Natural hazards, such as flooding, tornados, wildfire, and earthquakes, bring about the greatest losses, calculated in nearly every metric possible, as compared to human-caused incidents. Human-caused incidents, either accidental or intentional, still bring tremendous impact to communities world-wide on a daily basis. While working to prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from natural hazards will always continue to be important, it seems that many still often forget about human-caused incidents despite all the conversations out there.
Human-caused incidents include a variety of hazards such as infrastructure failure, transportation accidents, hazardous materials incidents, and intentional attacks. These are all things which we can fit into our traditional model of Prepare, Mitigate, Respond, and Recover. The National Planning Goal introduced the model of the five Mission Areas – Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery – to help address our many of our major functions (Core Capabilities) for human-caused incidents (note that Preparedness is now a higher level concept that applies to all Mission Areas). While this Mission Area model has helped bring these key activities into the greater fold of what we do, it has also kept them largely isolated through the thought that many human-caused incidents are only addressed through Prevention and Protection Mission Area activities.
Nowhere, it seems, do we see this more than in the area of hazard mitigation. The vast majority of hazard mitigation plans which exist only address natural hazards (even at the state level). Since many readers view this blog for my opinion, here it is – this is archaic and dangerous thinking! We have all seen hazard mitigation plans which claim they are ‘all hazards’, yet only list natural hazards. That’s fine, if by some unbelievable circumstance, your jurisdiction is only impacted by natural hazards. This is a circumstance which I am highly doubtful of. Some mitigation plans get a little more realistic and will address human-caused hazards such as dam failure and/or hazardous materials release, which were likely the greatest human-caused threats they may have been vulnerable to in the previous century. In today’s world this still doesn’t quite get us to where we need to be. There are a great many mitigation activities which we can leverage against human-caused incidents.
How do we fix this? It’s easy – start with conducting a hazard analysis. A hazard analysis, be it as a stand-alone activity or part of the THIRA process, should review all possible hazards which your jurisdiction, company, or organization is vulnerable to. It should be comprehensive, not just limited to the set of natural hazards. Along with infrastructure failure and hazardous materials incidents (both in-transit and fixed site), consider hazards such as active shooters, cyber attacks, improvised explosives, and civil unrest. This may require bringing some additional subject matter experts into the room for your hazard analysis – like your IT director. In a hazard analysis, each hazard is ranked (at a minimum) by its likelihood to occur and its severity of impact should it occur.
A well conducted hazard analysis provides the basis for everything we do in emergency management and homeland security. It not only informs our activities such as planning, training, and exercises, it also helps assign priority to those hazards which require the greatest focus and allocation of resources.
© 2015 – Timothy Riecker
Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC