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National Preparedness Starts With Personal and Community Resilience

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Christine Springer
September 4, 2015

September 2015 is National Preparedness Month. Sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Preparedness Month encourages Americans to plan for emergencies in their homes, businesses, schools and communities.

The aim is to encourage individuals to take important steps, like getting an emergency supply kit, making a family emergency plan and being informed about the different emergencies that may affect them. Individuals are also encouraged to take the necessary steps to get trained and become engaged in community preparedness and response efforts.

As public managers, we need to create our own disaster supply kit and have a functional emergency and escape plan in place. The supply kit stores supplies needed in an evacuation in an easy-to-carry container such as a duffle bag. Supplies usually include:

1. One gallon of water, per person and per day.
2. Nonperishable food and a non-electric can opener.
3. Change of clothing, rain gear and sturdy shoes, blankets or sleeping bags.
4. First-aid kit, prescription medications and an extra pair of glasses.
6. Battery–powered radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries.
7. Credit cards and cash and an extra set of car keys.
9. List of family physicians.
10. Special items and assistance for infants, elderly or disabled family members.

In addition to supplies, managers should have general knowledge of the kinds of disasters that could occur in the area and how to prepare for each one. This also means knowing the community’s evacuation routes and knowing emergency plans for the workplace.

We need to create our own emergency plan by first meeting with household members to discuss the dangers of fire, severe weather, earthquakes and other emergencies and responses to each threat. Then we need to find the safe spots in our home for each type of disaster and discuss what to do about power outages and personal injuries. We also need to draw a floor plan of the home and mark two escape routes. Emergency telephone numbers should be posted near telephones. It is also important to practice emergency evacuation drills with all household members at least two times a year.

Family members must also be aware of specific tasks during an emergency. For example, family members must know how to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches when necessary. Children must be taught how and when to call 911, police and fire. Additionally, families should designate one out-of-state and one local friend or relative for family members to call if separated during a disaster. Children must be taught these numbers as well.

In planning for emergencies, we need to pick two meeting places: a place near home in case of a fire and a place outside our neighborhood in case we are unable to return home after a disaster. Finally, we need to keep family records in a water and fireproof container.

National Preparedness Month is also part of a government effort to strengthen the United States’ preparedness capabilities. The national preparedness architecture encompasses prevention, protection, response and recovery efforts to prepare for all hazards – whether terrorist attack or natural disaster.

Some managers shine during a major crisis, while others do not. As a strategic manager, one must follow a comprehensive protocol that primarily demonstrates preparedness. Then we can effectively assist in the development of organizational and community preparedness that requires the implementation of teams, systems and tools to build public awareness and to respond to a crisis. To do so, requires that the organization have an action plan in place. The action plan allows organizations (and the community) to react quickly, manage rumors and respond to victims and stakeholders sincerely while recovering from the crisis’s impact. It starts with being willing to ask and answer important questions like: What is the worst that could happen?  It then requires addressing how to plan for and avert crises by securing the workplace and proper management of both the workplace and community infrastructure during technical, intentional and natural disasters. It also requires maintaining effective communications during a crisis.

Today, strategic management of crises means developing resilience. The concept of resilience has been well documented for more than 30 years in the fields of engineering, biology, psychology and social science. In biology, it means perseverance of organisms and life systems. In psychology, it means perseverance of human beings during crises and their interaction with social systems. In social science, it means a workable alternative to anticipation because of the need to prepare for the unknown rather than using a rational paradigm of goals-means thinking.

In the final analysis, national preparedness starts first with personal and community resilience. Public managers, in my opinion, need to be able to speak personally about how they are prepared and resilient. Only then can they speak authoritatively about what needs to be accomplished at the community, organizational and national level, document and share measureable outcomes regarding:

1. How to make multi-level governance work to facilitate how supplies are developed and stored, plans and escapes become operational and resilience strategies are developed and delivered.

2. How to engage citizens in understanding risks and how to prepare for them.

3. How to successfully facilitate rapid learning and situational awareness on the part of all decision makers using modern technology.

4. How to improve international cooperation to understand how international institutions can better lend a hand before, during and after a disaster.

5. How to determine the price of resilience because at times the opportunity costs may exceed the benefits.

Author: Christine Gibbs Springer is the director of the Executive Masters Degree in Emergency and Crisis Management at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas. She is founder and CEO of a strategic management and communications firm, Red Tape Limited. To contact Springer, [email protected]

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