Slow-Moving Disaster: Emergency Managers and the California Drought

This week Governor Jerry Brown announced sweeping mandatory water restrictions across the State of California. For California residents, the impact of the drought, now in its fourth year, has been uneven. Some residents on well-water have felt the devastating impact of the drought for quite some time, while others in the state continue to be impervious to direct consequences. Governor Brown’s drought restrictions are set to change that for Californians throughout the State.

Many less-attuned residents may be asking why more hasn’t been done in the years leading up to this point, just as emergency managers in other parts of the country may be wondering what this means for the field. The answer to both of those questions is “a lot.” For quite some time now, representatives from many local, county, and state-level departments and agencies, including emergency management agencies, have been working together on the drought. In particular this has required significant coordination to understand the scope and the impact of the drought on California’s diverse communities. Moreover, places like Porterville and other more rural areas have been without water for months. This has required massive coordination efforts to move potable water into areas, work with local non-profits to provide services like showers, and re-prioritize water usage among various agencies. At the state level, personnel have been working to craft messaging, determine policy changes, and coordinate among competing agency priorities. If this sounds like it reflects actions emergency managers undertake following incidents both large and small, it’s because it is absolutely indicative of the role of emergency managers.

For other states and regions, the California drought is a reminder that slow-moving disasters can be just as devastating and politically fraught as sudden destructors. Emergency managers can and should be an integral part of the conversation from the very beginning. The skill sets and breadth of knowledge about resources, logistics, and collaboration will be beneficial to bringing together the multi-discipline and multi-agency personnel that must work together to address a complex, slow-moving issue that effects diverse populations.

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