What About Disaster Responders?

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Today let’s talk about disaster responders: police officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, and anyone else who will be called upon for long hours and extraordinary duties to serve the public in the days immediately following a major earthquake. They have such specialized training and so much experience that I feel embarrassed to offer them help, yet we have to keep in mind that their lives are just as busy as ours so personal preparedness takes as much effort for them as it does for the rest of us. (See this FEMA blog post for a personal anecdote from a Red Cross volunteer.)

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In fact, it may well be harder for them. If you’re reading this as the head of a typical household, you have at least a hope of being present relatively soon after an earthquake to help your family cope. We like to think that the old stereotype of homemaker Mom relying on the “man of the house” to take care of such things is long gone, but for many of us there probably is one adult who is the most interested in and knowledgeable about disaster preparedness, and we naturally expect to rely on that person.

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Now consider disaster responders. They are far better equipped to deal with an earthquake than most of us, but where will they be after an earthquake? Bringing order to a chaotic city, putting out fires, rescuing victims, keeping overwhelmed hospitals running, repairing damaged utilities, or feeding the hungry and homeless — anywhere but home, as they’ve all made a commitment to serve the rest of us, whatever it takes. I am enormously grateful for that dedication and would like to publicly thank every one of them for it right now, but where does it leave their families? On their own, basically, with less opportunity to rely on their “in-house expert” than everyone else.

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No doubt the responders themselves are already painfully aware of these conflicting responsibilities, so to them I simply offer any information SouthBaySafetyGuy.com can provide to help them better prepare their own families so they can focus on their professional duties without any added anxiety of worrying about their loved ones. For those who share a home with a responder, I offer a word of encouragement: Take that first aid class, learn to use a fire extinguisher yourself, and make sure you know how to light the camping stove. After a big quake, you will be the head-of-household, perhaps for several days, so make sure you get the skills you need now to keep your children and yourself safe.

As for the rest of you, gentle readers, you’re not off the hook. We’ll all want to rush home to our families immediately after a quake, but if you work any distance from home that might be impossible. Bridges could be damaged, rapid transit could be shut down, or roads could be impassible, so it could be hours or even days before you can get home again. Even if you don’t have an official “disaster responder” in your family, it’s still important for every adult to get that basic training and knowledge to know how to respond. After a big temblor, we’ll all be disaster responders in our own homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces.