As our thoughts and prayers go out to those struggling to recover from Hurricane Harvey’s destruction, as we watch images of neighbors helping neighbors, we are reminded of a central truth in emergency preparedness: when we have an isolated emergency at our building, help will arrive quickly. But in a major regional emergency, no help will arrive for hours, days, and possibly even weeks. As so many in Texas are demonstrating, in a regional disaster, we all become first responders.
Many residents went weeks after Hurricane Katrina before receiving help from state or federal agencies. Given the magnitude of the earthquake threat in the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Office of Emergency Management recently raised its recommendation for how long people should be able to survive on their own from 3 days to up to two weeks.
Whether the threat is from hurricanes, earthquakes, flash flooding, or other regional events like dust storms and wildfires, large regional disasters force us to fall back and rely on our individual and organizational preparedness. Individuals, companies, schools, and organizations all need to be ready to provide food, water, shelter, sanitation, and limited medical care to those in their care (and hopefully to those nearby) for several days. They need a plan to communicate when cell phone networks are overwhelmed.
Any number of organizations offer excellent guidelines for basic preparedness, including the Red Cross, Homeland Security, and state and city offices of emergency management. If your organization has covered the basics but needs to know whether it’s truly prepared to respond effectively and recover quickly, we are always happy to assess existing plans and programs.
The flooding in Houston is crippling a region with more than 7 million residents. First responders, National Guard, Coast Guard, FEMA, the Red Cross, hospitals, utility workers, and many others all play essential and invaluable roles during the crisis, but in these early hours and days, everyone in the region can become a first responder.
If you want to help, please consider donating to the Red Cross or similar organizations that are supporting rescues and recovery efforts for residents affected by Hurricane Harvey.