Emergency management describes the process of preparing for disasters, responding to their occurrence and putting in place both structural and nonstructural measures to mitigate against them. Emergency management has come a long way in terms of evolution in the United States of America. In terms of evolution, there have been a number of changes with evidence in shift from state to federal and local involvement in disaster management. This paper will thus discuss the evolution of emergency management as well as the lessons that have come as a result of this evolution.
The evolution can be traced back to the biblical times, Moses himself tried to manage floods by splitting the Red Sea (George et al, p. 1). In the United States, the changes in regimes as well as a prevalence of undesirable disaster events have seen a drastic evolution in this discipline. A category 4 natural disaster event occurred in the 1954 causing considerable damage in North Carolina and Virginia. Hurricane Diane occurred in 1955 and was preceded by Hurricane Audrey in 1957 which had the most severe impact of the three Hurricanes (George et al, p. 4). Impromptu legislation by the Congress always followed these events with the aim of providing immediate response to the affected areas. During this period, the emergency response was state centric in nature. It was the absolute function of the state.
The occurrence of the Hebgen Tsunami that hit a magnitude of 7.3 on the Ritcher scale proved that, apart from California, Montana as well as other states were vulnerable to Earthquake hazard events. In addition, the adverse consequences of Hurricane Donna and Hurricane Carla prompted Kennedy’s relatively new government to alter their strategy against natural disasters. For example, the Office of Emergency Preparedness was born in the Whitehouse. The end objective of this office was to address natural disasters. This office was a state agency that would allow it to deal with disaster events in a more rational manner. This was not the case however, as the 1960s witnessed the renaissance of the most devastating natural disaster events; from the Ash Wednesday storm whose tangible damage was put at over $300. 123 people lost lives when an earthquake of magnitude 9.2 hit Alaska in 1964. This particular earthquake triggered a domino effect of a Tsunami in the Coast of California. These disaster events prompted the debate on an Insurance policy to cover on the losses from disaster events to reduce the dependence on government in post disaster scenarios. The National Flood Insurance program (NFIP) was created in 1968. In 1972, it was compulsory for homeowners to purchase flood insurance (George et al, p.5). At this point, it is important to note that there is a paradigm shift from the government to the other actors; these are the local communities as well as acts of the congress. The 1970s saw the involvement of more federal actors in disaster management (George et al, p. 6). The influx in the number of actors in emergency response led to conflicts between and among them. There existed no central authority of emergency management at this point. The issue of cohesion during emergency response was addressed during Jimmy Carter’s regime. In 1979, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was formed as the central authority of disaster management. A collaboration of the different actors during disaster management is key towards the realization of the goals of emergency response which, among others include; saving lives and reduce further losses.
Technological innovations in emergency management meant that the disastrous events of the 1990s were optimally managed by both the local and state actors. Some of these events revolved within and around killer tornadoes, drought, floods as well as wildfires among others (George et al, p.11). In April 1995 however, as a result of the Oklahoma bombing, led to the evolution of Emergency Management. The US, being the Superpower was now a target of terrorists. FEMA also launched community based disaster programs that would ensure risk and hazard mapping. Communities were also required to include all stakeholders. The involvement of the locals during such processes ensures community ownership, thus results for the efficacy of emergency management practices.
The events of September 11, 2001 saw the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that was to act as an early warning system to terror related activities (George et al, p.13). The creation of DHS to some extent undermined the roles and responsibilities of FEMA. The independence of FEMA was undermined, thus explaining the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. FEMA lacked funds and resources to undertake her roles and responsibilities of Emergency Management (George et al, p.19). As a result, over 1,800 lives were lost and tens of thousands were displaced. Restoring FEMA’s independence took center stage during Obama’s administration; however, DHS claimed, FEMA was its fundamental organ (George et al, p. 24). FEMA did not play any role during the Boston Bombings of 2013 emergency response (George et al, p.29). However, it would be naïve to assume that FEMA and DHS are today not up to their task of preparedness and response to emergencies despite the obstacles. It is important to point out that, the evolution has been met with a number of challenges. In as much as it has seen an increase in the number of actors, the conflicts within has affected the end result of emergency response. The DHS and FEMA for example, these two entities and their competition for authority meant that there was an overall lack of preparedness to counter Hurricane Sandy. Both entities lost sight to their mandate and engaged in competition for authority.
George D. Haddock, Jane A. Bullock, & Damon P. Coppola, (2014) Introduction to Emergency Management, 5 th Ed. Butterworth – Heinemann Publishers, ISBN: 978 – 0 – 12 – 407784