A recent article on Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/2010/08/30/is-research-into-the-oil-spill-s-impact-skewed.html) describes some of the problems that researchers are having with funding and physical access to begin independent studies of the oil release in the Gulf of Mexico. Any major incident requiring national level emergency response is going to require studies by academics to get a clear understanding of the causes, immediate effects and the long term effects on the economy and ecology of the area affected as well as the personal and political effects on the people living in and responding to the area. These studies could provide the information necessary for planning a more effective response to future incidents.
FEMA ought to have a small office, an Office of Response Research, dedicated to ensuring that immediate funds and clearances are available to researchers for immediate response data collection purposes. Particular attention should be given to studies that provide immediate documentation of the area; audio-visual recordings, environmental sample collection, and oral-history documentation of the survivor’s and responder’s experiences.
Researchers could register their interest with this office in advance for different types of incidents. Additional procedures would be established for the evaluation of short notice research proposals for unusual situations. Procedures would be established for ensuring transport to and within the affected area.
Detailed lessons learned could be incorporated back into the emergency response planning process as well as the preparedness process. Really understanding what happens in a disaster situation will provide a much sounder basis for the preparation for and response to future disasters.