Catastrophic hurricanes and
Destructive tornadoes. Deadly pandemics. Extensive flooding. Choking droughts. Massive wildfires. Extreme worldwide temperatures. Cyberattacks. Near miss asteroids. Cross-national protests. Contagious, deadly pandemics. Devastating earthquakes. Invading killer hornets. Potentially
space weather. Are these events potential plot lines for new movies? Perhaps, because these and other events are occurring now, and we will see more in the future. If you like excitement and new challenges, the profession of emergency management (EM) and studying how people behave in such events may suit you.
Dealing with disasters is not new. Disaster science pioneer Russell Dynes (2003
) observed that Noah was the first emergency manager, and he faced the same problems and issues that emergency managers face today. Although Noah received news about a major flood from an impeccable source, only a few heeded Noah’s warning and helped him to prepare. Today, we face similar and perhaps more problems than Noah. People continue to live in disaster-prone areas (e.g., earthquakes, hurricanes) and often do not or cannot take steps that lessen the impact of such events. Indeed, annual deaths and economic losses from disasters continue to increase worldwide. Emergency managers work to address such losses, enhance life safety, protect property, and make jurisdictions, homes, and workplaces safer places (Waugh 2000
Professional EM presents many challenges, but through careful study in its related discipline of disaster science, you can make a difference. To assist emergency managers, a long line of research on disasters provides insights for emergency managers to make informed decisions before, during, and after events. The science of disasters (i.e., research on how people and organizations behave) serves as a basis for this textbook. To start you on a journey toward becoming an emergency manager, this chapter describes how the field has evolved in the U.S. and worldwide.
1.1.1 Emergency Management
More than 60 years ago, the field of EM was known as
civil defense. Typically, people held part-time positions in local government, often focused on nuclear disasters (including war) and to a lesser extent on other disasters (e.g., tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and explosions). Since then, the profession has expanded among local, state, and federal governments, and also in the private, volunteer, and international relief sectors. Emergency managers now prepare for, respond to, recover from, and reduce risks to (mitigate) a wide range of events, including floods, hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis,
hazardous waste accidents or sites, and terrorist attacks. In addition, emergency managers assist with newer types of threats such as cyberattacks, pandemics, and climate change. For those who like the unknown and the challenging, and who want to make a difference with their lives, EM
offers a promising and meaningful career path. Your journey begins with acquiring an understanding of what emergency managers face in today’s work and into the future.
1.1.2 Current and Future Challenges
Nearly 30 years ago,
disaster researcher E.L. Quarantelli (1991
) warned that the world would face more disasters, larger disasters, and new and different types of disasters. His predictions have come true. First, we have created new technologies with unknown consequences. For example, while rapidly evolving computers and the internet connect us, such technologies have vulnerabilities.
Cyberterrorism provides one example, which can shut down health care or government, disrupt elections, stop gasoline pipeline delivery, or damage electrical grids used to power hospitals, businesses, and medical devices.
Space weather has also emerged as a new hazard which, under the right conditions, could disrupt navigational systems, cell phone functioning, and the electrical grid.
Second, social scientists have continued to find that human behavior continues to transform hazards
into disasters (Quarantelli 1991
; Mileti 1999
). For example, people build along coastal areas or waterways, which are prone to hurricanes and floods. Or, people live and work close to hazards, which may include chemical facilities or
transportation arteries where major accidents occur. Further, as uninhabited places become more densely populated, risks increase. A rural cornfield in Iowa could devastate a farmer’s planting, but without loss of life. Yet, a subdivision built in
“tornado alley” becomes a potential tragedy. The popular Atlantic and Gulf coastal areas in the U.S. have seen increased density too, including residents, “snowbirds,” and tourists. Hurricanes, increased flooding from climate change, and electrical grid disruptions means more people may be affected in those areas. Clearly, people serve as an active human agent in transforming a hazard into a disaster, because a hazard alone cannot become a disaster without people to transform its potential or to bear the consequences (Mileti 1999
Worldwide, disaster impacts have increased. From 2000 to 2020, the UN documented 7,348 major disaster events that caused 1,230,000 deaths and affected 4,200,000,000 people. Asian nations, including India, the Philippines, and Indonesia, ranked among the top ten affected (Reuters 2020
). The year 2020 is especially noteworthy of large-scale events. In just that year, record-breaking wildfires (especially the western regions), multiple tropical storms, and hurricanes plagued the U.S. Some events, such as
Category 5 Hurricane Iota (the strongest category), created close to catastrophic conditions in Central America (NOAA 2020
). In Africa, record-breaking rains created massive floods, which have destroyed crops (leading to famine) and killed hundreds (Smith 2020
). During 2020
in East Central Africa, some countries confronted simultaneously extreme rain,
mudslides, flooding, locusts, and COVID-19 which collectively caused massive evacuations, population displacements, severe illness, and significant loss of life (McCoy 2020
Occasionally, catastrophic events occur, such as the
COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the large numbers of people that acquired the disease, suffered, and died from it, mitigation efforts to curtail the pandemic changed daily activities and undermined economies. Restaurants, museums, sporting venues, movie theaters, and malls all closed for weeks to months with considerable loss of revenue. Schools and universities ended semesters early and hedged their bets by moving classes online. As the virus surged
in devastating waves, hospitals became overwhelmed with patients. Countries created travel bans to reduce high infection and death rates. Between March and December 2020, over 60,258,185 people had the virus, with 1,418,614 dying worldwide (COVID Dashboard 2020
; DHS 2020). In the U.S., millions caught the virus with 700,000+ dead as this book went to press. Furthermore, research shows that about 10% of those with the virus became “long haulers.” These individuals will suffer from lasting effects from the virus, including coughing, fatigue, body aches, joint pain, shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, insomnia, headaches, heart issues, or brain fog (UC Davis Health 2020
What do emergency managers do about such challenges? The remainder of this chapter looks at how the profession has developed, especially as it has responded to major challenges like terror attacks and other major disasters. The challenge before us is to remain mindful of
Quarantelli’s prediction and to always be looking ahead to what we may have not expected.