So much of what we see in the media are bungled government responses to disasters. Look no further than Hurricane Katrina to instill an utter lack of confidence in the government to supply any support to the public during a disaster. Ronald Reagan’s famous nine most terrifying words quote, “I’m from the government. I’m here to help,” couldn’t have rung truer after that disaster. Then add to it bureaucratic wrangling over emergency relief funds as Hurricane Irene bore down on the Atlantic seaboard and after the EF5 tornado that ravaged Joplin, Missouri then what faith was left swiftly evaporates. With only criticisms and failures making headlines there’s little wonder why the prepper movement began. But how many people are aware of all the gears set into churning motion at various levels of government when a disaster strikes?
Gears of Government’s Response
All disaster response, be it a hurricane in the Gulf or an earthquake in California, is local. The local city, county or state activates their response plans and open their Incident Command (IC) center where all response, communications, and resources are consolidated under one central unit to deal effectively with a given disaster. Born out of a series of chaotic and devastating California wildfire in the 1970’s, the Incident Command System (ICS) is the universal model for all emergency response operations and functions as a subset of the overall National Incident Management System (NIMS). The system has operated effectively through any given emergency from Midwestern floods to the wildfires that savage the western US annually to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Everything comes through the incident command center to send rescue personnel where they are needed, to manage evacuations, coordinate with hospitals taking in the injured or ill and to open overflow facilities if needed, to receive and direct resources to where they are required, to open evacuation centers and to effectively communicate with partner organizations (like the Red Cross) and the media to help inform the public of what is happening and where to go for help. The response is widespread and complex, but there are limits to what the government and its partners are capable. And that which is left is where personal preparation comes in and where those preparations can help with the overall response.
What is Left to You
- In the event of evacuations, be ready with a bug out bag for each member of the family with accommodations for any specific needs
- Have a family emergency plan that addresses what to do when separated. Include contact information and meeting places. Familiarize yourself with your children’s school plans to coordinate with them and know where your children will be.
- Consider the unique needs of family members including regular medications, special needs for elderly, young children or infants, dietary needs and mobility constraints, to name but a few. Should you find managing for these special needs is beyond your abilities, government response plans do have contingencies built in to render assistance.
- Plan for what to do with family pets because most emergency shelters will be unable to take them in however some local governments will have worked out agreements with veterinarians and kennels to take in the four-legged loved ones.
- If you have livestock, plan for what to do with them. Some government assistance may be available depending on where you live. Check with your local emergency manager to determine what is already included in local plans.
- In preparation for a wildfire, create a defensible buffer zone around your home to reduce the risk of it catching fire. Remove dead vegetation and dry leaves, trim trees, relocated wood piles and remove or trim flammable shrubbery out to about 30 feet.
- Ensure you have access to public information (radio or the internet or phone) to stay apprised of changes in the situation, where treatment and vaccination clinics are located and when the all-clear is given.
- If sheltering in place, be sure your emergency power is wired correctly and does not interfere with repair efforts. Some generators tied into a home’s wiring can cause feedback into power lines and cause injury to repair personnel if installed incorrectly.
- Be sure you can stay apprised of current developments in the event evacuation is necessary and you are not caught in the middle of serious conditions (shifts in a fires course or rapid approach of flood waters, etc.)
Disaster response is complex and complicated involving a great many moving, intertwined parts. Will there be mistakes? Yes. Nothing ever operates perfectly, and this is why learning from those mistakes is essential. This is why response plans are created, and disaster drills are run, so those problem areas and limitations can be identified and remedied before a real disaster strikes. As a prepper, knowing where those government response limitations are, will help you adjust your planning accordingly.