P!Nsider perspective: An Emergency Veteran’s Preparedness Philosophy

P!Nsider perspective: An Emergency Veteran’s Preparedness Philosophy

By Doug Hoell

Hoell, Director of the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, shares some of the preparedness wisdom he’s gleaned through 35 years of professional emergency management.

What is “Emergency Management?”
As we build our lives, our homes and our communities, we must consider man-made events and natural disasters that might threaten to disrupt or destroy them. We know that disasters are going to happen. Our best chance to survive them is to be prepared before hand.
The primary focus of the Emergency Management profession is to lead that preparedness effort. In an environment and economy that dictates resources be delivered “just in time,” preparedness presents significant challenges. Is it better to have 10 to 14 days worth of food and water in your home all the time or should you put your faith in the government to provide for you in a crisis? Being prepared is everyone’s responsibility. Individuals, businesses, churches, volunteer organizations and government all must play a role.
The Emergency Management profession has become the center pointcenter point of disaster preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. Emergency Management professionals consider likely hazards and advocate for building practices and standards that account for and reduce the effects of those hazards on our communities. When disaster strikes, Emergency Managers help people in the affected community find a path back to normal life. In general, Emergency Management is an under-paid, under-appreciated career. However, the rewards are immense, in that it offers abundant opportunities to help disaster-affected people become disaster survivors.

North Carolina Division of Emergency Management
North Carolina (NC) began a hazard mitigation planning initiative in 1998, well ahead of the federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. As we begin the first major updates to those 183 plans, we realize that implementing regional hazard mitigation plans can be much more efficient, especially for smaller communities. That is why we are creating one of the nation’s only regional plans – the Toe River Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan. We hope that it will become the national model for hazard mitigation planning. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve helped establish a national standard in the field.
The NC Division of Emergency Management is a member in the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) – a state-to-state aid agreement for sharing response personnel and equipment. In fact, the EMAC was born out of North Carolina’s response and support to Florida following Hurricane Andrew in 1992. We sent 300 personnel and 200 pieces of heavy equipment to assist with debris clean-up in Homestead and Florida City. Since 1996, North Carolina has sent staff and equipment to eight states and D.C. Today, EMAC includes all 50 states, the District of Columbia and several U.S. territories.

What lessons does the Haiti earthquake provide?
The earthquake in Haiti is truly a catastrophe. The event occurred in a densely populated city, so it created maximum impact. The nation’s medical infrastructure could not address the injuries and they had no readily available response resources beyond their own limited inventory.
Similar things happen anytime a disaster occurs. The people with the least are always affected the most. In our own country, when disasters happen, the elderly, low-income families, people with special medical needs or without adequate insurance, homeless and unemployed come to the forefront. Their needs are compounded by the consequences of disaster, and our humanitarian nature leads us come to their aid. The management of donations and volunteers is a whole discipline within the business of Emergency Management.
Disaster recovery in Haiti will take 10 years or more and it will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. The tragedy is the lives lost, the families separated and the destruction to homes, businesses and public infrastructure. Disasters like this, Hurricane Katrina and even the terrorist attacks of 2001 create sudden and irreversible change. Life will never be like it was before these events.
I believe the real challenge with disasters is to ensure as much as possible that the changes that come afterward are positive changes. As we reconstruct, we should rebuild in a manner that reduces the affects of future disasters. Survivors learn to be better prepared. Unaffected citizens learn from media coverage how to better prepare for future disasters. Governments recognize the need to make preparedness a priority, and we all do our part to help our neighbors get back on their feet.