The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.







Hurricanes are Deadly, Impacts are Real

by JC Bowman

Recent frantic evacuations of New Orleans and Houston have forced local officials across the country to take another look at their own plans for evacuating their cities in response to natural disasters or terrorist attacks.  I had an opportunity to chat with David Henry,  a Captain with Life Force Communications at Erlanger.  David a former student of mine is one the brightest, most articulate men I know, especially in the area of emergency management.  He is well known in the Meigs, Bradley and Hamilton County area.  I am quite certain FEMA wishes they had dialed David's number rather than Michael Brown's!

I specifically asked Captain Henry about Hurricanes, but natural disasters are applicable across the board.  David stated "Of all the hazards that befall an effective emergency response the hazard of assumption is quite possibly one of the deadliest.  In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters of historic significance 'assumption' has played a role in the loss of life and property."

Assumption is a hazard that affects both the public and the professional public safety/emergency management community.  Assumption plagues governmental entities from the Federal to the local levels as well as private industry and cripple emergency response and life saving efforts. 

I asked David to identify some of the most common assumptions that result in the loss of life and property as well as the slowing of emergency response. Below are Captain Henry's responses:

Assumption #1:  It will never happen here.

This assumption is perhaps the deadliest of all assumptions.  This assumption leads to a break down in the "comprehensive emergency management" process and has historically resulted in unnecessary loss of life and property.

Comprehensive emergency management is comprised of four main ingredients: Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.  The assumption that the worst case scenario will never happen in this community, city, state or nation causes a breakdown in this process.  Mitigation efforts are not made to lessen the effects of the worst case

J C Bowman

-J. C. Bowman, a native of Cleveland, is a well informed and outspoken conservative educator.  He is Director for the Center for Education Innovation at Florida State University. Prior to this, he served as the Director for the Florida Department of Education Choice Office and as the Chief Policy Analyst of the Education Policy Unit for Florida Governor Jeb Bush.



Appropriate preparedness efforts such as planning and exercising of plans are not made; or at least are not carried out in the spirit the worst case scenario demands.  Response efforts become snarled.  The effects of poor mitigation and preparedness efforts slow response.  The belief that the worst case scenario is not actually coming to pass slows the making of critical decisions.

Recovery efforts are hampered because of this assumption also.  As a result there is no plan for rebuilding and recovering for failures of multiple layers of infrastructure.

All of these factors result in the worst case scenario being worse than it has to be.

The public also suffers from this assumption.  The belief that "it won't happen here" causes members of the public to fail to prepare appropriately for disasters.  There is also a failure to heed warnings or orders to evacuate areas that have huge potential for significant damage or destruction. 

This assumption does not only apply to the worst case scenario.  In most cases the general public fails to take steps to avoid or mitigate every day emergencies.  Simple efforts such assuring smoke detectors are installed and functional can save lives but are often not made. 

Assumption #2:  Help is on the way.

This assumption is a common one among the general public and results in a general lack of personal preparedness for disaster.  It is assumed that when disaster strikes that local emergency responders will be taking care of disaster victims.  It is often forgotten local emergency and public safety responders are often victims themselves.  The infrastructures they rely on may be irreversibly damaged and inoperable.  Responders may be lacking in appropriate resources to respond.

Access may also be a problem.  Emergency responders may not be able to reach you to meet your needs for quite some time.  Help may not be on the way.

The lack of preparedness that stems from this assumption results in disaster victims being without food, water, shelter and other basic necessities of life.  There is a lack of general preparedness also in terms of evacuation planning, designating means of contacting and tracking family members and the learning of basic survivals skills.

Assumption #3:  The other guy is taking care of that.

This third assumption causes significant failures in the planning/preparedness phase of emergency management and extends into the response phase.  Emergency Managers often lay out emergency operations plans that address responsibilities of other agencies.  Often, the other agencies may not be consulted on their responsibilities.  As a result, the responsibilities that are assumed to be handled by an agency are left untended.  This results in a breakdown in the response process.

In the Katrina response it was assumed that local, State, and Federal agencies would respond in certain ways.  These assumptions resulted in deadly failures in the response effort. 

The general public also makes assumptions concerning responsibilities in the midst of a disaster.  These assumptions stem from false information provided to the public, blind faith in the emergency management/response agencies that are tasked with public safety, and lack of understanding of local, State and Federal emergency management policies and procedures. 

Captain Henry states that the "public must also take the initiative to become familiar with the roles and responsibilities of public safety agencies and themselves in the midst of disaster.  Local emergency management agencies must take a lead role in insuring that information is available to the public."  Assumptions are deadly to emergency management. They lead to confusion and the potential unnecessary loss of life or property. 

Thanks to Captain David Henry for all his help on this article and providing this information.  I expect him to continue to rise in his profession and to keep making a difference in the lives of people all over the nation. 
--J. C. Bowman is a public policy analyst who resides in Tallahassee, Florida.
He can be reached by email at:

Read the companion article
by Captain David Henry