Emergency Managers Prepare for a Changing Disaster Paradigm

Emergency management experts and sustainability planners say it’s important to begin planning for a changing paradigm, that plans based on historical data are out of date. So should there be a one-size-fits-all or all-hazards approach to disaster preparedness and response? Or should regions craft specific strategies for each type of disaster? Experts believe the prevailing approach is — and should remain — a bit of both.

In a large country with myriad natural threats, some responders are more experienced than others in handling certain types of disasters. Certain phenomena, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, typically don’t happen in some areas of the country.

But with a surge in the number of incidents declared as disasters by FEMA over the last 20 years, it’s become paramount for regions to plan for the unexpected, particularly when it comes to Mother Nature.

In 2011, tornado activity was observed in places that rarely see it, from Northern California to the East Coast and in between, leaving some residents in disbelief that the weather phenomena actually occurred there.

In addition, areas known for hurricanes and tropical storms are experiencing larger, more powerful weather systems. Hurricane Katrina laid waste to New Orleans in 2005, and while Hurricane Sandy wasn’t as deadly as Katrina, it was the deadliest in the northeastern U.S. in the last 40 years and the second costliest disaster in U.S. history. Hurricane Irene in 2011 was supposed to have been a “storm of the century” until Sandy hit.

Then there were the 1,000-year floods that hit Tennessee in 2010 and the devastating wildfires in Colorado last year, described as “freakish” by experienced firefighters. It all follows a pattern predicted in recent years by some experts who say the frequency and severity of storm activity are increasing, along with intensified wildfires, drought and more flooding, resulting from a warming climate.

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Emergency Managers Prepare for a Changing Disaster Paradigm.