CHAPTER 7. EMERGENCY SERVICES

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1 CHAPTER 7. EMERGENCY SERVICES Although better forecasts and warning processes have helped save lives by providing more lead time to evacuate, the tremendous growth of development and human population in coastal regions is proceeding so rapidly that an increase in the loss of life related to coastal disasters can be expected in the future (The Heinz Center, 2000a, p. xxiv). The migration of so many people to the coastal cities and towns of the United States poses an enormous challenge to those planning emergency services in response to coastal disasters. The lack of mass transit in the evacuation of New Orleans ahead of Hurricane Katrina and the freeway gridlock that occurred while evacuating Florida and Texas cities ahead of hurricanes Wilma and Rita vividly demonstrated these challenges. Providing emergency services are State and local government responsibilities. However, the scope of a disaster and the number of people needing assistance can overwhelm even the most experienced State and local emergency service operations. Along with FEMA, the Coast Guard, National Guard, Army, and Navy can provide critical assistance and have the experience, assets, and capabilities that State, county, and local governments often lack in dealing with large populations. In the aftermath of Katrina, an expanded role for the military in responding to large disasters was suggested. However, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 strictly limits the use of American troops within the country (Kaplan, 2005). Emergency services provide preparedness and response assistance during, and after a disaster. They can involve the federal and State governments, every department of local government, and many non-governmental agencies, like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and church groups. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma fulfilled the prophesy of the Heinz Center report and demonstrated that although many people evacuated, others who could leave chose to stay, and many who wanted to leave could not. In metropolitan areas, people live close together on vulnerable coasts and during evacuations strain the existing system of freeways, feeder roads, and auxiliary highways. The White House Report (2006) on how the nation responded to Hurricane Katrina describes some valuable lessons. Local officials, floodplain managers, and coastal zone administrators should review this document in order to reshape or build their emergency services (http://www.whitehouse.gov/reports/katrina-lessons-learned.pdf). BASIC: GENERIC RESPONSE PLAN Most communities have a disaster response or emergency preparedness plan. Often these are developed by the county (parish, borough) to provide overall coordination of disaster response and recovery. Larger cities will have an independent disaster planning initiative that includes preparation, response, and recovery elements. Generic response plans that are not much more than verbatim copies of models developed for guidance purposes have no details on specific threats confronting that community. Model response plans treat all disasters alike and seldom offer directed actions for different hazards or for events of differing magnitude. For example, after a flood, a model plan may recommend convening a committee to determine what steps should be taken and in what sequence. In reality, No Adverse Impact in the Coastal Zone 59 May 2007

2 action items should be embedded in a community s plan before the disaster strikes. Implementation then becomes the sole focus. BETTER: MULTI-HAZARD RESPONSE PLAN Multi-hazard response plans are preferable to single-purpose plans because they force consideration of the interaction of events and agencies. In particular, preparing the plans and practicing them under simulated conditions allows representatives from participating agencies who may infrequently work together to train together. Plans are complete after responsibilities have been assigned and the process tested in realistic simulations. Two key factors make floods usually easier to anticipate than other hazards: Communities usually get some advance warning of a flood; and Communities generally know where floods happen based on the Flood Insurance Rate Maps, past flood events and predictions of worst case scenarios (As demonstrated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the inland extent of storm surge or the depth of inundation can exceed the moderate flooding shown on FIRMs and a communities flooding history.). Because of these two factors, when and where a flood occurs should not be a surprise to local emergency managers. Therefore, a community should have a flood-specific response plan. Emergency managers need not and should not wait for the flood before taking action. Tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, rapidly developing unusual storms, and massive landslides are much harder to anticipate. On the Great Lakes, rare waves can surge over breakwaters and through marinas (Mortimer, 2005). The first step in responding to events such as hurricanes; tsunamis that strike the West and East coasts, the Gulf Coast, Hawaiian Islands, and the Pacific islands; and earthquakes from California to Alaska is being aware that they exist. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) issues predicted paths, intensities, and descriptions of potential problems (erosion, surge heights, winds) several days in advance, giving communities time to activate personnel and response plans. Research on warning indicators of impending continental earthquakes continues to improve, and there have been some situations in Asia where devastating earthquakes were predicted weeks to months in advance of their occurrence. In contrast, warnings of impending undersea earthquakes do not occur until after the event has occurred. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii broadcasts tsunami warnings throughout the Pacific Ocean Basin after rapid analysis of the source and strength of earthquakes detected in the Basin. Both the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii and the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center of NOAA/NWS in Palmer, Alaska, can provide inundation zone maps that show potential areas affected by tsunamis and related information as can the State of California and the NOAA office in Seattle, WA. The time between an earthquake that generates a tsunami and arrival of tsunami waves on the West Coast of the United States can be very short. For example, a tsunami generated by a source in the western Pacific 4,000 miles off the Oregon coast and traveling over average ocean depths would arrive on the Oregon coast in about eight hours. This provides very little time for the Tsunami Warning Center to confirm the location and strength of the earthquake and send out a warning, or for emergency managers on the West Coast to receive the warning and act. For an earthquake generated in the Cascadian Subduction Zone off of the Oregon coast, the travel time for a tsunami to reach the West Coast may be only 5 to 30 minutes too short a time for an No Adverse Impact in the Coastal Zone 60 May 2007

3 effective warning to be issued from the Warning Center in Hawaii (Madin 1992; Oregon 2005a and b). Communities at the better level should have warning systems that may be as simple as a siren. Just as important as the warning is that citizens know what to do. A warning program should have a public information component. For example, people need to understand the difference between a tornado warning (when a basement is a good refuge) and a flood warning (when they should stay out of the basement). People in tsunami risk areas need to be advised to immediately go to high ground when they feel an earthquake. The National Weather Service established the StormReady and TsunamiReady programs to help local governments improve the timeliness and effectiveness of hazardous-weather-related warnings for the public. Qualifying for this program is a definite step toward improved flood preparedness, and it is also credited by the Community Rating System. FEMA Storm Ready logo and local tsunami evacuation sign Concurrent with threat recognition and issuance of warnings, a community should respond with actions that can prevent or reduce threats to life, health, and property. Typical coastal storm/hurricane response actions and responsible parties include: Activating the emergency operations center and securing communications (the chief elected official and emergency manager); Providing early warning to certain critical facilities (the dispatcher); No Adverse Impact in the Coastal Zone 61 May 2007

4 Changing traffic flow on evacuation routes and closing streets and bridges (police or public works department); Providing early warnings to marinas and harbormasters to expedite hauling boats out of the water or relocating them to safer areas (the chief elected official and emergency manager); Making evacuation decisions (the chief elected official and emergency manager); Providing people with directions to safe emergency evacuation routes away from coastal areas (public works department and the media); Providing and publicizing the availability of mass transit for evacuation of people without vehicles (the emergency manager and media); Monitoring water levels (the engineering department); Holding children at school or releasing them from school (school district); Opening evacuation shelters (the Red Cross or other relief organization); Providing security for evacuated areas (the police); and Informing the public about health and safety precautions (the health department). Road closed in a storm The benefit of a good flood preparedness plan is that the appropriate flood response steps are already outlined, responsibility is designated, and the order in which they should be taken is specified. One of the best tools to help predict what will happen is a flood stage forecast map that shows what areas will be affected at specified flood heights. Such a map is prepared on a good topographic map by highlighting areas flooded at different flood levels. Emergency managers should use National Weather Service river forecasts, local gages, projections of flood crests and Hurricane Evacuation Studies to decide when to initiate local emergency plans. (See the websites listed in Appendix E for additional sources of information). An inventory identifies each structure in the flood hazard area, its first floor elevation, and the flood level at which emergency access to and evacuation from the structure is prevented. Using predicted flood levels and data on specific structures, communities using the better No Adverse Impact in the Coastal Zone 62 May 2007

5 approach can activate automated phone systems to call specific addresses with warnings to evacuate or take other actions. NAI LEVEL: PRE- AND POST-DISASTER PREPAREDNESS A flood response plan that is developed with the No Adverse Impact (NAI) approach is designed to ensure That no one suffers harm from implementation of the plan; That no one who wants or needs assistance or evacuation will be left behind; and That people do not exchange the former insecurity of an impending flood at their home for a new insecurity without shelter as they evacuate or in unsafe shelters because planning was inadequate. Pre-Disaster Pre-disaster plans must consider operational steps to reduce adverse impacts during flood response and emergency operations. Sometimes adverse impacts result from efforts to protect properties during a flood. Flood preparedness planning needs to make sure that these actions do not make things worse for someone else. For example, an emergency barrier (often called a temporary levee) will protect one building but divert floodwaters onto other properties in the same way that a permanent levee will. NAI communities plan their emergency operations in advance. The location, size, and implementation of emergency actions are evaluated to determine if the operations will cause adverse impacts on other people or properties. Emergency action plans are periodically updated to assure that names and contact information are current, and action plans are regularly practiced. Freeway contra-flow, Hurricane Rita (Houston) No Adverse Impact in the Coastal Zone 63 May 2007

6 Reducing adverse impacts of floods, as part of a community s multi-hazard response planning effort, is further supported by integration of the National Response Plan (NRP) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS) in local plans. The NRP defines FEMA s central role in coordinating disaster response and recovery when a State requests assistance from the national government. Emergency Support Functions, or ESFs, assign authority for transportation, sheltering, medical services, construction and engineering, communications, and other essential response elements to supporting federal agencies. Under the new National Response Plan, functional coverage for law enforcement and security, long-term community recovery, and public information have been added and the Plan is coordinated with the NIMS concept of Incident Command as an overriding management system. An organization chart showing the relationship between these components, plus a basic diagram for the Incident Command System as an emergency operational template, are included below for reference. Local and State governments needed to have plans complying with the basic ICS requirement of NIMS by March 2006 in order to qualify for FEMA emergency management grant funds. Incident Action Planning, which reviews and refocuses emergency operations objectives during set Operational Periods, is invaluable for flood operations management and in controlling adverse actions. An Incident Action Plan can identify ongoing risks, determine what resources are required to manage changing events, and assign operational elements to reduce flood impacts. Typically the Incident Action Plan process includes key logistics, operations and management staff under the leadership of the Incident Commander and the Planning Section Chief. Examples of using the ICS planning process to reduce flood impacts include enhancing communication for coastal evacuations or increasing surveillance at landslide-prone areas along the coast. Post-Disaster Being prepared for what follows the disaster can help a community take important steps to promote sound redevelopment after a flood. Everyone wants to get back to normal. The problem is, normal means the way they were before the disaster, exposed to repeated damage from future floods. Emergency Support Function (ESF) #14 Long-Term Community Recovery and Mitigation provides a framework for Federal Government support to enable community recovery (FEMA, 2004b). No Adverse Impact in the Coastal Zone 64 May 2007

7 This is the time when people are thinking about flooding and when damaged buildings and other facilities could be removed or retrofitted at a lower cost. It is also the time when some disaster assistance funds, as well as FEMA mitigation funds, become available and can best be used to protect buildings and infrastructure from future damage, suffering, and public costs. A community flood preparedness plan should include a plan for post-disaster mitigation procedures that would include: Conducting habitability inspections (in addition to safety issues, this is important in determining temporary housing needs); Determining which structures are substantially damaged; Regulating reconstruction to ensure that the damaged structures meet all code requirements for future flood loss reduction, and revising codes when needed; Conducting a public information effort to advise residents about available funding and mitigation measures they can incorporate into their reconstruction plans; Evaluating damaged public facilities and incorporating protection measures during repairs; Acquiring substantially damaged or repetitive loss properties from willing sellers; Preparing or updating a long-term mitigation plan; and Applying for post-disaster mitigation funds based on the community s comprehensive mitigation plan. One new tool that can help a community with substantial damage determinations is FEMA s Residential Substantial Damage Estimator software program, which makes determinations easier and more objective. After large disasters, FEMA can help bring in teams of building code experts to help a community with the many assessments and determinations. Requiring permits, conducting inspections, and enforcing a community s substantial damage regulations can be very difficult for understaffed and overworked offices after a disaster. It is important to seek ways to supplement building department staffing because if these activities are not carried out properly, not only would a community miss a tremendous opportunity to redevelop or clear hazardous areas, it may be violating its obligations under the NFIP and/or cause additional damage. Part of planning post-disaster responses involves obtaining interagency mutual aid agreements with communities and persons outside the coastal zone in order to ensure that experienced staff (from outside the affected region) are available to help local officials and staffs. Holistic Disaster Recovery Ideas for Building Local Sustainability after a Natural Disaster is a publication that can help with this approach (Eadie et al., 2006). The same NAI perspective described above needs to be taken in developing emergency response plans for tsunamis, extra-tropical (winter) storms, catastrophic landslides, and other coastal disasters. In planning exercises for such disaster responses, the simulation modeling of storm surges is vital, continues to improve, and needs greater resolution and verification for highly-modified waterways and complex urban landforms. The hazard of the ebb of tsunami water back to the sea needs to be a part of tsunami simulation as well as planning emergency responses to a tsunami. No Adverse Impact in the Coastal Zone 65 May 2007

8 No Adverse Impact in the Coastal Zone 66 May 2007

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