Key to Preparedness: Interagency Coordination & Exercises


Members of a Navy preventative medicine team test samples in a BioFire Film Array, which will test for nearly 30 different diseases, including COVID-19, aboard the USS Blue Ridge.



Story by Chris Webb


Disasters and emergencies are, by nature, chaotic and unpredictable. Organizations try their best to plan for them by emphasizing preparedness, creating emergency response plans and, in fewer instances than you would think, actually exercising those plans via drills or tabletop discussions.


The problem is that most of the preparation, planning and practice remains internal to an organization. In other words, there is often very little consideration given to the possibility that inter-agency coordination will be an absolute necessity in the event of a disaster.


Analyses of the overall response to the events of Sept. 11 found that communication, and a lack of familiarity between multiple responding agencies hindered the efficacy of all those involved.

There has been an abundance of research examining the need for effective inter-agency or inter-organizational communication and cooperation immediately following a disaster or major emergency. Much of that research was published following the September 11, 2001 attacks wherein multiple public, private and non-profit organizations found themselves working side-by-side toward a common goal.


Analyses of the overall response to the events of Sept. 11 found that communication, and a lack of familiarity between multiple responding agencies hindered the efficacy of all those involved. Unfortunately, research following subsequent disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, the 2011 Japan earthquake and resulting tsunami, and others, continue to highlight these same shortcomings.


In fact, as of the publication date of this article, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has already exposed communication and operational gaps between organizations, resulting in a less efficient cooperative response. Agencies and institutions are finding themselves dependent on one another but are only now figuring out how to communicate, cooperate and share resources. Additionally, many in the realms of healthcare and emergency response have become reliant on sectors of society that had not been previously considered as essential for operations.


Of those organizations that have considered inter-agency collaboration, most have not actually exercised their plans with another entity.

What have we truly learned from these past incidents and disasters? At PathFinderEX, we are passionate about the possible answers to this question. We recognize that many organizations (whether private sector, governmental, or community-based) may have developed emergency response plans but few have established policies and procedures for coordinating with other organizations in response to an emergency event. Of those organizations that have considered inter-agency collaboration, most have not actually exercised their plans with another entity.


The intent of PathFinderEX is to bring together organizations from all areas and sectors of society to work toward a common cause—developing, and then exercising effective emergency response strategies and plans.


At a PathFinderEX training event, participating organizations can expect to train alongside other public or private sector organizations, forge new relationships and develop a clearer understanding of how to combine efforts in the event of a disaster or major emergency event.


Like previous disasters, our unfortunate current circumstances surrounding COVID-19 will lead to many changes in how we prepare for and respond to massive, large-scale disasters. However, until we recognize that a truly devastating event requires each and every segment of society to pre-plan together, we will remain more reactive than proactive in our response effort.


#disaster #riskmanagement #preparedness #medicalresponse #covid19 #coronavirus #pandemic


This article first appeared on the PathfinderEX blog at www.pathfinderex.org.

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