In the United States, because hurricanes can be as big a threat to national security as bombings, emergency management and disaster response follows well-thought-out processes and procedures. That way, when it comes time to implement those procedures, the discussions about what to do, when and why, as well as the training regarding it, have already taken place. Here is a look at the dominant principles and logic of disaster response that aim to restore order and safety, mitigate suffering and bring relief to those who need it as quickly and efficiently as possible, whether those who respond are the Boston Fire Department or FEMA.
Search-and-Rescue and Emergency Medical Services Are PrimaryWhen disaster strikes, it can be easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees — especially when there are a lot of trees, and they all legitimately need something. To most efficiently use resources to meet the tasks at hand, emergency responders focus on those needs that are most pressing: search-and-rescue and any emergency medical services. While some people may need shelter and others may need to find loved ones, in the immediate aftermath of a large-scale emergency, those very real concerns have to go on the back burner.
Widespread Injury Will Potentially Overwhelm Medical ServicesBecause the vast majority of the most serious injuries occur in the initial moments after a disaster, the need for medical personnel like doctors, nurses, surgeons and technicians is the greatest at the exact time their availability is the most stretched. Services are in constant use and so seem unavailable, and supplies like blood and medicines will also dwindle in supply and availability. During these moments immediately following an emergency, medical facilities, ambulances, infrastructure and the like are all pressed beyond their normal capacities, causing a further increase of strain on the health care systems trying to absorb the initial needs.
Shelter, Food, Water and Medicine Must Be Found
Assessing Ongoing RisksDisasters create an ongoing instability that lasts even after the threat has passed. Whether looters, unstable structures, the threat of water-borne disease or running out of supplies, a tenet of disaster relief is that ongoing risks must be continually evaluated and assessed to be met.
The Disaster Determines the Health NeedsDifferent types of disasters create different problems and needs, and thus they require different types of medical assistance. Earthquakes tend to result in broken bones and cuts, blunt-trauma and other weight-related injuries like crush syndrome. Hurricanes and floods can lead to water-based illnesses, upper respiratory infections, cholera, dysentery and the like. The injuries that result from explosions and bombings create similar types of health needs: massive blunt-trauma and blood loss, lacerations and lost limbs.
Logistical Flexibility Is EssentialEven with excellent preparation and training, service providers and responders must respond to a disaster and the havoc it leaves in its wake with both humility and flexibility. A rigid devotion to an emergency handbook or methodology can miss the needs and opportunities that a more loose and creative approach might be able to see. While training is heavily relied upon in order to get through the difficulties of a disaster and its aftermath, logistical flexibility must remain a priority.
Large-scale disasters are something no one wants to experience, but tornados and terrorists continue to exist. In order to respond as efficiently and helpfully as possible, disaster relief has developed its own version of best practices so that as few as possible will be lost.
Erica Taylor is a blogger who covers a wide variety of topics but specializes in topics concerning homeland security and emergency responses. You can find her on Facebook and Google plus.