By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, EDM Digest
In this exclusive video, EDM Digest's founder, American Military University's Dr. Chris Reynolds discusses how to prepare for – and respond to – the upcoming hurricane season in the United States. Dr. Reynolds focuses on mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery during hurricane situations.
The lessons learned during Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey were many. Probably the most important of which was preparedness - family preparedness, community preparedness, political preparedness, response preparedness. I mean, one can never be too prepared. A lot of the failures that occur during hurricane disasters, and these two storms illustrate that, are folks that either are not prepared or they fail to plan, and they realize at the last moment that there is a storm bearing down upon them. They have not decided whether to evacuate or not, or they've ignored evacuation warnings, and then the responders have to evacuate them.
So, it causes a lot of unnecessary clogging of highways. Shelters are ill-equipped to handle them, because they either weren't forecast to have as many evacuees as they thought they would have or they just decide they're going to leave the state. And it creates a lot of issues. All the branches in disaster preparedness hurricane response are important. You cannot say one is more critical or more important than the other. They're all equal. They're coequal. There is as much effort in mitigation and planning as there is in response and recovery. If a community is not prepared for a storm – which means they've identified flood zone or flood prone areas – they've identified areas that require evacuation, they have identified you know where they're going to be bottlenecks when evacuations occur. That's all of mitigation and preparedness. They go through these phases. When the storm hits, the actual response side of it is important – and that's the one also – by the way – that garners most of the attention.
I mean if you think about what we see when we watch the news and we see just a hurricane striking, what do you picture? Well you picture the winds and the reporter standing out in the winds leaning into it with the rain pelting them in the face. That's the vision that people have of hurricanes. So, that gets the most attention. But, there is as much critical importance to mitigation and planning and preparedness and response as there is to recovery, because recovery is a long term effort.
The important thing about lessons learned is that one has to remember that disasters typically can occur anywhere and anytime as we see on TV daily, essentially. Emergency managers work in primary primarily four realms of readiness or involvement. You know that cover mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. And in those four phases that we call them, and there are also others that fall within that too in terms of effort, they're always looking for best practices or trying to figure out what worked and what didn't work. And we do that through critiques. We do that through what's called post-incident analyses where the responders or planners – whoever is involved in a disaster effort – will sit back and identify what worked what didn't work. And you see this are all levels of government. Hurricane preparedness is everyone's business. First of all, I will tell you that to say that only states that are around the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast should care about hurricanes isn't accurate – because storms move inland. Plus don't forget we have storms also in the Pacific that can come up the Yucatan Peninsula come out through southern California as we've seen and dump a lot of rain in the mountains that causes flash flooding that causes mudslides.
We have to remember that the Federal Emergency Management Agency like any agency learns from lessons that have occurred from past disasters. FEMA, in my mind, should really get a gold star for what they have done in terms of planning and preparedness and for funding and remembering that FEMA is not the primary response entity. Your local emergency managers are through either local mutual aid or state mutual aid or mutual aid compacts from state to state; they are primary response folks. FEMA provides mainly the logistic support – the planning and the money and a disaster when a local emergency is prepared by local political entities the governor declares a state of emergency. Then the governor can make the request of the president for a federal declaration.
I think it's important first to realize that mitigation is ongoing. One is always in a mitigation phase in that you're planning. You know you're building infrastructure – you're identifying areas that one has to be concerned about. The whole concept of a Category 5 going to Miami – and when it's too late to start mitigating – even that sentence in and of itself says you're too late. Remembering that one is always in that cycle: those four phases of Emergency Management and mitigation is one of the phases but one is also always doing some form of mitigating whether they're actually out you know building a levee or they're identifying maybe where break water should be put in. There's a lot of things that that planners have to consider.
About Dr. Chris Reynolds
Dr. Reynolds is a certified emergency manager (CEM) through the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), a graduate of the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program (EFO), and is a Chief Fire Officer designee (CFO) through the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). Additionally, he holds the Military Emergency Management Senior Specialist (MEMS) badge. He is also a registered paramedic in the state of Florida; his career in emergency and disaster management spans more than three decades.