Disaster and emergency management is the critical component of successful planning and response procedures. Regardless of the type and seriousness of the emergency situation or natural disaster, disaster management works to minimize the negative consequences, to reduce and prevent casualties and to bring financial and social losses to minimum. This paper will seek to prioritize tornadoes against winter storms. The differences between vulnerability and risk will be discussed. The role of the NIMS in confronting a severe winter storm will be evaluated. The impact of NIMS on policy decisions will be evaluated and discussed.
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Winter storm vs. tornado: Evaluating the risks and vulnerabilities of a disaster
Whether winter storm is more important that a tornado or vice versa is difficult to define. However, the specific characteristics of both disasters show that in any case, a tornado should be given a priority. To begin with, a tornado “is a narrow, violently rotating column of air that extends from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground” (A Severe Weather Primer, 2007), while a winter storm is usually a storm that involves the precipitation of snow. The consequences of a tornado are difficult to predict, but most frequently, they are extremely devastating. In case of winter storms, however, the most serious effects are limited to traffic accidents, problems with electricity, fuel, and transportation, and hypothermia among those who were unlucky to appear in the middle of the disaster. Yet, even hypothermia leaves enough chances for a person to survive the winter storm, whilst those in the middle of a tornado will hardly be able to cope with the disaster. This, however, is just an oversimplified presentation of what a tornado and what a winter storm is. In reality, every single situation requires the detailed assessment of its major risks and vulnerabilities. In the context of disaster management, risk and vulnerability assessment is one of the major components of the disaster preparation and analysis, because it helps authorities and emergency teams assess and quantify the risks and develop effective informed policies. It should be noted, that the concepts of risk and vulnerability are often confused; however, vulnerability is just one element of a disaster risk. Vulnerabilities are the existing weaknesses in the security equipment and measures, which lead to the loss of assets during a disaster; “vulnerabilities determine the likelihood that a potential adversary will succeed in denying you the use of your assets. By reducing your vulnerabilities you also reduce the potential loss (risk) to your assets” (Anonymous, 2005). As a result, prioritizing winter storms or tornados is impossible without at least the basic preliminary risk and vulnerability assessment.
Winter storms, NIMS, and policy decisions
The National Incident Management System (NIMS) was created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to standardize local and state approaches to incident management; and the key features of NIMS include Incident Command System, Communications and Information Management, Preparedness, Joint Information System, and NIMS Integration Center (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2004). In case of a winter storm, Incident Command System will control the cooperation and coordination of multiple agencies (for example, those responsible for emergency, transportation, and electricity), Communications and Information Management will guarantee that all participants and responsible officials are fully informed, have a full picture of the incident, and that this information is used to develop an effective disaster response. Preparedness will serve to reduce the negative impact of a winter storm on individuals and infrastructure – preparedness is of particular relevance to the territories and states where winter storms are not rare. Joint Information System will promote and maintain public communication, while NIMS Integration Center will coordinate efforts of the separate NIMS elements during disasters. and These decisions will further change the direction of the major policy decisions – based on the level of public and political commitment to the prevention and minimization of disaster threats, NIMS and effective winter storm disaster solutions will, on the one hand, promote the need for protecting human lives and, on the other hand, will move policymakers closer to the need for protecting nation’s productive assets and resource base (EWCI, 2003).
Through the prism of their general characteristics, tornadoes compared to winter storms are usually given priority. However, that tornadoes usually cause more serious effects and consequences than winter storms does not mean that the latter cannot be serious. Prioritization should always be the product of the detailed risk and vulnerability assessment, and only based on the results of such assessment can disaster professionals take a decision against each particular disaster. The role of NIMS in managing winter storms is multifaceted: it will coordinate communication, cooperation between agencies, informativeness of disaster professionals, etc. These actions will, certainly, impact the quality of policy decisions by establishing the need for saving human lives and moving policymakers closer to protecting nation’s productive resources and assets.