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Special Report: Building a Culture of Preparedness

April 08, 2018 0 Comments

Building a Culture of Preparedness

In FEMA's 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, recently published and outlined in comments to the House Homeland Security Committee – the first strategic goal reads: "building a culture of preparedness."

Seeing this intrigued me. As most in the prepper community, I've been skeptical of FEMA for some time now. But "building a culture of preparedness" does not sound like the FEMA I know. In fact, it's exactly what we've been doing at My Patriot Supply for a decade now.

Naturally, I needed to read the full plan to understand how this culture of preparedness would be defined. What I discovered disappointed me, even though there were many sections worthy of merit. More on that in just a moment.

Before we go in-depth on the strategic plan, I want to take a step back. I realize that administrations like FEMA are required to submit plans to Congress regularly.

But I think it's important to note that while we're discussing a vision for the future, many are still suffering from last year's disasters. Also, more and more news of FEMA's failures during these disasters continue to be released.

A firsthand report from Josh Rivera in USA Today just a couple of weeks ago noted how many are still struggling in hard-hit Puerto Rico:

As of now, the government is reporting 99% of Puerto Ricans have running water and 93% have electric power. These statistics certainly appease those who just want a high number, but they do not represent the reality I saw on the island.

Utuado, Puerto Rico - Two women collect water in buckets
from a pipe bringing untreated water from the mountainside.

While Rivera's article pointed out that tourist areas seemed to have recovered, others that don't rely on tourism continue to suffer. 6 months without power and running water is a reality we all need to think about given FEMA's continued failures. We certainly hope this worst-case scenario never happens, but we know it can, so we must prepare for it.

In Texas, tourist towns like Port Aransas are rushing to repair before Memorial Day, the official start of the season. Hurricane season is less than 8 weeks away. And the weather in South Texas is already hot enough to generate severe storms like tornadoes. Yet, many residents and business owners are aware of the stark reality that it could be years until they are fully recovered. They are hoping that the upcoming hurricane seasons do not delay this recovery further. More on the forecast for hurricane season in a moment.

News delivered by AZ Central, a division of USA Today, reported in February that Arizona firefighters spent most of their time during the Harvey disaster traveling and staging – not searching and rescuing. This story happened virtually everywhere disaster struck last fall. The result? Nearly 100 million in wasted resources!

These are just a few glimpses of the devastation that many people are still dealing with. Plus, forecasters are predicting a near normal to slightly above-normal hurricane season. They are predicting 6-8 hurricanes, 3-5 major hurricanes and 3-4 named storm landfalls on U.S. soil. This is about the same prediction as last year, with slightly different conditions that may make tropical storm development increase. Right now, these predictions are not of much value, but definitely evidence of the value of preparedness.

So, we definitely need to build a culture of preparedness, but what exactly does that look like, according to FEMA?

Well, let's take a look at some statements that FEMA head Brock Long has made. 

First, he went on record just after Christmas. He urged all Americans to understand three truths:

  1. FEMA is broke.
  2. The system is broken.
  3. If this is the new normal, Americans can't rely on a federal cavalry when disaster strikes. They will have to take care of themselves. 

After releasing the new Strategic Plan, Long told news media:

We don't have a true culture of preparedness in this country. Our citizens are not prepared. We have to realistically design approaches to get them to be financially ready. We've got to teach them tangible skills like CPR again and go back to the old civil defense days of being ready.

This quote certainly whets my appetite to read the whole report. Financial readiness, tangible skills like CPR and civil defense are wide-ranging topics. But they're not the first things that come to mind when I think of preparedness.

In the same statement, Long added, "We're not ready for the low-to-no-notice big events. We have a lot of work to do." Well, I certainly agree with this, and I admire his candor.

UPDATE: on 5/16/18, Long told attendees at Florida's Governor's Conference on Hurricanes that FEMA cannot be expected to backfill state and local emergency supplies and personnel this season and going forward. He said:

If you don’t have the ability to do things such as provide your own food and water and your own commodities to your citizens for the first 48 to 72 hours...I can’t guarantee that we can be right on time to backfill everything you need.

Now, let's dive into the Strategic Plan. Early on, I found this simple definition:

A culture of preparedness is a national effort to be ready for the worst disasters – at the Federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, community, family, and individual levels.

This doesn't tell us much besides saying that this must be at all "levels" of society and there must be coordination between these levels. Makes sense.

But what are the practical elements of building a culture of preparedness? Allow me to summarize:

  • Funding pre-disaster mitigation efforts
  • Update building codes with an eye toward disaster resilience
  • Close the insurance gap, encouraging all-hazard and flood insurance coverage
  • Help people prepare for disasters
  • Better learn from past disasters

I highlighted that second last point for a reason. I was truly disappointed by what I found in that section.

It starts off on a good point:

Many people will experience a disaster or emergency at some point in life and find that they are in fact the true first responder.

Yes, we know that when a crisis occurs, we must help ourselves.

Then another good point:

As the Federal agency charged with disaster preparedness, FEMA commands both significant resources and influence that can help improve how people prepare for disasters. However, FEMA directly helps with only a small number of incidents – those that receive a presidential declaration. It's time to rethink our National approach to preparedness and ensure that every segment of our diverse communities, down to each individual, is integrated into a broader culture of preparedness.

I think if FEMA were to be unshackled from executive declaration, it might help. How much, I'm not sure. But anything would be better than how help is currently deployed.

However, the truly disappointing part about the section on helping people prepare is that it did not once talk about encouraging people to stock up on supplies. In fact, the entire 37-page document only mentions the word "food" four times. It mentions water twice. Each of those times, it discusses FEMA or FEMA-coordinated relief groups delivering those provisions. An example:

This includes a particular focus on the "last mile," where a complex network of National, local, voluntary, and commercial organizations integrate their capabilities to put food, water, or other items into the hands of survivors.

In a lot of ways, helping people prepare, in FEMA's eyes, is reducing the bureaucracy that gets in the way of immediate relief efforts. This is certainly a good goal, but it does NOT help people actually prepare. It just hopefully helps them wait less time for help. I think that's stopping short of the actual goal.

Prior to the section on helping people prepare, the Strategic Plan discusses financial disaster preparedness at length.

This fact is presented:

40 percent of Americans do not have enough cash savings to cover a sudden unexpected expense. Under such circumstances, relocating to a hotel for a few days, purchasing cleaning supplies, or replacing food and medications may be out of reach in the absence of external assistance, forcing individuals and families to take on debt loads that prove disastrous in their own right.

A 2015 study conducted by FEMA also concluded that 39% of Americans have no emergency plan whatsoever.

I believe in financial readiness. An unexpected disaster turning into personal financial disaster is never desirable. However, saving lives is more important. Food, water and supplies (and a place to stay) should take precedence over saving cash for that very rainy day.

I would like to see FEMA correct its strategic plan to include "Increase the percentage of people who have adequate survival supplies" as a performance goal alongside their "Increase the percentage of people with savings set aside for an emergency."

Another thing I believe FEMA could do to help build a proper culture of preparedness is increase the guidelines for the amount of survival supplies for sheltering in place. Their current guidelines recommend 72 hours of supplies.

The American Red Cross recommends 2 weeks of supplies.
We recommend at least a one-month supply, per person.

Virtually anything is better than just three days. In Texas, the rain itself lasted for 3 days. Your emergency supplies need to outlast both the devastation and the aftermath.

While I could make recommendations for FEMA all day, their decisions are way beyond my control.

Ultimately, the business of building a "culture of preparedness" is in our hands. I prefer the term "family" as culture sounds a bit too academic for me.

Plus, we truly believe that anyone who prepares is family to us. We thank you for joining our family, and we hope you'll help us grow it as we spread the message of preparedness far and wide. If you know someone who needs preparedness help, please send them our way. We'd be happy to help. Tell them to call 866-229-0927, 9am-9PM EST, Monday thru Saturday. Our preparedness advisors will be standing by.

I hope this week's update on the FEMA situation was helpful. Remember, what we do as individual citizens is important - we don't need a strategic vision from FEMA to get it done – just determination and self-reliance.

Talk to you next week. Stay alert friends!

In Liberty,
Elizabeth Anderson
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply

P.S. To learn more about self-reliance, follow MPS on Facebook or Twitter.

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