Since making landfall August 25th, communities across Texas and Louisiana have been grappling with the catastrophic impacts of Hurricane Harvey. They have been assisted by people from across the country who have come to the aid of the millions of residents affected by this disaster. While the primary focus of the volunteer workers helping organize the relief operation is and will remain the human and emotional cost, the work that will be required to restore these communities will not take weeks or even months, but years. The financial toll the disaster will have on residents, local governments and the state economy will easily be billions of dollars in cost and lost economic opportunity.
Years ago I worked as a Disaster Relief Coordinator for the American Red Cross through the AmeriCorps Program, a program of the Corporation for National & Community Service. I have deployed to a total of 11 disaster relief operations since 2001, coordinating relief efforts in disaster zones for anywhere from 30 to 60 days each time.
Through these experiences I learned one very important lesson that rings as true today as ever before: be prepared. September is National Preparedness Month. Many of us like to think of ourselves as being prepared: California is earthquake country, after all. But are we really prepared, as individuals and as a community, for the sorts of disasters that come with no warning at all? In 2005 I spent 60 days helping direct Hurricane Katrina/Rita relief in Louisiana. I had been to Louisiana before, having worked on Hurricane Lili relief in 2002 - this was a state filled with communities that were accustomed to hurricanes and considered themselves prepared for disasters. The truth was, however - nobody was prepared for Katrina. The devastation from Katrina, even 12 years later, was so overwhelming that the population of New Orleans still remains almost 100,000 people fewer than it was in the 2000 census. Moral of the story: while many of us like to think we are prepared for the next Oakland Hills fire or the next Loma Prieta Quake, we need to do much more to prepare.
Grand Isle, Louisiana - Katrina 2005
There are several things we can and should do as individuals and as a community. As residents, families and neighbors, we should all take the steps necessary to develop a disaster action plan for our household.
The government website Ready.gov and the American Red Cross both offer guides and tools I personally recommend that can help you develop a disaster plan for yourself. Through these websites you can prepare to shelter, evacuate, communicate and survive those initial days when help may not reach you. To learn about the most important steps for you and your family, consider starting with these particular items:
- The Parent's Checklist for Communicating with Children during a disaster, provided by FEMA.
- The Kid's Guide to disaster preparedness.
- A Pet Owner's Guide that is endorsed by the ASPCA.
- If you're looking for more advanced guidance on how to financially prepare yourself for a natural disaster, there is a large toolkit for that as well.
- The American Red Cross guide will help you prepare an emergency preparedness kit to help you survive for three days in the event of an evacuation and 2 weeks if you are required to shelter in place.
Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans, Louisiana - Katrina 2005
There are other steps you can take to better prepare everyone for a disaster. The American Red Cross offers courses and trainings to help people learn important life-saving skills that can be very important when a disaster strikes. Every business and school in Emeryville should offer CPR/First Aid training at least once a year to its employees. If you are trapped at work or school during a disaster and are injured, having coworkers who know how to help you is often critical to survival when emergency services are responding to thousands of calls. Consider contacting a local Red Cross chapter and bringing new skills to your work or school environment!
Teaching Basic Aid to Public School Students
The obligation to prepare is not limited to individuals, families and businesses. The City of Emeryville has an affirmative duty to prepare for not "if" but "when." We are not immune from earthquakes, fires, and rising sea levels. When disaster strikes, our city needs to deliver a calm, coordinated emergency response that ensures emergency services are available to our community. I am committed to creating a safe and prepared community that can overcome natural disasters when they strike.
Specifically, I will be asking my colleagues to identify and use unspent one-time funds to increase funding for the city's Disaster Fund during our discussion of the city budget at the Council Meeting on September 5th. The fund currently has a balance of $1,354,457.01. Best practices for a city our size calls for a reserve of at least $5 million. We must work now to build up that fund so that we are prepared for the cost of providing emergency services during a disaster. Additionally, I will be working with community stakeholders to bring a disaster preparedness event to the city in 2018.
I encourage everyone to get involved. Kids love developing and practicing an evacuation plan, so do one! Do you have neighbors who are seniors, frail or live alone? - consider making your plans to include them! We are strongest when we are looking out for one another.
Wishing you and yours safety during National Preparedness Month and all year round.