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Indonesia Earthquake and Tsunami Produce Emergency Management Lessons for the Future

Indonesia Earthquake and Tsunami Produce Emergency Management Lessons for the Future

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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.

Allison G. S. Knox Passionate about the issues affecting ambulances and disaster management, Allison focuses on Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services policy. Allison has taught at the undergraduate level since 2010. Prior to teaching, she worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies, International Relations, and History; a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security; and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Allison is an Emergency Medical Technician, Lifeguard, and Lifeguard Instructor, and is trained in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society as Chancellor of the Southeast Region, Vice Chair of the Tactical Emergency Medical Support Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and serves as the Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She is also a member of several committees including the Editorial Committee with APCO, the Rescue Task Force Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and the Advocacy Committee with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She also serves as Chair of the Leadership Development Program for the 2020 Pi Gamma Mu Triennial Convention. Allison has published several book reviews and continues to write about issues affecting ambulances, emergency management, and homeland security.