In Case of Emergency, Read This Blog

In Case Of Emergency, Read Blog

A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

Dr. Roz Lasker And The “Redefining Readiness” Project

May 12th, 2008 · No Comments

In a recent Disaster Zone post, Eric Holderman notes the fact that while “shelter in place” is a key part of government emergency planning for the public, it is a term that is not very well understood by the public. It is an important point which needs to be addressed by government authorities in advance — like soon.

One of the most common questions I get from people about emergency preparedness is how they can evacuate in the event of disaster. However, the truth is that in a number of scenarios, the best thing to do is not to evacuate but to stay (or ’shelter in place’). Of course, if a lot of people do not even know what the term means that could be a problem.

In his post, Eric cites the work of Dr. Roz Lasker and the Redefining Readiness project of the Center for the Advancement of Collaborative Strategies in Health at the New York Academy of Medicine. Through “Redefining Readiness”, Dr. Lasker, a former U.S. Health and Human Services Department official, has done more work than anyone I know in finding out what the public really knows about disaster preparedness and how to best improve it. You can never fully replicate a real emergency situation, but “Redefining Readiness” — though painstaking work and thoughtful design — has created as useful a model as exists.  

Last year, Lasker’s group released a groundbreaking report on public preparedness and response after running in depth roundtable exercises in four communities around the U.S. around a small pox outbreak and ‘dirty bomb’ attack. Below is a summary of the program from the website:

“Redefining Readiness” addresses a fundamental flaw that is undermining efforts in all areas of emergency preparedness. Currently, planners are developing emergency instructions for people to follow without finding out whether it is actually possible for them to do so or whether the instructions are even the most protective action for certain groups to take.

The “Redefining Readiness” study documented this problem in preparations for shelter-in-place emergencies and deadly contagious disease outbreaks, prediction that large numbers of people would suffer and die unnecessary if response strategies are not based on what people will actually face when disaster strikes. This prediction was proven to be correct during Hurricane Katrina, when many people could not follow instructions to evacuate due to barriers that had not been identified or addressed beforehand.

To fix the flaw, four “Redefining Readiness” demonstration sites have developed powerful new community engagement practices to harness the knowledge and experiences of the broad range of people who need to be protected in emergencies. Practical tools based on the combined insights of almost 2,000 diverse community residents in the demonstration sites can help households, work places, schools and early childhood/youth programs, and governments throughout the country prepare to respond more effectively to shelter-in-place emergencies and deadly contagious disease outbreaks.

Dr. Lasker and her group has designed the program to offer practical tools useable by communities around the nation which can tailor the exercises to their own likely threats. I had the opportunity to take part in a scenario exercise that took place in Dr. Lasker’s office. It was striking how many questions are raised when you actually go through it that you never think about (ie. what is my kids’ school emergency plan? or what exactly does ’shelter in place’ mean?) I recommend that anyone interested in undertaking such an exercise should the program at  

Anyone who is interested in public preparedness has to study the “Redefining Readiness” work. I will be providing a link to it in my Resources section, and I hope to be writing more about Dr. Lasker’s work on the blog.  




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