(Editor’s Note: Disaster response is one of the most critical roles of any nation’s security sector. A plenary on discussion on “Disaster Response and Consequence Management”was featured June 28, 2012, as part of the two-week Senior Leaders Seminar hosted by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. The June 18-29 seminar took place in Arlington, Virginia, and was attended by 70 security sector professionals and other government leaders from 40 Africa nations. Academic discussions at the Africa Center are conducted under a strict policy of non-attribution to allow free and open discussion. However, several presenters agreed to allow portions of their presentations to appear on the record in order to promote broader understanding of the issues.)
Professor Thomas Dempsey, Chair for Security Studies at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), gave a comprehensive presentation on Disaster Response and Consequence Management during a June 28, 2012, plenary at the ACSS-hosted Senior Leaders Seminar. In his presentation, Mr. Dempsey considered recent efforts to improve the preparation and response efforts to natural and human-provoked disasters in Africa and how to further develop such efforts.
To set the stage for his presentation, Mr. Dempsey offered four examples of natural disasters occurring within the past two decades: the 2004 tsunami in South Asia, to include Thailand; the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; the 2008 earthquake in the Lake Kivu region of Africa; and the Oklahoma City Bombing in April of 1995. The latter was presented as a case of particular interest because it was an ordinary car bomb with an especially devastating impact, requiring an enormous number of responders. Mr. Dempsey stressed that an important lesson was learned in responding to the Oklahoma City Bombing regarding the difficulty in collaborating response efforts across agencies. The components and levels of disaster response were then discussed.
Mr. Dempsey identified components of disaster response as occurring in four stages: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. While mitigation actions and preparedness within communities were stated to be important components of disaster response, Mr. Dempsey cited response as the most notable stage of disaster relief. Response efforts such as evacuation, trauma care, and immediate humanitarian relief generally are considered to be finished when the last search-and-rescue operations conclude. Recovery, the final stage of disaster response, then aims to restore the community to its pre-disaster condition. However, Mr. Dempsey noted that certain challenges arise in the recovery stage, as communities tend to be “confronted with a severe lack of resources.”
In addition to being sorted into four stages, disaster response was presented as being implemented on four levels: national, intermediate, local, and citizen. Reponses from the national and intermediate levels primarily are concerned with planning and resource allocation while response efforts from the local and citizen levels are more concerned with the aforementioned four stages of disaster response- mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Mr. Dempsey further stated that the “true first responders” are found at the citizen level, arguing that the greater the disaster, the more critical the role citizens play in their “ability to help themselves, their families, and their neighbors.”
The core of emergency response was then presentenced in three successive components: the Golden Hour, the Golden Days, and the Golden Month(s). The Golden Hour focuses on effectively treating those with life-threatening injuries as survival becomes greatly compromised after the first 60 minutes following a severe injury. The Golden Days provide medical care for injuries and illnesses of the community at large, prioritizing search-and-rescue and evacuation efforts. Lastly, the Gold Month(s) strives to quickly and successfully restore human security within the community, as issues such as sanitation and public health become more serious the longer they go unaddressed.
Throughout his presentation Mr. Dempsey maintained the “guiding principles for proactive national response to catastrophic events,” asserting that the objective of disaster response is to “save lives; protect critical infrastructure, property and the environment; contain the event; and preserve national security.” Additionally, the wide range of participants from various levels who play a role in disaster relief efforts was presented as a challenge in and of itself in effectively responding to natural and man-provoked disasters.
Mr. Dempsey closed his presentation by considering the positive effects mobile technologies have had on disaster response and consequence management. Using the 2010 earthquake in Haiti as an example, he stressed the game-changing role of technology in disaster response for its ability to allow the government to push information out to the citizenry and vice versa.
Summary prepared by Jane Koné, an English and Portuguese double major at Georgetown University. Ms. Koné is a 2012 summer intern at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.