Emergency and Disaster Preparedness

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Emergency and catastrophe preparedness has been a priority of government corporations across the country. A comprehensive perception of the needs of various emergency departments and regulation enforcement agencies is necessary to make certain that they are allocated the required resources for emergency response purposes. The advent of an integrated and interoperable communication infrastructure is amongst the priorities that are emphasized to provide an high-quality planning and coordination of disaster response efforts across the a number of agencies and departments. The examination of Edmond Emergency Department, the Patrol Division of Oklahoma City police and EOC Vehicle Extrication demonstrates the existence of such inter-agency communication gaps. The truth bears similar characteristics to the communication challenges experienced during Hurricane Katrina. The development and implementation of comprehensive, resilient, interoperable and integrated conveying systems for interagency communication during emergencies is needed.

Key words: emergency, government agencies, communication challenges

ERA4323 Final Paper

Introduction

The presence of adequate communication systems and infrastructure during national disasters can significantly mitigate the outcomes. The practicum experience at Edmond Emergency Department, The Patrol Division of Oklahoma City Police and EOC Vehicle Extrication revealed the existing loops in interagency communication that could derail disaster response actions. Though these agencies play vital roles in the preservation of community safety, prevention of disasters and responding to emergency incidents, the attested challenges make it difficult to execute their functions effectively. The current paper examines the inter-agency communication problems and the impacts on emergency actions and resource allocation in crisis. A reference to the breakdown in communication during Hurricane Katrina is made to emphasize the magnitude and significance of the issue. Though there were other disasters prior to Hurricane Katrina, the significant challenges in the development and implementation of adequate communication systems for application during disasters is urgently required.

Discussion of Agencies

Edmond Emergency Department

The practicum experience at Edmond Emergency Management was enlightening concerning its functions, roles and responsibilities to the community. The primary focus was to ensure that the comprehensive measures towards the identification and prevention of potential emergency situations are put in place. The community involvement is required to make certain that services are adequately coordinated with locals, especially in preparing for any emergency eventuality. Through the practicum, I learned that Edmond Emergency Department is focused on the provision and promotion of public safety in local areas. It has developed a comprehensive plan aimed at ensuring the community is adequately prepared to deal with emergency incidents especially disasters, which can be natural or man-made.

The department attains its core objectives through activities that involve various governmental and non-governmental agencies and organizations. In addition, disaster preparedness for Edmond Emergency Department entails identification of resources, progressive assessments towards the identification of vulnerabilities, development of response plans and coordination. During the practicum, it became clear that public education on disaster management belongs to the department’s main functions. The community training is focused on key areas that include evacuation and relocation planning, personal planning or preparation, severe weather surveys and site-specific assessments of various hazards (Edmond, 2017).

However, while the department has taken comprehensive measures to school the public and prepare for emergency incidents, two major problems emerged that may negatively affect the departments capacity to discharge its roles. The issues are inter-agency communication challenges and inadequate human resources to handle significant incidents considering that there were only three staff members.

Oklahoma City Police

The practicum experience with the patrol division of Oklahoma City Police shed light on its roles and responsibilities to the community. It emerged that the police are largely misunderstood by community members since they do not have an in-depth understanding of how police work is planned and executed (The City of Oklahoma, 2017). Similar to the Fire Department, the police force faces life-threatening situations on a regular basis and must make decisions on saving human lives. Negotiation skills and comprehending the psyche of suspects, especially in resolving volatile situations without causing harm to the involved parties. More importantly, public safety preservation is considered as a priority. Most incidents that involve the police are precarious and could result in disasters; hence, the police officers should be progressively trained.

The patrol division of Oklahoma City Police has a vital role in ensuring that the community is safe at all times and any individuals caught breaking the law are dealt with accordingly. Specifically, the practicum experience demonstrated that police officers must prioritize incidents and take decisions on the basis of risk level. Due to staff shortage, an officer must make an assessment of a situation to determine whether it is a high-risk or low-risk incident that may require an immediate or deferred response.

During the practicum, it came out that the police face various issues that include a lack of human resources and interagency communication challenges. In addition, the staff members often face life-threatening situations that may require the involvement of emergency units such as the fire department. However, due to the existing communication gaps among the various agencies, response times are often delayed, thus causing police officers and the public to suffer casualties that could have been avoided through inter-agency cooperation.

EOC Vehicle Extrication

The department has a major role in extrication of victims of accidents involving motor vehicles or structures that may require specialized services. EOC Vehicle Extrication ensures that emergency responders are able to identify and assess the situation in order to determine the resources that may be required to resolve a crisis. Vehicle extrication is a critical emergency response service that ensures victims trapped inside vehicle wrecks are removed safely. An assessment of the potential injuries suffered is made and the appropriate course of action is determined. The EOC Vehicle Extrication plays a vital role in making certain that automobiles involved in accidents are stabilized to prevent further damage and potential casualties. The practicum experience was informative especially with respect to the procedures and processes involved in vehicle extrication.

Inter-Agency Relationship

The interrelationship between the three agencies has been developed over time to ensure that emergency response processes are undertaken efficiently and effectively (Kapucu, 2006). Once an emergency occurs, first responders determine the nature and scope of the situation and immediately inform the relevant authorities and agencies for deployment of resources. During the practicum experience at Edmond Emergency Department, there were notable collaborative session, especially during the events for public education and training of community members. The agencies had organized a joint event that involved various emergency response institutions including Edmond Fire, Oklahoma Emergency Management, Red Cross, metro management organizations and others.

Among the issues addressed by various institutions during the inter-agency event were those that affect vulnerable populations. The series of discussions presented multiple topics such as funding, communication and information sharing, meetings, vulnerable populations, human responders, and mitigation (Comfort & Haase, 2006). All these together played into each other and how they could help in impacting communities in times of disasters. Vulnerable populations were a vital subject since it involves numerous issues and challenges that need to be addressed.

In addition, the participation of OEC Vehicle extrication was instrumental in training the public on the significance of handling accidents in a systemic way. The processes that were emphasized included being able to properly break a windshield, stabilizing a vehicle, and removing victims from the wreckage. The ability to make a preliminary assessment of the scene and determine the correct course of action while working together with other agencies for emergency response including the fire department and police is crucial.

The training session demonstrated by the EOC Vehicle extrication covered various types of accidents, affected vehicles, and problems presented by each one. There were automobiles portraying a rollover, T-bone, head-on, and rear end collisions. Some of the common tools used in this training were cribbing, strut systems, and hydraulic tools such as, hi-lift jacks, reciprocating saws, spreaders and cutters. Inter-agency cooperation especially in emergency on the part of Oklahoma City, Bethany, Choctaw, Tuttle, and other organizations was instrumental in the realization of training outcomes towards improved emergency response processes. The agents and participants involved in the coaching events shared ideas and brainstormed on the best approaches to resolve various challenges in emergency response.

Significantly, the involvement of Oklahoma City Police was enlightening especially with respect to their roles and functions in the community and during emergency response situations. There are numerous similarities between the police and other agencies such as the fire department. Evidently, there are various police departments include Patrol Division, SWAT, motorcycle cop, bomb squad, CSI, Canine Unit, Air support unit, and planning and research. These units possess specialized skills and expertise that are applicable in different emergency situations. Unlike other agencies, police have to face precarious situations on continuous basis that are potentially life threatening and are often called to address emergency situations such as a violent situation involving a potential shooter.

The police ought to exercise their negotiating skills to calm the suspect down and make an arrest. In some situations, injuries do occur or other problems arise such as fires that may require the involvement of fire departments, or a car accident that may call for the EOC Vehicle Extrication services. Evidently, police jobs require individuals capable of handling high stress situations and being able to perform at optimal levels. Inter-agency cooperation is critical in ensuring that services and resources are adequately allocated to eliminate the probability of casualties.

Gaps in Inter-Agency Communication

The major problem that came to light during my practicum period was that there were interagency communication challenges among the various institutions including Edmond Emergency Department, EOC Vehicle Extrication and Oklahoma City police among others. The gap in communication is a serious problem that could impair the resource deployment in crises. The implications due to the failure in communication systems during the disaster are proved to be severe. A significant number of people may die, thus being deprived of the chance to be rescued in time. Similarly, resources cannot be allocated to the areas in need in a timely manner. The lack of effective inter-agency communication can have detrimental impacts as was the case during Hurricane Katrina. The failure to recognize the need for bridging gaps in interagency reporting leaves the departments to rely on existing communication infrastructures and systems. The modern developments in technology have brought about numerous innovative systems. However, little effort was made prior to the disaster to deploy systems that could withstand the severity of such disaster as Hurricane Katrina.

The fact that the first responders faced numerous communication and coordination challenges points to the need for a systemic response strategy that would comprise of first and second responders in the event of a natural disaster such as Katrina. The first responders would attempt to rescue operations, while the second ones would be tasked with the restoration of critical services such as communication. The occurrence of natural catastrophe cannot be prevented; however, mitigating strategies can be implemented to ensure that effective response mechanisms are in place.

In addition, there was a significant shortage of staff at Edmond Emergency Department with only three employees available. The lack of human resources presents a problem, especially during emergency incidents, since they may not be able to perform all required tasks. An emergency or disaster situation may involve hundreds of people; hence it is prudent to ensure there are enough members of staff to perform various roles and tasks.

Recommendations

The state and the federal government should form a joint disaster response task force that employs uniform communication systems in the event of disasters. The emergency departments such as Edmond Emergency Department and Law enforcement agencies such as the Patrol Division of Oklahoma City Police must develop integrated communication systems that can be used for inter-agency communication, especially during disasters. These would ensure that the interoperability problems experienced during the Hurricane Katrina are eliminated. The joint task force should have pre-assigned numbers that make it easier for response units to communicate immediately after a disaster strikes.

The government should make investments in new information communication infrastructures that are resilient and capable of withstanding severe disasters such as Katrina or even worse. The fact that all the reporting systems including backups failed at the time of crisis illustrates that there was laxity on the part of service providers. The state and the federal government should create a joint strategy that compels all service providers to develop and implement sustainable communication backup systems that can withstand severe disasters.

The state and federal agencies should work closely with non-governmental organizations towards the creation of systemic disaster recovery programs and procedures. These will ensure that the recovery process is adequately coordinated and critical services are restored without delays. A primary lesson elicited by hurricane Katrina is that there is a dire need for resilient communication infrastructure and systems that can withstand any type of disaster irrespective of its magnitude.

Local, state, and federal government should allocate adequate resources to ensure that emergency departments such as the Edmond Emergency Department are not understaffed and thus overwhelmed in the event of disaster. The availability of the required human resources may be the determining factor in saving lives in emergency situations.

Conclusion

Interagency cooperation is needed for effective and efficient coordination of emergency response activities. The problem of inter-agency communication should be addressed across all regions in the country to ensure that resources are deployed and plans coordinated effectively. The gaps in interagency communication that became evident during the practicum can be equated to communication breakdown during hurricane Katrina, which highlighted major problems within existing disaster management systems. However, it led to the development of collaborative relationships enabling local response teams to establish cooperation with other agencies, institutions, non-governmental organizations, volunteers and government agencies in dealing with the disaster.

Significantly, the need for a comprehensive state and national disaster management plan is vital to make certain that local or state agencies are not overwhelmed when disasters occur in a given region. A combined strategy has a higher chance of producing positive outcomes in contrast to individual disaster management efforts.

References

Comfort, L.K., & Haase, T.W. (2006). Communication, coherence and collective action: The impact of Hurricane Katrina on communications infrastructure. Public Works Management & Policy, 10(4), 328-343.

Edmond, OK. (2017). Emergency management. Retrieved from http://edmondok.com/482/Emergency-Management.

Federal Communication Commission. (2006). Independent panel reviewing the impact of hurricane Katrina on communication networks. Retrieved from https://www.fcc.gov/pshs/docs/advisory/hkip/karrp.pdf.

Jenkins, W.O. (2009). Emergency management: Actions to Implement Select Provisions of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act. United States Government Accountability Office. Retrieved from https://www.gao.gov/assets/130/121915.html.

Kapucu, N. (2006). Interagency communication networks during emergencies: Boundary spanners in multiagency coordination. American Review of Public Administration, 36(2), 207-225.

Piper, P., & Ramos, M. (2006). A failure to communicate: Politics, scams, and information flow during Hurricane Katrina. Searcher (Medford, N.J.), 14(6), 40-54.

The City of Oklahoma. (2017). Patrol Divisions. Retrieved from https://www.okc.gov/departments/police/patrol-divisions.

Wohlstetter, J. (2005). Katrina: The sounds of Communication silence. Retrieved from http://www.discovery.org/a/2881

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