September is National Preparedness Month... Are You Ready in Case of an Emergency?
Editorial by Bob Ankrapp, PEM
Each September, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) joins efforts with national, regional, state and local governments to recognize National Preparedness Month - bringing focus to the importance of citizens taking responsibility for helping protect themselves in case of large-scale emergencies.
A quick look back at the incidents that have taken place throughout our country this year regarding extreme weather events, pandemic-related challenges, political upheaval and more, prove we need to take stock in our (and our loved ones') safety. The need has never been greater, These events have impacted our health, our physical safety, our personal relationships, our financial and business dealings - and for many, even the way we conduct our own personal lives.
Through all of this, we need to remind ourselves on a daily basis that WE are ultimately responsible for taking the initial steps to help protect our loved ones, our property and ourselves in the face of emergencies of all types. As a former (retired) Emergency Manager, I write this while having just read an article describing the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic - both on peoples' health, and the business/economic impact it has (and still does) render on our society. With each new strain that appears, concerns over whether or not booster vaccinations are needed, the potential for overcrowding issues in our hospitals and over-taxing of our healthcare workers, coupled with the (often open and robust) public responses we've experienced over the need for mandated protective measurers, (not the least of which were the need for masks in public places, along with the mandated shut-down of selected businesses and other institutions we saw) often created political/public safety challenges that had the potential for impacting all of us.
As I write this article, the Weather Channel is on in the background describing the impact and dangers associated with the extreme heat and drought conditions our Midwest and Western states are experiencing - along with the potential for severe storms and heavy rains which will likely cause widespread flooding from the hurricane that is approaching the already-parched west coast. Along with that, several of our Southern states (particularly Mississippi and Texas) are grappling with the devastating impact of widespread flooding that has left countless casualties and millions lost in terms of property damage and lost businesses.
Closer to home, we Michiganders experience our fair share of unusual heat and severe thunderstorms, local flooding and other select incidents throughout the year - but thankfully, typically nothing as damaging and life-threatening as those incidents being experienced in other states - but troublesome, potentially hazardous and expensive nonetheless.
Unfortunately, there isn't much we as residents can do to alter the occurrence of most large-scale events. We can't change the course or intensity of the storms we experience, the level of flood waters that surround us during major storms, the amount of snow that falls on us, the temperatures we experience, or even the existence and persistence of a pandemic incident. And in spite of our best precautionary and planning efforts, certain man-made incidents, such as fires, hazardous leaks/spills, and transportation accidents (whether accidental or deliberate) can, and will happen - and typically with little or no advance public warning. What we can do as citizens though, is commit to taking some simple steps that will help prepare our loved ones, our homes and our workplaces for emergencies - thus helping reduce the negative impact these incidents will have on our lives and the lives of those around us.
Most communities, in concert with their county and state agencies have continually-updated plans and procedures in place that will effectively direct the overall response and recovery efforts during large-scale incidents. These plans are executed by staffs of trained and dedicated responders (Fire, EMS, Police, Public Works, Emergency Management, etc.) who will respond quickly and efficiently - and are further supported by various non-governmental volunteer organizations (NGO's) and private companies that also stand ready to assist in times of need.
In all this, the unfortunate reality is however, that professional response/rescue personnel can only be in so many places at once - and in some cases (such as incidents where there is widespread and severe damage), response times can (and probably will) be delayed. People need to plan ahead for emergencies! As one of my emergency management colleagues once said, "you can't just sit back, do nothing, and expect responders to come charging up on white horses to take care of all your needs - people HAVE to take a role in helping plan for their own safety."
By taking a few simple and inexpensive common-sense steps to plan and prepare for emergencies, all citizens – both young and old – can help make the difference between a disastrous experience and one that is easily survivable. We only need to look as far as the widespread power outages many of us experienced this summer to realize how inconvenient an unexpected “glitch” in our regular routine like this had become – and how important it is to have even the most basic of safety measures in place.
Your planning process should begin by taking a good look at your lifestyle and household status. This will help determine your family's priorities and needs. Are there infants/young children, seniors, or individuals in your home with specific medical and/or physical challenges or needs? Are there any pets in your household? Think in terms of what these individuals would need to survive if (in a worst-case scenario) there were no “outside” resources to depend on for 2 or 3 days. Going beyond your own home, are there nearby neighbors (particularly the elderly) who may have needs like this, but may be restricted in their mobility – and perhaps do not enjoy the benefit of having family who can assist? If it’s possible, consider helping them as well.
There are a host of organizations you can look to that provide helpful (and free) information on planning for emergencies. Organizations such as Federal Emergency Management Agency (www.ready.gov), the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies.html), the Michigan State Police (www.michigan.gov/michiganprepares) and Wayne County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (www.waynecounty.com/departments/hsem/emergency-management.aspx) have websites that are particularly helpful. In addition, your community’s Office of Emergency Management can also provide valuable information that will help guide you through this important process.
By investing just a few hours of planning, you can give yourself and your family the gift of safety and peace of mind - something that in a time of crisis, will be priceless.