AMU Emergency Management Original

For Major Disasters, All Management Is Ultimately Local

By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

British Columbia, Canada, experienced a major disaster last month after the province experienced an enormous amount of rainfall in a very short period of time. After this weather, several Canadian communities had their roadways washed out. There were also landslides, extensive floods and power outages. 

The scale of what happened in the area required British Columbia to ask for immediate emergency assistance from the Canadian government. During a press conference about the provincial government’s response to the disaster, however, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth noted that all disasters are local, and the decision to request emergency assistance resides with the local government. 

However, this concept can be difficult for laymen to grasp. In essence, all emergencies happen at the local level; many local governments must require assistance from other jurisdictions and different levels of government to properly manage an emergency.

Disasters Help Emergency Managers to Tighten Their Understanding of Management and Infrastructure Policies

Emergency management is very much a hierarchical structure. It needs to be that way to help emergency managers understand what resources are needed from the local level up through the federal levels of government, especially when their resources are overwhelmed. 

The Federal Government Can’t Always Provide Immediate Relief for Disasters

When major disasters happen, the public often looks to the federal government for immediate relief. Perhaps one of the reasons for this attitude is how the media portrays a disaster.

Reporters often give a general view of what’s happening with a disaster because the intricacies of disaster management are complex and beyond what most people understand. However, this isn’t necessarily how emergency managers think about disasters, who are more concerned with the local challenges of the disaster. 

The disaster in British Columbia reminds us that such incidents must ultimately be handled at the local level. After all, waiting for federal emergency management agencies to act can take an extraordinary amount of time and would not work well for resource management. 

When we manage disasters at the local level, we’re able to provide aid faster than waiting for higher levels of government. We’re also able to request resources from other towns, cities and countries. While this way of obtaining aid is understood by the emergency management community, it isn’t always understood by laymen and it is a good reminder to the general public. Emergency management is a complicated process and is handled accordingly with numerous policies, resources and nonprofit organizations in mind.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. She is also chair of Pi Gamma Mu’s Leadership Development Program. Prior to teaching, Allison worked for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. She is an emergency medical technician and holds multiple graduate degrees.

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