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Interagency Disaster Management

A disaster can be defined as a serious disruption of the functioning of a society, causing widespread human, material, or environmental losses which exceed the ability of affected society to copy using only its own resources. Disasters are often classified according to their speed of onset (sudden or slow), or according to their cause (natural or man-made). Recent disasters like Hurricane Katrina have exposed the vulnerability of the nation in times of disaster and this has lead to discussions on disaster management.

Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, ice storms, severe weather, and wildfires can strike any time. They can build over days or weeks, or strike suddenly without warning. Throughout history, people in various parts of the world have suffered due to the unpredictability of natural disasters. Some disasters can be predicted such as floods in valleys, droughts in areas of low rainfall and oil spills in shipping lanes. There can also be manmade unpredictable disasters such as bioterrorism that involves the use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Disaster Management: Disasters are inevitable but the destructive impact of disasters can be substantially reduced by adequate preparation, early warning, and swift, decisive responses. Disaster Management encompasses all aspects of planning for and responding to disasters. It applies to management of both risks and consequences of disasters. However, disasters need to be declared to secure the release of government resources for intervention. Government through its various agencies plays a huge role in such prevention and mitigation.

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This is done through legislation, through resource allocation and through rational planning and sustainable development. State and local governments are closest to those affected by natural disasters, and have always been the lead in response and recovery. The federal government acts in a supporting role, providing assistance, logistical support, and certain supplies. Local government is responsible for providing for the safety and security of citizens in advance of a hurricane.

That means they are in charge of developing emergency plans, determining evacuation routes, providing public transportation for those who can’t self-evacuate, and setting up and stocking local shelters with relief supplies. State government is responsible for mobilizing the National Guard, pre-positioning certain assets and supplies, and setting up the state’s emergency management functions. They are also in charge of requesting federal support though the formal disaster declaration process.

Federal government is responsible for meeting those requests from the state – before, during and after the disaster. This includes providing logistical support for search and rescue, providing food, water and ice, establishing disaster centers and processing federal disaster claims, and participating in short and long-term public works projects, such as debris removal and infrastructure rebuilding. National Response Plan: The National Response Plan, published on May 25, 2006, by the DHS, provides an all-hazards approach to enhance the ability of the nation to manage domestic disasters.

The plan includes best practices and procedures from incident management disciplines—homeland security, emergency management, law enforcement, firefighting, public works, public health, responder and recovery worker health and safety, emergency medical services, and the private sector and integrates them into a unified structure. It forms the basis of how the federal government coordinates with state, local, and tribal governments and the private sector during incidents. The National Response Plan aims to save lives and protect the health and safety of the public, responders, and recovery workers and thereby ensure security of the homeland.

The National Response Plan establishes a comprehensive all-hazards approach to enhance the ability of the United States to manage domestic incidents. It forms the basis of how federal departments and agencies will work together and how the federal government will coordinate with state, local, and tribal governments and the private sector during incidents. It establishes protocols to help protect the nation from terrorist attacks and other natural and manmade hazards; save lives; protect public health, safety, property, and the environment; and reduces adverse psychological consequences and disruptions to civilian life.

The Plan identifies police, fire, public health and medical, emergency management, and other personnel as responsible for incident management at the local level. The Plan enables incident response to be handled at the lowest possible organizational and jurisdictional level. The Plan ensures the seamless integration of the federal government when an incident exceeds local or state capabilities.

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