Natural or artificial disasters are a serious threat to the survival of humanity. Depending
on geographical location, different places are prone to different kinds of disaster, be they natural
or artificial. In the USA, homeland security has been vested with the responsibility of emergency
management. Martinsburg is a small city in West Virginia and is home to about 17,000 people
(USA Census, 2010). This is a status report for emergency management in Martinsburg, West
Virginia, showing the stakeholders involved, potential hazards, response, preparedness, policies
and recommendations for their improvement.
Homeland security assessment
Homeland security assessment of the first emergency situations that can happen in this
West Virginia region is a natural disaster. This region has diverse weather-related challenges
which include ice storms, flash floods, snow storms, tornadoes, windstorms and other natural
events. Since 1954, there have been fifty Major Disaster Declarations, 7 Emergency Declarations
and 2 Fire Management Assistance Declarations (State of West Virginia). Precisely since 2004,
the region has received four Emergency Declarations and sixteen Major Disaster Declarations.
These declarations were in response to winter storms, wind events, and flooding. The region’s
main natural hazard is flooding. The other emergency situation that could happen is an industrial
one. This is because of the chemical industries in the region. Coal mining is also another big
industry in this region. In addition to mining, production, and transportation of natural gas is
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In the assessment terrorism is also identified. Although terrorism has been sparse in the
region, the recent threats by Islamic State have raised concerns. Anti-Government Movement has
also been assessed and found that it can also bring about an emergency situation. This movement
could involve militia groups, which are very many in the region (State of West Virginia). The
other type of anti-government group is Sovereign Citizens. The other anti-government groups
include white separatist and Lone Wolf. Finally, the rest of the emergency situations that can
occur are man-made, like cyber-attacks or a drug-related incident, like the explosion of a
Homeland Security Stakeholders involved in emergency response and Management
All forms of disaster come abruptly and do not choose places to strike but do so at
random and spontaneously. The agency charged with the responsibility of disaster management,
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), works with various stakeholders in
emergency management. A search in the documents at FEMA sites revealed that the stakeholders
are many and vary in sizes and complexity. They include households, Community Emergency
Response Teams, Neighborhood Emergency Assistance Teams, the private sector, Religious
Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs),
Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and businesses.
Various risks have been identified during this research. They include fires, earthquakes,
floods, tornados, and extreme weather conditions, acts of terrorism, accidents and hazardous
materials. Fires can either be due to a natural course of artificial. The artificial fires can be
accidental or arson though whichever the case, they result to an emergency that has to be
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extinguished before they become major problems. Earthquakes tornadoes and floods are
examples of natural disasters which are uncontrollable. It is usually difficult to predict when they
strike and even the potential damage they can cause to property and life. Incase of such
situations, evacuation procedures should begin immediately. Accidents and hazardous materials
are also potential risks that can strike the city.
Extreme weather conditions in the city of Martinsburg include thunderstorm winds,
heavy snow, drought, heat with temperatures that can hit 74oC, heavy snow among others. These
weather dependent conditions can sometimes be predicted by the meteorological departments
and gives room for preparedness. Acts of terrorism is a complex phenomenon regarding
emergency response and requires special efforts that involve the security machinery. In a city
with few people like Martinsburg, the security of shopping malls, academic institutions, and
business premises is paramount. With only one shopping mall, for example, it means a majority
of the people in the city have to visit this place at certain times (Berkeley County Office
Risk management and preparedness issues
Managing natural disaster risk is a lasting development issue, not just actions that are
taken from the beginning of a disaster until after it ends. The main issue with risk management
and preparedness is coordinating the people responding and those recovering from the disaster.
Structural challenges have thwarted the entire community from enhancing their progress in
systematically addressing the housing need of people who survived disasters.
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Emergency management at Martinsburg is done by Berkeley County of West Virginia.
The Berkeley County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is responsible
for the initiation and maintenance of emergency management plan to alleviate human suffering
in case of natural disasters, catastrophe or terrorist attack (ERM, 2011). Homeland Security has
put in place fundamentals to enable the institution deal with emergencies, and this is the same for
all the counties including the county of Berkeley. For an effective response to emergency
management, the right decision has to be made. The following principles were set by the
Department of Homeland Security to ensure that corrects decisions are made:
Firstly, there has to be unity of effort for the entire organization. This means that
everyone involved in emergency response have to pull in the same direction. In other words,
effective coordination and cooperation are necessary for the staff and even the stakeholders who
are the beneficiaries of these efforts. Second, transparency among the staff is necessary. This
means that there should be openness and direct communication which is essential for the
management of emergency situations. The staff who are working in various sections should be
transparent for each other to enable them to work as a team with a common goal.
The third principle is that of adaptability. This means that the emergency management
strategies should be designed in such a way that they are flexible and can change as desired for
better efficacy. In responding to an emergency, monitoring is done to ensure that the initiatives
undertaken are working or not working and improved on or changed altogether for effectiveness.
The fourth principle is that of practicality. This refers to the fact that it is impossible to eliminate
all uncertainty and to mitigate all risks. This principle factors in the human component that it is
sometimes not possible to be perfect in response to an emergency. However, the office will make
every effort to ensure that in the best possible way, human suffering is alleviated. Lastly are the
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Customization principles which, states that management efforts should be tailored to fit the
institution or organization. With these principles in mind, a standardized procedure giving details
of the sequence of planning and analysis has been set. This is to accommodate the various
strengths displayed at different local authorities and various levels of Department of Homeland
At all levels, the context of the risk should be defined; the potential risks should be
identified, assessed and analyzed. The team should develop alternatives for the approach and
design the risk management strategy. They should then monitor and evaluate the approaches and
communicate the results ERM, 2011)
Disaster Response and Categories
In case of any disaster in Martinsburg, the first office to respond will be the local
authority office. Through the office of the governor, resources will be allocated to deal with the
situation. In the event the magnitude is big, the governor can mobilize federal resources through
FEMA, which can assist in search and rescue operations and provision of basic human needs.
The disaster survivors have to be helped to come to terms with the calamity or disaster. This
phase of disaster management is called recovery phase and is known to be resource intensive. In
the case of damage to huge infrastructure, the local authority may not manage to fix the damage,
and governor has to request for federal resources to help reconstruct the damaged infrastructure.
Major disasters which are beyond the management of the local authority are placed
before the president who then declares the supplemental federal aid. In this situation, the local
authority will have to show that they are unable to deal with the disaster that has hit their
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jurisdiction. If so declared, the president will initiate a long-term recovery program for the
disaster survivors and the businesses.
Finally, in any major disaster, it is vital that there be an incident command. This is a
regular management tool for satisfying the demands of large or small emergency or non-
emergency situations. It is National Incident Management System’s key feature. It enables
efficient and effective domestic incident management through a combination of equipment,
facilities, procedures, communication and personnel operating within a common structure
designed to enable an efficient and effective domestic incident management.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Assessment of risk situation is an essential
ingredient in emergency management. During the Bible times, the prophets told people when
disaster would strike, and they would take necessary steps. Take for example Joseph, who
predicted famine for seven years in Egypt. They were able to store food that sustained them
during the drought period. Today we rely on meteorologists and seismologists to predict disaster.
Their accuracy was essential for successful emergency management.
Comparing Martinsburg’s emergency response to that of Canada.
Canada’s response to emergencies is not that different from that of Martinsburg since
they also have an Act that recognizes the roles all stakeholders must take in the emergency
management system of Canada. Secondly, Public Safety Canada works with territorial and
provincial stakeholders and governments to promote prevention and mitigation of disaster using
an all-hazards and risk-based approach (Public Safety Canada). On emergency preparedness,
Public Safety Canada works with various governments to strengthen countrywide emergency
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preparedness through support to training, planning and sharing lessons. Responding to
emergencies begins at local levels, if they cannot handle it, then they are assisted by the
territorial or provincial government. If it is still a burden, then they can seek assistance from the
federal government. Just like in the case in Martinsburg, the government supports communities
to recover calamities and Public Safety Canada provides financial aid (Public Safety Canada).
The institutional capacity and structures of the Department of Homeland Security has
been strengthened especially after the experience with Hurricane Katrina. However, as individual
households and community, the training on disaster preparedness and management are still
wanting. Many individuals still do not know how to behave in case of emergency. I do wish to
recommend that more training are accorded to the community so that as individuals, they can
know what to do in case of emergency. This will help the volunteers and the teams in charge of
In conclusion, risks are everywhere, and disaster can strike any time. Our understanding
of the risks and preparedness in dealing with the emergencies can alleviate suffering. FEMA has
all structures in place to deal with risks. Emergency management in the USA has structures well
laid and policies well formulated, the city of Martinsburg included. Public awareness on
preparedness for emergency situations is recommended for community members especially for
fire and flood of which the city is prone.
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ERM (2011). Homeland Security Risk Assessment Fundamentals
United States of America (USA) Census 2010.
Berkeley County Office website: http://www.berkeleycountycomm.org/safety/emergency-
West Virginia Division of Homeland Security website
FEMA website https://www.fema.gov/disaster-process-disaster-aid-programs Disaster Process
and Disaster Aid Programs
Book of Genesis
State of West Virginia (2014). Homeland Security Strategy. Retrieved from
Public Safety Canada,. Emergency Management. Public Safety Canada. Retrieved from
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