For more than a decade, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) statistics have shown that, although there has been some improvement, not enough people are prepared for emergencies and disasters. However, publicly available resources are educating community members and helping them prepare – one month at a time – for potential disasters that are likely to affect them.
FEMA’s 2017 National Preparedness report states that the nation as a whole faces a persistent challenge of inspiring individuals to prepare for emergencies. Even with the use of technology such as social media and mobile applications, getting people to prepare is still tough. In 2015, FEMA reported that only 39% of respondents had developed emergency plans and discussed them with their households. This is in contrast to the fact that about 80% of Americans live in counties that have been damaged by weather-related disasters in the past.
Building a disaster-resilient community is essential in the process of recovering from a disaster. However, significant amounts of people are still not aware of the potential hazards around them. For example, only 30% of people living in areas historically known for wildfires are likely to have read or heard about information on how to prepare for a wildfire emergency. Assessing risks has to be personalized. Individuals, families, and businesses have to understand not only how to respond to a disaster but how it will affect them. With the increased frequency of all types of disasters, there has to be a greater sense of urgency in helping communities prepare.
Moving People Forward
Perceptions that it is too hard or too expensive – or they do not know where to start when it comes to preparing for emergencies and disasters – need to change. Do1Thing combats these barriers by offering a program that is easy, accessible (translated into seven different languages, offered in audio, video, large print, braille, and low-literacy formats), and requires little to no money to build a personalized emergency plan. The goal is to approach the entire community as a whole so everyone can be ready for an emergency.
Emergency preparedness requires an awareness-to-action approach. It is not enough just knowing what to do, but rather taking action to prepare oneself in case of a disaster. Although responders are on call and willing to help, people are responsible first for their own safety. The more individuals prepare, the less demand there is on first responders.
One goal of Do1Thing is to make better disaster decision makers, as no two disasters are the same. When people begin to think about how they would respond to a disaster based on whether or not they are at home, work, or school, it allows them to make better informed decisions. From those decisions, people can overcome the normalcy bias – the state of mind that takes too lightly the effects of a disaster – and can respond appropriately. This goes beyond telling people what materials are needed in an emergency kit, but getting them to think about how they should respond to different types of emergencies. It encourages consideration of existing special and unique needs – for example, pets, children, special health needs – and what to do about them during emergencies.
How It Works
Started by a local group of emergency managers in 2005, the original intent of Do1Thing was to increase the effectiveness of preparedness for those in the area. It was intended to be a one-time project: once the information was distributed, mission accomplished. However, the program grew into a nationally recognized program for its inclusive preparedness efforts to better prepare individuals, businesses, and children.
Individuals – Do1Thing offers 12 monthly topics that teach people how to do one thing each month to build their emergency plans. Each month, from the three tasks presented, participants choose one to complete. By the end of the year, individuals, families, and businesses will have a plan specific to their needs. For example, February’s topic is “water,” with the following tasks to choose from:
- Purchase and store a 72-hour (or up to two weeks) supply of bottled water.
- Bottle a 72-hour supply of water at home.
- Learn how to provide a safe supply of water for your household in a disaster.
After selecting one task, a few additional details are given so that individuals are clear on what it takes to create a necessary supply of water. For example, additional details explain the need to have at least one gallon of water per person, per day on hand (see Figure 1). Breaking down a complete emergency plan into small easy steps removes barriers and promotes action.
Businesses – Businesses also have a place in the preparedness program. The 12 monthly topics are designed to help small- to medium-sized businesses continue operations during and after a disaster. The sooner businesses reopen after a disaster, the sooner people can return to work, the economy can recover, and the community can rebuild. For example, the goal of June’s topic “key personnel” is to identify key personnel and make sure that at least one other person could step in and do their jobs in the event they are unable to work:
- Identify personnel who perform essential functions in your business.
- Create a succession plan.
- Cross-train employees in critical operation skills in case a key employee is unable to come to work.
Many small businesses have key personnel who are the only people able to perform specific tasks, such as accessing certain systems or even unlocking doors. Making sure that more than one person knows what do is a key part of surviving after a disaster.
Children – It is never too early to begin talking to children about what to do in case of an emergency. Do1Thing partnered with the Michigan State police to create a kids preparedness coloring book (see Figure 2). The book covers the same 12 monthly topics as those for individuals. The intent is for parents to sit down with their children and discuss what to do during and after a disaster in a kid-friendly format.
Small Steps for Big Planning
Taking small steps toward preparedness helps remove the anxiety, stress, and worry around becoming prepared for emergencies and disasters. Preparedness can be easy, but there has to be an acknowledgment that people have a choice when it comes to their preparedness efforts. This provides a sense of responsibility, empowerment, and engagement in the disaster decision-making process. Disaster outcomes can be improved when people are educated on how to remove common barriers to preparedness. Planning for an emergency does not have to be an astronomical task, but rather a task that is manageable for anyone to do.