One of the primary safety tasks in sailing is reefing the mainsail – lowering it partway in a heavy wind to make the boat easier to manage. There is a classic sailor’s saying about reefing the mainsail: “if you are asking if it’s time to do it, it’s already past that time”.
I learned this lesson the hard way – on a short sail close to the California coast from Oceanside to Dana Point. The winds were brisk and steady. Fortunately, my husband, who is a much more experienced sailor, noticed the weather was changing and discussed reefing. Then he quoted that aphorism, reefed the sails and when the wind gusted up we were fine. But, this is a mistake lots of experienced sailors make – not denying the wind will come up, but denying it will come up so quickly that they can’t manage it.
This is part of “normalcy bias”; a mental state of denial when facing a disaster or pending danger. Normalcy bias leads people to underestimate and minimize the possibility of a disaster actually happening. Until it does – and then they frantically try to reef their sails in heaving seas.
We see normalcy bias a lot in emergency management. Most recently, some of those folks in Oklahoma City, who finally decided to react to the impending danger (the disastrous tornadoes) and – against the strong requests from state and local officials to shelter-in-place and stay off the roads –spontaneously evacuated and gridlocked the freeways, which put a whole lot of people in danger.
I was reading some of the preliminary reports (lessons learned are still being sorted out), and thought about the blog I wrote earlier this year about evacuation behavior and evacuation zones around nuclear power plants. It was about a report in which the NRC suggested large evacuations during an incident put the closest public at increased risk because of traffic conditions and delays as the public furthest from the risk evacuated – whether they were asked to or not. In Oklahoma City, the public was specifically asked NOT to evacuate, tried anyway, and put a lot of people directly in the tornado’s path.
Normalcy bias in evacuation behavior: denying or overreacting to a pending disaster, then acting inappropriately, thereby putting one’s self and others in danger.
This is frustrating because it is such an intractable problem. We can’t convince the public to be prepared; we can’t convince the public to follow directions when they aren’t prepared.
In an interview with NPR, Rick Smith the warning-coordination meteorologist for the NWS in Norman, OK, talked about warnings, information, and human behavior. Smith allowed as this was a complex issue and tackling it would take a group effort by “people who understand — or attempt to understand — human behavior and messaging and all kinds of things.”
Good news! Some people have already done that! There is a lot of social science research, going back to 1990 (Mileti and Sorenson: Communication of emergency public warnings) and 1992 (Lindell and Perry: Behavioral Foundations of Community Emergency Planning). You can find these and more here.
The issue is no longer about understanding public behavior.
The challenge now is modifying public behavior.
What we need is a good, sticky message that targets normalcy bias. Any ideas out there?
In the realm of emergency management higher education, the annual FEMA Higher Education Conference is the event that brings us all together. Usually held the first week in June at the NETC campus in Emmitsburg, it attracts over 400 people, both academians and practitioners.
This conference – more than anything else – has benefited the process of moving Emergency Management from a vocation to a profession. My friend (and fellow blogger) from the dark side, Lu Canton, described it best:
“… (it) provides an opportunity for academics, researchers and practitioners to come together in a collegial atmosphere to discuss our ideas for higher education curricula for future emergency managers.”
I say it attracts “over 400 people” because I can’t get the exact number for last year. FEMA removed the past 15 years of conference proceedings from the Higher Ed website sometime before they cancelled the Higher Ed Conference for 2013.
Okay, they didn’t exactly cancel it; they moved it online, and shortened it, and now totally control the conversation. The official announcement says:
To maximize the use of technologies and for greater efficiencies, the 2013 Higher Education Symposium will be conducted via a series of 4 targeted, topical, focused discussion areas presented via an on-line, web based platform. … These virtual symposiums will be held in lieu of the Higher Education Conference.
I know. It doesn’t sound all that appealing, does it?
The Higher Ed Project and annual conference have an interesting history. Back in 1994, Kay C. Goss then Associate FEMA Director for National Preparedness, Training and Exercises, and John McKay, the Director of FEMA Training, created the FEMA Higher Education Project. At that time, there were few higher education degree programs, and the idea was for FEMA to solve some of their educational and training challenges by partnering with colleges and universities. The venerable Dr. B. Wayne Blanchard was brought onboard to manager the Project and expand the program – which he did very well, indeed!
In 1997, FEMA began hosting an annual conference to bring all interested parties together. The attendance that first year was about 80. In 2011, it was over 400. That is a 500% increase in participation in 14 years, which is very impressive.
Over the past few weeks, there had been rumors going around that the conference was in jeopardy of being cancelled, that it was one of the programs on the FEMA chopping block because of the sequester. This was really odd because FEMA pays very little to host the Higher Ed Conference. Everyone pays their own travel and for the infamous EMI meal ticket. The first to register get one of the dorm rooms on the campus, and the rest stay off campus. Volunteers help the small Project staff put together the agenda and program. There are even student volunteers to record the conference proceedings!!
We were all hoping the Conference would survive. But it didn’t. At this point, the decision has been made. It is too late to reinstate it.
My concern is the precedent. Does this mean the whole Program is in jeopardy? Will the conference happen next year? What else does FEMA have lined up for the chopping block? The sequester is being implemented as a death from a thousand cuts. Who knows what is next to be cut?
In this case, the decision to cancel the Higher Ed Conference was made by the current Superintendent of FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute, Tony Russell. I blogged about him when he addressed last year’s Conference, very shortly (11 days) after he was appointed to the position. He talked about creating an ‘ocean of predictability’ , balancing the barrier between practitioners and academia, and partnerships that benefit the profession.
I thought about sending Superintendent Russell an email about how disappointing it is that the Conference was cancelled, because the only thing predictable now is how much more difficult it will be to balance those barriers.
I decided to write this blog instead.
There isn’t much left to say about what happened in Boston on Monday. As I write this, the manhunt is over, the lockdown was lifted, and the cities are adjusting to a new normal.
From an Emergency Management perspective, I believe this will turn out to be a case study for an efficient, coordinated and collaborative response to an unexpected event from every responder – especially the public, the medical community, local and federal law enforcement.
I watched closely for the first 5-6 hours; then I just listened occasionally and watched for official updates. This is a personal lesson learned from being too closely captivated by disasters I wasn’t directly involved in. The event will proceed whether I’m glued to my TV or computer screen, or not.
Emergency Managers, like others who deal with emergencies every day, learn how to distance themselves emotionally from the events surrounding a disaster. That’s the only way to keep enough perspective to manage all the details coming into an EOC: communication, mutual aid, personnel, shelters, staging, triage, barricades, evacuation and so on.
As I watched the events in Boston, I realized that is exactly what I was doing. I was critically watching the videos for organization and control, listening to the news and sifting out the rumors, following the official – and unofficial – tweets. I appreciated the coverage on NPR, where Steve Inskeep (Morning Edition) kept reminding us that he was “collecting dots, not connecting dots.”
I’m not suggesting Emergency Managers aren’t emotionally affected by these kinds of disasters; that comes later, when we replay the decisions that were made and think about how our actions effect the safety and security of the people we are responsible for. We translate our experience into preparedness training - for ourselves and the public.
I wrote a couple blogs recently about disaster preparedness messaging. One was about sticky messages and one about using the Zombies Apocalypse as a meme to create teachable moments – when it is possible for a teacher to break through the apathy and get a message across. We want people to prepare for the unexpected, but we struggle with how to get their attention and convince them.
The request for the public to shelter-in-place during the Boston Marathon Bombings is just such a teachable moment.
I would hazard a guess that a whole lot of people didn’t know what shelter-in-place meant before Thursday, and now it will become part the public lexicon. It’s different than a snow day (Boston has that one covered). Shelter-in-place requests are generally limited – in time and scope.
Asking the public to shelter-in-place isn’t an unusual request, either – although it is more often used because of a chemical spill or, more recently, at schools during a shooter scare. It’s a way to keep people safe – and out of the way – until the responders can contain the area or eliminate the threat.
The shelter-in-place request for the Boston region was from civil authorities, complied with willingly, for 12+hours, by over 1 million people, on a beautiful Spring day.
It was the epitome of a large-scale, unexpected, public event – one that could have been longer and more traumatic than it was.
What is the message we should be spreading about the shelter-in-place request in the Boston Metropolitan Region?
“This really happened in Boston. It could easily happen to you …
“… and it’s a good idea to keep some emergency supplies in your home, office and car just in case. Here – let me give you a list to get you started.”
The emotional impact of those videos, tweets and news reports will do the rest.
Teachable moments are rare opportunities. This one is an entirely plausible, yet unexpected, event. It was a situation almost everyone can imagine happening to them. Taking precautions against it are not complicated, unreasonable or especially onerous.
I would like to see everyone be prepared for those catastrophic events we always talk about, to be independent for several weeks, and in a position to help their neighbors.
In the meantime, I would settle for everyone being prepared to spend a day stranded at home, work, on the subway, or in their car.
Because … it’s a start.
Talking about sticky disaster preparedness messages is one thing; debating the best way to instill the message of disaster preparedness is another; cutting through the talk and actually doing something is rare.
We all agree the best way to institutionalize disaster preparedness is to start with the kids. There are lots of attempts, some successful and some not. Teen Cert is a good example of a program that has legs in a lot of communities. But even those are limited. Wouldn’t it be nice to have actual schools for younger students who wanted to begin training as future emergency management professionals?
Here are two examples: one national and one international.
I. In September, New York City will open 78 new schools and one of them will address their long-term response strategy to Hurricane Sandy: a public high school of emergency management. The documents filed at the Department of Education says the freshman class will be 108 students and will collaborate with FEMA, DHS, Red Cross, and others. It will offer students “one of three "majors" meant to lead to a specific career in the field: Emergency Management, Response and Recovery, and Emergency Technology Communications.”
II. The World Disaster Management Community College opened last fall in Kanana, South Africa with 32 students who graduated at the top of their secondary school classes and don’t have the means to attend University. It is part of the “Every Child Is Ours Foundation” and has a major advocate: Kay C. Goss. They have an awesome blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and an email. They are serious, dedicated and taking full advantage of this opportunity.
These are both impressive accomplishments. It's a trend that could catch on …
The blog I posted about Sticky Messages generated lots of great comments about disaster messaging and got me to thinking about a different kind of messaging: memes.
The term meme was coined by a British biologist, Richard Dawkins, using evolutionary theory to explain how ideas exist, change, live and die. He compared the life of a meme to biological evolution; the meme adapting and passing traits (ideas and models) to succeeding generations, which helped it endure – or not – throughout time.
The concept was co-opted in the 90’s by the memetics movement, which immediately split into opposing camps about how to use them and the concept has since mutated into a staple of the internet – thereby proving Dawkins’ theory correct.
Sticky messages vs meme? A sticky message is a building block of a meme: short, not very mutable. A meme is contagious and evolves over time as it passes from one person to the next. (Like the flu.) Sticky messages are picked up and discarded by the meme as it evolves, like pieces of DNA.
A meme can also be sticky – in fact, the stickiness factor is the key to spreading a meme. And what is more sticky and meme-like than zombies? Zombies have evolved from a religious figure in an African religion to a literary creature then into movies, TV series and pop culture and, finally, (maybe) into a symbol for disaster preparedness.
That latest evolution for zombies happened back in October of 2009 at the University of Florida at Gainsville, when Doug Johnson, the assistant director for Learning Services, created a sticky meme. He wrote an exercise plan about a Zombie Apocalypse as part of their H1N1 planning and posted it on the university web site.
I remember how clever I thought the whole idea was, but before I could get a copy, the UF Chief Information Officer had it taken down because of the national media attention. It was reposted 14 days later. If you failed to get a copy then, you can get one now from the UF library.
Its real popularity, and what distinguishes it as a disaster preparedness meme, was a blog posted on May 16, 2011 by the Director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response for the CDC, Rear Admiral Ali S. Khan, titled Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse. The resulting traffic crashed the CDC website. The tweet had in excess of 1.2 million followers. Here is a snippet from the blog:
The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder “How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?”
Who is going to argue with the CDC? If they could use zombies in disaster preparedness – so could Kansas and Ohio and Delaware and Maine and … DHS at the Halo Counterterrorism summit in San Diego last October. Brad Barker, president of the security firm, Halo Corp, said: "No doubt when a zombie apocalypse occurs, it's going to be a federal incident, so we're making it happen.”
Earlier this month, a professor at Clemson University in South Carolina suggested that the obsession with zombies is (according to the TIME newsfeed) “part of a historical trend that mirrors a level of cultural dissatisfaction and economic upheaval.”
I’m not so sure about that. Take a look at zombieHunters.org. This is a seriously funny prepper website based on the ‘zombie’ theme some Emergency Managers are becoming so fond of, with tons of really great information, forums, events and connections – all things that could be incorporated into your programs.
So start thinking about how to spread the sticky messages we need to incorporate into this Disaster Preparedness meme:
- You’re on your own for at least three days.
- Water, Shelter, Food.
- Mutual aid is as far as you can walk in a day.
- If you can’t carry it, you don’t need it.
- Brains are just not a high energy food. (OK - this last one is for April Fool's Day.)
Why can’t Emergency Managers succeed in getting the message across to the public that they should be prepared for a disaster? We all try very hard, and yet survey after survey shows that people just aren’t internalizing the message.
I have an idea. Perhaps the messages don’t work because NOT understanding the curse of knowledge stops us from using the stickiness factor.
Stay with me here and let me explain:
The stickiness factor came from thoughts on effective messaging that author Malcolm Gladwell described in The Tipping Point. This is how he explains it:
"But the hard part of communication is often figuring out how to make sure a message doesn’t go in one ear and out the other. Stickiness means that the message makes an impact. You can’t get it out of your head. …Unless you remember what I tell you, why would you ever change your behavior or buy my product or to go to see my movie?"
Sticky messages have such memorable content and such an impact they are vividly recalled with just a few clues. When you see or hear a sticky message, you just know the story behind it. Proverbs and urban legends are inherently sticky. Advertising aspires to be sticky, entertainment can produce really sticky images. For example:
- The early bird gets the worm.
- Waking up in a tub of ice, with a note on your chest.
- Snap! Crackle! Pop!
- Make it so.
How to make a message sticky is detailed very well in the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. They took Gladwell’s thoughts (admitting it freely) and said sticky messages have six principles in common: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. Great book – make it part of your real or virtual bookshelf, and they did a nice interview on NPR.
The “curse of knowledge” concept came out of a game created by a PhD student (Elizabeth Newton) at Stanford back in the 90’s. You have probably heard of it – the tappers and listeners game.
Very simply, she asked one group to tap out the rhythm of a well-known song and the other group listened and tried to guess what the song was. The tappers predicted how many songs the listeners would be able to guess and they thought about 50%. The success rate was really, really low – like 2.5%. The tappers were surprised the listeners couldn’t guess – it seemed pretty obvious to them! The tappers could hear the song complete with music and rhythm in their heads, but the listener only heard a disconnected set of dots and dashes.
Bottom line: The curse of knowledge makes it almost impossible to create a sticky message.
Emergency managers create emergency preparedness messages to share what we know about disasters with the public. We want those message to be sticky. But our own knowledge has ‘cursed’ us, because it is hard to imagine what it is like to NOT know what we know. If we only create messages that resonate with us, we can’t just assume they are going to resonate with public.
What is it we want to tell the public? Be prepared to withstand a disaster.
What do we tell them? Be informed. Make a Plan. Build a kit.
Not a real ‘sticky’ message, is it?
What do we really want to say? Be prepared to help yourself because we can’t help everyone.
Now that’s a sticky message.
The one plan most emergency managers dread writing is the evacuation plan. This is because regardless of how comprehensive and reasonable it is, or how detailed and rational, - there is a high rate of non-compliance from the public.
It doesn’t even matter what kind of disaster we are planning for.
Case in point: I happen to live with a nuclear power engineer-type who has learned quite a bit about emergency management in the past 10 years. He points out articles in his world that bridge into mine. The most recent was from the Atomic Insights blog titled “Increasing Evacuation Zones actually increase risk in case of reactor accident.”
Emergency response for a nuclear power incident has traditionally included evacuation of the surrounding population beyond a arbitrary radius (general 10 miles). The concept was that the radiation dose would decrease radically from the incident site, and at 10 miles would decrease to an acceptable level. This was all based on an NRC report from 1980.
After 9/11, the NRC initiated a reassessment of the effects of a severe reactor accident, complete with one of those inexplicable acronyms: “The “State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses” (SOARCA) project was completed and released in June 2012.
It is a very detailed and comprehensive and somewhat incomprehensible report (to a layman). The abstract notes that because of previous and ongoing research, “analyses of severe accidents at nuclear power reactors are more detailed, integrated and realistic than at any time in the past.”
Buried down on page 84 of that report, under the subtitle “Sensitivity Analyses on the Size of the Evacuation Zone” is this statement:
Analysis of Figure 15 and 16 also shows that expanding the evacuation size from a 10 mile radius to a 20 mile radius results in increased LCF risk for people in the 0-10 mile area. SOARCA analyses show that an evacuation beyond the area closest to the plant will delay those most at risk, i.e., closest to the plant. The increased risk to the population within 10 miles of the plant is due to slower evacuation speeds because of additional traffic congestion and delays that result from evacuation of a larger population.
Basically, the larger the evacuation zone, the more exposure for those people closest to the event because of the traffic inherent in any evacuation, especially one that is likely to be as fraught with both real and imaginary consequences as an incident at a nuclear power plant.
This isn’t news to emergency managers. Evacuation planning is complicated and made more so by politicians who demand unreasonable planning parameters and a public who don’t pay attention. Emergency Managers also know that regardless of the evacuation limits, disasters come with shadow evacuations – that group of people who are not required to evacuate, but try it anyway, causing even more traffic delay.
You’d think the ‘shadow evacuees’ would be balanced out by the ‘cry wolf’ effect – those people who refuse to evacuate – and then cause their own suite of response problems. But that would be way too easy.
There have been some studies about evacuation behavior, including this one looking at hurricanes in South Carolina.
There weren't many surprises: fewer people are willing to evacuate for a Category 1 or 2 hurricane, and a third are uncertain whether they were located in a storm surge or Flood zone. It also suggested that shadow evacuations could significantly increase the evacuating population and potentially put more people in harms’ way.
The solution to this problem is difficult. It falls somewhere between trying to modify human behavior and modifying emergency plans to account for human behavior. I’m not sure which would be easier.
Sometimes the disagreements in emergency management between practitioners and academics isn’t as pronounced as it is thought.
Case in point is a report that was actually released a year ago – but just came to my attention. Maybe you missed it, too. If so, don’t get distracted by its title: “The ISCRAM Future Threat Delphi: Nostradamus Revisted.”
ISCRAM is the acronym for "Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management". It’s an international group that researches information systems for crisis management and response. They have a conference coming up in Baden Baden, Germany in May and the program is impressive. One of the panels is being done by the several German agencies and is called: “Closing the Gap between Practitioner’s Needs and Scientific Results.”
Sounds good to me. It is only €750 for registration. Plus travel, of course.
Anyway, during the ISCRAM conference in 2012, the Future Threat Delphi paper was released and this is how it was described:
"During a 5 month period from November 2011 to March 2012, 36 professionals participated in an exploratory two-round Delphi to develop a list of 86 threats in 11 categories important for the next decade which they felt were not now receiving adequate planning or adequate development of mitigation options. This involved 14 academics studying Emergency Preparedness and Management, eight practitioners in Emergency Management, and 14 professionals in other related fields…..The second round included a rating of all the threats developed on the first round."
A Delphi is a process based on the assumption that a forecast from a group is more valid than from an individual – so panels of experts are pulled together to address a particular topic. The list of participants in this Delphi was impressive and from all over the world. I only know three of them: Steve Davis, Lawrence Province and Rick Tobin.
I’m not going to get into all the particulars, you can go check it out yourself. The report goes into a lot more detail about all 86 threats identified by the Delphi group, including comments and suggestions for realistic mitigation efforts.
These are the ten events with the highest mean average and majority of the votes from the Delphi group as the most important – as yet unaddressed – threats during the next decade:
- Disruption of electrical power
- Disruption of essential information services
- Population growth
- Reoccurring financial crisis or a true major recession
- Tornadoes and floods
- Critical infrastructure breakdown due to aging
- Vulnerability of cyber infrastructure
- Open conflict between two leading countries of the world
- Increasing frequency and severity of extreme climate events.
What caught my attention is that there was only one item in all 86 that showed a statistically significant difference in how the groups voted.
This is how one of the authors (Murray Turoff) of the report put it:
"This one was sort of amusing because academics and emergency managers both thought the others had different views and out of 86 threats they came up with for the next decade there was only one where there was significant disagreement on importance of the threat for better planning."
The difference was in the threat “Development of New Technologies That Can Aid Terrorism”. Practitioners gave a higher importance rating to this item than the other groups.
These are the blogs related to the one you are about to read:
Doomsday Preppers are Socially Selfish (posted 11/29)
Doomsday Preppers vs Disaster Preppers (posted 12/2)
Doomsday Preppers: Mea Culpa (posted 12/4)
The Case for the Lifestyle Prepper (posted 12/8)
Merging Preppers with Emergency Management (posted 12/11)
NOTE: My blog about Doomsday Preppers touched a lot of nerves in the prepper community. When I apologized, I offered space for preppers to describe who they are, what they do and how they do it. This was from a self-described “new” prepper, who started her email to me by saying: “I doubt that you will publish what I have to say because I am so new to prepping. However, I wanted to share with you a bit of WHY I prep now and what our family is doing as new preppers.”
I started thinking about prepping when I came across a presentation about 37 things to stock up on in case of a crisis. I went ahead and bought some of the books that were being sold and read them. I had not really thought about prepping much - although we have often bought in case lot sales and purchased “loss leaders" from stores to stock up ahead a bit. My mom often talked about the depression and how hard it was - but how when she talked to friends later they talked about how lucky she was to have lived on a farm because at least she had "something" to eat - whereby they often went to bed hungry. I think that is part of why I liked to keep a full pantry.
As I started thinking about stocking up more on food, I also started thinking about things like "what if the power goes out?" and "Oh yeah...we need water too". I got my family together and we split up some of the researching tasks to look into gardening, herbal medicine, water storage and purification, solar energy, etc.
In the last month we've planted fruit trees and bushes, ordered books on some of these topics, started a garden using "square foot gardening" methods, and more. We're researching the best solar backup for our electricity - and yes - even looking into purchasing guns and ammunition - because we believe that at some point in the future that right will be taken away from us....so we're going to get them now.
Part of my problem is that I have friends I care about that don't formally prepare at all - unless perhaps a hurricane is bearing down on them. One family has a new baby and while the baby is still being breastfed, I found myself worrying about them running out of water for mom and dad or their apartment getting too cold due to the electric going off. I worry how they'll cook food for themselves or if they even have anything on hand to cook for themselves. I have other friends in the Tx/La area that have been through hurricanes and I know that they prepare somewhat ahead of time when they get a warning … but what if something else happened and their power went down or something?
My biggest concern right now though is inflation and how it is going to affect people and their ability to buy food. Let me give you an example. According to the LDS Preparedness Manual (I am not LDS) - they have a list of recommended food for one person for one year. Every year they price those same items - and between 2008 and January of 2012 - those items went up....33%. That is right - a 33% increase in food in 4 years.
That sounds bad - right?
I had heard earlier to expect wheat-based and corn-based products to start going up in price around the first of the year due to the crops (and as my son has since pointed out - expect meat and chicken to go up too) - so I was going to focus my "stocking-up" in December on wheat-based products. (I am trying to save up one year's worth of groceries in case my husband were to lose his job or we had friends in need, etc).
So now I am VERY concerned about inflation and when we get my husband's Christmas bonus on the 14th, you can believe we're stocking up on wheat-based products - probably up to 18 months worth - to give time for a new crop to come in.
Anyway - as I said, I'm a new prepper. Right now I'm still in the "let's store up some food" stage and "let's get a garden going and some fruit trees and bushes going" and I'm learning skills like canning and dehydrating and looking forward to making herbal medicines, etc.
This way - if we ever have a disaster happen in our area - FEMA will have four less mouths to feed....and we can take care of ourselves.
Peg (aka TexasMama)
These are the blogs related to the one you are about to read:
Doomsday Preppers are Socially Selfish (posted 11/29)
Doomsday Preppers vs Disaster Preppers (posted 12/2)
Doomsday Preppers: Mea Culpa (posted 12/4)
The Case for the Lifestyle Prepper (posted 12/8)
A Short Note From A New Prepper (posted 12/13)
NOTE: Last weekend, I wrote a blog about Doomsday Preppers that resulting in an overwhelming number of unfavorable – and ultimately instructive – comments. I apologized and then offered space for preppers to respond. The first one was from the prepper who’d help me alter my opinions about what I had written. The next one was from a ‘lifestyle’ prepper with a rural, farming background. This one is from an emergency manager in Tennessee.
It seems to me preppers and emergency managers share 90% of the same goals. We both want strong resilient communities that can respond effectively and recover quickly from disasters of all types. We both recognize that resources are limited, and that preparation is needed to mitigate the effects of disaster.
The emergency management community has long held that every family needs some level disaster supply – the numbers range from 72 hours to one month of resources. Preppers have heeded the call, and in large numbers exceeded the recommended supplies because they want to ensure that they are not a burden on an already overworked response network.
In my opinion, both groups of people should learn to work together; such a partnership will benefit both parties. Emergency managers have long used ham radio operators during large scale disasters. Ham operators have specialized knowledge, skills, and equipment that is personally owned so that they are not dependent on government infrastructure to communicate. That sounds a lot like the prepping community, and as a point of fact, many ham radio operators are preppers.
However, one thing that worries emergency managers about preppers (and the public in general) is the problem of unaffiliated volunteers. Volunteers that spontaneously show up, and begin work without any coordination can complicate response activities, in many cases untrained and underequipped volunteers can become a danger and need rescuing, which takes away from the total emergency response. Ham Operators have been able to organize pre-disaster and become part of the response team, so that the emergency response incorporates their talents and abilities and makes them a part of the response framework. They do this by forming groups and then having the group volunteer with the local officials.
Preppers can do the same thing. I know that if a tree falls on my road, during a disaster, I am likely as not to just dig out my chainsaw and clear it. I am not going to ask permission; if it needs doing a prepper will probably do it. That’s how we are. However, if that clearing activity was part of the coordinated disaster response, then the local government can get “credit” for clearing the road; this credit can be used toward the state’s share of the response costs. Presidentially Declared disaster allows the federal government to pay a majority of the costs associated with the response and recovery. Typically that state has to cover 25% of the costs of the disaster; however, much of this can be “in kind” meaning labor and consumables. When volunteers are used, no money changes hands, but it provides a significant cost savings to local and state governments. Volunteer work saves local tax dollars, as well as speeds up disaster response, which is a huge win for emergency managers.
In return for this cooperation, preppers can get additional training, experience, and insight into areas of disaster response that may be new to them. I know that I am a much better prepared citizen because of the training I have received as a part of the governmental response. If preppers reached out to emergency management, we can lead by example, and begin to be seen as the valuable citizen resource we are.
If emergency mangers reach out to the prepping community we have a built in group of highly skilled, dedicated, knowledgeable volunteers that have many essential skills and abilities, who have proven themselves responsible, and who do not need much more than coordination and some direction.
We can continue to distrust each other, and allow the 10% differences between us keep us separated, or we can focus on our goals and our commonality and make both groups, as well as our communities, stronger than either of us can do alone.
One thing is certain, disasters will continue to happen, and I for one don’t care if I am called a prepper, or an emergency manager, because I care about ensuring the safety and security of my family, my community, and my state, and no one disagrees about that.
David Nash (email@example.com)
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