Friday, January 11, 2013

Five key factors that will impact emergency management this year

 I've spent the last few weeks looking back 2012 and some of the key moments for social media in emergency management. Now, I'd like to set sights on what may lay ahead this year.

Early last year, I took a look at some geo-politic and geo-strategic impacts on EM,  I'm not going to delve in as deeply now but for a full look at some of the risks ahead ... see this link from the World Economic Forum.

While I was reflecting on the material for this post, I realized that the five key factors I believe will greatly impact emergency management in 2013 are related (some more closely than others ...).

To me, the single most important phenomenon impacting our planet today and having a big disruptive impact on our communities and on emergency managers, is climate change. I don't care if you believe it's human caused or not ...
Escaping the flames: The family's pet dog Polly sought safety on the jetty as the family huddled together in the waterDivine intervention: A building burns near the jetty. The family credits God with their survival from the fire that destroyed around 90 homes in their town of Dunalley as the country was hit with record temperatures

Fact is, it's real and the consequences are felt globally:
  • The current bushfires in Australia are just one example (see above ...). In fact, it's so unusually hot that the meteorologists have had to make changes to their maps
  • We've also see powerful cyclones and hurricanes, Superstorm Sandy.
  • What we see are more frequent and more severe previously thought as "freakish" weather events around the world and in the US and Canada.
2012 National Events Map

In 2012, the contiguous United States (CONUS) average annual temperature of 55.3°F was3.2°F above the 20th century average, and was the warmest year in the 1895-2012 period of record for the nation.
  • What does this mean for emergency managers? We'll deal with more frequent large, devastating wildfires/forest fires such as the one that burned in the Western US and Northeastern Ontario last summer.
  • As we now face 100-year storms almost every season, how do we cope as emergency managers? 
  • As climate changes and opens up new routes for commerce (like in the Arctic), how do we follow with increased emergency management and search and rescue capabilities?
  • And on a much broader scale, think of the impact on critical infrastructure caused by rising sea levels? 

As we face more large scale events, many of us must deal with diminishing resources and smaller budgets to keep up emergency management programs. While our public expects us to do more (just think of the new demands brought by social media and crowdsourcing ...), we must do so with less. 

The third key factor that will impact emergency managers on a global scale will be the growing scarcity of water and food supplies. This is not just something that should concern people in Africa or Central Asia. North Americans should also be very aware of what lurks ahead. It's a planetary issue.

Lower Mississippi 2012 (many dry areas)
Lower Mississippi 2011 (river wider with floods
The fourth factor that could very well bring about large headaches for emergency managers is a wholesale collapse of our financial system. Although it seems, we're slowly recovering from the crisis that started in 2008, many believe the worse is still to come.
  • Somebody who's accurately predicted socioeconomic upheaval in the past is saying a "great depression" is on the horizon. No matter what you think of Gerard Celente, the prospect is a scary one:

  • The growing inequality between the "haves" and the "have nots" is a sure sign of trouble brewing on the horizon. The activities we saw in the last 18 months by the Occupy Movement would pale in comparison with what would happen if a new "great depression" occurs (and many believe it will come with the collapse of the financial system).
  • Some commentators on the "fringe" side of things, see a concerning situation. Others, perhaps a bit more levelheaded, still see a need for preparedness.
  • So what does this mean for emergency management? How about social unrest, no budget, no staff, shortage of emergency personnel and a general distrust of government. How effectively could we deal with incidents and disasters then? 
The fifth factor that could greatly disrupt the "peaceful" existence of emergency managers in 2013 is the specter of large-scale terror attacks. Have we been lulled into a false sentiment of security since there have been no large attacks on our shores since 9-11? Is this about to change?
"That’s our whole goal here: to show you can cause physical damage or change in a city environment entirely using computers."

Now, my hope is that I'm totally wrong and none of these five factors really disrupt our personal and professional lives this year. But wishful thinking just won't do. We must adapt our preparedness and capabilities to face new realities. That's why I'm such a believer in social convergence (social networks and mobile technologies) that foster community resilience and the crowdsourcing of response and recovery efforts.

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