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Risk Mitigation — the Best Investment

Risk Mitigation — the Best Investment

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If you research on emergency and disaster management, you quickly conclude that the world is falling apart.

Ice at the poles is melting. Sea levels are rising. Tornadoes are raging. Hurricane season is upon us. Earthquakes are hinting--or maybe not–that volcanoes are awakening. Los Angeles is due for 'the big one.' San Francisco is due for 'the bigger one.' Seattle is overdue for 'the biggest one.' Terrorists want to kill us. Wildfires are scorching primeval forests. Drought is crippling agriculture, and worse–threatening gambling in Las Vegas. Transgender women are using the ladies' room. And, by and large, politicians couldn’t care less about our future as long as they can stay in power.

What’s an Emergency & Disaster Manager to do?

Well, we’ve explored the phases of emergency management in the past, as well as how to implement them. Here’s a sample:

This article from the Guardian specifically talks about the costs of natural disasters on a global scale. The most important message in the article (besides that disasters are expensive) is that about five times as much is spent on response as is spent on mitigation.

This is a direct feature of our psychology and perception of the world, because we are very good at looking at a problem unfolding before us in real time, but very bad at expecting that the problem will happen and planning and mitigating for it.

Mitigation vs. Response

That’s self-destructive, because emergency management theory has always indicated that mitigation costs between one fourth and one sixth as much as response and recovery. And the human difference between mitigation and response? In mitigation, nobody suffers, and nobody dies. As EDM professionals, that has to be our goal.

So again, what to do? Well, to attack the phases in sequence, your emergency management plan should be laid out something like this:

Risk assessment: Think broadly and thoroughly about what threatens your served population. The threats will be local and specific. Attach a probability to each threat. In other words, (sorry to keep bringing up the Oklahoma example) if you have a choice between considering tornadoes to be a threat and transgender women to be a threat — make the right choice. Focus your preparation and mitigation resources where they will do the most good for the most people.

Preparation: Preparation is largely about logistics and education. If you need shelters, have them identified and stocked with supplies. If you need escape routes, have the signs up. If you will need mass transit, have the contracts in place. Then, let the population know how to protect themselves. Your best resource in this: the school children. They’re excited about disaster preparation, and they bring their knowledge home. So flood the schools with information.

Mitigation: If the answer to how to avoid having a hazardous risk turn into a disaster is staring you in the face, do something about it. Retrofit houses to hurricane and earthquake standards. Survey, repair, and maintain the bridges. Reinforce the seawalls and levees. Using zoning where possible and necessary to move communities to higher ground. Force all industries to comply with environmental regulations. There are a myriad of things that can be done, but it’s an uphill battle to gain interest and resources. What you have on your side is that mitigation is cheaper, and fewer people will die. Leverage that.

Response and Recovery: The EDM community’s bread and butter. Do it well. Access resources from far and wide to help. But always use a response opportunity to educate and obtain resources for mitigation. Mitigation will always be the better deal.

Adaptation: When all else fails, we will have to utilize adaptation to deal with threats and hazards, such as sea level rise and climate change. When we DO have to adapt, though, the opportunity is there for mitigating against the next risk. For example, if a community has to be relocated due to drought, then don’t put the replacement community in a floodplain. We know enough now to avoid those issues.

Food for thought. All of these issues are complex, and they’re not likely to get any less so. But we’re in much better shape to deal with them than we were just a decade or two ago. That’s something.




American Military University

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