Saturday, December 12, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Words defined: What is a disaster?

Words have different meanings to different people. Often it is because of our background and culture that we see things differently. Words translated from language to another can also mean different things. Thus, it is important to be sure that we know the definition of words so that, when we talk to each other, we know what we are talking about.

Words can be defined many ways depending on what means we use to define them.  Here are 11 different ways to define words. Then I show how these ways of defining words can be used in defining the word "disaster."

Google definition of "disaster"

11 ways to define a word

  1. A nominal definition is a definition explaining what the word currently means, usually a dictionary definition.
  2. A real definition expresses the real nature of the thing. Properties are similar to real definition, because they define the nature of the object or thing. Real, for Locke, is “what makes something what it is, and in the case of physical substances, it is the underlying physical cause of the object's observable qualities.” A nominal definition is “an abstract idea that we make when we identify similar qualities shared by objects; the nominal essence is the idea of those shared similarities” (Locke on Real Essence. (n.d.).  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved December 8, 2015 from
  3. Synonyms are other words which have the same or a similar meaning, usually found in a thesaurus.
  4. Ordinal definitions use numbers to designate events or objects.
  5. Definition using illustrations or examples
  6. Definition by comparison or analogy.
  7. Functional definitions describe the purpose, task or activity. Similar to operational definitions, they may relate to the way in which something works or operates.
  8. Operational definitions describe the process, how something is used, works or operates.
  9. Causal definitions describes a person or thing that gives rise to an action, phenomenon, or condition; the cause.
  10. An outcome definition provides the result or consequence of an action or activity.
  11. What it is not. This kind of definition tells what the event or object being defined is not.
Nominal definition
A disaster is a sudden event, such as an accident or a natural catastrophe that causes great damage or loss of life. (Disaster. (n.d.) Retrieved December 8, 2015 from

Real definition
A disaster destroys life, property, and creates chaos. For example, "3,000 people died in the earthquake, which caused a hundred billion dollars in damage and shut down the country for over a year.”

Synonyms for disaster are catastrophe, calamity, cataclysm, tragedy, act of God, holocaust or accident.

Ordinal definition 
Disasters are frequently ranked by severity, using scales, the number of deaths, injuries, and socio-economic costs. For example, listing the 10 worst disasters in history provides an ordinal definition of disasters. The categorization of disasters scales (the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale; F-Scale or Enhanced Fujita Scale for tornadoes) is an example of ordinal definition.

The following example provides both an ordinal definition as well as a definition by illustration or example.
While 1981 and 1982 broke all records, the floods of 1983 ranked as the worst disaster in Utah history (Floods. (n.d.). In Utah History to Go. Retrieved December 8, 2015 from

1983 Flood in Salt Lake City - Deseret News Photo

Definition by comparison or analogy.
“After throwing a scare into the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area, Hurricane Charley rapidly intensified and took a right turn into Charlotte Harbor as an intense Category 4 hurricane on Friday, Aug. 13, 2004. Charley was the strongest hurricane to strike the U.S. since Hurricane Andrew raked parts of South Florida in 1992.” (Weather. Com. (2014, August 18). 10 worst hurricanes in American history. Retrieved from )

Functional definition
While most disasters cause devastation and some result in irreparable harm, other kinds function to benefit the ecosystem. “Fire is part of a cycle in most ecosystems. It reduces dead vegetation, stimulates new growth, and improves habitat for wildlife…. With fire suppression, fire was removed from the cycle and ecosystems began to get out of balance” National Park Service. (n.d.). Benefits of Fire. U.S. department of the Interior. Retrieved December 9, 2015 from

This operation definition also considers causes.
Disasters like tornadoes, thunderstorms and hurricanes begin with the interaction between high and low pressure. Sometimes this interaction occurs as sea temperature changes. Rain and wind come with these weather systems, result in flooding. Deforestation and soil erosion can add to the flooding (Why do natural disasters happen? (n.d.). In Retrieved December 9, 2015 from

Result or outcome definition.
A natural disaster can result in property damage, death and injuries, and financial losses. The impact is greatest in developing countries. More than 95 percent of the deaths resulting from natural disasters occur in developing countries. Also, the economic impact is 20 times greater (as a percent of GDP) than in industrialized countries (Disaster. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved December 9, 2015 from

What it is not. 
While a disaster is an emergency, not all emergencies are disasters. Like a disaster an emergency is unexpected, and may lead to “a dangerous situation requiring immediate action,” but it doesn’t always have the great damage or loss of life that comes with a disaster (Emergency. (n.d.) Retrieved December 9, 2015 from

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Hildale Responders Tribute 2015

Hildale flood area flyover video from a UAV

Sign up in SLCC course to Learn to Communicate Effectively in a Crisis

Utah National Guard helping flood victims

Why: Control and effective communications are a must as police and other first responders sometimes face hostile and irrational opposition. Participate in a course and learn practical skills in communicating effectively in crisis situations.

What: Salt Lake Community College is offering an online course HSEM-1420 Emergency Communications Management as part of its Homeland Security and Emergency Management program.

Who: Designed to help first responders (police, fire, EMS, National Guard) communicate better in crises or disaster situations, it is also beneficial for anyone interested in working in public safety, counterterrorism, emergency management, and humanitarian service and disaster response.

When: HSEM -1420 is offered online beginning in January 2016 for 16 weeks.

Where: Gain lifesaving information and practical experience through online interactive education, as part of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management program at Salt Lake Community College.

How: Contact Joseph Anderson, HSEM director at or call 801-957-4073 for Enrollment Help. You can also leave your information in the comment section below.  It won’t be made public.

The course includes information and experiential training on the following topics:

  • Why and when we fail to communicate
  • Essential communications skills for responders and public safety personnel
  • How to communicate effectively between agencies: Communication interoperability
  • Skills required to be a Public Information Officer (PIO)
  • Deal with the broadcast and print media
  • Developing interview skills for radio or television
  • Writing effective press releases
  • Handling media questions and managing the press conference
  • Using social media in disasters
  • Planning effective communications for business and the public sector
  • Risk and crisis communications
  • How to make bad communications better: Case studies in crisis communications

The instructor, Dr. John Fisher, has worked in public affairs and the media and has trained and taught crisis communication for public safety and disaster response personnel for almost 10 years. Contact John at 208 227 6229.

About HSEM: 
The Homeland Security Emergency Management (HSEM) Associate of Applied Science degree was created to prepare graduates for professional roles in the multi-agency, multi-disciplinary, collaborative world of managing our nation’s security, disaster preparedness and response. This is a growing field that is characterized by the need for professionals to prepare for and react to scenarios such as the terror attacks of 9/11 and hurricane Katrina. Recent incidents in Utah like the Herriman fire, Trolley Square and Grand America shootings, and numerous floods are examples of local incidents that require HSEM personnel to reduce the loss of life, property and critical infrastructure.

  • Earn an AAS Degree in as little as 18 months or 4 semesters (day and evening classes are available)
  • Learn and/or improve skills for responding to both man-made and natural disasters using the "All Hazards Approach"
  • Develop a multiple-discipline, multi-agency approach to the protection of Utah's citizens, property and critical infrastructure
  • Transfer your AAS degree to Utah Valley University's Bachelor of Science in Emergency Service Administration degree program through our full articulation agreement. 

For more information, go to: 

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Top 5 Disaster Myths

Public Responses to Extreme Events – Top 5 Disaster Myths

Monica Schoch-Spana Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
Homeland Security, the Environment, and the Public Resources for the Future First Wednesday Seminar – October 5, 2005

About a week ago, several colleagues at the Biosecurity Center and I were discussing future initiatives on the topic of “citizen engagement” in public health preparedness and response – whether a biological attack or an influenza pandemic. 

Commenting on “lessons learned” from Katrina, one colleague remarked that “We’ve seen what people do when they don’t have life’s basic necessities and they’re at the end of their rope – the situation reverts to a jungle-like scenario.” 

Now “jungle” is a word with very strong connotations, so I was taken aback when I heard it in the context of the Katrina tragedy.  The connotations that most quickly come to mind are: 
  • The Hobbesian view of humanity’s true nature underneath the surface of civilization – “eat or be eaten.” 
  • The racialized image of “native unrest and savagery.” 

Setting aside that troubling aspect of the conversation…what also struck me was the lack of analytic and empirical rigor that my colleague was applying to the problem of social behavior following a catastrophic event.
This individual, for instance, would hardly resort to understanding the clinical and epidemiological intricacies of a biological attack involving an aerosolized anthrax release, based on dominant media images and/or sporadic news reports issued in the midst of an evolving and chaotic situation.  Nor would he or she presume to know the biological “truths,” so to speak, about the course of inhalational anthrax infection and treatment without an empirical inquiry and medical evidence.   

Similarly, no team of engineers would argue with certainty that they understood why – from a dynamic process perspective – the World Trade Center Towers crumbled into a toxic, heaping pile of rubble and dust, until they had undertaken a forensic examination of the remaining structure and reviewed the initial building design and materials, among other things. 

Some would argue that science of all kinds has had a hard time maintaining its ground in public policy circles now and in the past.  BUT, I would argue that the social and behavioral sciences have had the toughest “row to how” in the current environment – particularly in the terrorist and counter-terrorist arena.  One finds a strong inclination to act on hunches and unquestioned “common sense” notions about public responses to extreme events.  

With a 15 minute talk today, I thought listing the top myths about mass responses to disaster would make the best use of our time and set the stage for discussion.  My plan is to relate the key disaster myths, present the facts that call them into question, and illustrate them through specific case studies. 
I am exploiting the work of other scholars, namely those in the history of medicine and the sociology of hazards and disasters.  
Special thanks to: • John Barry • Gregory Button • Lee Clarke • Alfred Crosby • Russell Dynes • Henry Fischer III • Tom Glass • Eric Klinenberg • Judith Walzer Leavitt • Denis Mileti • Walter Peacock • E.L. Quarantelli • Kathleen Tierney • Many others…

MYTH #1:  Disasters are equal opportunity events; they happen in random and quirky, but essentially democratic ways.1  Hurricanes, outbreaks, heat waves, earthquakes, and chemical spills kill indiscriminately.  They do not care “who” the victim is. 

FACT:  People are more or less vulnerable to the effects of disasters; social class, ethnicity and race, gender, and social connected-ness are factors that often determine the extent of harm.  These traits also play an important role in resilience to, and speedier recovery from crisis.  

1995 Chicago Heat Wave Singled Out the Poor, the Elderly, and the Isolated2 

• Between July 13 and July 20, Chicago experienced a record-breaking heat wave that claimed more than 700 lives. 
• Most victims were low-income elderly people who lived alone, were isolated from friends and family, and were left abandoned for days before being discovered. 73% of the victims were age 65 or older, a majority of whom were African-American.  
• Deaths were not caused by extreme temperatures alone; existing social conditions common to urban areas compounded the effects of the heat.  A substantial number of seniors live alone in unsafe, decrepit, low-income housing in neighborhoods that have been abandoned by businesses, service providers, and many residents.  
• These conditions create a culture of isolation and fear that discourages seniors from trusting neighbors or even leaving their homes. Minority seniors were especially vulnerable to the heat wave because they were largely homebound, with no one checking in on them and nowhere to turn for help.  
MYTH #2:  Whether people comply with evacuation plans, isolation and quarantine, or other public health and safety orders is strictly a matter of “personal choice.” 

FACT:  The problem of “non-compliance” has less to do with handling willful, obstinate or ignorant individuals than with rectifying life circumstances that interfere with an ability to act according to authorities’ reasonable requests. 

• University of New Orleans researchers who surveyed the city's residents about their personal hurricane evacuation plans in 2004 estimated that at least 100,000 New Orleans residents had no means to evacuate: no car, not enough money for airfare or a bus ticket, no friends or family to help them leave town.3 
• Fear of loss of income was the most common reason given by Toronto residents who met the eligibility criteria for home-quarantine during the city’s SARS epidemic but who did not act on this knowledge.4  
• Homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness, for instance, impeded many disadvantaged tuberculosis patients in the 1990s from fully completing their rigorous, medical treatment schedule, thus posing the risk of developing drug resistant strains of TB during the larger HIV/AIDS epidemic.5   
• During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, some Baltimore city residents berated health officials for curtailing retail business hours to control influenza’s spread:  hourly workers lost wages including income to pay for extra heating fuel, an item they considered more critical to protecting their families.6   

MYTH #3:  When life and limb are threatened on a mass scale, people panic.  They revert to their savage nature, and social norms readily break down.  

FACT:  According to extensive social research, people rarely fall apart and put themselves first.7,8,9,10  This finding contradicts what people tend to say on surveys that ask them how they think they will behave when disaster hits.  In reality, people may feel fearful, anxious and capable of doing just about anything to protect their loved ones.  They may be irritable with politicians and safety professionals and ignore their advice when it is irrelevant to their situation.  But, contrary to the scary stories authorities tell each other, panic is the exception. Creative coping is the norm.
• Ordinary people emerge as innovative problem-solvers who are responsive to the needs of others around them.  This pro-social response has been documented by researchers over several decades in countless disasters, and has been bolstered by reports of the reasoned and altruistic responses of those directly affected in the 9/11 attacks and the recent London bombings.  People react in disaster the same way they live:  as parents, as co-workers, neighbors, members of faith communities.
• Regular people are not merely disaster victims who must rely on trained responders for protection. Studies show that the majority of people rescued are saved by nonprofessionals who happen to be in the immediate vicinity. 49 of 50 people saved from the rubble of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California were rescued by a group of 8 Mexican construction workers who have long since been forgotten in the larger U.S. cultural narrative of the heroic efforts by trained, search-and-rescue professionals.11
MYTH #4:  Centralized, insular decision-making and authority structures among trained professionals guarantee the least harm to people and property.  Ordinary civilians and everyday institutions are inadequate to deal with crises. 

FACT:  Shared problem-solving across sectors and social groups, rather than imposing authority from outside, is a more effective tool for handling extreme and/or unanticipated events.12
The very different outcomes of two U.S. smallpox outbreaks—one in Milwaukee in 1894 and the other in New York in 1947—suggest that disease controls that compromise democratic ideals of self-determination and equality of persons can inadvertently spread an epidemic further.13 

• Facing a citywide outbreak, Milwaukee health authorities forcibly removed infected individuals to isolation hospitals considered substandard, selectively using this technique among impoverished immigrants. 
• Wealthier smallpox patients were placed under quarantine and encouraged to care for their afflicted loved ones in the comfort of their own homes. 
• Perceived to be discriminatory and authoritarian, these public health measures caused month-long riots and ultimately abetted the spread of smallpox. 
• Outbreak Impact:  1,079 cases, 244 deaths 

• NYC officials effectively quelled outbreak by implementing a voluntary mass vaccination campaign that was universally applied, carrying out an elaborate public relations campaign, and involving grassroots organizations.  
• Health officials were legally authorized to vaccinate people or move patients to hospitals forcibly, but coercive measures were unnecessary in the context of a community-wide and evenly applied containment campaign. 
• 6,350,000 people were vaccinated in 4 weeks (5 million along in the first 2 weeks) 
• Outbreak impact: 12 cases, 2 deaths

MYTH #5:  Acts of God and Nature are pre-ordained.  There is no real way to thwart their ultimate outcome.  The same goes for Bureaucratic Red-Tape, another so-called immutable force.  

FACT:  Modern disasters are complex, dynamic events.  They involve the interaction of multiple systems – society, the built environment, and the natural world.  Thoughtful tinkering to align these systems can help reduce hazards, though never remove them entirely.14  

• Hurricane and earthquake hazards have lessened over time in the U.S. as building codes have improved the resistance of buildings to damage, the prediction of weather and geologic events has become more precise, and public warning systems and evacuation plans have been put in place.  

  • According to Storm Data, for the 1975 to 1994 period hurricanes were the second most costly natural hazard in terms of property losses and the third most injurious.  Because of advance warnings and emergency preparedness, hurricanes are only the seventh-leading cause of death due to natural disasters.15   
• In 1995, Washington Monthly chronicled the successful reform of FEMA, from what many considered to be the “worst” federal agency to the best.16 

  • Transformation took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, August 24, 1992.  The storm leveled a 50-mile path across Southern Florida, leaving almost 200,000 people homeless and 1.3 million without electricity.  Food, clean water, shelter, and medical assistance were in short supply.  FEMA was absent for the first 3 days, and once on the scene, it poorly managed the relief effort. 
  • FEMA was hampered by its lack of experienced managers and by its reactive posture to disaster, seeing itself as a “last responder” whose primary role was to distribute loans for rebuilding after a disaster.  FEMA had 10 times the proportion of political appointees of most other government agencies.  
  • Organizational restructuring, mission re-evaluation, energetic oversight, and strong leadership turned the agency around…

Emergency planning assumptions backed by empirical research, not hunches or common-sense notions: 
• Disasters have the most profound effects for the already vulnerable members of society.  Disasters are not equal opportunity events. 
• Life circumstances – such as economic means, educational levels, and states of social isolation or connection – are more frequently the contributors to people’s failure to heed reasonable official instructions, NOT individual traits of obstinacy or willfulness. 
• In conditions of grave danger, creative coping is the norm and panic the exception. 
• Shared problem-solving models, rather than ones of command-and-control, provide opportunities for flexibility and innovation, and a higher likelihood of enhanced preparedness, response, and recovery. 
• The outcomes of a disaster – whether so-called natural, technological or terrorist-driven – are not set in stone or predetermined.  That said, interventions must take into consideration complex interactions among citizens and government, as well as physical, natural, and built environments.

End notes
1 Walter Peacock.  Consequences of Disaster Myths, 30th Annual Hazards Research and Applications Workshop, Boulder, CO, July 12, 2005. 
2 Eric Klinenberg.  Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago.  Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; 2002. 
3 Cox News Service.  Many New Orleans residents had no evacuation plan.  September 2, 2005. 
4 Clete DiGiovanni, Jerome Conley, Daniel Chiu, and Jason Zaborski.  Factors influencing compliance with quarantine in Toronto during the 2003 SARS outbreak, Biosecurity and Bioterrorism 2004;2(4). 
5 Ron Bayer and Laurence Dupuis. Tuberculosis, public health, and civil liberties, Annual Review of Public Health 1995;16:307–26. 
6 Monica Schoch-Spana. Psychosocial consequences of a catastrophic outbreak of disease: Lessons from the 1918 pandemic influenza. In: Robert Ursano, Ann Norwood, and Carol Fullerton, eds. Bioterrorism: Psychological and Public Health Interventions. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2004, pp. 38-55. 
7 Lee Clarke. Panic: Myth or reality? Contexts 2002; Fall:21–6. 
8 E.L. Quarantelli. The sociology of panic. In: Smelser N, Baltes PB, eds. International encyclopedia of the social and behavioral sciences. New York: Pergamon Press; 2001:11020–30. 
9 Henry W. Fischer. Response to disaster: Fact versus fiction and its perpetuation. Lanham, MD: University Press of America; 1994. 
10 Russell R. Dynes and Kathleen J. Tierney, eds. Disasters, collective behavior and social organization. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press; 1994. 
11 Tom Glass.  Workshop remarks, Citizens’ Information Needs in Responding to Disaster.  Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the NAS/National Research Council, Washington, DC, July 19, 2005. 
12 Russell R. Dynes.  Community emergency planning: false assumptions and inappropriate analogies.  International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 1994;12(2):141-158. 
13 Judith W. Leavitt. Public resistance or cooperation? A tale of smallpox in two cities. Biosecurity and Bioterrorism. 2003;1(3):185-92
14 Dennis S. Mileti.  Disasters by design: a reassessment of natural hazards in the United States.  Washington, DC: John Henry Press, 1999. 
15 Ibid, p. 76, 78.  
16 Daniel Franklin.  The FEMA phoenix: reform of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Washington Monthly July/August 1995.  Available at; accessed September 2, 2005.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Role of First Responders

Responder Role in Disasters and other Emergencies
By John Fisher

Who are first responders?

The first people on the scene in an emergency or natural disaster are usually police officers, firefighters, and paramedics, or emergency medical technicians (EMT). As first responders, they are trained to react quickly in emergencies. Their first responsibility is to make sure people are safe, which may include evacuation, rescue, crowd control, and medical attention. Suppressing fires and controlling other hazards is usually left to firefighters while police officers secure the area by redirecting traffic and keeping bystanders away. In these roles, they serve as “a calming force, keeping panic and disorder to a minimum” (US Legal, 2010). Paramedics and EMTs are most often associated with fire departments, many of which require their people to have both fire and medical training. SWAT teams may also contain trained paramedics.

Natural disasters spare no one. Matthew Tobia (2013) points out the ferocity of storms like Hurricane Andrew or Katrina, and, more recently, Superstorm Sandy.  “The same forces that move homes off their foundations or burn them to ashes don’t just make left turns around fire stations, sparing them from destruction.” Instead, firefighters and police, paramedics and EMTs learn to deal with disasters with the tools at hand. This requires they prepare for the worst scenarios and hope for the best. In addition, to preparing themselves it also is vital they prepare the communities in which they live, including their own families.

Because first responders usually live in the communities they serve, they know their communities well. They know the streets and buildings, and they understand the people and the local government. This gives them the advantage, like in Joplin where not a street sign was standing after the 2011 tornado, of being able to respond knowingly and effectively.  When a community is leveled they may have little to work with, but they use their resourcefulness to meet the needs of their community. Often this will require the joint effort of other agencies and community members.   

One specialized role is that of the fire marshal. A fire marshal, in the United States and Canada, is often a member of a fire department but may be part of a building department or a separate department altogether. Fire marshals' duties vary but usually include fire code enforcement and/or investigating fires for origin and cause. Fire marshals may be sworn law-enforcement officers and are often experienced firefighters. Fire marshals may carry a weapon, wear a badge, wear a uniform or plain clothes, and make arrests pertaining to arson and related offenses, or, in other localities, may have duties entirely separate from law enforcement, including building- and fire-code-related inspections. In many areas, the fire marshal is responsible for enforcing laws concerning flammable materials.

What is the role of the National Guard and Coast Guard in disaster situations?

The Army National Guard, the Air National Guard, and the U.S. Coast Guard provide vital support during natural disasters. The Army National Guard and Air National Guard have over 300 thousand members in more than 1,800 National Guard units located in 2,700 communities across the United States. While the National Guard receives military training for wartime service, they also are trained in emergency response skills and answer the call when their service is needed to deal with disasters. The Coast Guard is made up of active duty, reserve, and civilian personnel and protects the coastal boundaries of the United States. They performed a vital role in the BP spill cleanup in 2010 and respond in all disasters along our coastal shores.

While the National Guard is under the jurisdiction of the federal government when called up for war, they usually serve under state governments and can be called up by the state governor in response to disasters. State National Guards work cooperatively with local authorities during emergencies and natural disasters. National Guard troops help reinforce dams and dikes threatened by floods, work to contain forest fires, and assist community rebuilding efforts after hurricanes and tornadoes. Because Guard members have unique skills like flying helicopters and airplanes and driving trucks, they serve a vital role in transporting supplies, injured and sick people, and emergency materials (US Legal, 2010).

What is the role of hospitals in a disaster?

The role of hospitals in the community response to disasters has received increased attention, particularly since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Hospitals must be prepared to respond to and recover from all-hazards emergencies and disasters. The continued progress of our medical response system in all-hazard emergencies and disasters depends in large part on the future guidance and support from government institutions (Sauer, 2009).

In many communities, hospitals have not been integrated well into the community disaster response system and thus may not be prepared to safely treat mass casualties from disasters and incidents involving hazardous materials.  Of particular concern is keeping health care workers safe. Healthcare workers may be exposed to chemical, biological, physical or radioactive hazards while providing care to patients who arrive at the hospital for triage following an incident involving hazardous materials. Safeguarding health care workers who deal with emergencies is critical in performing the mission to save lives and protect the public. The few cases of Ebola to come to the United States in 2014 from Africa showed how unprepared hospitals were to deal with a pandemic.  Knowledge about the means to protect health care workers and understanding of emergency response planning essentials will help keep healthcare workers safe from hazardous materials and provide for the treatment of casualties of disasters (OSHA, 1997).

Unlike other institutions, hospitals need to be on 24/7 standby and have essential resources to respond to disasters (Rodak, 2012, OSHA, 1997). These resources should include:
  • Comprehensive community disaster plans for a wide range of potential events, each with diverse action requirements;
  • Training and drills including practice of the Incident Command System (ICS);
  • Back-up generators;
  • Effective communications systems including a line between the incident and hospital;
  • Personal protective equipment that staff can use to avoid exposure and limit contact with infected patients;
  • Decontamination units, which include trained physicians, nurses, aides, and support staff;
  • Decontamination procedures and designated decontamination areas with necessary equipment;
  • Stockpiled medical supplies and pharmaceuticals;
  • Disease surveillance systems including air monitoring and controls to prevent the movement of airborne substances through ventilation and duct work;
  • Access to information on diseases and hazardous toxic materials;
  • Surge capacity to treat an influx of patients and plans for treating non-disaster patients;
  • Alternative facilities in case of contamination of the hospital’s emergency department; and
  • Post-emergency critique of the hospital's emergency response.
What training and education do first responders have?

Following 911 critics called for better training of first responders to deal with emergencies of the size of the impact of a terrorist attack.  Critics noted that first responders were completely unprepared for biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction (Heritage, 2002).

Nine days after the September 11th attacks, to Congress President George W. Bush announced that he would create the Office of Homeland Security to coordinate the efforts of more than 40 federal agencies in order to prevent future terrorist attacks. The Office was created nearly a month after the attacks with Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, as the first the first director. On January 24, 2003, Ridge became the first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
While at first Homeland Security served primarily as a coordinating body, it later emerged as the principal civilian protector of the country inside and outside its borders. Its stated goal is to prepare for, prevent, and respond to domestic emergencies, including terrorism, human-caused disasters, and natural hazards. One role is to train first responders and prepare the public for emergencies.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is an agency in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It trains in the areas of firefighting and emergency management, through the National Fire Academy and the Emergency Management Institute. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center coordinates training for police officers. In preparing for a disaster, police officers and firefighters trust in their training and capitalize on their knowledge of a community. Exercises simulating disaster situations (large- and small-scale events) help better prepare officers and firefighters and allow them to fully understand the resources and response needed for each event. First responders know their communities best and interact with residents on a daily basis. This knowledge gives them the ability to provide valuable situational awareness to response and recovery groups coming in to help (Hylton, 2013).

What is NIMS?

The National Incident Management System (NIMS), established in March 2004 and revised in 2008, is “a systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to work together seamlessly and manage incidents involving all threats and hazards—regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity—in order to reduce loss of life, property and harm to the environment” (FEMA, 2015).

The purpose of NIMS is to provide a common approach for managing incidents. It promotes a flexible but standardized set of incident management practices with emphasis on common principles, a consistent approach to operational structures and supporting mechanisms, and an integrated approach to resource management. NIMS is the foundation of the National Preparedness System (NPS), providing for a unified approach in building and delivering the core capabilities across all five mission areas (Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery). 

Incidents typically begin and end locally, and they are managed daily at the lowest possible geographical, organizational, and jurisdictional level. As incidents become larger success may depend on the participation of many jurisdictions, levels of government, non-governmental agencies, and all responders. These instances necessitate effective and efficient coordination across this broad spectrum of organizations and activities. By using NIMS, communities are part of a comprehensive national approach that improves the effectiveness of emergency management and response personnel across the full spectrum of potential threats and hazards (including natural hazards, terrorist activities, and other human-caused disasters) regardless of size or complexity. NIMS is a “whole community” approach, involving community members, first responder agencies, public and private sectors, and non-governmental and non-profit organizations (FEMA, 2015).

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) Training Program defines the national NIMS training program as it relates to the NIMS components of preparedness, communications and information management, resource management, and command and management. It specifies the National Integration Center (NIC) and stakeholder responsibilities and activities for developing, maintaining, and sustaining NIMS training. The NIMS Training Program outlines responsibilities and activities that are consistent with the National Training Program, as mandated by the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006. This program integrates with FEMA training offered through the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and United States Fire Administration (USFA). The National Exercise Program (NEP) is the Nation’s overarching exercise program. All interagency partners have adopted the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) as the methodology for all exercises that will be conducted as part of the NEP (DHS, FCD 1, Nov. 2007, p. 7).

NIMS also provides for effective resource management and mutual aid across jurisdictions and levels of government. As a condition of receive Federal Preparedness grants and awards, local, state, territorial, and tribal nation jurisdictions must implement NIMS procedures and report using NIMS guidelines. NIMS Alerts announce the release of new NIMS guidance, tools, and other resources. FEMA Regional NIMS Coordinators act as subject matter experts regarding NIMS for the local, state, territorial, and tribal nation governments within the 10 FEMA Regions, as well as for the FEMA Regional Administrator and staff. The Incident Command System (ICS) has been established to provide standardization through consistent terminology and established organizational structures (FEMA, 2015).

What is interoperability communications and why is it so important?

During the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, soon after the south building collapsed warnings were sent out to police radios to vacate the north building. Most police were able to vacate the building but over 121 firefighters were left in the North Tower to die. In total 411 first responders died that day: 343 firefighters from the New York City Fire Department, 37 police officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department (PAPD); 23 police officers of the New York City Police Department (NYPD); and 8 emergency medical technicians and paramedics from private emergency medical services.

Most firefighters did not get the police warning. The firefighter radio system failed frequently during the morning.  Even if it had been reliable, it wasn’t linked to the police system. In addition, police and fire commanders didn’t communicate with each other during the event  (Dwyer, 2002).

Interoperability communications is "the ability to exchange and make use of information" between agencies like the police and fire departments. It also applies to communications within organizations. Timmons (2007) indicates that radio communications is not the only interoperability failure. Since 9/11 first responder agencies have made headway by purchasing equipment that works among agencies. In addition, the equipment and systems are able to provide signals in remote locations or impenetrable building structures. However, other communication problems result from dysfunctional relationships among agencies, first responder stress in difficult situations, insufficient training and poor procedures and policies.

Interoperability communications can be enhanced by improving, not only equipment and systems, but also human behaviors and relationships. Areas of focus for training, according to Timmons (2007), are sensory overload, cognitive bias, speech center deficit, and suppressed emotions. Sensory overload occurs as soon as first responders arrive at the scene, where they are required to make critical decisions and give commands to others. Cognitive bias occurs when people disregard information that disconfirms their preconceptions. This can lead to an incomplete operational picture. Stress can alter voice pitch and inflection when talking on the radio.  This is speech center deficit. Finally, first responders learn to be calm in an emergency situation. This is not always good because suppressing natural emotional responses can lead to elevated blood pressure and increased stress levels, disrupting communications, and inhibiting relationships.

What is the difference between an emergency and a disaster?

A disaster is “an occurrence disrupting the normal conditions of existence and causing a level of suffering that exceeds the capacity of adjustment of the affected community…. A disaster occurs when hazards and vulnerability meet” (WHO, 2002). A disaster is a sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction.

The difference between disaster and emergency is fairly big, although an emergency situation can certainly feel like a disaster to those involved. A disaster will likely affect more people and/or will have more devastating consequences than that of an emergency. A disaster is an emergency situation if noticed ahead of time. However, not all emergencies will reach the level of disasters.
An emergency is defined as an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action; an urgent need for assistance or relief.

Ken Jorgustin (2012) wrote: “When I think of disaster and emergency, I consider a disaster to be widespread, regional, or wider. Examples of a disaster may be the consequences of severe weather such as a hurricane, tornado, or flooding. An economic meltdown followed by a rapid devaluation of currency would be considered a disaster, affecting countless millions of people. An emergency is a situation that requires immediate attention, a situation that could lead to disaster if left alone or unattended. Or, maybe it won’t, although it may seem like it to you nonetheless.”

Any disaster that arises from the physical phenomena—hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis—can be deemed a natural disaster. Human-caused disasters may also be the direct result of natural conditions. For example, the floods that devastated New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 were caused by levees that burst, but it was the hurricane’s wind and rain that caused the excess of water. Likewise, fires which may destroy wildlands and communities may be human-caused or could result because of dry conditions and electrical storms. The San Francisco fires in April 1906 were caused by broken gas lines resulting from a major earthquake.

While natural disasters can strike anywhere, the poor usually suffer more than the rich, because they lack the resources to rebuild or to relocate. Infrastructure is usually better in wealthier communities and countries. The poor in New Orleans were hardest hit because they built on the low ground and didn’t have the means to evacuate.  On January 12, 2010, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 220,000 people and injuring over 300,000. The massive earthquake, the biggest the region had seen in 200 years, left more than 1.5 million people homeless, and resulted in an immense humanitarian crisis.  The devastation was compounded by poor building practices and weak infrastructure.

In the United States, government agencies can assist those who have lost their homes and possessions. Numerous federal and state government agencies (including non-governmental agencies) provide help to those in need when disaster strikes, but often that assistance covers only part of what is needed. Also, it is difficult to get protection such as homeowner’s insurance in areas prone to damage from floods or hurricanes (US Legal, 2010).

Terrorism is a human-caused threat that is unpredictable and can cause great loss of life and property. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France on November 13, 2015, where more than 100 people died, served as a tragic reminder of September 11, 2001, the worst terrorist attack in history. On September 11, 2001, a succession of four coordinated assaults was launched by the al-Queda in the New York City and Washington DC areas. Four planes were hijacked by 19 men and two of those planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, collided into the north and south towers of the NYC World Trade Center, which collapsed within two hours and led to the destruction of nearby buildings as well. The third plane, American Flight 77, targeted the Pentagon in Virginia while the last one, United Airlines Flight 93 whose aim was the Capitol in DC, crashed into a field in Pennsylvania when the passengers tried to overpower the hijackers. These catastrophic events led to the deaths of about 3,000 people.

Terrorism is the systematic use or threatened use of violence to intimidate a population or government and thereby effect political, religious, or ideological change.  Terrorist organizations in the United States today use techniques such as hijacking, bombing, diplomatic kidnapping and assassination to assert their demands (US Legal, 2010).

What do first responders do in a disaster?

Emergencies happen very frequently whereas disasters may occur only once or twice in the life of a first responder. Handling emergencies (like car accidents, house fires, and response to crime) helps prepare first responders to deal with disasters.  The role of first responders in responding to a disaster is very similar to the day-to-day role of public safety and supporting the community. Because first responders know their communities and interact with residents on a daily basis they can respond quickly to a heightened crisis situation such as in a disaster. For example, understanding unique community features, like demographic and language characteristics, allows law enforcement officers to help outside emergency management teams in a disaster. Their presence and support in the community in a disaster has a calming effect that helps people respond more appropriately.

During a disaster, police officers play a key role in many operations, including search and rescue, evacuations, door-to-door checks, and maintaining overall public safety within the community. In addition to being involved in some of these same functions, firefighters and paramedics are involved in suppressing fires, handling hazardous materials, and first response medical care and transportation to hospitals. These are critical actions that support not only their own communities but neighboring towns as well (Hylton, 2013).

In the following excerpt, Roberto Hylton (2013) describes first responders working with college students following a tornado. “An EF-3 tornado impacted the nearby college campus and devastated neighborhoods and infrastructure. Emergency services were stretched to the max. Officers worked relentless hours, 48 hours straight in some cases, setting up and supporting emergency response and rescue operations. The scene was chaotic with debris and terrified college students, but the right training helped officers maintain public safety and conduct lifesaving missions.”

How are first responders organized in a disaster? What is the Incident Command System (ICS)?

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) has adopted the Incident Command System (ICS) and mandated its use by first responders in emergencies and disasters. The Incident Command System is a standardized management tool for meeting the demands of small or large emergency or nonemergency situations. It represents "best practices" and has become the standard for emergency management across the country. ICS may be used for planned events, natural disasters, and acts of terrorism.

In the 1960s and 1970s, first responder agencies noted that high cost of wildfires in Arizona and California. Property damage ran into the millions, and many people died or were injured. Studies indicated that response problems were often related to communication and management deficiencies rather than lack of resources or failure of tactics. In a meeting in 1968 Fire Chiefs in Phoenix, Arizona formulated the ICS concept, based on the management hierarchy of the US Navy.  During the 1970s, ICS was fully developed during massive wildfire suppression efforts in California and following a series of catastrophic wildfires in California's urban interface. ICS was developed mainly for firefighting of wildfires in California and Arizona but was quickly adopted nationwide.

The ICS is a management system designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management by integrating a combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure, designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management. A basic premise of ICS is that it is widely applicable. It is used to organize both near-term and long-term field-level operations for a broad spectrum of emergencies, from small to complex incidents, both natural and manmade. ICS is used by all levels of government—Federal, State, local, and tribal—as well as by many private-sector and nongovernmental organizations. ICS is also applicable across disciplines. It is normally structured to facilitate activities in five major functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance and administration (FEMA, 2008).

The following chart shows the Incident Command System (ICS) structure:

Source: FEMA. 2008, May). ICS Review Materials.

The Incident Commander is technically not a part of either the General or Command Staff. According to FEMA (2008), the Incident Commander is responsible for overall incident management, including:
  • Ensuring clear authority and knowledge of agency policy.
  • Ensuring incident safety.
  • Establishing an Incident Command Post.
  • Obtaining a briefing from the prior Incident Commander and/or assessing the situation.
  • Establishing immediate priorities.
  • Determining incident objectives and strategy(ies) to be followed.
  • Establishing the level of organization needed, and continuously monitoring the operation and effectiveness of that organization.
  • Managing planning meetings as required.
  • Approving and implementing the Incident Action Plan.
  • Coordinating the activities of the Command and General Staff.
  • Approving requests for additional resources or for the release of resources.
  • Approving the use of participants, volunteers, and auxiliary personnel.
  • Authorizing the release of information to the news media.
  • Ordering demobilization of the incident when appropriate.
  • Ensuring incident after-action reports are completed.
Command Staff
The Command Staff is assigned to carry out staff functions needed to support the Incident Commander. These functions include interagency liaison, incident safety, and public information.
Command Staff positions are established to assign responsibility for key activities not specifically identified in the General Staff functional elements. These positions may include the Public Information Officer, Safety Officer, and Liaison Officer, in addition to various others, as required and assigned by the Incident Commander.

General Staff
The General Staff represents and is responsible for the functional aspects of the incident command structure. The General Staff typically consists of the Operations, Planning, Logistics, and Finance/Administration Sections.
General guidelines related to General Staff positions (FEMA, 2008) include the following:
  • Only one person will be designated to lead each General Staff position.
  • General Staff positions may be filled by qualified persons from any agency or jurisdiction.
  • Members of the General Staff report directly to the Incident Commander. If a General Staff position is not activated, the Incident Commander will have responsibility for that functional activity.
  • Deputy positions may be established for each of the General Staff positions. Deputies are individuals fully qualified to fill the primary position. Deputies can be designated from other jurisdictions or agencies, as appropriate. This is a good way to bring about greater interagency coordination.
  • General Staff members may exchange information with any person within the organization. Direction takes place through the chain of command. This is an important concept in ICS.
  • General Staff positions should not be combined. For example, to establish a "Planning and Logistics Section,” it is better to initially create the two separate functions, and if necessary for a short time place one person in charge of both. That way, the transfer of responsibility can be made easier.
What role do first responders play in preparing and helping the public for emergencies and disasters?

Responding to disasters is a shared responsibility, and those in law enforcement are aware that emergency management planning is for all hazards and that it takes a team effort to keep our communities safe (Hylton, 2013).

The law enforcement community has two vital roles in responding to disasters: As first responders during times of crisis, and providing for the safety and security of the community (Hylton, 2013).  Firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and hospitals have a similar role.

A key role of response agencies in disasters is to ensure the continuity of services.  Tobia (2013) describes the problems first responders faced in a disaster:  “You’re the station captain: look around your office. If everything was gone in an instant—training records, computers, phones, payroll systems, LOSAP records, personnel files—how would you reconstitute your station? Walk out to the apparatus bay and imagine all of the apparatus destroyed. Again, how would you provide essential services? If the members of your company failed to post for duty because their homes and families were severely affected by an event, who would respond to the calls for help?”

Tobia (2013) makes the following recommendations, which I’ve adapted to apply to all emergency services:

  • Leaders in the emergency services must be closely tied to their communities. They should never misinform the public about their capacity to respond during extreme weather and other natural disasters.
  • Emergency service leaders must lead by example by being prepared and having a plan to keep their own family members safe. This includes planning and practicing a home escape plan, which also designates a meeting location away from a disaster in the event families become separated. Families also need to have copies of all essential documents, and cash, secured in a location away from their homes. Tobia (2013) says first responders “should not jeopardize our public by being unprepared ourselves.”
  • Emergency service leaders must develop and maintain Continuity of Operations Plans (COOPs) that deal with how to reconstitute their organizations after a disaster. This means identifying and securing critical hardware, software and supporting documentation before an event occurs. “COOPs provide a roadmap to recovery while maintaining the ability to respond to calls for service,” says Tobia (2013).
  • Should a massive storm approach, emergency service leaders may have to evacuate their apparatus, hardware, software, equipment and your people, so that when the storm is over they can come back and assist the community to respond and recover. 
Tobia (2013) says: “Since Katrina, FEMA has dramatically altered its language when speaking to the public. In 2008, when Gustav was approaching Galveston, Texas, the message was loud and clear: “If you choose not to evacuate, you will face certain death.” That is the first time I can recall hearing such blunt and honest language from a federal agency whose mission is to save lives. And that is exactly what they were doing—by educating the public so that they could make the right decisions about their safety. As firefighters, we have a similar obligation to not only echo those words but heed them.”


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Jorgustin, Ken. (2012, February 20). Disaster and Emergency, What’s The Difference? Modern Survival Blog. Retrieved from
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Cite this article:
Fisher, John. (2015). The Role of First Responders. Community Emergency Preparedness. Retrieved from

Saturday, August 29, 2015


Damage from the Napa earthquake
Reflecting on the Napa earthquake one year later, Mayor Jill Techel said that social media "helped people connect" in the minutes and days following the major shock waves.

The Napa, California earthquake was the first large earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 21st century.

The tremors woke ABC7 News Anchor Cheryl Jennings in the middle of the night. She immediately sent out a tweet asking others what they felt. Throughout the day, she was barraged with tweets.

The first social media reports came from local residents, but soon emergency officials, including Napa police, were using Twitter and other social media to get out critical information.

Media outlets helped by retweeting important news to a much wider audience.

"What happened was the electricity went out so a lot of people didn't have TV," said Mayor Techel. But they had cellphones and used them during the disaster response.

In Napa social media linked quake victims to family and friends, and connected lost animals to owners. Social media, which included photos and video, reported the event to the broader Bay Area and brought help to those who suffered losses and damage, demonstrating the incredible resilience of the Bay Area community.

"It helped people connect," Techel said. "It helped people find out what was happening, helped people be able to come here and help. There was all sorts of people helping people."

Social media was accepted as a major tool in disaster response during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Now it is part of emergency planning in communities throughout the Bay Area.

Click here for the original story. Click here for details on the one-year anniversary, and click here for full coverage on the South Napa Earthquake.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

New Insight on the Nation’s Earthquake Hazards

To help make the best decisions to protect communities from earthquakes, new USGS maps display how intense ground shaking could be across the nation.

The USGS recently updated their U.S. National Seismic Hazard Maps, which reflect the best and most current understanding of where future earthquakes will occur, how often they will occur, and how hard the ground will likely shake as a result.
42 States at Risk; 16 States at High Risk
While all states have some potential for earthquakes, 42 of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in 50 years (the typical lifetime of a building). Scientists also conclude that 16 states have a relatively high likelihood of experiencing damaging ground shaking. These states have historically experienced earthquakes with a magnitude 6 or greater.
The hazard is especially high along the west coast, intermountain west, and in several active regions of the central and eastern U.S., such as near New Madrid, MO, and near Charleston, SC. The 16 states at highest risk are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
While these overarching conclusions of the national-level hazard are similar to those of the previous maps released in 2008, details and estimates differ for many cities and states. Several areas have been identified as being capable of having the potential for larger and more powerful earthquakes than previously thought due to more data and updated earthquake models. The most prominent changes are discussed below.
Informed Decisions Based on the Maps
With an understanding of potential ground shaking levels, various risk analyses can be calculated by considering factors like population levels, building exposure, and building construction practices. This is used for establishing building codes, and in the analysis of seismic risk for key structures. This can also help in determining insurance rates, emergency preparedness plans, and private property decisions such as re-evaluating one’s home and making it more resilient.
These maps are part of USGS contributions to the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), which is a congressionally-established partnership of four federal agencies with the purpose of reducing risks to life and property in the U.S. that result from earthquakes. The contributing agencies are the USGS, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Science Foundation (NSF). As an example of the collaboration, the hazards identified in the USGS maps underlie FEMA-sponsored seismic design provisions that are incorporated into building codes adopted by states and localities. The maps also reflect investments in research by academic and other scientists supported by grants from the USGS and the NSF.
“The standards for seismic safety in building codes are directly based upon USGS assessments of potential ground shaking from earthquakes, and have been for years,” said Jim Harris, a member and former chair of the Provisions Update Committee of the Building Seismic Safety Council. “The committees preparing those standards welcome this updated USGS information as a basis for making decisions and continuing to ensure the most stable and secure construction.”
Key Updates
East Coast
The eastern U.S. has the potential for larger and more damaging earthquakes than considered in previous maps and assessments. As one example, scientists learned a lot following the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that struck Virginia in 2011. It was among the largest earthquakes to occur along the east coast in the last century, and helped determine that even larger events are possible. Estimates of earthquake hazards near Charleston, SC, have also gone up due to the assessment of earthquakes in the state.
In New York City, the maps indicate a slightly lower hazard for tall buildings than previously thought (but still a hazard nonetheless). Scientists estimated a lower likelihood for slow shaking from an earthquake near the city. Slow shaking is likely to cause more damage to tall structures in contrast, compared to fast shaking which is more likely to impact shorter structures.
Central U.S.
The New Madrid Seismic Zone has been identified to have a larger range of potential earthquake magnitudes and locations than previously identified. This is a result of a range of new research, part of which was recently compiled by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
West Coast
In California, earthquake hazard extends over a wider area than previously thought. Most notably, faults were recently discovered, raising earthquake hazard estimates for San Jose, Vallejo and San Diego. On the other hand, new insights on faults and rupture processes reduced earthquake hazard estimates for Irvine, Santa Barbara and Oakland. Hazard increased in some parts of the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles region and decreased in other parts. These updates were from the new Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast Model, which incorporates many more potential fault ruptures than did previous assessments. Recent earthquakes in Alaska, Mexico and New Zealand taught scientists more about complex ruptures and how faults can link together. This insight was applied to California for which approximately 250,000 potential complex ruptures were modeled.
New research on the Cascadia Subduction Zone resulted in increased estimates of earthquake magnitude up to magnitude 9.3. Deep-sea cores were collected that show evidence within the sea-floor sediments of large earthquake-generated mudflows. Earthquake shaking estimates were also increased following abundant data gathered from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Tohoku, Japan in 2011 and the magnitude 8.2 earthquake offshore of Chile in 2014, as those events ruptured along subduction zones similar to the Pacific Northwest zone. 
In Washington, scientists incorporated new knowledge of the Tacoma Fault into the maps and identified changes to the geometry of the Whidbey Island fault in the northern Puget Sound. Earthquake hazard also increased for Las Vegas because of new science. In Utah, scientists dug trenches to study prehistoric earthquakes along the Wasatch Fault. While the overall seismic hazard didn’t change significantly, detailed changes were made to the fault models in this region and robust data were acquired to hone the assessments. This is valuable since approximately 75% of Utah’s population, including the residents of Salt Lake City, lives near this fault.
The magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Wenchuan, China in 2008 provided many new records of shaking that are very similar to anticipated future earthquakes in the western U.S., as the fault structures are similar. Previously, scientists did not have nearly as many shaking records from earthquakes of this size.
Induced Earthquakes … Research Underway
Some states have experienced increased seismicity in the past few years that may be associated with human activities such as the disposal of wastewater in deep wells.
One specific focus for the future is including an additional layer to these earthquake hazard maps to account for recent potentially triggered earthquakes that occur near some wastewater disposal wells. Injection-induced earthquakes are challenging to incorporate into hazard models because they may not behave like natural earthquakes and their rates change based on man-made activities.
You Can’t Plan If …
“USGS earthquake science is vital because you can’t plan for earthquakes if you don’t know what you are planning for,” said Mark Petersen, Chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project. “Our nation’s population and exposure to large earthquakes has grown tremendously in recent years. The cost of inaction in planning for future earthquakes and other natural disasters can be very high, as demonstrated by several recent damaging events across the globe. It is important to understand the threat you face from earthquakes at home and the hazards for the places you might visit. The USGS is dedicated to applying the best available science in developing reliable products useful for reducing the earthquake risk across the U.S.”
Start with USGS Science
The USGS is the only federal agency with responsibility for recording and reporting earthquake activity nationwide and providing a seismic hazard assessment. The USGS regularly updates the national seismic hazard models and maps, typically every 6 years, in sync with the building code updates. The 2014 update focuses on the conterminous U.S. Maps are also available for Alaska (last updated in 2007); Hawaii (1998); Puerto Rico (2003); Guam and Marianna Islands (2012); andAmerican Samoa (2012).
View the maps online at: