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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Shaking Out Emergency Management Advice

Author: Emily P. Falone, MS, CEM, CBCP, Regional Emergency Coordinator, Region 3
Published Date: 10/16/2012 3:04:00 PM
Category: Exercises & Trainings;

By Emily P. Falone, MS, CEM, CBCP, Regional Emergency Coordinator, Region 3

The Great ShakeOut is coming up Oct. 18. The ShakeOut earthquake drills help people improve preparedness and practice how to be safe during earthquakes. The idea started in California and spread. Now more than 17 million people participate worldwide, more than 12 million just in the United States.

As an emergency manager, I know how important practice is for government agencies and members of the community. Drills help us find gaps in our systems and our knowledge, and as we apply those lessons learned we become better prepared for other types of emergencies. I’ve worked with a lot of great emergency managers over the years and learned from some of the best. I offer the following as food for thought for other emergency managers and public health officials during this year’s Great ShakeOut and day to day:

You May Need to Do Things Differently

One of the take-aways from the 2011 East Coast earthquake was that you couldn't assess all damage in the same way we were accustomed to for other natural disasters like hurricanes. Windshield surveys used for weather-related infrastructure damage capture obvious damage like downed power lines, damaged roofs and siding and more but don’t get to the structural damage that may be less obvious, just lurking under the surface. Think about the age of many of the U.S. cities and the buried infrastructure like pipelines and subways, usually inured to effects of weather. Damage assessments for earthquakes will take longer, be more costly and may require professional inspectors to go into buildings.

Go with your Gut

Don’t expect to have information you need to make critical decisions early on. Err on the side of safety and health. By the time you have all the information and reports are flowing, the emergency is usually over, and it’s time to go home. Get used to making decisions and communicating with the public with little information. Not making a decision is a decision.

Do the Right Thing

Sometimes you need to spend more on resources early on when you have little information. This isn’t always an easy call; especially given tight financial times. In the end, if there is a risk to life and health, do the right thing. It’s the cost of doing business. Get resources flowing when you don’t have good situational awareness and feather back the flow of resources once you have better handle on what is needed.

Take a Step Back; Look at the Big Picture

It’s easy to get overwhelmed during any emergency, lulled into reading emails and situation reports, chasing down information, and participating in a multitude of conference calls. Take time to THINK. Take a step back, regroup and reprioritize. It sometimes makes a difference. I hope this year the Great ShakeOut will bring together public health officials, the health care community, and emergency managers in a whole community response. After all, that’s what we do in a real earthquake or any other disaster. Let’s practice the way we’ll need to play.



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