Indonesia Earthquake and Tsunami Produce Emergency Management Lessons for the Future
By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest
A devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the town of Palu on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island last week. According to the BBC, the death toll has passed 1,350 as of October 3 and is likely to increase due to the difficulties of locating the injured and the dead after such a horrific event.
One would think that after this type of event, emergency management officials would turn their efforts toward strengthening and improving their rescue and recovery procedures. Certainly, there were lessons learned from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed 225,000 people across a dozen countries. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives and Thailand all sustained massive damage.
Emergency management efforts often do improve after extraordinary tragedies like tsunamis. However, there is always room for improvement, which often comes from the personal experiences of those who have been directly involved in the disaster.
How these individuals would handle a similar event might be different from how emergency managers would tackle a serious tsunami emergency because survivors have first-hand experience of disaster events. Numerous social scientists have thought about and researched the notion that first-hand experience can be a vital tool in developing policies and how to manage a tragic situation like a sudden tsunami.
Applying the Literature to Why Emergency Management Lessons Aren't Learned
Karl Weick, an American organizational theorist, has written about the process of sensemaking. As he explains, “Sensemaking involves turning circumstances into a situation that is comprehended explicitly in words and that serves as a springboard into action.”
Weick believes that the concept of sensemaking fills important gaps in organizational theory. Individuals are affected by personal events. The more drastic and catastrophic the event, the more it will completely reshape how an individual would react to similar situations.
Rethinking Emergency Management after Disaster Events
It is relatively easy for emergency management practitioners to listen to the accounts of others, to review after-action or “postmortem” reports, and incorporate the lessons learned into their emergency management plans. Survivors of catastrophic events will contemplate how they would act if faced with similar circumstances again. Certainly if individuals were to experience another horrendous event, they would try to quickly get to safety based on what they learned from their previous experience.
However, incorporating these concepts into an organization can be difficult because of the nature and development of organizations, as well as the execution of managing large-scale emergencies. The more people involved, the more training is needed to bring everyone together to the same page.
Large-scale disasters will always have a major impact on the individuals who survive them. Lessons will be learned from the recent tsunami In Indonesia, but it might take a while before those lessons are completely understood and incorporated into future emergency management plans.