A sturdy boat and a knowledgeable crew increase the odds for a safe voyage. To build a sailboat with a strong, sturdy foundation, the keel is laid and the hull is made to balance and support the entire boat while at sea. Similarly, community preparedness also needs a strong foundation on which to build.
A strong foundation for community preparedness starts in the home with individuals and families. Personal preparedness begins with a family communications plan and knowing how to locate and communicate with loved ones and friends. Knowing evacuation routes from the house, community, and city, and establishing rally points are critical to family stability during a crisis. Personal preparedness also includes meeting family or household basic needs by building home emergency supply kits. In addition to essential items such as food, water, first aid kit, and radio, specific family needs must be considered. Items such as prescription medicine, pet supplies, and even games and books for children are often forgotten but are important parts of a kit.
Another key aspect to personal preparedness is knowing how to stay informed during a crisis. Access to radio, television, cellphones, and social media for emergency alerts help create a sense of awareness, which leads to appropriate actions by the entire community. Personal preparedness at this basic level allows first responders and other key personnel to be able to respond without reservations because they know that their family is prepared and can function without them during a crisis. Personal preparedness serves as the “keel and hull” and provides foundational support for subsequent whole community planning, response, and recovery efforts.
Navigating the Waters
A sailboat usually has a small motor that allows it to maneuver safely in close quarters while in a port or harbor. Although typically used at the beginning and end of the voyage, the motor is also available for emergencies. The community preparedness “motor” is the emergency management professional. Often the catalyst for preparedness efforts, emergency managers propel community outreach and educational programs by reaching out to a wide variety of stakeholders that ultimately act as a force multiplier for such programs. Emergency mangers connect once disparate community groups and other nontraditional stakeholders to well established organizations such as Local Emergency Planning Committees, community advisory groups, and industry partners in the pursuit of planning efforts to address relevant hazards found within their communities to reduce risk and build resilience.
Navigation equipment then helps crews chart courses to particular destinations and avoid becoming lost at sea. In lieu of a compass or global positioning system, community preparedness navigates using established plans such as emergency operation plans, hazard mitigation plans, recovery plans, or continuity of operations plans. These plans are built through multi-stakeholder processes that utilize the skillsets of the entire community.
Filling the Sails
Crewmembers use their seamanship and experience to set the sails appropriately, take advantage of the wind, and move the ship to its planned destination. Without the crew, a sailboat would simply float on the water at the mercy of the current, waves, and weather. Likewise, the majority of the “crew” in community preparedness is comprised of trained staff and volunteers, who have a variety of skills that fulfill the needs at all phases of emergency management. These staff and volunteers are trusted partners and play essential roles in successful community preparedness programs.
Speed and direction of a sailboat are both dependent on the sails, which capture the strength of the wind and enable the boat to fulfill its primary function of movement over the water in a pre-determined direction. Community preparedness “sails” are based in the whole community planning process, thus bringing together traditional and nontraditional stakeholders and building momentum that moves the community toward resilience. This process entices others to participate and highlights connections and skills that were once either ignored or unknown.
Reaching the Destination
A sailboat and its sails are idle without wind. In community preparedness, training and exercises are the “wind”: training teaches and enhances relevant skills; and exercises test all aspects of a community’s preparedness efforts and help participants further hone these skills. Training and exercises transport trainees to where they want to be and ultimately allow for a safer place for those who live, work, and play within the communities they serve.
Community preparedness begins with individual and family preparedness, much like a sailboat begins with the keel and hull. On similar foundations, the community “sailboat” with its community members can reach the safe harbor at Port Resilience. It is time to chart a course, set the sails, and embark on a voyage of preparedness.