Are Americans experiencing “disaster fatigue?” The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s latest National Household Survey reported that more than half of households have personally experienced, or that their family experienced, a disaster in 2021. With the deaths of one million Americans and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our personal health and livelihood, one would expect this number to be higher.
You might also think that the global pandemic would be a wake-up call for people to prepare for emergencies, but instead the number of Americans who are confident that preparing will help them through disaster is lower than ever (40 percent) according to the survey. More troubling, only 76 percent of respondents believe “it could happen to me,” down sharply from 98 percent in the previous three years.
After two years of drastic measures to manage a global pandemic, it is not surprising that many of us have become pessimistic and complacent. But with the frequency and costs of disasters increasing, we should be doing more, not less. Taking a few steps to prepare for an emergency can help you protect the life that you have built.
September is National Preparedness Month. Promoted by FEMA, this effort encourages families and businesses to prepare for emergencies and disasters. With the anniversary of 9/11 and the danger of Atlantic hurricanes during this month, it is an appropriate time to think about being disaster-ready and to take steps to prepare. The theme this year is “The Life You’ve Built is Worth Protecting,” and the Ready.gov website provides a wealth of information.
But it is not possible to be prepared for every type of emergency. So, since 9/11, our nation has developed a robust, tiered emergency preparedness system that plans, prepares, and responds at the municipal, county, state, and national levels. When one level is overwhelmed, a request for assistance is sent to the next higher level. Staffing these organizations are emergency management specialist, a field that has been expanding and professionalizing in the past two decades.
This month also marks the 10th anniversary of Immaculata University’s bachelor’s degree in Emergency Planning & Management. The first such major in the Philadelphia area, it started as a degree-completion program for working adults, and many of our graduates have since gone on to assume leadership roles in public safety organizations around the region. It could be a sign of the times that more students are now entering the program directly from high school—this generation has grown up with war, mega-disasters, and climate change—but it is encouraging that so many young people are willing to take on a job that literally deals with disasters.
The burden of emergency preparedness should not just rest on the shoulders of emergency managers though. Disaster preparation starts at home. We should not only recognize the importance of protecting the life that we have built, but we should feel obligated to make our communities more resilient too. The better prepared we all are for disaster, the easier the response will be and the quicker the recovery.