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Disaster Planning for Public Health: Darby Township Case

The present paper is devoted to flood preparedness and planning in Darby Township (DT) located in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

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The Disaster

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency [PEMA] (n.d.) concludes that flood is the second most common disaster and the most common and damaging natural disaster in Pennsylvania (para. 10). The Agency points out that many of Pennsylvania areas are located next to water, and DT (especially the part of it that is being studied) is one of such areas: its eastern border runs along Darby Creek, and Hermesprota Creek passes through DT (see fig. 1). According to PEMA (n.d.), there have been over 20 flood-related disasters in Pennsylvania that have been declared presidentially since the 1970s (para. 10).

Darby Township, PA. The green circle roughly designates the area targeted by the study. Source: Google Maps.
Figure 1. Darby Township, PA. The green circle roughly designates the area targeted by the study. Source: Google Maps.

Floods can result in damages or losses of property (personal and corporate), industry and infrastructure; they endanger storages of hazardous materials, can lead to contamination, transmit diseases, and potentially can take lives (Baker Jr., Inc., 2011; PEMA, n.d.; Schelfaut et al., 2011).

The Nursing Response

Floods are difficult to avoid in vulnerable locations, which is why the planning and response should be aimed at reducing damage (Schelfaut et al., 2011). For nurses, it involves multiple activities, including the direct response through community care, the prevention aimed at improving the safety of the environment and the education of the population, and post-disaster assessments that can contribute to disaster epidemiology studies (Stanhope & Lancaster, 2016, p. 529).

The official DT website does not contain any specific disaster plans (flood-related or otherwise), but it does carry a note, according to which DT cooperates with the Delaware County Department of Emergency Services (DCDES) (Township of Darby, n.d.). PEMA (n.d.) states that Pennsylvania disaster management is based on cooperation and communication between various stakeholders. As a result, it can be suggested that Darby’s choice cooperate with DCDES is in line with the state’s disaster management.

The County of Delaware (2015a, 2015b) website contains multiple resources meant for different stakeholders (from the general public to officials) as well as tips and recommendations on disaster preparedness and management. Similarly, it contains links to other websites, including CDC, Red Cross, FEMA, that can help in learning about disaster planning.

The specific plan that is available on the website of the County of Delaware (2015b) is dated 2011, and it was developed for the Delaware County Planning Department by Michael Baker Jr., Inc. (2011) who compiled the results of the work of the Delaware County Hazard Mitigation Planning Team (pp. 25-30). The plan includes the description of the community (demographic, geographic, and disaster epidemiology data), discusses the best practices in planning processes, contains risk assessments for various types of disasters as well as the capability assessment and mitigation strategy. It also includes parts that are related to the plan itself, in particular, the information on updating it. Concerning floods, there is a separate description of this natural disaster in the risk assessment section, which carries very detailed epidemiology information. The document also mentions the legislation that is aimed at reducing the risks of flooding, including the Act 167 Stormwater Management Plans. Concerning the disaster plan itself, the document contains six goals with specific objectives (mostly ongoing activities) that are aimed at building the resilience of the County in general (with respect to any disaster). However, the reduction on flood-caused destruction and disruption is a separate goal that is supposed to be achieved by obtaining and disseminating information, continuously evaluating protection (especially concerning typically affected areas) and maintaining it. Apart from that, the flood goal is complemented by goals 3-6, that target infrastructure protection, safe future development (away from potential hazards and with hazard resilience in mind), and public education as well as response and recovery instructions (Baker Jr., Inc., 2011, pp. 208-209).

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In general, the organization of the plan is admittedly thought-out. It contains limitations and a procedure for further improvements as well as specific goals, objectives, set schedules, and means of evaluating the results. Also, it corresponds to best practices existing in disaster preparedness: it is comprehensive and includes the mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery elements (Schelfaut et al., 2011; Stanhope & Lancaster, 2016); it is community-centered and involves community engagement goal and objectives (Wells et al., 2013); it corresponds to PEMA’s (n.d.) attention to disaster epidemiology studies; it focuses on the reduction of flood vulnerability consequences while also attempting to proceed to develop in safer areas (Schelfaut et al., 2011). The plan specifically mentions nursing response in the preparedness parts and calls for the maintenance of appropriate facilities and infrastructure, which would enable it (Baker Jr., Inc., 2011, p. 215). Apart from that, the attention to epidemiology and the suggestion for the future development of the plan also presupposes potential roles for nurses.

Is My Community Prepared for a Disaster?

The fact that DT does not have its own, specifically developed plan does not imply that it is not prepared; in fact, given PEMA’s (n.d.) agenda of cooperation and communication, DT’s partnership with Delaware County can be regarded as appropriate. In general, the plan that can be found on the County’s website is quite solid, provides for the future development, and corresponds to the best practices in the field. With this plan implemented, it can be concluded that DT is prepared for a flood or any other disaster.


County of Delaware. (2015a). Delaware County emergency services. Web.

County of Delaware. (2015b). Safety tips and emergency resources for residents. Web.

Michael Baker Jr., Inc. (2011). Delaware County 2011 hazard mitigation plan. Web.

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. (n.d.). Summary of the Commonwealth hazard vulnerability analysis. Web.

Schelfaut, K., Pannemans, B., van der Craats, I., Krywkow, J., Mysiak, J., & Cools, J. (2011). Bringing flood resilience into practice: the FREEMAN project. Environmental Science & Policy, 14(7), 825-833. Web.

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Stanhope, M., & Lancaster, J. (2016). Public health nursing: Population-centered health care in the community (9th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.

Township of Darby. (n.d.). Delco Alert. Web.

Wells, K., Tang, J., Lizaola, E., Jones, F., Brown, A., & Stayton, A., … Plough, A. (2013). Applying community engagement to disaster planning: Developing the vision and design for the Los Angeles County community disaster resilience initiative. American Journal of Public Health, 103(7), 1172-1180. Web.

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