In Case of Emergency, Read This Blog

In Case Of Emergency, Read Blog

A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

Aligning Emergency Management & Homeland Security Cultures (Not To Mention Health, Law Enforcement, Infrastructure, Technology, Etc.) To Prepare Public For Diverse 21st Century Threats

July 27th, 2009 · 2 Comments

After returning to New York from the H1N1 Summit, I was listening to the “Homeland Security Inside & Out “radio show on my iPod riding the subway (ironically to a meeting at the City’s Office of Emergency Management’s headquarters in downtown Brooklyn).

In my Flu Summit summary post, I had mentioned how struck I was by the continuing challenge of integrating the efforts and communications of the various emergency agencies/subjects — such as public health, emergency management, homeland security, law enforcement, infrastructure, etc. — in dealing with the public on H1N1 preparedness. That’s because each discipline has different languages, objectives, culture and perspectives. At the Summit, New York City Health Department official Marcie Layton said that integrating different agencies and functions was one of the biggest challenges in the effort to deal with H1N1.

So, it was interesting to hear Dave McIntyre, the co-host of the “Inside & Out” show, use his “Perspectives” segment to address a similar point — the continuing difference in outlook between people in emergency management and homeland security, which he had observed at the recent World Disaster Management Conference in Toronto. As Dave recounted to his co-host Randy Larsen:

“I was struck again by something I see over and over here in the United States and that is the enormous difference in perception, the difference in viewpoint between people who are emergency managers, disaster managers and those who work on national security or homeland security level questions.

The emergency manager and the disaster manager are focused on the preservation of life and property. They see the loss of a single life as an enormous tragedy and their goal is to prevent that from happening at all costs. Those people who work national security issues frequently assume, especially if you’re dealing with the military, that in this business there will be some loss of life — that what we are after, our goal is to protect the nation as a whole not individuals.

And this difference in goals — between protecting individuals versus the nation as a whole — still runs through as a theme in every discussion I have with emergency responders and then those who work at the national level. It’s just a fascinating perspective on how people view this subject entirely differently.”

McIntyre has as good a view as anyone on this topic. He runs a University homeland security center and hosts the leading radio show on the subject. And the integration challenge he points out will get even more challenging now that the fields of technology, including new communications and cyber security, also play an increasingly key role in emergencies. I think there is no question that interagency cooperation has improved since 9/11 (including during the H1N1 response in the Fall). But as Layton and McIntyre report — and I’ve observed as a layperson — there is still a long way to go.

Knocking down stove pipes and increasing governmental teamwork is obviously operationally crucial for preparing and responding to emergencies. But it is similarly important for governments to take into consideration how the multi-pronged/agencies approach impacts the public when it comes to preparedness. Though it is subtle, there can be differences in messaging, risk communication and emphasis. One objective of this blog to help integrate those different worlds together when it comes to dealing and communicating with the public.

I think one of the challenges for government is to tie their various citizen preparedness initiatives (ie. H1N1 and natural disaster/terror readiness) more closely together to make them clearer and easier for citizens to consume and act on. It would be also be useful to spread some of the terrific non-governmental preparedness resources to the followers of one emergency ‘world’ to others. For example, the citizen created and managed Flu Wiki is a model for all-hazards.

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Tags: Media

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