With just days before the official opening of Hurricane Season 2008, Sunday’s Washington Post Outlook Section [May 18, 2008] provided an excellent guest editorial on the role of preparedness.  Written by John Solomon, the piece (“It’s an Emergency. We’re Not Prepared”) offers a citizen’s view of where we are as a nation in our readiness to deal with the next disaster.

Rather than engage in the traditional mode of finger pointing at the Administration, DHS, FEMA or at state and local leaders, Solomon instead held up a mirror to his readers to look at their reflection and ask where they are at when it comes to their individual and family preparedness.  While this approach may not seem to be overly insightful, I found his take rather refreshing.  Here is an average citizen, using the various resources and programs available to him to ‘prepare’ himself who discovered that we all have got to take getting ready more seriously and get more involved as a national community.

Again, this may not seem to be overly novel but let’s face some cold, hard facts… Since 9/11 and even after the 2005 Hurricanes, we’ve had speech after speech, testimony after testimony, blog after blog rant about what the public and private sectors ought to be doing to be prepared.  Much of the discussion has been valuable, but in our efforts to prepare for the next ‘big one,’ we’ve avoided scrutinizing where preparedness ought to begin – the individual.  As a result, we’ve over indulged in ‘nanny-fication.’ We expect that someone else is going to take care of everything for us when a ‘bad day’ strikes.  No one – regardless of where they live or what they do – should be so uninformed, busy, callous or arrogant to ‘outsource’ their own preparedness.

There are certainly individuals (elderly, poor, disabled, other vulnerable populations) who need an extra hand looking out for them, but we all bear the fundamental responsibility for our own welfare and well-being.  It isn’t exactly popular for politicians and senior emergency managers to candidly tell private citizens to ‘get their acts together.’  It’s much easier to talk about ‘reform and reorganization’ and engage in finger-pointing for disaster response failures.

Solomon’s departure from these overused and often ineffective tactics is probably why his words seem so refreshing.  Rather than throwing someone or some program under the bus, he offers some blunt, frank and pointed thoughts that force his readers to look in the mirror and ask whether they are prepared or not.

I’m guessing there were a number of readers who were not exactly comfortable with that reflection.  I can only hope, as I’m sure Mr. Solomon does, that they work on improving their reflections before it’s too late. It could make a big difference to their lives and many others.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More