Sections within this essay:Background
Early Efforts with Emergency Management
Department of Homeland Security
American Red Cross
Federal Emergency Management Agencu (FEMA)
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The attacks on September 11, 2001 that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington were disasters of an almost unimaginable scale. Still, even in the panic and devastation that ensued, orderly emergency procedures needed to be maintained to prevent further damage and to spare as many additional lives as possible. Emergencies on a smaller scale may not require as much sustained effort as the September 11 attacks did, but they, too, require effective emergency management procedures.
Emergencies that can warrant either a local, state, or federal effort can include a variety of situations:
- Natural disasters include earthquakes, floods, tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, mud-slides, and volcanoes.
- Fires can be set accidentally (by lightning storms or by careless campers) or they can be set deliberately by arsonists.
- Transportation disasters include airline crashes, train crashes and derailments, boat accidents, highway pileups and accidents, and anything that disrupts the ability of people to move from one place to another.
- Hazardous materials emergencies include oil spills, hazardous waste spills, and nuclear accidents.
- Invasions and attacks could come from military or terrorist sources.
Depending on the size and location of the emergency, local municipalities may take the primary charge, with state and federal agencies providing backup. Emergency management can also come from the private or corporate sector; mining accidents, for example, are usually handled primarily by the mining company (whose on-site miners are most familiar with the safest and most efficient rescue procedures).
Until the twentieth century, there was no formal government response system for emergency situations. The fear of an attack on U.S. soil, for example was almost nonexistent; the last foreign troops in the United States had been the British during the War of 1812. By the twentieth century, attitudes had changed, but it was not until the 1940s that the federal government felt compelled to take action. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the first Office of Civilian Defense in 1941, in anticipation of possible attacks on U.S. soil by the Axis forces in Germany and Japan. By 1950,when President Harry S. Truman created the Federal Civil Defense Administration, the main focus of emergency management was guarding against a possible invasion from Communist forces.
During the Cold War years following World War II, civil defense administrators worked with citizens to help them prepare against possible enemy attacks. A major fear was nuclear attack. The devastation of the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan were still fresh in people's minds. During the 1950s, many families installed bomb shelters underground or in their basements to guard not only against bombs but also against nuclear fallout. Municipal buildings, schools, and large private office buildings and apartment houses often displayed placards with the Civil Defense logo and the words "Fallout Shelter" (many older buildings still sport these placards). Up until the 1960s, students were led through air-raid drills in which they were instructed to "duck and cover" by ducking under their desks and covering their heads with their arms.
By the 1970s there were more than 100 federal agencies handling various aspects of disaster relief and emergency management. These included the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the Federal Insurance Administration, the Federal Preparedness Agency of the General Services Administration, and the U.S. Defense Department's Civil Preparedness Agency. In addition, each state and many municipalities had individual disaster relief and emergency management programs. There was concern that in the event of an emergency situation, there would be so many organizations scrambling to take charge that no one would be able to get anything done in the ensuing disorder. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order that merged the numerous disaster relief agencies into one central agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA's role is "responding to, planning for, recovering from, and mitigating against disasters." One of FEMA's first innovations was the creation of an Integrated Emergency Management System to provide warning systems in the event of disasters. FEMA can provide information and guidance for messages broadcast through the Emergency Alert System (which is actually maintained by the Federal Communications Commission).
When an emergency situation develops, the first people on the scene are usually police officers, fire-fighters, and paramedics, or emergency medical technicians (EMT). These are the first responders, and they are trained to react quickly in emergencies. The first responders' primary task is to make sure people are safe. This includes evacuation, rescue, crowd control, and medical attention. They also make sure that the area where the emergency is occurring has been secured. They redirect traffic and they keep onlookers away. In addition, they try to serve as a calming force, keeping panic and disorder to a minimum.
First responders have a unique perspective because they know their localities well. They know street plans and landmarks firsthand, and they also understand the local residents and the municipal structure. Despite this, and despite their training, first responders are not equipped to handle large emergencies alone.
Military agencies play a role in emergency management, most often through the Army National Guard, the Air National Guard, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The Army National Guard was formed in 1636 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Currently it has 340,000 members. They receive military training with the understanding that during wartime they can be mobilized. The Air National Guard, formed in 1947, serves essentially the same function and can also be called into active duty in time of war. The Coast Guard is made up of active duty, reserve, and civilian personnel and protects the coastal boundaries of the United States.
During wartime, the National Guard is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, but in peace-time the troops are under the jurisdiction of state governments. Each state maintains its own National Guard bureau that works with local authorities during emergency situations. In its role as a state-run agency, the National Guard' role is to mobilize where a crisis has occurred and use its training to help local authorities deal with the crisis situation. National Guard troops help reinforce dams and dikes threatened by floods, help contain forest fires, and offer emergency aid after hurricanes and tornadoes. The Coast Guard assists with ocean disasters (such as oil spills).
There are more than 1,800 National Guard units located in 2,700 communities across the United States. Guard members can fly helicopters and drive trucks that transport supplies, injured and sick people, and emergency materials (such as sandbags to help combat rising waters in flood situations).
After the September 11 attacks, the Bush Administration decided that, as with the dozens of pre-FEMA organizations in the 1970s, there were too many government entities that were inefficient. In part this was because there was no formal structure that allowed these various agencies to communicate with each other on a regular basis. The result was a system that was inefficient. The various agencies might be in touch during times of national crisis, but their unfamiliarity with one another might only serve to hinder their efforts. President George W. Bush was convinced that one way to make the nation safer from future attacks was to streamline the government structure and combine several departments that should have a logical connection under one umbrella cabinet-level organization, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Bush proposed the new agency in June 2002, and it was created in March 2003. The first Secretary of Homeland Security was former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge.
Among the government agencies that were gathered under the Homeland Security umbrella were the U.S. Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Transportation Security Administration, the Office for Domestic Preparedness, the Environmental Measurements Laboratory, and the Nuclear Incident Research Team. The Secret Service and the U.S. Coast Guard were also located in the Department of Homeland Security, although remaining intact as independent agencies.
The Department of Homeland Security offers a wide array of information about emergencies and how the public and local officials can deal with them on its web site (www.dhs.gov). It has a special site, www.ready.gov, that offers information on a variety of emergencies such as explosions, attacks, and natural disasters. Through FEMA, DHS also sponsors the Emergency Management Institute. This training program for interested and qualified civilians provides a series of courses on how to deal with emergencies, including preparedness, response, and recovery. It operates two campuses, one in Emmitsburg, Marlyand and one in Anniston, Alabama. Each year more than 5,000 people take courses at the two campuses, while an additional 100,000 take local courses through Emergency Management Institute-sponsored programs.
Civilian agencies can offer a great deal of aid during emergencies, in part because they are able to mobilize supplies and volunteers quickly thanks to large networks. Two of the oldest and best known are the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
The American Red Cross, founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, has been providing emergency assistance for more than a century. With nearly 1,300 chapters across the United States, the Red Cross is able to get volunteers to disaster sites within two hours of being notified of the crisis, The Red Cross provides needed essentials such as food, clothing, and shelter to victims of crises, and it also provides health care services as an adjunct to whatever local doctors or hospitals can provide. The Red Cross also maintains a national blood bank and can provide blood for much-needed transfusions. One of the important supports the Red Cross provides is mental health service. Understanding that the trauma of disasters can produce devastating emotional reactions, even if those suffering are unaware, and trained licensed mental health professionals are provided to offer assistance. They work with local mental health providers and professionals to coordinate both short- and long-term care.
The Salvation Army, founded in 1878, offers services similar to those of the Red Cross. It provides food, clothing, and shelter, and it also assists with cleanup and restoration. It distributes brooms, mops, shovels, buckets, and detergent, and it also sets up warehouses to house and distribute reconstruction supplies such as lumber. Because the Salvation Army is a religious organization, it can also offer spiritual comfort by providing chaplain services to disaster workers, emergency personnel, and disaster victims. Salvation Army counselors who are ordained as clergy can conduct funeral and memorial services.
The private sector can play a vital role in emergency management, both during and after the emergency event. Businesses that have specialized training (transportation, for example) can provide trained volunteers to assist in emergency management efforts, as well as equipment. A food services business could provide meals for emergency personnel. Companies with excess space could house equipment or people.
The DHS has a special service for businesses that want to donate goods or services toward emergency relief, the National Emergency Resource Registry. Interested business can register at the web site www.nerr.gov. The registry is a feature of DHS's Homeland Security Information Network, which is designed to provide the DHS Operations Center with round-the-clock access to "a broad spectrum of industries, agencies and critical infrastructure across both the public and private sectors."
Homeland Security Law and Policy, William C. Nicholson, Charles C. Thomas, 2005.
Introduction to Emergency Management, George D. Haddow and Jane A. Bullock, Elsevier/Butterworth/Heinemann, 2006.
Living with Hazards, Dealing with Disasters: An Introduction to Emergency Management, William L. Waugh, Jr., M. E. Sharpe, 2000.
2025 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006 USA
Phone: (202) 303-4498
Primary Contact: Jack McGuire, Interim Director and CEO
500 C Street, SW
Washington, DC 20472 USA
Phone: (800) 621-3362
Primary Contact: R. David Paulison, Acting Director
615 Slaters Lane
Alexandria, VA 22313 USA
Phone: (703) 684-5500
Fax: (703) 684-5538
Primary Contact: W. Todd Bassett, National Commander
Washington, DC 20528 USA
Phone: (202) 282-8000
Primary Contact: Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security