University of Sourthern California


Innovative Emergency Management and Response

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Responding to emergencies quickly and efficiently is a challenge that communities have always faced. Public health leaders can create innovative emergency management strategies that incorporate advanced technology to increase the chance of an effective, efficient response, whatever the crisis.

Technology can make it easier for responders to assess threats, share information and plan emergency responses. Some of the latest innovations in emergency response are poised to revolutionize the way response teams analyze events and coordinate their activities, while others are dramatically changing the way everyday citizens handle emergencies.

Of course, these tools are only as effective as the individuals who put them to use. An advanced degree, like a master of public health degree, can offer students the opportunity to learn about innovative practices in emergency situations, preparing them to help improve the nation’s crisis response systems.

What Is Emergency Management?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines emergency management as “the managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters.”

Emergency management is an aspect of public health. While it can be steered by the federal government, agencies at the county and city levels also play key roles. Emergency management consists of four distinct phases, according to FEMA:

  • Mitigation — Mitigation encompasses proactive actions to prevent or lower the impact and consequences of emergencies. These can be physical actions such as preventing potential water damage by digging channels or constructing levees, or they can be financial or legal activities like purchasing insurance policies.
  • Preparedness — Being prepared means planning ahead for all types of emergencies and training communities and individuals on what to do if one occurs. This step can involve conducting drills and developing plans listing the steps to take during a disaster.
  • Response — The response phase includes all the steps that are taken immediately following an emergency or disastrous event. This can involve implementing response plans, deploying search and rescue tactics and taking protective actions.
  • Recovery — Recovery is the process of restoring normal functionality after a disaster or emergency. This step, which can often stretch out for long periods of time, can involve minimizing financial issues, rebuilding damaged structures and resolving vulnerabilities to avoid future disasters.

The goal of emergency management is to recognize potential disaster vulnerabilities within a community and develop strategies that offer the community protection and build up its resilience. Achieving this goal can help communities minimize damage and maximize functionality in the event of an emergency.

Emergency Situation Examples and Technology Solutions

While all forms of emergency management have the main goal of safeguarding a community, emergencies themselves vary in scope and impact. This means public health leaders must understand how to respond to each type of emergency to optimize their impact in the wake of a disaster. Emergency situation examples include:

  • Natural disasters — These include floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes.
  • Public health crises — These include epidemics, pandemics and other illness outbreaks ranging from new influenza strains to new potentially deadly diseases, such as COVID-19.
  • Acts of terrorism — These can range from bomb threats to the threat or usage of biohazardous materials.
  • Radiation and chemical emergencies — These include the accidental release of radioactive materials or other toxic substances that can cause widespread damage in a specified area.

Regardless of the type of emergency, public health officials can prepare for them by creating innovative emergency management strategies that incorporate technology to help deploy resources more effectively and make it easier for people to reach out for help.

1. Smartphone Access to 911

Dialing 911 is supposed to be simple, and it’s something that children should learn to do as early as possible in the case of an emergency. While smartphones and technology have improved and simplified many types of emergency response, they may have made things more difficult when it comes to these three numbers.

Not all innovations are as sleek and simple as one might expect. Smartphones are a prime example. Though they have evolved to include advanced security features, and they are now required by law to grant 911 access even without a SIM card, they’ve also put some extra barriers in place for children who need to access emergency services. Make sure everyone in your household knows how to access the emergency keypad on your smartphone. If you have a passcode on your phone, you can use the emergency setting to bypass it and make critical calls, including those to 911. Show your children how this technology works so this innovation doesn’t end up slowing them down.

2. Automated Wildfire Protection Systems

2021 saw 58,985 wildfires burn more than 7.1 million acres of land across the country, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC). These dire numbers have been consistent over the last 10 years. The growing threat of climate change makes combating these disasters — and working to mitigate their impact before they occur — critical.

Several technologies are being employed to address wildfires. Potential solutions include using artificial intelligence to analyze weather satellite imagery to detect a fire’s origin before it becomes difficult to control. Other systems use predictive analytics to determine where an ignited fire may spread, allowing firefighters to contain it more efficiently. Drones can be flown into hazardous areas to gather fire data without putting humans at risk. Drones can also be used to launch “prescribed burns”: small fires deliberately placed in the path of an encroaching fire in order to slow its progress.

3. Geographic Information Systems

Geographic information systems (GIS) are extremely valuable to emergency responders. This analytical mapping technology helps them understand where hazards are located, how many people are affected and what response is needed. According to FEMA, GIS technology can be applied through all four phases of emergency management. The deep modeling capabilities of GIS can help public health leaders build predictive and estimation data, which can lead to more efficiently targeted emergency preparedness and recovery strategies.

4. Intelligent Street Lamps

Though street lamps may seem an unlikely tool for emergency management and response, smart street lighting gives seemingly ordinary lighting a powerful new function. These street lamps are equipped with environmental sensors that detect hazards like rising water levels, strong winds, high temperatures and lethal gas. They can also be equipped with 180-degree cameras that offer a real-time look at pedestrian traffic and developing situations.

Through intelligent street lamps’ speakers and color-coded lights, emergency management teams can communicate essential information to citizens in the area, such as safe escape routes.

With this innovation in emergency management, responders can gather essential information about threats and communicate with citizens at the street level before they’re able to arrive on the scene.

5. Emergency Communication Apps

Widespread smartphone adoption makes these devices the ideal means for communicating information about emergency response efforts to the public at large. Seeing the potential in this trend, FEMA has developed an app that helps to communicate critical information to at-risk populations.

Through the FEMA app, users can receive weather reports, locate emergency shelters and even register for disaster aid. The app offers tips for handling over 20 types of emergency situations and disasters.

Be a Leader in Responding to Public Health Emergencies

Emergencies and disasters usually strike with little warning. The key to effectively responding to these public health emergencies is to establish a cohesive strategy that focuses on mitigating, preparing, responding and recovering in equal measure. Technology can be instrumental in keeping people safe.

USC’s online MPH degree program can help prepare you to become a technologically proficient leader in the public health field. As a part of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, this advanced degree offers six different concentrations ranging from biostatistics and epidemiology to health services and policy, giving you the opportunity to learn about serving the public’s health needs in a way that best aligns with your interests. Discover how we can help you succeed in a vital profession.

Recommended Readings

The Next U.S. Drug Epidemic: Increased Opioid Usage and Alcohol Abuse

Raging Wildfires: Public Health Implications

Vaping: A Growing Public Health Crisis


Federal Emergency Management Agency, Emergency Management in the United States

Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA Mobile App and Text Messages

Federal Emergency Management Agency, IS-922.a — Applications of GIS for Emergency Management

Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Preparedness Goal

Inteli Light, “Everything You Need to Know About Smart Street Lighting”

National Centers for Environmental Information, Wildfires

Popular Science, “These Smartphone Settings Could Save Your Life”

Smithsonian, “From Supercomputers to Fire-Starting Drones, These Tools Help Fight Wildfires”, Disasters and Emergencies

Verizon, Teaching Children How to Call 911