I’ve done several blog posts about our Strategic Foresight Initiative, which looks to the future and the potential factors that may affect emergency managers. As part of the Initiative, we’ve identified nine drivers that will play a role in the future of emergency management – and in this post I wanted to examine how emergency managers should begin to consider how they will be affected by continuing global interdependence, potential climate change, and the changing role of the individual.
From the 2010 eruption of a volcano in Iceland (affecting international travel) to the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it is clear that global events have a significant effect on American life. Although every emergency manager’s first concern is ensuring the safety and security of his/her local community, there are many global drivers that will likely influence the practice of emergency management over the next few decades.
The March earthquake and tsunami in Japan (in addition to tragically taking thousands of lives and causing widespread catastrophic damage) disrupted the production of cars, semiconductors and other goods, sending ripples through the world’s economy. What would happen if an event disrupted the manufacturing of latex gloves in Malaysia, which produces 60 percent of all rubber gloves worldwide? And particularly, what if this event occurred during a pandemic, when rubber gloves were in high demand? Scenarios like this are why emergency managers should keep in mind how their responsibilities can be impacted by events that happen outside of their community.
Potential Climate Change
Climate change is a global trend that will have wide-ranging consequences for emergency managers. The Strategic Foresight Initiative team had many conversations with the emergency management community at the state and local level, and the general feeling was that we should plan for the climate changing regardless of the cause.
Emergency managers need to work together to understand how the nature and consequences of disasters will change with the climate. This includes how operating conditions may change. For example:
- How will rising seas affect infrastructure in coastal areas?
- How many of these homes and businesses will become subject to flooding?
- Will increased erosion and flooding of roads and bridges affect evacuation routes?
Changing Role of the Individual
Another factor emergency managers need to consider is the role of the individual. This role is changing globally, largely due to the increasing role of technology in people’s lives. Americans are more mobile than ever before, with the ability to communicate over long distances and the expectation they can gather information and connect with friends and family almost instantly. Individuals at disaster sites already engage in “spontaneous reporting” uploading pictures, video and messages from the scene to the internet. However, if a disaster disrupts cellular communications, individuals who have grown accustomed to constant connection have a hard time adjusting to this momentary absence of technology.
My objective is to broaden the dialogue and generate feedback and new perspectives on the nine drivers we’ve identified as part of the Strategic Foresight Initiative. Additional information about these three drivers can be found at our website. I invite you to post any comments, thoughts, or suggestions you may have.