Emergency planning and preparedness should be right up there with brushing your teeth and eating chocolate. Disasters are always lurking around the corner, but we usually can’t see around the corner. It didn’t rain while Noah was building the Ark, no one believed it was possible. The US Geological Survey has increased the probability of the likelihood of a magnitude 8.0 or larger earthquake hitting California within the next few decades.
The “Big One” refers to the earthquake that many Californians have been waiting for years. A magnitude 8.0 earthquake or larger quake has a 7 percent chance of occurring in the next 30 years. The odds of a magnitude 6.5–7.0 earthquake hitting are 30 percent. If it were to hit, it would most likely come from the breaking of the San Andreas Fault, spanning the distance in southern California inland from Los Angeles.
Though no matter where the earthquake comes from, it is predicted to devastate all of California and other parts of the West Coast. Notwithstanding these dire predictions, construction and commerce continues at a frenzied level in this area. No one is suggesting that the economy and life should come to a stop in the wake of these predictions; however, careful prescriptive action plans should be developed for these potential disasters.
During the Hurricane Matthew response, I deployed to the east coast of Florida with a team of academy students. At one of the homes, we met Barbara who was in a state of shock and disbelief about the damage which the storm surge caused. Her small apartment was flooded with over two feet of water. When we first arrived at Barbara’s apartment and told her we were here to help she just stared at us like she was in a trance. She stated that she was just standing in her apartment trying to figure out how she was going to tackle her problem and the there was a knock on the door. She thought our timing was either impeccable or it was providential. We had to remove everything from her place—bed, dresser, clothes, furniture—everything! We took her clothes, all neatly hung on hangers in the closet straight to the trash because the combination of salt water, sewer spillage and humidity resulted in mold and mildew. Barbara basically lost everything except for a few items. Everything gone, no flood insurance and nowhere to go. Bad things happen to good people and we shake our head in disbelief. However, I witnessed good ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Strangers started talking and consoling each other, volunteers came out to assist in any way they could, the Red Cross had a truck handing out meals and people like Barbara just held their head in their hands and sobbed in disbelief at the genuine care and assistance which others provided.
We then went to Ron’s home. Ron is confined to a wheel chair and water flooded his entire bungalow house. We arrived at the same time that medical personnel were arranging to transport him and his wife to a safe location. We later discovered that Ron and his wife would not be returning to their house which they had lived in for many years.
Our team was focused on assisting victims and providing them with encouragement and support. However, these moments are fraught with challenges and unknowns. In disaster response, things happen that none of our old ideas or preconceived senses can help us understand. Sure, we have taken Psychological first aid and sensitivity classes but when you are in the midst of turmoil and facing an elderly man in a wheel chair in his house with water everywhere, sometimes words are not adequate or appropriate and some other. It is the “coup d’oeil” an instant glimpse of the distress and pain in this man’s face that tells the whole story
This business of disaster response is very personal and sensitive for the responders and we were constantly asking ourselves if we how we would respond if we were the victims. We cannot anticipate every disaster, but we can because more prepared by embracing an attitude of being proactive, rather than being reactive to events. However, the proclivity of human nature is to procrastinate and sometimes bad things happen. We need to equip ourselves with knowledge, training and a game plan so lives and property don’t have to be lost to lack of vision. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” was recently restated by Max Mayfield, Director of National Hurricane Center, “Preparation through education is less costly the learning through tragedy”.
Corporate vision has been myopic in believing that there is time to prepare. Remember, when disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed! It is imperative that all segments of society, corporate and individuals, get serious about disaster preparedness. For example, the U.S. federal government spent about $136 Billion on disaster relief and $ 718 Billion on defense in 2011. From those figures and other data, it looks like the powers that be are being reactive when it comes to disaster relief, and being proactive when it comes to defense. It shows where the priorities lie in regards to how the government views current threats to our safety and security.
Humanitarian efforts in disasters are critical and necessary. Everyone has a part to play, from the donors to the actual responders- we are all a team assisting a community which is hurting. To all of our volunteers and donors, we humbly thank you and look forward to your continuing support. Together we shall make a difference in the lives of others!