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2021 Disaster Zone Projections

My best guess for the new year.

by Eric Holdeman / January 2, 2021

What would Nostradamus say about 2021? Generally he was a pessimist, or interpreted to be one for sure. I doubt anyone will be caring about what I have to say 400 years after I'm dead and gone. But, here goes...


For all who want the pandemic to be in our rear view mirror in 2021, I think it will be early 2022 before we are "hopefully" clear of the pandemic and back to what will be a "new normal." Expect 2021 to be the year of vaccinations that will consume much time and effort from our medical community to administer. The new administration has to make the pandemic their No. 1 priority in order to get over the virus hump that we are currently muddled in. It is possible that emergency managers will be needed to help coordinate vaccination efforts. What that will look like will vary from community to community, but coordination is our forte.

Climate change will be a huge topic. We will continue to see more drought, and more frequent and severe wildfires as a result. 2020 gave us a record for named storms in the Atlantic. We might not break that record, but warmer ocean temperatures spell long-term trouble when it comes to hurricanes hitting the United States coastlines. In addition to hurricanes, it is moisture that will be the enemy. It will come in the form of rain and snow. Flooding is and will remain the major disaster that almost every region of the nation experiences. 

Earthquakes have been eerily silent for a number of years. California is overdue for a big one and the Pacific Northwest is waiting, waiting, waiting for our own mega disaster.

Cybersecurity hacks will continue and accelerate in many different ways. Crooks and nations will be looking to profit. At some point there will be a strike and counter strike in cyberspace that will spring beyond the cyber world into some form of kinetic action by a nation. Then, who knows what happens. Bone up on cybersecurity and make your contacts now. This threat is only increasing and will not "just magically disappear" in the future. 

Infrastructure failures will continue. Most small and only locally of note, but there could be a catastrophic failure that kills or another that has a large geographic impact. Timing is hard to determine and is also a huge impact on what happens when the failure occurs. 

New Administration

By sometime in the second quarter of 2021 we'll have a new FEMA administrator nominated, maybe even before. It will take the better part of the year to get his or her team on board. Then we'll see what new things they bring to the table. Their full impact and what new ideas they bring with them won't be known until 2022. 

I'm guessing both climate change and disaster mitigation will be big in the Biden-Harris Administration. And, someone is going to have to work really hard on the BRIC program to make it be successful out in the hinterlands. I think about the dollars that are now available compared to back when Project Impact was launched under the James Lee Witt FEMA era. If you Google it, it has been wiped from the face of the FEMA earth. It was before the Internet became big, but'd think there were be a Wikipedia entry or something. 

I expect that pandemic planning and exercises will once more come into vogue. Kind of like "wide ties" coming back into style. Grant programs will definitely have anything to do with "pandemics" listed as an "allowable" activity. 


You say you don't like technology? Well, abandon ship now. It will accelerate even more. In emergency management there will be winners and losers depending on funding. Unfortunately, usually only larger jurisdictions will be able to invest in them. The future for "predictive" technologies that integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI) will only get bigger. Watch to see technology be integrated into more technology applications.

However, anyone can work in the "app level" of technology. Look for aggressive startups looking to get a foothold and perhaps you can be their "white rat." Just be sure they are not just injecting you with carcinogenic drugs to see what happens. By that, I mean chose wisely so there is something you can use and not a dry hole of time and effort that leads nowhere. It is the bane of this type of effort, but you might just hit pay dirt. God knows I'm still digging!

Virtual meetings are here to stay. There will be fewer of them once we get past the COVID-19 monster, but after being deeply immersed in the technology the good aspects of the meetings will remain. You don't have time to get to a physical meeting and then get back to work for another appointment, no problem, just Zoom on in! I recommend you start using them for community meetings. You might actually get better attendance.


This time last year we could not have imagined what a weird and wacky year 2020 would become. Our profession has a way of "throwing curve balls" at us, just when we don't expect it. Be it an asteroid, hurricane or earthquake, our world can be turned upside down very quickly. So, be alert, be ready — for anything! Locusts?


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