Planning for Disasters: Staffing as a Major Component of Emergency Planning

February 16, 2017

The state of Utah has a one-in-four chance of experiencing a major earthquake in the coming decades. Experts estimate that 80% of Utah’s population is at risk of earthquake damage.[1]

The state of Utah is taking this very seriously. Officials in Salt Lake County have been creating a holistic emergency plan called the Salt Lake County Disaster Recovery Framework to prepare for earthquakes, as well as other more frequent events such as mudslides and forest fires. That’s when they found resources created by LMI.

In 2014, LMI interviewed communities which had experienced disasters and state, federal, and non-governmental partners to gather lessons – specifically related to human resources planning – or planning for the right mix of people to do disaster recovery activities. LMI made two tools that help with emergency staffing planning:

The emergency planners at Salt Lake County found the tools very helpful.

“As Salt Lake County was in the final stages in the development of the Disaster Recovery Framework, we were struggling with one important question: How do we staff recovery? LMI had the perfect answer,” said Michael Barrett, Program Manager, Salt Lake County Emergency Service. “Their staffing guide and positions library allows us to identify staffing needs pre-disaster and identify those individuals within our organization who will fill key positions during recovery.”

Before LMI created these tools, communities would often reach out to other communities which had suffered through a disaster to learn best practices. LMI synthesized the lessons of many communities and created a baseline for small and large communities. This pulled together best practices from many communities and events, rather than only one case study.

In December 2016, LMI attended a conference in Salt Lake City with planners and stakeholders. Participants spanned a variety of sectors, but all recognized the challenges around resiliency and recovery. The fact that they are addressing disaster planning through the filter of staffing is a great example for communities across the U.S.

Many cities and counties have invested in developing emergency management plans. But the focus of preparedness varies from one place to another. Planning may address only the acute phase of the emergency– when people’s basic needs are the top priority immediately after an event. But planners also need to plan for the longer term recovery and resilience of a community – or how quickly a community can get back on its feet.

A natural disaster is an extreme example of a “surge” in human resources – a time when suddenly more people are needed than during normal operations. All types of people are needed – from those who have a big-picture leadership view, to those with specialized technical skills, to volunteers on the ground. Ensuring everyone is ready and trained for disaster events requires planning and often training exercises to practice.

Every community estimates their specific risks—such as the number of homes with a high probability of being damaged—and thus how many resources would be needed to rebuild the housing sector.

What are the chances that your community will be hit by a devastating earthquake or a hurricane in the next decade or two? And how will your community survive, recover and even thrive after the disaster?

[1] page 4 and 38, Utahns’ Vision for 2050 Disaster Resilience


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