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Emergency preparedness: Something to talk about

After spending yesterday in a planning retreat for the United Way of King County Systems Support Impact Council, disaster preparedness is on my mind.  How do we best increase the resiliency of our communities? 

I’m not really prepared to answer that question fully, but I believe that one of the most important steps to building our resiliency is talking about the issues.  This builds our relationships with one another (within and across agencies), and raises our awareness.  I certainly feel that I have learned a great deal through our council conversations over the past few years.  The following is a list of little things I’ve learned that I found interesting, thought-provoking or useful.  I hope you do as well, and that it gets you talking!

  • If you don’t want to store and rotate a stock of water at your home or office, and you are located near a body of water (as most of us are in Seattle), consider purchasing a backpacker’s water filter.  This will allow you to access plenty of fresh water in the event of an emergency, and is small and easy to store.
  • If you are on the go a lot, make sure you have basic disaster supplies in your car.
  • An important part of your organization’s business continuity plan (the plan for how you will continue to serve the community in the event of a disaster) is staffing.  What will your staff do in the event of an emergency?  Will they report to work, or be more likely to attend to their family and personal affairs?  If you haven’t discussed it, rest assured you won’t be seeing most of them anytime soon.  One strategy to ensure that your staff pulls together in the event of a disaster is to make your office the best place to be—with supplies to shelter in place, camaraderie and leadership.  You may even want to let them know in advance that their families will be welcome to join them, as they will naturally want to stay together.
  • Another issue for staff in today’s sprawling urban areas is transportation.  Perhaps your staff may not be able to report to work safely if they live some distance away.  This may require a community level solution.  Local food banks have mapped where staff live in relation to area food banks, so they can be encouraged to report to work at the food bank closest to their home rather than their usual place of work if needed.
  • Financial reserves are a key preparedness issue for nonprofit organizations.  Don’t expect to receive either regular or emergency funds for some time following a disaster, and do plan on meeting payroll.  This point is underscored by the article Community Family Health:  Built to Last, which traces the recovery efforts of a Mississippi Gulf Coast nonprofit organization after Katrina.  (You should also keep some cash in your emergency kit at home.)
  • Don’t think that first responders (police and fire) can take care of everything.  In fact, they will be busy putting out fires and assisting the injured, but will move on quickly to the next area of urgent need rather than staying to maintain order or hand out food and water in your neighborhood.  Also, keep in mind that Seattle has one of the lowest per capita ratios of first responders in the nation.   Instead, think about how you and your (work or home) neighbors can take care of each other.
  • Think about how you can build disaster preparedness into the things you are already doing.  For example, when your organization is developing ideas for giveaways (swag), why not provide staff, donors and clients with items that will increase their safety, such as keychain lights, whistles and flashlights?  Since you had a budget for chatchkas anyway, you won’t have to spend extra.
  • For more information and ideas, check out King County’s 3days3ways website.

Note that this list includes individual, organizational and community level preparedness ideas.  Generally, starting with the individual level and working up from there is advised. 

3 Responses to Emergency preparedness: Something to talk about

  1. Education at the community level is key to spreading awareness needs to the public. Unfortunately the topic is not very exciting, leaving most of us generally unmotivated. Great advice here for the individual and organizations. On a different note, I’ve noticed a good amount of preparedness news and events coming out of the Pacific Northwest over the last few months. Has this always been the case?

  2. Good question. The windstorms in November, 2006, and the recent flooding in Lewis County (December, 2007), have heightened awareness in Western Washington. However, I see the well-publicized debacles in disaster response following Katrina have been the biggest factor in raising awareness and moving people to action.