‘Easter Egg’ Emergencies

April 14, 2020

The Covid-19 crisis poses many challenges. These occur at individual, national and international levels, and on numerous fronts. Here we discuss the different types of local emergencies that might occur and how responding to them becomes all the more challenging during a time of a national or international crisis.

The term Easter egg is often used to describe a hidden artefact or feature within another cultural item. For instance, in a videogame where a player gets access to a hidden area of the game, an item located in the background of a film that connects the scene to another film, etc. Basically, a distinct cultural item within another. We extend this concept to the more significant concern of local emergencies in the time of a national or international crisis. Where one local incident occurs during the time and impact of a much larger incident.

In more routine times (i.e. where there is no large-scale prevailing crisis), emergencies can take a number of forms:

-         Isolated Events. Something bad happens(e.g. a fire, a flood, a medical emergency, a security breach, etc.) and it has to be dealt with. Dedicated emergency resources are employed in accordance with a previously determined procedure to address the situation. For instance, firefighters respond to a hotel fire, paramedics respond to a knife attack victim, etc.

-         Crowding Events. Several independently occurring events affect a specific population/location at the same time.  Several bad things happen that require a response to the same community; e.g. a serious fire, a measles outbreak at acare facility, a riot in a local prison, a mud slide, a tornado, etc. These require emergency responders following several pre-determined procedures that are executed at the same time to address each of these different events, depleting the overall resources set aside for such incidents.

-         Cascading Events. Several incidents occur, as the result of an initial event triggering several others forming a chain of events. For instance, a storm hits a coastal area, causing localised flooding, knocking the power out, downing cables that leads to local fires and causing security breaches at local correctional facilities. Such diverse, evolving conditions require the execution of a pre-planned response in each case and an initial deployment of resources. However, any procedure may need to evolve as resources are redeployed to consequent events, depending on the severity and proximity of the unfolding events.

These are familiar, if not commonplace, scenarios – posing different challenges in terms of the procedures employed, the resources available and the order in procedures are executed.

The current pandemic reminds us that there is at least one more type of emergency scenario that might develop that needs to be considered. In a national or international event, procedures and resources may be radically modified in quick order to address the situation. As we have seen, human, financial and technological resources have been repurposed and reallocated to mitigate the impact of the current pandemic. In addition, stringent guidance has been developed (e.g. curtailing social interaction, travel, work, etc.), to help reduce transmission. However, local (more routine) events may still occur in the time and space of this larger crisis.

-         Endogenous events are those events that occur within the boundary of an existing national or international event. So, regarding the current situation, any routine incident that might occur (e.g. a house fire, a medical emergency, local flooding, a multi-vehicle accidents, a train derailment, a prison riot, criminal violence, etc.) would now occur within the international pandemic although not necessarily be caused by it. Let us re-term these as Easter Egg events: an emergency event under the jurisdiction of another.

The manner in which these Easter Egg events might be addressed is affected in several ways. Resources may be depleted given the commitment to address the pandemic. This in turn might extend the response time and the manner in which events are addressed. Procedures may require rapid adaptation to prevent responders contravening national guidance (e.g. social distancing) and also to manage reduced resources. Finally, Easter Egg events may be deprioritized given the significance of the pandemic affecting the attention paid to them.  

Unfortunately, this is not science fiction. In Croatia, a 5.3-magnitude earthquake hit Zagreb. This occurred in late March 2020; i.e. during the pandemic. This led the Mayor to urge people to keep their distance from each other and to return to their homes – both in reference to the pandemic guidance[1][ref].

Last week in the Ukraine, forest fires developed within the restricted area around the Chernobyl reactor[2].This has produced a threat to the residents still inhabiting the area and elevated radiation levels for the surrounding area. Access restrictions have been in place for decades, constraining the format of any emergency response. These are now couple with considerations of the pandemic.

Looking forward, the US will soon be entering into its hurricane season and the year round threat of wildfires. It is not clear how the current situation might affect any community responses to such events should the pandemic still prevail. These large-scale events may be more newsworthy but host much more common and immediate local emergencies that occur in occupied spaces. Given that this pandemic is (a) but one example of a large event that might curtail allowable behaviour and (b) unlikely to be the last pandemic we face, our capacity to face such Easter Egg events will continue to be a concern. This will require the capacity to examine complex and evolving scenarios and establish the effectiveness of emergency intervention while adhering to wider emergency measures.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-51995861

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/06/bad-news-radiation-spikes-16-times-above-normal-after-forest-fire-near-chernobyl