According to CNBC reporting, the average number of yearly billion-dollar disasters totalled 15 events from 2016 to 2018. The average yearly total for the previous 38 years: 6.2 events. And this year’s disaster season, with its deadly storms, heatwaves, and, of course, wildfires, is all but certainly trending in the wrong direction.
Unsurprisingly, the emergency management community is feeling the effects of this rapid uptick. Relief agencies on the ground are scrapped for response and recovery tools. Not to mention, they are being asked, time and again, to execute under the most challenging conditions. What will be critical to the community’s success?
Well, it all comes down to working seamlessly to get the right resources, to the right place, at the right time. That’s integrated resource management in a nutshell. Resource management is the function dedicated to coordinating and overseeing tools, processes, and systems to help provide incident and emergency managers with the appropriate resources in an appropriate timeframe during a complex, fast-moving, highly-fluid disaster situation.
As you’d imagine, effective resource management has its challenges – for that matter, resource management in a business-as-usual context does, as well – but it’s not impossible. From the case evidence, prioritization and planning are common sticking points. For instance, when resource management goes awry, poor resource capacity planning is usually to blame, often in the form of inelastic plans that don’t fully account for the nature of crisis. Add to that, inefficient communication flows and shoddy documentation.
Multi-agency response to large-scale emergencies has its own set of resource management challenges. Indeed, in those response and recovery situations, common resource management challenges only get exacerbated: (1) by the sheer volume of unanticipated resource requests, and (2) by the rapid convergence of resources, i.e. people, goods, and services, into the disaster zone. The former can lead to overextension, rapid resource depletion, and fatigue, as resources get deployed without appropriate transition.
Meanwhile convergence, sometimes meant to limit the likelihood of resource depletion, too often causes congestion. Unplanned for (often incapable) resources flood the disaster zone, inadvertently hindering the efficient delivery of aid.
Further, multi-agency response doesn’t just mean that multiple agencies come, it means they come all at once. Whether federal, state, or local, public or private, law enforcement, emergency response, or medical, ad hoc or formal, mostly-volunteer or overwhelmingly full-time, response organizations all deploy to the disaster zone at roughly the same time.
What can go wrong with that? Well, oftentimes, individual organizations bring a unique, contrastive set of ideas, plans, processes, structures, and systems. And there just isn’t enough time for practitioners from one agency to stop and calmly evaluate the responsibilities, needs, plans, and tactics of practitioners from partner organizations.
What’s more, emergencies themselves create a whole set of technical issues that render efficient resource management even more challenging. Natural disasters, like hurricanes, wildfires, and tornadoes, down power lines and scramble radio channels, making it all the more difficult (if not impossible) to efficiently exchange information between emergency agencies and between incident command and the field.
In addition, agencies rarely have the capacity to share information through a common platform. Their solutions are pretty locked down. The consequence when agencies and teams can’t quickly exchange information: individual responders and managers have to rely on verbal communication. That’s not exactly ideal, or even practicable. Plus, communicating key points via constant face-to-face interactions tends to generate information overload.
What’s the solution? Interoperable practices, including integrated resource management, need to be second nature by the time responders get to the scene. If not, efforts will get duplicated; time will be lost; and a lack of mutual understanding will breed ill will. During large-scale emergencies, teams on the ground need a strong, shared understanding of the situation at hand. That only comes from integrated resource management systems and structures, helping to coordinate and prioritize the activities of multiple response organizations even before they get to the disaster site. To learn what those systems and structures could be, download our guide to resource management for public safety and emergency management.