform its basic emergency response functions. Historically, these functions have been categorized as agent generated and response generated demands (Quarantelli, 1981a). The agent generated demands arise from the specific mechanisms by which a hazard agent causes casualties and damage, whereas response generated demands arise from organizing and implementing the emergency response. Lindell and Perry (1992, 1996b) elaborated Quarantelli’s typology by drawing on federal emergency planning guidance (National Response Team, 1987; US Nuclear Regulatory Commission/Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1980) to define four basic emergency response functions. These are emergency assessment, hazard operations, and population protection (which are agent generated demands) and incident management (which encompasses the response generated demands). Emergency assessment consists of those diagnoses of past and present conditions and prognoses of future conditions that guide the emergency response. Hazard operations refers to expedient hazard mitigation actions that emergency personnel take to limit the magnitude or duration of disaster impact (e.g., sandbagging a flooding river or patching a leaking railroad tank car). Population protection refers to actions—such as sheltering in-place, evacuation, and mass immunization—that protect people from hazard agents. Incident management consists of the activities by which the human and physical resources used to respond to the emergency are mobilized and directed to accomplish the goals of the emergency response organization. The operational aspects of implementing these functions will be addressed in more detail in the next chapter, but rest of this section will address the actions that must be taken to prepare to implement them. These preparedness actions involve analyzing the disaster demands to identify the personnel, procedures, facilities, equipment, materials, and supplies the emergency response organization will need.

Emergency Assessment

Preparedness for emergency assessment requires the emergency response organization to detect and classify an environmental threat. Some natural hazards—such as many flash floods and earthquakes—are detected and classified by local agencies. Other natural hazards—such as hurricanes, tornadoes, major floods, and tsunamis—are detected and classified by federal agencies. Moreover, incidents at fixed site facilities are usually detected and classified by plant personnel, whereas transportation incidents are detected by carrier personnel, local emergency responders (e.g., police and fire), and sometimes by passers-by.

The local emergency manager should review the community HVA to identify all hazards to which the community is exposed in order to determine how detection is likely to be achieved and transmitted to the appropriate authorities. Locally detected hazards require the emergency manager to ensure the necessary detection systems (e.g., stream and rain gauges for flash floods) are established and maintained. For hazards detected by other sources, the emergency manager must ensure that a report of hazard detection can be called in to a community warning point that is staffed around the clock, usually the jurisdiction’s dispatch center.

Another important aspect of emergency assessment is hazard monitoring, which requires continuous awareness of the current status of the hazard agent as well as projections of its future status. The technology for performing hazard monitoring varies by hazard agent. In many cases, continuing information about the hazard agent is provided by the same source as the one that provided the initial hazard detection. For example, the National Hurricane Center provides hurricane updates every six hours (or more frequently, if needed). Similarly, plant personnel should provide continuing information about a hazardous materials release.

Environmental monitoring is also needed when the geographical areas at risk are determined by atmospheric processes. As noted in Chapter 5, toxic chemicals, radiological materials, and volcanic ash are carried downwind, so changes in wind direction, wind speed, and atmospheric stability must be monitored to determine if the area at risk will change over time. Thus, procedures must be established and equipment acquired to obtain current weather information and forecasts of future weather conditions. Environmental monitoring is also needed for hazmat spills into waterways because, for example, the speed and direction of ocean currents determine which sections of shoreline will be affected.

Moreover, damage assessment is needed to identify the boundaries of the risk area and initiate the process of requesting a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Here also, personnel, procedures, and equipment must be designated to perform this function. Finally, population monitoring and assessment is needed to identify the size of the population at risk if the number of people in the risk area varies over time (e.g., tourists present in the summer but not in the winter). This requires emergency managers to maintain calendars of major events, such as festivals and athletic contests, that bring large numbers of people into their jurisdictions. It also necessitates working with schools, hospitals, and nursing home administrators to monitor the progress of special facility evacuations and with traffic engineers to monitor evacuation routes for risk area residents.

Hazard Operations

Preparedness actions for hazard operations vary significantly from one hazard agent to another. In some cases, hazard operations require equipment that is normally available within the community. For example, preparedness for structural fires, conflagrations, and wildfires mostly requires equipment that local fire departments use in routine methods of hazard source control. However, some hazard agents require special preparation. For example, chemical incidents might require special foams to suppress vapor generation. Area protection works are another type of hazard operations that is best illustrated by elevating levees during floods. The large number of sandbags needed for such operations also requires advance preparation. Moreover, some hazard agents such as earthquakes require special preparation for postimpact operations to implement building construction practices and contents protection practices. For example, heavy construction equipment is needed to stabilize buildings, extricate victims, and protect building contents from further damage.

Population Protection

Preparedness for population protection sometimes requires emergency managers to develop procedures for protective action selection. For some hazard agents, there is only one recommended protective action. People threatened by tornadoes or volcanic ashfall should shelter in-place whereas those threatened by lava flows, inland floods, storm surges, and tsunamis should evacuate. In other cases, such as toxic chemical and radiological releases, the appropriate protective action depends on the situation (Lindell & Perry, 1992; Sorensen, Shumpert & Vogt, 2004). Consequently, communities exposed to such hazards should develop procedures for protective action selection in advance.

Similarly, emergency managers should devise procedures for warning the risk area population for each of the different hazards identified in the community HVA. In slow onset incidents, such as main stem floods, there is likely to be adequate time for mechanisms such as face-to-face warnings. However, rapid onset incidents such as toxic chemical releases might require the acquisition of siren systems. Emergency managers should also prepare for search and rescue by considering whether special training and equipment is needed for swiftwater rescue from floods, heavy rescue from buildings collapsed by earthquakes, and other specialized circumstances. Impact zone access control/security, hazard exposure control, and emergency medical care require special protective equipment for emergency responders in CBR hazards so emergency managers should prepare for these hazards as well.

Incident Management

Because incident management activities are directed toward the response generated demands of an incident, preparedness for this function varies relatively little from one hazard agent to another. Agency notification and mobilization requires the acquisition of equipment such as pagers and the development of procedures such as the designation of watch officers to ensure that key personnel are notified rapidly. Mobilization of emergency facilities and equipment is achieved by acquiring critical documents (e.g., maps, plans, and procedures) and storing these in close proximity to the room that will be activated as the EOC (if the jurisdiction does not have a permanent installation). Communication and documentation are supported by the acquisition of radios, telephone systems, and personal computers as well as the establishment of procedures for message routing and recording. Emergency managers prepare for many of the emergency response organization’s specific activities such as analysis/planning, internal direction and control, logistics, finance/administration, and external coordination by identifying the ways in which personnel will perform tasks or have reporting relationships that differ from the ones they encounter in normal conditions. The emergency manager can work with personnel assigned to the emergency response organization to devise organization charts, task checklists, telephone lists, and other job performance aids that will assist them in their emergency duties. Preparedness for public information can be facilitated by identifying a joint information center (JIC), providing extra phone lines for media personnel, and developing basic background information about the jurisdiction, its hazards, and the emergency response organization.

Organizational Structures for Emergency Preparedness

There are many organizational structures that have been developed to support emergency response to environmental hazards. Three of the most important are the Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS), Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), and National Incident Management System (NIMS). MMRS and UASI are federally funded programs that support interjurisdictional collaboration. NIMS includes a standardized structure for emergency preparedness and response titled the Incident Command System (ICS) that must link effectively to the jurisdiction’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Each of these organizational structures is discussed below.

Metropolitan Medical Response System

The Metropolitan Medical Strike Team program was initiated in 1997 by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Health Emergency Preparedness. The program quickly changed its designation to the Metropolitan Medical Response System to reflect both integration into local incident management systems and the extensive involvement of multiple governments, not just municipal agencies but also private sector organizations. Of the original 26 MMRS cities established before 1999, only two (Atlanta, Georgia, and Washington, D.C.) retained the strike team framework. In March, 2004, 124 city and regional MMRS programs had been established. These tend to be concentrated in high population density areas and other areas that are high probability terrorist targets, but 43 states have at least one MMRS program, yielding very broad geographic coverage and high levels of national population coverage.

The initial purpose of the MMRS program was to enhance local efforts to manage very large mass casualty incidents arising from terrorists’ use of weapons of mass destruction (Perry, 2003). In part the program mission was driven by the realization that, for local governments, specialized federal assets for terrorist attacks are 48-72 hours away even under the best of circumstances. The MMRS program goal is to ensure cities can operate independently until support arrives and develop a strong local incident management system that can effectively and efficiently integrate specialized extra community (especially federal) resources. Unlike many federal programs, the MMRS purpose statement has evolved over time, largely in ways that emergency managers consider constructive. The focus has come to include CBR agents as well as any other agent (natural or technological) that could produce large numbers of casualties; it has become firmly established as an all hazards program. Perhaps the two most distinctive features of the MMRS program from a local government perspective are funding and organization. DHHS allocated funds directly to cities, eliminating concerns about funding losses to intermediate government levels and increasing purchasing flexibility for municipalities. The organizational constraint is that focal cities must create programs that include broad participation by municipal departments (not just fire and police), as well as county and state agencies and the private sector (e.g., hospitals). Although the funding conditions are generally considered a blessing, the organizational issues have been treated as (and undoubtedly are) significant challenges.

The most significant feature of an MMRS is that it links multiple response systems. Horizontal linkages involve first responders (e.g., firefighters, hazmat technicians, technical rescue technicians, emergency medical personnel), public health, emergency management, law enforcement, and medical and behavioral health services. There also are vertical linkages; for example, public health participation involves city, county, and state agencies. Also, private sector organizations are included in the planning process to establish contact with hospital emergency departments, environmental cleanup companies, ambulance systems, funeral director associations, and similar organizations that provide critical services in mass casualty incidents. MMRS cities must also plan for receipt and integration of important federal assets by building a relationship with the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) and developing a capacity to receive pharmaceuticals from the national stockpile, as well as other specialized assets from a variety of federal programs.

Whether by design or not, the MMRS program has imposed a comprehensive emergency management process on recipient cities. Municipalities are required to operate an incident management system; link it to a jurisdictional EOC; enhance mutual aid agreements with surrounding communities; integrate county and state agencies; and conduct joint planning, training, and exercises on a continuing basis. MMRS program requirements address some mitigation and recovery issues, but emphasize preparedness and response. As a condition of declaring an MMRS “fully operational”, each city must conduct a full scale exercise with federal evaluation. Achievement of operational status is treated at the federal level as only one milestone in the continuing development—through planning, training, and exercising—of an MMRS.

In March 2003, responsibility for the MMRS program passed from DHHS to DHS. Ultimately—except for the National Urban Search and Rescue Program—the MMRS program represents the only federally devised model for disaster operations that has been tested through repeated exercises and deployments. The challenge for the MMRS program is sustainability; to maintain “adequate funding and effective management of preparedness and efforts to keep domestic preparedness as a policy priority” (Grannis, 2003, p. 210). Through the years of DHHS oversight, funds to sustain established MMRS cities were made available, although on a highly variable basis. An indicator of the strength of the program and proof of serious local commitment is that cities kept their MMRS programs alive, even during years of small federal allocations, by making hard choices about the distribution of local resources. Funds to sustain the established MMRS programs have continued under DHS, but future federal support is no more guaranteed for MMRS than for any other program. No new MMRSs have been established since 2003, but this program appears to be one significant success in a long history of federal efforts to promote local emergency management where successes have been rare. Interestingly, the FY2005 allocation for the federal MMRS Program decreased to slightly more than $29 million, down from $50 million in FY2004. The 2005 allocation was also subject to retention of 20% at the state level, making the federal commitment to the successful MMRS cities even more tenuous.

Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI)

In July of 2002, President Bush approved the National Strategy for Homeland Security as a framework for national efforts to prevent and respond to terrorist actions. Beginning in 2003, the DHS Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP, formerly part of the Department of Justice) inaugurated the Urban Areas Security Initiative as part of the National Strategy for Homeland Security. In late 2003, President Bush approved the FY2004 Homeland Security Appropriations Act, which continued and expanded UASI at a funding level exceeding $4 billion. Seven urban areas were approved for funding in 2003, and that number grew to 50 in 2004. For 2005, DHS added seven new UASI jurisdictions while, without public explanation, discontinuing funding for seven urban areas that had been funded in 2004. The financial awards were substantial, ranging in FY2005 from a high of more than $207 million to New York City to a low of $5 million for Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to these grants, 25 mass transit systems (heavy rail and commuter rail systems) were funded in 2004 on the basis of ridership and total system miles.

Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge (U. S. Department of Homeland Security, 2004d, p. iii) stated the purpose of UASI is to “create a sustainable national model program to enhance security and overall preparedness to prevent, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism.” In launching UASI, technical vulnerability assessments were used to identify high threat, high population density areas to participate in the program. The level of funding assigned to urban areas has been based in part upon the vulnerability assessments and other needs assessments. UASI does not impose a generic response model on participating urban areas, but requires local governments located around a designated core city to cooperate in developing a strategic plan that either creates anew or supplements existing disaster plans for terrorist attacks anywhere in the urban area. UASI then authorizes program expenditures across five areas: planning, equipment acquisition, training, exercises, and management and administration (the latter is limited to 3% of the total allocation). The funding mechanism is intergovernmental, with federal money being allocated to states (which can retain up to 20%) that, in turn, distribute funds to local governments. Local governments receive funds based on the area’s strategic plan as well as agreements among the core city’s Urban Area Administrator, participating municipal governments, and county and state emergency management agencies. All expenditures are subject to federal review.

These general funding rules for UASI continued through the FY2005 allocations, although DHS has changed its approach to funding local government programs. The DHS Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness (SLGCP) Office for Domestic Preparedness has created a program that combines the application process for six major federal programs and delegates the responsibility for that process to state governments. The programs brought under this umbrella application process are UASI, the MMRS Program, the State Homeland Security Program, the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program, the Citizen Corps Program, and Emergency Management Performance Grants. Some of the budget allocations appear to have increased, whereas others decreased from previous years. It is clear that this new process gives states additional resources (programs like MMRS which were previously immune to the 20% funds retention by the state under UASI are now subject to the retention), but also a considerably greater administrative role and burden. It is not clear how effectively this consolidation of programs will be implemented by the federal government and states, nor how well it will be received by local governments.

For the most part, emergency managers view UASI as promising. It provides substantial funding for local needs (rarely accomplished by previous federal programs) and allows a degree of local choice in planning, administration, and funding. Another positive point is that 47 core cities of the 50 UASI urban areas already had existing MMRS programs. This means they had already engaged in substantial emergency planning and, therefore, possessed an existing structure on which to build further capability. Complaints include concern that federal authorities tightly define authorized expenditures within each predetermined budget category and that local governments bear a substantial financial accounting load. There is also concern that the pass-through mechanism from federal to state and then to local agencies is complex and administratively demanding, thus risking the diversion of funds from emergency preparedness to other uses. Finally, if UASI is to succeed in creating a functioning local emergency management capability, there must be high levels of continuing cooperation among federal, state, county, and municipal governments—and particularly among the municipal governments within each urban area. Sylves’ (1991) work on the inherent difficulties with intergovernmental relations indicates the required agreements on operational plans and budget allocations will prove to be serious challenges.

At the present time, there is little basis for judging the success of the UASI program. Not only is the program new, but plans must be kept secure to avoid divulging their contents to potential adversaries. When combined with the usual administrative and operational hurdles to data collection, these obstacles inhibit the amount of information available in the open literature that can be used to evaluate the program. Most urban areas funded in the FY03 budget cycle obtained federal approval of strategic plans, but implementation requiring such intense intergovernmental collaboration and massive equipment purchases can be expected to be slow under even the best of circumstances. There has simply not been time to establish a capability that could be evaluated in functional or full scale exercises. Although many of these urban areas have MMRS programs that provide emergency management system models, it is not clear if the UASI strategic plans build upon these capabilities, revise them, or change them entirely.

The National Incident Management System

The concept of incident management systems is neither new nor confined to traditional emergency management. Incident management has military origins and law enforcement agencies have long used the Incident Command System (ICS) for large scale incident response. Both ICS and IMS (Incident Management System, Brunacini, 1985) are preplanned organizational structures for emergency response that will be treated here as interchangeable, although there are small differences that will be discussed in the next section. In fact, an important issue regarding IMS/ICS is the confusion about meaning; different professions, different professionals, and different times have embraced different meanings. Municipal fire departments use IMS and the National Fire Protection Association adopted a standard (NFPA 1561) on emergency services IMSs in 2000. Similarly, the Law Enforcement Incident Command System (LEICS) was systematized and endorsed by the Police Officers Standards and Testing organization (Bartosh, 2003). The Hospital Emergency Incident Command System (HEICS), used in public health organizations, originated with the Orange County, California, Emergency Medical Services Agency and has diffused widely through the medical community.

In addition to the myriad systems currently available for incident management, the federal government has now required NIMS. Homeland Security Presidential Directive Number 5 (HSPD-5), a direct response to multijurisdictional, multiorganizational problems arising in the response to the September 11th attacks, established NIMS as part of the US National Response Plan. The Department of Homeland Security (2004b) issued the documentation for NIMS on March 1, 2004. HSPD-5 required all federal agencies to adopt NIMS immediately and all state and local organizations to adopt NIMS as a condition for federal preparedness funding by FY2005. The State of California negotiated with DHS to retain SEMS (a standardized emergency management system it had developed before NIMS), but the overall reception of the NIMS among other emergency responders is currently unknown.

While all IMSs focus on the operational response to an incident, NIMS addresses this issue and also many others that are considered to be emergency preparedness rather than emergency response activities. There are six components to NIMS (US Department of Homeland Security, 2004b). The first, labeled command and management, includes the traditional component of ICS (NIMS here uses ICS rather than the more conventional IMS term), plus a definition of “multiagency coordination systems” and “public information systems”. The ICS described here appears to be almost identical to California’s SEMS (which also is more comprehensive than a simple ICS) and similar to a traditional fire service IMS. What DHS identifies separately as multiagency coordination systems and public information systems overlap the structure of traditional fire services incident management. The conventional version of IMS structurally accommodates the need to link with incident management systems operated by different classes of agencies and governments (e.g., public works, EMS, law enforcement, hospitals) and includes joint information systems to disseminate incident information to the public (Brunacini, 2002). These same features also characterize all municipal MMRS programs.

The second component of NIMS is labeled preparedness and “involves an integrated combination of planning, training, exercises, personnel qualification and certification standards, equipment acquisition and certification standards, and publication management processes and activities” (US Department of Homeland Security, 2004b, p. 4). Much of this component appears to be conventional guidance that, to maintain any ICS (or IMS), one needs to engage in planning, training, and exercising, as well as develop mutual aid pacts. The parts that are both different and confining include the notion that DHS will issue standards and test personnel to certify their ability to perform “NIMS-related functions.” This certification process also will be applied to equipment. Finally, this component specifies that forms used in ICS—including the incident action plan, organization assignment list, and many others—be standardized by federal fiat. Indeed Appendix A, Tab 9 of the National Incident Management System reproduces facsimiles of appropriate form formats (US Department of Homeland Security, 2004b, p. 105-120).

The resource management component of NIMS is complex and extensive. There is a requirement for inventorying resources, along with a DHS supplied “resource typing system”, that provides specific definitions of each type of resource and how it is to be categorized. There are also rules for determining what resources are needed for an incident, as well as how they are to be ordered, mobilized, tracked, reported, and recovered. Finally, there is a section requiring certification and credentials for personnel, but it is unclear from the description whether this means resource management personnel must be certified or whether they are charged with ensuring incident command personnel and equipment are properly certified.

The final three components of NIMS are less well defined than those just discussed. The “communication and information management” component develops standards for communications (including interoperability between responder organizations) at an incident and specifies processes for managing incident information. The supporting technologies component exhorts locals to acquire and continually review the availability of new technology for incident management. The ongoing management and maintenance component “establishes an activity to provide strategic direction for and oversight of the NIMS, supporting both routine review and the continuous refinement of the system and its components over the long term” (US Department of Homeland Security, 2004b, p. 6)

It is difficult to evaluate NIMS at this stage of implementation. With regard to its origins, “Both NRP [National Response Plan] and NIMS have been developed in a top down manner, centrally coordinated by DHS… [and] [v]iews differ on the scope and intent of stakeholder involvement in developing NRP and NIMS.” (Hess & Harrald, 2004, p. 2). It appears that disaster research was minimally considered, if at all, in the process of generating NIMS. It is unclear how other guidance was solicited by DHS, from whom, or how it was incorporated. Drafts of the NRP were widely distributed via electronic mail along with requests for comment and many of these messages reached municipal emergency managers. What appears to be an even greater concern to municipal emergency management and response agencies is the detail in which processes and protocols are specified within NIMS. In what could be regarded as a significant understatement, Christen (2004, p. 96) states that, in the fire service, “not everyone is happy with national standards and protocols that supersede local preferences.” More important is the question of whether such detailed specification promotes or retards the effective and efficient management of emergencies and disasters.

On a practical level, the likelihood of successful NIMS implementation is difficult to estimate. There is no doubt DHS can impose a requirement for agencies accepting federal disaster preparedness funding to adopt NIMS. However, effective implementation is quite a different matter from official adoption. A veneer of nominal adoption sometimes substitutes for the reality of an executable capability at the local level. The ICS component is similar to the IMS that is used by most large fire services agencies in the United States, although implementation by public works, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies is difficult to estimate. To effectively operate an IMS, an agency must address the planning, training, and exercising issues contained in other NIMS components. There are serious practical challenges—including a reliance on intergovernmental relationships that has plagued implementation efforts for other federal programs. As another example, immense resources will be required for DHS to produce standards and annually test and certify every command officer in the United States. If equipment must also be certified, the task will be even more daunting, especially when one remembers NIMS is designed for federal, state, local, and tribal governments (Ridge, 2004). The Phoenix Fire Department operates a Command Training Center for certifying its own command officers (and others from the surrounding region), but the simulation models, props, computers, and software require a financial investment far beyond the resources of most fire departments. Hence, even if the certification and testing were passed to local jurisdictions, many would be overwhelmed and would likely see the process as another “unfunded federal mandate”. For local agencies that do not routinely use some ICS or IMS or use it infrequently, the additional resources required to comply with NIMS will be substantial. DHS has created a “NIMS Integration Center” (with a Web site at as part of the federal effort to manage NIMS and answer questions regarding system adoption. In addition, the DHS/FEMA Emergency Management Institute offers multiple online classes that address both NIMS and basic ICS.

Organizational Structures for Emergency Response

Organizational structures for emergency response must be based on two basic principles. First, the organizational structure used to respond to everyday emergencies will form the basis of an expanded structure to deal with disasters. Second, the local response structure must be flexible enough to readily expand as additional external resources are added to match the increasing agent generated and response generated demands of the disaster. The prevailing organizational structures for emergency response are ICS and IMS. These two organizational structures differ, but relatively slightly.

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