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Barton Dunant defines a Lockout very differently from a Lockdown. While those words sound somewhat similar, they have very different meanings when it comes to a no-notice (or little notice) incident, including an active assailant attack.

Lockouts mean not one comes in a building and no one goes out. If a campus of multiple buildings is on lockout, it means every building is locked out – and if you are inside the campus you should stay in the building you are in; and if you are outside of the campus you will not be able to (nor should you try) to get inside the campus. A lockout is a stricker set of rules and protocols than a shelter-in-place order, but it is a form of sheltering-in-place, as compared to evacuating.

A Lockdown should be different from a Lockout. A Lockout is ordered when the threat (such as an Active Assailant) is near your location, but not (yet!) a direct threat to you or others in your building or on your campus. When a building or a school goes on Lockout, it should mean that the threat is not on campus and no one goes in and no one comes out (except emergency services). Lockouts can become Lockdowns, when the threat does move to your building. 

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Lockouts should also mean that the ‘business as usual within a building should change. People need to be informed that the building is in lockout, and why. If there is any timeframe for the lockout, let them know that as well, too. People must be informed when the lockout is ‘over’ and normal operations have resumed. This is true for all the people in the building and your staff who may be away from the building. Here’s one difference between a shelter-in-place order and lockout: if you are outside of a building when it goes into lockout, they should not let you in. If the people in a building are just sheltering-in-place – for severe weather warnings, for example – they should let you in the building, since it is safer for you to be inside than outside. In a lockout, the people inside of the building do not know if or who the threat is, coming to them. They need to become aware of and prepared if things get worse.

Lockdown should be different from a Lockout. A Lockout is when the Active Assailant is near your location, but not (yet!) a direct threat to you. When a building or a school goes on Lockout, it should mean that the threat is not on campus and no one goes in and no one comes out (except emergency services). Lockouts can become Lockdowns, when the threat does move to your building

Here’s a real life example of how this can play out:

Municipal-wide School Districts Shelter-in-Place vs. Lockout

So an incident occurs in one school. Happens to be a private high school in town A. Town A’s police department orders all of Town A’s schools to Shelter-in-Place. This is except for that one private high school, which goes on Lockout. No Schools are in “Lockdown” – as there is not an active assailant threat. Even that private high school where the incident occurred is not invoking it’s “Avoid, Deny, Defend” or “A.L.I.C.E.” or other protocols, at this time. As we note in our Lockout protocols, there are many more missions and activities in a Lockdown than in a lockout or a shelter-in-place incident.

Here’s the trickier part:
Town A shares its public school district with Town B. They too, have a police department, and will provide mutual aid to the schools in town A, through an agreement. Town A also has a seperate magnet school district, at least two other private schools, and a state school for children with severe disabilities. Per the order of Town A’s police department, all of those other schools shelter-in-place. They suspend outdoor activities, field trips, etc. for the day, but otherwise learning and other internal school activities continue. This incident is treated as if it were like a severe weather alert (think tornado watch, not warning). Lower grade students in those schools, may not even be aware that something is different today.

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2024 Reading List

Here’s what we are reading (or hope to!) in 2024:

And if you want more book ideas – with some excellent commentary/reviews, please check out Marc C. Baker’s blog “The Baker’s Dozen” on the Emergency Management Network.

Stop the Killing – How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis by Katherine Schweit

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

Introduction to Crowd Science by G Keith Still

Hospital Emergency Management – A Bible for Hospital Emergency Managers by Dr. Robert J. Muller

A Code for the Government of Armies in the Field; as authorized by the laws and usages of war on land by Francis Liebe

When the Dust Settles: Stories of Love, Loss and Hope from an Expert in Disaster by Lucy Easthope

Retellable – How Your Essential Stories Unlock Power and Purpose by Jay Golden

The Devil Never Sleeps – Learning to Live in an age of Disasters by Juliette Kayyem

Insider Threats edited by Matthew Bunn and Scott D. Sagan

Leaders Eat Last – Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek

Moment of Truth: The Nature of Catastrophes and how to Prepare for Them by Kelly McKinney

Apocalypse Ready – The Manual of Manuals A Century of Panic Prevention – Taras Young

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And if you want to access our prior reading lists, here they are below.

2023 Reading List
2022 Reading List
2021 Reading List
2020 Reading List

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Product/Process Incidents

One of the three major categories of incident types. The other two being Natural/Human-made and Fictitious.

This also aligns with a conversation about the definition of a threat versus a hazard. We view threats as the “thing” causing the potential adverse impact (the “hazard”). So a series of days of heavy rainfall generates flash flooding, which makes your street flooded where you can’t get in or out of your home. Hurricanes can generate flash flooding and so can dam breeches. The incident occurs when people are adversely impacted by the hazard (or hazards), generated from the threat (or threats).

Product/Process Incidents – which by the way, we are using the term ‘incidents’, when others may say disasters, catastrophies, crises, emergencies, etc.

Someday we hope there will be clearer definitions for the severity of the incident to delineate between an emergency and a catastrophe – and also elimination of the phrase “natural disaster“.


These are those incidents which are generally self-contained within your organization or maybe involves your supply chain with third-party vendors. Bottom line, is that the rest of the public is not (yet!) impacted in the same way as you are – but these incidents can also be the start of something worse – they can cascade into other types of incidents or magnify/amplify other incidents out there.

Examples of Product/Process Incidents

A recall of a product is certainly a Product/Process incident for the company. In many cases, it may be manageable and not have a significant impact on revenue, goodwill, staffing, etc. of that company. Recalls and other Product/Process incident can have life safety impacts, such as food recalls, which require crisis communications and other emergency management actions by the firm, partners, governments, etc.

Product Tampering may be a Product/Process incident: if it occurs within the production or processing of the product. On the other hand, post-production (i.e. retail sales points and other sites) product tampering is a human-made incident (and a criminal one, too). The 1982 Tylenol murders were initially thought to be a Product/Process incident, then turned out to be external product tampering, and eventually led to massive Product/Process changes for the pharmaceutical industry.

Even governments themselves have processes which can be suspect, thwarted, error-prone, delayed, manipulated, etc. and become Product/Process incidents. The U.S. Election process comes to mind, especially presidential elections. Emergency Management principles (such as life safety concerns being paramount, incident stabilization, and property/asset protection) should be utilized by governments to preserve their election integrity.

A Product/Process Incident can originate from and generate other incidents

Everything is connected somewhere and some how. We mentioned supply chain issues as being a possible catalyst for your organization’s Product/Process incident. This can be everything from a traffic jam to a potential work stoppage at a major carrier to a worldwide pandemic. Your Product/Process incident can be one of the dominoes tipped over by someone else’s incident of any kind (think cyber-attack at a major U.S. pipeline) or even worse, a Natural Threat causes a Product/Process incident at your organization, which causes a Human-Made incident in the rest of the nation.

What to do about Product/Process Incidents

The key to Product/Process Incidents is to defend against them the same way you would any other threat or hazard. By taking an All-Hazards, All-Threats approach to Product/Process incidents the same way as you would for Natural/Human-Made and Fictitious Incidents, your emergency management team (i.e. crisis team, risk management team, etc.) will have the ‘muscle memory’ of following the same pathways and checklists for all threats and hazard types. Yes, the “response” is very different for a recall than it is for a tornado, but reframing management’s priorities, along with their crisis communications to the public and their own workforce is what Emergency Management is all about. Shifting from revenue generation or other mandates, to ones where life safety is now the guiding priority (sometimes at the cost of lost revenue, lost prestige, etc.) is also what Emergency Management is all about.

[Ad] Barton Dunant can help any organization view Product-Process Incidents in a holistic way, along with the other incdent, threat, and hazard types. We help organizations build crisis action plans, which cover all of the workforce actions needed on an all-hazards, all-threats basis.


Kalaitzandonakes, M., Ellison, B., & Coppess, J. (2023). Coping with the 2022 infant formula shortage. Preventive medicine reports32, 102123.

Severin, P. N., & Jacobson, P. A. (2020). Types of Disasters. Nursing Management of Pediatric Disaster, 85–197.

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ornamental picture of home with a pool

Smarter Water Watcher (TM)

Please note: Barton Dunant assumes no liability or responsibility for any use of this program. These are simply recommendations we are making, which are in line with established safety and security protocols and procedures issued by governmental and non-governmental organizations. Smarter Water Watcher is a trademark of York Drive, LLC and used with permission.

Following These Pool Safety Tips Can Help Save a Life

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1 through 4, and new data released by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) shows that more than 375 children drown in pools and spas each year. Children younger than 5 years old account for 75 percent of these drownings, 56 percent of which are attributed to a gap in adult supervision. Most child drownings (71 percent) happen at home.

In response to these numbers, CPSC’s Pool Safely campaign is sharing simple water safety steps that families can take to prevent drownings, especially while many families are spending more time around backyard and portable pools this season.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Pool Safely campaign urges parents and caregivers to follow the Pool Safely simple safety steps to prevent more drownings:
Never leave a child unattended in or near water, and always designate an adult Water Watcher. This person should not be reading, texting, using a smartphone or be otherwise distracted. In addition to pools and spas, this warning includes bathtubs, buckets, decorative ponds, and fountains.
If you own a pool or spa, be sure to install layers of protection, including a four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate.
Learn how to perform CPR on children and adults. Many communities offer online CPR training.
Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim.
Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments.
Ensure any pool and spa you use has drain covers that comply with federal safety standards and if you do not know, ask your pool service provider about safer drain covers.

Families can visit for additional water safety tips to prepare for a summer that is safer and more fun.

Water Safety Tips (Pools, Lakes, Rivers, Streams, etc.)

In places with bodies of water – and where there are no lifeguards – the responsibility for life safety falls on the responsible adults. Here are some tips:

  1. Make sure all of the safety features which came with the above-ground pool or were part of the installation of an in-ground pool are in place. Don’t skip any steps, parts or signage which should be displayed. Make sure you are meeting local ordinances for fences, pool safety equipment, etc. Additionally, add warning signs in other languages, if appropriate.
  2. Become an expert on the safe storage and use of pool cleaning chemicals, especially where they need to be stored away from children and pets;  and in secure locations with proper ventilation. Opening chlorine packages in confined spaces can cut off the oxygen in the air and quickly become a choking hazard.
  3. Make the commitment to always have a “Smarter Water Watcher” when there are kids near or in the water. And while having a certified life guard is better, every water site (pool, lake, river, etc.) needs someone whose only job is to watch the water for hazard and threats, including accidental drowning.

While not new technology, make sure your pool is equipped with a water movement alarm: one that meets or exceeds the ASTM F2208-08 standards.

The American Red Cross offers a free online water safety course designed for parents and caregivers.   

As part of the Smarter Water Watcher program noted above, we are not saying don’t have a cell phone by the water – especially in case of emergencies – we are saying someone has to give up the usual distraction of their cell phone and other smart devices, to watch the water instead. Another tip is to provide the address of the home on a laminated card near the pool – which could be where the cell phone is left – so that in a panic, whomever is making the call to 911 has the address correctly (including cross-streets, back-alley access, etc.). A guest at your pool party who is the designated Smarter Water Watcher will probably not know all of that important information, when it is needed the most.

Build your own Smarter Water Watcher Kit!

It doesn’t take much – just a whistle on a break-away lanyard and a way to laminate a placard. We are building out versions of this placard – and YouTube training – in different languages.

Barton Dunant is looking for a sponsor or two (or twelve) who can create and distribute actual Smarter Water Watcher kits to give away for free to anyone who asks. If this is something your organization is interested in learning more about, please contact us directly.
Michael Prasad, CEM
President, York Drive, LLC (d/b/a Barton Dunant).

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Emergency Management – by chapter and verse

There is certainly an open discussion of where should the field of Emergency Management reside, academically: Is it Art? Is it Science? Is it something else?

Science – threat/hazard calculations, include the one that has “Outrage” as a multiplier (Peter Sandman article –

Art – Stand for nothing, you will fall for everything (Music) (Katy Perry! quote)

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.

Pablo Picasso, 1923

Colleges and Universities who have majors in Emergency Management have it pretty much event split between these three choices. In Emergency Management we have a lot of our own axioms, quotes, fun sayings to live by, etc. – and we ‘steal’ from the best of other fields as well, too. Here are some of the more artful ones.

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

Bette Davis’ character Margo Channing, in “All About Eve”

Active Assailant mantras


ABC: Avoid, Barricade, Confront

Avoid, Deny, Defend

One Bite at a Time

Is how they say you should endeavor to eat an elephant.

The Devil is in the Details

Failure is not an option



Lots of stuff to fear. But fear with planning can lead to safety. Fear without planning can lead to panic.

(c) Barton Dunant – All Rights Reserved.

Measure Twice, Cut Once


Plans themselves are quickly outdated, but the planning process is timeless.

Eisenhower quote, but with some changes…

Help for the Helpers

Fred Rodgers quote “Look for the helpers” – some criticize this, but we disagree.

Every Mistake is an opportunity to learn something new

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing” – Henry Ford

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” – Albert Einstein

All Disasters Start and End Locally


Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste (Winston Churchill)

Not to mean there really are good disasters, don’t get hung up on that. Think more like John Lewis and “Good Trouble”. This is about mitigation.

Plan for the worst (see also, “Hope is not a Plan”)

Some will say, “and Hope for the Best”. We disagree. Hope is not a four-letter word in our lexicon. Work is. We say “Plan for the Worst, Work Towards the Best.” It’s also a lot like our democracy – towards a more perfect union, a never ending journey.

Plan your Work, Work your Plan

Similar to the one above, and other planning axioms.

Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance (James Baker)


Call an Audible, Out of an Abundance of Caution, etc. (i.e., we are not using the plan)

This is a risky move for a commander, in that they are going against the planners and the plans for that operational period. No legal protection to hide behind when this is done. During COVID-19, these actions (i.e., not using the CBRNE/pandemic plans in place) were normalized by political leaders with the phrase “Out of an Abundance of Caution”.


Risk as a calculation or formula, has a number of elements to it. It usually involves threats and hazards.

If you have been through one disaster, you have been through one disaster

No two disasters are the same, even if they are in the same place and same type/hazard.

Hide from the Wind, Run from the Water Issues with the Safer-Simpson Scale and the public’s reactions/actions when provided with complex information.

The NWS says

Run from the water. Hide from the wind. The most critical decision that can be made is to leave the area at risk of storm surge flooding. Most well-built structures are safe even in major hurricane winds. Even well-built structures fail to provide protection from water. Listen to local officials when they issue evacuation orders.


NATO quote in Latin.

Coming in Hot

Viet Nam war reference for helicopters

Never say the Q word

one of those superstitions in the EM field. Especially never ever say “Have a Q—-t Weekend”

The moment you open a shelter is the time to start planning how it will close

The ramp up to opening a mass care general population shelter serving people with disabilities, access and functional needs (yes, that’s what shelter’s are really called) is quite complex and requires all three of the “S”‘s – Staff, Stuff and Site(s). All of these have to be demobilized or transferred – if the clients all depart – or the shelter site needs to be moved to another location. There could also be co-located pet and medical needs sheltering, emergency supplies distribution sites, fixed feeding sites. All of those needs to be considered and planned for. In many, many disasters – this is the most recurring complex operation that an Emergency Manager has oversight on.

Not my Clowns, Not my Circus


Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.

Usually misattributed to CS Lewis

Release the Kraken / Big Push

Speed to Scale – Speed to Service


Throw like a girl

Time – Distance – Shielding

Works for not only explosive incidents (CBRNE), but other threats as well. The faster you get further away from any threat, and shielding yourself in the process – the better. Active Assailants, too.

Train like you fight, fight like you train

The 10th Fish Rule

Okay, some call it the 10th man rule, as this blog does, but the point is someone needs to be the “devil’s advocate” and argue for consequence management. From Chris Meyer of The Mind Collection.

If it’s not written down – it didn’t happen

Document your work – via logs (214 forms), SitReps, etc. This is for your credit and your protection.

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2023 Reading List

Here’s what we are reading (or hope to!) in 2023:

Benghazi: Know Thy Enemy by Sarah Adams & Dave Benton

Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes by Richard A. Clarke & R.P. Eddy

The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore by Michele Wucke

The Handbook of Crisis Communication by Timothy Coombs & Sherry Holladay

George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation (Little Books of Wisdom) by George Washington

Intelligence and Surprise Attack: Failure and Success from Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Beyond by Erik J. Dahl

Dealing with Disasters: GIS for Emergency Management (Applying GIS, 2) by Ryan Lanclos & Matt Artz

A Memory of Solferino by Henri Dunant

Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti

One Second After by William R. Forstchen

Disaster by Choice by Ilan Kelman

Disposable City by Mario Alejandro Ariza

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We invite you to join our e-mailing list (don’t worry, we send out maybe three or four e-mails max per year):

And if you want to access the Barton Dunant prior reading lists, here they are below.

2022 Reading List 2021 Reading List 2020 Reading List

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STRENGTH ANALYSIS-Collaboration: European Union Civil Protection for Emergency Management

Relevant EMINT Content from The National Security Policy and Analysis Organization at American Public University

The National Security Policy and Analysis Organization (NSPAO) facilitates critical engagement in national security, international affairs, and intelligence issues by engaging with national security experts and promoting an informed exchange of ideas to develop analytical skills and produce meaningful analyses relevant to the defense community. The CEMIR provides Emergency Management Intelligence (EMINT) analysis to the NSPAO. This is one of those tradecraft pieces.

As part of a standard “SWOT” Analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – the aspect of Collaboration is an important set of Strengths that can enhance the Planning, Organization, Equipment, Training, and Exercising (POETE) to reduce or eliminate Threats and Risks for any country’s Emergency Management practitioners: Emergency Managers. Every country must have all-hazards Disaster Readiness (aka resiliency) – along the standard path of Protect/Prevent/Prepare, Respond, Recover and Mitigate – must include partnerships with other countries. Equipment, supplies, tools, and techniques delivered to and from the military and civilian intelligence agencies can assist Emergency Management practitioners at all levels of government. It is crucial that Emergency Managers understand the risks of any threat – and the possibility of adverse impacts to not only the communities they serve but to their own workforce (inclusive of all incident command and control structures) and those of allied partners.


The European Parliament has voted for strengthening the role of the European Union (EU) in crisis management through a legislative revision of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. This allows for faster and more effective European solidarity operations in response to large-scale emergencies or disasters that affect several countries at the same time. The EU will have at its disposal additional financial means for civil protection and will strengthen emergency tools such as the rescEU medical reserve of protective equipment.

European Commission, 2021 April 27,

This agreement between European Union (EU) nations can assist Emergency Management practitioners in the EU in all the disaster readiness phases. This intelligence form also applies to the Response Phase Incident Action Planning, which should be delivered to Unified Command for continuous Situational Awareness.

New EU Civil Protection features

During the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, EU nations have experienced the same shortages of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) as in other nations, including the United States. Their rescEU program enables the Commission to procure supplies when the national capabilities and capacities cannot or do not have the capacity to do so directly. The rescEU program also provides transportation and logistics support to move these items – and the personnel to support them. This includes medical personnel, medical equipment, and therapeutics. Highlighted details on this program can be found at 

From the EU –

Copernicus: Europe’s consolidated and coordinated disaster mapping system

The Copernicus Emergency Management System (CEMS) is built from satellite imagery and geospatial intelligence and provides free access to organizations before, during, and after incidents and disasters.

For Response, they have Rapid Mapping available within hours or days of the incident.

For Recovery and Mitigation, they have Risk and Recovery Mapping, which also covers Preparedness/Prevention/Protection.

Learn more about Copernicus at this link.

Survey results indicated most Europeans support a unified and collaborative approach to crisis management.

The European Union plays a key role in coordinating national borders of civil protection activities, with over 430 EU Civil Protection Mechanism activations since 2001. This survey looks at European citizens’ attitudes towards the European Union’s activities related to civil protection, including crises such as the coronavirus pandemic, and their awareness of the EU’s coordination role in response to disasters. The survey results support the EU’s role in crisis management, with 84 % of Europeans agreeing that coordinated EU action should be increased to respond more effectively to future disasters and crises. More than 9 in 10 Europeans agree that their country should provide help when a disaster strikes in another EU country that is too big to deal with on their own, a clear sign of support for EU solidarity (European Union, 2021).

Challenges in the United States for collaboration with other countries during disasters

Challenges built into U.S. federal laws currently prevent full collaboration with other nations to support U.S. disasters. While no one would expect military forces from neighboring or allied nations, logistical support such as transporting material from one U.S. port to another is limited by law to U.S. vessels with U.S. crews (see the Jones Act). This became a counter-point by the major oil companies in 2022 during the surge in retail gasoline prices, whereby savings could be up to 10 cents per gallon, according to a report by J.P. Morgan. However, it should be noted that this nationalistic restriction does not apply to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that support governmental disaster missions, such as the American Red Cross. As part of a worldwide network of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies worldwide, any nation’s Red Cross can ask for assistance from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent to help coordinate assistance from other nations’ societies. During Superstorm Sandy in 2012, volunteers from the Canadian and Mexican Red Cross societies came to New Jersey and New York to assist. A software platform called Ushahidi – which originated in Kenya and started out as an election results violence monitoring mapping system – was used by tech volunteers to monitor closed roads, downed trees, shelters, and even posts from stranded individuals in their homes. Accurate and up-to-date crisis mapping is crucial to effective Emergency Management Intelligence.


Kuman, D. K. & Xu, C. (2022, June 17). East Coast gas would only drop a dime if Jones Act lifter, says JPMorgan. Bloomberg News – Financial Post.

CATO Institute (n.d.), Project on Jones Act reform. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from

European Commission (2021, April 27), A strengthened EU civil protection mechanism endorsed by European Parliament.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (2015). World Disasters Report.

European Commission (n.d.), European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from

You can view more content from the NSPAO at

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The not-so empty threat of an EMP: What Emergency Management needs to convey

For a Nuclear Weapon Attack – the blast zone will be catastrophic, but you may be unaware of a significant hazard which can extend quite farther – an electro-magnetic pulse wave.

In July 2022, New York City’s (NYC’s) Office of Emergency Management (OEM) issued a Public Service Announcement (PSA), to help residents prepare for a nuclear attack. The PSA was most likely predicated on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, compounding the constant threat that NYC is under from all types of hazards. In Emergency Management, which is the broader and hopefully wiser grandchild of Civil Defense, it is prudent to remind the public that these things can happen — and happen here, there, or anywhere. While the focus of that PSA was the radiological impacts of a nuclear weapon, what was missing was the probability that there would be an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) wave associated with such an attack. Such an EMP would most likely cripple all the local communications networks, including cellular telephone service and (maybe thankfully?) social media access. Not to mention disabling the electrical grid well beyond anything NYC has ever seen in its history.

Many of the planning checklists in Emergency Management for any type of hazard response include telling the public to “stay tuned in and follow the official instructions,” — but this planning assumes two important elements: that those officials can transmit those instructions and that the public can receive them. What if part of the hazard blocks the delivery and reception of these communications, as an EMP might?

In the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s December 2021 National Preparedness Report, there is a mention of the “less well-understood risks” and the “capabilities needed to manage those risks” with reference to the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and its research work into both EMPs and naturally occurring geomagnetic disturbances, such as those generated by solar flares. CISA’s focus appears to be on critical infrastructure and the possibility of a cascading incident expanding “beyond the initial geographic regions adversely impacting millions of households and businesses.”

EMPs are associated with intentional attacks using high-altitude nuclear detonations, specialized conventional munitions, or non-nuclear directed energy devices. Effects vary in scale from highly local to regional to continental, depending upon the specific characteristics of the weapon and the method of attack. High-altitude electromagnetic pulse attacks (or HEMP, really no kidding, that’s the acronym) using nuclear weapons are of most concern because they may permanently damage or disable large sections of the national electric grid and other critical infrastructure control systems.

And the negative impacts from an EMP do not have to be caused by a no-notice attack from an enemy. A government’s “best intentions” could be to fix another problem. Mark Straus reminded us in National Geographic from 2016 that the idea of the “good guys” deploying a nuclear bomb at high altitudes to stop or quell a different disaster — say a hurricane or a tornado — was in the realm of possibilities:

In a speech delivered at the National Press Club on October 11, 1961, Francis W. Riechelderfer, the head of the U.S. Weather Bureau, said he could “imagine the possibility someday of exploding a nuclear bomb on a hurricane far at sea.” (Although, comfortingly, Riechelderfer added that the Weather Bureau would not begin acquiring its own nuclear arsenal “until we know what we’re doing.”)

And more recently (2019), the internet was filled with stories of how U.S. President Donald Trump was allegedly inquiring about throwing caution to the wind (not to mention throwing away a bevy of nuclear-weapons treaties the United States was a signed party to) and disrupting the paths of tropical storms by dropping nuclear bombs inside of them.

While the radiological, explosive, and other “direct” impacts of any single detonated nuclear device are certainly foreboding and devastating, they will be — in the short-term — geographically limited in scope. The impacts of the accompanying EMP will be more widespread and probably cascade to systems and networks well outside of the blast radius. An EMP’s impact on electronic circuitry — found today in everything from cell phones to cars to airplanes and nuclear power plants — needs to be researched and communicated to the public. U.S President Trump signed Executive Order 13865, which codified the research into protection and prevention aspects of the nation’s critical infrastructure but did not specifically address the probability of permanent damage to unshielded electronic circuits of its citizenry. Everyone’s circuits, not just those of critical infrastructure or governmental operations. In a 2005 article entitled “Empty Threat?” for The Bulletin, Nick Schwellenbach concisely laid out the potential impacts on electronic circuitry from actual nuclear testing conducted in the post-World War II days, including the Starfish Prime experiments. And this was all done before we had the internet and a massive worldwide reliance on cellular networks. Others (Bunn and Roth) have minimalized the EMP impacts, as compared to all the other really bad stuff that happens with a single terrorist nuclear bomb:

Depending on where and when it was detonated, the blast, fire, initial radiation, and long-term radioactive fallout from such a bomb could leave the heart of a major city a smoldering radioactive ruin, killing tens or hundreds of thousands of people and wounding hundreds of thousands more. Vast areas would have to be evacuated and might be uninhabitable for years. Economic, political, and social aftershocks would ripple throughout the world.

Certainly, a ground-level or low-altitude nuclear detonation would have the catastrophic impacts described above. However, EMPs travel in all directions from the blast. Their potential to disrupt and destroy electronic circuitry can also travel above and beyond the blast. Consider airplanes falling out of the skies. Cell towers miles away were permanently destroyed. A high-altitude explosion over the country’s center could impact the entire continental United States’ critical infrastructure with the accompanying EMP. And the EMP will not stop at national borders either.

You will probably know you are in the middle of a ground-level or low-altitude nuclear detonation zone. A few generations have passed since the cold-war days of “duck and cover,” so muscle memory is incomplete in society today. Even the film The Day After is nearly forty years old. The EMP impacts from any high-altitude explosion will be silent and initially disconcerting. Not only will the power go out, but everything electronic that is unshielded will stop working. And those devices may not reboot or operate on batteries. Unlike the 10 minutes or so that one might have to find shelter from the radiological impacts of a nuclear explosion, the effects of the EMP will be almost instantaneous. You will not have time to move electronic devices into shielded storage nor vehicles into underground protected garages. It will be too late to act. From a homeland security perspective, failure to plan for this possibility. is planning to fail.

Individuals and families everywhere should become prepared for this remote possibility of a threat: not just the government and the military. The adverse impacts of the EMP itself (for those outside of the nuclear blast zone and radioactive plume area, of course) are survivable. This does not have to become an extinction-level event, although that is what emergency managers think about and plan: as if it were one level (or more) above what is occurring. Some basic “prepper” supplies will, of course, be required. Still, it is mostly a paradigm shift in one’s planning mindset: away from deterrence and inertia, towards independence from our total reliance on electronic devices, and towards manual equipment and actions to support life safety. It also requires default plans of action by every family member as to what they will do, where they will go, etc., if such an incident were to occur. Remember, this EMP will have no notice, no warning, and everyone will need a different plan when they are at work or home, etc. And when you make your plans, be ready to share them, communicate them, and store them on paper (and update them/reprint them at least yearly or as life events change). Any plans will be no good to you stored on the cloud. If you are a first responder or in a field considered “essential work,” — do you take action to keep your family safe first? Does your manager/supervisor have a different expectation for what you will do today, tomorrow, or even next year?

Yes, the total loss of most of the modern technology of the 21st century will overwhelm most people, but bicycles will still work. So will horses. And so will guns. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued guidance on best practices for Electromagnetic Pulse Shielding, and has promised to “target harden” the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). The best that will do is tell the nation after the fact that an EMP has occurred. And if you do not have a working AM/FM radio, you will not receive those messages. Joshua Good in his 2012 Masters Theses for James Madison University noted that Blackstarting the North American power grid could take months if not years.

When it comes time to act, you can take that paper copy of your plan out of the zip-locked sealed bag and start to go on with your life. And by the way, this type of extinction-level-event planning covers a multitude of smaller, lesser impactful incidents such as hurricanes, winter storms, multi-state wildfires, and earthquakes. And hard to decipher, yet much more frequent Space Weather incidents will be covered, too. Having a default set of actions to take — and communicating them in advance to all concerned — will help everyone with no-notice, no-communications large-scale incidents, such as an EMP. While the uptick in reminders about a possible nuclear attack on major cities in the United States is not “playing Chicken-Little,” waiting for the government to give us all the instructions as to what to do after such a threat should not be our next set of checklist steps for our own safety and security.

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SLOSH – Sea, Lake and Overland Surges

from the National Hurricane Center and the Central Pacific Hurricane Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) –



Along the coast, storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane. In the past, large death tolls have resulted from the rise of the ocean associated with many of the major hurricanes that have made landfall. Hurricane Katrina (2005) is a prime example of the damage and devastation that can be caused by surge. At least 1500 persons lost their lives during Katrina and many of those deaths occurred directly, or indirectly, as a result of storm surge.

Storm Surge vs. Storm Tide

Storm surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted astronomical tides. Storm surge should not be confused with storm tide, which is defined as the water level rise due to the combination of storm surge and the astronomical tide. This rise in water level can cause extreme flooding in coastal areas particularly when storm surge coincides with normal high tide, resulting in storm tides reaching up to 20 feet or more in some cases.

Storm Surge vs. Storm Tide

Factors Impacting Surge

Storm surge is produced by water being pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds moving cyclonically around the storm. The impact on surge of the low pressure associated with intense storms is minimal in comparison to the water being forced toward the shore by the wind.

Wind and Pressure Components of Hurricane Storm Surge

The maximum potential storm surge for a particular location depends on a number of different factors. Storm surge is a very complex phenomenon because it is sensitive to the slightest changes in storm intensity, forward speed, size (radius of maximum winds-RMW), angle of approach to the coast, central pressure (minimal contribution in comparison to the wind), and the shape and characteristics of coastal features such as bays and estuaries.

Other factors which can impact storm surge are the width and slope of the continental shelf. A shallow slope will potentially produce a greater storm surge than a steep shelf. For example, a Category 4 storm hitting the Louisiana coastline, which has a very wide and shallow continental shelf, may produce a 20-foot storm surge, while the same hurricane in a place like Miami Beach, Florida, where the continental shelf drops off very quickly, might see an 8 or 9-foot surge. More information regarding storm surge impacts and their associated generalizations can be found in the FAQ section.

Adding to the destructive power of surge, battering waves may increase damage to buildings directly along the coast. Water weighs approximately 1,700 pounds per cubic yard; extended pounding by frequent waves can demolish any structure not specifically designed to withstand such forces. The two elements work together to increase the impact on land because the surge makes it possible for waves to extend inland.

Although elevated, this house in North Carolina could not withstand the 15 ft (4.5 m) of storm surge that came with Hurricane Floyd (1999)

Additionally, currents created by tides combine with the waves to severely erode beaches and coastal highways. Buildings that survive hurricane winds can be damaged if their foundations are undermined and weakened by erosion.

Beachfront road and boardwalk damaged by Hurricane Jeanne (2004)

In confined harbors, the combination of storm tides, waves, and currents can also severely damage marinas and boats. In estuaries and bayous, salt water intrusion endangers the public health, kills vegetation, and can send animals – such as snakes and alligators – fleeing from flooded areas.

Damaged boats in a marina

Notable Surge Events

  • Ike 2008 (SLOSH Historical Run)

    Hurricane Ike made landfall near the north end of Galveston Island as a Category 2 hurricane. Storm surges of 15-20 feet above normal tide levels occurred along the Bolivar Peninsula of Texas and in much of the Galveston Bay area. Property damage from Ike is estimated at $24.9 billion. More…
  • Katrina 2005 (SLOSH Historical Run)

    Katrina was one of the most devastating hurricanes in the history of the United States. It produced catastrophic damage – estimated at $75 billion in the New Orleans area and along the Mississippi coast – and is the costliest U. S. hurricane on record. Storm surge flooding of 25 to 28 feet above normal tide levels was associated with Katrina. More…
  • Dennis 2005 (SLOSH Historical Run)

    Dennis affected much of Florida, and its effects extended well inland over portions of the southeastern United States with the maximum amount rainfall of 12.80 inches occuring near Camden, Alabama. Storm surge flooding of 7-9 ft produced considerable storm surge-related damage near St. Marks, Florida, well to the east of the landfall location. The damage associated with Dennis in the United States is estimated at $2.23 billion. More…
  • Isabel 2003 (SLOSH Historical Run)

    Isabel was the worst hurricane to affect the Chesapeake Bay region since 1933. Storm surge values of more than 8 feet flooded rivers that flowed into the bay across Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. Isabel was the most intense hurricane of the 2003 season and directly resulted in 17 deaths and more than $3 billion in damages. More…
  • Opal 1995 (SLOSH Historical Run)

    Hurricane Opal made landfall near Pensacola Beach, Florida as a Category 3 hurricane. The storm caused extensive storm surge damage from Pensacola Beach to Mexico Beach (a span of 120 miles) with a maximum storm tide of 24 feet, recorded near Fort Walton Beach. Damage estimates for Opal were near $3 billion. More…
  • Hugo 1989 (SLOSH Historical Run)

    Hugo impacted the southeastern United States, including South Carolina cities Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Hugo was responsible for 60 deaths and $7 billion in damages, with the highest storm surge estimated at 19.8 feet at Romain Retreat, South Carolina. More…
  • Camille 1969 (SLOSH Historical Run)

    Camille was a Category 5 hurricane, the most powerful on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale with maximum winds of more than 155 mph and storm surge flooding of 24 feet that devastated the Mississippi coast. The final death count for the U.S. is listed at 256. This includes 143 on the Gulf coast and another 113 from the Virginia floods. More…
  • Audrey 1957 (SLOSH Historical Run)

    There were 390 deaths associated with Audrey as the result of a storm surge in excess of 12 feet, which inundated the flat coast of southwestern Louisiana as far as 25 miles inland in some places. More…
  • New England 1938 (SLOSH Historical Run)

    The Long Island Express was a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane that struck Long Island and New England with little warning on September 21. A storm surge of 10 to 12 ft inundated the coasts of Rhode Island, Connecticut, southeastern Massachusetts, and Long Island, NY, especially in Narragansett Bay and Buzzards Bay. Six hundred people died due to the storm. More…
  • Galveston 1900 (SLOSH Historical Run)

    At least 8,000 people died when hurricane storm tides (the surge plus the astronomical tide) of 8-15 feet inundated most of the island city of Galveston, TX and adjacent areas on the mainland. More…

Surge Vulnerability Facts

  • From 1990-2008, population density increased by 32% in Gulf coastal counties, 17% in Atlantic coastal counties, and 16% in Hawaii (U.S. Census Bureau 2010)
  • Much of the United States’ densely populated Atlantic and Gulf Coast coastlines lie less than 10 feet above mean sea level
  • Over half of the Nation’s economic productivity is located within coastal zones
  • 72% of ports, 27% of major roads, and 9% of rail lines within the Gulf Coast region are at or below 4 ft elevation (CCSP, SAP 4-7)
  • A storm surge of 23 ft has the ability to inundate 67% of interstates, 57% of arterials, almost half of rail miles, 29 airports, and virtually all ports in the Gulf Coast area (CCSP SAP 4-7)
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Social Reengineering and Emergency Management

While the concept of social reengineering – influencing people to change their behaviors and patterns of action/inaction – is typically applied in the corporate world (think advertising and marketing), it is also a concept applicable to emergency management.

Emergency Managers want people to better prepare themselves for emergencies and disasters. The fact of the matter is, there are not enough rescuers and resources for all the people who need rescuing – especially if some people can rescue themselves. There is also the “reengineering” part – which is changing existing (or non-existent) behaviors – and in the case of Emergency Management it is usually to reprioritize for life safety above incident stabilization, above property/asset protection. For example, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) and the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS) both of 2006, had elements designed to change the way people should evacuate instead of sheltering-in-place because they have pets.

Sometimes it is complex changes in the way government operates which can impact/implement social reengineering, and sometimes it’s simple mantras, such as

See Something, Say Something® – from DHS and the NYC Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Drop, Cover, Hold

Run, Hide, Fight

References/Additional Material:

Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience: Disaster and Social Aspects, 2022.
Rebuilding the Bahamas: How a hurricane blows up social divides“, The Christian Science Monitor, 2019.

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