How Cities like Miami Are Building a Successful Crisis Management Plan Despite Their Many Challenges
A city crisis management plan must incorporate the risks in all facets of urban community living – for instance, unpredictable severe weather and an ever-increasing population are two challenges cities like Miami, FL are facing today.
Miami is a unique city, known for its tropical climate, arts and entertainment, and as a hub for the finance, healthcare, and biotech industries. Thousands of people move to the coastal metropolis every year to take advantage of its educational and cultural offerings. This rapid growth in population presents several challenges for city leaders and law enforcement professionals when it comes to creating a successful crisis management plan.
Managing Rising Population Density
The Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward metropolitan area has seen a substantial population increase of 9.76% over the past seven years. Residents flock to this area of Florida in pursuit of college degrees, new condominium developments, and the promise of a vibrant city life. In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the Miami Metro area hit nearly 6 million people for the first time, making it the 8th most populous urban area in the United States. Many cities like Miami are also anticipating an influx of Puerto Rican residents as the island continues to rebuild from the Hurricane Maria devastation. The state of Florida is predicted to overtake New York in terms of population density by the 2020 Census. Such a forecast for high population growth will influence how city leaders continue to develop Miami's crisis management plan.
Adapting Emergency Response to the High-Rise Boom
The growing trend for those seeking Miami residency is also giving way to construction of several new buildings in the city. Miami has the third-tallest skyline in the United States with over 300 high-rises. While Hurricane Irma, which hit the area in September, caused safety concerns around high-rise construction zones and cranes, an ongoing issue is managing fire emergencies and evacuations for these multi-storied buildings. Miami has dedicated several resources to fire emergency response and is considered to have the 10th largest fire department in the United States. Although the Miami Fire Department has access to building plans for these high rises that were submitted before construction, the building plans generally don’t include updates to the design such as extra floors added. Understanding a high-rise building’s facility design and surrounding area, as well as evacuation and relocations plans is extremely important for public safety.
Preparing for More Severe Weather Events
As a coastal city with an increasingly dense population, severe weather and other disasters pose high risks for Miami. This was made clear after Hurricane Irma struck the region. Miami’s emergency management teams and legislative bodies were proactive in preparing for Irma, beginning planning efforts five days before the hurricane landed. While Irma didn’t devastate the region as much as Hurricanes Harvey and Maria did to other locations, it did reveal discrepancies in Miami’s emergency planning for severe weather events. For example, despite Irma being reduced to a tropical storm, its impact on the region’s power grid proved to be much worse and took much longer to repair than expected. Another noted issue was the communications around mandatory evacuations for certain areas. Many residents evacuated at the same time and with the lack of fuel supply, ended up stuck on the highway, rather than within the safety of a shelter. The key for Miami public safety officials will be to implement changes to emergency response now while it’s top of mind for many residents.
Caring for Vulnerable Populations
Vulnerable populations such as the homeless or those suffering with a mental illness present another set of challenges for emergency managers who need to communicate and protect them. According to the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, as of January 2018, approximately 982 people are unsheltered and living on the street. During an event such as Hurricane Irma, it takes a lot of resources to ensure the safety of this group. For example, the Miami Police Department and other volunteers scoured the city by foot to get many homeless people who were unaware of the severity of the storm into shelters.
Another more serious issue is distinguishing someone suffering from the symptom of a mental illness over someone with dangerous intentions. Nearly 2 million people per year are sent to jail because of misunderstood behavior associated with a mental illness rather than sent to a proper treatment facility. The reality of mental health emergency response in the United States is that law enforcement is often the only available resource for those experiencing a mental health emergency, putting an extreme burden on public safety resources. Knowing this information ahead of time before responding to an emergency would save Miami first responders a lot of time and energy.
Embracing New Technology
Miami is working towards becoming a smart city through the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and CIVIQ Smartscapes programs. According to the Miami Herald, Miami will use the power of the Internet of Things or IoT to: “…create an integrated plan identifying the IoT technologies, data processes and high-impact solutions that will most benefit the region.” The CIVIQ Smartscapes smart city ecosystem will make free Wi-Fi access and USB charging ports available to all residents.
These technological initiatives will make it easier for residents to seek out updates and engage with emergency management teams via social media and other mobile platforms from anywhere in the city. While the state of Florida already has a state-wide emergency notification system similar to Rave Alert, using tools that provide access to key information about a citizen in distress, such as important medical concerns or disabilities, pets, or any other information might be valuable for first responders in efficiently handling the emergency.
What can other cities learn from Miami's crisis management plan?
Cities similar to Miami should also stress the importance of prioritizing emergency planning, enhancing community readiness, and leveraging technology for safety purposes. Whether dealing with a growing population or increased weather events, emergency managers can continue to adapt their plans by leveraging new and existing tools and data.