The only difference between adventure and disaster is preparedness.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Does America Have a Culture of Unpreparedness?

I thought this was a great article:

America's culture of unpreparedness

By: James Carafano 09/06/11 8:05 PM
Examiner Columnist

What happens when the lights go out? It depends.
On Nov. 9, 1965, an electrical power failure plunged Northeast America into darkness. The entire city of New York went black. Despite the inconvenience, New Yorkers passed the night quietly. The most notable fallout from the evening was a spike in births nine months later.

Contrast that with July 13, 1977, when two lightning strikes overloaded some Con Edison substations. The cascading power failure produced a blackout that lasted only one day. Yet it unleashed a night of terror and looting unseen in New York since the Civil War riots.

The moral: How Americans respond to disaster can vary greatly.

In America's most recent brush with disaster, millions lost power because of Hurricane Irene. Most seemed to bear the difficulties with a stiff upper lip, patiently waiting for the lights to come back.

Overall, the East Coast weathered this storm rather well. That's due, in large part, to the upfront work of state and local officials, who took the threat seriously. Evacuation orders were issued in a timely fashion. Precautions were taken. Stores were emptied of flashlights, batteries, propane and other power supplies that people felt they ought to have on hand in case of emergency.

But will they react as prudently and with such discipline next time? It is hard to tell. Predicting how Americans will react to a disaster is a bit like playing Russian roulette.

A culture of preparedness includes both the societal norms for preparing before a disaster and behavior demonstrated during the course of the disaster response. That response is governed by a number of factors, including culture and history.

Each nation has a unique culture of preparedness that colors how it views the challenges of public safety and disaster preparations and response. Japanese preparedness culture, for example, differs significantly from that of the United States. Japan is a much smaller country. When large disasters strike, they tend to affect the nation as a whole. The country has frequent disasters and they are of uniform character.

This uniformity makes establishing a common preparedness culture less challenging than it is in the U.S. Here, diversity reigns -- not just in terms of the makeup of the population, but also in terms of the geography affected and the scope and nature of the disasters experienced.

Perhaps because of these wide variations, Americans are more prone to "mood swings" when it comes to preparedness. How we respond reflects how we feel at the time.

Research by emergency preparedness experts shows that in the United States, people prepare for natural or man-made (technological) disasters only if they have some experience that makes them believe such disasters might actually affect them. Thus, people in Oklahoma take the threat of tornadoes seriously, and people in Florida prepare for hurricane season. Yet as the event recedes in memory, preparedness levels decline. For example, in California, as time between major earthquakes lengthens, preparedness levels drop off commensurately.

The experience of Sept. 11 did little to change this dynamic. The vast majority of Americans still pay little attention to preparedness for a terrorist attack.

What we do is a product of how we feel about our families, our friends, our neighborhoods and our communities. In America, preparedness starts at home. A culture of preparedness can only be built from the bottom up.

Building strong families, caring communities and a culture of responsibility, resilience and self-reliance is the best way to build a stronger nation. These solutions don't start in Washington. Indeed, when Washington does more, the nation often does less.

Read more at the Washington Examiner:

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