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Disasters as Teachable Moments

One of the few good things that comes from a disaster is that it provides a teachable moment.

There are few benefits from disasters. People are injured and even killed. Property is damaged and destroyed. Communities are disrupted and businesses and jobs impacted — sometimes significantly.

One of the few benefits that comes with a disaster is the teachable moment, especially when people can see a particular event potentially impacting them and the people they love. For instance, talking about tornadoes here in Western Washington is not that effective because while we can experience them, they are infrequent and not very destructive (so far).

People have to personalize the experience. The earthquake in Haiti didn’t have the same aspect of warning people to become prepared because of the construction standards, or lack of them in that nation. However, the Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown was directly transferrable to this region of the world. Those are all disasters that can impact Washington State.

Unfortunately, the Oso mudslide was a disaster that caught people’s attention and they became interested in the topic of landslides and who and where might also be at risk.

You can listen to a media interview I did with one of the NPR Radio stations in this region, Oso's Lesson For Emergency Managers: 'We're Not Ready'

My goal was to impart some information that people listening might be able to act on. First and foremost, when you choose where to live, think about the potential hazards and avoid them!

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.