Preparedness within the field of emergency management can best be defined as a state of readiness to respond to a disaster, crisis or any other type of emergency situation.
Preparedness is not, however, only a state of readiness, but also a constant theme throughout most aspects of emergency management. If one looks back into the history of the Nation, they will see the predecessors of today’s emergency managers focusing most heavily upon preparedness activities. For example, the fall-out shelters of the 1950’s and the air raid wardens were promoted as preparedness for a potential nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. Again, in the 1970’s, an acclaimed study prepared by the National Governor’s Association proclaimed emergency preparedness as the first step in emergency management.
After the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant incident occurred in 1979, preparedness around commercial nuclear power plants became a major issue for continued licensing of these plants. The increased emphasis on preparing the public for a potential event through planning and education, and preparing local responders through required exercises caused a likewise increased focus on overall preparedness for disasters. Also because of the recognized potential for subsequent nuclear disasters, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing requirements required local emergency plans, exercise of those plans and evaluation of the exercises.
This process had a profound impact on the discipline of emergency management. The off-site preparedness planning process became the model for future emergency response plans. The required exercises are seen as being the first such activities taken on a widespread scale. They also brought a legitimacy and level of public and political exposure to the emergency management profession. Most people agree that the radiological emergency preparedness program, initiated in the aftermath of Three Mile Island and which became part of the newly created FEMA, was the start of the modern emergency management discipline.
Since that era, preparedness has advanced significantly and its role as a building block of emergency management continues. No emergency management organization can function without a strong preparedness capacity. This capability is built through planning, training and exercising, and has led to an increased professionalism within the discipline of emergency management. Throughout the 1990’s FEMA was focused on supporting and enhancing these efforts, not just at the Federal level but throughout government and into the private sector.
All organizations in private, public and government sectors are susceptible to the consequences of a disaster and must consider preparedness. Preparedness not only focuses on getting essential government services, such as utilities and emergency services functioning at pre-disaster levels, but assisting businesses in quickly reopening to the public. Both of these key functions of preparedness help to minimize the required time for the effected population to return to pre-disaster life.
Business contingency planning, the effort of private businesses to ensure that business activities continue in the aftermath of disaster, has emerged as a profitable off shoot of government preparedness efforts.