Ebola. Are you tired of hearing about it yet? Not that it isn’t a notable virus that deserves our attention and our preparations, but as emergency managers, our job right now is not to eliminate the threat. Our job right now has very little to do with the actual virus itself. Allow me to make a case for you.
This blog just got serious…
Ebola is a virus that is spread through contact of the bodily fluids of an infected person. It’s not in the air and to get it, you’d have to have a direct exposure that allowed for entry into your own body. Once you’ve got it, yeah, that’s a problem. But in many places, especially the US, actually catching the disease? That is not going to be easy.
Lots of viruses are spread this way and our hospital systems are not only prepared, trained and ready for what’s already here, they’re prepared for what’s coming. Personal protective equipment exists to build a barrier between our healthcare workers and those who require their services. Processes and procedures have been in place to handle the worst of the worst for years on years. So, why then all the fuss, and what are emergency managers actually supposed to be doing with this?
We already know that people fear what they don’t know, and that there are so many unanswered questions about the disease itself is the worst kind of unknown. Where does it originate? Can it mutate? Why isn’t there a cure? I get it – I find these questions intriguing myself!
Right now, however, our job isn’t to answer these questions. Our job lies in the public panic. I would estimate that is roughly 85% of our responsibility since the beginning of disease spread. Of course there is training, drills, exercises and inter-agency communication to be done, but the major focus simply must be on communicating clearly with the public. Most essentially on a local level. Why? Because the public has a disconnect in personal trust on a federal level.
And why shouldn’t they? They don’t “know” federal departments. Federal agencies aren’t first responders, and they’re more often than not separated from the local message and response. They have a huge task before them (i.e answering those questions above that we aren’t challenged to solve), but they won’t be able to truly touch public panic and public perception.
As emergency managers, it isn’t our job to answer the questions of the specialty agencies we support. What we need to focus on is developing a consistent, calming, accurate message from our partner agencies to our community members, because their perceptions and their unnecessary panic is the emergency right now.
Those plans you’ve worked so diligently on? People need to know they exist. Those exercises you participate in? People need to know that they happened. We can’t answer the questions that make people so afraid, but we can keep fear from turning into panic by showing all of the ways we have always been prepared and we will continue to be prepared. Our community members need to hear from us that we have a plan, that they can trust we know what we’re doing. And we need to be trusted enough to explain how these scary things work, and what we’ll do about it.
It won’t be enough to go out and tell everyone they have nothing to worry about. Let’s face it, that message ain’t gonna cut it! It’s okay to allow our community members to feel something. But when was the last time a scare tactic changed anything about anyone’s actual preparedness status? Go ahead, I’ll give you some time to think about it…
Scare tactics don’t work. We need to communicate all of this, take away the element of panic, and turn relevant concern into beneficial action.
Explaining what we do, having a consistent presence, facilitating that message and then showing people that just as we have prepared ourselves for the worst of the worst, so too can they prepare, is where the success is. Our plans don’t fall to the wayside because they’re flexible enough to fit the different disasters we face. Our plans, kits and equipment are adaptable. Anyone’s can be, if they know where to start.
Here’s the catch…it really only works if your community has faith in your message.
Do you exist outside of the walls of your office? Does your agency know you, does your community know you? Are you equipped to lead the message our public needs to hear, or will you be out of touch? And, for those of you who dread the role of the public information officer, that doesn’t mean being the man or woman on camera. That means being a part of the development of the message and being a trusted source people can turn to in order to successfully receive it.
What have you done to create a trustworthy atmosphere in your community in advance of times like these where our success relies so heavily on our ability to share critical information? Are you prepared for what happens if the community doesn’t hear us and panic does ensue?
Right now is the right time to get ahead of your message, and if you already are, it’s a great time to tell someone else how you’re nailing it.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
It’s time for a new “Disaster in Place”. Take 5-10 minutes to play along!
This month’s scenario is just in time…winter storms.
If severe winter weather were to affect your area right now, what would you do? Could you safely shelter in place at work or at home through the next few nights? What if you lost power and needed to find creative ways to stay warm and cook food, how would you do it? What if…you were stranded in your car for hours in the cold, do you have what you need to stay warm and safe already in there?
For information about prepping your home, car, and mind for severe cold and winter storms, check out this FEMA site and “Pledge to Prepare”: http://www.ready.gov/winter-weather
For a few tips about what to do if winter weather strands you in your car, check out this short (1:46) video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cR9sJKdsY4o
For tips about cooking food, as well as some great non-perishable recipes for your kit, check out: http://www.emergencykitcookoff.org/
All signs point to a busy winter for Virginia…please be prepared!
Happy October! Please take 10 minutes to enjoy this month’s Disaster in Place and as always, please feel free to share with your partners and peers. If you do, send me a message or leave a comment and let me know who’s joining in!
Also, for the fellow emergency leaders distributing this in your areas, here is the link to the Radiological Terrorism Toolkit referenced below where you can print, download or order a full kit of your own for no charge (and I strongly encourage this for you, your peeps, and your partners!)
It’s that time again!
Welcome to the October Disaster in Place!
This month’s scenario is a radiological/nuclear terrorism event.
If a radiological/nuclear event were to happen in your area right now, how would you protect yourself? Are you familiar with your local evacuation routes? What if it happened in Washington, DC (or your nearest well-populated city?)…could you support our closest state managed shelter and leave your family for 1-3 days without worrying about them, and are you affiliated with an agency that allows you to do so? What if you were told to shelter in place for the next two weeks?
For all kinds of information about being involved in a radiological/nuclear event, check out these resources from the CDC, including protection, treatment and health effects: http://emergency.cdc.gov/radiation/
For training on responding to a radiological/nuclear event, check out the free online course from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – Radiation Terror 101: http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-public-health-preparedness/training/online/rad101.html
You can also email me if interested in learning more about our cache of Radiological Terrorism kits, full of information for public health professionals and clinicians, available free from the CDC.
See you next month! Tanya
Below you will find the August content of my monthly Disaster in Place. Disaster in Place is an email series I began in May 2013 to engage Medical Reserve Corps team members to think practically about preparedness for just a few minutes a month and increase our alert responses (what we use in Virginia to see who is available to respond in disaster). It comes complete with training and educational opportunities for those who are so inclined. (I wrote a blog post introducing this series back in May!)
I’ve been instituting the Disaster in Place training series with my three MRC units since May and am happy to share stats, info, and previous months’ with you. Feel free to participate, use and share, but if you do, please let me know so I can keep track of the reach of this program! It would be quite appreciated. I’ll be posting these every month…enjoy!
August Disaster in Place – Chemical Event!
Welcome to the fourth of our monthly Disaster in Place series. As always, please click on the alert link in this message and indicate you did or did not participate in this exercise so we can track that everyone knows how to receive and respond to requests with availability!
This month’s scenario is a chemical event.
A chemical exposure can happen for a few reasons, including terrorism and human error in a factory or even at home. If you were exposed to a chemical material, how would you react? Would you know to remove exposed clothing and wash for fifteen minutes with soap and water (or what we call decontamination)? What if that chemical was at home and a family member or friend was exposed?
For information about various chemical agents, including lists, FAQ’s, and decontamination, check out this fantastic resource from the CDC: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/
For additional training on hazardous materials at home, visit this free online course from FEMA, IS-55.a: Household Hazardous Materials ? A Guide for Citizens http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/courseOverview.aspx?code=IS-55.a
For even more training, check out this course from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – Intro to Chemical Agents: http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-public-health-preparedness/training/online/intro_chem_agents.html
And remember these important numbers: Poison Control Center – 800-222-1222 and Virginia 2-1-1 for all types of questions, connections and resources.
Hope you enjoyed this month!