In a disaster
Since Hurricane Katrina exposed many flaws in the nation’s emergency response a little more than a decade ago, Gary Webb, professor and chair of UNT’s Department of Emergency Management and Disaster Science, says researchers have identified many improvements since then.
From studying the response effort after the devastating hurricane, emergency management and disaster researchers and professionals found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) needed autonomy and more direct communication with the U.S. President in order to respond more effectively, he says.
In the aftermath of the storm, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, greatly improved the agency by designating the FEMA administrator as the President’s principal advisor on emergency preparedness and response and establishing minimum qualifications for the position. “If you look at the recent Louisiana flooding,” Webb says, “many felt the response from FEMA was positive and much-improved.”
RESPONDING ON SOCIAL NETWORKING
Social media also has brought a lot of changes to emergency response.
“Social media is a way of helping people communicate more quickly, and we’re seeing that the expansion of social media platforms is leading to many new tools and helping to improve emergency response efforts,” he says.
UNT’s new Department of Emergency Management and Disaster Science houses the Emergency Administration and Planning Program, which was established in 1983 as the nation’s first bachelor’s degree in emergency management, and its faculty researchers are dedicated to studying many aspects of disaster response to look for ways to help communities and organizations better prepare for future disasters.
Researchers are studying how to help people safely return home after an evacuation.
Lauren Siebeneck, an assistant professor of emergency management led a team that studied this issue after Hurricane Ike, which made landfall near Galveston in 2008. Her team compared evacuees’ expectations about returning home with their actual experiences.
In a separate study, she was part of a team that examined communication efforts to evacuees after the hurricane.
Researchers also are exploring the differences in how various communities recover from disasters and how to manage donations during a crisis.
“In a disaster, people donate a lot of things that aren’t needed,” Webb says. “You have to channel that good will. People’s hearts are in the right place, but you don’t want to contribute something that’s not needed and will ultimately cause a logistical problem for the people responding to the disaster.”