“What the world needs is an Emergency Boss. An Emergency Czar. A true Master of Disaster, one person completely responsible for the anticipation, immediate reconnaissance, and urgent execution of rescue and relief efforts around the world”-Steven Van Zandt, actor, musician.

While it is considered true by emergency and disaster managers that all disasters commence as local events, it is undisputed that even “local” crises and disasters can generate both effects and responses within the international community. It has also been said, time and again, that crises, disasters, catastrophic and extreme events do not recognize international borders or boundaries. The effects of man-made and natural events have the ability to reverberate throughout the global community; and be perceived in many ways; whether or not the crisis or disaster directly impacts nations or regions outside of the epicenter.

Throughout history, there have been vivid examples of events having a ripple effect around the globe: pandemic threats, political violence and terrorism, technological disasters and natural catastrophes. It has become clear that the full and evolving spectrum of threats requires a global perspective which incorporates prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, recovery and community resiliency, the fundamental components of the emergency management cycle. Global stakeholders need to re-explore the emergency management process while improving the process of international cooperation and mutual assistance in times of crisis and disaster. Collaboration amongst public, private and voluntary sectors are essential in crisis, disaster and emergency management.

frank1In the international sphere, collaborative and cooperative efforts can easily be hindered by corrupt and extremist regimes, geopolitical instability, logistical problems, infrastructure loss, austere operational environments and other factors. We often see this in international disaster response and relief efforts, especially in impoverished areas of intense armed conflict, political violence, and strife such as many of the so-called Third World Nations.

Bordering nations may share commonalities in disaster events, and may even participate in cross-border training and exercises. Mexico and US border towns such as Nogales, Arizona have conducted joint training and exercises and continue to share lessons learned and response strategies. One such multi-agency exercise scenario involved suicide bombers and an intentional toxic chemical release occurring at the port of entry from Sonora, Mexico into Arizona. Cross-border hazards and vulnerabilities can run the gamut from emerging infectious diseases to hazardous materials releases to terrorism, including narco-terrorism.

Within the arenas of global public health and public health preparedness, international efforts involving disease surveillance and control have become critical, especially when exotic and emerging pathogens have the ability to be disseminated in several continents within a matter of hours due to the existence of rapid global travel. This threat was made clear by the recent experience with Ebola viral hemorrhagic disease, and the various operational challenges that manifested in the reception and treatment of exposed and infected individuals and containment of contagion. The work of various international organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and international teams from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health organizations, were essential in the mitigation efforts and response to the Ebola outbreaks.

The domino effect of a combined natural -technological event or ‘Na-Tech”, such as the Japanese tsunami and catastrophic reactor failure and radioactive releases at the Fukishima-Dai-ichi nuclear power facility, serves as another vivid example of disasters and catastrophic or extreme events having profound implications for other nations, as well as the need for international cooperation. Legitimate concerns for the aforementioned event, included significant atmospheric, soil and marine ecosystem contamination by radionuclides, which may have health, safety and socioeconomic impacts in the international community.

The catastrophic reactor accident occurring in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986 is a model and lessons learned for international emergency management having had profound impacts in bordering countries, as well as the Western world, including the US. Prompt international cooperation and collaboration, in this case, was somewhat hindered by delays in event notification by Soviet authorities to global stakeholders, which unfortunately has too often been the case of a nation-state historically cloaked in secrecy and practicing deception and denial. Nevertheless, international efforts offering technical, medical and humanitarian assistance became of paramount importance to the stricken region and its populace, including heroic efforts on the part of the US hematologist-oncologist and a specialist in bone marrow transplantation, Dr. Robert Gale, of the University of California. In addition, international technical and scientific expertise were seen in both radiological events, as well as the involvement of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Before understanding crisis or disaster management, we must first define crisis and disaster. As explained by Coombs, crises are perceptual, thus industrial or natural disasters are not accepted as crises by some. To clarify further, Coombs states “A crisis is a perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organization’s performance and generate negative outcomes”. (Coombs,T.,1999, Ongoing crisis communication: Planning, managing and responding. Thousand Oakes ,CA: Sage).

SC_Guard_Unit_Trains_to_Respond_to_the_Unthinkable_DVIDS312548Conversely, Faulkner, compares crises and disasters by their nature, such as severe weather events or acts of terrorism. Interestingly, Faulkner defines a crisis as a condition or situation which is generated by a lack of reliability or competence within managerial structures, as opposed to disasters which affect entities, including target or affected populations, with sudden and uncontrollable catastrophic changes, e.g., seismic events. (Faulkner,B.,2001. Towards a framework for tourism disaster management. Tourism Management, 22(2), 135-147.) If we apply Faulkner’s definition, events such as technological events as the Chernobyl reactor accident would be viewed as a crisis, while the Haiti earthquake or Japanese tsunami would be viewed as a disaster.

The National Disaster Life Support Consortium simply defines a disaster as any situation where “needs exceed resources”, while a personal acquaintance of this author, whom happens to be a native American healer and clinical psychologist and subject matter expert in disaster behavioral health and traumatic stress, defines it literally as “dis”(bad)-“aster” (star),i.e. “the stars are against us”. In addition, while sometimes blurred or integrated, there are different and distinct objectives to be met by crisis management vs. consequence management in a terrorism context.

Crisis management is defined as the measures taken to identify, acquire, and plan the use of resources to anticipate, prevent, and resolve a threat or act of terrorism. Crisis management takes the shape of law enforcement and security-related activities.

In corporate entities, whether they are small businesses or multi-national conglomerates, crisis management includes asset protection and business continuity and resiliency aspects. Business continuity planning and continuity of operations (COOP) efforts are essential for both private and public sectors and stakeholders, whether the event is natural or man-made.

Conversely, consequence management involves actions to protect public health and safety, restore essential services and infrastructure, and provide services and relief to affected populations, governments and other stakeholders. Some examples of consequence management include medical, rescue and fire-suppression activities, environmental sampling and monitoring, evacuation and mass sheltering efforts.

frank2In the United States, crisis management is led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and consequence management led and coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security. The distinct and collaborative efforts in both crisis and consequence management were clearly demonstrated during, and in the aftermath, of the recent Paris and Oregon terrorist attacks. The law enforcement tactical and investigative efforts, coupled with the emergency medical responses and other aspects of incident management blended seamlessly, and included forms of international collaboration, such as US FBI Evidence Response Teams, Europol, and intelligence agencies, especially in the Paris attacks.

Since the end of the Cold War, the world has witnessed an increase in the incidence of complex humanitarian emergencies generated by intrastate conflicts resulting from administrative ,economic, political and social decay and are distinguished by ultraviolence, oppression, extreme prejudice, often pitting cultural, ethnic, or religious groups against one another.

The recent atrocities, continued geopolitical instability and on-going warfare in Syria continue to generate casualties and a mass humanitarian crisis among refugees from the war-torn region. The use of chlorine barrel bombs and nerve agent weapons containing sarin against civilian and opposition forces in Syria adds an even more sinister twist to the tragic events that continue to unfold.

Recent historical examples of events resulting in complex humanitarian emergencies include genocidal violence in areas of the world such as Darfur, Sudan, Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1993), Rwanda(1994) and Chechnya (1994-present), represent the embodiment of the need for rapid, coordinated, international disaster response.

International disaster response efforts, normally consist of a multi-national, multi-agency approach involving governmental, e.g., U.S. Agency for International Development, several private and non-governmental organizations, e.g., Medecins sans Frontiers, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, faith-based organizations, e.g., Samaritans Purse, various components of the United Nations, military elements and other global stakeholders.

While cooperative and collaborative international emergency disaster response is noble, morally correct and expected, formalities exist which must be addressed. First, the initial responsibility of disaster response rests squarely on the shoulders of the affected country. In the example of U.S assets, the Office of Foreign Disaster Relief (OFDR) only responds when the U.S and the affected country declare a disaster using certain criteria.

The criteria include:

  • The magnitude of the disaster exceeds the affected country’s capacity to respond
  • The affected country has requested or will accept U.S. government assistance and such assistance is deemed to be in the interest of the U.S. Government.

With the approval of the affected country’s government, the U.S. Embassy may request that OFDA deploy one or more regional advisors or an assessment team to the disaster site or send a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to provide direct coordination of in the management of US Government assistance. These teams can request specialized response teams such as FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Teams (USARs) and US Department of Health and Human Resources Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs), as well as other resources, e.g. CDC epidemiological assets, even DoD assets.

As global threats to health, safety and security will continue to manifest themselves in international settings, so will the need for an improved, coordinated and collaborative global response network. With the stark reality of armed conflict, political violence and terrorism, including the use of CBRNE weapons against non-combatants threatening global health and international security, the need for international crisis and emergency management assistance will be in critical demand. The resulting complex humanitarian emergencies spawning across the globe from a mix of natural and man-made disasters will continue to challenge and strain resources, and we must, in some cases, become our brothers and sisters keepers. For humanity to flourish we must be humane. For civilization to survive, we must all be civilized.

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Frank G. Rando possesses over 30 years of real world experience as a public safety professional,clinician, educator ,emergency and crisis manager ,author and consultant in the areas of tactical ,disaster and operational medicine, weapons and tactics, law enforcement /criminal investigations ,counterterrorism, hazardous materials management and emergency response ,toxicology, environmental safety and health,and health care and public health emergency management .