A Publication of WTVP

The United States has a long history of response to emergencies and disasters, including active civil defense and emergency management organizations at the local, state and federal levels. The focus of these organizations has changed over time as new risks were identified and methods for dealing with these risks were developed.

From Ad Hoc to Integrated Response
In the early 20th century, ad hoc responses to catastrophic disasters and the implementation of large-scale public works projects designed to reduce risks were the norm. The advent of the Cold War in the 1950s resulted in the establishment of civil defense programs around the nation focused on preparing for nuclear war. One example is the current Peoria County Emergency Management Agency building, a bunker-style structure located in rural Peoria County. During subsequent decades, the United States was affected by a series of major natural disasters. The response to each of these incidents was the improvised passage of disaster relief funds. While there has always been some aspect of emergency management in the U.S., hurricanes and earthquakes in the late 1960s and early 1970s were catalysts for legislation and an increased focus on natural disasters.

A broad range of hazards and potential disasters put communities at risk. After reviewing the response to many of these incidents, it became apparent that various federal, state and local agencies were involved in some aspect of risk and disaster management. This duplication of programs added to confusion and turf wars—especially during relief efforts. In response, an effort to consolidate activities into a single unified and effective federal agency was initiated. This effort to consolidate emergency preparedness, mitigation and response activities resulted in the establishment of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Each September, National Preparedness Month encourages and reminds Americans to be prepared for disasters or emergencies in their homes, businesses, and communities. Visit for some tips from the Peoria City/County Health Department.

With the creation of FEMA, development of the Integrated Emergency Management System (IEMS) focused on an all-hazards approach of preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. The goal of the IEMS was to develop and maintain credible emergency management capabilities nationwide by integrating activities along functional lines of all levels of government and across all hazards. Early in FEMA’s history, natural and manmade disasters proved problematic for programs like the Federal Response Plan, despite the all-hazards approach and advances in planning. As a result, disaster relief and recovery operations were streamlined while an emphasis was placed on preparedness and mitigation. In addition, the end of the Cold War enabled emergency managers to redirect focus from civil defense to disaster relief, recovery and mitigation.

Post-9/11 and the Current Challenge
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, prompted dramatic changes in emergency management. These attacks—and the subsequent anthrax scare in Washington, DC, in October 2001—were the basis for a re-examination of the nation’s emergency management system, its priorities, funding and practices. While significant changes have occurred, the fundamental philosophy of an all-hazards approach continues to guide the government function of emergency management.

One of the signature initiatives of this approach is engagement of the “whole community,” intended to involve the private sector, community groups and individual citizens in disaster preparedness. Thisapproachis designed to harness the assets of civil society, draw attention to disaster resilience and improve coordination.

Historically, emergency management and preparedness had been a reactive science. The discipline’s evolution has been the result of catastrophes, disasters, heightened risks, and newly identified threats that affect the population and its economic stability, infrastructure and community resilience. As this evolution continues, emergency management needs to be the prime resource for the community, providing coordination for all local government partners during a time of emergency, crisis or disaster.

We have been involved in this all-hazards, whole-community planning for decades. As a result, it is undeniable that emergency management is integral to the security of our daily lives. The challenge moving forward is how we integrate emergency management into our daily decisions, rather than being called upon only in response to major disasters. iBi

Jason Marks, BS, serves as Emergency Preparedness Coordinator at the Peoria City/County Health Department.