Both disasters and catastrophes are the result of a hazard or hazards coming into contact with humans in a vulnerable position. (Mileti, 1999) A beachfront row of condominiums along the US Gulf coast is an example of a disaster waiting to happen. If the condominiums aren’t there and the beach is in a natural state when a hurricane blows in there will be no disaster or catastrophe because humans wouldn’t be impacted. Although the characteristics of disasters and catastrophes have many differences, the thing they do have in common is that they both require the ingredients of not just a natural hazard but also that the hazard intersects with humans.
Natural hazards are inherently part of the environment of the earth. Blizzards, hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes are among a long list of natural processes and occurrences that humans really have no control over. Mileti advocates that is time humans acknowledge our part of the equation; we have over-developed and over-populated in risky areas and the consequences of those decisions and actions have placed us in harm’s way – our exposure has increased, we are more vulnerable (Mileti, 1999, p. 35).
McEntire (2007) has described an intervention point in the context of a catastrophe as “proactive steps”, carried out in each of the four phases of emergency management (EM) that will minimize the impacts on humans. Because of the extreme consequences of catastrophes, interventions points must be utilized by all levels of government and by all stakeholders (i.e. private, public and nonprofit).
Health status and medical capacity is an obvious example of an intervention point that can be considered in each phase of the EM cycle; mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. During mitigation efforts decisions need to be made about where new medical facilities are to be located in relation to a potential hazard such as an earthquake fault, flood plain, or coastal area. Also, building new hospitals using construction methods that minimize impact and maximize safety and ensuring they are equipped and provisioned to be self-sufficient and operational post-impact are important proactive steps. Other considerations that should be addressed are staffing demands and evacuation procedures in the event the building itself is impacted. Are there agreements in place with regional, out of state, federal and international medical and transportation organizations and facilities?
Many of the mitigation activities regarding health and status capacity compliment the activities in the preparedness phase of EM but the preparedness efforts must also include education of the public and responders, specific emergency plans and hazard-specific training. Ideally the training exercises should involve all community groups as well as key players from outside the potential catastrophe impact area. Of course, not all catastrophic risks can be known before hand but events like massive earthquakes or direct-impact hurricanes...