Emergency Management Communications

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Summary

This paper seeks to develop an understanding of the various aspects of emergency management communications, including their importance and the reasons why they have to be in place. Furthermore, there will be an analysis of situations where the lack of or breakdown of communication channels leads to emergency situations becoming even worse. Emergency management communications are important when it comes to the prevention and mitigation of emergency situations. This is especially considering that there is need to make sure that there is the creation of means through which coordination efforts between agencies can be put in place so that they can work effectively in disaster mitigation. There will also be an analysis of the manner through which the lack of effective emergency management communication leads to failure in emergency response between agencies. The main example of such a situation that is used is that of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The paper argues that the failures that were witnessed included situations where government officials did not take sufficient actions and took poor decisions both before and in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. Another cause of the failure was that the communication systems that government officials relied on for dealing with the problems that arose in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina failed, and this was a situation that was accompanied by a failure in effective leadership.

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Introduction

One of the most significant factors concerning the emergency management communications in the United States tend to be highly diversified. This diversification comes about because of the differences in locales as well as their different financial capabilities. A result of this situation is that there tends to be significant levels of localized planning with each region or community seeking to ensure that it develops its own communications so that when disasters strike, there is a means for emergency services to arrive as swiftly as possible. The diversity in emergency management communications in the country is extremely important because it ensures that there is a high level of knowledge concerning the importance of preparedness. Furthermore, it creates a situation where potential threats are adequately covered by local communities in such a way that there is very little involvement from the federal and state levels of government, unless the situation is too much for the local resources to handle. Therefore, because of the development of proper communication strategies during emergency situations, most mitigation plans tend to be people-based rather than being initiated by government and this is to such an extent that individuals are constantly prepared through taking adequate measures aimed at protecting themselves from natural disasters (DHS, 2012, p. 2). However, there are instances where it is essential for government involvement to take place in order to ensure that the emergency management process takes place smoothly. In emergency situations, emergency management communications are important because they ensure that the entire mitigation process takes place smoothly, because without such communication strategies, it is likely that the situation could end up becoming disastrous.

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Uniformity

An important factor concerning emergency management communications is that it has to be conducted in a uniform manner through all levels of government in order to be effective. This is especially the case considering that there are instances where certain emergency situations take place at extremely large scales requiring all these levels of government to cooperate in order to bring about an effective handling of the situations at hand (DHS, 2012, p. 8). An effective communication strategy during such emergency situations is essential in establishing the links necessary to bring about a situation where there is the achievement of the goal of making sure that there is the advancement of the interests of the individuals affected (Perry & Lindell, 2006, p. 245). It allows for the creation of means through which emergencies do not end up turning into disasters. This is because if all levels of government cooperate through the numerous communication channels available to them, resources can be easily diverted towards making sure that there is an alleviation of the problems caused by such incidents as natural disasters. One of the most notable instances where a failure in communication at all government levels led to a disaster was the events following Hurricane Katrina. This is because the aftermath of the hurricane essentially exceeded local and state resources because of its massive scale (Sobel & Leeson, 2006). A consequence of this situation was that it ended up hampering both local and state government operations because their emergency services were not able to handle the situation at hand. There was a requirement for the involvement of the federal government, which had more resources available to it, in making sure that there was the establishment of means through which emergency services could be better implemented. However, the failure in emergency management communications led to one of the biggest failures in handling of an emergency situation in American history because not only were government agencies unable to coordinate their efforts, they did not have communication channels between them to make sure that their efforts were more effective.

Jurisdictional Issues

A long-established factor in the handling of emergencies has been that it has to begin at the lowest jurisdictional level. A consequence is that the local government has the responsibility of making sure that there is adequate preparedness when it comes to handling a diversity of emergencies (FEMA, 2010, p. 1). A result of this situation is that there are very few communication channels between the different levels of government concerning the handling of emergencies and this is to such an extent that it can lead to a complete failure in the manner through which emergencies can be prevented from becoming absolute disasters (Perry & Lindell, 2006, p. 356). Therefore, the establishment of efficient emergency communication strategies between the various levels of government is fundamental in making sure that the government is able to effectively handle emergency situations. Such incidents as the aftermath of Katrina mentioned above can also be avoided because communication concerning the abilities of the various levels of government ensures that enough resources are put in place to mitigate the situation. Katrina was not a typical disaster and this is especially the case considering that it occurred on a large scale that essentially went beyond the capabilities of the local and state governments. The failure in communication between the various emergency agencies within the entire government structure can be understood through the shifting of blame concept of the system archetypes model (Bartling & Fischbacher, 2011). This is a concept that makes the suggestion that long-term solutions to problems often demand that there is adequate understanding of the problems involved, and the establishment of means through which viable solutions can be achieved. Under such circumstances, it is essential to make sure that emergency communications are made more viable because they ensure that information concerning different emergency scenarios are easily communicated within agencies, and that there is the establishment of means through which they are dealt with more effectively through cooperation between them.

One of the most significant issues that are brought about because of the lack of adequate emergency management communications is that there is often a temptation by agencies to provide symptomatic solutions to problems. This is an extremely serious situation because it prevents agencies from thoroughly understanding solutions to various emergency situations before attempting to take action. A mentality that it is not their responsibility to handle emergency situations and expecting other agencies to handle them ends up leading to a complete failure in making sure that there is the advancement of the interests of those individuals affected (Corbin, 2015). Instead, agencies end up in a situation where they make attempts to shift the blame for failures to handle emergency situations away from themselves. In a situation where there is a significant failure on the part of the federal government to ensure that it provides the help that it has been requested tends to hint at a lack of sufficient disaster preparedness. A failure in emergency management communications between various federal agencies has the potential of leading to a situation where there are disagreements between agencies at all levels of government concerning which ones have responsibility over various emergency situations. These situations include emergency response as well as conducting repairs following large scale emergency conditions such as natural disasters. The lack of effective and streamlined emergency management communications between the federal agencies has the potential of leading to conflicts as well as overlapping authority, which ends up leading to situations where emergency response does not take place effectively. The lack of efficient communication strategies between agencies also means that no meaningful emergency plans can be put in place in order to make sure that there is the establishment of meaningful coordination between them when it comes to the use of their various resources.

Dissemination of Information between Agencies

It is essential to make sure that there is the establishment of effective emergency management communications because it is a means of promoting the dissemination of information between agencies in situations where there is a potential of natural disasters and other emergencies striking. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is tasked with handling disasters at a national level and has the responsibility of overseeing the entire process until it has passed. While this may be its responsibility, it also has to coordinate its efforts with other agencies in situations that it deems necessary as in the case where there is need for additional resources to bring about the establishment of joint efforts. All of these efforts require an effective emergency communication process in order to be successful because the lack of such processes can lead to disasters becoming even worse (Perry & Lindell, 2006, p. 284). The Hurricane Katrina incident can be considered one of the most significant failures by FEMA and this was because of a lack of effective emergency management communication mechanisms in place. Prior to the disaster, FEMA does not seem to have had sufficient emergency response planning. In addition, its task was further hampered because government officials at all levels do not seem to have grasped the destructive potential that the hurricane had; resulting in the inefficiency of response. A consequence was that the hurricane hit the New Orleans area the hardest to such an extent that it essentially led to massive destruction and the loss of lives that would otherwise have been saved if communications had been handled effectively (Congleton, 2006). Emergency response is heavily reliant on the manner through which communications are handled and this is to such an extent that it is essential for lines between the various agencies that are involved in the process to be kept open at all times.

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Emergency management communications are essential in the development of means through which advisories to both agencies and the population can be provided so that they can be able to respond quickly to potential emergency situations. Through the use of these channels, emergency services can ensure that they take preventative actions aimed at saving the lives of individuals that are in emergency zones while also undertaking to save as much property as possible. In disaster situations such as in hurricanes, it is fundamental for communication between agencies to remain open because they enable them to make sure that they evacuate individuals that are most likely to be affected and also seek to bring about situations where the people who have been evacuated are able to be provided with shelter until such a time as the disaster passes (FEMA, 2010, p. 3). Furthermore, through the effective management of communication, agencies can also be able to make predictions concerning those areas that are likely to be affected by disaster and in the process come up with means through which they can be prepared while at the same time preparing the population to cope with the situation at hand. Adequate emergency communication channels make it possible to ensure that there is the creation of means through which to bring about sufficient action that is essentially aimed at promoting the safety of the population at risk. A result of such actions through the use of communication is that it has the potential of ensuring that the at-risk population is evacuated prior to disaster striking while at the same time helping emergency services to undertake contingency plans that are aimed at promoting the efficient management of the situation during the emergency situation. The achievement of these goals is essential because it shows the importance of emergency management communications in the process of making sure that there is the development of effective responses to emergency situations that saves the lives of many individuals.

Planning Exercises

Emergency management communications ensure that the government is able to conduct exercises that are aimed at dealing with emergency situations such as hurricanes. Communications between agencies promotes cooperation between the different levels of government to such an extent that it becomes possible to work effectively together. Furthermore, it ensures that there is the creation of draft plans aimed at mitigating the various disaster scenarios that have been envisioned by the agencies. A consequence of such preparedness is that there is the creation of comprehensive plans in place which ensure that there is the establishment of methods and means through which to bring strong emergency responses to disaster situations (Perry & Lindell, 2006, p. 110). Moreover, lessons that are learned during the planning exercises can come in handy when it comes to their applications in real life situations because the agencies involved will have the necessary experience to handle a diversity of emergency situations. Communications between emergency agencies also promotes the creation of means through which to advance initiatives that prevent any breakdown in emergency lines so that in a situation where an agency is not able to handle a situation, an alternative is swiftly put in place. Therefore, in situations where it is essential for evacuations to take place, various agencies can undertake to provide transportation for those who need it. Through the coordination of emergency actions between local officials and FEMA, especially the latter coming up with comprehensive action plans aimed at making sure that there is the achievement of strong emergency planning and implementation measures, it becomes possible to avoid disaster situations that can leave a dark mark in national emergency preparedness (FEMA, 2010, p. 8). Therefore, it is essential for communication channels to be established between all levels of government because they make it possible for planning exercise regimes to be established in such a way that promotes the interests of all stakeholders during disaster mitigation efforts.

Emergency management communications are what ensure that FEMA has the capacity to deal with both small and large scale disasters. This is especially considering that this agency has developed strong relationships with state and local governments that ensure that it provides the support that the latter do not have during emergency situations (FEMA, 2010, p. 23). The achievement of this goal has also strengthened the need to make sure that there is the advancement of cooperation between government agencies at all levels to such an extent that it becomes possible to promote the advancement of strategies aimed at making sure that there is better emergency preparedness. Communication also ensures that there is the creation of means through which emergency preparedness can be developed in such a way that it is made a priority for state and local governments so that they are not caught unawares when disaster situations arise. Emergency communication ensures that agencies are able to work together towards salvaging emergency situations at hand so that avenues can be established to effectively support the people affected. This is especially in situations where there is need to conduct adequate prepositioning of personnel and equipment so that emergency situations can be dealt with efficiently (DHS, 2012, p. 16). Emergency management communications are therefore important when it comes to the promotion of awareness among agencies concerning the potential of disasters striking, and making sure that they are prepared at all times to handle them effectively. Without such channels in place, it is impossible to marshal all necessary resources to ensure that there is the establishment of rapid responses to emergency situations.

Marshaling of Needed Resources

Another important attribute of emergency management communications is that they allow responsible agencies to make sure that there is adequate communication with officials higher up in the federal government hierarchy concerning the emergency situations on the ground. Such communications are essential in making sure that the needed resources that are beyond the capabilities of state and local governments are made available during such situations. In addition, it ensures that there is constant leadership during the entire crisis so that there is a sense of urgency in the preparation and implementation of programs aimed at mitigating disaster. It also helps create channels through which top officials, especially in the Department of Homeland Security, to make more informed inquiries concerning the manner through which preparedness has been conducted and this is in such a way that promotes the interests of all stakeholders. Under such circumstances, informed decisions can also be made to help make the emergency response process become much faster (DHS, 2012, p. 2). It also prevents officials from only getting superficial information concerning disaster situation because under such circumstances, it becomes difficult to bring about a sense of reassurance among those affected because the response situation will be dictated by complacency. Effective communications also help in the advancement of a proactive approach to emergencies by officials in such a way that rather than accepting at face value the assurances of agencies, they undertake to find out the facts for themselves. Such communications are important in the development of comprehensive plans that involves cabinet secretaries working together to ensure that there was the provision of all assistance possible that the people likely affected by emergency situations are likely to need, and this is especially the case following natural disasters (May, Jochim, & Sapotichne, 2011). A breakdown in communication channels has the potential of leading to emergency situations becoming even worse because it is the responsibility of all government levels to ensure that there is a swift response to emergencies.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as discussed above, is an important reference point when it comes to understanding how a breakdown in communication channels can lead to emergency situations turning into disasters. This is especially considering that emergency response efforts were interfered with by the widespread breakdown in communication between the various agencies and departments involved in carrying out operations in the affected area. In addition, because of the communication failure, there was a significant problem with law enforcement, especially in the city of New Orleans (Deflem & Sutphin, 2009). The latter problem was significantly fueled in part by the statements made by city officials, mainly erroneous, concerning the lawlessness within the city, which resulted in the public perception of a breakdown in law and the considerable panic that followed. The considerable breakdown or lack of effective communication channels between emergency response and law enforcement agencies made it extremely difficult to make sure that an effective response to the crisis was achieved. Instead, there was an extremely confused response that essentially showed a lack of planning for the eventuality of the hurricane. This is in such a way that when agencies are involved in a common operation, they will each attempt to ensure that they maintain as much of their dignity and influence in the process as possible. This can be seen where despite exaggerations concerning the breakdown in law; assistance in law enforcement efforts was still too slow in coming as a result of those agencies charged with the task not having done any planning prior to the disaster (Roberts, 2006). There are also instances where a breakdown in communication can create a crisis on its own and this is especially the case where those departments tasked with law enforcement and emergency response end up not being able to determine which one of them should take the lead in the situation at hand. Such circumstances can end up hampering the emergency response initiative well into the aftermath of the disaster. A consequence is that while federal emergency response efforts are crucial, they have the capability of coming about sooner if there is an effective emergency communication channel available to prevent turf wars between various departments and agencies.

Conclusion

One of the most significant factors concerning emergency management communications is that it ensures that response agencies are able to take the lead in dealing with disaster situations. This is important in removing uncertainty concerning the need for the federal government to take the initiative before and after emergency situations take place. It can also be considered an important step in making sure that all the federal agencies take the responsibility towards thinking and acting proactively in an effort to prepare for and respond to any disaster situations that might arise at any time. Communications between agencies are also important when it comes to the recognition of the magnitude of natural disasters before they happen. Under such circumstances, it becomes possible to make sure that there is the advancement of means through which to ensure that agencies are not overwhelmed by the tasks at hand. This objective can be achieved through ensuring that there is effective communication between all emergency response agencies in such a way that promotes cooperation rather than rivalry between them. Cooperation can be achieved through the development of effective plans that clearly define the role that each agency can take whenever emergency situations arise.

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  1. Bartling, B., & Fischbacher, U. (2011). Shifting the blame: On delegation and responsibility. The Review of Economic Studies, 79(1), 67-87.
  2. Congleton, R. D. (2006). The story of Katrina: New Orleans and the political economy of catastrophe. Public Choice, 127(1-2), 5-30.
  3. Corbin, T. B. (2015). Leveraging disaster: Promoting social justice and holistic recovery through policy advocacy after Hurricane Katrina. Journal of Public Management & Social Policy, 22(2), 5.
  4. Deflem, M., & Sutphin, S. (2009). Policing Katrina: Managing law enforcement in new orleans. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 3(1), 41-49.
  5. DHS. (2012). Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment Guide.
  6. FEMA. (2010). Developing Plans, Maintaining Emergency Operations: Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101: November.
  7. May, P. J., Jochim, A. E., & Sapotichne, J. (2011). Constructing homeland security: An anemic policy regime. Policy Studies Journal, 39(2), 285-307.
  8. Perry, R. W., & Lindell, M. K. (2006). Wiley Pathways Emergency Planning: John Wiley & Sons.
  9. Roberts, P. S. (2006). FEMA after Katrina. Policy Review(137), 15.
  10. Sobel, R. S., & Leeson, P. T. (2006). Government’s response to Hurricane Katrina: A public choice analysis. Public Choice, 127(1-2), 55-73.
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