When “The Big One” Strikes

Spencer Schwendiman

According to studies highlighted on Live Science natural disasters have been rising in number and severity over the past few decades. On the other hand, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has found the overall trends towards personal preparedness are decreasing. In other words, with the increase of disasters, there is a decrease in people who are prepared to respond to them. These surveys haven’t gone unnoticed, however, as multiple agencies both private and public are working to fix the problem.

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The state of Utah’s emergency management division is hard at work trying to help its citizens prepare for a disaster, specifically earthquakes. The trend of decreasing preparedness is frightening for people such as Susan Collier who works with the Salt Lake City Emergency Management Division. Collier pointed out that FEMA has shown its response time to be about 10 days. With such a long time before the federal government can bring in aid, it’s no wonder the state is pushing so hard to get its citizens better prepared.

Getting started with preparedness is easier than some may think. The state government’s preparedness website, ready.gov, says people should be doing these three things, “get informed, make a plan and build a kit.” Another expert in the field of preparedness, Scott Stallings the CEO of PrepperCon, the largest preparedness expo in the United States, agrees with this. He added through an email conversation that, “the most important thing is to put together an emergency plan for everything from a house fire to an earthquake.” By knowing the disasters, or emergencies that you or your family are in danger of encountering you can best prepare a plan to overcome them.

Building a kit tends to be the first thing people want to do when getting prepared. It is something that should not be taken lightly, however. Stallings explains that FEMA has recently adjusted its recommendations from having a 72-hour kit to a 96-hour kit. This is due to the slower response time from FEMA and The Red Cross. An emergency kit should also conform to your plans and contain the items you’ll need to complete the plan.

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Collier says that simply having a plan isn’t enough. She stresses that those who feel they are prepared ought to “be ready to evacuate in 20 minutes or less.” This highlights the need to practice a plan regularly, much like a person should change the batteries in their smoke detectors regularly. For people with children this may be more difficult, as parents never want to scare children. A great piece of advice is to turn it into a game of sorts; teach the children how to get out of the house if there is a fire by crawling low, or teach them ways out of the house if there are obstacles.

There are many reasons why practicing a plan is important. For one it can show any flaws in the plan that may need to be adjusted. It can also create muscle memory that will kick in once an emergency happens.

Some of these steps seem simple to follow from a glance, however, the decrease in people becoming prepared shows that even the simplest of instructions may often go unanswered. When Collier was asked what she thought would happen if a serious earthquake hit Salt Lake City she directed attention to a video prepared by the California Division of Emergency Management that projected the statistics of loss after an 7.8 magnitude earthquake including: lives lost, fires started and cost of reparations. Much like the state of Utah, California is overdue for a large earthquake along the San Andreas Fault.

In the event of an earthquake, electricity and other utilities will stop working, we may be separated from our families, and hospitals and other key locations may be overrun or even shut down.

Stallings and Collier agree on a lot of things, the most resounding of which is their plea for citizens to start preparing now. Professionals all over the field have echoed this plea; some, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have even turned to zombies to get their message across.

No family should be driven to fear or desperation during an emergency. That is why so many people are turning to emergency preparedness, and urging others to join them.