Natural Disasters: Surviving the First 72 Hours

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Those who live in earthquake prone areas are advised to prepare to survive for at least 72 hours following an earthquake. The actions of emergency responders and emergency managers is likewise critical in response to an earthquake, or any other type of disaster when life safety is of concern. EKU students had the opportunity to learn about actions required during this critical period during an emergency management forum in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in mid-October. The forum, titled “The First 72 Hours: Preparation–Coordination–Response,” was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge Office and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.  

The forum offered breakout sessions on a range of topics relating to the theme, such as making critical decisions in an emergency situation, integrating resources, utilizing technologies, and communicating with the public and emergency responders during power outages. Panelists discussed lessons learned from recent disasters, including ice storms that impacted the greater Central Tennessee region in February 2015, a train derailment that occurred in Blount County, Tennessee, and a mass shooting incident that occurred the same month in Chattanooga.  

Maintaining communications was a common theme. For example, a representative from Verizon Wireless, Inc. discussed the company’s capabilities to provide wireless communications during disasters that include widespread power outages. Their main mission is to provide communications capabilities to not only first responders, but also to victims in the disaster area. They bring in various mobile facilities to provide internet and phone access to those who need to charge electronics, check email, call friends and family members, and file Federal Emergency Management Agency Individual Assistance claims. It goes without saying that this is a significant help in disaster-stricken communities, not only to their communications capabilities, but also in the overall morale of the community.

A separate, but related session focused on the use of social media during the first 72 hours of a disaster. The reality of social media will need to be faced by emergency managers, both now and in the future. Oak Ridge National Lab has a full-time position dealing with social media; however, many state and local agencies rely on public information officers or require that social media monitoring and communications by handled by others.

Social media has many advantages. It can serve as an almost instantaneous route of information that can reach almost everyone. Resources can be rallied at a moment’s notice, and warnings can be given rapidly to huge numbers of people and their families. Networks can be set up where people can check-in with families and friends, even with power outages. Disadvantages are that rumors often surface and “trolling” is a problem, although inaccuracies are typically corrected by users.

Overall, the Oak Ridge Emergency Management Forum provided professionals and students alike a unique education on efforts involved in managing disasters. The lectures gave the attendees valuable insight and perspective, particularly for the students in attendance who are pursuing careers in the field.

Contributing authors: Mr. Joseph Jones and Ms. Laura Derringer, EKU students enrolled in the undergraduate Homeland Security Program, and Dr. Chad Foster, assistant professor

Published on November 17, 2015