Over the last half century, emergencies and disasters have been on the precipitous rise. The task of planning for and responding to these sudden phenomena, of sufficient magnitude to overwhelm the resources of medical facilities, regions, or entire locales and thus require external support, falls under the rubric of emergency preparedness resilience and response.
Emergency preparedness itself encompasses any number of fields, with those responsible for emergency preparedness efforts, such as emergency planning, needing to address the following elements:
The end-result of this emergency preparedness resilience and response effort tends to be the emergence of discrete plans addressing all the considerations above. Those plans get reinforced by continuous evaluation and training, which lead to plan updates that better prioritise the resources needed to address the most severe disasters.
Of course, one might ask: why prepare for a disaster when they are definitionally low-probability events? Well, in recent times, these low-probability events have increased in kind, intensity, and cost.
According to the Ecological Threat Register 2020, the number of natural disasters around the world has increased ten-fold since 1960. The cost associated with these natural disasters has also risen from an estimated USD 50 billion in the 1980s to USD 200 billion per year at the end of the 2010s.
The U.S., alone, experienced ten or more separate billion-dollar disaster events every year from 2015 to 2020. The year 2020 set a new annual record of 22 such events, according to The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).
These trends haven’t just affected the U.S., though. The Asia-Pacific region (APAC) recorded nearly 2900 disasters from 1990 to 2019. Australia, with its population in the twenties of millions, has experienced more than 150 disasters over the same time.
For vulnerable locales, disaster preparedness is vital. The products of disaster preparedness efforts provide three very important benefits:
Anticipating disasters and acting in advance of them to reduce risk and limit losses also has a financial benefit for organisations and locales. And that benefit can be quite large.
In 2018, researchers from the National Institute of Building Sciences released findings claiming that every USD 1 invested in disaster mitigation by three federal agencies saves societies USD 6. In the case of certain disasters, like riverine floods, the savings from preparedness were even larger: a USD 7 to USD 1 benefit for proactive mitigation steps, such as acquiring or demolishing flood-prone buildings.
How then to recoup the benefits of emergency preparedness? The lifecycle of emergency preparedness procedures falls into three broad stages. They include:
So, what about the risk assessment? A staple of emergency planning, the risk assessment exercise serves to identify disasters (both internal and external events) that could affect the area. The method for performing the assessment consists of inventorying resources (in-region, in-facility, etc.), identifying the facility’s or region's vulnerabilities based on its location and resources, and then generating a list of priorities to address those vulnerabilities.
Here, the risk assessment bears comparison with the business impact analysis (BIA). A business continuity management tool, the BIA offers a process for determining the potential impacts resulting from the interruption of time sensitive or critical business processes (more below).
At the intersection of continuity planning and risk management lies the business impact analysis. A diagnostic of an organisation’s entity’s internal dependencies and vulnerabilities, the business impact analysis provides the analytical baseline for developing BCP materials, and battle-readying management systems and processes. In essence, it acts as the dashboard for asset protection and recovery action prioritisation, keeping everyone on the same page, should disruption.
A good BIA offers senior leader’s a bird’s eye view of the critical activities that generate the most benefits to the organisation (or region), how badly those activities would be impacted by a disruption, as well as insight into the pathways by which impact would possibly take place. It is these interdependencies that the business impact analysis is particularly focused on identifying and quantifying, with the analysis itself serving as a prerequisite for an informed prioritisation of resources assets to protect and the relevant recovery actions to initiate in the case of an emergency.
So how do organisations identify these interdependencies, and what’s the best way to quantify the risks inherent in them? Well, the process for developing a BIA often takes the form of workshops or questionnaires
Such analysis is oriented towards critical indicators that summarise the ‘breaking point’ for an organisation’s operations, e.g., the maximum amount of damage an operation can sustain before the business is functionally dead in the water.
This process surfaces recovery requirements that are then used to develop strategies, solutions, and plans for the business’s unique vulnerabilities. For example, if a data centre estimates that any data losses of greater than four hours would mean the end of the business, but data backups entail significant costs, the analysis might inform plans for data backups every hour rather than every second.
Risk assessments consider numerous hazards; and for each hazard, planners develop possible scenarios that could unfold depending on timing, magnitude, and location of the hazard.
What assets are at risk from hazards? The biggest asset is people; injuries are usually the first consideration of a risk assessment. Those scenarios that could cause significant injuries are then highlighted to ensure that the appropriate emergency plan is in place. Besides people, physical assets may also be at risk, including buildings/facilities, IT systems, utility systems, important equipment and materials, etc.
Businesses, on the other hand, are likelier to consider the impact an incident might have on its customer relationships, as well as with the surrounding community and other stakeholders, including partners, regulators, the media, etc. Business leaders might limit risk assessments to situations that would negatively affect confidence in products or services. Common hazards include:
Type of hazard
Flooding, Dam/Levee Failure, Severe Thunderstorm, Tornado, Windstorm, Hurricanes and Cyclones, Winter Storm, Earthquake, Tsunami, Landslide, Subsidence/Sinkhole, Volcano, Pandemic, Foodborne Illness
Workplace Accidents, Entrapment/Rescue, Transportation Accidents, Structural Failure/Collapse, Mechanical Breakdown, Labour Strike, Demonstrations, Civil Disturbance, Bomb Threat, Lost/Separated Person, Child Abduction, Kidnapping/Extortion, Hostage Incident, Workplace Violence, Robbery, Sniper Incident, Terrorism (e.g., Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives), Arson, Cyber/Information Technology
Loss of Connectivity, Hardware Failure, Lost/Corrupted Data, Application Failure, Utility Outage (e.g., Communications, Electrical Power, Water, Gas, Steam, Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning, Pollution Control System, Sewage System), Fire, Explosion, Hazardous Material spill/release, Radiological Accident, Hazmat Incident off-site, Transportation Accidents, Nuclear Power Plant Incident, Natural Gas Leak Supply, Supplier Failure, Transportation Interruption
The results of the risk assessment flow into an emergency preparedness document. In preparing for natural disasters, the document in question will be a natural disaster preparedness plan, a species of incident action plan (IAP).
The IAP formally documents control objectives (or end-goals in dealing with the natural disaster), objectives for the duration of the operational period, as well as the response strategy as defined by Incident Command (See: ICS).
What else goes in an IAP for natural disaster preparedness? Well, this type of IAP is likely to document general tactics to achieve concrete goals and objectives as specified within the overall strategy, while providing important information on the event and limits of the response. The benefit of the IAP is to facilitate information sharing, specifically the sharing of resource-related information. Other elements to consider in an IAP for a natural disaster include:
Finally, the pace of emergencies and disasters keeps accelerating – almost yearly. As such, emergency and disaster preparedness efforts have never been more important to ensure response readiness, limit loss of property and life, as well as expedite recovery. To recoup the benefits, however, organisations and locales must commit to emergency and disaster preparedness procedures and procure the appropriate emergency management software solutions, like Noggin Emergency.
Brennen Puryear ad David M. Gnugnoli, StatPearls: Emergency Preparedness. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537042/.
Published May 19, 2021