Welcome to IDCE 2012
New Orleans is both an obvious and appropriate choice to host the International Disaster Conference and Expo. The one-two-punch from hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated an entire region, displacing, effecting, and ultimately taking countless lives. What was perhaps not immediately apparent was the influence these natural disasters had on the global marketplace.
We live in an increasingly interconnected world, one in which disasters are no longer isolated within the geographic borders they initially strike. Rather, emergency preparedness is a global concern; and failure to address catastrophes as such carries with it both societal and political consequences. Risk assessment, catastrophic planning, business continuity, global interconnectivity – these are the focal points of modern emergency management, and consequently, the keynote themes of IDCE 2012.
In his opening address to the conference, James Lee Witt, the CEO of Witt-Associates and former FEMA administrator, identified the three major roadblocks to effective emergency management in an acronym: P.I.G.
Politics – the priorities of political cycles
Inertia – the resistance to challenging the norm
God – the fact that disasters are, quite simply, inevitable
Just as our industry and marketplace are connected on a global level, so too are our challenges. The inevitability of disasters (God, in the PIG acronym), encourages politicians (Politics in the PIG acronym) to resolve the fact that there is little, if anything, that can be done. This sort of apathy is perhaps the most detrimental and counterproductive attitude in emergency management today.
The driving force behind this year’s IDCE is to assert a changing of priorities. The focus must be shifted from common, and relatively minor events (such as accidents on state-highways or a F-1 tornado) and instead devote attention to low probability/high risk scenarios. This requires a change in priorities with a focus on catastrophic planning. Emergency management organizations are general very adept at addressing the “everyday” hazards, but it is the low probability / high risk situations that pose the greatest threat.
Accordingly, emergency preparedness is now a global concern. Appropriately, social media will continue to play an increasing role in the dissemination of information and opinion. The later part is key. Social media has become the primary medium through which the public gauges the effectiveness of response efforts. What is important to note about this is that an inadequate or unprepared response effort is no longer acceptable. What’s more, failure to effectively address a disaster scenario is now met with serious political consequences.
This returns us to the key focus of any emergency management organization: planning. The emphasis is on accountability, on the individual, agency, and jurisdictional levels. Risk assessment must be emphasized as the breadth of these efforts is largely inadequate. As such, catastrophic planning on a global level has become the norm. The risk to one region is magnified exponentially by its influence on a global economy. In other words, the risk is no longer geographically contained.
In conclusion, the effective realization of these goals comes from resource sharing. Emergency management professionals must learn to eschew jurisdictional limitations in favor of a connect preparedness strategy. It is with this in mind that the IDCE stresses that disasters are no longer isolated incidents and as such, an effective emergency manager cannot himself be isolated.