AMU Editor's Pick Homeland Security Opinion

Emergency Preparedness Plans Must Involve Preparation for All Disasters, Including Cyber

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By Amanda Vicinanzo
Senior Editor of Homeland Security Today
Special to In Homeland Security

In September 1989, South Carolina was wildly unprepared when Hurricane Hugo—a Category 4 storm with estimated winds of 135 miles per hour—hit South Carolina’s coast, claiming 49 lives, causing the equivalent of over $13 billion dollars in damage in 2014 dollars, and displacing 60,000 from their homes.

In the wake of the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo—the most severe disaster to hit South Carolina in the past century—the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency held a hearing to determine whether the nation’s first responders are prepared to meet the array of new threats facing the US today.

“Hugo required a major response, for which South Carolina was unprepared. However, the ordered evacuation of 250,000 would pale in comparison to what would be needed today. Over a million now live in the area Hugo threatened,” Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) said.

However, he added, “The days of only preparing for natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes are behind us.”

Robert J. Fenton, the acting Deputy Associate Administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Office of Response and Recovery believes that Hugo was a harbinger of even more destructive hurricanes — like Andrew, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, and Sandy.

A relatively young agency when Hugo first struck South Carolina’s coast, FEMA has transformed into a “very different” organization over the past 25 years as a result of the advent of social media and other new technologies. Today, FEMA takes a whole community approach to emergency preparedness, builds on national preparedness efforts and collaborates with federal partners in catastrophic planning and preparedness.

Social media, in particular, now plays an essential role in FEMA’s emergency preparedness efforts. According to Fenton, “Rather than trying to convince the public to adjust to the way we at FEMA have traditionally communicated, we have adapted to the way the public communicates, leveraging the tools they use on a daily basis.”

Read the full article at Homeland Security Today

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