Emergency Preparedness

Introduction

A crisis/disaster could be natural or human-induced. Obviously, not all natural disasters can be accurately predicted or predicted at all. However, one must be prepared for any situation in order to save lives and probably properties when there is possibility to do so in a timely and efficient fashion. Human-induced disasters are very common, and most of them are predictable. In this regard, it is also necessary to take precaution measures and apply the befitting information resources. In the event of a disaster, the chaos and anxiety usually associated with such situations make it even harder for rescuers, families, and potential victims to reach each other. Therefore, it is logical to assume that for a group of people, who are well informed about safety precautions, it would be easier to perform a rescue mission than for an uninformed or poorly informed group of people. It is quite an irony that sales signs and product advertisements are designed and placed in such a way that they get more attention than some evacuation and precaution signs. A poorly planned or disorganized evacuation process could make an emergency situation even worse than it is. In planning an evacuation, it is very important to keep in mind that most people are in a state of chaos. Therefore, it will be difficult to ensure the evacuation of everybody. However, a predicted disaster might provide time for planning and implementing an evacuation.

The value of information should not be underestimated at any given point in time. Sometimes, people ignored valuable information, probably because the information was not of a specific relevance to them when they came across it. Yet, it is necessary to make sure that people are always provided with and are aware of the life-saving information. The possibility of ignorance as a hindering factor is sometimes inevitable. Therefore, achieving effective awareness sometimes seems almost impossible because one cannot force people to read a sign or notice an information board even if it is of great benefit to their well-being. Therefore, the first approach to pre-disaster information processes and resource is to devise information strategies that will definitely catch the attention of the intended audience (FEMA, n.d.). Disasters occur in different forms and sometimes, they are unexpected, but sometimes, they are expected. Therefore, it is necessary that one prepares for any type of disaster with the aim of saving lives first.

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This paper will discuss crisis management approaches, contingency planning, and emergency preparedness strategies in relation to information strategies and services that could be pre-established before a disaster takes place. Specific population member concerns and resources for specific situations will also be discussed.

In-Door Pre-Disaster Awareness Information Strategies and Resources

All structures such as houses, schools, factories, malls, churches, mosques, shopping malls, office complexes, jails and hospitals among others should have the following information resources respectively:

  • There should be large stickers with readable bold texts, attractive colors (usually red and green) and illustrative diagrams describing different possible and/or commonly encountered disasters and the necessary precaution and/or actions to be taken in event.
  • Reasonably large blinking digital exit "arrow" sign-boards should be located on the walls and ceilings in areas for people. Corridors, stairways, and hallways leading people to the closest and safest exit should contain such information. These digital "arrow" signs should only be turned on when there is an emergency situation. The digital sign should also be computerized and controllable so that it could also be used to lead people away from unsafe exits.
  • There should be large stickers with readable bold texts, attractive colors (usually red and green) and illustrative diagrams describing the location of first-aid equipment, such as fire extinguishers and medical aids.
  • Reasonably loud fire alarms should be installed with speakers located where necessary to enhance hearing in the event of fire outbreak. Some modern alarms could trigger or initiate a call to fire emergency units.
  • Intruder alarms could be installed, linking windows, doors, and roof outlets. This is a common practice adopted by many facilities to inform inhabitants and/or security personnel for the necessary actions.
  • Very visible signs indicating an assembly point should be situated at and from exits to a specified assembly point located outside the building, along the route to the assembly point and at the assembly point.

The most informative of all is the participative information process. This process usually involves potential victims of possible disasters, and/or rescue workers. It is mostly referred to evacuation rehearsal practices. Those involved engage in the practice of an evacuation routine from time to time, which makes it very easy for them to know and remember what to do and how to act during the cause of disastrous events.

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Outdoor Awareness Pre-Disaster Information Strategies and Resources

Outdoor information usually permits the display of signs in different shapes, forms, and sizes. Information resources employed, in this case, might also range from the type of community to the type of disaster, the population involved, and the time frame necessary for carrying out an evacuation process. The following are information strategies and resources for outdoor awareness:

  • There should be large board signs with easily readable, bold, illuminant texts, attractive colors (usually red and green) and illustrative diagrams describing the kind of danger and/or disaster associated with activities around a river, lake, beach, stream, field and contaminated environment, among others.
  • Bold and visible road signs indicating a diversion or the necessary precaution should be situated kilometers away from the possible danger ahead.
  • In the case of a possible health epidemic outbreak, TV and Radio stations should be used to broadcast the recommended precautions and instructions on "what to do" regarding a pending disaster. Competent and trained personals can also be deployed to conduct a house-to-house evacuation and/or precaution information dispatch. Public transports, schools, shopping malls, hospitals, and workplaces, and marketplaces as well as other places where people are likely to be infected should have large, visible readable posters on the walls.

In the case of a predicted natural disaster, such as a tsunami, hurricane, wildfire outbreak, snowstorm, and flood among others the best options are to have Radio and Television stations to repeatedly broadcast expectations, impacts, and recommended actions in the news verbally and with computerized graphic illustrations. One might also contact mobile network operators, and ask them to send warning and recommended precaution text messages to people living in the area associated with the potential risk (FEMA, n.d.).

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If a disaster is being predicted early enough, and there is enough time to prepare for its effects, pamphlets could be printed and distributed with the aid of the local or state post offices to the locals. Such pamphlets should be printed in different languages, possibly languages common to people in the defined region. The content of the pamphlet as an information resource should be simplified with pictorial explanations for the better understanding of the information being passed across.

Information about Reunion and Evacuation Routes

Considering the fact that some disasters happen unexpectedly, the chaos and anxiety associated with such occurrences are rarely controllable. Families whose members are scattered all over town begin to worry for their loved ones. As such, evacuating them from the site of impact might be difficult because they might not want to leave without knowing where their loved ones are, as well as whether they would be seen ever again. Therefore, it is also important that people be informed about how to react in the case of a chaotic situation. Residents should be informed about family reunion point outside the area of impact. They should also be aware of the easiest and safest evacuation routes that they could use if they decide to rescue themselves before rescuers get to them. The necessary and most effective information resource that would help them in such a case would be a pocket map. The pocket map should clearly display evacuation routes, from the point or area of impact to rehabilitation/reunion units. Specific phone numbers should also be provided in the pre-disaster pamphlets earlier mentioned; this will reduce the difficulty of reaching 911 to request for rescue. Such phone numbers should also be broadcasted on radio and TV stations for the sake of people with disabilities.

Evacuation Strategies and Plan

  • It is necessary to assign a team of rescue professionals to start setting up a relocation/reunion camp for the people yet to be rescued. The location should be far away from the crisis impact territory. Radio and TV stations should continuously assure locals that the situation is under control. In addition, it is important to remind those listening and watching to keep calm and that rescuers would arrive at their doorsteps shortly in order to minimize chaos. The location of a reunion camp should also be announced so that family members would not endanger themselves by staying back to locate loved ones.
  • Rescue mission groups should request for mobile evacuation facilities and equipment such as helicopters, buses, boats, and other relevant transportation equipment.
  • It is important to assign a trained person to contact senior citizens, schools, and hospitals by phone and in person where necessary, to stay put until rescuers or guardians come to get them. It is necessary to dispatch a specific rescue team to start retrieving senior citizens from their homes, children, and teachers from school, patients from hospitals, intoxicated tourists and locals at leisure locations, such as a beach side.
  • One should map out a relocation route and put information resources such as road signs with direction-descriptive signs at the appropriate places. Print copies of the map should be distributed at traffic posts, roadblocks, and the map information should be broadcast through radio and TV stations.
  • Assign traffic officers to specific road interceptions to create a diversion from the community and/or areas of impact.
  • Assign different mobile rescue officers to different locations and streets with the necessary equipment to collect straying senior citizens, toddlers, children, and anyone they can find.
  • Ensure a clear traffic path for a fast and proper transportation of the rescued to the reunion camp.
  • Assign a team of credible rescue officer and/or personnel to collect contact information, such as home address and mobile phone numbers for contact and reunion purposes. Make a documentation of everyone who arrives at the camp categorizing them separately, and according to the names of the street, hospital school, and specific locations from which they were rescued.
  • Ensure that everyone at the reunion camp has food and shelter
  • Distribute emergency kits to families and person's

Sociological and Psychological Impact

By now, almost everyone is out of the community, those around are at a specified assembly point where rescue officials help them get ready for evacuation on the transport means available. The beach is emptied and quiet, with no presence of life except stray pets. Some hotels left their doors open but, the people who operated them must have been long gone. Parents and children who have not been able to locate each other are very worried and emotionally drained. Senior citizens are even more stressed by the chaos and evacuation process they went through. Some families may have been reunited, and some are yet to be reunited with either a pet or a loved one. Some people have settled in knowing there is nothing they can do to change the situation but hope that their homes and other priced properties would not be damaged or damaged beyond repair. Some people are scared of the impending impact of the situation on their lives and they worry about where they would have to start from if the disaster badly affected their lives.

Psychosocial Capacity Building in Response to Disasters

Dealing with emotional and psychological traumas of disaster victims is just one of the several aspects of a disaster responder's job. Responding to the disaster itself is a complicated job that involves some unpredictable predicaments in relation to a disaster. Adjusting to several unforeseen circumstances by improvising tactics and intervention approach in a very limited time frame is just an example of the complex decision-making processes associated with working as a disaster responder. Rebuilding shattered dreams and hopes of disaster survivors and assisting them to make the best of what is left of their lives is part of what constitutes the process of psychosocial rebuilding of traumatized survivors. Once a disaster takes its toll, socio-economic, cultural, and political aspects of affected communities, persons, families, organizations and businesses and groups need to undergo a recovery process. Reviving such communities requires the intervention of disaster responders. However, other external factors may manifest during a disaster intervention process.

Before a natural disaster such as a hurricane hits specific areas, weather specialists ensure the provision of impact and location information through available media outlets such as TV stations, radio stations, and weather forecast websites among others. On the other hand, researchers are now very concerned about the aftermath misinterpretation and misinformation of life and property loss connected to natural disasters by the media itself (Rodriguez & Dynes, 2006). As Rodriguez and Dynes (2006) state, exaggeration of disaster impact and irrational presentation of information by TV stations have made it even more difficult for disaster victims and disaster responding psychologist to engage in recovery. Nevertheless, one cannot dispute how helpful TV coverage was with live coverage and transmission of the ongoing effects during hurricane Katrina.

Considering the few but exaggerated facts that were presented through live TV coverage, it was lesser than it had been aired and portrayed to make assumptions that emphasized the absence of authority, large-scale damage, death/injury of people, and the concern for the ill and elderly, among other assumptions were over exaggerated (Rodriguez & Dynes, 2006). However, the fact that thugs and criminals also take advantage of displaced property and people to commit crimes, confirms the absence of authority in a way. On the other hand, such a situation might be inevitable if disaster responders are in a limited capacity to hand the unexpected vast damage and effects of a natural disaster, the magnitude of hurricane Katrina (Rodriguez & Dynes, 2006). The televising of disaster damage and effects on lives and property, in a somewhat demoralizing manner through predictions and news coverage, will only have detrimental effects. The detrimental effects range from a second phase of grief and unnecessary worry for people who have not been able to reunite with family members and those who have actually lost friends, loved-ones, and property after a disaster (Rodriguez & Dynes, 2006).

Often times, the media devotes too much time to the live transmission of ongoing or previously occurred disasters (Scanlon, n.d.). Therefore, it has been evident that media plays a very important role during and after disasters. On the contrary, most of the information presented has been manipulated to give viewers and/or readers what to think about rather than how to think about an event (Scanlon, n.d.). The repeated manipulation and exaggeration of information by the media have to be contained in one way or the other to ensure a balanced healing and recovery process for disaster victims (Scanlon, n.d.). Furthermore, the right to the freedom of information might become a matter of debate as media cautionary actions are being developed. Therefore, such cautionary approaches should emphasize more on the psychosocial wellness of disaster victims and the American populace in general (Scanlon, n.d.). Due to the reasons made obvious in this discussion and more, media practitioners and those at the helm of media affairs as well as disaster intervention practitioners must seek ways to regulate media actions during and after disasters. It is now a matter of necessity that the media reconsiders the effect of their role on crisis/disaster victims. Otherwise, there will be more cases of misunderstandings in the future.

Recovery Process, After Disaster Impact

After the havoc of a crisis is done, families try to visit the remains of the community and assess the extent of damage done to their properties. However, such an action might be hazardous and should not be permitted, although it could be regulated or restricted depending on the extent of the impact. As such, it is necessary to take the following actions step-by-step where and when accordingly. Those responsible for dealing with emergency should:

  • Order a restriction of civilians within the community to avoid any sort of causality and call in the fire department and water pipeline distribution engineers to check the extent of the damage and what to repair.
  • Meanwhile, send a request to the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations to assistance with more shelter and meals for the evacuees.
  • Call in the community service workers and disaster responders to clean up the mess made by the impact of the hurricane, such as fallen trees, and debris scattered all over, which might hinder the free mobility of heavy-duty transportation, officials, and specialists arriving at the scene.
  • Call in structural engineers to access which homes can be inhabited, which homes should be repaired before they can be inhabited, and which homes needs to be rebuilt from scratch.
  • Request for the help of government/non-government disaster aid agencies to assist with the rebuilding of affected communities’ infrastructure.
  • Ensure that emotionally devastated evacuees speak to a psychologist and discuss the pending support of the government and other agencies willing to help reinstate them back to a new community.
  • Identify and make a list of the people who have lost a home or more to the disaster's impact.
  • Assess the structural validity of the schools hospitals and other community-valued infrastructure.
  • Assign Red Cross officials to assist people whose homes are still inhabitable to move back and gradually settle in.

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