Disaster Management — Future Challenges

Over the next 50 years our nation, and indeed the world, will face crises on an almost unimaginable scale. If even a few of the following trends continue at current rates, then public service leaders of the future will be living in a far more challenging environment.

  • With Climate Change, rising ocean levels affecting coastal areas.
  • With Climate Change, rising sea temperature, producing more intense meteorological events, with stronger surges.
  • Water pollution
  • Air pollution.
  • Ecological degradation and contamination of animal genomes.
  • Depletion of ocean resources and changing ocean chemistry.
  • Water shortages and increase desertification.
  • Continued world-wide food shortages.
  • Decreases in plant and animal specie diversification.
  • Movement of species into non-native habitats.
  • Emergence of drug resistant bacterial and viral strains
  • More virulent viruses spread more rapidly
  • Collapse of petroleum based economy.
  • Persistence of major worldwide epidemics like HIV/AIDS.
  • Emergence of new lifestyle epidemics like obesity.
  • Continued spread of addiction diseases.
  • Worldwide and national resource disparities.
  • Rise of militant ideologies.
  • In the US, aging of the baby boomer population, increasing demand on healthcare.
  • Global aging population.
  • Problem of universal access to healthcare.
  • Spread of gang violence.
  • Erosion of civil liberties.

Each of these challenges requires a thoughtful, systems approach to understand how best to respond. Each of these challenges requires leaders and managers versed in critical thinking and systems thinking skills to make intelligent decisions. We need to start now (1) preparing a cadre of highly educated and skilled public decision makers who are attuned to these problems, and (2) preparing an educated citizenry to prepare for, and to respond thoughtfully to, these changing conditions.


From the ranks of the emergency management and first response fields, we are proposing the development of a new profession that will take up the task of preparing this nation for the events we are likely to see over the next 50 years-the profession of Disaster Management.

The profession of Disaster Management will draw from the following fields:

  • Emergency Management
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Fire Fighting (including Hazmat, Search and Rescue)
  • Public Health
  • Veterinarian Services
  • National Guard


As a profession, Disaster Management should have a clear educational trajectory, starting with the two-year associate’s degree offered by the Community Colleges for many of these fields.

We propose the following organization for Disaster Management Education.

  • Certificate Programs in disaster management for those transitioning into disaster management.
  • Two Year Associate’s Degree for field skill-based training in the response fields of Emergency Management, Emergency Medical Services, and Fire Fighting. (Community Colleges)
  • Four-year and Two plus Two Baccalaureate programs in Institutions of Higher Learning. Two tracks should be available: residential transfer tracks and distance education tracks. The later will be easier to implement initially.
  • Master’s programs in Disaster Management. Again two tracks should be offered starting first with Distance Education for currently practicing disaster managers.
  • PhD. Level programs to train researchers and educators in Disaster Management.

Those obtaining these degrees should head up local, state, and federal agencies responsible for the preparation for, and response to emergencies and disasters. These positions (to name only a few) include local county emergency managers, EMS personnel, fire chiefs, public health directors, state emergency management personnel, other public safety positions at the state level, veterinarian personnel, federal emergency management coordinators, CDC personnel, National Guard and active duty personnel, and DHS personnel.


A profession requires an articulated research agenda with clear aims. For example the health professions orient research around finding effective treatment for physical and mental maladies affecting individuals with disease, trauma or other conditions that interfere with daily activities. Disasters are defined by the costs, both in economic and in health terms, that they impose on a community. A research agenda that focuses on how to find strategies that reduce the net costs to society organizes Disaster Management into a discipline.

Below is a diagram that maps the research effort. Risks and Costs are determined by four properties of the disaster situation.

  • Nature and properties of the threat.
  • Environmental vulnerability.
  • Public (citizen) vulnerability.
  • Capabilities of the Disaster Response Effort


Moreover at least ten key risk and cost drives may be identified that affect the magnitude of costs during and after an event.

  • Hazard Knowledge. The less we know about the nature of threats, the higher the costs.
  • Warning. With more advanced notice for impeding events more lives can be saved.
  • Risk Communication. When the public does not have a clear idea of the risks involved, it is not able to make rational choices, which ultimately drives up costs.
  • Mitigation of Built Environment. The more vulnerable our built environment, the higher the cost will be during an event.
  • Mitigation of Natural Environment. Man-made destruction of natural barriers in the environment increases vulnerability to hazards.
  • Public preparedness. When the public is not prepared for the threat, costs will be higher.
  • Recovery. When recovery is slow or ineffective, or hasty and uncoordinated, costs will ultimately increase.
  • Disaster Response. When we do not have a coordinated, effective response to an event, cost will be higher.
  • Health Response. When we do not have surge capacity to handle mass casualties and the procedures to handle effectively the spread of infectious diseases, cost will rise.
  • Information Technology. Without data and tools to render data into information, sound decisions will be rare and costs will rise.

Research efforts should be undertaken in each of these areas to reduce the cost of disasters.


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