Friday, December 08, 2006

Survey on Emergency Management at the County Level

The National Association of Counties recently released the results of a survey on emergency management. The survey describes the organization and preparedness of county emergency management organizations nationwide. Here are some of the survey's findings:

How is emergency management organized and staffed?

[R]espondents to this survey suggest that emergency management is, for the most part, now a separate unit within a department of public safety (38 percent) or a stand-alone unit of the county government reporting directly to the chief executive or governing body (40 percent), meaning that 78 percent of counties nationally have established emergency management units separate from the police/sheriff and fire departments.

Most top managers have duties beyond coordinating the county’s emergency preparedness and response units … More than three-quarters (77 percent) of top managers report responsibilities beyond emergency management … This leaves only about one-quarter of top administrators who spend all of their time on emergency management and administration.
How prepared are counties?
While most respondents (70 percent or more) believe that the police/sheriff and fire departments are prepared to a great or very great extent, most believe that other organizations are less prepared. Respondents felt that only about 59 percent of health care organizations, 42 percent of other agencies, and 48 percent of schools were prepared to a great extent, and their assessment of the preparedness of other government agencies and of faith-based groups was even lower, at 42 and 14 percent, respectively. A strikingly low 13 percent of respondents believe that the general population is prepared to a great or very great extent.
The survey also asks what the county emergency management units are prepared for. While almost of them have plans in place, one area that gets relatively little attention is evacuation.
[Fewer than 60 percent of counties had evacuation plans.] In light of the complications in evacuating New Orleans residents prior to and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, counties should begin to develop thorough evacuation plans, including routes, alternative routes and modes of transportation, and notification systems.
Also, counties are particularly unprepared regarding the response for those with special needs.
During hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, one of the most glaring weaknesses was the inability to respond quickly to the needs of persons residing in the hospitals and nursing homes located throughout the region, indigent persons, and those without personal transportation. The data in [this survey] suggest that in a similar disaster, many areas would experience the same problems as those experienced along the Gulf Coast. Only 59 percent of the counties report that they have arrangements in place for sheltering those with special needs, and not even half include plans for managing prison populations and serving the non-English-speaking community. Less than one-quarter of counties nationwide have specific plans for meeting the needs of minorities, indigent persons, and the homeless. Plans for managing sex offenders are in place in only about 5 percent of counties.
The issue of people with special needs was strongly brought to the fore after Katrina, with some good news coverage. First responders may find helpful this set of tips for responding to those with disabilities, created by the Center for Development and Disability at the University of New Mexico.

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