A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Preparedness for Catastrophic Events


Preparedness for Catastrophic Events

Project Details

Abstract: 

A START research team assembled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) conducted a series of inter-related research projects towards the goal of providing DHS with new insights regarding the state of planning for catastrophic events in communities around the United States and conclusions about how the quality of such planning might be measured and improved.

This project, supported by the Office of Planning in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), examines practices, policies, and plans that communities have (or have not) implemented as part of their preparation plans for dealing with catastrophic events, be they natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or large-scale accidents. The project has three primary goals: (1) to develop a metric that can be used to assess planning at the community level, (2) to identify and evaluate public warning practices currently being employed, and (3) to examine the nature of public engagement in the development of plans for dealing with potential catastrophes. The findings from this project will be used by FEMA as it considers the impact and future directions of it Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program (RCPGP).

The research team for this project is comprised of Hamilton Bean (University of Colorado, Denver), Bethany Brown (Loyola University New Orleans), Paul Harwood (University of North Florida), Dennis Mileti (University of Colorado), and Monica Schoch-Spana (Center for Biosecurity), in addition to Kathleen Smarick (START).

Primary Findings: 

A START research team assembled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) conducted a series of inter-related research projects towards the goal of providing DHS with new insights regarding the state of planning for catastrophic events in communities around the United States and conclusions about how the quality of such planning might be measured and improved. Key findings and deliverables from this project included:

  • A proposed metric for assessing community planning for catastrophic events;
  • A proposed metric for assessing public warning systems in local communities;
  • Sample messages and strategies for developing and delivering effective public warnings; and
  • Recommendations to involve emergency preparedness coordinators, public information specialists, and/or health educators in local health departments in order to encourage citizen engagement in emergency planning.

Reports related to each of these findings are available from START.

Methodology: 

This project built on and synthesized past research on effective planning and preparedness strategies and utilized data previously collected in the Nationwide Planning Review and by the National Association of County and City Health Officials to assess the current status and practice of catastrophic planning.

In addition, original data were collected, compiled, and analyzed to advance empirical investigations of the practice and impact of public warning systems. Specifically, the research team engaged in the following:

  • Interviews were conducted by Dr. Hamilton Bean with 70 police, fire, and emergency management officials in three jurisdictions (Los Angeles, New York, and the National Capital Region) to collect data on disaster plans, communication practices, and public warning systems in the three regions.
  • A survey of 500 residents of a fire-affected area in Los Angeles County (CA) was conducted by the University of North Florida's Public Opinion Research Lab to provide insights into residents' reactions to evacuation orders during a deadly wildfire.

Timeframe

Project Period: 
November 2008 to November 2010

News References