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Anticipating Disasters & Preparing

It was with sad eyes that most of us viewed the news about the tornado damage in Moore, Oklahoma.  That sadness continues as we watch the updates about recovery efforts and all the challenges faced.  I don’t mean to downplay the human suffering in any way, but every time I see news clips of the public safety workers amidst the rubble I can’t help but identify with some of the operational challenges I know they’re facing but that often go unnoticed.

Some of those challenges include fatigue, hunger and simple emotional weariness.  Those are human challenges that we confront as we cope with and recover from any disaster, whether it’s natural or manmade.

Some of those challenges are of an equipment nature: patrol vehicles that can’t navigate over or around debris because of design; uniform shoes that look good but offer protection and even less support; a simple shortage of protective gloves to protect our hands as we sort through what’s left of demolished structures or vehicles.

Some of the challenges are (usually) infrastructure related.  They are specifically a shortage of clean water (sometimes) and a collapse of the communications systems: phone lines, internet connections, etc.  These two, specifically, can greatly hinder any responder efficiency.  Why?  Let’s think about it just a moment.

Water is a basic necessity of life.  CLEAN water – water that can be safely consumed or used for cooking/cleaning – is mandatory.  In today’s world we get such water from nearly every tap.  After a disaster, however, especially one of such a large scale, often the water sources are compromised, broken, or shut down because of a dependence on electricity which fails during such events.  Without an on-going and ready supply of clean water workers can’t function for longer than a day… two at most.  Obviously the recovery and rebuilding efforts will take a lot longer than two days; they already have.  One of the major immediate logistical concerns has to be a water supply line.

Now let’s take a look at the communications systems.  It may seem a simple thing to say, “So what? The Internet is out. Big deal!”  It’s entirely different when you realize that, in today’s world, much of our telephone system is entirely dependent on the Internet and the infrastructure that supports it.  In some cases, emergency communication centers are dependent on the Internet as well.  Where Internet isn’t used but radios are, what happens when the radio towers/repeaters are destroyed or violently relocated by an F5 tornado?  Lots of agencies and officers might depend on cell phones as a backup means of communication, but if the cell towers are also wiped out, what happens then?

Just this past Wednesday (5/22), delivered a webinar about Interoperability and the need for our communications infrastructure to be both adaptive and as redundant or self-healing as possible. (If you missed it, it’s available free online – you just have to register and you can find it on our homepage.)  Events like the weather disaster that folks are recovering from in Moore, OK are ugly reminders to us that our communications infrastructure is not something we can easily operate without.  I encourage you to watch that webinar and use the information provided to evaluate your current communications set up, back bone, vulnerabilities, etc.

After that, examine – as a whole – your agency’s preparedness to deal with disasters.  The hurricane season forecast came out just this week and NOAA is predicting we’re going to be busy.  It’s easier to handle if you go into it prepared.

Stay safe!