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Allison G. S. Knox

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Columnist, EDM Digest

Hurricane Laura made landfall last week as a massive Category 4 hurricane. Knowing how quickly the storm became a major hurricane was particularly concerning for those living on the Gulf Coast and in other nearby areas of the country.

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Given that Americans have witnessed several Category 4 hurricanes in the past few years and the aftermath, most Americans knew that Laura would be particularly dangerous to those who were in its direct path. Major news agencies were immediately dispatched to show the devastation.

Hurricane Laura Images

Considering that emergency management is a complicated web of numerous agencies coming together to assist in a large-scale emergency, do these images of disasters such as Hurricane Laura really show us how an emergency unfolds, how it will be responded to and how long it will take the community to recover?

CNN, for example, aired satellite images showing a comparison of the area before and after Laura’s destruction. The media will also include how many lives were lost, how many people were injured and the estimated overall replacement costs to the many buildings that were destroyed.

Americans will look to these numbers as information on how well the emergency was handled. But, ultimately, these numbers and images tell us nothing about how well the emergency was managed and how long it will take the community to recover from it. The statistics, the casualties, and homes and lives torn apart do not really provide a clear understanding of what has taken place.

The Emergency Management Story Is Not Well Told

For emergency management professionals and scholars, images and statistics do not tell us much about a large-scale emergency. They only tell us a fragment of the story.

What would be more interesting for viewers would be an explanation of how many resources were pulled into the response phase of the emergency. How many ambulances were called in. What mutual aid agreements were activated to help manage the incident. How many volunteer organizations were called up to help. Were Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) present? What task forces were pulled in? Answers to these questions would help the general public to better understand what specifically happened. Furthermore, answers to these questions would also help us to figure out how we might better manage future disasters.

Images only tell us certain things about a disaster. They tell us about the tragedies people experience but they do not tell us how well the emergency was managed or the numerous agencies that came together to help the affected area recover. Ultimately, it is important for the news media to tighten their focus on what they show because, in general, they are not including many of the aspects that make emergency management operations work so well.