Disasters are low visibility events. While we cannot determine each time a disaster or emergency will occur, we can do our best to prepare for them. If you were driving through fog on a dark road, how would you change your driving to prepare for things you cannot see? Preparedness is not only about having a kit and supplies but having the ability to make good disasters in any type of disaster. Even though you cannot see what’s ahead, you want to prepare for the worst case scenario. Thinking through how a disaster could affect not only you, but those who count on you is a great first step to developing a plan. Considering those around you helps develop a community approach to preparedness.
We are all part of some type of community. The more individuals who are prepared, the better off our communities will be. This allows our communities to develop more disaster resilience. When community groups come together with a plan to respond and recover from disasters, this eases the load on emergency management and first responders. When communities can work together to become more resilient, it minimalizes causalities and economic disruption. Communities should start by analyzing their risks, determining what makes them most vulnerable. Once those vulnerabilities are determined, a plan can be devised to mitigate possible disasters. For example, a community prone to flooding may want to have a central location to keep supplies such as food.
Sometimes the hardest part of preparedness is getting started. The best way to start a plan is by having a conversation. At your workplace or school, find out what the emergency plans are. It’s ok to ask your employer if there are any special trainings or drills in place. Make sure you are aware of the evacuation routes and tornado shelters in the building. Also, if there is not an emergency kit in your office, you can create one. If you find yourself the few of many when it comes to preparedness interest, don’t be afraid to pursue it with the hopes that others will get on board. Remember, almost half of people don’t have an emergency plan so this may be new to them.
Building disaster resilient communities really does take a village. Consider partnering with local organizations to help reach more people to build upon preparedness efforts. For example, ask your local community center to be the host location for a “prepare fair”. Find out if local business owners are willing to donate items to help make the event a success. The opportunities are endless when it comes to getting the community involved. Ready.gov offers a blueprint to getting your community equipped for a disaster. Keep in mind that everyone doesn’t have to walk away with an emergency kit in their hand. The most important piece is educating them about what their risks are and how to prepare for and recover from a disaster.
Children are a part of our community, so let’s get them prepared! Find out if your state or local government has a preparedness program that is geared towards getting youth prepared. For example, the state of Michigan uses a program called STEP which stands for Student Tools for Emergency Planning originally developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The program is geared towards fifth graders to teach them how to prepare for emergencies and disasters. Additionally, check out a kids coloring book called Prep and Parey from Do1Thing that is geared towards elementary aged children to be able to sit down with their families and talk about an emergency plan.
Another important aspect of the community is considering those with special needs. Identify members in your community that may need additional assistance during and after a disaster. This includes assisted living centers, senior centers, adult rehabilitation facilities and more. For example, people restricted to their beds or wheel chairs, find out how they will be transported during an evacuation. Be sure to consider pets, including exotic ones. The community should know what pets will be accepted at emergency pet shelters. Most people do not want to leave their pets in a disaster so they should have an alternate plan if they do not want to leave their pets at a shelter.
Communities can get better at bouncing back from disasters if they come together and prepare. The key is take small steps. The entire community will not become prepared overnight but taking any step in the right direction is a preparedness plus! The first step for the community may be having a conversation about what those next steps are going to be. It could be the mayor developing a preparedness that focuses on the community. No step is big or too small when it comes to helping people prepare for emergencies and disasters.