Updated: Sep 30, 2022
When natural or man-made disasters strike, this is the only way to protect people and property.
It has been interesting to watch the media reports prior to Hurricane Ian making landfall on the west coast of Florida that there was a communication breakdown between President Biden and Florida Governor DeSantis. We will likely never know how much this was political rhetoric, inaccurate reporting, or just two really busy political figures trying to find the time to make sure that their efforts were properly coordinated.
The good news is it really doesn't matter (maybe politically it does, but that is beyond my skillset to understand). Florida has developed a very sophisticated Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP). Plans of this type are intended to be guides on how an agency, institution, authority, or business manages an all-hazard, all phases, and whole community approach to disaster and emergency management. These plans follow the National Response Framework (NRF) which according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “is a guide to how the nation responds to all types of disasters and emergencies. It is built on scalable, flexible, and adaptable concepts identified in the National Incident Management System (NIMS) to align key roles and responsibilities” https://www.fema.gov/emergency-managers/national-preparedness/frameworks/response.
The State of Florida CEMP is 240 pages long and covers every aspect of the response, recovery, mitigation, and preparedness phases of a disaster. Whether it is the process of declaring an emergency, emergency powers, resource management, continuity of operations, administration, logistics, legal considerations, and many other related areas. It is all covered. Just reading the table of contents provides you with a sense of how detailed this plan is https://www.floridadisaster.org/globalassets/cemp/2020-cemp/2020-state-cemp.pdf.
But the state of Florida is in no way alone in being this prepared. Every state has an agency that coordinates the emergency response to disasters within its jurisdiction and a plan like Florida’s. For example, this is the Massachusetts plan https://www.mass.gov/doc/cemp-base-plan-2019/download, and the Maryland plan https://mdem.maryland.gov/Documents/SROP_V3_03_MAR-15.pdf. Many cities, towns, and counties have the same including the city of Tampa https://www.tampa.gov/document/city-tampa-comprehensive-emergency-operations-plan-20626.
Most colleges and universities have disaster and emergency plans, although they can vary greatly. Large public institutions like Ohio State University https://dps.osu.edu/sites/default/files/cemp_2017.pdf, and Florida State University https://emergency.fsu.edu/sites/g/files/upcbnu1431/files/_doc/2022%20Update%20CEMP_0.pdf have FEMA modeled CEMPs while other institutions have developed plans following a format that they are comfortable with. Whatever the plan format, to be effective regular training and plan refinement are necessary. Many colleges and universities are deficient in this area and Hurricane Ian should be a reminder to schedule a tabletop exercise or similar training.
We have come a long way regarding dealing with disasters. From the early 1800’s until just before the Great Depression of 1929-1933, the response, recovery, planning, and mitigation of almost all disasters was handled locally. There was limited or no state involvement in major disasters like the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. At that time the federal government's primary role was only after disaster funding. Although the role of the federal (and state) government expanded between 1929 and 1949, It wasn't until 1950 with the passage by Congress of the Federal Civil Defense Act and the Federal Disaster Relief Act that the federal government took a more prominent role in disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is relatively young having been created in 1979.
However, even with all the planning, government policies, and nearly unlimited resources sometimes governments fail to properly protect the people, especially those that are most vulnerable, impacted by a disaster. You have to look no further than the epic failure in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 for an example. And of course, we create our own problems. We have sometimes an unexplainable need to put ourselves in harm's way. We love to live near oceans, along earthquake fault lines, and in areas susceptible to wildfires and tornados. The concept of evacuating during a disaster has become a personal affront to our personhood for some. To top it all off we occasionally see true insanity like people going for a swim during Hurricane Ian https://twitter.com/ZachCoveyTV/status/1575132828626477056?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1575132828626477056%7Ctwgr%5Ebadfe9da41cc62dc39badf89ec500303039d5c19%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.orlandoweekly.com%2Fnews%2Fflorida-men-swim-in-storm-surge-climb-out-on-fort-myers-pier-during-hurricane-ian-video-32569318.
During times of natural or man-made disaster, we should lean on emergency management professionals and the detailed emergency response plans they have developed and avoid letting the headlines describing political conflict get in the way of knowing if people and property are being properly protected.
Plan the work, work the plan.