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Red Cross Stresses Network Support as Key to Emergency Preparedness

The recent spate of deadly disasters has communities increasingly interested in emergency preparedness and the Red Cross offers help, stressing community, access to information and putting it all in perspective.

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On the eve of National Preparedness Month and with hurricane season and wildfire season in full swing, the American Red Cross is making a push for emergency preparedness.

Although some natural disasters can be defined by seasons, the Red Cross recommends that people treat emergency preparedness as part of life, as they do with car safety. “You hop in your car, put on the seatbelt, hopefully choose a safe car, and then you just go on with your life,” said Steven Jensen, a member of the Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council.

“We want to see the same thing in preparedness, where people just take this on as part of their lifestyle; they understand where the risks are and they’ve done their best to manage them, but they get on with their life.”

Emergency managers have long tried to reach communities about emergency preparedness but with mixed results. But that tide has turned a bit with the occurrences of recent disasters, and the Red Cross wants to leverage this interest and send the message that just a few simple actions can change the outcome for families during a disaster.

“It doesn’t have to be this big mysterious, onerous thing,” Jensen said. “But you have to take it seriously and act and understand the environment you’re operating in.”

Disasters have been described as a problem of the natural environment in relation to the built-up environment and the social environment. For example, during an earthquake, if the built environment is strong it can withstand the shaking and if the people are prepared the damages could be minimal. However, if the built environment isn’t strong and people are not prepared, the damage could be catastrophic.

“The idea is that we can do specific things, based on the hazards in our area, to deal with this,” Jensen said. “Emergency managers are facilitators of that process. We understand local hazards, we understand where the built environment is vulnerable, and we can fix it and work with people to get them up to speed.”

There are a few people who are going to be prepared no matter what. And there are some who will never listen to preparedness messages. It’s the middle ground that emergency managers are working to reach.

Jensen breaks down preparedness into three parts. One is the community or network support. “Whether it’s church, school, neighborhood, the stronger we make those connections beforehand the more they’re going to be there for us after disaster strikes,” he said.

The second key to preparedness is access to information. The Red Cross points out that they provide information on their website and can supply needed information on request and work with community members anywhere.

The third piece is to have the capacity to adapt. “It’s nothing more than the way somebody has lived life, in a healthy way, in a changing environment,” Jensen said. He also said it’s the emergency manager’s job to facilitate that ability to adapt by providing the right information to the right people.

“Understanding what their needs are, how they’re going to respond to different kinds of information, understanding the culture and how we can make the message most relevant,” he said. “How can we work with local structures that are out there — churches, community organizations, sporting organizations where people gather.”

Of course, for families, businesses and individuals, having a plan and supplies (a kit) is part of being adaptable.

The kit doesn’t have to be elaborate and its contents will vary depending on the local threats and the needs of whoever is putting it together. It can be something that is put together gradually as things become affordable or purchased outright at one time.

Jensen points out that recovery can take a long time. “That’s been the experience of lots of families in recent disasters. We want to make sure we have things available to us in the kit that are going to make life a little more comfortable.”