Disasters can strike at any time. With the uncertainty of knowing when the next emergency or disaster will occur, most people think that there will always be time to prepare. When individuals and businesses are prepared, the more resilient that community becomes. The time for recovering from a disaster is shortened when a community has realized the importance of being prepared. Despite the growing publicity around natural disasters, most Americans are not practicing for a disaster. A study, conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) states that not only are people not participating in drills at home or work, only 39 percent have an emergency plan even though 80 percent of Americans reside in areas that have actually experienced a natural disaster in the last 10 years.
Most people believe that even if a disaster were to happen, that they would be able to handle it. The normalcy bias is the mental disposition people have that not only underestimates the effects of a disaster but also the overestimates their abilities to react to and recover from a disaster. Getting past the normalcy bias can be done through education. Disaster preparedness is more than informing people about having an emergency kit and a plan. People have to be made aware that preparing for disasters does not have to be difficult. When people can be well-informed about making the right choices to prepare, we end up with better disaster decision makers.
Preparing for emergencies and disaster is achievable in small steps. With every disaster or emergency being different, people have to be taught how to adapt to any situation. Teaching people how to think through a disaster is the foundation of creating better disaster decision makers. Disaster decision makers can make sense of what is happening around them. Sensemaking is the mental process that allows a person to rationalize what is happening. It is the thought process that happens when you are approaching a traffic jam and are looking to see if it is the result of an accident, road construction, or some other issue. Well prepared individuals are those who not only have all their supplies but can apply plausible understanding when a disaster strikes.
A few of the biggest barriers to preparedness are the perceived cost and simply not knowing what to do. When people think about preparing for a disaster they often think or even have visual images about elaborate kits with a high price tag. In 2014 a FEMA study showed that people are less like to have an emergency plan if they made less than $25,000 a year. Again, informing people that preparing is not expensive is key. Those barriers can be combated in a few ways. First, everyone should have a way to receive emergency alerts. That may be phone, television, or an emergency radio. Individuals should also be aware of what hazards and risks are in their community. For example, a family living near a chemical plant will need to be aware of evacuation procedures in case of an emergency.
Breaking down the components of a building an emergency kit make it more achievable. Individuals should be aware of any special needs for their household including items for pets. Informing people that they can buy one gallon of water whenever they are at the grocery store or one extra can of beans is a lot easier to do than telling them to purchase a three-day supply of food in one day. If there are people in the household who have special dietary needs or infants, people should be aware that they want to have those items on hand as well. If a family was evacuated and had to stay at a shelter, there is no guarantee that they would have those specialized items.
There are individuals who are not aware of the types of disasters that can affect them. There is a wide belief that no matter the situation, first responders will come to save them, and do so within a timely manner. Again, people have to be made aware that they are their own first responder. In the event a major emergency or disaster, people are expected to survive without outside help for at least three days. The most recent disasters have proven that even a three day supply of items may be insufficient. Therefore, having some things in place in case of a disaster is better than having nothing. Preparedness is like a toolbox. It doesn’t have to be full to be useful, having even just a hammer or a screwdriver can make a difference in response and recovery.
Being prepared for emergencies and disasters give individuals and families a sense of self-control and self-empowerment knowing that they will be able to help themselves. Confidence is developed and maintained when preparedness becomes a priority. They also feel confident enough to share their preparedness efforts with others and event help them become prepared. More efforts have to put in to reach communities and promote preparedness. One month is set aside once a year to rally the nation around preparedness, however the theme itself should be promoted year-round. Teaching people how to prepare for emergencies and disaster will help build better disaster resilient communities.