We are right in the middle of National Preparedness Month, and if the last several weeks have provided any lessons, it’s the importance of being prepared – for wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, or whatever Mother Nature sends our way. Wildfires, particularly in Montana, Oregon, Washington and California this summer and fall, have stretched response resources, shut down highways, and destroyed homes and businesses. The world has watched as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have slammed Texas, the Caribbean, and Florida.
You might be (as I am) in awe of both the official emergency responders and the regular folks who have helped their own families, neighbors and even strangers to survive these extreme events. You might be wondering – what can I do?
Work on preparedness long before the event
When it comes to wildfire (and hurricanes and quakes, for that matter), there are lots of things you can do ahead of time that will help your neighbors and community. For the past 15 years, NFPA’s Firewise USA™ program has encouraged residents in fire-prone areas to embrace the power of community preparedness. Our information and messages talk a lot about what individuals should do to make their homes more ignition-resistant to the embers and flames of a wildfire. It’s very important – but the fire science shows us that unless your nearby neighbor also reduces ignition risks on his or her property, you will still be impacted even if your home and landscape are in very good shape. More than 1,400 sites around the nation recognized as Firewise USA know what it means to work with neighbors to figure out the safety solutions that will work across a community. So many of these places have gone beyond simply removing debris and other fuels for a fire to developing community phone trees to alert one another of pending fires, creating emergency evacuation plans, and working with their fire departments to be as prepared as they can for the possibility of wildfire entering the community. This kind of planning works great for any kind of potential emergency.
Secure your own mask before helping others
The images of countless Houston-area residents who used their boats to rescue neighbors is inspiring, and probably a little intimidating if you are putting yourself in their place. It’s an extreme example, but those locals demonstrated what all emergency managers try to teach: sometimes the person who has to rescue you is you, or a family member, or a neighbor close enough to reach you. In other words, in a major disaster, calling 9-1-1 is not going to help you as fast as your closest neighbor might.
Think small, and think personal. Can you work with your neighbor on a community effort to clean up flammable debris during a Firewise day or Wildfire Community Preparedness Day? That’s an effort that helps make both of you safer. Can you prepare a personal go-kit for your home or workplace? If you do, you might be able to share that extra bandage or water bottle or snack with someone else. Making your own individual preparedness plans and talking about preparedness with your neighbors can actually be very influential. I travel by airplane a lot, and that little speech the flight crew makes about the oxygen mask reminds me that I have to be able to function myself before I can help others. At the very least, if you are the one who has their wits about them and their go-kit ready, you’ll be able to help a neighbor in need.
Photo credit: FEMA/Jana Baldwin