Sep 022011

"A Prelude to Irene #2: Clouds gather as Irene approaches New York." Photo by David Reilly. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

Summer flew by and now on the brink of fall we start a new Ruly theme! September’s organizing theme will address a topic we have discussed before but which bears repeating . . . emergency preparedness. This September is also National Preparedness Month. All this month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and others are promoting tips to get the nation better prepared for emergencies, particularly as the nation remembers the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The east coast’s emergency preparedness was tested in the recent hurricane and earthquake. We learned that, as a nation, we are doing OK and probably much better than we have done in the past, but that there are still some weaknesses to our system. Namely:

1. Recognizing and communicating the type of emergency. When the earthquake occurred, many people, including myself, misinterpreted the event because earthquakes aren’t/weren’t in our frame of reference for this area. In my house, thinking a tornado or hurricane was about to strike, we headed to the basement. Not the best choice of strategy, clearly, but fortunately modern construction allowed us to make this mistake without harm. At the Pentagon and many D.C. office buildings, workers thought it was a terrorist attack or a bomb in the building and their instinct was to get outside (not a horrible choice). The news media also had no idea what was going on for quite a while so if you were looking for reassurance about what was happening, you had to wait. Twitter was sometimes the best source for up-to-date information. Collectively, we can give ourselves a little pat on the back for reacting to the situation quickly but we could all use a little more knowledge about different emergency situations.

2. Accurately forecasting possible damage and alerting the right communities. It has been sad and interesting to see that most of the damage being reported from the hurricane is in places like Vermont where no one foresaw the scale of damage being experienced. The coastal communities in larger cities and most of New York ended up over-prepared while the hardest hit communities likely had no idea they even needed to take precautions.

3. Actually getting prepared. Despite the knowledge that we really ought to be prepared to handle emergencies at any time, we tend not to actually get prepared (or stay prepared) unless there is a known reason that some disaster is about to happen (like Hurricane Irene). Unfortunately, sometimes this is too late. We all need to be thinking about a constant level of preparedness rather than spurts of activity during actual disasters.

This month I will attempt a new posting format with shorter but more frequent posts with quick tips to help you jump start your emergency preparedness. Please join me in remembering those who have lost their lives in disasters and raising awareness of what we can do to minimize the devastation of these events.

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One Comment to “September’s Theme: Emergency Preparedness”

  1. avatar Ruth says:

    I think that with earthquakes that they are almost impossible to predict. As a mining engineer with extensive geologic classes I took, the one thing I learned–and working in a coal mine at times over 2K feet below the earth’s surface–is you never know when and where the earth will move. You can think with all of the seismic equipment we have that we could know that–but anyone’s best guess is obviously not working. If it were, the San Andreas fault would have re-opened by now and deeply and quickly. What we are learning is that our earthquake predictions are almost null and void. So good luck with that one! The best defense is trying to communicate as soon as they figure out it is an earthquake to everyone as quickly as possible. For those of us not loyal Twitter followers–maybe our emails or cell #s these days.

    And that’s the deal with disasters, no? Getting hit when/where we least expect it–a very hard thing to prepare for. Do you prepare for everything all the time? Seems a bit over the top to me…..maybe I’ll regret typing that one day!

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