What does being prepared really mean?
That’s the first challenge. We’re not really sure. It means having a battery-operated radio, having your papers in order, having food for three days. But sometimes these are not appropriate guidelines. If you’re preparing for a major pandemic, where gathering in public spaces is not allowed, stockpiling for three days is not enough.
There is no working definition of “preparedness,” so if you can’t define it, how do you know what you need to get there, and how much it costs?
Is it a matter of people not taking the initiative to get prepared, other than buying duct tape several years ago?
We’ve done a survey: If you are involved in and survived a really significant disaster and you can dial 911, how long do you think before responders will show up? It turns out people’s perception is way off. They think it will be an hour, but in reality, we’re talking three days or never. So if you have a misguided sense of how quickly outsiders will come and help you, don’t you have an obligation to prepare yourself?
In Israel there’s a wide understanding that you have to have a safe room in the house. What’s most important to Israeli planners is this concept of situational awareness, knowing you could function in a disaster. It also suggests that people are somewhat aware at all times that potential situations can occur: If you’re a parent at the airport with your children, you have a general awareness of what’s happening, what looks suspicious, where your kids are.
What are the top public worries today?
I don’t think people have that many worries, except for people like me who worry every day there’s going to be an event that can rock the country and maybe the world.
For a lot of the country, there’s no appetite to hear what we’re talking about. It’s, “I don’t have a job, I can’t pay the rent.” I wouldn’t want to ask that person if they had three days of food stockpiled.
What’s your biggest worry?
I’m always concerned about having a pandemic that’s far more serious than what we experienced last year–like a Spanish flu scenario
There are some natural disasters we’re due for: a massive earthquake and I’m not talking about California.
The New Madrid Fault runs through the middle of the country, where cities are not prepared for earthquakes. Seventy million Americans live in potential earthquake areas.
Then there’s terrorism, which I think is inevitable in the U.S.; subway bombs and suicide bombings, which I think are going to happen; and the potential of EMP detonation by a terrorist group or natural occurrence.
Finally, I’m concerned about the safety of nuclear power plants in terms of meltdowns.
Well, you’ve made me feel really good about carrying on with life.
Nobody wants to think about this. But we have to think about it enough so it doesn’t disrupt our lives–like putting on a seat belt in the car. We do it automatically now, but before that, tens of thousands of people died. These are things not particularly fun to think about, but we do them because we have a sense of potential hazards in the future that we’d like to mitigate.
As grown ups, we have to be able to expand the to-do list. It’s like saying to a busy executive, “You have to change your lifestyle or you’re going to have a heart attack,” and the executive saying, “I don’t have time.” You can’t get away with that. You need to be able to accommodate what’s needed to survive. I think that’s what adults are supposed to do.
So where do we start?
A good way to start is small so you are at least doing something.
Here are some great places to start:
A great basic guide developed by the Fire Department.
Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs
A guide from the Red Cross to help you prepare for the special needs of some.
In this part of the guide, you will learn preparedness strategies that are common to all disasters. You plan only once, and are able to apply your plan to all types of hazards.
Provides a step-by-step approach to disaster preparedness by walking the reader through how to get informed about local emergency plans, how to identify hazards that affect their local area and how to develop and maintain an emergency communications plan and disaster supplies kit. Other topics covered include evacuation, emergency public shelters, animals in disaster and information specific to people with access and functional needs.
Check out these resources and you will have a good start.
We will go into more depth as we go forward, but for now, read them to get started.