Disasters Are About the People

Hurricane Harvey has caused widespread destruction, and its aftermath continues to pose a significant threat to life and safety. In this and other large-scale incidents, the exact number of people affected is hard to determine because of the complex physical and social networks that exist within and between jurisdictional boundaries. Knowing how to manage the lives lost and the lives affected is a challenge. However, when preparing for a catastrophic event, it is important to remember that even one lost life can have devastating effects on a community.

As history has shown, it does not take 500 years for a city like Houston to experience one or more 500-year floods. High-impact, low-probability events can happen at any time. As leaders and news reports talk about this “unprecedented” event, well-informed preparedness professionals understand that planning for these big events is the best way to be prepared for all events. However, a plan will only be effective if it takes into consideration the various factors related to the community where the plan will be implemented.

When many lives are lost, first responders and other preparedness professionals must be adequately equipped and trained to work within unique operating environments. This may include challenges related to mortuary logistics for the lives lost, medical care for those physically injured, or psychological assistance to survivors who are physically uninjured. These unique environments require responders and leaders to be able to apply the plan, but be ready to think outside the box when the plan needs to be adjusted as the incident evolves.

Whether planning for a health crisis like a pandemic, a chemical or biological attack, or some other large-scale natural or human-caused threat, the focus should be on the people: the people who plan and prepare, the people who lead the effort, the people who respond to help, the people who are injured or killed, the people who are otherwise affected. By definition, a disaster is not a disaster if people and their property are not involved. As the massive response effort continues in Texas and the surrounding areas, DomPrep wishes to thank all these people for their efforts and courage during this difficult time.

Catherine L. Feinman

Catherine L. Feinman, M.A., joined Domestic Preparedness in January 2010. She has more than 30 years of publishing experience and currently serves as editor of the Domestic Preparedness Journal, DomesticPreparedness.com, and the DPJ Weekly Brief, and works with writers and other contributors to build and create new content that is relevant to the emergency preparedness, response, and recovery communities. She received a bachelor’s degree in international business from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in emergency and disaster management from American Military University.

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