What should emergency managers be looking at in 2013?We take a look at what 2013 might have in store for three pertinent topics
By Jeff Rubin, PhD, CEM
In my preceding end-of-year column, I asked what we’d learned. Among other things, I’ve learned that the same three topics I’ve written about every year are likely to remain fruitful, not to mention providing somewhat of a continuum.
Regardless of the final decisions and their impacts related to our careening about the “fiscal cliff,” we’ve seen another year of cuts or sub-skeletal staffing at every level of government, as well as in key private-sector resources. Diminution of public safety, public works, public health and social services degrade public well-being and erode community resilience at the most basic levels.
The remarkably dysfunctional federal budgeting process (if there’s actually a recognizable process at all) threatens not only to erase some recent preparedness gains, but to irreparably damage the science and engineering research so essential to our professions, not to mention our personal lives.
Preparedness, which enables effective response and recovery, shares a defining characteristic with research: It needs to move forward to stay relevant. Holding patterns may buy a little time, but stopping and starting don’t work, and eventually one must either evolve or fail.
Looking ahead: Where will the political wheeling and dealing leave us? Will whatever funding that remains at least be part of a recognizable budget, allowing program planning at multiple levels, or will tea leaves and entrails keep looking better as forecasting tools? Will basic and applied research funding hold the line, or will we lose critical capabilities? Will state and local preparedness programs that rely entirely on grants still be with us when we’re looking back on 2013?
After two years that may be most vividly remembered for their earthquakes, 2012 saw huge and damaging tropical storms; in the United States, Sandy will be the subject of after-action reviews well into 2013. It’s always appropriate to examine individual disasters to see what we can learn from them and whether we have learned lessons from previous incidents.
The bigger picture, however, includes how we address the effects of ongoing climate change. Rising sea levels will make future storms (and tsunamis) more damaging, as well as making some coastal locations untenable. Away from the coast, climate change could make the recent drought in the Southwest a more common event; wildfires and severe heat waves are part of the package, too.
Looking ahead: What lessons did Sandy and other incidents provide, and, as we must continue to ask, how many of those lessons will we actually learn?
Climate change is an immense topic. Although there is substantial uncertainty related to timing and impact severity, most of the controversy surrounding it is political rather than scientific. It’s likely unrealistic that an extreme event or two will drastically change the national dialogue, but will we see more willingness to have rational discussions at the policy level and allow comprehensive long-range planning and mitigation?
On the government side of shakeouts, the elections are over, so who will be running federal agencies in 2013? How much of the current DHS leadership will still be around and what will DHS look like? The agency saw its 10th anniversary in 2012, but in some respects it still seems to be finding its way.
Given that appointed leadership change is a fact of life in federal government, with continuity of programs and philosophy less than stable, what can we expect from DHS in 2013? What will grant programs look like? Is another round of nonsensical NIMS compliance criteria lurking on someone’s desk?
Individuals have more capability to assess and report on their surroundings than ever before, a trend that will continue. Despite the advances over the past year, the questions are pretty similar: How (if at all) can coordination and response agencies best use current and developing tools for routine and extraordinary needs?
Some decisions must be made on an agency (or jurisdictional) basis, but the bigger questions must be addressed on at least a regional level. An agency-by-agency approach to validating and responding to social media during an incident will not serve the public, to whom jurisdictional boundaries and policies are likely to be irrelevant.
Looking ahead:Can mobile technology help government build and maintain the critical resource that is the public trust? Will the lines between civilian and responder continue to blur when it comes to developing situational awareness?
What first responder–driven technology will come out of DHS’s Science & Technology Directorate this year?
This is, of course, a fraction of the big issues and events that will define 2013.
Jeff Rubin is the emergency manager for Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Tigard, Ore. His views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.