Disasters have affected many countries globally, afflicting millions of people and causing numerous fatalities in addition to the depletion of national resources and communities’ displacement. Further, many leaders and policy-makers are faced with aftermath consequences resulting from disaster impacts; thus, the need for hazard preparedness and awareness; thus, providing sustainable solutions (Barnes et al., 2019). Moreover, the latest studies have shown the devastating effects emanating from disasters that have led to many losses. As a result, hazards have not only led to the death of more than 8 million people worldwide but also, a $7 trillion economic loss (Ji & Lee, 2019). Although Pennsylvania is not considered an extremely vulnerable state as compared to California and Texas, it is prone to disasters. Consequently, this has made Philadelphia less prepared and susceptible to natural disasters and risks resulting from climate change (Barreca et al., 2016). This paper discusses emergency planning, vulnerability analysis, leadership and leading process, and key features of the Incident Command System (ICS) as components of disaster management in Philadelphia.
Natural Disasters and Health Emergencies
The assessment of hazards and health concerns form a fundamental and integral part of the development of an emergency response plan. Moreover, the World Health Organization (WHO), defines a disaster is an unexpected occurrence of an event that causes severe disruptions to people and properties. This leads to the loss of lives and incapacitation of the response-ability (Severin & Jacobson, 2020). Further, they are divided into two major categories comprising man-made and natural. In the first group, they are associated with human activities such as terrorism, shooting, bridge and house collapses among others. The second category is linked to weather and the resultant geological occurrences, namely, extreme heat, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, landslides, drought, and volcanic eruptions. Besides, natural epidemics such as HINI, Ebola, and COVID-19 belong to natural disasters (Severin & Jacobson, 2020). Therefore, disruptions brought by disasters result in suffering, misfortune, and helplessness of people as well as adverse socioeconomic impacts that require relief.
However, before the consideration of procedures to follow in response and mitigation, it is paramount to assess the likelihood of a hazard, thereby, giving priority to immediate emergencies. Further, it is essential to undertake a careful in-depth community susceptibility assessment to aid in the identification of its vulnerability to risk. In line with this, through the Incident Command System, various organizations and departments can develop coordination mechanisms depending on the complexity and size of the incident (Jensen & Thompson, 2016). Similarly, under Incident Action Planning (IAP) which is a coherent and concise means of communication, relevant bodies can address timeframes by setting priorities, strategies, objectives, assignments, and their completion date. Further, to ensure its effectiveness, the plan should specify objectives and communication protocols, have a specific timeframe, address contingencies, identify resources, and assign responsibilities (Jensen & Thompson, 2016). This is important to emergency action planning despite the complex nature of the task since the person in charge can make prior work arrangements. Also, for major incidents such as hazardous material crises, a written IAP is used while for minor tasks it can be used orally.
Philadelphia as a city has experienced some of the natural disasters in the U.S.A ranging from tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. In addition, among other states in the United States, it leads in the susceptibility to tornadoes with a 146.81 value index as compared to Pennsylvania which has 109.77, and the U.S with 136.45 as shown in the diagram below.
As indicated from the above indexes, the state is more vulnerable and likely to be affected by hazards resulting from some the natural disasters.
Although the city has pre-disaster management plans to curb hazards, it is unprepared for unpredictable imminent disruptions caused by weather. While pointing out the link between climate change and susceptibility to natural hazards, Kermanshah et al. (2017) assert that Philadelphia’s road network has been greatly impaired by flash floods resulting from torrential rains. This has been exacerbated by a lack of vegetation cover and recurring storms. Therefore, it calls for the re-examination of the level of preparedness, especially in the urban areas that are prone to the ever-increasing precipitation levels affecting social amenities leading to sewage overflows.
Challenges facing Philadelphia
While Pennsylvania cannot be compared to Texas and it has not got the attention needed in emergency preparedness, it requires appropriate measures due to the inherent dangers resulting from climate change. Coupled with this, various risks and hazards are considered in the planning process. Accordingly, the state and its environs are seen as climate change risk-prone areas due to the extreme heat and heavy precipitation. Barron et al. (2018), highlights various areas in the city neighborhoods that are likely to be affected by heat waves as an aftermath of weather change. They include Logan, Upper Kensington, Haddington, Cobb’s Creek, and Kingsessing regions. Consequently, in August 2020, the aforementioned areas were affected by floods that resulted from a severe tropical storm. The National Guard and fire department of Philadelphia were at the forefront of helping the people trapped in their homes and vehicles submerged in water.
Various departments were devasted by the crisis since it was abrupt and unexpected. According to the fire commissioner, the storm had lashed through the homes and left insurmountable destructions in its wake. Conversely, even though the rain had subsided, the Schuylkill River was yet to reach its peak; thus, a likelihood of more floods (Staff, 2020). In addition, the Wissahickon river had overflown, necessitating combined efforts of all departments in rescuing the victims. According to the fire commissioner, “Chopper 3 was over 80th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard in the city’s Eastwick section, where the entire residential area was inundated with the waters” (Staff, 2020, para 11). Through Unified Command, various entities including the fire department, meteorological services, and the National Guard flood incidents were managed in a concerted manner. This was typical as there was no single established authority to manage the hazards on their own but combined efforts involving multiagency participation. The situation was dire due to floods as shown in the picture below.
On one hand, the lack of trees and other vegetation in Philadelphia has led to the vulnerability of people to heat, while on the other hand, floods from storms have led to many losses. Conversely, Eidson et al. (2016) while highlighted the correlation between public health and climate change, asserting that various community concerns are affected by inadequate infrastructure. Diseases such as obesity, hypertension, and other heart-related conditions among people are on the increase. These conditions are likely to deteriorate due to inadequate urban infrastructure on one hand, while on the other, the environmental conditions brought about by climate change. Lack of timely access to medical care and the interruption of social amenities due to heat and floods as a result of environmental changes lead to loss of lives and worse health conditions. Consequently, there is a need for concerted efforts from all stakeholders and the administration should upgrade the infrastructure to curb and minimize losses that are likely to occur (Eidson et al., 2016). Moreover, weather predictions from the Meteorological Department should provide adequate, reliable, and timely predictions, aimed at warning all susceptible populations about the impending hazards.
Roads should be well maintained to facilitate the movement of medics to provide needed help during emergencies, as well as the transportation of patients to hospitals. In contrast, climate change has not only contributed to public health challenges but also, it has led to many other risks in the city. These social issues have become inherent and need to be considered during emergency preparedness planning. Whelan (2020) asserts that Philadelphia is among the regions with high drug use in the U.S. As such, there are cases of several drug overdoses and trafficking. The recent border closing due to the emergence of COVID-19 paints a grave picture whereby, although the disruptions in the marketing and distribution of drugs were expected, business is booming. Whelan (2020) expounds that despite the closure, the sales are high and this poses a threat to the well-being as well as the public health of the residents. In addition to overdose, there is a demand increment which is likely to lead to the production of low-quality heroin.
Another challenge facing the community is the use of opium across the United States. The high rates of addiction among users especially during the confinement period due to the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to increase the spread of diseases. Arnold et al. (2019) note that for the past five years, there has been an increase of 33 percent in overdoses resulting from the use of opioids in American states. They further note that the U. S’s opioid use crisis is on the rise geographically among all groups and ages (Arnold et al., 2019). Coupled with the untraceable nature of users, sharing of needles increases the transmission of diseases; thus, aggravating the current health emergency. For this reason, it is important to put in place rapid and continuous plans to enhance regular response to emergencies resulting from drug use, as well as risks emanating from natural disasters.
Although Philadelphia is less susceptible to many disasters, a plethora of other environmental risks such as pollution and storms among other hazards challenge the authorities to implement stringent measures to minimize their effects. Effective accountability by all concerned persons during incident operations requires both individuals and organizations to abide by set guidelines, policies, and regulations initiated during Emergency Response Planning (Eidson et al., 2016). Further, creating awareness through Integrated Communication is an integral part of ICS as it not only informs the people about the impending hazards but also, it builds their capacity in disaster management.
Emergency Planning for Community Resilience
Early planning through preparedness in anticipation of a disaster is the key step in protecting and empowering a community. Further, the development of local capacity is realized through the analysis and understanding of NIMS. Equally, it not only guides nongovernmental organizations and governments, but also, enhances unity among different agencies working for the protection, mitigation, and recovery during incidents. Moreover, it reduces differences that are likely to emerge due to pressure during the occurrence of a disaster by improving the effectiveness and efficiency of emergency operations (Hambridge et al., 2017). Further, it enables all stakeholders in the community to understand the processes and operational systems to follow during an emergency. To realize a successful and effective Emergency Response Plan various factors have to be considered. They include economic, geographical, financial, environmental, and socio-cultural aspects of the people in a given society. Consequently, due to natural hazards like storms, cyclones, and floods in Philadelphia, there is a need for interagency coordination and communication with the community people. As a result, it necessitates the use of NIMS and its effectiveness in enhancing planning for emergencies and analyzing people’s vulnerability.
Hazard and Vulnerability Analysis
Various Types of Emergencies
As aforementioned, a catastrophe is an event that destroys or damages property and brings about human suffering. While these events build up from likely risks to hazards, they can strike anywhere without warning. Therefore, the analysis of vulnerability is based on the premise of hazard identification and awareness; being prepared for the likelihood of such events occurring. Ogie and Pradhan (2019) expound that natural disasters like floods, cyclones, hailstorms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and bushfires pose a threat to assets and humanity around the globe. They further explain that these emergencies culminate in significant financial losses and fatalities to citizens. Further, data analysis on the effects of disasters globally, between 2013 to 2017, revealed that earthquakes, floods, and storms accounted for 49,303 injuries, 10,846 deaths, and $ 148 billion costs yearly (Ogie & Pradhan, 2019). Moreover, there are three major categories of emergencies that are vital during risk analysis. These include natural, man-made, and anthropogenic risks that are prevalent in Philadelphia (Kolakowski, 2020). Besides, due to the subtropical and humid climate in the city, it is susceptible to regular ice storms and cyclones that leave destruction in the aftermath.
Further, there are regular floods that consist of street runoffs, basement backups, groundwater, and riverine. This resulted in overflooded sewers and immense storms that contaminate the water system in the city houses; thus, leading to a crisis. As such, the emergency response system is overstretched during the time making the authorities to seek outside help. Consequently, flash floods do not only remain one of the challenges in Philadelphia but also, they are seen as a major risk facing the city dwellers (Kolakowski, 2020a). Similarly, city residents are prone to many other calamities caused by anthropogenic disasters. Notwithstanding, cases of several fire outbreaks have been reported in addition to the production of harmful and dangerous wastes from the local city industries that have resulted in lead poisoning (Dignam et al., 2019). On the other hand, the city has not been spared from the recent uprisings resulting from mass shootings in the U.S. Moreover, terrorism and other man-made threats remain issues of concern (Abe, 2020). Nonetheless, the above challenges propel the concerned authorities to build resilience and enhance their preparedness towards the likelihood of their occurrences.
Coupled with the above challenges, Common Terminologies established by ICS come in handy in promoting and helping groups that are involved in the management of an incident that results from some of the hazards mentioned. These are 3 terms that cover Organizational Functions that involve the operational units that are standardized and remain consistent as they define responsibilities during incident management (Emergency Management Services International, 2020). Resource Description is another terminology used during an operation and it stands for equipment, teams, personnel, and facilities and is assigned common names according to their respective abilities. Moreover, Incident Facility is another connotation that refers to the geographical area where an event has occurred and the nearby service providers that can be used during the emergency.
The span of Control
Incident Command System (ICS) is very important especially when enhancing emergency response during hazards through leadership. During the occurrence of the aforementioned hazards, any individual can be tasked to lead a team at the scene. It refers to the resources and people a manager can supervise effectively at a given incident (Jensen & Thompson, 2016). It is important in shaping the operations department of a given organization. ICS advocates for a maximum number of people to be under one supervisor.
Risk Vulnerability Analysis
Although there are various definitions of risk in disaster management, the Federal Emergency Management Agency guideline exemplifies it. It is the process through which potential property and life losses are measured in addition to injuries and damages resulting from hazards (Office of Emergency Management, 2017). Further, it is assessed against the backdrop of buildings, infrastructure, and people’s vulnerability to natural hazards. In addition, the Philadelphia risk assessment is divided into 3 categories that outline the hazard identification process, profiling, and evaluation. In addition, its magnitude, past occurrence history, future projections, and environmental impacts are highlighted as part of the analysis. The process of a vulnerability assessment is further subdivided into four steps whereby a given disaster is identified and profiled, the overall risk to the city is evaluated and asset vulnerabilities are gauged.
According to the Philadelphia hazard mitigation plan, shooting is highlighted as one of the risks whose vulnerability is measured. It takes into account all the likely loss estimates by an active shooter in the years 2014 and 2015. The major impacts resulting from the shooting are injuries and loss of life. In the 2015 evaluation, it was estimated that around 150 people would require treatment and triage in a likely shooting scenario (Office of Emergency Management, 2017). In the worst situation, it was proposed that fatalities could result in around 115 individuals and as a result, health facilities and local hospitals would be overwhelmed. Consequently, all medical service providers will be required to perform and implement disaster plans, and surge procedures, and seek additional external resources.
Hazard Vulnerability Analysis
Various hazards have been exhaustively discussed earlier and as a result, they are analyzed according to their severity. For example, floods have been highlighted before as one of the major problems facing the citizens and therefore it is given priority during the analysis. Besides, the issue of anthropogenic challenges posed by dilapidated buildings in the city and old bridges require prevalence as compared to other natural hazards (Office of Emergency Management, 2017). Moreover, many chemicals are manufactured in the city with their effluent polluting the environment. In May 2019, air monitoring on an oil refinery on the East Coast revealed high levels of benzene, a gas that causes cancer with its concentration beyond the federal required limits (Michel & Fingas, 2016). In addition, in June the same year, another pollution involving a refinery was reported. The Philadelphia Energy Solutions plant exploded, terrifying residents as another air monitor recorded a high concentration of benzene. Further, it unleashed more than 5,200 pounds of hydrofluoric acid (Michel & Fingas, 2016). This was detrimental because the complex refinery spans a 1,300-acre area surrounded by schools, malls, parks, and numerous homes.
Although the concentration is not harmful, a large quantity in numerous areas within the city is likely to lead to adverse health problems in the end. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all refineries are required to produce a concentration level of fewer than 9 micrograms in an air of one cubic meter (Michel & Fingas, 2016). Further, they are required to substitute the raw materials in addition to the replacement of suppliers. Marron et al. (2020) while highlighting the futility of the enforcement of set measures, asserts that the onset of diseases will slow down the implementation of set standards. However, the outlined hazard remains a priority as it requires a permanent solution.
Hazard Data Analysis
To comprehend the challenges posed by hazards at the community level, data collection must take place. As predicted before, flood and pandemic issues are to be given priority. Also, both are to be tackled and implemented at the community level through the promotion of hazard preparedness among the people by offering viable and practical guidelines. This leads to compliance and resilience due to capacity building; thus, avoiding the occurrence of disasters at the community level. On the contrary, some parameters need long-term and continuous monitoring as they pose a constant risk to the people. Dilapidated buildings remain a threat to the well-being of the citizens and therefore should remain a priority. The above assumptions can be realized as represented in the collected data below:
Figure 4. Hazards Table.
|Flush Floods||COVID-19 Pandemic||Dilapidated Buildings||Water Contamination||Lead exposure|
|Onset Speed||1 to 2 days||Instant||Instant||Many Days (depending on the intensity)||From weeks to a year|
|Duration||Half a day-14 weeks||N/A||N/A||Many years||Many years|
|Seasonal pattern||Yes (due to climate change, it’s seasonal||Yes (likely to intensify during the 2021 winter||No||Yes (Results from floods)||No|
Community Assessment and Hazard Impacts
While Philadelphia is among the most populous city in America, it faces various challenges including risks from hazards which have made it vulnerable and susceptible to disasters. According to the 2014 U.S population index, the city was in the 5th position with 1, 560,297 people, an increase of 0.6% compared to the hazard mitigation plan of 2012 (Office of Emergency Management, 2017). With housing units estimated to be around 668,806, where 53 percent are owned while 47% are rented insurance coverage is a challenge. This impact negatively the rehabilitation and recovery period for the people during a disaster since in rentals, only personal household properties are covered. However, even though the premiums will help the homeowners to rebuild, the loss of their valuable belongings during floods will affect the individuals as well as the whole society in a negative way (Office of Emergency Management, 2017). Moreover, old buildings and the onset of epidemics like the COVID-19 disease have rendered the population helpless. Therefore, it calls for compliance with set protocols by the health service providers.
On the other hand, Philadelphia is seen as a city of public health challenges with multiple lead exposure and other chemicals that make the population vulnerable. Similarly, the southern part of the city has been exposed to several pollution sites. The sources include a navy shipyard, an oil refinery, and a railway station (Hibbert et al., 2018). As a result, the pollution exposes the population to health risks especially the old, the young, and the disabled. Combined with floods, the vulnerable groups are faced with imminent impairment and death to some extent. It is crucial therefore to factor all these risks when designing a community emergency plan.
Evaluating the Strengths and Weaknesses of ERP
The strength of any Emergency Response Plan is based on its simplicity to organize large groups during an evacuation, being cheap to train personnel in addition to easy usage during operations. Therefore, the Philadelphia ERP needs to incorporate all the highlighted guidelines to enhance people’s capacity against disasters for both residents and organizations. In addition, a response, mitigation and rehabilitation accurate plan should be implemented by all departments to curb any risk arising from the on-set of floods (Office of Emergency Management, 2017). These should include activities like basement reinforcement, building strong walls along the river banks, and creating awareness among citizens residing near susceptible areas.
Conversely, the management of emergencies requires concerted efforts from the local authorities. This is realized through the provision of a clear chain of command and detailed instructions on individual responsibility during an event. The personnel is tasked with the provision of resources needed to the affected citizens, assessing their level of vulnerability, and enhancing the communication channels. For instance, Philadelphia has a mobile command post or CP-1 designed for communication during disaster emergencies (Office of Emergency Management, 2017). It is designed as a transitional facility situated near the scene, and serves as the central control post uniting all organizations responding to the accidents; thus, ensuring a coordinated operation. Together with this, gaps identified early by the emergency team were rectified, and in 2014, communication was enhanced through the installation of a satellite dish (Office of Emergency Management, 2017). As a result, the above plan incorporates all likely hazards that may affect the residents of Philadelphia in addition to the course of action to be undertaken by the people. Further, through the provision of communication channels, it promotes awareness and preparedness, thereby informing the population of impending disasters.
On the contrary, there is a weakness in the ERP that is worth mentioning. First, the plan is loose and as a result, some loopholes make it flexible limiting accountability during emergencies. Second, during operations, there is confusion as various groups act impulsively without a concise and well-coordinated approach. This was evident when Tropical Storm Isaias led to floods and devasted parts of Philadelphia in August 2020 (Staff, 2020). In such a scenario, it results in confusion and duplication of roles; hence, delaying the response and help needed. However, the plan is viable in its applicability and the continuous adjustments make it an important tool for hazard mitigation and building people’s resilience.
Disaster Management and Leadership
The intensity of disasters and their inherent increasing economic losses and human lives across the world make it imperative for the sharing of responsibilities among all states and other stakeholders. As such, emergencies during a crisis increase the intensity and complexity of needs directed at the leaders tasked with supporting and guiding response teams as well as the civilians during an event (Bakatsaki & Zampetakis, 2020). Similarly, many challenges are arising from disasters in the U.S, thereby making it vital to identify all the actors involved in emergency operations. Therefore, during crisis management in Philadelphia, leadership is given a priority as it enhances coordination among all the people involved in alleviating losses incurred from natural hazards such as tornadoes, flash floods, and earthquakes
Disaster Control and Response
In the United States, different organizations and agencies undertake different roles during the preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery processes in a disaster. Equally, there are around fourteen federal departments tasked with the management of recovery programs. These sectors depend on the state and local government participation during implementation. Besides, the response provided by the state and federal levels is managed by representatives from the respective groups. Conversely, leadership in the operation is pioneered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which coordinates the preparedness, prevention, mitigation, and rehabilitation activities (Samuel & Siebeneck, 2019). To bring together federal abilities and departmental assistance, resources are grouped into Emergency Support Functions which rely on the scale and complexity of a disaster. Further, the coordination between different agencies and the federal response is managed by the Emergency Support Team (EST) constituting of representatives from FEMA, state, and local agencies. However, Sadiq et al. (2016) highlight that the link between these groups is essential as it helps in sourcing information to the federal agency which is important during a crisis. In the same way, people rely on FEMA and local organizations during disaster preparedness.
Leading During Disaster Response
During the response, each level has various groups of people that are tasked with disaster recovery. They include Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO), the Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR), a Disaster Recovery Manager (DRM), and a coordinating officer from the state. The above positions are assigned different and specific responsibilities during the emergency. Both the state coordinator and the governor representative are appointed either permanently, or during a crisis (Office of Emergency Management, 2017). On the other hand, FCO is appointed by the president with overall authority over the other officers and is tasked with the federal response, and coordination covering the whole disaster cycle from emergency to recovery.
Further, the regional director appoints the DRM who represents them in the duration of the response period and for a specific event. Conversely, using the ICS terminology, the DRM is compared to a unified commander who acts through Management by Objectives. This includes the establishment of measurable objectives, identification of strategies and tasks, protocols development, and documenting all achieved goals (Jensen & Thompson, 2016). Among other responsibilities, they establish communication with the federal government representative, establish funding initiatives by determining its requirements and work with FEMA state representatives to ensure that agreements are followed.
The Establishing and Transfer of Command
As part of the ICS, command of functions must be established at the start of a disaster incident. As observed from the above leadership, an organization’s main responsibility during an event is ensuring the transfer of authority to the next person. On the other hand, in the Unity of Command, a person is required to report to one Incident Command System and receive an assignment from the same body (Jensen & Thompson, 2016). Nonetheless, Resource Management entails the description of set standards and requirements needed for the mobilization, tracking status, reimbursing, and restocking of equipment, personnel, and teams.
Communication and Decision Making
Communication forms an integral part of any ERP by acting as a link between different actors who have the same objective of alleviating human suffering as well as the loss of property during hazards. In Philadelphia, various natural disasters are ranging from flash floods to tornadoes. The emergency management office in the city has an elaborate communication system that is updated immediately when there’s a warning for an impending disaster. This is, in turn, communicated through social media and the press to the residents (Staff, 2020). Besides, the Information Planning Department has a mobile command post with a radio dedicated to communication throughout the response period. Therefore, it ensures that all relevant information is gathered, analyzed, and passed to the general population.
Similarly, any effective response during an emergency requires precise and timely decisions. This involves careful considerations on how to allocate resources, communicate and collaborate with other actors, and sustaining the security and safety of the afflicted population and staff (Knox Clarke & Campbell, 2020). While there are different stages in disaster response, at the federal level, an assessment carried out by representatives determines the steps to be taken by FEMA officials even though their actions are carried out during severe events. Either, at the state and local categories monitoring takes place to evaluate the resilience capacity or concerted efforts and as a result, concerned leaders make decisions on seeking outside help.
However, the lowest levels in emergency response act as primary providers. They implement a comprehensive management plan and coordinate various actors involved the humanitarian assistance (Office of Emergency Management, 2017). They can either seek federal assistance or, declare a state of emergency; hence, authorizing the expenditure of funds and available local resources. Conversely, decision-making is an art that requires the understanding of a situation. This process is tied to Weick’s Theory which emphasizes that before people make up their minds over something, they ought to understand and resonate with the situation (Knox Clarke & Campbell, 2020). In the sense-making paradigm, both the organizations and individuals are exposed to information that they try to get the meaning in a way that influences their course of action. This is a vital theory that is applicable in disaster response since it enhances collaboration between agencies at different levels during the time of need.
In conclusion, disaster management involves preparedness, mitigation, recovery, and integral rehabilitation stages, and it requires concerted efforts from all organizations. While Philadelphia is not among the most hazard vulnerable cities in the U.S, recent events resulting from climate change have made its population susceptible to disasters. Moreover, the combination of anthropogenic risks such as depilated buildings and pollution in addition to floods necessitates the implementation of an Emergency Response Plan to curb impacts from incidents that are to occur. Lastly, prompt decision-making by relevant authorities during a crisis not only enhances efficiency but also, encourages collaboration between agencies.
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