I had been asked to attend the Emergency Management Summer Institute, and I didn’t know what to expect, let alone what it really was...needless to say I was really nervous! I thought it was only for experts and professionals in Emergency management careers. I was only a student, interested - but with no real experience or knowledge of disaster and emergency-anything! Would they be able to tell that I didn’t have a 72hr kit? That my food storage was just whatever happened to be left before pay day? I felt extremely under-qualified, and I wasn’t looking forward to having to do the whole “fake it til you make it” thing for an entire week. But first day introductions quickly eliminated any nerves, and I realised that (as usual) I’d been overreacting. I was relieved to see there were other students there. Yes - there were professionals in super-professional-cool jobs, but there was a wide range of people, with different levels of knowledge and experience (including level zero...like me).
The Emergency Management Summer Institute is a course about a week long, which as the name suggests - covers an array of topics all to do with emergency management and preparedness. Guest speakers shared their expertise on their specific roles in emergency management, using examples from disasters around the world and in New Zealand. There were lots of opportunities to learn from the speakers, and other attendees, as well as to work together to practice what was learnt throughout the course. We took field trips, including visiting a local Marae to learn about their involvement in the community.
What I quickly learnt was that emergency management is way more complex, and encompassing than I had initially thought. There’s far more to it than food storage and 72 hour kits (but those are still important!) Here are a few aspects that were highlighted during the course which really stood out to me:
- Desensitized communities: When communities have witnessed multiple emergency warnings with no actual emergency, they are less likely to respond. I immediately recognized this phenomenon from living in Hawaii doing my undergrad. It seemed there was a tsunami or tropical storm warning every few weeks, yet besides being able to sleep through a wailing siren I have nothing to show for living through these warnings. With the first warning I ever heard, I remember preparing supplies, evacuating, and anxiously awaiting the damage that might come. After nothing but light rain sprinkled down I felt almost disappointed. I became more relaxed after that and during the following warnings I would pretty much continue with life as usual.
How can emergency warnings be effective time and time again, and not be viewed as “false alarms”?
- Animal safety: Personally not being an animal person, I never considered how animals needed to fit into an emergency plan. This is crucial, as many pet owners (much to my disbelief) will refuse to follow the emergency plan if it means leaving behind their animals. We were shown examples of people who delayed their evacuation or even returned to the danger zone to find, rescue and recover their horses. Animals need to be included in every aspect of an emergency plan, it is not enough to store supplies such as food, water and medicine for them, though that is also important.
How can emergency plans take into consideration those who will put themselves at risk to go back and help their animals?
- Cultural protocol: When a fatal disaster hits, and emergency teams are focused on finding survivors and recovering bodies it may not be possible to practise cultural practices surrounding death. One of the presentations addressed the Christchurch earthquake in 2010. Due to the high death toll it wasn’t easy to ensure these cultural protocols were being observed as bodies were being recovered. New Zealand is very multicultural, and each culture has their own protocol and traditions in relation to death, and burial.
After a catastrophe with a high death toll, how can different cultural practices be observed without hindering the efficiency of emergency workers?
The course used the host city Wellington as an example of the many kinds of disasters and hazards that can occur there (hint: there’s a lot). We got to see first hand different hazard zones, Wellington’s fault line and New Zealand’s emergency and disaster facilities. Learning about all these potential hazards might put you off moving to Wellington anytime soon, but you will be educated on how these hazards can be prepared for, and responded to. The knowledge and skills learnt can be applied not only to those most obviously in the emergency management field, but also to our own individual families and communities.
Wellington’s water storage - in case of any kind of water shortages
Observing Wellington’s hazardous landscape
For information on the Emergency Management Summer Institute please follow the link below: