As words like “resiliency” and “preparedness” have taken on new (and sometimes disputed) meanings over the past few years, both the private and public stakeholders who use the words most frequently seem to come back time and again to ask two related questions: “are you prepared?”  and “are we prepared?”

Trying to nail down an answer to these questions normally generates a great deal of discussion among these groups.  Some individuals are quick to say “why, yes my company is prepared,” while others sometimes pause and respond with a more reluctant “well I think so.” Sadly, there are still others without an answer at all who can only reply by asking “how would I know?”  The latter comment is by far the most worrisome: in this day and age, preparedness should be part of the “to-do list” for each and every American.

While these two questions seem to come up most frequently, there are other equally important questions that need to be asked as part of those conversations.  The first is simply to ask “Prepared for what?”  The second is a bit more complicated and involves evaluating the standard or accreditation system you are using as a benchmark for comparison to be able to confidently state that “we are prepared”?

Over the next several postings, I will try to boil down these water cooler discussions.  Though I clearly pre-date the individual bottles of water and actually even tend to miss the days of face to face conversations/discussions, I too have entered the modern day technology of blogs, web-postings and email.

For the first entry in this series, I will take on the easy one: “Prepared for what”?  In the post-9/11, post-Katrina environment where we face an ever-present threat of a Pandemic outbreak, the Department of Homeland Security and Congress are on the right track by taking an all-hazards approach to preparedness.  DHS is putting plans together in preparation for 15 possible events (including both natural and man-made disasters), and some state and local responders and law enforcement departments are adding more emergency plans in the post-Virginia Tech shooting environment.  These actions show an increasing awareness of threats at all levels so that we have an answer for the “prepared for what?” question that needs to be addressed.

In that vein and as I said earlier, it is up to each of us to play a role in preparedness.  It starts with you and your family: are you prepared for a hurricane or flood in your area?  Do you know what your family would do, where would you go, what would you take, how would you communicate with each other if it happened while you were at work and the kids were in school?  Beyond your family, is your workplace prepared to handle a similar weather situation or even a pandemic? Recent history has shown that bad things do not discriminate where or when they occur: anything can happen in your area. The phrase “that can’t happen here” is not and cannot be a substitute for having an affirmative response to “are you prepared?’

In the next part of the series, I will discuss “How do we know and how do we prove we are prepared” by taking a look at some of the systems in place for evaluating our levels of preparedness.