AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

Knowing Your Community Is Critical in Disaster Management

By Dr. Randall Hanifen
Edge Contributor

Sometimes, you do not always need a solid knowledge of disaster management to successfully handle the phases of a disaster. For instance, in the ever-developing mitigation phase of disaster management, you can take steps to prevent or mitigate predictable hazards. However, the lack of community relationships or failing to understand all of a community’s needs has often resulted in failures for disaster managers.

Understanding How Community Demographics Affect Disaster Management

Understanding community demographics plays an important role in good disaster management. For instance, an area comprised of well-to-do young citizens has significantly different disaster needs than many elderly citizens living in poverty.

For example, younger citizens with sufficient financial resources will find it easier to load a few weeks’ worth of essential supplies into their vehicles, drive to a nearby town and rent a hotel room until the disaster’s recovery phase is over. If their homes are destroyed, they will most likely have insurance and can secure temporary housing and living expenses from the insurance company. They will not need medicines and may only need an internet connection to work.

RELATED: Disaster Management and Properly Preparing for Spring Storms

Senior citizens living in poverty, however, have very different needs in a disaster. This segment of the community population is more likely to lack the financial and physical resources to weather a disaster.

Often, these senior citizens rely on daily public transportation and may not have insurance if their homes and possessions are destroyed. In addition, they may experience difficulty packing up and moving their essential items due to a poor state of health.

Consequently, emergency disaster management professionals need to consider how they will deliver necessary services to everyone in the community, whether they are rich, poor, elderly or young. For well-off young professionals, disaster managers will need to ensure they have information to relay to an insurance company and a time estimate of when they can return home. A knowledge of the community’s business sector is equally helpful since these people likely work for local companies and will need the income.

For the elderly, disaster managers will need to plan for various needs, including:

  • Providing transportation to evacuate senior citizens who do not own vehicles
  • Recruiting volunteers to help the elderly gather personal belongings
  • Creating a mobile pharmacy to continue supplying senior citizens with life-saving medication
  • Supplying temporary housing

Civic and Philanthropic Organization Leaders Can Provide Assistance

Because the time between community disasters can stretch for many weeks or even years, the government cannot store all of what a community will need to recover from a disaster. Ideally, disaster managers should form connections with reliable civic and philanthropic leaders.

For instance, these leaders commonly work for local chapters of larger organizations, such as the Red Cross, the Kiwanis, the United Way and the Rotary Club. They can receive donations and ship them to disaster areas using a pre-established logistical networks and volunteers.

Without these personal connections within the community, disaster leaders would have to research how to fulfill community needs. They would also have to plan the delivery logistics and assemble all of the needed supplies.

RELATED: Recent Fire Conferences Showing Some Interesting Trends

Knowing Local Business Leaders Can Aid Disaster Recovery

A community relies on its economy to continue operating. Without businesses to provide products and services to local citizens, those people will likely move out of the community. Also, without tax dollars generated by these businesses, local citizens would bear the brunt of all taxes to pay for disaster relief services.

During and after disasters, local businesses can be useful partners. Their daily operations involve logistics management and the supplies or equipment needed during a disaster. In addition, they can often assemble volunteers. All of these factors serve as a force multiplier to the local government and disaster managers.

Form Local Relationships Before Disasters Occur

As a disaster management professional, people will look to you to provide leadership during a disaster. But if you do not understand your community and have not built connections within it, you will lack useful resources to assist you. Build your relationships early, and you will be surrounded by other leaders when a disaster occurs.

Dr. Randall Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. From a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.

Comments are closed.