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  1. Science and Technology Directorate
  2. News Room
  3. Managing Emergencies Today While Planning for Tomorrow

Managing Emergencies Today While Planning for Tomorrow

Release Date: July 10, 2024

Guest post from Dan Cotter, Executive Director of the Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) Office of Science and Engineering.

Dan Cotter
Dan Cotter

As I sat down to write these words, Hurricane Beryl reached Category 5 status. That means sustained winds of 165 mph with even higher gusts. This is the earliest Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic basin ever.

I think many of us recognize that we are seeing an increase in emergencies of all types across our nation, particularly extreme weather events like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, blizzards, and ice storms. As their frequency and impact increase, so too does the need for a greater understanding of available data and trend patterns, so we can collectively ensure the safety of our communities, citizens, and critical infrastructure. These acute events—adding extreme heat and widespread droughts to the mix as well—pose real risks to our wellbeing, both physical and economic.

S&T has many ongoing efforts underway to support our first responders and our infrastructure in the near term. But the hazards we all face today extend well beyond natural disasters, and we need to be ready with a strategy for what’s to come. Targeted ransomware attacks on our financial and healthcare systems, and on individuals personally, are also on the rise. Our all too recent experience with the COVID-19 pandemic is another example of how we each can be impacted by unforeseen and wide-ranging emergencies. And there are, unfortunately, growing examples of manmade and technological threats, as well as those from nation states intent on spreading disinformation and encouraging mistrust in government, as seen in the aftermaths of the East Palestine train derailment and Maui fires.

In a remarkable speech last fall to the National Emergency Managers Association, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell called out these emerging threats and urged the response community to take preemptive action. “We can no longer put this kind of preparedness on the back burner,” she stated. “It is time to update our playbooks and balance our priorities to make our nation safer and more secure. Part of developing a resilient nation includes our ability to develop strategies to mitigate threats before they happen.”

And we at S&T are working to address this challenge through the Emergency Management of Tomorrow Research (EMOTR) Program. Despite the growing importance of emergency management to public safety, no single entity coordinates and disseminates new or breakthrough emergency management research. Addressing this gap requires a well-articulated vision, a coordinated research program, and strategic investments.

Last spring, S&T, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and other stakeholders met to explore the future of emergency operation centers and emergency management. This meeting resulted in a call to explore the current state of emergency management, identify areas of opportunity, and drive proposals for future investment—the EMOTR program was born.

In the first phase of EMOTR, PNNL conducted a landscape assessment of five years (2018-2023) and more than 36,000 peer-reviewed and open-source publications in emergency management research and development (R&D) from academic institutions, national laboratories, and other relevant research institutes to create an initial baseline of existing R&D efforts.

The assessment identified a rich, diverse, and collaborative research landscape. Results were grouped by capability need and ranked in terms of interoperability and implementation. The report highlights applicability and impact, potential for multi-purpose applications, and roadblocks to operationalization.  300-plus publications from the landscape assessment are captured in the annotated bibliography, which includes a summary report highlighting the key topic areas such as 3D geolocation, communications, data integration, threat and hazard detection and analysis, and resource management and jurisdiction coordination.

The landscape assessment effort sets the foundation for developing a research program that will prepare our national emergency management community for the future. All threats, all hazards, all phases of the emergency management lifecycle. All levels of government, academia, the private sector, and other stakeholders.

Failure to perform this type of research is not an option our nation can afford.

Contact first.responder@hq.dhs.gov for more information about EMOTR and the landscape assessment report.

Last Updated: 07/10/2024
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