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Special Report — Disaster Planning is a Disaster Itself

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, September 10, 2019

September is National Preparedness Month. The federal government, and most state governments, and some local governments, are urging people to always expect the best but to also always be prepared for the worst.

The emergency preparation push is done each year by federal government’s Ready.gov. The website is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and it promotes family and community disaster and emergency planning now and through the year.

This year’s theme is be prepared, not scared.

Last week's focus was to save early for disaster costs. That means people need to check their insurance coverage and making sure it is up to date and that it covers everything. Ready.gov also stressed the need to have a financial plan in place in case there is a disaster.

This week’s emphasis is to make a plan and prepare for disasters. Next week it is to teach youth how to prepare, and September’s fourth week push is to get people to become involved in the emergency preparedness of their community.

Brock Long resigned earlier this year as the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agent (FEMA). He worries about the nation’s emergency management system and about state and local governments that he contends are not really prepared for the worst.

Long told CBS’ TV’s Face the Nation that the agency is more-or-less, ineffective. “FEMA faces unrealistic expectations by Congress and the American public, and the standards in which we declare major disaster declarations need to be increased,” he said, “We've got to stop looking at FEMA as 911.”

He pointed a finger at state and local governments and said they need to step up and help FEMA respond to a natural disaster. That means everyday, ordinary people need better training and need to be better prepared.

“If we want to get better and become more resilient and respond better then we have to refocus the training upon how we asked citizens to be prepared, not just going out and having supplies for five to seven days, but, you know, teaching them how to become more financially resilient; teaching them that insurance is the first line of defense, not FEMA; teaching them tangible skills like CPR when they face active shooter events,” he said.

Long pointed a long finger at Congress and said it needs to go to work and do its duty by passing legislation that gives local governments more incentive to modernize building codes. He said state governments are not off the hook either. Long noted that Congress needs to get state governments to better maintain and strengthen the infrastructure.

The need for better preparation — Long concluded — is dire. A survey from Allstate bears that out and found that 60% of us are totally unprepared for a disaster.

  70% said they are concerned about national disasters

  60% said they don’t have a disaster plan because they don’t think one will happen to them

Allstate’s chief claims officer Ken Rosen was shocked at the response and said, “With extreme weather and natural disasters more frequent and severe, communities face a lot of complex issues and real danger.”

As noted at the beginning of this report, most states are following the lead of Ready.gov. This week’s push is planning. It starts with doing that critical home inventory. The Oregon Department of Financial Regulation — that manages the Oregon Department of Insurance — said this is an often overlooked part of disaster preparation.

It recently sent out a news release on the topic, and insurance companies and independent insurance agents are encouraged to copy this list and send it to their clients:

1.    Build a home inventory: Take video or photos of each room in your home, paying close attention to walls, drawers, closets, and storage areas. Recalling your personal property is a daunting task following a disaster. A home inventory eases the post-disaster stress, and enables your insurance company to move forward with processing your claim.

2.    Review your insurance coverage: Take time to discuss your policies with your insurance company or agent. Make sure you have the right coverage and know what to expect when you file a claim for disasters such as fire, earthquake, flood, tornado, theft, and ice storms.

Oregon Insurance Commissioner Andrew Stolfi said, “Recent wildfires and earthquakes reminds us how important it is for [everyone] to build a home inventory and make sure they have the right insurance coverage to protect their families. These projects are easy to do and now is the time to add these money-saving, stress-reducing tasks to your to-do list.”

Marcie Roth is FEMA’s Director of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination. She agrees with Stolfi and said there is no one-size-fits-all way to prepare. Each of us have individual needs. “What I've learned from this experience is that everyone must be prepared to be their own ‘emergency manager,’” she said. “When disaster strikes, you may have to be able to survive on your own for 72 hours or more without access to power, food, or transportation. You also should think about your own situation and what additional needs you might have.”

Here’s what she says you need to be fully prepared. The PIA Western Alliance encourages you to copy this and — along with the home inventory and insurance assessment suggestions — send it to your clients.

Have an emergency supply kit ready: Make sure you have enough water, food and medications for yourself and your service animal (if you have one) to last at least three days. Think about other items you may need as well — extra eyeglasses, batteries for hearing aids, medical supplies, etc. 

Have an emergency communications plan in place: How will you contact your family members if something happens and you're separated? Share your emergency plan with neighbors, friends and relatives so they know how to contact you if the power goes out.

Develop a map of resources around where you live and work so members of your support network who are unfamiliar with your neighborhood can find and get what you need: You may want to include nearby places to buy food and water. Also, include fire, police, other city agencies and local apartment/commercial buildings with their own sources of power should the citywide/town-wide power be out. Consider adding taxi stands/bus stops/subway stations, and parking regulations/parking lots, etc.

Ask others about what they will do to support you in an emergency: If you are a person who relies on dialysis, what will your provider do if there is an emergency? If you rely on home care or deliveries, such as Meals on Wheels, ask about emergency notifications and their plan to maintain services. If you use paratransit, find out their plans for providing service in an emergency. If you use oxygen or other life-sustaining medical equipment, show friends how to use these devices so they can move you or help you evacuate, if needed. Practice your plan with the people in your personal support network.

Keep assistive devices and equipment charged and ready to go: Consider having an extra battery on a trickle charger if you use a power wheelchair or scooter. If available, have a lightweight manual wheelchair for backup and extra chargers and charging cables for all assistive devices.

Make sure you have access to important documents: Collect and safeguard critical documents. Store electronic copies of your important documents on a password-protected thumb drive and in the ‘cloud,’ and if you feel comfortable doing so, give a copy to a trusted relative or friend outside your area. This way, you'll have a record of critical identification documents; medical information including where and how to get life-saving supplies and medications; financial and legal documents; and insurance information as well as important phone numbers, instructions and email addresses.

Keep an updated version in your ‘go bag’: Go to Ready.gov, Be Smart. Protect Your Critical Documents and Valuables or the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit for more information and a checklist.

“Being prepared is a 365-day-a-year activity. Take charge and take control to be as prepared as possible. Then add your voice to others,” she said and noted the importance of getting more involved in the emergency planning of your community.

Source links: ready.gov, CBS News, Insurance Business America, Oregon Department of Insurance, Federal Emergency Management Agency

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