Disaster response activities are actions taken to save lives and prevent further property damage in an emergency situation. Response is putting preparedness plans into action. Disaster recovery activities are actions taken to return to a normal or an even safer situation following an emergency. The mission of the Department of Homeland Security is to support American citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
Disaster recovery remains the least understood aspect of hazards management, when assessed relative to preparedness, response, and hazard mitigation (Berke, Kartez, & Wenger, 1993; Smith & Wenger, 2006). Furthermore, while states are critical stakeholders in this process, their role remains less understood than the roles of federal and local governments (Waugh & Sylves, 1996; Smith & Wenger, 2006). This reality is manifest in the lack of sound recovery policy and often poor recovery outcomes following disasters. State governments do provide numerous recovery-related services, including the formulation of state policy, the coordination of assistance, and the provision of training, education, and outreach programs (Durham & Suiter, 1991). In practice, however, state involvement in disaster recovery varies widely due to differing levels of capability and commitment among emergency management organizations and other state agencies tasked with recovery activities (National Governor’s Association, 1998).
As DHS works with its local first responder partners to protect U.S. citizens and infrastructure from terrorist threats and natural and manmade disasters, it is critical to both support effective communication with those potentially affected by disasters and elicit cooperation from those who can provide information that is important to minimizing disasters. Effective communication affects a range of first responder and law enforcement efforts—from mobilizing populations out of harm’s way, to providing critical information on issues of health, to establishing the cooperation among groups that is critical to identifying threats. Past experiences have shown that poor communication with first responders has prevented the use of important information that could have averted destruction. Disaster preparedness and crime prevention programs, however, most often focus on native, usually English-speaking, minority populations. Relatively little analysis addresses communication with other ethnic groups.
Emergency medical professionals play a crucial role in natural disasters and other catastrophic events. These individuals include medical first responders, such as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and also emergency department clinicians (also called first receivers), such as emergency medicine physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. By responding rapidly to potential injury-creating events, triaging medical care needs, and initiating treatment, emergency medical professionals can substantially reduce mortality and morbidity. Ensuring an adequate capacity of well-trained EMTs and emergency medicine physicians falls within the areas of interest of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Despite the importance of ensuring an adequate supply of EMTs and emergency medicine physicians, only limited information is available on the supply of trained emergency medical professionals and the demand for their services during both normal conditions and following disasters or other similar events. Anecdotal information suggests that there may be substantial shortages among these professionals. This brief reviews available information on current and projected future shortages among emergency medical professionals, geographic disparities in shortages, and factors that contribute to these shortages.
First responders need a new generation of technology and resources to prepare for and respond to terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and large-scale emergencies. Next-generation simulation and experiential technologies for first responders can help better prepare them for evacuation planning and disaster response, better facilitate training experiences, and enable leaders and law-enforcement personnel to optimize their tactics using “what-if” simulations that are based on actual situations in which they might work. To accomplish these goals, new sets of technologies for evacuation planning and disaster response in urban environments are necessary. These include real-time technologies for simulating large groups of heterogeneous crowds consisting of non-uniformly distributed groups of people and “agents” (real, virtual, or constructive) with independent behaviors and goals, and urban traffic over a complex road network. Given the existing models and methods available, the research questions are as follows: Are existing methods sufficient to model large groups of heterogeneous crowds for real-time training? What are the most effective approaches for training and improving the first responders’ readiness for unexpected events? How can we evaluate and validate the results of crowd simulations for these given applications?