This past week I had an opportunity to attend a government conference on emergency preparedness in Atlanta, Georgia. In attendance were many local emergency response planners from across the US, as well as officials from the CDC, FEMA and other government organizations. I talked to many people and got some great insights into how prepared we are as a nation, both good and bad. Here’s what I took away from this event…
GREAT PEOPLE. I was very impressed with the people I met. We have to be grateful to the highly qualified, committed people who are working in this field. They take their jobs seriously, are well trained, and are more than willing to support other areas around the country as needed.
HUGE AND COMPLICATED. As a small business owner, I sometimes forget how huge our country is. Keeping the country prepared and ready for an emergency is a massively complex job; the number of government departments involved, software programs, product stockpiles, distribution challenges and tens of thousands of people.
OUR GREATEST STRENGTH. We have a number of things that contribute to the preparedness of our country, from the great people, to the excellent training programs and even our wealth, but there is one thing that is more important than everything else; our interconnectedness. The overarching strength of our country’s emergency response is the fact that if one place goes down, countless others can respond to help the affected area. This interconnectedness comes down to one thing: communications.
OUR GREATEST WEAKNESS. Unfortunately, this interconnectedness is also our greatest weakness. The entire system is built on the assumption that an emergency will be localized and that many other places will be able to respond. Take this ability away, and we’re in trouble. This points out our greatest vulnerability is our electric grid. Again, I recommend the book “Light’s Out” by Ted Koppel. This is certainly the most significant threat to our country.
ONE THING THAT SURPRISED ME. I talked for a long time to a gentleman who works for the FEMA and Homeland Security training program. This is the program that trains first responders and other emergency response personnel. What surprised me is that they did not train people on water or water contamination. Nothing. They didn’t even have water training on the curriculum.
TO SUMMARIZE. To summarize, I believe that we, as a country are well prepared for localized emergencies, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. but as Ted Koppel said in his book, “There are emergency preparedness plans in place for earthquakes and hurricanes, heat waves and ice storms. There are plans for power outages of a few days affecting as many as several million people. But if a highly populated area was without electricity for a period of months or even weeks, there is no master plan for the civilian population.”
Yes, there is a real need for individuals to be prepared for an emergency. Hopefully, you will never need it, but if you do take some simple steps to get your family prepared, you will greatly help your family, you will be in a position to help your neighbors, and you will be one less person that our national emergency response team needs to worry about.
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