A resident stops by a FEMA booth to gather information about hurricane preparedness May 31, 2018, at the Mayagüez Mall in Puerto Rico. (Michael Medina Latorre/FEMA)

National Preparedness Month Urges Americans to Prioritize Emergency Planning

The Department of Homeland Security considers National Preparedness Month “a springboard for building a culture of preparedness,” in the words of FEMA Administrator Brock Long, with themed weeks helping Americans make emergency plans, learn life-saving skills and be financially prepared for a disaster.

FEMA estimates that fewer than half of Americans take all three of the recommended actions to build emergency preparedness.

This year’s National Preparedness Month theme is “Disasters Happen. Prepare Now. Learn How.”

“Thinking ahead can save lives. So we are working to create a ‘culture of preparedness’ nationwide, which requires all Americans to prioritize preparedness efforts in their daily lives. I urge all of you to take the time to evaluate your preparedness and learn how to protect your family so that if disaster strikes, you are ready,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Thursday.

The first week, Sept. 1-8, will focus on making and practicing an emergency plan, including signing up for weather and emergency alerts and learning local evacuation routes. From Sept. 9-15, life-saving skills will be encouraged, such as learning how to shut off the gas in one’s home; proper installation, placement and upkeep of smoke alarms; and mitigation against the potential effects of disasters such as floods and earthquakes. The National Day of Action on Sept. 15 will include preparedness events ranging from business drills and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training to CPR classes.

The third week, Sept. 16-22, is a time to make sure one’s insurance coverage is comprehensive, including flood insurance. The final week, Sept. 23-30, is about disaster financial planning, including preparation of the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit.

“You can begin to boost your level of preparedness by taking small steps, such as discussing an emergency communications plan with your family over dinner, installing carbon monoxide detectors, reviewing your insurance coverage, or starting an emergency savings fund,” Nielsen said.

FEMA has partnered with the Ad Council to release public service announcements on radio, in print, on TV and on Facebook.

Long stressed that “now is the time to expand our preparedness planning beyond having a communication plan, to include becoming financially ready for the unexpected costs associated with disasters.”

“Make sure to have adequate insurance coverage, and learn a life-saving skill like CPR,” he added.

Region IV Administrator Gracia Szczech noted that National Preparedness Month will be marked during a historically active month for severe storms.

“Last year was especially difficult for communities across our region,” Szczech said. “The Southeast endured severe storms and tornadoes, and the fifth costliest hurricane – Irma – in our nation’s history. We cannot guarantee that we will not see another year like 2017. But we can help our region’s 61 million residents understand how they can reduce their personal risk and help make their communities more resilient.”

“September is also the peak of hurricane season, so preparing now is even more critical for families and businesses in the Southeast,” she added. “Preparedness is a shared responsibility. While government plays a role, individuals, organizations, and businesses have important things to do to be ready for the unexpected.”

In Puerto Rico, FEMA has recognized that preparedness includes emotional support as residents were devastated by brutal Hurricane Maria this time last year. The governor there accepted a new death toll of 2,975 this week; the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health study found that the island had emergency plans in place for a Category 1 storm when Category 4 Maria struck.

“It’s normal to feel overwhelmed or anxious about your family’s safety. Some common reactions to disasters are disbelief and shock, fear and anxiety, sadness and depression and feeling powerless. Sometimes the emotional toll can be even more devastating than the financial strains caused by the damage or loss of property,” FEMA said in a Guaynabo press release Monday. “Every person’s healing process is different and most of these reactions are temporary. Focus on your strengths and abilities to keep the process moving forward.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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