Posts Tagged ‘United States


It doesn’t happen here…

Springfield Tornado - 06012011 - 026

Image by Robert Blackie via Flickr

It can’t, it won’t, it hasn’t, it doesn’t.  These are fatal assumptions when associated with words like severe weather or earthquakes or flooding.  I would venture to guess that within the large tally of injured and killed people during this springs severe weather, many believed these statements.  It could be they grew up in areas that experience regular severe weather and nothing has ever happened before or because they grew up in areas that generally don’t have severe weather.  This is the mindset of the vast majority of our population.  Many don’t believe it will happen to them.

Here’s the problem though, it can, it will, it has, and it does happen.  Weather, earthquakes, technological hazards, and all the other dangers of the world can happen anywhere at any time.  I read an article yesterday in the local paper that stated how lucky we are because we don’t get any of the bad things in the world where we live.  I proceded to spit my coffee all over the table and then had to re-read it to be sure that this paper just told all of it’s readers that it’s cool cause it ain’t gonna happen here…unbelievable.  Need an example?  Springfield, Massachusetts.  It’s in New England, nestled in western mass in an area that doesn’t typically get a lot of significant severe weather.  Well much to the surprise of many, it was hit with a very large and destructive tornado, possibly in the EF-3 to EF-4 range.  This system then moved across the state leaving millions of dollars in damage and multiple fatalities and injuries.

As a community, emergency managers need to stress the fact that these events can and will happen anywhere they please.  Emergency management as a profession/volunteer position exists in a realm of confusion and lack of definition.  The average citizen doesn’t really know what it does and therefore has no problem cutting money from these agencies that don’t seem to do anything.  Obviously this is not the case but we need to justify the existance of emergency management.  We need to explain that preparedness saves lives, that those expensive warning systems can pay for themselves in an instant when they are needed, that after the dust has settled we can see the true cost of preparing your community for the events that will never happen, aren’t possible, and in an instant, can wipe you off the face of the earth.


Oh definitely, maybe…

A graphic representation of the four phases in...

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When does rhetoric become reality?  Even today after doing so much work to get emergency management and response agencies to pay attention, we are still so far behind in being able to monitor disasters using social media.  This wouldn’t be so frustrating if it was because the technology didn’t exist, was too expensive, was logistically impossible, or any legitimate reason.  It is extremely frustrating because it’s held up for no good reason.  Stop ignoring the writing on the wall (literally and figuratively) and develop a program now.


Community Preparedness

Elbert, CO, September 2, 2009 -- Elbert County...

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Why is it that so many people are caught off guard in an emergency?  We as emergency managers and responders harp on people to take responsibility for themselves yet it seems to yield any positive results.  We have managed to do well in some areas such as fire detection and alarm systems but when it comes to something like planning for a major disaster people seem to be completely apathetic.  My suspicion is that we have become incredibly gun-shy about telling it like it is.  Can you imagine telling your local population something like “if you don’t prepare for disasters, you will die”.  We sugar coat things so that we don’t want to cause alarm but people need to be alarmed about how unprepared they are.  I come from an area that has long-lasting severe winter weather.  We had a wood stove for heat and my parents grew vegetables and raised chickens and even pigs occasionally for food.  We could feasibly live self-sustaining for as long as we needed too.  This is not the case with most of the country.  How long could you survive with no access to running water, food, electricity, and with no help coming to save you?

Smoke detectors were easy though.  People see houses burn down far more frequently then they see the devastation of a major disaster.   In a recent post Recalibrating Emergency Management : Lower The Bar from the Emergency Management Magazine blog section, you can see a different approach to getting people on board.  Here is my concern about lowering the bar on preparedness.  We as a county have a horrible history of dropping standards to achieve success.  You see this in hiring methods, education, etc… and what you end up with is a higher rate of success that fails to accomplish your goal.  I don’t think that we should lower our expectations when it concerns life or death situations.  What we need to do is convey the importance and be painfully explicit with the dangers of ignoring the danger of being unprepared.  We can also make it easier for people to prepare.  The Red Cross has a disaster kit that you can purchase that includes some basics that you may need in a disaster.  CERT programs generally provide a base level of tools you may need.  I think that agencies should create kits that can be easily purchased with instructions that relate to your target area regarding your target hazards.  We forget that people are extremely comfortable in their lives and it may not be that they don’t want to be prepared but that they simply have no idea how to be prepared.

Do you think that a person living in downtown Manhattan could be expected to know how to survive without any of the comforts they have known their whole lives?  These are the people who will be most vulnerable in a disaster.  A rural farmer from Vermont could probably care less if the power goes out.  I mean most people who live out in the wilderness know full well what they need in order to survive, in fact they probably chose to live there for that reason.  People living in urban or suburban areas likely want to be prepared but can’t comprehend a situation where everything they count on is no longer there because they have never had that happen to them.  Someone who live in the woods will probably deal with extended power outages several times a year.  I can remember several occasions where I lived without power for as much as a week and responded to hundreds of calls where trees had taken out the power to large parts of my home town.  And of all the calls that were resulting of mass power outages that I responded to, I can think of only one or two times we had to open a shelter to help people who weren’t able to deal with the situation.

The solution is pretty simple.  We need to make emergency preparedness an accessible service.  We need to find ways to help those who don’t find regularly find themselves dealing with physical hardships conceptualize how they would deal with a major disaster.  This is being done in a much more targeted fashion right now.  Californians know they need to prepare for earthquakes.  This is a low-frequency, high risk situation and people get it.  Midwesterners know they are at a much higher risk for severe thunderstorms and again the chances of actually getting hit by a tornado are quite small but they are prepared.  They do this by being clear about the dangers and having easily accessible information regarding them, including a lot of publicity and public appearances.  We can all do this.