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What Is Emergency Preparedness?

October 1, 2022

From fast-moving wildfires and hurricanes to the ravages of war and domestic terrorism, an emergency caused by either natural or manufactured factors can occur anywhere, anytime.

In a globally connected society that facilitates the rapid spread of information, geopolitics, equity gap issues and climate change continue to make overcoming disasters harder, especially among the most vulnerable. With threats ever looming, emergency preparedness is increasingly important to help people bounce back from disaster and, in many cases, help minimize the negative impacts of disastrous events.

What is emergency preparedness? Emergency preparedness describes the effort to plan for and coordinate resources in response to disasters and other crises.

Importance of Emergency Preparedness

To understand what emergency preparedness is and why it’s so crucial, it’s crucial to highlight the human cost of disasters. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the total number of major recorded disaster events from 2000 to 2019 was 7,348. These events claimed 1.23 million lives and impacted more than 4 billion people, resulting in global economic losses of nearly $3 trillion.

Emergency preparedness also involves preparing for cyberattacks, which can be detrimental to both business and society at large. Cybersecurity Magazine reports that cybercrime costs will grow to $10.4 trillion by 2025 — up from $3 trillion in 2015. But in the context of cybersecurity, a significant concern is the nation’s infrastructure.

A recent Deloitte report spotlights how the convergence of information technology and operational technology allows valves, switches and pumps in infrastructure facilities — such as water and wastewater plants — to be accessed via the internet. If a state-sponsored or non-state actor were to shut off facility operations, it would place thousands of people at risk of drinking non-potable water and losing access to wastewater services, potentially impacting their health.

The importance of emergency preparedness in helping authorities to get vulnerable populations ready for disaster cannot be understated. The primary benefits of emergency preparedness are that it helps protect people’s lives and property and helps ensure that their recovery from an emergency is more effective. Emergency preparedness is also important because it helps:

  • Reduce fear and anxiety associated with disastrous events
  • Minimize the impact of disaster and even avoid the danger altogether
  • Ensure people are prepared for a wide range of disasters, from knowing what to do amid disease outbreaks to having evacuation plans for natural disasters

What Is an Emergency Preparedness Plan?

The first step in emergency preparedness is to expect the unexpected. Then, it’s important to prepare for the unexpected. The best way to do that is to develop an emergency preparedness plan.

What is an emergency preparedness plan? It’s a formal plan that helps ensure that individuals know what to do when an emergency scenario arises. This tool is employed by government agencies and can be beneficial for various organizations and institutions, including businesses, schools and medical facilities.

Preparedness plans vary in approach, depending on the type of emergency. For example, government officials can help protect their citizens with proper planning so they know how to respond effectively in case of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane knocking down power lines and triggering an extended blackout.

In business, executives can help protect their employees by drawing up plans that help guide which actions to take should a human-made disaster occur, such as a building fire. The plan may direct employees to evacuate or relocate from their location through a certain corridor to safety.

Steps for Preparing for an Emergency

Creating an emergency preparedness plan can play a critical role in helping people stay safe should a worst-case scenario come to pass. What does emergency preparedness entail? An emergency preparedness plan commonly features the following five steps.

Conduct a Risk Assessment

By identifying potential emergency scenarios, individuals involved in creating the plan can determine which resources will be needed to help support efforts in getting people to safety.

Connect With Public Emergency Services

It’s important to form relationships with agencies that employ first responder personnel, such as fire, police and emergency medical services. This step entails getting a clear understanding of their response times and scheduling a time for them to learn the layout of the facility.

Create Clear Communication Channels

Through coordinated, prompt and reliable information, individuals can have access to clear instructions on which actions to take and stay up to date on the status of an emergency.

Structure Emergency Preparedness Operations

When an emergency arises, having a unified structure and operational processes helps ensure that key stakeholders support the plan in a coordinated way to ensure its effective execution.

Establish Protective Actions for Life Safety

During an emergency, people usually experience stress, which can inhibit their ability to think clearly. Therefore, an emergency preparedness plan should include clear instructions on actions people can take to protect their safety. Protective actions can be categorized under four sections:

  • Evacuation: Individuals are advised to leave their present location if it’s safe to do so.
  • Sheltering: Individuals are directed to find shelter in pre-assigned places or in an area where chances of getting hurt are minimal.
  • Shelter-in-Place: Individuals are instructed to stay where they are, as it might be the safest place to be.
  • Lockdown: Individuals are advised to find the safest places to hide and remain silent in the case of a violent act taking place nearby.

Learn How an Emergency Preparedness Degree Can Help You Help Others

Individuals working in the areas of emergency preparedness are often called emergency responders. Their specific job titles run the gamut, from law enforcement officers and firefighters to health care professionals and mental health counselors.

For individuals looking to specialize in emergency preparedness, enrolling in an emergency preparedness degree program can help them acquire critical skills to help save lives. Virginia Commonwealth University’s online Master of Arts program in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness provides an in-depth curriculum that exposes students to foundational emergency preparedness and national security concepts, and teaches them decision-making, leadership and policymaking skills.

Learn how the program can help prepare you for a career protecting communities from the unexpected.