A 'Culture of Disaster Preparedness' Requires Careful Planning
The writer, a native of Southern Pines, is now attending the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He wrote this as a class project.
As the Sandhills region of North Carolina recovers from the first substantial round of wintry mix since the blizzard of 2000, it seems fitting to highlight the need for actionable disaster preparedness plans that are easily executable by individuals, communities and municipalities.
Recently, Lt. Gen. Russell Honore, author of "Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family From Disasters," spoke to our class at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Gen. Honore served most recently as the commanding officer of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort in 2005. While listening to the presentation, I was amazed at how such a basic concept could carry such important effect. I was struck by how little effort it took to develop a plan of action that could possibly save the life of another person - something the general described as "the ultimate human experience."
His message resonated with me -profoundly. And in light of the recent earthquake disaster in Haiti, I thought it fitting to do my part in helping create a culture of preparedness, starting with my hometown of Southern Pines.
Many hard lessons learned and stopgap measures came out of the Hurricane Katrina experience. A national disaster preparedness policy, however, did not. As we were all shocked by the images of unimaginable human suffering broadcast live from the flooded Ninth Ward, many of us were left asking how this could happen in America. How could we have been caught unprepared?
To illustrate and bring sharper focus to this point from a perspective a little closer to home, many readers will remember the blizzard of January 2000, when Moore County was thrust into survival mode during an unprecedented winter storm that hampered the -ability of local government and its -citizens to coordinate relief operations.
This is in no way a criticism of the way the local emergency management departments handled the disaster response; on the contrary, local -emergency crews responded superbly to the crisis. But it highlights the need for disaster preparedness plans that are on the shelf, ready to be executed when needed.
In his presentation, Gen. Honore detailed a "system of systems" approach to creating a culture of preparedness from the individual level to the government. He described many of the systematic failures of the planning, development and maintenance of key infrastructure components that currently exist in our communities - everything from bridge design to -hospital generator placement.
"A culture of preparedness will teach America to be survivors and not victims," he said.
National disaster preparedness starts with individual disaster preparedness. Although many municipalities have a robust disaster response capability, a disaster of significant proportion will most likely overwhelm the responsiveness of emergency service agencies because of the sheer volume of requests for help.
It is with this in mind that every family should have a disaster preparedness plan on the shelf, ready to initiate during a fire, tornado or terrorist act. At a minimum, for every member of the family, the plan should include three days' worth of food, water and medicine. Cash, a weather radio and a first aid kit are essential.
At the municipal level, plans should include considerations for not just the first order of effects, but the second and third order as well. Basic plans should include the basics - food, shelter and clothing.
Second- and third-order effects include planning and resourcing for command and control architecture; emergency services coordination; transportation and evacuation plans; mass casualty triage management and evacuation; long-term shelter for -displaced citizens and a resettlement plan; backup long-range communication systems; and an electrical grid powered by backup generators that could be brought on line quickly.
Additionally, Gen. Honore made specific mention in developing plans that took into account the poor, handicapped and those in nursing homes as priority.
The U.S. Army trains its leaders to "get to the left" of contingencies through use of many systems and tools. One of them, the "composite risk management" process, is a five-step model that can easily be adapted to any application, be it household or governmental department, to help logically and methodically assemble a disaster preparedness plan.
Step 1 of such a plan is to identify the hazard. Step 2: Assess hazards to -determine risk. Step 3: Develop controls to mitigate risks and make risk decisions. Step 4: Implement controls. Step 5: Supervise and evaluate your decisions
If we all plan for disasters by -developing preparedness plans, both individually and collectively as a -society, we can create a culture of -preparedness and become survivors and not victims.
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