A firefighter would not run into a burning building without turnout gear and self-contained breathing apparatus. A paramedic would not treat and transport a patient without proper body substance isolation precautions. A hazardous materials technician would not attempt to contain a highly toxic chemical spill without donning a Level A protective suit. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is standard issue for these professions. Responding to a disaster without sufficient education on the type of incident, the warning signs, the tools available, and even themselves would be like running into one of the above scenarios without the proper level of PPE.

Whether planning for a natural or human-caused disaster, it is critical to understand the disaster and its possible consequences as well as the actions and tools that could prevent or mitigate these consequences. Responding to natural and human-caused disasters requires significant levels of preparedness both physically and mentally. Like training for a marathon, responders need to understand what to expect and what they need to adequately prepare themselves and their teams. The physical and psychological needs of survivors also must be understood and prepared for to prevent issues such as opioid addiction from hindering care for other patients in critical need.

Next, understanding the threat and identifying the signs can help mitigate the consequences. With five different forms of flooding, for example, a flood is no longer just a flood. Equipped with this knowledge, efforts can be made to mitigate floods within built environments. The same is true for hurricanes, as has been evidenced by the very different consequences and responses from recent Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Lessons from these storms provide insight into what may be yet to come. Human-caused disasters may seem more difficult to predict, but signs do exist to help recognize lone wolves and terrorist threats before they occur.

Finally, identifying the tools and resources available in advance of a disaster can facilitate the response efforts and reduce response times. For example, some school security programs can prevent intruders, but some of these security measures may pose life-safety concerns. Similarly, unmanned aerial systems may hinder response operations, but they also could help assess damages, locate survivors, and provide other valuable information.

Luck is not what a responder wants to depend upon when faced with a natural or human-caused disaster. However, without proper education before a disaster, the response effort would be reactionary and luck would need to play a key role. Plenty of educational resources exist in the DomPrep Journal and elsewhere to learn from past incidents, recognize potential incidents, and respond with the proper physical and psychological PPE needed for any incident.

Catherine L. Feinman

Catherine L. Feinman, M.A., joined Domestic Preparedness in January 2010. She has more than 35 years of publishing experience and currently serves as editor of the Domestic Preparedness Journal, DomesticPreparedness.com, and The Weekly Brief. She works with writers and other contributors to build and create new content that is relevant to the emergency preparedness, response, and recovery communities. She received a bachelor’s degree in International Business from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management from American Military University.

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