Climate Change and Impacts to Emergency Response Efforts

For decades, climate change has been occurring in different areas of the globe and at different rates. It increas the average temperature of the oceans and troposphere. This is resulting in several intense weather patterns, such as El Nino to Hurricane Harvey, wildfires spreading in California, and tornadoes in the Midwest. Emergency preparedness and disasters response measures must be up to par to protect the public.

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When an emergency response is required, many state and federal organizations must coordinate together to achieve successful and efficient execution of processes.

These organizations must be able to prepare and expect needs. They should keep abreast of climate changes, what the causes are, and how it is affecting different areas. This study researches how climate change has a direct effect on natural disasters in the United States. How they have been responded to by response entities. It will also cover how emergency response organizations can better prepare for the next wave.

For approximately 6 decades, climatologists have observed climate change as a result of global warming, leading to a rise in the average atmospheric and oceanic temperatures. Existing scientific evidence contributes this to several phenomena in which human interaction is the attribute (Cook, et al, 2016). There is a great concern for wellness for humans, in that the consequence will appear in long-term general health.

There are likely health risks that hospitals may face as these temperatures rise, including an increase in respiratory and cardiac illnesses and the redistribution of zoonotic infections globally. The impact of humans is related to the increase in gas emissions and pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, as a result of the use of fossil fuels.

This in turn handles the enhanced greenhouse effect that has exacerbated the rise in temperature in the troposphere.

When it comes to natural disasters, there is no way to prevent them from happening, and emergency response is that: responsive measures and protocols are put into effect to mitigate the effects of a natural disaster. While Mother Nature is not our enemy, when there are cascades of natural disasters that can wipe out continents, it may seem to be Nature vs. Humankind. Humankind can’t wage a war on Nature, but there is the option to understand it to improve the response to upcoming disasters.

The two terms “global warming” and “climate change” seem to be interchangeable, but, they are separate. Global warming is the average increase in global temperature due to the emission of greenhouse gases by humans (Dunbar, n.d. ). It directly affects climate change, which is the change of average conditions in a geographical area over a lengthy period, usually 30 years or more (NOAA, n.d.). With this information in hand, it will be easier to understand what causes the differences in climate, how they are being shaped, and what they are affecting.

There are five different climate types on Earth: Dry, where moisture evaporates , and any precipitation . Temperate, where there are warm, humid summers with thunderstorms and very mild winters.

Tropical environments have temperatures that exceed 64° Fahrenheit with an average rainfall of 59 inches . Continental climate zones have warm to cool summers, very cold winters, with snowstorms, freezing temperatures, and strong winds. Temperatures in these areas can fall below -22° Fahrenheit.

Polar climates are cold on an annual basis, with summer temperatures never reaching above 50° Fahrenheit. All five climate zones exist in the United States, from as far south as Florida to as far north as the northern border of Alaska. Each of these climates is different from one another but they do have one thing in common: there is a population of people in each of them. Climate records have shown evidence of key indicators of climate change, such as rising sea levels, the Earth’s poles losing ice mass and glaciers, and the most experienced in the US: precipitation storms, floods, hurricanes, heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires.

Global warming has been associated with many climate changes, with the most prominent one being El Nino.

This affects precipitation levels, sea temperatures, and wind patterns. ENSO, the El Nino/Southern Oscillation, has a global impact that has been increased by global warming in regards to intensity. In recent decades, El Nino has increased the need for emergency response in areas such as Japan and Haiti. Climate change has a direct effect on the health of the population in the area. And may have a severe effect on those that are most vulnerable to disease and infection. Meteorological and environmental changes may impact air, drinking water, and food quality. It can lead to the most prevalent threat to the health system during a crisis.

The resulting consequence will see a rise in health risks associated with the population’s access to food and water. As well as It lead to altered dissemination of pathogens. These risks may heighten increase in the frequency of climatic events, compounded by more migration changes in agricultural production. And it may result in risks of malnutrition and potential civil disruption for a large population in affected areas (Ghazali, et al, 2018).

All countries around the globe may at one time or another face a risk to their healthcare system, but, these risks may be narrower in developed countries due to a more prosperous response and the ability to adapt. This will rely on the ability to recognize risks, put into place an organized response system, and enact procedures that will reduce risks as well as their impact on the population. In areas with fewer resources, there is a disparity in hospital response due to the lack of funding, sizes, and status of hospitals (private or public), and the hospital organization itself. Depending on the country, its total health expenditure can range from under 1% to greater than 17% of gross domestic product (GDP). In developed nations, approximately 40% of the GDP goes to hospitals. In times of natural disaster, the differences between developed and underdeveloped nations will be brought to light.

Additionally, the affected population may not be prepared for climactic changes, or new infections requiring vaccines.

As before noted, global warming is the warming of the atmosphere of the planet. This is happening in some areas more than others, but the globe is feeling its effects wholly. In modern developed countries, studies have been conducted on the attribution of extreme temperatures to cardiovascular events and strokes (Farajzadeh & Darand, 2009). A study was conducted over 12 separate cities within the United States, revealing that the increase in hospital admissions due to effects of temperatures occurred within a few days of exposure (Schwartz, Samet, & Patz, 2004).

When temperatures are low, the blood vessels in the body will become narrow and will increase blood pressure, and may result in illnesses such as a stroke.

When ambient temperatures are higher, the opposite happens in a body, where the blood vessels dilate, increasing cardiac output and the potential risk of heart failure. Extreme temperatures can cause stress on the cardiovascular system and can result in a higher risk of heart disease, particularly in the elderly (Farajzadeh & Darand, 2009). Climate changes are having a considerable effect on air pollutants and pollen, spiking the number of respiratory illnesses of asthma and increasing the severity of pneumonia. This is worrisome, again to the elderly and also to those with upper respiratory illnesses.

Taking the turn into climatic changes and larger scale risks, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates further increased intensities of heatwaves, droughts, rain, floods, and tropical cyclones. The sole responsibility would not lie on hospitals alone should there be an emergency response of higher size. this would draw the resources of national or international aid, with military and civilian responders in humanitarian and emergency organizations.

Humanitarian disasters may also need resources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) to assist, such as the more recent natural disaster in 2017 when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

Emergency preparedness for the most common disasters is imperative, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was underprepared for Maria (Sullivan and Schwartz, 2018). To be prepared for hurricanes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) monitors and disseminates real-time observations of water currents, levels, and weather information. This helps local coastal authorities to prepare, mitigate, and respond to any coastal flooding or storm tides. Using these observations and a multitude of extra tools, NOAA can expect a tropical storm forming. Because of this ability, in addition to weather patterns and meteorologists, they can predict the magnitude and Category of the storm (National Ocean Service, n.d.).

While hurricanes and tropical storms are prevalent along the east coast of the United States, earthquakes and wildfires are along the west coast. There are few ways to help prevent these fires but with such an arid and high-temperature climate it isn’t able to be achieved wholly.

Every summer there are wildfires in California, with the Santa Ana winds spreading them over hundreds of acres in Los Angeles County and outward. Those same winds also spread ash and airborne particles to the nearby populous. To help with the air quality, most residents of these areas wear masks, stay indoors, and often, they must evacuate their homes as a response measure. In 2003, major wildfires devastated the Ventura, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties. These fires destroyed over 800 homes and killed 13 individuals.

FEMA responded, utilizing federal assets and local resources to combat the fires (Smith, 2003). The U.S. Forest Service provided aid as needed from its regional management unit, which is one of the largest firefighting forces nationwide. The Southern California Geographic Coordination Center was sourced, useful in its interagency coordination abilities.

Norton Air Force base was used as a staging area for the transport of required assets and personnel, as well as providing equipment and air support. Most often, the first responders to wildfires are the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, otherwise known as CALFire. It takes much effort, efficiency, and a calm demeanor to respond to unpredictable disasters, as wildfires kill approximately 17 wildland firefighters also to civilian casualties, homes, and businesses lost.

In contrast to wildfires in California, in the winter season of 2018-2019, the Midwest of the US was hit by a Polar Vortex. This cold snap stemmed from Illinois to South Dakota, bringing with it more than a cold winter. A polar vortex is a low-pressure area that sources in both the Northern and Southern polar regions. During the winter season, the polar vortex at the Northern Pole expanded, sending cold air southbound. While this is a fairly regular phenomenon there were record-breaking temperatures that impacted a large region of the US (NOAA, n.d.). Ambient temperatures reached as far as -50° Fahrenheit in areas, and as far north as Minnesota temperatures were reaching -60° Fahrenheit.

Because of these temperatures, flights were canceled, state workers were sent home, and classes were called off at many public schools (Sant, 2019).

Chicago experienced temperatures as low as -23° and cautioned individuals to stay inside their homes, as the threat of hypothermia loomed. Hypothermia will begin to occur when the body’s thermal temperature decreases from an average of 98.5° to lower than 95° (Mayo Clinic, 2020). Temperatures were so low that the estimated time of hypothermia to set in on the average individual was 3 minutes. A side effect of hypothermia is frostbite, which can take anywhere from an estimated 3 to 15 minutes to set in, dependent on the external temperature (Gajanan, 2019). The wind chill, which is a measure of frostbite comprised of the combination of wind speed and air temperature, can be deadly if temperatures are cold enough (Resnick, 2019).

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) began coordinating with other state agencies for response capabilities if needed due to the record-breaking wind chills (Mazzochi, 2019). IEMA maintains a website titled Ready Illinois, sharing information with the public in response to any hazard, whether it is man-made or natural.

The site provided Winter Weather Preparedness Tips, including information on the FEMA application available for mobile devices (Mazzochi, 2019).

The homeless rate in Chicago is an estimated 80,000, where 24% live on the streets (Chicago Coalition, 2020). With the Polar Vortex looming, public health officials were concerned. According to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless, an estimated 700 people experiencing homelessness die each year due to hypothermia (Lutz, 2019). Six warming centers were created in the city, two of which were open 24 hours a day. Public buildings and public transportation buses were also utilized as warming centers. 500 extra beds were added to shelters to accommodate the influx of homeless (Freund, 2019).

While entities exist to help with disaster and emergency response, at times they have fallen short. Organizations such as WHO, FEMA, and NOAA are reputable and relied upon whenever there is a need, but, sometimes that experience may not measure up to the reputation. In this case, these organizations create a “Lessons Learned” after every disaster, to see where there were inconsistencies, where there is room for improvement, and how responders can maintain a quick and effective response measure. NOAA has stood up an After Action Reporting/Lessons Learned Unit based on the response measures they have employed for COVID-19 (Office of Response and Restoration, 2020.).

One of the largest Lessons Learned in disaster response was that of Hurricane Katrina. It marked the paradigm shift in emergency management, in that local and state officials had primary responsibilities during a disaster and only sought federal help when their resources were depleted or completely expended.

Another note was the federal government itself was expected to be more prepared than it was and to engage in a more proactive role in the initial stages. To do this goal, partnerships between private sectors, state and local governments, and non-government organizations (NGOs) needed to be enhanced to reduce existing weaknesses.

A surprising Lesson was that the public itself was not working with FEMA recommendations. A survey was conducted and found that 25% of the population felt they would ignore an evacuation order. This presents an issue when emergency responders must leave an area. FEMA is reportedly made up of 14,000 employees expanded over 10 regions, many of which are only temporary employees, so holding the public accountable for themselves and others if they are able-bodied was another key point in the Lesson Learned (Office of Response and Restoration, 2020).

FEMA is not the only entity that responds to disasters but they are the most notable. Because of the devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina, FEMA took its Lessons Learned to Congress, where the organization was able to gain greater authority in its response efforts. The organization was able to stage resources in specific zones rather than wait for formal resource requests from governors. Using this same tactic for Hurricane Harvey, truckloads of water, food, and tents were positioned outside of the flooding zone, waiting to be transported into the recovery zone.

Supplies from FEMA and the Department of Defense arrived almost immediately after the storm ended, ready to use. FEMA also incorporated a pop-up hospital (Roberts, 2019).

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Climate Change and Impacts to Emergency Response Efforts. (2022, Mar 30). Retrieved October 1, 2022 , from

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