Guide to emergency management and related terms, definitions, concepts, acronyms, organizations, programs, guidance & legislation


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A Tutorial on Emergency Management, Broadly Defined, Past, Present, and Future
© 2007 B. Wayne Blanchard
B. Wayne Blanchard, Ph.D., CEM

January 22, 2008

(Date of Last Modification)

NOTE: This is not a comprehensive, definitive, exhaustive or official treatment of “emergency management” and related terms, definitions, acronyms, programs or legislation. It is simply a collection of terms, definitions, acronyms, and program and legislative descriptions and pulled together into a single document as time and opportunity have allowed to be assembled.
The original “Emergency Management-Related Terms and Definitions Guide” was developed as a student handout in an Introduction to Emergency Management college course taught by the author in 1999 and has been maintained as time allows for the authors own purposes, one of which is to continue supporting collegiate emergency management courses. Another is as an aid to quickly accessing hard-to-remember terms, definitions and acronyms, etc., particularly when not used on a regular basis.

At the time of original development the primary purpose was to demonstrate to the students the very wide range of definitions and meanings given to such words as “hazards,” disasters,” “emergencies,” “risk,” “vulnerability,” and “emergency management.” In the classroom productive time was spent trying to come to a group consensus on the variables comprising a definition of each word.

The thought then and now was that words make a difference and that an indicator of a profession and of professionalism is a shared understanding of (better yet, general consensus on) key terms, definitions, concepts and principles that are part of a body of knowledge for a profession. A shared understanding of key terms, definitions, concepts and principles is also a constituent element for the development of the academic discipline of Emergency Management.
The reception by Emergency Management collegiate faculty and students (as well as Emergency Management Professionals), over time, was such that a decision was made to expand the scope of the handout into other, mostly U.S. specific, emergency management and related terms and definitions.
After the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and FEMA’s incorporation into the DHS, the scope broadened again and also changed to incorporate references to relevant legislation, programs and organizations.
More recently, as discussion of the development of international principles of disaster/emergency management seems to have gained momentum, a modest effort has been extended to the incorporation of international terms and definitions, particularly those originating from hazards-related United Nations organizations and bodies.
Note: Obsolete and historical terms, definitions, etc. are included as an aid to understating such terms when encountered.
Use of this material for educational and professional purposes is unrestricted provided that proper attribution is provided.

Terms, Definitions, Acronyms, Programs, Concepts, Organizations, Guidance, Legislation

Alphabetically Organized – Full References at the End

A Zone: “A Zone is defined as the Special Flood Hazard Area shown on a community’s Flood Insurance Rate Map. The A Zone is the area subject to inundation during a 100-year flood, which is the flood elevation that has a 1-percent chance of being equaled or exceeded each year. There are several categories of A Zones, including AO (shallow sheet flow or ponding; average flood depths are shown); AH Zones (shallow flooding; base flood elevations are shown); numbered A and AE Zones (base flood elevations are shown); and unnumbered A Zones (no base flood elevations are provided because detailed hydraulic analyses were not performed).” (FEMA, Reducing Damage from Localized Flooding – A Guide for Communities (FEMA 511), 2005, vii)

AAC: Applicant Assistance Center. (FEMA, FAAT List (FEMA 524), 2005, p. 1)
AAR: After Action Report. (DHS, TCL, 2007, p. 30)
AAR: After Action Review. (Dept. of Army, WMD-CST Operations, Dec. 2007, Glossary 1)
ABCP: Associate Business Continuity Planner, DRII.
ABM: Anti-Ballistic Missile.
ABO: Agents of Biological Origin. (FEMA, FAAT List (FEMA 524), 2005, p. 2)
A-Bomb: “An abbreviation for atomic bomb.” (Glasstone, Effects of Nuclear Weapons, 1977, Glossary, p. 629)
ACADA: Automatic Chemical Agent Detection and Alarm. (FEMA, FAAT List, 2005, p. 2)
ACAMS: Automated Critical Asset Management System. (DHS, NIPP, 2006, p. 101)
ACBIRC: Advanced Chemical and Biological Integrated Response Course, DOD.
ACC: Acute Care Center. (CA EMSA. Hospital Incident Command Sys. Guidebook, 2006, 206)
ACC: Agency Command Center. (FEMA, FAAT List (FEMA 524), 2005, p. 2)
Acceleration: “A change in velocity with time; in seismology and in earthquake engineering, it is expressed as a fraction of gravity (g), with reference to vibrations of the ground or of a structure.” (UN DHA, Glossary, Disaster Management, 1992, p. 16)

Acceptable Risk: That level of risk that is sufficiently low that society is comfortable with it. Society does not generally consider expenditure in further reducing such risks justifiable. (Australian National 1994)

Acceptable Risk: Degree of humans and material loss that is perceived as tolerable in actions to minimize disaster risk. (Nimpuno 1998)
Acceptable Risk: Risk tolerance.
Given that the provision of absolute safety is impossible, there is great sense in trying to determine the level of risk which is acceptable for any activity or situation. Thus, when a hazard is being managed, the financial and other resources allocated to the task should theoretically match the degree of threat posed by the hazard, as indicated by the rank of the risk….
One must always specify acceptable to whom and that implies a conscious decision based on all the available information….
The 1993 floods in the upper Mississippi river basin had an estimated return period of more than one in 200 years, yet some people who were flooded asserted that this event should now be regarded as an unacceptable risk. Such arguments ignore both the economic and social benefits derived by those communities from their floodplain location over the previous 100 years or so, when few flood losses occurred, and the cost to the taxpayer implied in protecting floodplain basins against a flood of the 1993 magnitude. (Smith 1996, 57)
Acceptable Risk: Degree of human and material loss that is perceived by the community or relevant authorities as tolerable in actions to minimize disaster risk. (UN DHA, Internationally Agreed Glossary of Basic Terms Related to Disaster Management, 1992, p.16)

Acceptable Risk: “The level of loss a society or community considers acceptable given existing social, economic, political, cultural, technical and environmental conditions.” (UN ISDR, Terminology: Basic Terms of Disaster Risk Reduction, 2004, p. 1)

Access Disaster Risk Assessment Model: “A model that explores how an individual or groups relative resilience to disasters is impacted by differences in access to the economic or political resources needed to secure a livelihood. The strengths of the model are that it provides a broad view of vulnerability including root causes, it gives weight to natural hazards, and it provides a framework for looking at livelihoods and vulnerability. The limitation of the model, is that it is a tool for explaining vulnerability, not for measuring it. The model cannot be applied operationally without a great deal of data collection and analysis.” (UN Disaster Assessment Portal, Techniques Used in Disaster Risk Assessment, 2008)
Accident: “The word ‘accidental’ carries with it the connotations of both something that occurs by chance and something non-essential or incidental…. The thesis that ‘accidents will happen’ and that therefore nothing can be done to prevent their occurrence reaches its logical fulfillment in the thesis of Charles Perrow that accidents are so inevitable and therefore non-preventable that we are even justified in calling them ‘normal’” (Allinson 1993 15-16).
Accident: “Unintended damaging event, industrial mishap” (D&E Reference Center 1998).
Accident: “An unexpected or undesirable event, especially one causing injury to a small number of individuals and/or modest damage to physical structures. Examples would be automotive accidents or damage from lightning striking a house.” (Drabek 1996, Session 2, p. 3)

Accident: “…situations in which an occasion can be handled by…emergency organizations. The demands that are made on the community are within the scope of domain responsibility of the usual emergency organizations such as police, fire, medical and health personnel. Such accidents create needs (and damage) which are limited to the accident scene and so few other community facilities are damaged. Thus, the emergency response is delimited in both location and to the range of emergency activities. The primary burden of emergency response falls on those organizations that incorporate clearly deferred emergency responsibility into their domains. When the emergency tasks are completed, there are few vestiges of the accident or lasting effects on the community structure” (Dynes 1998, 117).

Accident: “An unexpected occurrence, failure or loss with the potential for harming human life, property or the environment.” (European Environment Agency, EEA Environmental Glossary)
Accident: “The very language used to describe the [TMI] accident revealed the very diverse perceptions that enter such interpretations. Was it an accident or an incident? A catastrophe or a mishap? A disaster or an event? A technical failure or a simple mechanical breakdown?” (Nelkin 1981, 135).
Accident: An event which only requires the response of established organizations – expansion or actions such as going to extra shifts is not called for. (Quarantelli 1987, 25)
Accident: “The evidence…suggests that accidents are not the product of divine caprice, nor of a set of random chance events which are not likely to recur, but that they are incidents, created by people, which can be analyzed, and that the lessons learned from that analysis, if implemented, will help to prevent similar events from taking place again.” (Toft 1992, 58)
Accident, Technological: “Technological accidents…are almost never understood as the way the world of chance sorts itself out. They provoke outrage rather than acceptance or resignation. They generate a feeling that the thing ought not have happened, that someone is at fault, that victims deserve not only compassion and compensation but something akin to what lawyers call punitive damages.” (Erikson, 1989, 143)

Accountability: “Everyone, including private individuals and organizations and government agencies and officials, should be accountable for their actions before, during and after an emergency.” (ACLU, Pandemic Preparedness, 2008, 7)

ACE: Army Corps of Engineers (correct acronym usage is USACE).
ACECenter: Assessment of Catastrophic Events Center, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Fort Belvoir, VA. (DTRA/DOD, ACECenter Public Page)
ACEHR: Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction.
ACEP: American College of Emergency Physicians.
ACF: Alternate Care Facility. (FEMA, FAAT List (FEMA 524), 2005, p. 2)
ACFM: Advanced Certified Floodplain Manager. (FEMA, FAAT List (FEMA 524), 2005, 2)
AC/IC: Area Command/Incident Command. (DHS, JFO Activation and Operations, 2006, 1)
Acid Rain: “Rain containing dissolved acidic compounds, resulting from chemical pollution of the atmosphere by sulphur and nitrogen compounds. When deposited these increase the acidity of the soil and water causing agricultural and ecological damage.” (UNDHA, DM Glossary, 1992, 16)
ACP: Alternate Command Post. (FEMA, FAAT List (FEMA 524), 2005, p. 3)
ACP: Area Command Post. (FEMA, FAAT List (FEMA 524), 2005, p. 3)
ACP: Area Contingency Plan. (FEMA, FAAT List (FEMA 524), 2005, p. 3)
ACP: Association of Contingency Planners.
ACPSEM: Advisory Council on Professional Standards for Emergency Managers. (FEMA, FAAT List (FEMA 524), 2005, p. 3)
ACS: Alternative Care Sites. (Trust for America’s Health, Ready or Not? 2007, p. 64)

ACT: Area Command Team. (Little Hoover Com., Safeguarding the Golden Gate, 2006, 22)

ACTFAST: Agent Characteristics and Toxicity – First Aid and Special Treatment. (FEMA, Compendium of Federal Terrorism Training Courses, 2003, p. 6)
ACTIC: Arizona Counter-Terrorism InforCenter.
Action Officer (AO): “An individual assigned by a Federal agency to manage a specific mission assignment issued to that Federal agency.” (FEMA, Mission Assignment SOPs Operating Draft, July 2007. p. 55)
Action Request Form (ARF): “The Action Request Form (ARF) is the form that the State, Federal agencies, and FEMA managers use for requesting Federal assistance that may result in a mission assignment, the amendment of an existing mission assignment, or the issuance of a mission assignment task order.” (FEMA, Mission Assignment SOPs…Draft, July 2007. p. 16)
Action Tracker (AT): “The AT is assigned to the Operations Section (NRCC, RRCC and JFO) and is responsible for maintaining a log of all Action Request Forms (ARFs) that are submitted to the Operations Section.” (FEMA, Mission Assignment SOPs Operating Draft, July 2007, 6)
Activation: “The implementation of business continuity capabilities, procedures, activities, and plans in response to an emergency or disaster declaration; the execution of the recovery plan. Similar terms: Declaration, Invocation.” (DigitalCare, State of OR BC Workshop, 2006, p. 45)
Activity Process Flow Map: “An Activity Process Flow Map shows the major activities that are performed with the capability and how the capability links to other capabilities.” (DHS, TCL, 2007, p. 8)

Acts of God: Natural disasters or freak accidents. (Birkland 1997, 2.)

“When society seems to have formed a consensus that the event was an ‘act of God,’ such as a natural disaster or freak accident, our attention turns to what we can do to help the victims. But when the disaster is the result of human failings – poor design, operator error, ‘corporate greed,’ or ‘government neglect’ – our attention turns to the voluntary acceptance of responsibility for an event or to the more coercive process of fixing blame. Boards of inquiry are formed, legislatures hold hearings, and reports are issued, all in hopes of ‘learning something from this incident’ to ensure that something similar does not happen again or in the case of ‘unavoidable’ disasters, in hopes of improving our preparation for and response to disasters” (Birkland 1997, 2).
Acts of God: A fatalistic “syndrome whereby individuals feel no personal responsibility for hazard response and wish to avoid expenditure on risk reduction” (Smith 1996, 70).
Actual Event: “A disaster (natural or man-made) that has warranted action to protect life, property, environment, public health or safety. Natural disasters include earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc.; man-made (either intentional or accidental) incidents can include chemical spills, terrorist attacks, explosives, biological attacks, etc.” (FEMA, NIMS Compliance Metrics Terms of Reference (For Fiscal Year 2007), October 23, 2006, p. 1)

Actual Risk: “Actual risk reflects the combination of…two factors…(1) probability, the likelihood, quantitative or qualitative, that an adverse event would occur; and (2) consequences, the damage resulting from the event, should it occur.” (GAO, Protection of Chemical and Water Infrastructure, 2005, p. 24-25)

Acute Exposure: “A contact between an agent and a target occurring over a short time, generally less than a day.” (European Environment Agency, EEA Environmental Glossary)
Acutely Toxic Chemicals: “Chemicals that can cause severe short- and long-term health effects after a single, brief exposure (short duration). These chemicals (when ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin) can cause damage to living tissue, impairment of the central nervous system, severe illness, or, in extreme cases, death.” (EPA, Technical Guidance for Hazards Analysis: Emergency Planning for Extremely Hazardous Substances, 1987, p. A-4)
ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act.
ADAMS: Automated Disaster Assistance Management System. (Defunct)
Adaptive Planning: ADAPTIVE PLANNING allows combatant commanders to produce plans significantly faster and to a higher level of quality. Rapid planning and greater efficiency are achieved through clear, “up-front” strategic guidance; iterative dialogue among senior leaders; parallel plan development and collaboration across multiple planning levels; and a suite of net-centric and execution tools with real-time access to relevant data. Participation by the Joint Planning and Execution Community (JPEC) is still a requirement (Figure 1-1) so development of the plan, in-progress reviews (IPRs), coordination among supporting commanders, agencies, and Services, reviews by the Joint Staff, and conferences of JPEC members can take as few as four months, or the full two- year planning cycle.” (JFSC, Joint Transition Course: Planning Primer, 2005, p. 1-9)

Adaptive Planning: Adaptive Planning is the joint capability to create and revise plans rapidly and systematically, as circumstances require. It occurs in a networked, collaborative environment, requires the regular involvement of senior leaders, and results in plans containing a

range of viable options that can be adapted to defeat or deter an adversary to achieve national objectives. At full maturity, AP will form the backbone of a joint adaptive system supporting the development and execution of plans, preserving the best characteristics of present-day contingency and crisis planning with a common process.”

[Background] “On December 13, 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved the Adaptive Planning (AP) Roadmap and directed its “expeditious implementation.” This act represented a significant shift in the way the Department of Defense (DOD) thinks about military

planning. The impetus for change was a recognition that the accelerating pace and complexity of military operations require that the President, Secretary of Defense, and combatant commanders have the ability to respond quickly to new threats and challenges.”] (Klein, “Adaptive Planning,” 2007, p. 84)

ADPC: Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, Bangkok, Thailand.
ADRC: Asian Disaster Reduction Center, Kobe Japan.
Advance Readiness Activities (NRF): “There are times when we are able to anticipate impending or emergent events that will require a national response, such as an upcom­ing hurricane season, a potential pandemic, or a period of heightened terrorist threat. We must capitalize on this critical window of opportunity to increase readiness activi­ties. For example, we can pre-identify needs and fill gaps in our current capabilities or resources that will be required to address the specific nature of the forthcoming incident. We also will pre-position commodities such as water, ice, emergency meals, tarps, and other disaster supplies so they will be readily available for use. Additional advance readi­ness activities include establishing contracts with the private sector prior to an incident and developing pre-negotiated agreements with Federal departments and agencies to ensure that appropriate Federal resources are available during a

crisis.” (White House, National Strategy for Homeland Security, October 2007, p. 34)

Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS): “The mission of ANSS is to provide accurate and timely data and information products for seismic events, including their effects on buildings and structures, employing modern monitoring methods and technologies. This mission serves a basic function of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), and drives the four basic goals of the planned system:

  • Establish and maintain an advanced infrastructure for seismic monitoring throughout the United States that operates with high performance standards, gathers critical technical data, and effectively provides information products and services to meet the Nation's needs. An Advanced National Seismic System should consist of modern seismographs, communication networks, data processing centers, and well-trained personnel; such an integrated system would constantly record and analyze seismic data and provide timely and reliable information on earthquakes and other seismic disturbances.

  • Continuously monitor earthquakes and other seismic disturbances throughout the United States, including earthquakes that may cause a tsunami or precede a volcanic eruption, with special focus on regions of moderate to high hazard and risk.

  • Thoroughly measure strong earthquake shaking at ground sites and in buildings and critical structures. Focus should be in urban areas and near major active fault zones to gather greatly needed data and information for reducing earthquake impacts on buildings and structures.

  • Automatically broadcast information when a significant earthquake occurs, for immediate assessment of its impact. Where feasible, for sites at distance from the epicenter, broadcast an early warning seconds before strong shaking arrives. Provide similar capabilities for automated warning and alert for tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

“To achieve these goals, ANSS will establish nationwide network of over 7000 earthquake sensor systems, serving all areas of the country subject to earthquake hazards and providing dense coverage in 26 at-risk urban areas (see map). Sensors will be located both in the ground and in buildings and other structures. The system will provide real-time earthquake information for emergency response personnel, provide engineers with information about building and site response to strong shaking, and provide scientists with high-quality data needed to understand earthquake processes and structure and dynamics of the solid earth.” (USGS, ANSS, 2007)

Adverse Selection, Insurance: “…only the customers posing the highest risks purchase the insurance.” (Financial Services Roundtable, Nation Unprepared for Mega-CATS, 2007, 45)
Adverse Selection, Insurance: “Adverse selection’ occurs when insurers cannot distinguish between less risky and more risky properties, although homeowners can. When premiums do not reflect differences in risk that are known to potential policyholders, those who buy insurance are often at greatest risk for the hazards covered. Adverse selection in the market for natural catastrophe suggests that homeowners who are at the highest risk of experiencing a natural catastrophe will buy available insurance.” (GAO, Natural Disasters: Public…, Nov 2007, 3)

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