Thursday, June 07, 2018

All Disaster Responses Are Local

Screenshot From Johns Hopkins Epilogue Video


On Monday, in Supply Chain Of Fools (Revisited), we looked at some of the likely challenges that we - as a society - would face during a severe pandemic or other large scale disaster.  
Challenges that were summed up in the epilogue video  (above) from last month's Johns Hopkins Clade X Tabletop Pandemic Exercise.
If you haven't taken the time to watch the entire 8 hour exercise, I would urge you to view the 5 minute wrap up video. It will give you some idea of the possible impact of a severe - but not necessarily `worst case' - pandemic.

While a pandemic is - by definition - a global problem, and federal and state governments will have a major role in (hopefully) developing and deploying vaccines, and keeping trade routes open and the lights on, the bulk of the day-to-day burden will fall upon local entities.
Hospitals, EMS, Police and Public Safety, Offices of Emergency Management, Schools, local Churches and Organizations, local businesses, Neighborhood Watch organizations, and ultimately individual families, their friends and their neighbors
Despite the publics' perception, FEMA and state and federal governments are not first responders.  In a major disaster covering a large area  - whether it be a pandemic, earthquake, catastrophic hurricane, solar storm, or tsunami - local assets will be the primary responders.

FEMA's 2018-2022 Strategic Plan lists 3 primary goals over the next 4 years. 
This new Strategic Plan includes three ambitious, but achievable, goals for 2018-2022. The Strategic Goals are focused on our FEMA Vision – a prepared and resilient Nation.

Strategic Goal 1: Build a Culture of Preparedness
Strategic Goal 2: Ready the Nation for Catastrophic Disasters
Strategic Goal 3: Reduce the Complexity of FEMA

Each of these goals represents a major undertaking. FEMA will not be able to accomplish them without the help of the entire community.
Achieving this vision of a prepared and resilient Nation is a shared responsibility and, while recognizing FEMA’s essential role, meaningful improvements will occur only when we work in concert across Federal departments and agencies, as well as with leaders from state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and non-governmental organizations and the private sector. 
Likewise, we need to help individuals and families understand their personal roles in preparing for disasters and taking action – they are our true first responders.
This isn't a cop out, or a shirking of responsibility. The reality is no government agency can adequately prepare for, and quickly respond to, a major disaster involving millions of people.
If you don't believe it, ask the residents of Puerto Rico and New Orleans.
This is not something that politicians like to talk about, since they get elected based on promises of good times ahead, not Cassandra-like predictions of impending doom.
But every emergency manager in the country knows their limitations, and that another Katrina or Maria is just a matter of time, that the Cascadia, San Andreas, or the New Madrid fault zone could go any day, or Clade X could emerge on the world stage without warning.
And the reality is, should a major disaster strike, you, your family, and your neighbors will need to be able to deal with the immediate - and potentially long-term - impacts, on your own.
Or at least, with limited help from local authorities.
Which is why I've devoted so much of this blog to building a culture of preparedness over the past 12 years.  A few examples:
Preparedness: Some Holiday Gift Items Worth Considering
In An Emergency, Who Has Your Back?
NPM10 And Building A Culture Of Preparedness

Creating A Culture Of Preparedness
Global Problem, Local Solutions

All of which fits in with FEMA's first stated goal.

Resilience is the backbone of emergency management. The Nation’s ability to weather storms and disasters without experiencing loss significantly reduces our risk. The most successful way to achieve disaster resiliency is through preparedness, including mitigation. Building a Culture of Preparedness within our communities and our governments will support a National effort to be ready for the worst disasters – at the individual, family, community, state, local, tribal, territorial (SLTT), and Federal levels.

Strategic Goal 1 promotes the idea that everyone should be prepared when disaster strikes. To be prepared, however, we must all understand our local and community risks,  reflect the diversity of those we serve, and foster partnerships that allow us to connect with a diverse Nation. People who are prepared will be able to act quickly and decisively in the face of disasters, thereby preventing death and injuries, minimizing loss of property, and allowing for a more rapid and efficient recovery.

As a prepper (please, don't call me a survivalist!), I promote keeping a minimum of two-weeks supply of food, bottled water, Rx meds, and other necessities of life (and reasonable comfort).
My basic list, which I mention often, can be viewed here. 
Although it was a small thing, since I was ready for hurricane season I was able to hand out flashlights, batteries, and canned food to less prepared neighbors last year as hurricane Irma approached, and local store shelves were stripped bare (see A Post Irma Update).
(Ed. Note: This wasn't as magnanimous as it sounds.  I couldn't take all my preps with me, and I didn't have a lot of faith that my home, and remaining preps, would survive the storm.)
I was ready, and able to evacuate to my disaster buddy's location to ride out the storm.  And I was prepared (with NWS weather radio, batteries, solar charger, etc.) to deal with a prolonged grid down situation (power for some was out a week or longer).

Those who are prepared - in advance - to weather the storm not only are apt to have an easier time of it, they take some of the burden off emergency relief efforts, and can even help out friends and neighbors.
It's a win-win-win solution.
Although I can credit some of my `prepper ethic' to having been a boyscout, and to my early career as a paramedic, and spending much of my life living aboard sailboats, I also grew up during a time (1950s-1960s) when we talked more openly about existential threats, like nuclear war.
Emergency preparedness - whether it be for a nuclear strike, or a CAT 5 hurricane  - was part of the school curriculum for us as kids in Florida in the 1960s.
We watched Civil Defense film strips at school on fallout and radiation poisoning, we were sent home with brochures on how to make an emergency shelters and purify water, and we practiced `duck and cover' drills almost daily.

On TV, CONELRAD messages (`This was a test. Had this been a real emergency, you'd have been instructed to turn to your local CONELRAD broadcaster for more information. This was only a test') blared out each week, and `Bert the Turtle' taught us how to (hopefully) survive a nuclear blast.

Although it may seem naive to believe that getting under your desk was going to save you from incineration - and yes, we joked about it at the time - the idea of always being prepared for an emergency was a valuable one.
While we don't need to be as heavy handed as they were during the cold war, schools are an ideal place to begin to teach preparedness.  
I got my Red Cross First Aid card while I was still in high school, and set up an emergency aid station with my brother and a friend two weeks after I graduated high school after a tornado spun off from Hurricane Agnes tore through a local trailer park.  I described this in a 2009 blog.
My brother and I both ended up as part of the rescue effort that night, pulling the trapped and injured from collapsed trailers, and setting up an ad hoc emergency first aid center in an old post office.
We used the supplies from the first-aid kits we kept in the trunks of our cars to care for the injured.
For several hours, we were the only aid available to more than a half-dozen injured people.   For a kid fresh out of high school, it was a long night.

It also spurred me on to a career in emergency medicine.  First as an EMT, then as a Paramedic EMT-II.
In the 1970s, as an EMT/Paramedic I taught hundreds of high school students CPR, and it astonishes me that we don't teach basic first aid, CPR, and other basic emergency skills to every high school student today.
If the goal is to become a resilient nation, with the ability to cope with disasters and to limit the loss of life and property, we need to start teaching practical skills to the next generation.  
In the meantime, those of us who are able to, need to become as prepared as we can so that we can be an asset, not a burden, during the next disaster. And when the next disaster strikes, we need to do what we can to help out in our neighborhoods and communities.
And we need to encourage others to do so as well.
Otherwise, you, your family, and your neighbors could find yourselves waiting a very long time for the cavalry to arrive. And unlike in the movies, they may not arrive just in the nick of time. 

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