How do we convince the Public to be prepared for Disasters?

We know that it will make a huge difference in the overall impact to our communities, if we have the plans, procedures, equipment and supplies in place and ready to go before a natural or manmade hazard occurs.  However, one of the biggest challenges that Emergency Managers face is convincing the general public to become prepared for disasters.  A majority of Americans do not have an emergency plan, emergency supplies or even have a clear understanding of how they should respond to any given hazard.  What should we do to prepare the public?

First of all, Emergency Managers need to convince the public that disasters can happen and that they can be impacted by these disasters.  We need to describe the hazards that our localities can experience; the probability that they can occur; and give real life examples.  We need to make the possibility of disaster real, familiar and something that the public can relate. We should use examples that have already occurred in our communities.  Encourage those individuals you are speaking to, to give their own examples of hazards and disasters they may have experienced themselves.

Secondly, Emergency Managers need to educate the public on what they should do to be prepared.  Explain the actions they should take to protect themselves and their family members from harm; to protect their homes and property from damage; to stock certain supplies; and to plan for living without outside support.  We should make it easy to prepare and simple to understand.  We will need to provide good clear guidance in easy to read and understand documents.

Lastly, and perhaps the most challenging part of the process, Emergency Managers need to encourage the public to take the first steps towards preparedness.  They say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink.  We need to find new and innovative ways to get the public to take the actions necessary to actually complete the actions to prepare and stay prepared.

Emergency Management needs to make disaster preparedness a lifelong learning and doing activity for the public.  Preparedness should be incorporated into a child’s learning in day care center, elementary school and secondary school.  It should be integrated into trade schools, college programs, business schools, the workplace, and places of worship and community programs.

I will be the first to admit, that much of this is easier said than done.  Our society does not face the challenge of surviving from one day to the next like immediate ancestors did.  As such, we have become complacent and reliant on governmental and societal systems that will, and do, fail during disasters. If you have any ideas and thoughts on what actions Emergency Managers can take to convince the public to be better prepared for disasters, please feel free to comment on this article.  I look forward to further dialogue.

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