Natural Disasters During a Global Pandemic – Are You Prepared?  

Nossaman eAlert

June 1 marked the start of meteorological summer in the U.S., and with that comes heat waves, long-duration wildfires, deadly and destructive tornadoes, and the Atlantic hurricane season. Emergency management officials across the country must plan and prepare for responding to large-scale natural disasters, especially during a global pandemic.

“While there’s no such thing as an ordinary crisis, there are proactive steps every community leader can take to be ready. A clear-eyed and systematic review of your community’s emergency response capabilities can mean the difference between minimal disruption and long-term disaster.”

Hon. Chris Carney, Nossaman Senior Policy Advisor and FEMA Certified in Incident Command Systems, Fundamentals of Emergency Management and Continuity of Operations for Pandemic Influenza

Here are the questions emergency management officials of local governments should be asking themselves now:

  • Have you reviewed and modified emergency operations plans to align with COVID-19 guidance to include social distancing limitations, travel restrictions, fiscal impacts, reduction of government services, and potential impacts to your supply chain?
  • Have you reviewed and updated your Continuity of Operation Plans (COOP) to continue essential functions and address vulnerable population needs?
  • Have you assessed the level of training of your emergency officials and inventoried skill sets within the community?
  • Do you have a plan to prioritize resources to stabilize emergency and ongoing communications, which is the lifeline to initial and ongoing response to catastrophic event?
  • Have you purchased and stockpiled necessary response equipment, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and fuel for generators, and inspected any necessary reserve equipment?
  • Have COOP and Emergency Response Plans (ERPs) been reviewed with necessary utilities, such as power, water, wastewater, electric, and internet service providers?
  • Do you have a system that can collect and share data to support decision-making?
  • Has the municipal government identified appropriate shelter locations and capabilities, given both the pandemic and possible recurring natural disasters?
  • Are the necessary contractual agreements in place, such as debris removal, temporary facilities, transportation of vulnerable citizens and those needed medical attention?
  • Have your ERP and COOP been updated with state, local, and regional partners?
  • Have you considered the extra time it may take to evacuate given the need for social distancing, while simultaneously addressing the specific needs of vulnerable and at-risk populations?
  • Have you identified alternate sites and capabilities to ensure your COOP includes requirements for telework?
  • Do the constraints and impacts of COVID-19 within your, and neighboring, jurisdictions warrant the expansion of mutual agreements with new partners?
  • Are you prepared to discuss and finalize accessible multilingual and culturally appropriate plans on increased personal preparedness measures and to encourage your community to participate in emergency response?
  • Have you engaged non-profits and small businesses in your jurisdiction to discuss how you would respond and recover from a natural hazard event in a COVID-19 environment?
  • Have you maintained good relationships with state emergency management leaders?
  • Have you maintained good relationships with elected and bureaucratic officials in Washington, D.C.?

Luckily, money is available to help with these additional preparations. FEMA awarded $100 million in FY 2020 Emergency Management Performance Grant Supplemental funding to state and territorial government agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency. This is on top of the $220 million in additional funding that Congress recently provided for State, Local and Tribal entities to respond to COVID-19. Disbursement of these funds begins in June 2020. Additionally, there are competitive grants assessed and issued by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, which can help make a difference in your community’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a natural disaster in the pandemic environment.

Summer is a busy time for Mother Nature and Local and Tribal Governments must be ready.

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