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Reinventing the Civil Defense Wheel

With every new or recycled hazard there comes opportunity.

I got the following comment via email from a Disaster Zone Blog reader who provided his own commentary on an earlier blog post and article I did on civil defense. See below, in it he highlights how we may go full circle back to civil defense, but in doing so there might be a new opportunity to motivate elements of the general population to become prepared for disasters. Hope springs eternal!

"Your recent CD [Civil Defense] article brought back memories of my time at NORTHCOM as National Guard Advisor. I and many on the NGB and State staffs still knew old grey-haired folks (of which I am now one) who planned and operated civil defense organizations and couldn’t understand why we were trying to reinvent the wheel after 9/11. A friend of mine, Jack _____, who was the NY State Log Ops and Plans guy actually had an encyclopedia of old CD planning and ops guides on his shelf. Jack’s office was under the NY State Police HQs building, 60 feet down in the old nuke bunker, so he lived it every day.

The greater issue, I believe, is to continue our efforts to improve resilience at the lowest (individual) level. Major threats, e.g., nukes, require major investment and planning, but everyday preparedness is the foundational building block. I think Craig Fugate had it right when he coined the term “survivors” as opposed to "victims," implying that those survivors have an individual responsibility to understand what needs to be done to participate in response and recovery. Americans are notoriously complacent about most things, but if we challenge people with the right message, many will buy-in to the idea and will rise to that challenge.

The challenge for us then, is how to craft that message about civil responsibility when we can’t even get folks to buy an emergency radio …

Perhaps the emergence of different (not new) threats will bring the issue into clearer focus via news media hype, and thus present an opportunity to spread the recrafted message far and wide. There may be a silver lining in that cloud.

Thanks again for a great magazine!" 

Carl C. “Chip” Cumm, MPA

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