Being Ready, in Quake Zones or Snow ZonesBy ANDREW C. REVKIN
Nearly every person on the planet lives in a hazard zone of some sort, with the possibility of a severe storm or shaking ground or bomb or some other disturbance disrupting daily life for many days, if not weeks. Having the capacity, as a household and community, to respond and get by without help for a while is vital. A lot of resilience is afforded through a little planning and investment.
If I’d followed my colleague Tom Zeller’s advice and invested in a wood-stove-style insert for my fireplace — as I’ve muttered about for years — my family wouldn’t have had to sleep in a 45-degree house for four days in the wake of the epic snowstorm in the Northeast last week. (Although we still would have had to melt snow on our propane stove to flush the toilets; watch the video below for more survival tips from the snow zone.)
Preparing for the inconvenience of no heat or tap water for a few days — which can count as a disaster in prosperous countries — is a far cry from preparing for a potent hurricane or devastating inevitable seismic hit. But the benefits of some training and a little equipment are clear at every scale. The team of quake rescue volunteers I wrote about last week in the Bagcilar district of quake-threatened Istanbul has already helped respond to a terrorist bombing, a severe flood and a fire. As the lead organizer there explained to me, citing China’s earthquake as an example:
China has the biggest civil defense capability in the world, but it still took three or four days to reach the collapsed towns. If there is the big one here [or anywhere], you are all alone to cope with whatever you have, at least for the first 72 hours.
Below you can read more useful background on how to prepare for disaster, sent by Ilan Kelman, a senior research fellow at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. (Another focus of Dr. Kelman’s is how disasters, from quakes to climate disruption, foster –or don’t –cooperation among nations, a topic I touched on as United States Navy ships steamed toward the Haiti quake zone.)
Here’s Dr. Kelman’s note:
[T]here is plenty that everyone can and should be doing: create or join your local citizens disaster response team. For the U.S.A., the Community Emergency Response Teamprogram gives you what you need. There is even a curriculum for secondary schools: Teen SERT.
For more teams, see “Community Sustainability Teams” (a report Dr. Kelman wrote for a very useful consortium, Risk Reduction Education for Disasters. We all have a role to play in helping ourselves deal with disasters.
Creating community disaster teams has other advantages. People learn day-to-day skills such as first aid, can identify and can aim to solve causes of vulnerability in their community (such as tree branches overhanging power lines or garbage clogging drains), can meet their neighbors, and can build trust and community. The youth teams, in particular, have been life-forming events for some of the teenagers, getting them into the voluntary spirit and giving them practical experience that helps them get into university and to get jobs.
Consequently, these teams do not just sit around waiting for a disaster and then leap into action. Instead, weekly meetings, monthly activities or training, and annual exercises all build a sense of community, get participants thinking about sustainability and environmental issues, and teach people important skills for assisting neighbors, communicating with each other, and respecting and understanding similarities and differences. Ultimately, disaster teams improve individuals and communities in the absence of a disaster and then save lives when disasters occur.
Keep in mind that your chances of dying in a car accident far exceed the risks of any of the hazards described above — let alone of terrorism or a pandemic. But do have a look around your daily routine, neighborhood and home, consider risks from both “slow drips” (that flickering light fixture or dripping pipe) and “hard knocks” (your personal disaster exposure) and ponder ways to limit your regrets. That is a person-scale version of the ongoing planet-scale exercise here on Dot Earth.
Here’s a sampler of relevant readings and resources. What resources would you recommend?
- Are You Ready?, Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- Emergency Preparedness and Response, Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, United Nations.
- Duct Tape Risk Communication, Peter M. Sandman and Jody Lanard.
- Beyond Duct Tape: The Federal Government’s Role in Public Preparedness, James Jay Carafano.