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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

Bigger Than Expected Crowd At Local Preparedness Event Underscores Public’s Interest, Their Good Questions & Ideas, And The Lure Of Free ‘Go-Bags’

September 9th, 2008 · 2 Comments

As part of National Preparedness Month, my local State Assemblyman, Jonathan Bing, held a special emergency readiness forum Monday night along with the American Red Cross of Greater New York and New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM). The objective was to brief residents of Bing’s Manhattan district on preparing themselves for disasters and to publicize the role of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. A helpful lure was that attendees received a Red Cross ‘go-bag’ or other emergency supply kit. I was there with other members of the area’s CERT teams to answer citizen questions and help hand out the kits. It turned out such an unexpectedly big crowd showed up that we almost ran out of kits. (This neighborhood is also particularly sensitive to emergency preparedness issues since there have been two fatal construction crane collapses within the year.) 

There were presentations from the Red Cross, OEM and my CERT team leader Jay Schofield followed by questions and comments from the audience. I thought that both the questions and comments from the crowd were excellent — ie. *Shouldn’t buildings have mandatory emergency drills? *Shouldn’t everyone have a solar charger in your ‘go-bag’ to be able recharge a cellphone or radio? Shouldn’t you have an evacuation family meeting spot outside of the City in case there is major disaster? *In case of an emergency, where should we go for information?

Public Preparedness Forum

Assemblyman Jonathan Bing addresses preparedness forum before the Red Cross’ Jeanine Pekkarinen (right) begins her presentation. Red Cross ‘go bags’ line the stage.

To me, the event underscored a few points regarding citizen preparedness:

a) there is an interest in emergency preparedness among the public

b) citizens have a lot of questions about preparedness which need to be addressed in advance by the authorities

c) people also have a number of good suggestions for their community’s preparedness that policymakers should be listening to and integrating into their plans

d) if government wants the public to have emergency ‘go-bags’ (and they should), it is going to have to figure out a way to provide them to the public either free and highly discounted. There are a couple ways that can be accomplished: i) the government can distribute them (New York City’s OEM dipped their toe in that direction by giving away 1000 ‘go-bags’ to citizens last week). Or, more optimally, government can enlist private sector suppliers and retailers to figure out a way to create and distribute these kits at no or very low cost. I worked with Assemblyman Bing earlier this year on his legislation that would enact a tax free period during September where sales tax would be waived on purchases of preparedness supplies. People want to prepare, but they are hesitant to pay upwards of $35 per person to get one, particularly when most people do not fully understand what it is. Yes, there are lists available on government web sites to assemble one’s own kit, but realistically it has to be made as easy and cost effective as possible.

Improving citizen preparedness will ultimately have to occur from the bottom up communities like Manhattan with events like this. However, they have to augmented more significant top-down government-organized public education and incentive campaigns.

Public Preparedness Forum

Handing out Red Cross ‘go-bags’ with fellow CERT members to preparedness event attendees.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 SuiteDeeDC // Sep 10, 2008 at 10:26 am

    I just started researching a Business Continuity plan/ SIP pack for my office here in DC and am glad I found your site! My local EPday is the 23rd and I’m looking forward to comparing what our Nation’s Capitol will provide us with.
    I also start my Arlington CERT training next tuesday… I’ll keep checkingback on your blogs!
    Thanks for the info!!

  • 2 admin // Sep 10, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    thanks, SuiteDee. keep in touch on how it goes.

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