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Emergency preparedness

Emergency operations or Emergency preparedness is a set of doctrines to prepare civil society to cope with natural or man-made disasters. Disaster relief is the subset of these doctrines that is concerned with recovery efforts. This is usually a government policy adapted from civil defense to prepare for nonmilitary civil emergencies before they happen.

In the U.S., most cities maintain at least a cabinet in a basement conference room with several telephone lines. In an emergency, special stationary and other supplies come out of the cabinet, and the conference room becomes the "emergency operations center." The EOC then coordinates the city's emergency effort. Even this tiny amount of preparation, with periodic drills, and coordination with civic organizations, is amazingly better than nothing.

This article covers both civil and personal preparedness, because they work together. However, civil preparedness is far less expensive per-capita, and far more valuable, even though it can be harder to arrange.

Coping with disaster has four activities: mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery.

Table of contents
1 Mitigations
2 Preparations
3 Response
4 Recovery
5 Personal mitigation
6 Personal Preparations


Mitigations attempt to prevent the disaster from ever occurring, or reduce the effects of the disaster.

Floods and storm damage are the most common disasters. So, for example, a project can raise the level of a city so that a storm surge will not drown thousands. This was actually accomplished for Galveston, Texas after a devastating storm surge drowned thousands. For another example, a city can build levies to prevent floods, or (as in San Antonio, Texas) arrange for flood zones to be nonessential parks and walks.

Mitigation is the most preferred method, when it can be achieved at an acceptable cost. Mitigation is often practical for flood prevention, famine prevention, public health measures, and outages of power, water and sewer services.


The most important government preparation, and one of the cheapest, is simply for a city or region to have an emergency operations center, and a practiced, region-wide doctrine for managing emergencies.

(For personal preparations, see below)

An emergency operations center (EOC) is, at minimum, a couple of cabinets in a conference room, and a rather large group of cooperative people. It should have reliable telephones and reliable access to civil and amateur radio networks. One cabinet has the radios, emergency lights and a portable generator. The other cabinet contains specialized stationary, manuals, and vests or large badges to mark people with particular roles in the emergency process.

This type of emergency center is sufficiently cheap that any region can afford two, or can have one that's fancy, and one that's cheap, in case the main one is damaged.

One common doctrine for an EOC has an emergency coordinator and assistant supported by teams of secretary, manager, assistant and runner for each of financial services, emergency services, planning, and logistics. There is usually a train of up to ten alternate people for the emergency coordinator, six to ten for each team's leader, and four for each role in the EOC. Alternates agree to carry pagers or cellular phones. Amateur radio operators train and organize to offer civil emergency communication services at their own expense, and form service organizations for this purpose.

Other preparations preposition training, supplies and equipment for use in the response and recovery stages. For example, storm shelters and evacuation routes are very helpful for extreme weather. In floods, prepositioned caches of food, fuel, boats and radio equipment can be very helpful.

Many cities also offer training for community emergency response team. Basically, this is mass training to provide teams of amateur emergency workers in every neighborhood. These are truly useful because in an emergency, real firemen are instantly overloaded, with hundreds of calls, and the ability to respond to only a few. The trained amateurs can handle roughly 90% of all emergency rescues, and man almost all other emergency services.


Cities should plan to rescue their citizens, and plan emergency services.

Generally, a large emergency is first reported to a dispatcher for fire or police services. The dispatcher has a predefined criterion to contact the emergency services coordinator, or an alternate. The coordinator decides whether to activate the emergency operations center.

When the coordinator, and members of the supporting teams are in place, the EOC becomes active. The EOC usually begins by disaptching crews to gather information. Then it prioritizes needs, and dispatches emergency services. It also begins negotiations for emergency funding sources.

A continuing nasty problem in mass emergencies is a lack of trained responders. Most professional emergency services support about ten trucks per 100,000 people, and take at least a half hour per rescue. If a mass emergency injures or traps 2% of the population, this force will finish its rescues in about 100 hours.

In this time, up to 3/4 of the salvageable victims can die. Simple shock victims will die in about two hours. Trapped children will die of thirst in 24 hours, trapped adults and shut-ins in 48.

In mass emergencies, pretrained, volunteer community emergency response teams (CERTs) can rescue the 95% of victims that only need basic first-aid or light search and rescue skills. CERTs also can locate most of the roughly 5% of victims that require professional rescue skills. With a twenty-fold reduction in demand, and less need to search for victims, the professionals can then complete the most demanding rescues in ten to fifteen hours. Most salvageable people will be rescued.

The CERTs can also form neighborhood shelter and support groups, and arrange professional rescues, with triaged medical evacuation to prepared medical organizations via pre-arranged communcations with the emergency operations center.

The CERTs also provide a powerful method for informing and organizing mass evacuations to mass shelters. Response mobilizes emergency services, such as firemen, police, and community emergency response teams, and sheltering groups such as Red Cross. The emergency operations center is essential to this effort, because centrally-directed services are much more efficient at saving lives and property.


Recovery rebuilds damaged infrastructure, and restores people to normal work. Often recovery can be greatly aided by small amounts of infrastructure. For example, a subsidized "tourist" ferry can help a city on a river recover from an earthquake or flood-damaged bridges in a few hours, rather than weeks, by letting emergency traffic immediately restart.

The first practical response is to discover funding. This is usually a political process. Next, recovery needs are prioritized. This prioritization may occur in the EOC, although for many recovery items, priorities will have to be set politically.

The usual recovery is to repair essential bridges, roads, power, water and sewage systems. Some cities with crucial bridges "back them up" by subsidizing a "tourist" ferry, that can carry emergency traffic when a bridge goes down.

Some advocates believe that government should change building codes to require autonomous buildings in order to reduce civil societies' dependence on complex, fragile networks of social services

Personal mitigation

The basic thing is to make one's home safe against likely disasters in one's area.

The most common disasters are floods and storms. Preparation against floods is easy: don't buy a building in a flood plain. Ideally, one should at least consider living in an area without violent storms.

Most of the U.S. (including the east coast and mid-west) is subject to rare, extremely violent earthquakes. The safest area from earthquakes is in the middle of a large shield of unmoving rock, such as the Canadian Shield, or the central eurasian shield.

In earthquake areas, the basic mitigation is to install cabinet child-locks (to keep items in the cabinets), and mount furniture, refrigerators, water heaters and breakables to the walls. In California and Japan, special silicone putty kits are available to stick display crockery to shelves.

Personal Preparations

If violent storms occur, have a storm shelter, or have warning devices and an evacuation route. New designs can build a shelter as a concrete-block bathroom, using approved methods.

Some coastal cities in California have disasters as often as every two years. These areas have developed powerful techniques for personal preparedness. As in civil preapredness, they combine mitigation, preparation, response and recovery.

People have a bag or knapsack filled with gear and attached to their bed. In an earthquake or major storm, a bag merely under a bed is lost when the bed moves.

Many disasters cause windows to break at night. One of the most common disaster injuries occurs when people try to run on broken glass in bare feet. This causes immediate casualties who cannot self-evacuate. To prevent foot injuries, train yourself to put on shoes at night, and train shildren to stay in bed and wait for you to come for them, unless they see flame, smell smoke or feel heat.

Many disasters cause power failures, and happen at night. At night, without street lights or lights, it is difficult to self-rescue. The gear in the bag should therefore include at least shoes and a flashlight. A plastic grocery bag with tennis shoes and a flashlight is immensely better than nothing. Do it now, and improve it later.

Attaching the bag to the bed assures that it remains in a known place even if the disaster occurs at night and rearranges the furniture or damages the structure. Some otherwise prepared people lost the bags under their beds when their furniture moved during the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, California.

Other suggested items for the bag are keys, money, medicines, food, water, insurance and ID information, and rescue tools including gloves, a knife, a light saw and a prybar. Useful protective clothing includes a helmet, goggles, and dust mask.

Confinment at home

In a home confinement scenario, a family should be prepared to survive and treat moderate medical problems for a minimum of three days (two weeks is better) without deliveries of entertainment, food, fuel, utilities, water, or power, or pickups of trash and sewage. Likely scenarios include flood, loss of bridges or roads, extreme weather, earthquakes (which occur in all parts of the world), and civil disorder.

Homes in areas with extreme weather should have appropriate radios and storm shelters. Consider making these dual-use shelters for fallout. (See fallout shelter)

Entertainment is helpful. Have a selection of favorite non-electronic toys, books and games, and enjoy them at other times so they seem familiar and fun. Musical instruments are helpful. Inexpensive long-lasting lighting is also helpful. With these, a mild disaster can be fun. Without them, it can be awful.

The most exteme home confinement scenarios have radiological disasters followed by famines of up to a year. Planners for these usually buy bulk foods and appropriate storage and preparation equipment, and eat the food as part of normal life (bulk foods are substantially less expensive than grovery foods).

A simple balanced diet can be constructed from vitamin pills, whole-kernel wheat, beans, dried milk, corn, and cooking oil (see However such a simple diet is apt to cause starvation by appetite exhaustion (extreme boredom with the food). One should add vegetables, fruits, spices and meats, both prepared and fresh-gardened, if possible. The lowest cost provider of bulk foods is usually a feed store.


In an evacuation scenario, a family should plan to evacuate by car with the maximum amount of supplies, including a tent for shelter. The plan should also include equipment for evacuation on foot with at least three days of supplies and rain-tight bedding (a tarp and a bedroll of blankets is the minimum). Likely scenarios include flooding, extreme weather, tsunami, chemical and radiological accidents, and war.

See also: community emergency response team, civil defense, first aid, triage