Research Proposal: Emergency Management and Communications Interoperability

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Emergency Management and Communications Interoperability

In an emergency situation, it is vitally important to have adequate communication software in place to ensure the speedy response of emergency personnel. Indeed, ideally, such systems would be free from failure and allow rescue workers to save the maximum amount of lives. The reality is however rather less than ideal, as demonstrated by the devastation of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina. In order to remedy the situation, interoperability issues need to be addressed.

The other side of the coin is however, would such attention adversely affect local jurisdictions in terms of cost and time investments? Conversely, the research might also ask - how much importance in terms of funding can be placed upon a human life? The dichotomy created by these two questions will be addressed in this research. In order to do so, the specific concepts attached to interoperability, emergency management, and funding will be considered. Furthermore, specific emergency management issues related to 911 calls, September 11, and the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina will be used to contextualize the interoperability issue.

At the basis of the research is the question whether the implementation of the expensive 800 mHz band as a requirement has truly improved rescue operations to such an extent that it justifies the cost involved.

a. What is Emergency Management

The current concept of emergency management refers to the readiness of a nation in case of any emergency situation. Such situations may occur on either a large or small scale. Terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and accidents could broadly characterize emergencies that might befall a nation. In the United States, the 911 emergency call network is available to the public if they need assistance in an emergency.

Large organizations such as the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) and, the national military, the national police force and firefighters can make themselves available to handle large-scale emergencies. According to NEMA's EM Website (2009), the history of Emergency Management can be traced back to the origins of the American nation itself. During the 19th century, local efforts were implemented to help deal with threats such as fire and disease in the growing cities and towns of the country.

These resources were not however sufficient to handle a fire that swept through Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Local resources were inadequate by far to handle response and recovery. This led to the first disaster relief legislation. This was also the first stages of federal assistance during disasters.

Civil defense in terms of emergency management became an issue during the early years of the 20th century. During these years, the industrial revolution and the concomitant technological developments resulted in weapons of increasingly destructive power. Situations such as chemical warfare and civilian bombing in Europe also brought home to the U.S. government the importance of protection against terrorist power. Hence, President Roosevelt established the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) during 1939, when the threat of war was imminent.

When World War II ended, federal emergency management increased dramatically in response to new threats such as nuclear attack and the Cold War. President Truman's Federal Civil Defense Administration, established during the late 1940s, was responsible for handling civil defense for the country and its citizens.

The 1960s saw a renewed focus upon natural disaster relief and recovery. At the time, duties pertaining to such services were separate from civil defense, and handled by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As part of HUD, the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration was created to specifically handle disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. As these efforts grew, so did the agencies involved in relief practices. An increasing amount of different agencies became involved in emergency efforts, which considerably fragmented the industry. According to NEMA (2009), as many as 100 agencies were involved in such efforts and competing for control of particular disasters.

President Jimmy Carter addressed this problem during 1979, when FEMA was established to coordinate all federal disaster relief efforts. Agencies such as the Federal Insurance Administration, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, and several others were absorbed by FEMA. For the duration of the Cold War, FEMA's main focus was civil defense. As the war and its associated threats however recede, the focus of this protection moved back towards natural disasters.

During Hurricane Andrew, however, the Federal Emergency Management Association proved to fall far short of their protection and response requirements in Miami. Wide-scale public outcry resulted in a major overhaul of the Association from 1992. This in turn resulted in the agency becoming one of the most successful in federal history during the last years of the 20th century.

Since the terrorist attacks during September 2001, the Association has fallen back into disfavor once again. After these attacks, President Bush established the Department of Homeland Security in order to coordinate a variety of federal efforts include law enforcement, disaster preparedness and recovery, as well as more military duties such as border protection and civil defense. During 2003, FEMA was made part of the DHS Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was established during 1974, in order to unite state directors of emergency services for the first time. As such, NEMA acts as the consolidation agency for all emergency management organizations within the United States. In 1990 it also became an affiliate organization of the Council of State Governments (CSG).

Emergencies such as the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina revealed significant shortcomings in both these Agencies. Many blame the government's budget during the office of President Bush. Significant cuts have been made to the Emergency Management Performance Grant Program, making it difficult to function effectively when major disasters strike. Many critics believe that the basic reason for NEMA's and FEMA's failure during these emergencies is the lack of interoperability and adequate communication systems.

b. Interoperability

Paul Miller (2000) defines interoperability in very broad terms. He notes that the term refers to the action of actively engaging in the process of management for systems, procedures and culture in order to maximize opportunities for exchange and re-use of information, whether internally or externally. At its basis, the term therefore refers to the effective dissemination and sharing of information.

Miller identifies various forms of interoperability. The first of these is Technical Interoperability, which refers to the continued development of communication. Individual standards are to benefit the community and ensure the convergence of communication systems. Most applicable to emergency management is probably political/human interoperability and inter-community interoperability.

According to Miller (2000), political or human interoperability concerns the availability and dissemination of resources for certain purposes. In the case of disaster management, the organizations concerned, their staff, and the skills required to move resources are vital in order to make a success of rescue operations. Here communication technology is of vital importance, as will be seen later. It is important to implement adequate communication systems in order to ensure that rescue agencies and teams are dispatched within an acceptable time limit.

Inter-community interoperability refers to the blurring lines between institutions and disciplines. When large-scale emergency operations are for example required, various agencies are involved, including the military and firefighting professionals. It is therefore important that they be able to communicate adequately to ensure a high quality of integrated services. In this type of interoperability, the inter-disciplinary paradigm is also of importance. With multiple agencies that are involved in emergency operations, common solutions and partnerships should be in place before the occurrence of large-scale disasters to ensure the readiness of professionals to handle these. Such interoperability should also include the federal government itself in order to ensure effectiveness and professionalism.

II. LESSONS LEARNED

The 21st century holds several lessons for professional agencies in terms of disaster management. The two most significant of these is the 9/11 tragedy during 2001 and Hurricane Katrina during 2005. In general and on a smaller scale, it is also useful to consider the effectiveness of the 911 emergency hotline, and the subsequent dispatch of emergency services to individuals. All three these areas entail significant shortcomings in communication technologies, which have proved costly in terms of human suffering and lives.

In order to ensure a better future in terms of emergency response, it is therefore important to carefully analyze and consider the lessons that can be learned from disasters and tragedies such as these.

a. September 11, 2001

The terrorist attacks during the second half of 2001 were probably the worst in American history, and it affected emotions on a national scale. The tragedy occurred upon a multi-dimensional scale. In addition to the inevitable and immediate deaths, some mortalities could have been prevented had proper communications systems been in place.

i. Communication Failure

A report released by Adrianne Marsh (2005) reveals how inadequate the communication systems were at the time. According to the report, there were at least 15 hours of chaos and confusion following the attack. Congressman Bart Stupak, in charge of the Public Safety Interoperability Implementation Act, lays the blame for the additional tragedy… [END OF PREVIEW]

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