1. What is emergency management?
All disasters are local meaning that they begin or occur in a community and the response begins at the local level. Local, state and federal emergency managers are involved in all phases of disasters including:
- Protection / Prevention
Protection actions taken to avoid an incident and can include deterrence operations and surveillance and intelligence gathering. These phases refer most often to terrorism and biological hazards.
Preparedness activities increase a community’s ability to respond when a disaster occurs. Typical preparedness measures include writing and revising emergency plans, developing mutual aid agreements and memorandums of understanding, training for both response personnel and concerned citizens, conducting disaster exercises to reinforce training and test capabilities, and presenting all-hazards community education.
Actions carried out immediately before, during, and after an incident which are directed toward saving lives, reducing propertydamage, economic and environmental losses, and alleviating suffering.
Emergency Management response actions may include activating the Emergency Operations Center (EOC)*, evacuating threatened populations, opening shelters and providing mass care. Other primary emergency management responsibilities in the EOC are coordinating information and resources.
Actions taken to return a community to normal or near-normal conditions, including the restoration of basic services and the repair of physical, social and economic damage. Typical recovery actions include debris cleanup, financial assistance to individuals and governments, rebuilding of roads and bridges and key facilities, and sustained mass care for displaced human and animal populations. Recovery comes in two phases, short term recovery largely described above and where the goal is to make a community functional again. Some short term recovery activity overlaps with response actions. The second recovery phase is long term recovery which endeavors to restore the community as fully as possible. This second phase can take 2-5 years or more.
Mitigation refers to measures that prevent an emergency, reduce the chance of an emergency happening, or reduce the damaging effects of unavoidable emergencies. Typical mitigation measures include establishing building codes and zoning requirements, installing storm shutters, and constructing barriers such as levees. Mitigation begins with a local hazard analysis and a hazard mitigation plan.
*Local emergency management activates the local Emergency Operations Center to coordinate disaster response and recovery. Representatives of city agencies come to the EOC to work together. The city also coordinates with the Anne Arundel County EOC in Glen Burnie and has a designated seat in the county EOC. This assists the city in coordinating with county agencies such as the school system and health department.
Emergency managers are not first responders. They coordinate the support and resources that response and recovery operations require. Local emergency management calls on assistance from neighboring communities, regional partners, the state and the federal government and private sector and non-governmental organizations. Emergency mangers must first assess the needs and potential and available solutions. Emergency response and emergency managers act under the Incident Command System which is now the nationwide standard for response operations under the mandated National Incident Management System.
Emergency managers have to have a broad understanding of all of the factors and programs supporting disaster response and recovery in order to coordinate effective operations and utilize partners.
Local emergency management agencies are not departments of FEMA although they are frequently substantially funded by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. Local offices are significantly involved in grant management in addition to their other responsibilities.
Like other public safety agencies such as police and fire, emergency managers frequently support large special events. The United States Naval Academy/Naval Support Activity Annapolis has its own office of emergency management and coordinates regularly with city agencies.
2. What is the difference between an “emergency” and a “disaster”?
Emergencies are the routine events that local police, fire and emergency medical service personnel handle on a day to day basis. Disasters are events that require more resources than a local jurisdiction has and will therefore require outside assistance. Emergency Managers might logically be called “Disaster Managers” as their role is to coordinate resources for larger events.
3. When and how is FEMA called in to assist?
FEMA may activate in advance of a predicted disaster such as a hurricane when there is plenty of warning. This scenario may involve a federal “pre-disaster” presidential declaration. In these cases, FEMA moves and stages resources in advance of the event. On no-warning events such as a tornado, local jurisdictions must exhaust their own resources, neighboring and regional resources and then request help from the state. The state will call on FEMA when the state’s resources are overwhelmed requesting a presidential disaster declaration after the governor declares a state of emergency.
4. How are volunteers coordinated?
Many of the organizations that prepare for and respond to disasters are volunteer organizations who provide internal training in various aspects of disaster response and recovery.
People who wish to volunteer to help may be referred to these organizations (such as the American Red Cross or a faith-based organization) or they may go to a Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) that may be opened for a specific disaster. VRCs will take requests from organizations that need volunteer assistance and also sign up volunteers that are not affiliated with a disaster response organization and match them with the organization requests. It is the emergency management office that requests that the VRC open and the Anne Arundel Volunteer Center that will open one or more centers with volunteers that are already trained to manage a VRC.